Tape Face lets silence do the talking
Tape Face doesn’t need much to entertain. The silent prop comic’s bag of tricks includes tape measures, toilet paper, a toilet seat, a plunger, balloons, oven mitts, a Rubik’s Cube and, of course, tape. Tape covers his mouth so he can’t speak, but he needs help. Using his expressive eyes and a flashlight, he dashes into the audience to find cohorts who will assist him with a succession of strange tasks and challenges that come from a very childlike imagination.
While Tape Face’s intent is creating visual jokes with wait-for-it reveals, his creator Sam Wills is intentionally bringing fringe festival entertainment to the Strip—and making it work—through a character equal parts Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton. Wile E. Coyote and Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. “The actual name ‘The Boy with Tape on his Face’ was a tribute to Tim Burton, who was just a massive influence on the character,” says Wills of Tape Face’s original appellation. “Tim Burton wrote a poem called ‘The Boy with Nails in His Eyes,’ and I quite liked that literal name.”
The initial character didn’t have tape on his face at all. Wills studied silent films and mime with the intent of creating a mute comic, and debuted the new act in 2005 at a comedy club in his native New Zealand. “I went onstage and I talked to the audience after 20 seconds because I had no idea what the hell I was doing and I just panicked,” he says. “I came back the next night and there was another comedian who said that the only way I can create a silent character is if I tape my mouth shut.”
Wills booked the new act at comedy festivals in Australia and New Zealand before taking it to the U.K., where he appeared on television and at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival. He made his U.S. debut in 2016 on America’s Got Talent, making it to the finals and subsequently being chosen to appear in Vegas as part of America’s Got Talent Live. Two engagements at the Flamingo followed before he was invited to sign a three-year lease at his House of Tape venue at Harrah’s.
It’s one thing to play to fringe festival audiences that expect the unexpected. Performing a participatory act for Vegas visitors with diverse entertainment options is riskier, but if a packed house at an early June show is any indication, Tape Face has no shortage of volunteers to join him onstage. Anything goes from there, in a PG-13 way.
Still, Tape Face makes sure no one suffers bodily harm or terrible embarrassment, and the entire audience participates in the act at the end. Wills wrote the show with the assistance of his nephew, 9 at the time, which is one reason it’s infused with childlike ingenuity. “I think he’s about 17 now, so he’s useless to me,” says Wills with a laugh. He and his alter ego are big fans of visual puns too. “There’s a few Easter eggs hiding in these shows, don’t you worry.”
Harrah’s, 7 p.m. Tues.-Sun., starting at $63 plus tax and fee. 702.777.2782