Spiegelworld Is the Comedy King of the Strip
Dirty jokes. Nearly naked acrobats. Politically incorrect insults. Show hosts that grind up against and embarrass the audience.
All of those are the stock in trade of Spiegelworld, the entertainment company that has spiced up multiple Strip showrooms over the last decade, starting with Absinthe at Caesars Palace.
That hugely popular show has since spawned three more Vegas shows, two of which are still running on the Strip. The newest, Atomic Saloon Show, debuted at the Venetian just two weeks ago. And there’s another show on the way.
Founder of Spiegelworld Ross Mollison told KNPR's State of Nevada that it all started in 2006 on a nearly deserted pier in New York City. He and others created productions as a way to infuse contemporary comedy into a Moulin Rouge-type show--with a circus twist. "So, more clown than traditional standup comedy," he said.
He added that his band of entertainers had no idea how they would be received. Absinthe went viral and tickets sold out in a matter of days. With that success, they looked to Las Vegas.
Mollison said they wanted to bring a show that was "counterpoint" to the Cirque du Soliel shows to the Strip. They may occasionally parody a Cirque show, but Mollison noted he and others in Spiegelworld worked with the legendary troupe where they "learned at the feet of the masters."
Mollison said they decided to go into smaller venues and bring the action to the audience, instead of being in a large theatre. Plus, he noted that the show is not for a broad audience.
"We're not for everyone," he said, "I always say...42 million people come here, we have 2,300 seats for our new show to sell a week, so there is still about 890,000 people here who aren't going to see our show."
However, he says for those who are interested in what they're doing on stage - they're going to love it.
Mollison said Atomic is an homage to the Mel Brooks classic Blazing Saddles, including a reference to the iconic flatulence scene. And like all Spiegelworld shows, Atomic includes interaction with the audience.
He said the performers know when someone might enjoy being part of the show and when they won't. However, they like to push boundaries because that is why people are coming to Las Vegas.
"I think it is important for us working on the Strip to put the meat on the bones of the brand," Mollison said, "What do you do when you come to Vegas? Why is it extraordinary? And what is an experience you can have here? We don't all want to get our teeth knocked out like they do in The Hangover, but people kind of want their Hangover experience when they come here."
Vegas casinos tend to be very cautious about what shows they invite on their properties. So what is it about Spiegelworld’s risque productions that make the casino suits so eager to host them?
"Everybody who comes to town says that they want to see the new show," said Mike Weatherford, a longtime entertainment reporter in Las Vegas, "They want to see what's different. They want to see what's new. But Las Vegas is already so unique and so different that there are elements that have always sold throughout the years and it's just a matter of how you package them."
For instance, everyone knows sex sells on the Las Vegas Strip, Weatherford said, but Spiegelworld puts a twist on it, like making a joke out of the whole idea and audiences are loving it.
They also took advantage of great timing, he said.
"They came when there were seven Cirque shows on the Strip; at one point there had been eight. And Cirque shows kept getting exponentially bigger and bigger, both in what you see on stage and the seating capacity in the audience."
In addition, locals, who often create the buzz for Strip shows, began to get to Cirque saturation and the shows took on a bit of "sameness." He said Spiegelworld was able to make fun of Cirque in the same way Bugs Bunny took on Mickey Mouse.
Weatherford said the first show Absinthe looks cheap, but intentionally so, and he said it takes a lot of money and effort to make something look that way.
He said the new show has the same idea, with a bit of everything for everyone.
" Absinthe is sort of the straight humor. Opium is sort of the gay humor. And Atomic is kind of the new thing that Millennials call pansexual or non-binary, where it kind of fuses elements of a female show like Fantasy and a g-string show like Thunder From Down Under and you see them all in one place," he said.
Ross Mollison, founder, Spiegelworld; Mike Weatherford, entertainment writer