Known for his shock of red hair, Carrot Top (aka Scott Thompson) took the stage at an open-mic night in college at the behest of a friend, and never turned back. By the late 1990s, he was the highest-grossing touring comedian in America, and invaded the homes of Americans nightly for three years during his ad campaign for 1-800-CALL ATT. The “King of Props” now performs 300 shows a year at the Atrium Showroom at Luxor Hotel & Casino. He sat down with Where to talk about how he deals with drunk audience members, what the best restaurants in Vegas are and why he almost didn't perform here a second time.
You got your comedy start as a student in Florida. Although you were hesitant, what made you take the stage?
My friend brought a brochure back for an open-mic night. My initial thought was, “Yeah, let’s go to that.” He said, “No, you should be in it.” I had no clue, no inclination of being a performer or comedian of any kind. I would always be the life of the party, tell jokes—but old jokes, not my jokes.
I went down and talked to the people about the show, and asked “Do you have any comedians?” They had someone playing an acoustic guitar and doing a skit, but not a comedian. So I just went up and did any old jokes that I knew. It was really fun and successful, and the people loved it. The next semester, I entered it again, and kind of did the same shtick. The third year, I geared it toward personal interaction instead of telling jokes. I did that for a while in school; every Wednesday I would have a comedy night and I would do my act.
When did props come into play?
I don’t know what made me think of doing it. I went down and auditioned for an actual comedy club, and the lady there suggested I come back with some general and topical stuff, as I was geared toward college students and college stuff, which didn’t really make sense. I had a neighborhood crime watch sign that was hanging in my dorm, which I thought was funny because I stole the sign. I said, “How good is our neighborhood crime watch, they aren’t even watching their signs?” That was my big opening joke.
Then I started coming up with these inventions as I call them. I was going to school in West Palm, and there’s a lot of old people in the area—they’re known for their retired people. I came up with a hat that had this old lady’s head on a spring, so when you wore it, her head went above the seat. That was the first big prop. Then I started coming up with all of these visual things that were in my head, like high-heeled training wheels that had big tires for redneck women. It was all silly, but it worked.
When did you start going by Carrot Top?
Very early on, probably the third or fourth show in college.
What did you plan on pursuing in college?
It’s funny, like anybody else, I didn’t know. I got a degree in marketing. But I didn’t have a path. I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to do. I think a lot of people are in that situation. The whole comedy thing really happened by accident. A few years later, a friend called me out of the blue—he had a New Year’s Eve gig. I initially turned it down, because I hadn’t done comedy in two years, but on his advice, I did the gig. That really was the show that started my career.
You then did an appearance on the Tonight Show. What props did you bring with you?
I had a a boob with a kickstand on it, so if you’re drunk you don’t fall down. For my big closer, I had cups and a string, like when you were a kid and used it as a telephone. I said we need to have an updated version of this, so I made one that had a third cup that came out for call waiting. People loved it. I closed the set on that one.
Who inspired you as a young comedian?
George Carlin, Bill Cosby and Jonathan Winters.
When was the first time you came to Las Vegas?
I had done “Regis and Kathie Lee,” and Kathy Lee's manager said “You probably do real well in Vegas.” I told him I had never been, and not even a month later, he booked me at Bally’s. I did well in the little club (Catch a Rising Star), so they moved me to the big showroom. I remember being absolutely terrified, because not only had I never been in a room that big, but the stage itself was so enormous. I had my two little prop trunks. It looked so naked on stage. It could have held 1,000. So I went to the store and got all these tables and tapestries and lava lamps to make a set to fill the space. I remember just being totally out of my element. The room was so big too, you couldn’t hear anything—you couldn’t hear the laughs. I was terrified, I never wanted to play Vegas again. I played there about a year, then they moved me to the Hollywood Theatre at MGM Grand, which was a little better, there were 700 seats as opposed to 1,500. So it was a little more intimate, and we had a good rhythm there. I played there for probably 10 years, and then I moved to the Luxor, where I’ve been for about nine years now.
What’s the strangest thing that ever happened on stage at Luxor?
I had a guy jump on stage. What made it funny was that he was four rows back. He stood up, so I acknowledged him. He was really tall. Before I knew it, he just leaped from the fourth row right on stage—it was just the most bizarre thing. But he had a nice buzz going. I didn’t know what made him think he could make it, though. He could have broken his neck. Over the years, I’ve had tons of crazy things that have happened to me—that’s the fun of live performance.
What's your perfect day in Las Vegas?
I love getting up and taking my dog to Red Rock for a hike. I always recommend the things you can’t see on the Strip—the (Hoover) Dam is cool, Red Rock is cool. When it comes down to the Strip, the whole thing—you’ve got to just walk down the Strip and experience the whole thing, and go downtown to Fremont Street. Also, we have the best restaurants in the world. You could have 4-star or 5-star dining every night if you wanted to. I always like Botero at Encore, I think that’s a sexy place—I love the lighting. I just checked out Giada, I think the setting for that restaurant is so cool, the corner overlooking the whole Strip. And of course, the Luxor, I love to hang out at the restaurants there and cruise around.
SLIDESHOW: Carrot Top at the Luxor
(All photos ©John Knopf)