They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, and for comedian Terry Fator, Sin City is definitely where it’s happening – and where he plans to stay.
The ventriloquist has been on stage at the Mirage for eight years and will stay there until at least 2021, thanks to an impressive residency deal with the hotel-casino. One of the few comedians to have such a long-running gig in Vegas, he certainly makes a living, performing Monday through Thursday for 46 weeks each year, as well as about 20 weekend shows. FORBES estimates that his revenue from this concert is about 90% of his $18.5 million in revenue in 2017.
Fator rose to fame in 2007 when he won America’s Got Talent thanks to his imitations assisted by puppets. He got $1 million for winning the show, but the real prize came the following year, when the Mirage offered him a $100 million contract for a five-year residency, which was renewed several times. occasions and will now last until 2021. The deal isn’t $20 million a year — that’s the most he can earn if he sells every night — but it’s still worth a hefty sum.
“Terry Fator became famous thanks to America’s Got Talentand he’s one of the few who’s played his cards right and turned his fame into a residence,” says Adam Steck, Founder and CEO of SPI Entertainment.
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Since his first show at the Mirage in 2009, he has performed there more than 1,500 times and in front of more than 1.5 million guests. Some of them are regular visitors who discovered Fator in Vegas, and others are superfans who follow Fator since his America’s Got Talent days and asks that he also come to visit them during his infrequent road shows. (Last year, he played about 29 shows outside of Vegas that accounted for nearly $2 million, according to Forbes estimates).
“I could do nothing but tour, but sleeping in my own bed is amazing,” says Fator. “You don’t have to kill yourself to make a lot of money if you’re a good actor and people want to come see you.”
Part of being a good act – especially on the same stage, night after night – means keeping the material fresh. He constantly writes new jokes and reworks old ones to keep the audience excited and himself from becoming complacent.
“When I got here, a lot of people were telling me it wasn’t like that, that you were doing the same show for 18, 20 years,” Fator says. “I said, ‘There’s a new sheriff in town.'”
One night, a puppet can sing along to a song by Etta James (Fator is also an accomplished singer). On another, a Nashville puppet with a heavy Southern accent jokes about his love life (“I’m the kind of guy who can make Sheryl sing”). A Donald Trump doll tells Fator, who is a self-proclaimed fan of the presidentthat he can once again make his show great and guarantee big crowds.
Fator’s show is a rarity on the Strip: Amid revues like Magic Mike Live and sexy musical acts like Mariah Carey and Britney Spears, Fator’s prints and puppets provide a family-friendly alternative. It’s also one of the only ventriloquist shows there; as Fator says, “You can’t find it anywhere but where I do.”
“You can be eight or you can be 80 and still enjoying its comedy,” says Franz Kallao, vice president of hotel operations for The Mirage, adding that as the Las Vegas economy shifts primarily from gambling to hotels, restaurants, retail and entertainment, shows like Fator’s are important to success. “Things non-gaming really drive our industry.”
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MGM Resorts International, the parent company of the Mirage, had non-casino revenue of $4.7 billion and casino revenue of $3.1 billion in the United States.
“Vegas is becoming more lucrative than the road because of the number of people who come here, and they come here for the comedians,” Steck says. “The residency pattern is amazing when the planets line up perfectly.”
But despite the money available, most comedians only make pit stops in Vegas on larger tours. Few take up residencies there (Ralphie May and Carrot Top are exceptions), and none have landed deals as lucrative as Fator.
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Fator is one of the few comedians on this year’s list to earn most of his money from live shows. Touring has, in the past, led the list of highest-paid comedians, but many of this year’s extras made the most of their millions thanks to impressive deals with Netflix for stand-up specials. Chris Rock, Ellen Degeneres, Dave Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld can each command $20 million per special, insiders say.
A deal with Netflix is something Fator says he’d be interested in and has talked about, but he’s prioritizing Vegas – a smart move considering the steady money he can make.
“They tell me I’m settling in like one of the big bands in Vegas, which is kind of surreal,” he says. “So it’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that it’s kind of hard to do when I have my schedule.”
And during these few weeks, he is on leave? Fator returns to his pre-America’s Got Talent and Las Vegas roots: small theaters and comedy festivals. But even on the road, it gets a bit of the Vegas treatment.
“Before America has talent,I played at county fairs in little places that were very remote – in 110 degrees – and they were like, ‘Buy your own water, buy your own fruit,’” he recalls. “Now I have enough water to supply everyone on the fairgrounds and enough fruit and food to feed an army.”