TOMMIE LAING HAS COME A LONG WAY SINCE PLAYING `BINGO' THE CLOWN

Tommie Laing, an accomplished clown, juggler and stilt-walker, works behind the scenes and on stage in "Lance Burton: Master Magician" at the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino.

Officially, Tommie has more titles than any one in the show. He's the assistant to special guest artist Michael Goudeau, he's the primary bird handler and trainer for the show along with being a stagehand and magician's assistant. He also provides comic relief in the sword fight act in "The Masked Ball." Michael Goudeau comes on with his act in the middle of "Lance Burton: Master Magician" and Tommy helps provide the comic relief as the Domino's Pizza deliveryman.

Tommie joined the show when it opened at the Monte Carlo over two years ago. He said, "Lance and Michael Goudeau have known about my showbiz abilities for over 10 years and asked me to join the show. What they didn't know is that I would also take care of 46 different animals from the flying birds to the ducks and geese end even Elvis the parakeet."

Tommie explained, "It all began during my first gig when I played `Bingo' the clown at a restaurant in Milwaukee. I was 24 years old and it paid $10 an hour to wear a costume and makeup and do magic and juggling for kids' birthday parties."

This special show person has done benefits for The Shriners and the Handicapped Boy Scouts Troop. He commented, "When kids just see you that's enough, but if you want to go further than that and make them a balloon animal, they're thrilled. Interacting with disabled kids is really fun because they have special hearts."

The Milwaukee native attended Drake University to study theater before attending Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Clown College. He said, "There are 6,000 people who apply every year and only 30 or 40 get in to the school. Getting accepted is the hardest part. I already had some clown skills such as juggling and stilt walking and went there to audition. Clown college allowed me to improve my skills. I've also worked at Disneyland as a clown and juggler."

Tommie said, "At Ringling they taught us how to perform for a whole audience, that's basic clowning. The prerequisites are being able to live on a train for a year, a sense of humor and a good attitude."

He reminisced, "I spent one year traveling by train around to 33 different cities in 48 different states. We did 520 hectic shows a year. I spent a year in Japan during 1991 where the audiences were more shy then in America."

Tommie said, "I've lived in Las Vegas for four years. It's excellent for tourists and we get new audiences every week but it's a bit hot in the summer. Las Vegas is a major city for clowns. It's not up to where magic is but there's a demand for this type of weird entertainment."

What's his most embarrassing moment in show business? He replied, "Lance turned to me on stage during the show while I was mopping up duck do-do and said, `Tommie the mugging doesn't help' for the entire audience to hear. Oops!"

What makes Lance's show so appealing to such a broad spectrum of audiences? Tommie said, "The people love his personality. He's able to reach the entire audience and make them feel they saw something unique and special."

What about Tommie's future? He said, "I would like to do some additional comic acting in TV or movies. I appeared on the Drew Carey HBO special `Las Vegas Up All Nite' and on his TV sitcom once."

What was his chief motivator to get into the showbiz field? He said, "My family was my inspiration. They always allowed me to pursue what I wanted. My parents were schoolteachers. As a favor to a high school buddy I did the lighting for the play and saw some mistakes the actors were making and thought I could do better. I tried out for the next play and got the lead role. My six brothers who followed me also acted in high school plays but didn't get as far in showbiz as I did."

Why did Tommie enter show business? He replied, "I wanted to be liked and to make people laugh. I enjoy doing that on such a grand scale. The only way to learn is to practice, practice, practice and in front of an audience wherever you are. Talk to people who work in the business and you'll get lots of tips."

He continued, "Those of my family who have seen Lance's show love it. All of them have seen the television specials and are proud of my success. Many of the famous people who see me in the show go out of their way to compliment my performance, including Bruce Willis. People recognize me from seeing me on stage and are always happy to meet me." What does Tommie do on his time off? He replied, "I enjoy rock climbing and snowboarding. Any vacation spot can be enjoyed with the right people."

Read about other cast members.