Talking with Frank Marino, Joan Rivers Impersonator and Vegas Fixture

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Later that night, Marino will step onto stage dressed in a bright red suit jacket and mini-skirt, gaudy makeup, and a platinum-blond wig. The ensemble is something the late Joan Rivers would have worn, and when Marino speaks, his mannerisms, tone of voice, and body language of the famous comedian are spot-on.

They should be. Marino has made a living impersonating Joan Rivers for more than three decades, and he's gotten pretty damn good at it. Not only has he perfected Rivers' snarky delivery, he has emulated her wardrobe as well, with lavish dresses and gowns designed by Bob Mackie, the designer behind some of Rivers' best looks. Marino launches into the opening standup routine, which is funny, his comedic timing honed by 30 years on the job.

"That Paris Hilton, she's had more hands up her than a Muppet," Marino quips, and the audience eats it up.

Backstage before the show, Marino appears relaxed and jovial as he takes a seat in the green room flanked by Kenneth Blake and Andrew Ryan, who impersonate Madonna and Katy Perry in Divas. A woman who is helping make a reality show about Marino and his drag extravaganza takes a seat on the side of the room.

"Really, I wanted to be a doctor," Marino says of his early life. "I was working as a junior pharmacist as I was going to college and spent more time at the makeup counter than I did on the pills counter . . . and like any law-abiding gay guy, I went out in drag for Halloween."

He started impersonating Joan Rivers and soon had an agent, making $150 an hour performing at weddings and bar mitzvahs. One thing led to another, and he ended up performing in Atlantic City, Florida, and finally Las Vegas, where he will celebrate 30 years on the strip this year.

"You look so young," the woman says after Marino shares this fact. Immediately, Marino exclaims, "I have a good plastic surgeon. Dr. Anson, 822-2100" (Yes, that's the real number of Las Vegas plastic surgeon Goesel Anson.)

"Yes, I always thought I'd be famous," Marino says, anticipating the next question. "Did I think it would be drag? No. But I always had the intuition that I would be rich and famous.

"I always was a performer, but I never wanted to perform. I would have been like Donald Trump is for business. If I was a doctor, I'd be an outspoken plastic surgeon. I'd love to knock on people's doors and say, 'I could fix you.'"

In Vegas, tickets for the Divas show at Linq Theater start at $90, and Marino is a star -- literally, he has a five-pointer on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars. Two, in fact, possibly the only person to claim that honor. No one has performed on the Vegas strip longer than he has.

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David Accomazzo is a music wrangler, award-winning reporter, critic, and editor with more than a decade in the business.
Contact: David Accomazzo