Archive for March, 2009

Climbing Mt. Never-Rest

March 21, 2009

Friday March 20th, 2009 – Lake Villa, IL

   Today I climbed Mt. Never-rest. That’s the huge pile of emails that keeps growing and growing and never seems to stop. I do what I can to get caught up and then other things in life slide in and take me out of the groove and before I know it it’s piled up even higher.

   Today’s total was right around 800 and that’s as high as it’s gotten in a while. Many of them were from ex students asking me to critique their acts and as much as I try to offer a helping hand there are not enough hours in a day to keep up with every one of them.

   I was swamped and some things I had to delete or explain that I just don’t have time to do it. I’m also up to my hard drive in goofy downloads of farting pigs and love cutesy poems that if I don’t forward to a dozen people in four minutes my wang is going to shrivel and fall off and my breath will smell like a three week old diaper filled with rotten shrimp.

   Most of that I delete right away but some of it comes from people I like and I feel guilty if I just delete it without at least reading it first. Usually it’s a waste of time so I just store it and before I know it I’m having nightmarish backup like I am now. I need to stop this.

   I spent the entire day today answering the emails I needed to and sorting and deleting all the ones I didn’t and twelve hours later I’m down from 800 to under 100. My head is very confused right now but at least I took the situation by the horns and wrestled it with vigor.

   A lot of the emails required some thought or were from people I wanted to actually send a well crafted response and today was the day. I didn’t finish but I put a major dent in it as the day wore on so that made me feel like I accomplished something.

   I also cleared out all my phone messages and that took a while too. My voice mail was completely packed full. Much of this was a backlog from last week because it was my birthday and also from all the fuss in L.A. with the TV show.

   Most people were very nice about it and offered up all their best and that’s always flattering to hear that. I wanted to answer every one of them.

   I got some good news too. I’m booked at a club in Appleton, WI coming up in May and I’m glad to get it. I never worked there before and have been trying to get in for a while. It has a great reputation for being a killer room and I look forward to working there.

   I had to hurry and get some promotional material to them before next week and I mailed it today. They require a DVD to show clips of upcoming events to their customers and a CD for radio commercials. They want their headliners to have a working website and I called my web person Shelley to help me get that started too. This will all make me a better comic.

   Getting the emails out of the way felt good but I really need to find a way to avoid being so lax in the first place to let them pile up this high. I try to keep it under control but there are a lot of other things that just get in the way. Before I know it it’s piled up again and all of this starts over once more. For now, it’s manageable. I would like to keep it that way.

Thank You Zanies

March 20, 2009

Thursday March 19th, 2009 – Lake Villa, IL

    Today is Rick Uchwat’s birthday. Rick is the owner of the three Zanies Comedy Clubs in the Chicago area and also one in Nashville. There have been partnership arrangements in some of those clubs which aren’t my business so I won’t even try to make a guess as to how they work. All I know is Rick has been the big cheese as long as I’ve been around.

   Zanies has been my lifesaver in comedy for more than twenty years now. I have become one of their favorites and I’ve gotten steady work from them any time I need or want it. If it weren’t for them I may not have been able to make a living at this for as long as I have. Year in and year out I’ve been able to pay my bills with the money I’ve earned from there.

   It all happened by chance too. Bert Haas was the manager of the Chicago club way back in the ‘80s and he called the Funny Bone in Milwaukee needing an opening act at the last minute. Jeff Schneider was the owner of the Bone and he suggested me because out of all the locals he said he felt I had the most potential. Thanks Jeff and Bert. I owe you both.

   I remember being scared to death the first time I worked for Zanies. That was where I’d seen my first real comedy show when I started doing it. I was an open miker but I went all the way to Chicago from Milwaukee to see what the whole business was about and that’s where I ended up going. To be working there myself years later was a very big milestone.

   I wasn’t very good at the time and I didn’t have a solid week at all. I was in and out and I never felt like I got a strong groove going. I don’t even remember who I worked with for the week but I do remember thinking how I needed to improve before coming back again. I was almost relieved when the week was over but I was also excited to have had the gig.

   As luck would have it there was an opening the following week at the Zanies out in the suburb of Mt. Prospect. Bert Haas sent me out there and the manager and I hit it off right from the start and he said ‘You can send that kid out here anytime. He’s got some balls.’

   Thank goodness I had balls because I sure didn’t have very many jokes. I was pretty raw but that was the big boom for comedy and nobody cared. Zanies always booked good acts to close the shows and I was just window dressing while I paid my dues and learned what comedy was all about. Zanies offered me a chance to develop my skills and I’m grateful.

   There were a lot of other clubs in Chicago at the time and at the peak there were 19 full time clubs. Wow. That’s a lot of comedy for one town but Detroit probably had as many as Chicago did back then as well. Those were the big years but then it all came to an end. There was no way all those clubs could keep providing top notch shows week after week.

   Clubs started closing left and right in the ‘90s and before long Chicago would be down to a few rooms but Zanies managed to survive. I happened to stay with them and now all these years later I’m one of their main acts to the point of being like family. I’ve spent my comedy lifetime being loyal to them and they’ve been loyal to me too. I’m a Zanies lifer.

   When I had my car accident in 1993 and almost died Rick Uchwat had a check for me a day later that paid my bills for several months. It was a loan and I had to pay it back but it couldn’t have come at a better time and I still appreciate it to this day. It saved my life at a time when my father or mother weren’t there for me. Neither one of them came to see me.

   Rick sent a check and then called Bert Haas to book me so I could pay it back. They had me work as a regular ‘house emcee’ so I could stay local and heal up and get my comedy chops back in addition to paying back what I owed them. It was a win/win for everybody.

   In my life as a dented can I haven’t had very many people in my corner. Those few who were are very precious memories for me now and I would fight for them to the death. My grandfather was one. He was the only reason that I made it through my childhood at all.

   His wisdom and encouragement stay with me to this day and I know he must have been really proud wherever he might be as I finally did my first national TV spot last week. It’s a thrill to be able to do it if only for the fact it made him proud. He would have loved this.

   C. Cardell Willis was another one who was a huge influence and mentor to me. He is in that rare group of people who gave of himself more than he took and I also thought of his kindness and generosity as I was doing my set in front of the camera. Cardell would be as proud as Gramps would have and those two had a lot to do with me getting there at all.

   Rick Uchwat and Bert Haas and Zanies Comedy Clubs were more of my middle school years of influence. Gramps and Cardell were there at the beginning and trained me well. It was a little later that I got involved with Zanies but they have been with me for a lifetime.

   I can’t see myself not working for them and even though some people call me a kiss ass and worse they weren’t there for me when I was in intensive care with tubes in every hole in my body. Where was their check? Their phone call? Zanies was there when I needed it.

   I will always be grateful for those major influences in my life and I hope I can be one to a few people along the way myself. I surely try to be that way any time I can. I try to point young comics in a positive direction and I couldn’t do that if someone didn’t do it for me.

   I called Rick and wished him a happy birthday and I could hear his voice light up on the phone when he realized someone remembered. If nobody else did I did and I told him that I appreciate all he’s done for me and how I wanted to be able to pay him back someday.

   And I totally do. My ultimate dream is to be a big draw and come back to sell out shows in and around Chicago so I can pay Rick and Bert and all the Zanies people back for those years when they were keeping me alive. Literally. If it weren’t for them I would’ve had to quit comedy and get a day job and no way would my future look as bright as it does now.

   Rick told me how he was proud of me and all I’ve accomplished and how nobody gave me a shot but I did it anyway. Hearing that made me feel like I finally earned my stripes.

Ready To Race

March 19, 2009

Wednesday March 18th, 2009 – Lake Villa, IL

A race car driver can’t win any races if he’s his own pit crew. That’s what I feel like as I look over my options as to what I should do next in my life and career. There are way too many things I’d love to delve into but I know I have a limited amount of time and energy.

Standup comedy is what has paid my bills most of my adult life. Other than working for a few radio stations doing morning shows which was a direct result of my comedic ability I haven’t had to whore myself out to the working world. I couldn‘t have lasted doing that.

I did end up whoring myself out to the comedy world on occasion but that was a choice I made to stay alive. I had no family to go to in an emergency to bail me out of any money pickles I may have gotten myself into so I relied on comedy money to keep myself afloat.

Looking back on it I never really had a career plan because I was too busy trying to stay alive. I took most any gigs I could get and I have a legendary reputation for rotten routing that I still get teased about to this day. If it’s December in Duluth or August in Austin I’m probably the comic booked that week. And, if there’s a long drive involved I’ve made it.

All of this is part of paying dues but I took it up to the very edge. I did those gigs out of necessity and didn’t really consider what I wanted as a result other than that month’s rent or car payment for the junk heap I was driving all that way to do the gig. It was an endless cycle that did keep me from having to work a day job but also kept me from the big time.

Now I’m at a point where all this has to change. I’m not thrilled about making those big drives anymore and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Not only are they tiring but it takes up a lot of time I could be using to do something else I enjoy more. I have evolved.

Today I took time to look over all I’ve got going and decide what I think is worth doing and what is a dead end waste of time. Unfortunately I found all of it to be worth doing but also all of it a dead end waste of time. It’s not the answer I hoped for and I‘m still stuck.

I have books I want to read and books I want to write. I have classes I want to teach and a few I wouldn’t mind taking. I’d love to learn to cook or play a musical instrument or try to paint or write screenplays or anything else creative and fun. That’s what life is about.

What I really need to do is carve out a workable plan for the rest of this year and work it every single day. That will keep me more than busy enough to not have to wander but I’m a wanderer by nature. I love to explore all kinds of things and see what they’re about but I have too many unfinished projects going on to keep doing that right now. I need to focus.

I can’t continue to be my own pit crew and expect to win the race of life. I need to have a solid team of people around me that all have the same goal – to WIN. I have many of the people I need already near me but now I have to create roles for them. This is all a master plan that needs to be in place before I make my next move and today I started making it.

This Little Piggy Went To Marketing

March 18, 2009

Tuesday March 17th, 2009 – Chicago, IL

St. Patrick’s Day and I think I’m the only sober life form within 100 miles of where I’m sitting. It’s yet another booze fueled holiday that allows idiots to drink too much and puke in public. While everyone else was chasing green beer I was focusing on green backs.

Marc Schultz called and wanted to take me out for a birthday lunch. I appreciate that he remembered. Lunch with Marc was productive and fun and he thinks he can sell the DVD from the Late Late Show to corporate clients. He’s in my corner and I really appreciate it.

Then I went into Chicago and visited ‘Uncle Fun’ on Belmont and Southport. That’s an amazing store with a lot of similarities to the Moon Fun Shops in Milwaukee I remember so well as a kid. There’s a lot of funny stuff in there that catches one’s eye immediately.

I looked for ideas as to what I can sell on the Uranus Factory Outlet site and also what I can package and sell at shows. I no longer have to worry about being a comedic genius – I now have to focus on becoming a marketing genius. That’s how I’ll build my retirement.

What I really like about the store is that it’s well organized and has a lot of fun things to look at for everyone. It’s kind of like a museum of the goofy. It’s a well set up display and it has a fun atmosphere. That’s exactly what I want to create with everything I‘m doing.

After a thorough tour of Uncle Fun I went to meet my professional speaker friend Todd Hunt. He is a fantastic marketer and that’s what I wanted to discuss with him. I’ve helped him with his presentation many times in the past and now it was my turn to pick his brain.

Todd bills himself as a ‘recovering anal-retentive professional’ and his actual skills as a speaker are quite good. What’s even more impressive is his slick promotion material. I’ve been around performers of all kinds all of my life and I’d have to say his materials are the best I’ve ever seen. His anal-retentiveness may be a factor but that’s ok. Todd stands out.

He has direct mail pieces and offers a free booklet to meeting professionals and he also has two self published books he sells after his presentations that really look good. I asked him about how he did all of it but the main thing I wanted to know was how he managed to memorize his material so well. He has a formula he uses and I want to implement it.

Next time I go on TV I’m going to have my material memorized a LOT better than I did this last time. Todd knows his presentation inside and out and in fact he prides himself on getting quizzed with it. He’ll ask someone for a single key word from his script at random and he’ll pick it up from that point and start doing it perfectly. It’s an impressive sight.

The whole day was very productive. Todd and Marc are both in my corner and I have to keep surrounding myself with people like that. I also need to keep focusing on marketing. I feel like I’m starting over but that’s ok. I have a good product and I believe in it so now I have to dress it in an attractive package and sell it in as many ways and places as I can.

TV Or Not TV

March 17, 2009

Monday March 16th, 2009 – Chicago, IL

No appearance on the Late Late Show tonight and the only one who doesn’t seem upset about it is me. I’m getting calls from all over the country from people who said they were looking for my name and didn’t see it. Hey, I don’t run the show. I was just a guest on it.

In my mind even if I don’t get on at all it still was worth the trip. The experiences I had of how to narrow down material into a TV set and the pressure of doing it and the feeling of accomplishment it brought afterward were all fantastic. I needed them to forge ahead.

It made me a better comic all around and I didn’t embarrass myself so now everything’s a bonus, including it airing. What I really need is the DVD so I can send it out to bookers for future work. They don’t have to have actually seen it although I do think it will run in due time. They have a big job to make everything fit and I‘m not worried about it at all.

My friend Bengt Washburn from Utah was on last year and he was pushed back several times as I recall. I can remember getting emails from him and felt bad at the time because nobody wants to be bumped but that’s how it goes. I’m not the only one to experience this and it really doesn’t bother me at all. It will run when it runs and I’ll be totally grateful.

I’m already preparing for my next appearance, whenever that may be. I won’t let myself make the same mistakes I just made and will be more than ready to go in there and really let it rip. If I know my act inside and out it will let me deliver the lines with confidence.

If Jerry Seinfeld did his set eighty times before he did his first Tonight Show I’ll bet I’ll at least be able to match that before I do another television appearance. It will also help to make my radio appearances better as well. I‘ve got a lot more crisp clean jokes to deliver.

Doing good radio is a part of the business many comedians overlook. As a headliner it’s usually required at least once during the week and what most people don’t realize is more listeners will hear a five to ten minute radio shot than will come out to the club all week.

I’ve always tried to do good radio because I’ve been on both sides of the equation. It’s a huge anchor to a radio show if a comedian doesn’t play along and many times they do not for whatever reason. Sometimes they just don’t know how. Whatever the case it isn’t fun.

Some comics are really good at it to the point it helps sell tickets. That’s the whole idea. It’s like professional wrestling, the interviews are designed to sell tickets to the live show. The ones who get that concept are few and far between. Bruce Baum is a guy who does.

I was in Salt Lake City and Bruce came in to do our show. I’ve always been a big fan of his from his TV appearances on ‘Make Me Laugh’ back in the day. He has manic energy and for whatever reason he just cracks me up. When he came in he had jokes ready and it really made everyone look good, but especially him. I was impressed with his preparation and always try to be that way myself. I will use my TV set jokes to make my radio better.

The Ideas Of March

March 16, 2009

Sunday March 15th, 2009 – Milwaukee, WI/Kenosha, WI

 Up to Milwaukee today for a birthday brunch with my cousin Brett. His birthday was in February but he’s still a Pisces so we rolled it into one and went to Pandl’s for a big feast. I still think they have one of the best brunches on Earth and we love to go and grub up.

The sun was out and the food was fresh and we had a really good visit. Brett is the only one in my family who seems to get it and I really value his input. He’s always been in my corner through thick and thin and it was great to be able to relax and enjoy our meal. We laughed a lot and they were deep laughs because we share a lifetime of history together.

Then I came home and saw my email box packed full of birthday wishes from all over the country from all kinds of people. There were comics and former students and friends I went to school with and radio people I’ve worked with and I sure appreciated every one.

It helps to cover up the fact I haven’t heard from my mother on my birthday in probably twenty years and I don’t know if she’s living or dead. I wouldn’t know how to react if she in fact is alive and tried to contact me now. I feel absolutely no emotion toward her at all.

That’s not how life should be in my opinion but that’s how it turned out. It hurt for a lot of years but now I just kind of roll with it. She’s never been a part of my life so it’s not as if I miss any memories of her. I miss the fact that I never got to know my mother at all.

It’s too late now. Just like when my father offered to ‘hang out and split a pizza’ when I was 31. I didn’t need any more friends then and I don’t now. I needed a father and he was never there. I knew who he was but never got to know him. I never knew who my mother was at all. I saw her maybe four or five times in my life and the last time I was about 18.

These are the kinds of things that put people over the edge. It drives people to do drugs or drink and every day I’m SO thankful I never went down that road. If I did I doubt if I’d still be alive to write about it. Every day I wake up is bonus time. I don‘t want to waste it.

That’s why I need to make a better plan and squeeze as much as I can into however long I have left. It’s all about giving and sharing with others now as my own can is still dented and always will be. I will never have the dream life I pictured as a kid and maybe that’s a good thing if it makes me get off my ass and share what I have been given with others.

I’m on the clock now and deadlines are good, at least for me. I need them to get projects done or I’ll let them sit there and go unfinished forever. I sat around and thought of all the fun things I still want to do with my life and realized I probably won’t get them all done.

That’s why I have to be careful with my time. The distant future is not all that distant as I get older and my time to shine is now. That puts a whole new urgency on what I am into and hopefully it will make me get more things done. I feel like I have a lot to accomplish. I need to go through my schedule and see what I can eliminate that is wasting my time.

Part of that is the Mothership Connection radio show in Kenosha, WI on WLIP. I really do enjoy the whole experience but is it worth my time? I can’t really say. I don’t get paid a nickel and prospects of that don’t look good but I do get to have some creative control.

I love creative control but there has to be a payoff at some point. I have creative control over my comedy and it’s starting to pay off after many years of hard work. Getting on TV is a great start and should lead to other things including more TV and work in new places that will also pay. I am parlaying my efforts and I can see the value of my time preparing.

As much as I love doing the radio show and the people I do it with it’s not going to pay off anywhere near how comedy is paying off right now and I don’t know if I can afford to invest my time in making it continue. It will dilute both my comedy and the radio as well. I have a few back to back weeks of comedy gigs coming up and the show will be an issue.

Who am I going to get to fill in for me? I don’t know right now and I have too much on my plate to do a ‘nationwide search’. I only have a limited amount of time and energy and it’s just becoming a distraction rather than a project I can breathe life into and develop.

I’ve got enough projects on the burner to fit that description. Uranus Factory Outlet has all the ingredients to not only be big fun but make big money too. Maybe not immediately but it can be built. I don’t see how I can build the radio show into anything but a hobby.

If I dropped the show I’d miss it but I’d also have more time available to devote to other projects I enjoy just as much. I need to get my comedy classes going too and that’s also an outlay of time and effort. Between comedy and classes and Uranus and radio that does not leave me a lot of time for hanging out with friends or God forbid dating anyone regularly.

Time is rapidly becoming the enemy and to win the war I need to have a battle plan. I’m up against a formidable opponent that keeps attacking so I have to be on my game and get a good plan in place and work the plan every day. I also need a positive surrounding cast.

I have a fantastic group of hand picked friends and talented people I have chosen for my circle of contacts and hearing from them on my birthday was very much appreciated. That tells me there are good people in this world and those are who I always want to work with and will give my all on their behalf. I have the ingredients for success. It’s time to get it.

This is the best time in my life. I’m at my peak creatively and before I get senile and not able to zip up my own pants I need to squeeze as much product out as I can. I can feel my mortality and it really doesn’t scare me. What scares me is that I’ll die with work undone. If there is a next life I surely don’t want to come back here. I want to go to a new planet.

For now I’m here and that’s my reality. I choose to plug on and make the most of what I have been given and continue to give of myself until it hurts. I want to be remembered for my generosity and sincerity and hopefully I can make a few people laugh along the way as well. It’s taken a long time to get where I am and I want to make sure I don’t blow it now.

Birthday Blessings

March 16, 2009

Saturday March 14th, 2009 – Vernon Hills, IL

 Oh-oh. Youth and all it’s magic is quickly slipping away. Now I’ll have to rely on guile and trickery to get myself over and that’s a scary thought. Today is my 46th birthday and it isn’t going to get any prettier. I’m now officially closer to 60 than I am to 30 and that rots.

My prostate is probably getting ready to swell up like Jiffy Pop popcorn and I can feel an uncontrollable urge to wear shorts and dark socks. I’m thinking of buying a big old giant road yacht like a Buick or a Lincoln and my pants are starting to creep up to my nipples.

Where did the time go? Away, and that’s all that matters. I would have been 46 anyway so at least I made a few good decisions before now but it’s still going to be a challenge to salvage a productive life. I see all the potential that has been wasted and it bothers me.

There’s nothing I can do about the past though and to dwell on it won’t make the future any better. There are still some choices I need to make both for the short and the long run that will determine whether or not I won my own personal game of life. It’s all up to me.

The monkey wrench in all of this is the human factor. We all blow opportunities in life. It’s how a person comes back again and again that determines the winners and losers. I’m the first one to admit I made stupid mistakes and now I need to maneuver around them.

I’m going to keep doing a lot of what I’m already doing but this coming year is one that I think I need to make some significant changes. For one, I want to move so I don’t live in a basement like a spider anymore. It was a good deal for a while and it helped both parties financially but at this age I don’t want to be a troll in someone’s basement. I want a life.

It’s also time to find a steady girlfriend that will lead into a (gasp) marriage. I’d like that experience in this life before I die even if it should happen blow up in my face. I’m fine to take the risk and I am putting that energy out in the universe. I don’t want some unshaven barrel assed she moose just because I want to be married though. I want to find a honey.

My vibe is improving a lot and hopefully that will produce different results than before. Moving to a new place and dating some nice women will make this year more interesting if nothing else. I want to accomplish other things yes, but I need to make room for dating or I’ll never hook up with anyone on a long term basis. I’m putting that vibe out there.

My comedy vibe is very good too these days, both performing and teaching. I had a pair of hot shows tonight at Zanies in Vernon Hills and I really enjoyed this whole week. I can feel myself getting stronger and stronger and the whole TV experience has made me a lot more structured and aware of myself on stage. I will use this year to improve even more.

Life has been a series of twists and turns and unexpected events and I’m sure there will be more of all that coming down the pike this year. My goal is to get past it and keep life going in a positive direction. Time to stop farting around. I’m at my personal peak now.