Archive for April, 2010

Marketing Mistakes

April 20, 2010

Sunday April 18th, 2010 – Kenosha, WI

I’m still riding high from the shows this weekend, especially last night in Michigan. I’m very thankful for Jim McHugh including me on these shows, but I’m also angry at myself for being such a poor marketer for so long. I don’t know why that bothers me so much all of a sudden, but it totally does. I’ve screwed myself out of thousands of legitimate dollars.

There’s nothing illegal about selling merchandise after shows, and I have never tried to hide a penny of it from the IRS or anything like that. I report everything, and that way I’m able to sleep at night with a clear conscience. What’s keeping me awake is that I’ve been such a slacker in getting products made for sale. I can do a lot better and I intend to do it.

A CD or t-shirt is not necessarily the best product, but people expect it at the very least. What can I do to make either one of those stand out from everyone else’s? First off, I can package the CD to look like I have a record deal. My last one stood out and this new one does too, even though it’s not as colorful as the first. It looks like a professional product.

Having several available is also a good plan. One CD is hard enough to produce but two or three push it over the top. I’ll have at least two by this fall, and that will be a huge plus in establishing credibility. I also want to get some in stores and on websites that sell other comedy products. CDs are dying out, but something will replace them and I‘ll be ready.

A book of some sort would be great too. I remember Jeff Foxworthy’s first book about rednecks, and it was jokes with cartoons illustrating some of them. That’s simple enough to do, and I’ve got a nice “You Know You’ve Got Bad Luck When…” book ready to go.

This is the way I need to start thinking, and should have been doing it twenty years ago. I guess I thought about it a lot, I just never executed most of those thoughts. Now, it’s the perfect time to do it as everyone else seems to be scattering in every direction. I’m ready to do what I should have already been doing, and that’s making the most of what I’ve got.

‘Mr. Lucky’ is a hell of a comedy persona. Lots of people think they have bad luck and can totally relate to it. If I can capture the ‘something-est’ title of being THE one with the worst luck, I can start marketing that a lot better than I have been. It might not just be in a standup comedy arena either. There might be a comic strip in there to make it even better.

Whatever the case, I’m responsible for creating something to sell. I put together my act and have been selling that all over North America for over 25 years. That’s ok, but I made the mistake of thinking that was the only way to do it. I missed out on adding t-shirts, CD and DVDs, books and who knows what else I could have thought of to the mix. I blew it.

Most other comedians I know lost out as well. VERY few have the foresight and vision to create products beyond the actual act itself, but those that did have done very well on a financial basis. Jeff Foxworthy is one of them and I respect him totally, as I do others like James Gregory and even Larry The Cable Guy. They put the business into show business.

As Good As It Gets

April 18, 2010

Saturday April 17th, 2010 – Hudson, MI

Two for two on the tour, but this one was special. Sometimes everything just works out right and rather than try to figure it out, the best thing to do is enjoy it. The entire evening was an overwhelming success, and all of us enjoyed it. We were in our element tonight.

All the stars aligned and for whatever reason the audience was into what we were doing and I could tell we were going to kick major ass from the first thirty seconds Jim McHugh was on stage to host the show. The vibe was in sync and when that happens, life is sweet.

We had the perfect show tonight. Jim McHugh was the host and James Wesley Jackson went on next. James is one of THE sweetest people I have ever met, and is always upbeat and positive. I have a special affinity for him because he used to open for George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic for years and always has interesting inside memories to share.

I gave him a copy of my new CD and he was blown away by the Pedro Bell cover art on it. If anyone is hip to how cool that is, it’s James. He got it right away and really loves the fact I’m such a big fan of the group. James has always been one of my favorites. He’s just so easygoing and positive all the time. I can learn a lot from him in many ways, and I do.

Jim likes him too and books him whenever he can. The last time the three of us worked together was an Italian restaurant in Cincinnati and we blew the roof off that joint. It was a Christmas party as I remember, and they loved all three of us. It happened again tonight.

James has a very unique style on stage. It’s similar to a Steven Wright in that it’s clever one liners and short bits strung together. When it’s working, it’s a treat to watch. Tonight it was working perfectly, and it’s also a fantastic setup for me. James sits on a stool and is very deliberate and then I come up there and pound them with my machine gun delivery.

After the show people lined up to tell us how much they enjoyed us, and we all thanked them sincerely. The three of us have been around long enough to know when it’s good or bad, and this was definitely good. Those people were as good as any audience anywhere.

This is why we all got into comedy in the first place. Yes, money is nice and everyone’s dream is to play the big rooms but the energy from an audience on a night like tonight is a drug more powerful than heroin. So what if we weren’t in Vegas? This was a super night.

I also sold ten CDs over the two nights. That might not be huge, but it’s income to help pay for the expense I had in getting them made and a also very painful reminder of all the income I’ve lost out on by not having them all this time. It’s probably been at least a year and I’m ashamed of myself for not having anything to sell. I won’t let that happen again.

James and Jim didn’t have anything to sell. People really enjoyed these shows, and now I’ve got ten seeds out there to hopefully grow my name. I realized my mistake but at least I fixed it. A lot of comics I know never do. Nights like tonight need to be capitalized on.
This is the part of the business that’s so difficult to grasp for some people. After a good show, we are in a euphoric mood and want it to last as long as possible. Most comedians I know enjoy that time in different ways. Some have cocktails, others chase women or hang out with the other comics on the show, still others have been known to go the drug route.

What I don’t think most comedians realize is that the audience is in a euphoric mood as well, and in perfect position to make an impulse buy on their way out if there is a product for sale at a reasonable price. The more products available, the better chance of making a sale. It’s very smart business and even if sales are mediocre, they do add up eventually.

I still remember getting lectured about this by James Gregory years ago. James is one of the best marketers I’ve ever seen, and I have nothing but respect for him. He’s an Atlanta based comedian who is king in the southeast and he bills himself as ‘The funniest man in America’. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter in the least. The perception is there.

James has t-shirts, sweat shirts, baseball caps, books, CDs, videos, and combinations of all of the above. His website is http://www.funniestman.com and I’m sure he’s got more things for sale because I haven’t checked it in a while. James Gregory knows show BUSINESS.

I’ve been weakly mediocre at best, and the only one to blame is me. I am making a solid conscious decision right now to improve my business skills dramatically. There’s no good reason I haven’t had anything to sell either in person or on my website for this long. I only hurt myself by doing that, and I’m in enough pain already. There’s just no excuse. Period.

Maybe it’s a self esteem thing and deep down some of us don’t think we deserve it. I’ve never enjoyed hawking merchandise, but most times I never hawked it. I just mentioned it was available and if people wanted something they could come get it. And they often did.

I remember James telling me that it’s a worthwhile expense to have as much to offer as possible, as eventually someone will buy it. If I’m doing shows anyway, why not have the largest available inventory possible to give people the most choice? I can’t argue with that and why should I? He’s right. Way more comedians than not never master the marketing.

I’m not talking about having one crappy t-shirt or home made CD or DVD available for sale. I’m talking about taking time to have quality merchandise made up and put in a nice package and offered at the end of a show. That takes a lot of effort, and most never do it.

Most comedians now have websites, but that’s not the same. The impulse buying power after a killer show like we had tonight is priceless. They just saw a red hot performance in person and the endorphins are still surging through their body. THAT’S the time to sell.

I’ve been missing out on this opportunity far too long now and that’s going to stop right this minute. I didn’t have to hawk the ten CDs I sold this weekend, and in fact the people thanked me for letting them buy one. They wanted it, and I had it available. It’s a business deal, and everyone wins. It’s taken longer than I thought, but I’m finally getting smarter.

Entertainment Evolution

April 18, 2010

Friday April 16th, 2010 – Holiday City, OH

The comedy business seems to be evolving similarly to America itself. What once was a perpetually proud powerhouse is now only a shell of what it was, but most are proceeding as if nothing’s wrong and nothing’s changed and they assume it’s going to right itself and life will be Hershey bars and Archie comics once again. I don’t see that happening at all.

I don’t want be pessimistic, but I am extremely concerned. The problems with America are way over my head and not in my jurisdiction. I’m not a politician and never wanted to be, but it sure seems like things are getting out of hand. I don’t trust the people in power.

Maybe things were never perfect, but they were a lot simpler thirty years ago. Now I’m starting to sound like my grandparents, but it’s true. I remember the gas lines of the 1970s and the recession and all that went with it, but times were different. There were still ways to make a living, and there were factory jobs here where middle class people could work.

There seemed to be a lot more structure then, and even when times did get rough, it was a predictable cycle and it would always get better eventually. Now, it seems to be anarchy and nobody can predict the future more than a few months in the future. It’s a crapshoot.

Comedy is not what it once was either. It used to be a wonderful way to earn a living for those who could handle the constant gypsy lifestyle. There was a structure and a hierarchy and people would work toward something. Now, it seems like everyone is for themselves.

Maybe they were always for themselves, but there was more of a foundation set as to an actual plan of how to do it. There were circuits to work where one could develop an act to sell to better bookers of better circuits and eventually television and movies. That was the plan, and a lot of people caught breaks. Now, it seems like nobody has any kind of vision.

Everyone and their grandmother’s proctologist thinks they’re a comedian and has all the same access to Facebook everyone else does, and the good acts get lost in the mix. I don’t see that changing any time soon, and like it or not this is how the business is developing.

Jim McHugh is trying to book his own shows as “The Chicago Comedy All Stars” and I respect him for doing it. He’s going out and selling shows to groups for fundraisers and it isn’t easy. He’s been great to work with and I support what he’s doing. He’s fighting back at the insanity of having to chase bookers down and taking his destiny into his own hands.

This weekend he booked a mini tour in Ohio and Michigan. Tonight we were in a small town called Holiday City, OH which I’d never heard of before. We did a fundraiser night for a basketball team in a Ramada Inn and it went very well. The people loved the show.

I wouldn’t have the patience to book shows like this but Jim has been able to do a great job putting these together. I’m extremely grateful for the work, but I’m also a solid act for him to count on to bring it home. This is a win/win all the way, and tonight was a success.

AC/DC Frenzy

April 16, 2010

Thursday April 15th, 2010 – Milwaukee, WI

Another tax day, another extension. Again, I blew my yearly goal of having all my stuff ready so I can get my return filed on or even before today, but that’s life. Things get in the way and for another year I’ll have to do it later. It’s not illegal, so I won’t sweat it. I’ll get everything together and get it to the accountant and he’ll take care of it as he always does.

Nobody enjoys thinking about all that, at least nobody sane. I wanted to escape from the real world and as luck would have it I scored an extra ticket to see AC/DC at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. I’d always heard they put on a fantastic show and I always enjoy an opportunity to study master showmen in any genre. If it’s done well, I’ll be a fan for life.

I was never a huge fan of theirs, even though I don’t despise them like many women do. They’re the Three Stooges of rock. Guys revere them, women revile them. Not all women hate them, as there were quite a few hotties in the house, but the ones who do – really do.

The critiques I’ve heard about them always say they don’t have a lot of range and all the songs sound the same, and I guess part of that is true but it’s true for most bands that hit it big. Do all ZZ Top songs sound the same? To me they do, but I still like them. It’s a style.

KC & The Sunshine Band is another example. Disco is long dead, but I love KC’s style and he still continues to pack houses because he knows how to entertain an audience. I’ve never seen them live, but I’m a big fan of their recordings and if they show up, I’m there.

I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see AC/DC, so I went. WOW, what a show they put on. I don’t think the reviews I heard did them justice. I was blown away by how much energy they cranked out, and were able to keep it up for the entire show. They were great.

The crowd was all the way back to the last row, and if I had to hazard a guess I’d say it was about 12,000. Maybe more. Nobody got cheated, that’s for sure. We all got the price of our ticket and more. I’d have to say this was one of the best shows I’ve ever attended.

I’m always going to be partial to George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, but they’re locked in as my favorite band. I tried to compare the two acts during the show, and I have to admit AC/DC really hammers it home. They didn’t let up the entire time, and I wonder how those guys can keep that energy going that long. Angus Young is 55. I looked it up.

Brian Johnson is 62 and was running all over the stage and none of them missed a beat. To still be that energetic and pack arenas at that age is nothing short of amazing. It was an extremely tight show, with hit after hit after hit. They kept banging it out the entire night.

George Clinton does that too, but his venue size is shrinking unfortunately. They’re still fantastic, but the public doesn’t know it. AC/DC is definitely not an oldies act. They’re as popular now as I can remember them in high school, and I wasn’t a huge fan then even if most of my friends were. I knew who they were and they were ok. I’m now a huge fan.

The main reason I enjoyed them so much is that they give the fans what they want. The crowd they draw is very blue collar as a rule, and those people don’t want to hear about a tortured artist or some kind of fairy dust opus from the 15th Century. They want to ROCK.

Period. They want to hear loud music they can bob their heads to, and they want to hear it all night long. They don’t need to hear complicated stories about angst filled divas with drug issues or anything other than the songs they love on their stereo. AC/DC delivers it.

They do have a lot of hits, and yes I’d say quite a few of them sound the same, but I saw thousands of people pumping their fists and enjoying every one of them. They please their fans, and what else matters but that? The critics? I don’t see critics paying anyone’s bills.

Another thing that blew me away was the merchandising. I have no idea who’s the main force behind it but I wish I could hook up with them. They’ve got it DOWN. I counted 18 t-shirts for sale, not counting anything else. That’s 18 different designs…at $40 per shirt.

I also saw buttons for $10, a flag for $50 and even an AC/DC neck tie. I’d always heard Kiss were the marketing kings, but if AC/DC isn’t up there I’d be shocked. They had a lot of stuff for sale, and I saw people buying it. I saw people wearing it too. I lost count at all the t-shirts I saw worn by those who were already there. They’re a clothing line as well.

That’s one thing George Clinton never really capitalized on. In recent years I’ve seen an upgrade in his merchandising, but not much and it’s not consistent either. I know how the mindset is though. Performers want to perform. We’re not interested in selling t-shirts for bald fat white guys to wear on fishing trips, or behind the wheel of their tractor trailers.

Still, those are the people who are the most loyal, and those people were there to see the show. They were singing along with every word, and the band gave them exactly what all of them wanted, and they did it with flair. I was very impressed with the whole operation.

I made it a point to stand and watch the crowd file out to see what I could learn. I don’t know what I expected, but it was interesting to note their mood. Most were in a fabulous mindset. I saw big smiles, high fives and people gushing how much they loved the show.

I also saw even more t-shirts than I noticed before. I’d have to say there were thousands of them, with AC/DC being the most popular and Harley Davidson the second. That was the common theme, and the genius behind the t-shirt concession has got to be super rich.

This was a huge lesson, and I’m glad I went. I felt like I attended a marketing seminar instead of a concert, but that’s ok. The lessons will hopefully last longer than the ringing in my ears from the loud music. This a marketing machine, and I loved seeing it work.

Seeing all this made my little piss ant CD seem infinitesimally small, but at least it’s a start. I won’t be able to crank out the energy or income AC/DC does, but at least I’ll have a standard of excellence to shoot for. These guys get it done. I learned a whole lot tonight.

Hard Luck Jollies – FINALLY!

April 15, 2010

Wednesday April 14th, 2010 – Lake Villa, IL/Milwaukee, WI

Whoo Hoo! I’ve been pumped up before, but rarely like today. I’ve been positively and absolutely giddy all day and the grin on my puss just won’t go away.  My brand spanking new comedy CD “Hard Luck Jollies” is now available for sale at the competitive price of $13 postpaid in the continental United States of America – slightly more for Zimbabwe.

What a hell ride it’s been to get this project FINALLY done, and I can now see why it’s so difficult for bands to stay together for extended periods of time. This one took so long to finish, I almost broke up with myself. It may not be “Thriller”, but at least it’s finished.

The worst part of all is that I’ve had some stupendously sizzling shows in the time since the last copy of the previous one ran out to today’s rejuvenation and rebirth. I shudder as I think of how many copies I could have sold between then and now and it’s probably up in the hundreds. That translates in cash to thousands, and the only one to really blame is me.

Yes, I had problems with my ex business partner and all the ugliness that went with that plus I sold the rights to my first CD outright to Laughing Hyena Records and don’t own it anymore. Those two things contributed to the gap in time along with some reasons on the other side with both the artwork and Donna Gurda who was the producer of this project.

Donna’s mother passed away and she had to attend to all that goes with that, and Pedro Bell’s artwork became an issue when his business partner embezzled from him and put an additional unexpected damper on the project. Any one of those things would be extremely frustrating, but all together it nearly choked out the whole project. I am thrilled it didn’t.

I had to keep plugging or it would never have gotten finished at all, and I’m very glad I did. Donna did a great job on the disc along with Mark Heleniak at EarMark Productions. She used to produce Tom Green’s music projects and she knows what she’s doing, along with Mark. They worked hard and were worth every penny I spent. I appreciate their help.

Pedro Bell’s cover artwork is also fantastic, even though I wasn’t able to get it colorized fully. It’s really intricate cartoon work, and after a lot of testing it was decided to just add color to the name logo for me he created and the words ‘Hard Luck Jollies’. The logo was modeled directly after the logo for the group Funkadelic. Anyone who’s a fan will know.

There are some things I’d change on the packaging just as there are on my last one but it won’t be noticed by anyone but me. It looks very presentable and sounds crisp. Nobody is going to know or care how many delays there were with this, they’ll just enjoy the results, or at least I hope they will. The last one went over very well, and this one is an upgrade.

The good thing is, this won’t happen again any time soon. I’ve already got ideas for the next one and I talked to Donna and Mark about it today as I dropped off copies of this one up in Milwaukee. We’ve got a lot more recordings to go through and there’s enough there for at least one but possibly even two more projects like this so I’m set for at least a bit.

I’ll keep cranking out product as much and as often as I can, but I won’t whore myself. I want to keep some kind of quality control and not just slap anything together. This took it up a notch, and I want to keep doing that as long as I can. I know there’s a lot more in me, and hopefully I can use these recordings to develop more of a fan base, like a musician.

Now is when the real work starts though. I’ve had some solid support from Sirius/XM Satellite Radio and I hope they’ll continue to showcase my newer offerings. Some of the material is the same from the first one to these next two or three, but I did it in a different way. Plus, there’s new stuff added in there too. I purged myself of everything I had in me.

I also have to restock websites that have sold my product like CD Baby and quite a few others like http://www.comedyhome.com and http://www.laugh.com. Those were also years ago and I wasn’t the contact person, my ex partner was. I’ll have to dive in and do all of this myself even though none of this is my field of expertise. For now, I need to be in charge of it all.

I’ll put the word out on Facebook and myspace and I’m even doing it here on my daily diary, which I normally don’t use to plug anything blatantly. This time I have to put it all aside and market this thing. I was always shy about it before, but people liked it and I am still getting compliments from it seven years later. This new one will not be a stink bomb.

I also have to find a way to put it up on my website and have people buy it there. I have no idea how to do that, and I didn’t ask my friend Shelley today when I picked the boxes up from her house. I had them sent there because there’s always someone home watching her kids. She’s also been a gigantic help lately and I appreciate all her efforts immensely.

I appreciate everyone who has contributed to this entire project from Donna and Mark to Pedro’s artwork and also Greg Phelps in Indianapolis who put the whole package into completion mode from getting all the design and art finished to getting the printing done. His company is called Tridigital Solutions and I recommend them for all your CD needs.

The main regret I have is not being able to thank everyone I wanted to thank. The inner sleeve would have had to have been 20 feet long, and I couldn’t afford that. Still, I’m very thankful for all who contributed in whatever way they did. I’ve had a lot of support from a variety of people and I am humbled, flattered and owe them a debt of sincere gratitude.

There’s also a Mr. Lucky song written and performed by my friend Joe Dell’Orfano and a one on one interview with Jerry Agar recorded in the WGN studios. I’m a fan of a lot of people, and an interview is always interesting to me so I put one on hoping somebody else feels the same way I do about it. All in all, this is a jam packed CD chock full of stuff that I’d want to get if I was buying a comedy CD. That’s a formula that’s worked in the past.

This is a milestone, and I love it. One CD isn’t easy to do. Two is twice as hard. Three’s extremely rare, so that’s the next goal. I think I can do it, especially since it’s already been recorded. If you’d like a copy of Hard Luck Jollies, I’ll gladly sign it for you. Please send $13 to: Dobie Maxwell P.O. Box 618 Lake Villa, IL 60046. I totally appreciate all orders.

Acting Class And Storytelling

April 15, 2010

Tuesday April 13th, 2010 – Oak Park, IL/Milwaukee, WI

I’ve often heard comedians can easily transform themselves into actors as a rule, but for whatever reason I never chose to take that path. It never interested me. I was content with being a comedian, and I still am. The thrill is in that live performance. It never gets old.

Looking back, I wish I would have taken some acting and improv classes along the way. It would have added more texture to what I do on stage, and not hurt me at all. I probably won’t get a sitcom at this point, but it still would have been nice to have at least a couple of acting roles under my belt to round out my resume. I’m just now starting to get into it.

There was a one day seminar today designed to make speakers improve stage presence. It was sponsored by The National Speaker’s Association (NSA) and I heard about it from Steve Olsher, my new friend I met who taught his seminar on reinvention. He invited me to go along with him and I did. It was a chance to network and learn from a professional.

The meeting was at the studios of Ted Sarantos in Oak Park, IL. He’s been teaching for forty years, and I really liked the guy. He gave us techniques and exercises and there were about 40 people there, most of them speakers. My friend Deb DiSandro was there, and we hadn’t seen each other in a while. Like me, Deb is always trying to improve everything.

After the seminar, many of us went out to lunch and visited some more. I got to sit next to Ted and pick his brain about acting and teaching, and he did the same about comedy. It opened me up to a whole new world, even though I really don’t have any desire to go full time into acting. I’d be interested in taking Ted’s class to learn some basic fundamentals.

The main thing about going to seminars is the contacts that can be made. I met Steve at his seminar, then he asked me to go to this one and now I met Ted Sarantos. I see there’s a whole world of people I need to know, not just comedy people. I am behind on all of it.

Maybe I wasn’t ready until now, but I totally feel that I am. I love teaching and I know what I’m doing, but it doesn’t hurt to attend other seminars and watch how others deliver their material. I’ll pick things up here and there and it will make my classes even better.

Tonight I drove up to Milwaukee to participate in a storyteller’s club started by my old friend David Lee Hendrickson. He was a comedian for years, now he’s doing this. People get up and tell stories about their life. Some are sad, others funny. Everyone has a story.

I’m not sure where he’s going with it, and I don’t think he knows yet either. Still, it was fun to watch the people work, and I even got up and told a couple myself. If I have plenty of anything it’s interesting life stories – all of them true. I hope David succeeds with this.

The venue for the storytellers is The Safe House in Milwaukee. That’s a legendary joint everyone should experience. I hadn’t been there in years and forgot how unique and fun it is. Acting lessons by day, storytelling by night. It’s a wonder I have any free time at all.

Warning In The Morning

April 14, 2010

Monday April 12th, 2010 – Milwaukee, WI/Chicago, IL

It’s not too often I end up in the downtowns of both Milwaukee and Chicago in the same day, but today was one of them. I had business in both places and it all ended up on a high note. I’ve been known to complain about living in the sticks as I do, but on days like this I catch a little break. On this day I happened to catch a big one and I’m extremely grateful.

I had a lunch scheduled with my old friend Chris ‘C.P.’ Peppas in Brookfield, WI and it saves a few miles if I take US 45 north instead of going all the way east to I-94. I’ve made the trip countless times and I know the route extremely well by now. It does go through a few towns where the speed limit drops considerably, but in the long run it’s a shorter trip.

Today I had a lot on my mind as I drove through the Milwaukee suburb of Muskego on my way to meet C.P. in Brookfield. Right off I-45 and Highway 36 there’s a road that’s a shortcut, even though I can’t think of the name of it offhand. I do know it saves me time.

I was zipping along and saw a cop parked in a lot where I don’t usually see one. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a police car on that road before. I saw a speed limit sign of 40 MPH about a quarter of a block past the police car and I hit my brakes to slow down right away. I saw the squad car turn around and start following me and I knew I was in trouble.

He ended up following me for almost a mile before firing up the lights. It’s never fun to drive with a cop in the rear view mirror, especially when he won‘t flash any lights. That’s a great way to induce paranoia, and when they did finally flash I actually felt some relief.

I was in an upbeat mood and enjoying the beautiful weather but those lights put me in a foul mood in a hurry. The last thing I needed today was a speeding ticket, especially with my new comedy CD on the way I need to pay for. I saw the cop get out of the car with his cop mustache and slow cop walk, and it didn’t look good. He didn’t appear to be jovial.

One thing I’ve learned to do over the years is always hold my hands up to show that I’m not carrying any weapons, which I never do anyway. I’ve got my license and insurance in my left hand with my right one up in full view right under the rear view mirror. I’ve heard this is a good way to show there’s no surprises, and it’s a sign I’m not looking for trouble.

He asked me if I knew how fast I was going and I really didn’t. He snarled “55 in a 40” and took my license back to his car and sat there for a good twenty minutes. I was late for lunch and getting more pissed off by the minute, and really thought I only deserved to get a warning. I might have been going fast, but I saw him and slowed right down after that.

I watched him get out of the car and do that slow cop walk to mine with no expression at all on his face. I bit my lip and prepared for the worst when he asked for my telephone number. I resisted the urge to make a smart ass comment and I told him. He then gave me a document which he said was a warning, and told me to watch my speed next time. That put me in a jaunty mood in a hurry, and I thanked him and drove away feeling like a king.

I’ve always thought it would be hilarious to yank my license back in that situation and totally spin the tires and lay rubber right in front of him as I flip him the bird. It would be stupid, but still hilarious. Maybe if I find out I have a terminal disease and can’t do a long sentence I’ll think harder about it, but for now I’ll just let it remain my deep inner fantasy.

I caught a break today, and I know it. Mr. Lucky’s stage character would NEVER catch one like that, and it felt good to separate the character from me as a person. There are way too many times when I haven’t, and it’s been torture. For whatever reason, today I had my mojo working and I lucked out. It could have been a number of reasons, but I don’t care.

Maybe it was the fact that I held my hands up. Maybe it was because I didn’t have any outstanding warrants. Maybe he saw my personalized ‘URANUS1’ license plate and had second thoughts about calling it in. Maybe he recognized my name from somewhere and cut me a break. Whatever the case, I want to put a sincere thank you out into the universe.

Life is SO unfair, but this is a situation where I win out. I’m a dorky looking white guy who looks about as far from being a gang banger as humanly possible. I speak clearly and am not intimidated by police officers. I treat them with respect answer questions honestly, and more often than not I end up driving away without a citation. Today was another one.

I really do think it was the right call. There are times when I was speeding and probably do deserve the fine, but not today. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t have got it, and I’m not at all trying to tempt the fates. I caught a break, and was only a few minutes late for my lunch at The Emperor’s Kitchen with C.P. He was understanding about it and life goes on. Again.

C.P. ordered a DVD off of Public Television about Milwaukee things that are no longer in existence. He thought it would be a good resource for ‘Schlitz Happened!’ and I totally agree. I offered to pay but he said it was his gift to me. I paid him back with lunch but I’ll take care of him more than that. At some point I’ll be able to hire him for something paid.

C.P. is a talented writer and a super nice guy and he grew up in Milwaukee so he knows exactly what I’m going for with this. He’s a few years older than me so his references dig a little deeper, which is good. I want to include him on the team somewhere, and he could be a major asset. I can’t pay him right now, but he knows it and said he’d work with me.

I watched my speed on the way home and arrived just in time to shower and crawl right back in the car and drive to Chicago to host the Zanies Rising Star Showcase show. What a great night it turned out to be. The audience was medium in size but large in appetite to see comedy and they couldn’t have been any better. The lineup of comics was stellar too.

That doesn’t happen every time, but when it does it’s a blast to witness. It makes my job a lot easier, and it’s basically a night off. I bring up the comics who kick ass, and I tell the audience who the next one is. It’s a little deeper than that, but not al that much. I watched the show and was impressed by quite a few of the people tonight. Everything fell together perfectly and I got paid in the end. What could be any better? Avoiding a speeding ticket.

Albatross Removal

April 13, 2010

Sunday April 11th, 2010 – Milwaukee, WI

I made a big step in the right direction on getting rid of the sports card albatross around my neck today. I’ve been trying to shop them around to some dealers I know, but that has significant risk attached. Most dealers of any collectible range from total scumbag shyster criminal types to partial scumbag shyster criminal types. Very few will cut win/win deals.

All of them aren’t like that, but from my experience the overwhelming majority of them are. I’ve seen coin and stamp dealers operate over the years, and my cousin Jef Parker had several comic book shops in the Milwaukee area before he passed away several years ago.

The people might be different in each hobby, but the game is exactly the same. There is a predator and there is prey. The predator needs to eat, and the prey is at their mercy as to what their ultimate fate will be. Usually, it’s ugly and bloody with the prey getting eaten.

I knew I was taking a risk when I bought these cards. I had some money at the time and I bought a few collections of various sizes from various sources. I thought I would be able to do card shows on the road while I was doing comedy shows, and make double income.

In theory, it sounded great. So does Socialism. Let’s see how Mr. Obama’s master plan to fix health care works out in reality. On second thought, no let’s not. Let’s not have this forced upon us like they’re trying to do. Let’s THINK a little. Maybe a lot. Let’s be smart.

I thought I was being smart by buying these cards. I thought it through and even though it was a gamble, it was a calculated one so I pulled the trigger. I knew what the very worst case scenario was, but I did it anyway. Then it happened, and now I am stuck with them.

Actually, the second worst thing happened. The first would have been a flood or fire and then I’d REALLY be screwed. I’m not insured for them and I’d be out every single penny I spent to buy them all. Now, at least I have somewhat of a chance to get some of it back.

The two main mistakes I made were buying a mixture of older and newer stuff, and that much of the older stuff was in mid-grade condition. Older and newer stuff has a different customer base, and as the saying goes – “The very best place to get hit is in the middle of the road.” That’s where much of the stuff falls, and there are all kinds of dealers selling it.

Personally, I don’t even like the new cards. They’re overpriced and overproduced and it has a whole different collector mindset today. I like the old classic stuff from the 50s, 60s and even the 70s, as that’s when I collected. After about 1985 or so, I couldn’t care less.

Still, I probably have 50,000 cards made from 2000 to 2008 or so that I have no interest in at all. I only bought them thinking I could turn a buck. Now I wish I’d never seen them and can’t wait to get them out of my life. There’s a painful lesson in this, and I’m starting to see it crystal clearly – stay with what you love and the rest will work itself out. I made a huge goof and now I need to ungoof it, at least to the level I’m able to make it disappear.

In all likelihood, I’m going to take a loss when they’re all gone. I’m afraid to estimate it as an actual number, because I don’t want to turn it into a reality. Thoughts are things and it’s easy to dwell on how horrible this whole situation is. That’s not going to change it for one minute, but what will change it is me unloading as much of it as I can for a fair price.

That’s where it all gets cloudy. What exactly IS a ‘fair price’? Most dealers will ramble on about overhead costs and how the market is slow and some of it is legit, but then a lot of them will turn around and offer a lowball cash price hoping their scare tactics worked and they can steal the deal. I’ve seen how they do it and it’s all a big production number.

The reality boils down to old fashioned economics – supply and demand. If someone is a card dealer, they need to have inventory to sell for more than they paid for it. I get that. I don’t mind if a guy makes money off of me and in fact I want that. That way he or she has a reason to potentially by from me again. The problem I have is finding the correct deal.

My two main friends in Milwaukee deal in mostly top level cards, and much of all they do is conducted on Ebay. My cards have a market, but it’s not those guys. I do know of a guy from Michigan that’s been doing shows for 35 years. His name is Mark Smith and he comes to Milwaukee on occasion to set up at a card show and we’ve talked several times.

Mark does this all over the country, just like I do comedy. He’s probably about the very same level in cards as I am in comedy. I’m nationally touring, but not super famous. I am known in some places but still have a private life, so all isn’t bad. Mark has a life but still goes out and works card shows all over every week. We both hustle to get our bills paid.

That being said, Mark has agreed to take my cards on consignment and include them on his table, which is at a different card show each weekend. He said he can give me a down payment up front and then make payments every month and I’m ok with that. I’ve had my ass scorched big time in the past with comics and car deals, but this is a different animal.

Mark has a stellar reputation in the business, and if he screwed me word would get out in about ten minutes. He can’t afford to screw up his reputation, which is very solid. That took him 35 years to build and we talked about that today as we ran over the deal we want to work out. He’ll send monthly payments, and I know he will. He’s the total right choice.

I still may end up losing out in the short run, but in the long run I’ll have all this GONE, and that is worth it right now. If I hit it big, I’ll be able to buy it all back and fifty times as much beyond that if I want. The problem is, I don’t want. Not anymore. I’m done with the thought of trying to do both. I can’t. It didn’t work out, and now I want to pack and move.

Mark is going to be back in Milwaukee in May. That will give me a chance to put all of it in a package and give him what he wants – which is older stuff. Mine isn’t great, but it’s not horrible either. There’s some sellable stuff there for sure, but how much will it bring? That’s what Mark will figure out, then we’ll work out a percentage and my life will keep moving. I learned my lesson. There are ZERO ‘quick bucks‘. I’m giving up chasing them.

Time For Spring Cleaning

April 11, 2010

Saturday April 10th, 2010 – Bolingbrook, IL

The people I rent my living space from did me a mammoth favor today by asking me to organize my floor space so they could replace my furniture. They’re getting new furniture upstairs and it’s better than their old stuff, which is better than what I had, even though it really doesn’t matter to me. I was fine with the old stuff, but it’s their house and their call.

I desperately needed to clean up the piles that were everywhere from the floor right next to the furniture to the actual furniture itself. I got up early this morning and started sorting things into other piles and then throwing away everything I didn’t absolutely need. I filled three big garbage bags full of outdated paper and that was a solid start. The purge begins.

I’ve said I was going to do it and it’s totally time. Most of my possessions can be gotten rid of, and from past experience the energy of motion feeds off itself and it gets easier and easier to part company with most of the junk once momentum starts rolling. It was sitting there collecting dust for months, even though I knew I would eventually get started on it.

Today was the day, and it’s way past due. I know I’ve been busy with other things lately but even though it’s a legitimate reason, it’s by far no excuse. In the long run, this will be a rejuvenation that will allow me to keep growing in the important areas. It’s a pruning of the branches to help the whole tree grow taller, and everything I did today fell into place.

The first thing I did was clean off my desk and recreate a work space. It’s not a big desk and I don’t have that much space, so sometimes it’s easy to use it for storage. Wrong. I’ve seen how cluttering the desk constipates progress and I have to keep it clean from now on if for no other reason than it’s a symbol of forward motion. I need a place to focus energy.

I also made room for the three ring binders I created last week that will be master copies of reference for ‘Schlitz Happened!’, my comedy classes and comedy material I intend on developing this year. They’re all clearly labeled, easily accessible and have a regular place to be now so I’ll be able to find everything easily if I just get in a habit of putting it away.

This is a giant leap forward, as most of my things are placed randomly where I put them and then when I need them again it’s anybody’s guess where a particular item may be. It’s been a daily scavenger hunt at times, even when I didn’t feel like playing. This is better.

While I was at it I made a space for all my Uranus stuff and it’s right next to the spot for all my Mothership Connection radio stuff. I have a nice collection of paranormal books to peruse, even though most of them will eventually be gone with everything else. At least it all has a place now, and while I was at it I created another three ring binder for the show.

This was more progress than I’ve made in many months, and I felt like Rocky Balboa as I did it. To the rest of the world it was all meaningless, but to me it symbolized a positive change of direction and tangible improvement. I know I’ve got a long way to go, but it’s a major step to get it started and I’m thrilled I did. Taking action is the start of all success.

I had a super fun show tonight in Bolingbrook, IL at a golf course of all places. They do comedy shows there twice a month and it’s booked by Bert Borth, a Chicago area booker who’s also a comic originally from St. Louis. Bert is very laid back and I’ve always liked him personally, but Zanies has been good to me over the years so I rarely work for him.

He runs a club at Walter Payton’s Round House in Aurora, IL and he’s offered me a gig there many times. It’s not that I can’t do it, but I just don’t feel it’s right since I’m closely associated with Zanies, and they have three clubs in the area. No offense to Bert at all, it’s a numbers game. I’ve worked for Zanies for many years and they’ve been my home clubs.

This particular show was different. It’s in a golf course where regulars come out and it’s never going to be a full time comedy club. The people are wonderful, and they really love comedy. Supposedly it’s been packed every other show, but tonight was about half full or even less. Still, they were powerhouse laughers and I ended up doing more than my time.

These are the kind of people I want to cultivate, as they totally appreciated every one of the acts on the show. Dan Brennan is a suburban comic who’s putting his act together and I’ve always thought he was funny. He did a fine job tonight in the opening slot, and Mike Von was the feature. He’s originally from Baltimore and I’ve seen him work a few times.

I always thought he was funny too, but tonight really won me over. I found out he’s just 23 and has been doing comedy for seven years already. He’s got a very bright future and I see big things for this kid. He’s well dressed and well spoken and apparently his father is a comedian too. That doesn’t guarantee the son will be funny, but this one absolutely is.

Mike happens to be black and the audience tonight was predominantly white and had an average age of about 40-50. Here’s a 23 year old black kid from Baltimore who could get up there and grab them in the first minute and do a professional job. I was very impressed with his skill level and I thought he was older. He sure has the chops and I wish him well.

The evolution of comedy seems to be going in the direction of shows like this and I like it. The pay wasn’t huge, but it was worth driving across town for rather than driving eight or nine or more hours to some hell hole bar for a few more bucks but not all that many. If I could make a living in the Chicago/Milwaukee/Madison Rockford area I’d be thrilled.

Doing shows like this are becoming more commonplace, and it also helps because it’s a crowd that’s a little older and won’t go to comedy clubs. I’m getting older and I’m perfect for these people. Plus, I get to stay home during the day and work on other things that are important like cleaning out my living space. Today was productive on quite a few levels.

John O’Brien is a former student I hadn’t seen in two years. He’s been an unbelievable supporter over the years, and I appreciate him greatly for it. He’s a few years older and a student of comedy, but still likes to go up himself when he can. He has his job and family, but comedy is still important to him and I respect that. He came out to see the show and we visited for a while before and after. People like John make teaching worth the effort.

Festering Finances

April 10, 2010

Friday April 9th, 2010 – Lake Villa, IL

Everything in life always has to boil down to money. Why is that? People say it doesn’t, but it absolutely does. I’ve always said 95% of my problems can be directly traced back to a lack of money, and I still think it’s true today. Why do people continue to stay employed at a job they can’t stand? They need the money. We all do. It makes us all do crazy things.

Some people inherit it, only to piss it away on frivolous baubles and trinkets. Others get a feel for it early in life and invest it so it works for them. Most of us never receive even a bit of training as to how to use it and by the time we discover that it’s too late to recover.

I feel myself wallowing in a real danger zone and I sure don’t want to be stuck here the rest of my life. It’s been difficult enough to piece together a meager living all these years much less to go on any kind of saving plan, but I still could have done a whole lot better.

I did have some savings as recently as a couple of years ago, and I kept my credit cards down to zero on a regular basis. Those days are long gone, mostly because of my regular trips to the dentist chair to get a face full of root canals, and my generous nature to those who have stuck it to me in return. Those people hurt me more than the root canal needles.

Paul Kelly owes me $500 for a car I sold him several years ago. Will Clifton owes $900 for a car I sold him for his son, who apparently wrecked it a short time later. JD the owner of JD’s Comedy Café in Milwaukee still owes me $400 for shows I did in 1994 which my instincts told me to file a small claim for, but I was talked out of it by the former booker.

I can think of a few other instances too, but those three alone would be $1800 I’d use to pay for my CD that was supposed to be shipped today but apparently wasn’t. I know I am by far not the only one to have money owed to him, but I’m angry with myself for letting it happen – especially more than once. I was trying to be ‘nice’, but that just doesn’t cut it.

I love the scene in Goodfellas where Robert DeNiro’s character sees the commercial on TV for Morrie, the guy who sells toupees. DeNiro flips out when he sees it and grabs the cord from a nearby phone and starts choking Morrie. That’s exactly how I’m feeing now.

I’m not a violent guy at all, but this kind of stuff really bothers me. I tried to reason with all three of those grease balls, but they just laughed about it and told me to piss off. Here I sit, drenched in piss, but out $1800 that’s rightfully mine. Who do I blame for this? ME.

I never should have sold cars on credit and I never should have let JD slide on that $400 without filing a suit in court. These are painful lessons that continue to haunt me when it matters most. That money would have paid for my CD project, and now is when I need it.

These are painful lessons in life, and I wish I wouldn’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again but apparently I do. I should have savings put away and have a lot of streams of income coming in. But I don’t. It’s up to me to revamp my financial situation.