A Lesson In Showbiz


Monday August 30th, 2010 – Chicago, IL

I’ve got two days back on dry land to pack in about a week’s worth of errands, then it’s  back on the ship for a full week run. Then I return to Chicago late on Tuesday September 7th to pick up my car and start driving to Michigan for a two night casino run in the U.P.  starting on the 8th. My schedule feels like a blender with the farthest right button pushed.

I’m glad to get the gigs, but sooner or later I won’t be able to keep up this pace. At least on the ship my travel is taken care of for me. Airline tickets purchased in my name and all I have to do is make it to the airport on time to sit in the seat. That’s not always been easy either, but at least the hard part is done by someone else. Now I need someone to drive.

That’s one thing that has really lost it’s luster in a big way. I don’t care if I ever have to drive an automobile again. I still need to get places, but someone else can drive. I’ll relax and enjoy the ride as a passenger, or maybe just nod out and sleep. Whatever the case, it’s not my goal to keep making marathon cross country drives to do gigs in remote locations.

The pay will be decent for the week though, and on Saturday I’ll be back in Milwaukee at the Potawatomi Casino. Normally I’d be in the Northern Lights Theatre, but apparently they’re remodeling it and the comedy will be somewhere else. That’s ok, they are always on top of it there and I’ve never had any problems. I’ll work wherever they tell me to go.

Tonight I was back at Zanies in Chicago hosting the Rising Star Showcase. I probably should have taken the night off, but I really do enjoy doing it – especially when the shows are how it was tonight. The audience was razor sharp and the lineup of talent was dead on and it was a joy to watch it all come together. I keep the flow going and it’s a fun night.

It doesn’t hurt that I get paid either, and I stand by my old school axiom that it’s always a good bet to accept the gig as not many comedians anywhere on any level are able to turn a buck on a Monday night. Any money is found money, and the gig itself is pretty easy.

A flaming example happened tonight of what NOT to do in a showcase situation. Some goofy wannabe bastard had his ’manager’ contact Bert Haas to arrange the showcase date, as is the protocol. Bert really does try to squeeze as many people on as he can, some that I probably wouldn’t if I were in charge. That’s his option, and I don’t tell him what to do.

He gave the ok for this ham and egger to get his tryout, and the guy brings about fifty or more people into the club to see him. There was a line out the door. Well, Bert insists the showcasers show up by 7:30pm SHARP. 7:31 and it’s a done deal. That’s his rule, and he enforces it fairly to all people. I’ve seen him throw a lot of experienced people off shows.

Well, the ’manager’ flips out and decides he’s going to pull every one of those people in the audience out to ’stick it to Zanies’. Bert didn’t panic a bit, and in fact helped clear out the room so the waitresses could clean the tables and get them ready for the next group of people who would take them, which is exactly what happened. That guy screwed himself.

This is a VERY important lesson for all performers to learn, even though it’s not at all a pleasant one. Unfortunately, life will go on with or without YOU, no matter who ‘you’ is. I know exactly what that feels like, as I’ve had my share of scuffles with clubs myself.

The sad thing is, it doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right. It just doesn’t. I’m sure both of those guys thought they’d made their point and sent Zanies scrambling because Bert has a rule he won’t budge for anyone. Not true. They were all totally forgotten about before the show even started. Other people came in, filled those seats and it was a spectacular show.

This is a very humbling fact to swallow, but a fact nonetheless. I remember my own tiff with the ape who used to own the Comedy Café in Milwaukee. I ended up not only being stiffed out of $400 for shows I did, I’ve never been back since. This happened in 1994.

It doesn’t matter that I was right, it burned a bridge. There were plenty of others to take my place, and over the years it became like I never existed, at least not there. They didn’t close without Dobie Maxwell, and I didn’t starve because I didn’t work their grease trap.

Was that smart business? No, it really wasn’t. That place was by all accounts a haven of all kinds of debauchery and skullduggery, and I’m glad I never had to work for that puke, but burning that bridge took me out of the mix there forever. I gave them the power, and that’s my mistake. It would have been much better to be the one to decide if I work there.

The Zanies example is going to be very similar. I didn’t catch the guy’s name or see his manager, but I know Bert knows it, and you can bet it will be a dark day on the sun when they get a chance to audition again. That’s just how it is, but none of this needed to be.

It always baffles me why the greenest newbies with the least amount of promise always think it’s a good idea to pack the house on an audition night with their buddies. That’s not EVER going to get anyone booked, at least by anyone who’s been around the block. They can see through it, and know the only real way to be a comic is to make strangers laugh.

Hopefully, that kid will learn his lesson. He needs to gas the ‘manager‘ dork, unless he plans on going into the pro wrestling business, and start over again. He needs to find him and only him in charge of making contact calls, and he needs to patch it up with Bert.

If that guy really wants to work at Zanies, he’ll apologize to Bert and start over again at ground zero, minus Mr. Manager. Bert is very fair, and I believe he’d be open to throwing the kid another shot, but not under current circumstances. Rules are rules, follow them.

After the show, Bert and I talked about the incident in the office as I was waiting for my check. He was reminded of something he once heard when a club owner brought out a big bucket of water and told a comic to stick his hand in up to the elbow. Then he told him to take the arm out and asked him “Notice any difference in the water?” Of course there was none. The place where the arm was filled in in less than a second, and now it’s a plain old bucket of water again. Any one person can be replaced. Fast. This is a lesson for all of us.

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