Classes For The Masses


Wednesday October 20th, 2010 – Palatine, IL

I know it’s too good to last, but the weather around Chicago today was nothing short of spectacular. It was as pleasant here as any of the cruise ship ports I’ve been to, but I know that’s got to change but quick. I can’t guarantee there won’t be snow by tomorrow night.

I’ll deal with that when I have to. For today, it was enough to just hang out and squeeze every last bit of joy I could out of each individual ray of sunshine I saw. My friend Marc Schultz asked if I wanted to have lunch with him and Chicago ventriloquist Chuck Field.

Chuck is the one who introduced Marc and me years ago and he’s a wonderful person, even though Marc and I tease him constantly about being a ventriloquist. He’s been doing it since he was a kid, and still does it because he enjoys it. What’s wrong with that? Not a thing, and even though he’s in the box business with his brother he still performs often.

Marc Schultz is a person who started out as a booker connection but is now a friend that I see quite often. I met Marc through Chuck Field, another friend who crossed paths when he took my comedy class at Zanies in Vernon Hills, IL many years ago. THAT’S why I’m so passionate about teaching classes – it attracts all kinds of fantastic people into my life.

That’s why I guard the classes the way I do, and am so defensive about those who try to swoop down and make a quick buck by strip mining money and leaving. I resent that very much and I don’t hide it. People like Chuck Field started out as students, but we’ve had a great friendship for going on probably 15 years now. We’ve been able to help each other.

Chuck happens to be Jewish, and quite often there are stereotypes about lots of different types of people – especially Jews in show business. Unfortunately, most are negative and I see no need to drag that up. Chuck is none of those things, and constantly makes it a point to go out of his way to help others before himself. He’s a rock solid person, Jewish or not.

That’s another thing that’s been so great about teaching all these years – I’ve been able to cross paths with just about every kind of person there is. I’ve had young and old, Jew and gentile, gay and straight, male and female, black and white and everything in the middle.

I’ve gotten WAY more out of the classes than I’ve given, and that’s what makes me try to give so much of myself during each session. I don’t want to cheat anyone else just as I wouldn’t want to be cheated if I were taking my own class. It’s the golden rule in motion.

Tonight I started teaching at Harper College in Palatine, IL. It’s part of their continuing education department headed up by a guy named Scott Cashman who radiates on the ball competence upon meeting him. I knew immediately I wanted to be a member of his team.

Scott is putting together a lot of new programs and classes and is a free thinker with an open mind. I can spot it right away because people like him are so rare in any position of authority. Hopefully, his superiors will back off and let him follow his vision. He’s sharp.

Scott really wants this class to work, and I could see he was in my corner by showing up to greet me personally and make sure I had everything under control in my classroom. It’s not often the top dog goes that far out of his way and I totally appreciated it. I felt wanted.

As of last week, we only had four signups. Tonight we had six people show up, and it’s going to be a fun class. Every one of the students is at least over 35, with most being over 40. They’re probably not going to be full time comedians, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun and I can’t teach them something or at least let them live out a lifetime fantasy.

Classes are scheduled from 7-9pm and the time absolutely flew by tonight. I couldn’t be any more excited about this possibility, even though it’s going to be a difficult match with the cruise ship schedule. I told the ships I needed to teach this class, and the booker there is also a sweetheart and she bent the schedule to fit my needs. I hope that will continue.

In the long run, cruise ships aren’t going to make me happy or fulfill anything a whole lot more than a financial foundation. That cab ride in the Bahamas yesterday really gave me the willies, and if I never go back there again I won’t be upset. It’s an income gig.

Classes are much more than that. Not only is it a chance to help others hopefully live a life long dream, it also keeps my head at the very basest level of comedy and keeps me in the game at all times. It makes me think about it 24-7 and ignites any cooled passion that may linger in the bowels of my soul. Seeing students want to learn reinvigorates me too.

Community colleges are a wonderful place to teach classes, and attracts a whole section of the public that would never come to Zanies to take a class there. I started teaching back in 1994 at Cardinal Stritch College in Milwaukee way before I had any idea what to do or how to structure a class. I had a teaching partner who wasn’t a comic and it ended ugly as partnerships can, but all these years later I’m going strong and that person has moved on.

I didn’t have any bad feelings for her personally, but I totally did on a professional level for the simple reason she was not a working comedian. She was many things that I wasn’t including an outstanding mother and cook. She could have taught classes on both of those subjects and been successful, I just didn’t think she was qualified to teach a comedy class.

That’s all in the past now. She’s out of the comedy business and I hope she’s happy and in a good space. Indirectly I have her to thank because she ignited my teaching spark back then and now all these years later I’ve worked it into a red hot class that really kicks ass.

If this project never gets beyond this level, it’s still been a booming success. People like Chuck Field and Scott Cashman and countless others have enriched my life and continue to do so. The classes themselves keep my focus on comedy and my fundamentals in tune.

There are a lot of positives going on in my life right now, and I’m grateful for every one of them. Tonight’s class really re-lit my inner passion for teaching. I really love it and this is a whole new venue to develop. The vibe was very positive all around and I’m excited.

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