Twenty Years And Out

Saturday May 28th, 2011 – Vernon Hills, IL

Not that it matters, but rarely have I ever been involved or associated with anything that lasts for generations so I can feel part of a tradition or legacy. Every school I’ve ever gone to has either closed its doors, been torn down or is something totally different than it was when I went there for example. Radio stations too – most I’ve worked for are off the air.

When I was in high school, I worked at a frozen custard stand on the north side of town in Milwaukee called ‘Town Pride’, which was torn down years ago, as was another joint I worked on the south side of town called ‘Rustler Steak House’. It’s a Taco Bell lot now.

It’s kind of like my entire life history has been erased and I was never even here at all. I feel like a spy, covering my tracks so if anyone looks me up in the future they won’t have a lick of proof that I ever existed. It won’t matter when I’m dead, but it feels hollow now.

Tonight a major chapter in my life closed, and I cried bitter tears in my car both on the way there and on the way home. Zanies Comedy Club in Vernon Hills had their very last show tonight, and I was the last comic on stage besides the host Mike Preston. It’s poetic justice, as I was the emcee and first comic on that stage when the club opened in 1991.

SO much has happened between then and now, but that club and everyone who worked there were more than work acquaintances – they were family. Everyone worked there for a long time, and we became part of each other’s lives. It was more than just a comedy club.

The manager Liz Long was there for the duration, as were many of the wait staff.  All of us have aged twenty years since the club opened, and life has happened for everyone from wait staff to comedians to regular customers. There have been marriages and divorces and babies born and everything else that happens with a real family. I truly love those people.

I was living in Milwaukee when the club opened, and I remember countless drives to do shows there over the years in all kinds of weather and in all kinds of rattle trap cars I’d try to nurse longer than I should have. I broke down more than once, and it became part of an ongoing soap opera that made things an adventure. I never knew if I’d get to work or not.

The northern location of that club made it easier for me to get there than many Chicago comedians, so I was called to duty frequently. I worked every position on the bill over the years, and got to work with some big time celebrities from Richard Jeni to Tommy Chong to Craig Ferguson. It was working with him that I eventually got a shot to be on his show.

It was a huge room, bigger than most comedy clubs. I worked it when it was packed and it was absolutely electric. I also worked it in front of a dozen people and it was painful for everyone. I taught classes there too over the years, and met all kinds of wonderful people.

Tonight’s audience was full and ready, and many comics went up for one last show. I’m honored to be chosen to go last, but my heart is heavy knowing a pillar of my life is gone.


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