Choo Choo, Mr. Bully!

Friday January 27th, 2012 – Rockford, IL

Try as I might, sometimes I still have trouble overcoming my weaknesses. One that I’ve struggled with horribly since childhood is being able to let certain things go. Even though I know it’s not smart, I tend to carry grudges. Big time. For years. I’ve been improving for a long time, but it’s still a soft spot and I admit it. I’m sorry, but I REALLY like revenge.

Maybe that’s the little brother in me who got pushed around as a kid, or maybe I’m just a dented can with an old fashioned mean streak. I’m not proud of it, but I know it’s there. I do all I can to be a nice person to a fault, but when I feel that someone has disrespected me I feel an intense need to break off a few karate kicks in their ass with a combat boot.

Bullies are especially a problem. I refuse to accept bullying from anyone, and even if it means getting my own ass kicked I’ll always get right back in their face and let them have my unvarnished opinion whether they asked for it or not. Mincing words is not my style.

That’s been my downfall on more than a few dozen occasions, but in retrospect at least I’ve made myself as clear as a bell with all the marble heads with whom I’ve had an issue. I’ll be the first to admit it’s usually a waste of time to worry about paybacks…but I have.

Just when I thought I was over one that really bothered me for a long time, tonight I had a chance to stick it to a big time bully and I can’t help enjoying how delightful it feels. It’s kind of like running into an old flame by chance who was a scorcher in her day but is now a weathered old war pig nobody looks at twice. It shouldn’t bring pleasure…but it DOES.

There is a comedy booking agent who used to have a stranglehold on the Midwest for a long time. He was never a people person, and in fact most comedians couldn’t stand him. We all tolerated him, only because he had a lot of work that was close to home. He made sure we all knew he was in charge, and had hundreds of us jumping through his hoops.

He could call us at a moment’s notice and ask us to drive in a blizzard to some horrible gig in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and knew we’d do it because he could hold over our heads all that other work he had that we wanted. It was a power trip, and he loved it.

I should have had a major clue when I eventually met him in person and saw that he had a beard. My grandfather always told me to avoid dealing with anyone with a beard, as they were surely hiding something. My father always had a beard too, so that was a useful tip.

Like most of the Midwest comedians did in the boom years, I depended on this bully for a big chunk of my work load every year. The work was usually decent, and even though it didn’t pay great, it was enough to fill in the cracks and make it possible to earn my living.

I can remember doing all kinds of last minute ‘favors’, but never ONCE getting it back in my direction. He could exploit anyone he wanted, and took full advantage of it. I knew I wasn’t the only one getting boned, but it still hurt. The bastard had no conscience at all.

I’d had a few tiffs with him over the years, and one time we really had a big blow out. It was wrong on my part, but I really went off on him in frustration and left a nasty message on his answering machine. We didn’t work together for years, and I should have used it as my liberation. Instead, I came crawling back and tried to unburn the bridge. Big mistake.

He ended up being the one who booked me at Giggles in Brookfield, WI which has now closed because the owner was bouncing checks like basketballs. He did nothing to inform me of a problem, even though he knew there was one. It was a major issue, and caused an inordinate amount of pain and suffering that didn’t need to happen. It still pisses me off.

Unfortunately, there has been a long and rapidly growing list of comics like me who are no longer working for him because he turned the business over to his sons, who are about as people friendly and competent as Saddam Hussein’s two geniuses. It’s been pure hell.

Well, tonight I got a little pay back. There’s a new room in Rockford, IL at a wonderful placed called Franchesco’s. WOW, what a venue! They have a show room that’s as sweet as any club I’ve ever seen, and they’re running comedy shows booked by my friends Ken Sevara and Sky Drysdale. Ken is another one of the victims of the booking agent bully.

He’s about as laid back and nice of a guy as there is, along with Sky Drysdale who was a radio personality who hosted comedy nights in Rockford for years. He really knew how to treat the comics and also trained his audiences to behave during shows. He did it right.

I couldn’t be more flattered that those guys thought of me to kick off the first show. Of course I had to say yes, and they made it even better by putting a guy named Brian Hicks in front of me as the feature act. He’s THE absolute best guy I can think of in the country for that position, and I don’t mean any disrespect by that. His style was tailor made for it.

The feature position in comedy is quite often the easiest from a performer’s perspective, but very underappreciated by everyone else. To be a good one takes effort, and Brian does it extremely well. His act is original, clean, well presented and very funny – but not in any way that’s overpowering so a headliner can’t follow it. Plus, he’s super mellow off stage.

He’s a married guy and doesn’t go out chasing waitresses or get snot flying drunk after a show. He does his job, does it well, and goes home. Bookers everywhere should look to clone Brian Hicks. He’s like a good utility infielder. They don’t get glory or huge money, but every team in baseball scrambles to find them. I’ve always been a big fan of Brian’s.

The booker in question apparently was fuming about this new room opening in a market he considered ‘his’, and sent out an email ‘banning’ anyone from working it. Brian isn’t a rabble rouser, and wanted no part of it. It was a gig to him, and that’s it. Not to the bully.

Brian is now persona non grata like so many others of us who’ve busted our butts to put money in this wank-a-doo’s pocket for way too long. Well, his empire is crumbling and it couldn’t delight me more. The old karma train has a circular track. Choo choo, Mr. Bully!

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