Archive for July, 2012

Johnny On The Cheap

July 22, 2012

Thursday July 19th, 2012 – Rockford, IL/Neenah, WI

   When I was a kid, I used to think Johnny Carson had the second greatest life of anyone around. I wanted to be a baseball player then, and that was the ultimate in my book. How fantastic might it be to get paid for playing baseball every day, not to mention travel? Too bad I never found out.

As my teen years passed, I thought Hugh Hefner held the golden ticket. He was the magic man with the keys to the kingdom, at least on paper. Before I knew anything about anything, I thought there were people who indeed did have carefree lives without problems. How wrong could I be?

Still, Johnny Carson’s lifestyle intrigued me for years. It looked like so much fun to be the host of such a popular television show, and also get to perform live in Las Vegas regularly. Either one of those occupations would be a blast, but he got to do both. I always wanted to sample that life.

Then it hit me squarely in the face as I was driving from a radio shift in Rockford, IL at WNTA this afternoon to get to my comedy show at The Comedy Quarter in Neenah, WI tonight that I’m basically doing the same hustle Johnny did. I’m doing it on the extreme cheap, but I am doing it.

Johnny may have had tens of millions of fans and made hundreds of millions of dollars, but the process was exactly the same. I’m not sure if he worked on TV and live in the same night, but he could have. The Tonight Show taped at 5:30pm, which left plenty of time to make a live show in Las Vegas if he needed to. Maybe he didn’t do it consistently, but I’ll bet it did happen at times.

I’m nothing less than thrilled to get the chance to do what I’m doing this week, even if it’s on a much smaller scale. I’m doing it on the extreme low end but the fun I’m having is the exact same as if I had to bounce back and forth between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The joy is in the doing.

Obviously a fill in little radio shift in Rockford, IL is not a network television show, but it’s not without benefits and there’s an exhilarating buzz that comes with being on the air. How different can the buzz Johnny felt be compared to the one I feel when I walk out of the studio after a shift?

After a while, I have to believe it’s all the same. A good show is a good show, and a bad one is a bad one. More or less may be aware depending on who it is, but the feeling itself is identical. It was a solid show today, and had that been my whole day’s work I’d have considered it a success.

But, I am also booked this week at The Comedy Quarter in Neenah, WI which is just outside of Appleton. I’d never worked here before, but it was a pleasant surprise to show up to a full crowd who were there to see a show. They were excellent laughers, and it was well worth my commute.

I’m not going to get rich this week, but I’m doing a lot of things I would have done for nothing when I started. I got a chance to play talk show host and comedian the same day, and get paid for it. I didn’t make anywhere near the millions Johnny Carson did, but both of the experiences went extremely well and that’s the whole reason for doing it. The money would be nice, but I doubt if I’d do much differently than I did today – at least as far as the shows went. The fun is the same.

Dump Truck Dynamics

July 19, 2012

Wednesday July 18th, 2012 – Rockford, IL/Libertyville, IL

   I think there’s a valuable lesson to be learned from the hectic schedule I have this week, but it’s still a little fuzzy as to exactly what it might be. I’m actually enjoying the challenge, even though I’m running myself into the ground trying to get to everything I need to do. It’s constant pressure having to be at the next place over and over, but that’s how it worked out. I accepted these gigs.

The radio situation at WNTA in Rockford, IL is a positive on many levels. It’s great practice to be able to have a chance to play talk show host under ideal circumstances. They’re glad to have a dependable replacement, so I don’t feel like I’m walking on egg shells around the building when I’m there. Everyone is very laid back, and they’re all genuinely nice people. That makes it fun.

Then there’s the matter of physically getting to the station every day. There are no single direct routes that get me there, so each day is a new adventure. From where I live to the station parking lot can be anywhere from 60 to 70 miles, depending on the highways I take. The Illinois Tollway is the one with the least amount of obstacles, but I have to travel far out of my way to get there.

There are a couple of options as far as state highways go, but each has some kind of glitch that slows me down ranging from a lot of traffic lights to road construction. Every day I’ve tried to be smart and find the most direct route, but I haven’t done it yet. There’s always been an obstacle to slow me down even more. Today it was the giant dump truck I could not pass for about 40 miles.

No matter what I did, I could NOT get past that thing. It was frustrating on one hand, but also a funny situation after a while because no matter which way I needed to go the truck turned in that same direction and slowed me down more. It was like the guy driving was trying to piss me off.

At one point I tried taking a blind short cut detour, but it ended up being more hassle than if I’d stayed on the original road. It wound through a small town with stop signs at every corner, and at the end of that maze I got back on the highway I was originally on and there the truck was again.

It felt like an episode of the Twilight Zone or something. Here I was, in a hurry and on my way to work but wasn’t really sure where I was going. The truck seemed like it knew exactly where it was going at all times, and went there at a slow but steady pace. Was there a message in all this?

Maybe I’m too stupid to get it, but it sure seemed like there was lesson to be learned here. I had a lot of time to think about it, but it didn’t click. I tried to enjoy the ride, and I actually did. Some days I get frustrated beyond belief. Today I didn’t. I barely made the station on time, but I did.

The show was fun as usual, and then I drove a different route back home so I could make it to a comedy class I’m teaching at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL. I could have used a night off, but I made the commitment and I kept it. I’m glad I did, as it was an especially exhilarating class.

No matter my problems, I am doing all the things I want to do with my life. Money would be a nice perk, but I am having fun. I wonder how much fun the driver of that dump truck is having?

Schedule Squeeze

July 18, 2012

Tuesday July 17th, 2012 – Rockford, IL/Milwaukee, WI

   This is one of the busiest weeks I can ever remember as far as running around goes. I feel like a one man NASCAR crew, always needing to be behind the wheel but also needing to keep the car running. I could really use a pit crew, but that’s not going to happen this week. I’m on my own.

The radio experience in Rockford, IL at WNTA is invaluable. I’m getting better every shift as I am working on my interviewing skills, but the shifts have been reallocated and the one I’m doing this week is now 1-3pm instead of noon to 3. That means I get one less hour of pay, but still have to make the drive. That cuts into any kind of profit I can make, so basically I’m doing it for free.

I guess that’s part of paying dues. If I want the talk host experience – and I do – I have to suck it up and find a way to get there. I also have a comedy class to teach on Wednesday and will not have Bill Gorgo’s help as he has a prior commitment. That’s going to make more work for me as far as preparation goes. I don’t mind working, but this would have been a nice week to have Bill.

I’m also booked at a club in the Appleton, WI area called ‘The Comedy Quarter’ this weekend and am scheduled to do radio in Appleton on Thursday morning. I’m not sure if they’ll let me do it on the phone, and from my experience they usually won’t. That means I’ll have to drive all the way to Appleton for radio, drive back for radio in Rockford and then back to Appleton that night.

Then, Friday morning I volunteered to teach a one hour comedy session for a group of kids at a performing camp in South Milwaukee, WI. I don’t mind volunteering my time, but this particular week is going to be extra hectic with everything else going on. After that I have to go back down to Rockford for my last show on the air from 1-3pm, then back to Appleton for two more shows.

I have two shows on Saturday at The Comedy Quarter, and then have to get back to Kenosha, WI for another Mothership Connection radio show at WLIP. I have a couple of stops to make in Milwaukee on the way down, and I have some friends to see who are having a barbecue Sunday.

What kind of flaming idiot would try to keep a schedule like this? THIS idiot. Things just keep piling up, and I have to do my best to get them all done. I made the commitments so I can’t bitch. I appreciate the radio experience, and I hear nothing but good things about The Comedy Quarter. I’d love a new room to work in Wisconsin, and hopefully I’ll be able to go back there regularly.

If nothing else, it’s money this week, and that’s a good thing. Comedy and summer are usually a poor match, but this has been a busy one for me so far to the point of being too busy. But what am I supposed to do? Things come up when they come up, and I have to take them when they do.

I went up to Milwaukee after the radio show today to meet with my cousin Brett who I haven’t seen in a while. It’s always good to get together with him because he is one of the few I can let it all loose with. We make each other laugh, and it was a good release for both of us. We needed it, as his life is hectic too. It’s getting harder and harder to fit everything in for everybody, and it’s a constant grind to just stay above water. I sure hope I squeeze everything in this week. We’ll see.

Chasing The 1%

July 17, 2012

Monday July 16th, 2012 – Rockford, IL/Milwaukee, WI

I’m turning into my grandfather more and more by the day, and I can’t decide if that’s positive or negative. On one hand, he had more practical wisdom in the tip of his baby toe nail than most people I ever met have in their whole family tree. His journey through life’s wars produced fruit.

On the other, he could be a super cynic to the point of no return. He saw through everything as being flawed or rigged, and more often than not assumed the worst in people and situations. I’ve grown to share many of his views on topics like religion and politics, and he predicted I would.

“There’s no pie in the sky,” he would say. “The world is 99% rotten to the core, but there’s just enough good in it to make us all wanting to keep living. Everyone has a personal mission to seek out the 1% that’s good and build upon that.” As I get older, his wisdom is becoming my life map.

I don’t think Gramps was very happy throughout most of his life. The only time I ever saw him even close to appearing satisfied was when he was on a stage performing. He loved it, and would do anything to get his fix. Sometimes it was at a senior center wearing a grass skirt and Hawaiian shirt strumming on a ukulele, and other times it was just him in the checkout line at the Kmart.

Wherever there was an audience, Gramps loved to entertain – even if the audience was just me. From my view he was a superstar. That meant I’d get his best shows, and he rarely disappointed. Whatever it took to get a laugh, Gramps would do it. His 1% in life was being in the spotlight as much as possible, but it wasn’t until later in his life that he actually got a chance to focus on it.

He spent most of his adult life trying to survive just like I am, but he had a family to support so his dreams got put on hold. Then, in his retirement he got to chase the dream he wanted to chase all along. He didn’t get far by the standards of others, but he loved every minute of his life then.

I’ve been thinking about Gramps a lot lately, as this is the 100th anniversary of his birth year of 1912. His actual birthday isn’t until November 18th, but I’d sure like to have some kind of tribute book of his wisdom written by then. His lessons were all so powerful they need to be passed on.

I know Gramps felt unfulfilled at the end of his journey, and we had a lot of long conversations about it before he died. Those were some very deep exchanges, and I wish I could see the written transcripts of what we said to each other. I’ll bet there were a lot of pearls I could use right now.

On one hand, I’m finding myself gaining some of the useful wisdom Gramps had. Between his guidance and my own self discoveries from my many miscues, I’ve managed to learn a whole lot about how the world works. On the other hand, his cynicism has also taken root. I look at what’s going on in the world with extreme mistrust and skepticism, and I’m not sure if I like that or not.

Like it or not, that’s where my head is. What can I do to make the most of whatever I have left in my tank? I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, and as my tribute to Gramps I want to keep chasing that 1%. Sometimes his memory and wanting to honor it is all that keeps me in the game.

Customer Disservice

July 17, 2012

Sunday July 15th, 2012 – Reno, NV/Milwaukee, WI

I had an unpleasant situation at the Reno airport today that really bothered me. I arrived at 5am for my flight and encountered a ticketing check in person who had an attitude larger than her big fat ass, which if it were luggage would not come close to fitting into any overhead compartment.

It probably could have been used as a floatation device to save at least a few dozen passengers, but that’s not an important part of the story. She was in charge, and she had to let everyone know it. As soon as I arrived, she pounced on my single piece of luggage like a freshly delivered pizza.

I was actually in a rather jovial mood, as Harrah’s had provided limousine service to the airport and the driver was a laid back pleasant fellow. We shared a few laughs on the trip, and he got me to the airport in plenty of time without a hitch. That’s always a good way to start off a travel day.

When I politely tried to tell the woman I wouldn’t be checking my bag, she told me I’d have no choice. There was something in her condescending tone and pompous demeanor that let me in on the fact this was going to be an issue that wasn’t going to be solved easily. And it wasn’t. I could tell she was going to do her best to make my life miserable, but I was determined not to accept it.

She was frothing at the snout telling me how my bag was oversized, and I calmly informed her I had no problem fitting it in on the incoming flight, and I didn’t. That person didn’t even have to measure it. There were no problems, and I’d packed lightly because it was only a three day trip.

Before I knew it, out came the tape measure and she examined my bag like she was measuring a fourth and inches play in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. It was ridiculous, but she made me check the bag because it was two inches higher than the legal limit. I stared at her in disbelief but she was serious. I tried to tell her it was fine on the incoming flight, but she wouldn’t listen.

Then I tried to explain that I’d taken this particular bag all over the country without issue, and I have. She was bound and determined not to let it on, and she didn’t. I was steaming when I got to the gate, only to discover they had run out of room in all overhead compartments and said that all remaining carryon luggage would be checked – for free. $25 is $25, and I was going to fight this.

I tried politely explaining my situation to the customer service person, who had the warmth of a popsicle and the intelligence of the stick. As a rule I’ve never thought I was better than anyone, but the public is starting to win me over. She was no help, and had an assortment of pre recorded corporate gobbledygook in her head she spewed out with zero humanity. I wouldn’t win this one.

I tried to calmly explain to her that this was insane, but she wouldn’t hear of it either. I asked if $25 was worth losing my business for life, and her eyes glazed over to give me my answer. I’m a dung beetle just trying to survive day to day, and I know I mean nothing in the big picture of life.

Still, if you ever see me on another U. S. Airways flight in this lifetime, be sure and ask for ID because it probably will be someone else who looks like me. For $25, they have lost me for life.

Breaking The Bank

July 17, 2012

Saturday July 14th, 2012 – Reno, NV

It was like a time warp coming back to Reno this week, but I’m glad I did. My life was a mess when I lived here in 1997, and I wasn’t able to enjoy much of anything. I was only here seven or eight months before getting fired from the radio station I worked at, and I was distracted beyond belief with the stress of trying to keep myself out of prison for a bank robbery I didn’t commit.

What a hectic time that was in retrospect. I wanted to get as far away as I could from all of the insanity that was going on and distance myself from my former best friend who robbed the bank in Milwaukee. He made the conscious choice to do that, and I didn’t. I wanted to sever those ties and manufacture a new life in a new location before it got ugly – which it eventually did anyway.

The job offer came in Reno, and even though it was a long shot on a wing and a prayer, I rolled the dice and moved in a hurry. I packed all my worldly trinkets into a red Geo Metro and headed west with my fingers crossed. I didn’t know anybody or what my future held, but I went anyway.

All of that seems like a lifetime ago now, but at the time I remember it being very miserable as it all unfolded. I didn’t know what to expect, and my lawyer kept telling me it wasn’t uncommon for people to go to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. That was more than a little unsettling.

One of a precious few I could talk to about any of this at the time was a guy named Bill Schulz. He’s also from Milwaukee, and worked at one of the other radio stations in the same building as me. I could confide in him about my predicament, and he was a true friend throughout the ordeal.

All these years later, Bill is still working for the same company and neither of us would’ve bet on that at 1000-1 odds. He’s the operations manager now, and we had lunch today and caught up after not seeing each other for way too long. It was wonderful to reconnect, but also a bit eerie.

Bill obviously brought up the bank robbery fiasco almost immediately, as it was a huge part of our friendship connection from the start. I knew he meant no harm, but it felt very uncomfortable going back to that unpleasant time in my head. It was such a downer that I’d just like to move on.

I realized as we were talking that I won’t be able do that. I might not think about it that often as the years go by, but that story will haunt me for the rest of my life. My absolute best friend in the world forced my hand to testify against him in federal court for a bank robbery he did but tried to pin on me. It was the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I still have nightmares about it.

I really have to turn that story into a book sooner than later. It’s been laying there for years, but part of me is afraid to go back there because it’s so ugly of a memory. It’s a fabulous story, but it sure wasn’t fun to live through. Coming back to Reno dusted off those memories in a big hurry.

It wasn’t a bad trip though. The shows went very well and I got to see Bill and Rick D’Elia and another comedian friend Brian Diamond drove in from Sacramento to hang out. Rick said he will have me back any time I like, and I’ll take him up on it. It was great to refresh all these contacts.

The Real Mr. Lucky

July 15, 2012

Friday July 13th, 2012 – Reno, NV

   Friday the 13th rears its head again, and it’s not all that ugly. I love the chance to make it mine as far as promotional purposes go, and Rick D’Elia here in Reno is one of the few who have been smart enough to pick up on it so far and use it as a promotional advantage. There are never more than three in a year, and never less than one. This is the third and final Friday the 13th of 2012.

I can’t say enough good things about Rick. I liked him before, but after tonight he’s on a whole new level of exalted reverence as far as I’m concerned. We first met in 2003 at the San Francisco Comedy Competition when I was a contestant and he was the host of a few of the shows. He was very encouraging to all the contestants, and we just hit it off from the start and have kept in touch since. He’s always been involved in some side endeavor, and I felt a kindred spirit from the start.

Maybe part of the reason is we’re both left handed. I don’t know what it is about creative types and being left handed, but there definitely seems to be a link. Not all entertainers are left handers, but a disproportionately large number of us definitely are. I’m the only one of four siblings in my family that had to endure that curse, but in comedy I feel right at home. Lefties are everywhere.

It’s more than just that though. Rick is unbelievably persistent, and always has some kind of an off the wall project in various stages of completion on his plate. It’s much the same as my world, only Rick has had some significant successes. He is the producer of a Showtime comedy special called ‘The Godfathers of Comedy’ and that’s no small accomplishment. Hats off for that one.

After the show tonight we sat around and talked for about an hour after a spectacular fireworks display at the new minor league baseball stadium in town. It’s a gorgeous park, and just a couple of blocks from Harrah’s so we went over with some friends of his to see fireworks and listen to a band they liked. They were kind enough to invite me so I didn’t want to be rude and joined them.

After the fireworks and between the band, Rick and I sat and talked about all of our projects of note through the years. For whatever reason, we’re really on a similar creative plane and have no problem understanding the other’s ideas. He told me when we met how much he liked the whole ‘Mr. Lucky’ concept, but the more I talk to the guy the more I realize he might be the real one.

He rattled off story after story of how close he’s been on so many deals over the years and how some fluke came out of nowhere and squelched it right as he thought it was a locked proposition. I can totally relate, even though I wish I couldn’t. But I can. I sat in awe as he explained some of his adventures, and it made me have even more respect for him than I did before. He’s a trooper.

It would be great if guys like us would catch even a little break. Rick and I aren’t the only ones I can name, and it’s never a matter of talent. Rick is an unbelievably funny comedian in his own right, and still finds time to write books and screenplays and now book and run a brand spanking new comedy club which is opening at probably the worst time in recent memory. I’ll do all I can to support Rick and his venture, but he needs a bigger break than that. Here’s hoping he gets it.

Returning To Reno

July 14, 2012

Thursday July 12th, 2012 – Reno, NV

   I’m back in Reno, NV this week headlining Harrah’s new comedy room run by my friend Rick D’Elia. Rick is one of my all time favorite comedians and people, and I’m flattered he would ask me to be part of his new venture. This is the fifth week he’s been open, but I think he’ll do fine.

He’s taking a big gamble by starting a club in these turbulent times, but I clearly see the reason he’s doing it. Like me, Rick has been a road warrior for way too many years and eventually that just plain gets old. Gas prices alone are killing most of the road dogs off, but it’s more than that.

This is not a life for anyone who wants to have a family or any shred of stability whatsoever. It can be fun in one’s youth, but after a while it becomes a grind. Nobody ever plans for that, and it sneaks up on everybody. Some of us can handle it longer than others, but eventually we all tire.

If nothing else, we need a substantial break at some point. I’ve tried radio as my break, and that was a giant mistake I kept making over and over. I thought I’d find a little ‘stability’, but that’s a bigger joke than I could ever come up with in comedy. Rick went to L.A. to play that game for a while, and he was doing pretty well at it but like all of us he had to cover his bills every month.

For a comedian that usually means going back on the road, and that’s a vicious cycle because it keeps the comedian out of L.A. where the connections are. I tried that game too, but only for one year. I saw where it was headed and reluctantly moved back to Chicago where I could get work.

I can think of probably fifty other good people and competent acts like Rick who are facing the exact same decision. I’m one of them. What do we do to reinvent ourselves? Rick is far too good of a comic to quit entirely, and if I had power he’d be a lot farther than he is – and in no way is it a slight to what he’s done. He’s a competent headlining act and is one of the nicest guys around.

Unfortunately, nice doesn’t usually go very far when it comes to career advancement. Nobody really cares if a person is nice or not, at least the powers that be don’t seem to. I can think of a lot of flaming peckerheads who have gotten big breaks, and I’d name them but I’ve gotten myself in enough trouble for my opinions so I’ll keep it to myself for a change. You can guess for yourself.

One who is anything but mean is Rick D’Elia. He’s a total sweetheart, and I hope he’s a winner with this roll of the dice. He’s with Harrah’s which is a beautiful property, and the comedy room is an ideal size and in an excellent location. It’s not too big or small, and I can see it catching on.

A special treat tonight was a guest set from a comic named Dave Mencarelli. He’s now running the Catch A Rising Star club at the Silver Legacy, but he was just starting as a comic back when I was living here in 1997. I had a radio job for about six months, and it ended horribly. I was in a bad place in my life then, but he was a kid starting out and I remember his youthful exuberance.

He’s thanked me over the years for my encouragement, but I really didn’t do much other than tell him to say with it. He did, and it was a pleasure to watch him have a very solid set tonight.

A Never Ending Process

July 13, 2012

Wednesday July 11th, 2012 – Sparta, WI/Libertyville, IL

   No matter what may go wrong in my life, I’m always going to be a comedian. That’s who I am and what I do, and nothing can ever change it. If I go broke and have to get a day job, I’ll still be a comedian with a day job. Whenever I’m on the radio, I’m still a comedian talking on the radio.

Comedy is a craft, and always has been. I specialize in standup comedy, but if I focused I know I could do improv or comedic acting. I choose to do standup because to me that’s the purest of all forms. There’s a rush that comes from being on stage one with an audience, and I never get tired of being around it. I love performing and talking about performing and studying others doing it.

Bill Gorgo and I stayed overnight in Sparta, WI so we could have a breakfast with Jim Wiggins and spend more time with him. He’s not on the road nearly as much as he used to be, and he’s as passionate and in love with comedy as we are. We had a delicious breakfast at a diner that could have been right at home in Mayberry, but after that we got down to the brass tacks of comedy.

Jim is a master student of the game, and Bill said he’s never known anyone who has read more books or spent more time studying the history and technique of the art form. We sat in a park for two hours and recorded a three way conference between Jim, Bill and me that was jam packed to the very end with hints, tips and inside stories of the comedy trade. This made our trip a success.

It was an experiment we wanted to try, and it worked even better than we imagined. Jim was in rare form, and really added to the mix as we knew he would. He was flattered that we asked him to be part of it, but we were the ones that were flattered he accepted. We were able to nail down a lot of detailed information, and in the future we’ll be a lot more prepared to do it even better.

On our drive home, Bill and I went through my act and decided that I’ll need a major retool if indeed I’m ever going to take myself to the next level and have a career instead of just a job. It’s not an easy thing to hear that one needs to make a major change so far into the game, but I agree with his observation that where I am now is just not cutting it. I need to cut bait and cast again.

Tiger Woods is a perfect example of someone who has done this more than once. I read where he hired a new coach and restructured his entire swing from the ground up. Not many could ever understand why someone so successful would need to do it, but I totally get it. It took major guts, but he did it and it produced tremendous results. I understood Bill as soon as he suggested I do it.

Louis CK says that he now gets rid of his entire act every year and comes up with a whole new one. It may sound totally foreign to all his fans and most other comedians as well, but I get it. He has the opportunity to keep growing and improving, and that’s his way of doing it. I respect that.

Tonight Bill and I taught a comedy class at the Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL. We had a tremendous class, partially because we’d spent the last two days immersing ourselves in the craft continuously. The students were into it, and we clicked the entire two hours. No matter what else gets in my way, this is what it’s all about in my world. Nothing else comes close to this passion.

Sidetrack To Sparta

July 13, 2012

Tuesday July 10th, 2012 – Sparta, WI

   My brain told me to stay home and get some much needed work done and/or rest, but my heart told me to instead ride in a car for four hours to a small town in Wisconsin to visit someone I’ve not seen in person in years. As per usual, the heart won. I’ve made more than plenty of mistakes with my brain over the years, but never one when I listened to my heart. It was the right choice.

Jim Wiggins is a comedian originally from Chicago, and has been going through some horrific struggles of late. He’s had cancer and chemotherapy twice, and has been spending time in Sparta, WI with his son’s family as he’s been healing. Jim is one of the warmest souls I’ve ever crossed paths with, and is absolutely beloved by all who know him. He’s a true legend, onstage and off.

Jim is billed as ‘The Last Hippie in America’, and was friends with George Carlin. He’s got an incredible big booming baritone voice that makes James Earl Jones sound like Pee Wee Herman, and a heart even deeper. He ran a comedy club in Palatine, IL in the ‘80s called “Dirty Nellie’s”.

I would drive down from Milwaukee and Jim would always make sure I got stage time. He’s a giver just like I am, and a kinder soul I’ve never run across. When I heard he had cancer it hit me hard as it did everyone who knows him, but he never complained once and kept us all laughing.

Jim is the epitome of a comedy road warrior. He plays anywhere that has a stage, and I haven’t met ANYONE in all my years that loves being a comedian more than Jim Wiggins. He lives and breathes it all the time, and I can only hope I’ll be doing the same at age 70. He’s like a little kid.

Bill Gorgo used to be his roommate for a while after Jim’s wife died years ago. He also lost his oldest son in an accident. How horrible that is. I think we must be related somehow, because one hand grenade after the next keeps falling out of the sky but Jim has managed to dodge them all.

Bill mentioned that Jim had been having some pain of late, and I suggested we take a ride up to Sparta to cheer him up in person. He agreed it would be good for all of us, and today was the day we went. A day of work or sleep blends in and is forgotten. A day like this will stand out forever.

I know how good it felt when people came to see me in the hospital last year, and Jim has been such a supporter of all comedians for so long that out of duty I felt I had to go. He’s true comedy royalty, and I wanted to not only pay respect but hear some of his best classic road stories again.

When we pulled into his yard his eyes lit up and he came outside and gave us each a hug and a kiss. I don’t let men kiss me as a rule, but that’s Jim Wiggins and everyone expects it. I told him how thankful I was for that stage time all those years ago, and he asked how my diabetes was.

I told him it wasn’t important, and that we were there to hear about him. And we were. Bill and Jim have a much deeper history, so they caught up for a while and then we went into his massive back yard to shoot guns and talk about comedy and life. We were laughing so much we couldn’t keep the guns pointed in a straight line, so eventually we put them down and focused on talking.

Actually, it was a lot more listening. Jim likes to talk, but he has a lot to say. He’s been around the block more than once, and has had a colorful life to say the least. He’s a straight shooter and doesn’t mince words – a man after my own heart. I wasn’t always close to him, but when we did cross paths it was always positive. I’m glad I took the time to come up and visit him face to face.

He told us about his early adventures in comedy and working with George Carlin. He told how George would help him out in one way or another, and then say “Pay it forward to young comics in the future.” That’s the same thing my mentor C. Cardell Willis said to me, and I never forgot.

Jim didn’t forget it either. He’s always been kind to newbies starting out, and I’m seeing how it all comes back around. George Carlin was as big as big gets. He knew the secret and then passed the baton to guys like Jim Wiggins to pass on to guys like Bill Gorgo and me. Now it’s our turn.

Bill and I love to teach our comedy classes at Zanies and wherever else we can find that will let us. We’ve been thinking of ways to come up with a deeper study of the basics of the business for newbies in the future to learn even better than we did. Guys like Jim Wiggins can certainly help.

We’ve all got decades of practical experience that can really help someone starting out but only if they choose to listen. As for me, I looked for any advice I could get when I started. I would’ve been thrilled to learn at the feet of a Jim Wiggins. I learned just by listening to his stories today.

I haven’t shot guns in years, and it was really fun to do it today. The mood couldn’t have been more perfect, and it just added to the specialness of the moment. The scenery was picturesque in Jim’s back yard, which coincidentally butts up against the rear border of U.S. Army Fort McCoy.

I’m not a huge gun guy, but I don’t hate them. They can be fun to shoot off once in a while. It’s a male bonding thing, like smoking cigars. In the right setting it adds atmosphere, and that’s how it worked today. If I don’t touch another gun in ten years, my life won’t be any worse off for it.

After guns and conversation Jim took us into Sparta for dinner at one of THE best Italian joints I have ever been to called Angelini’s. The guy who owns it is named Anthony from Italy by way of Chicago. He married a woman from Sparta and the people in town don’t realize what a world class establishment they have. It was worth the trip for the great food alone. www.angelinis.com.

I’m not supposed to eat pasta or bread with my diabetes friendly diet, but I couldn’t help try at least a sample of all the dishes that were brought out for the table. I had a little of this and a little of that, and at the end of the night we had trouble walking to our car. It was a meal for the ages.

We went back to Jim’s house and I met his son and his wife and their kids, and it was a treat to be part of this whole scenario. There’s love in that house, and it comes from Jim. He thanked the both of us for coming about ten times, and I knew he meant it. Making his day better made mine.

Bill and I are on the right track with what we’re doing with our classes. Including Jim Wiggins is a win/win for everyone involved. This was a wonderful trip. I’m glad I listened to my heart.