Comic Camaraderie


Thursday May 9th, 2013 – Gurnee, IL/Fox Lake, IL

   My friend Russ Martin and I hung out for a while today and had a delicious meal at a Chinese buffet in Gurnee, IL. Hanging out with comedians is one of the best parts of the business, as it’s about the only time we truly feel at home. The public doesn’t always get what we do or more so why we do it, but when we hang out together it’s often as much or more fun than actual shows.

   I remember coming up the ranks as a beginner at the Funny Bone Comedy Club in Milwaukee in the ‘80s where I was a seater, janitor, answerer of phones and all around gopher in addition to getting random stage time thrown my way from time to time. Hanging out was part of the deal.

   There was a group of us who would hang out every night we were in town, and after watching the shows we would reconvene at a diner called Ma Fisher’s to continue the process. We’d learn from what we saw, and often headliners would join us and impart pearls of wisdom on us as we ate our food and soaked it all in. To this day those are some of my favorite memories of all time.

   One week Robert Schimmel was in town, and it was before anyone had heard of him. He ate it at the club all week, and I remember feeling so sorry for the guy knowing he was going to go up and have a rough set every night. For whatever reason, Milwaukee was just not ready for what he was doing and it was a painful week. We got to be friends at Ma Fisher’s hanging out afterward.

   I remember seeing him years later as he was starting to hit it, and I went up to him and asked if he remembered his week in Milwaukee. Not only did he remember, he sincerely thanked me for taking time to hang with him after the shows. The pleasure was mine, but he thanked me because his daughter was sick at the time, and he was feeling very low. He said I made his whole week.

  These are the memories that keep getting sweeter as time goes by. Robert Schimmel had a lot of obstacles to overcome to say the least, but he did and had a remarkable career. He stayed with his vision, and refused to back down no matter what. I wish everyone could have seen how he took it in the shorts that whole week, and how those same jokes later made him a star. It’s so inspiring.

   Russ mentioned at dinner that he’d just watched a You Tube biography of Rodney Dangerfield and how it had reminded him of me in many ways. He’s not the only one who has said that, and I ended up going home and watching it myself. I had seen it before, but I enjoyed it all over again.

   What really stood out was how much Rodney struggled, and how brutal his childhood was. Just like so many others, comedy was his escape. Robert Schimmel had some nasty struggles too, and I doubt if fans of either of those guys knew or cared. They both made audiences laugh like crazy, but when the show was over who made them laugh? Quite often it was hanging out after shows.

   I’m a huge fan of Rodney’s and always will be. Schimmel too. I wish I couldn’t relate so much to what they were about at their deepest core, but I totally relate to both of them. They made their inner pain become joy for others, but inside that pain was still there. They were both dented cans, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t successful. I hope both of them are in a much happier place.

   As a rule, comedians are both extremely sensitive and intelligent. We hurt easily, and often are from horrific backgrounds that ‘normal’ people can never comprehend. Comedy is our only way to mask that pain, and that’s what keeps us coming back to that stage even in the most difficult of stretches. It’s a moth to a flame – we can’t help it. Hanging with each other helps soothe our pain.

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