Archive for June, 2013

Bill’s Pills

June 30, 2013

Saturday June 29th, 2013 – Ann Arbor, MI

   Oh, for consistent bookings like this weekend in Ann Arbor, MI. I forgot how much fun being a comedian can be, and this trip was a pleasant reminder. This is exactly how it should be, and if I had my way my schedule would be loaded with gigs like this. I don’t know if they’re out there.

   There are so many things that are right about this club. It’s been running successfully for more than thirty years, so that’s usually a good sign. They’ve had time to work out the bugs, and there is a bond with the community that now has transcended generations. It’s become a town fixture.

   I highly doubt any other comedy club could knock them off the perch, and if another one tried to open I don’t think they could last. Both clubs might suffer, and both could close. This is a one club town, and they are doing an outstanding job serving their customers. It’s run as it should be.

   All I’m asking for realistically is about 25-30 places like this around the country to practice my craft and make a respectable living. I work enough for Zanies in Chicago and am developing the whole ‘Schlitz Happened!’ concept that I can stay closer to home and keep working every week.

   I’d love to be working close to home two weeks a month, and have the other two weeks on the road doing gigs like this. It’s an easy drive, and the pay is enough where I can come out at least a little bit ahead. I’m not greedy, and this is very satisfying on many levels. These people get me.

   Tonight’s shows were even better than last night. My friend Bill Mihalic drove from his house in the northern Detroit suburbs to hang out and bought me a delicious and healthy dinner at B.D. Mongolian Barbecue. He didn’t have to do that, but I’m glad he did. It was a special day for him.

   This was his first official day of being retired from the automotive industry. Bill slugged it out in corporate America, and developed comedy writing as a hobby along the way. He took my one day seminar right here in Ann Arbor ten years ago this month, and has been writing ever since.

   Stories like Bill’s make me keep teaching classes whenever I can. He’s not taking what may be considered the “traditional route”, and that’s why I’m extra proud of him. He has blazed his own trail, and that’s even more difficult than coming up the ranks the way that everybody else does.

   I’m sure corporate America has a laundry list of major hassles of its own, but Bill managed to hang in there long enough to make it to retirement, and now he’s free to pursue what he wants to do but also enjoy the perks of having a beautiful home, family and all that goes with it. He won.

   I have all the respect in the world for Bill, because he WORKS. Whether it was his day jobs or writing jokes, Bill has a Herculean work ethic that has always impressed the hell out of me and it still does. Over dinner tonight he was like a kid in his giddiness describing all his future projects.

   It was refreshing to hear someone with that much excitement about comedy projects, and it put me in a better mood than I already was. It’s easy to see the pitfalls of the business, but when I see someone as excited as Bill it makes me happy for him and proud that my class got him started.

   Bill writes a daily joke sheet called “Bill’s Pills”. He’s also been writing for Jay Leno for a few years now, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for him. You can get a free subscription to Bill’s jokes at www.highimpacthumor.com. This was a fun trip, and I’m glad I came. Now I only have to fill 51 more weeks each year with gigs like this and I’ll be set. I’ll worry about it later. This was fun.

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Ann Arbor Affection

June 30, 2013

Friday June 28th, 2013 – Ann Arbor, MI

   Back on the road again, and it’s been a while. Part of me missed it, but a bigger part didn’t. It’s a definite lifestyle, and not for everyone. I could tell I’m out of sync, and that’s a place I couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago. The road bug has been in my blood all my adult life, but I’m just not intoxicated by it like I used to be. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it’s how I feel.

   The good thing about this week is that I’m back in one of my very favorite places of all time in Ann Arbor, MI. The club here is The Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, and I’ve always knocked it out of the park here as the audiences are traditionally intelligent and show up wanting to laugh.

   Places like this make being a comedian fun, and I’m bummed there aren’t more of them. It’s a treat performing for an audience that gets it, but that’s not always the case. And it’s not like I do particularly atom smashing brilliant stuff either. My material is relatively smart, but at times that just isn’t what certain audiences want. They want loud stupid filth, but that’s just not what I do.

   It’s different here, and I’ve always loved it. Ann Arbor is a very hip town located in the middle of the rust belt, and dangerously close to Detroit. People think I’m crazy, but I have always loved the Detroit area – at least the suburbs. I love the whole car culture, and at one time it was the hub of everything. I know people make fun of it now and with good reason, but Detroit was a giant.

   It was a blue collar working class giant much like my home town of Milwaukee, but that’s not the vibe in Ann Arbor. It’s very artsy and eclectic here, and I really like it. Madison, WI has a bit of that kind of vibe too, but not like here. For whatever reason, what I do seems to fit perfectly.

   It’s an easy week too. I can’t remember if there were Thursday shows in the past, but now it’s a Friday and Saturday only. There are two shows a night, and the club is located in the basement of a delicious vegetarian restaurant called Seva. I was the first to make fun of vegetarianism back in my youth, but this place won me over. It’s one of the best anywhere. www.sevarestaurant.com.

   On the way here, I stopped to have lunch with my friend Dave Rudolf. Dave is booking acts at a smaller club in the far southern suburbs of Chicago, and wants to try a comedy night. He asked if I would mind doing the opening night, and I said I would. I don’t really work the south side of Chicago much, as it’s a long ride from where I live. It’s 90 miles one way to get to Dave’s house.

   In contrast, it’s only about 50 miles each way for me to get to either downtown Milwaukee or downtown Chicago from where I live. The only way it’s convenient to visit with Dave is when I pass through on my way to a gig like I was today. Gas prices are making us all plan trips more.

   It’s bleeding us all dry, but who has a choice? I could rant and rave about how they could run a car on pickle juice and coffee grounds, but they’re never going to do it. It’s all about money, and those few who have it aren’t about to turn it loose to the masses of us who don’t. We’re screwed.

   That’s not about to change any time soon, so we might as well enjoy whatever we can. I have a fun gig this week in a place I really enjoy. I won’t get filthy rich, but I at least know my rent will be paid Monday so that’s a big relief. The shows tonight were both solid, and I loved being back for the first time in two years. I know that because the last time I was here I went to the hospital the next week with my type 2 diabetes diagnosis. That was a fun week too, and I’m thrilled to be back. If I had 52 weeks like this every year, life would be a breeze. I don’t, so I’ll enjoy the trip.

Pleasure Over Business

June 29, 2013

Thursday June 27th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   In a perfect world, I would have spent the entire day hard at work. I would have gotten up early and hit the ground running. I would have gotten a little bit done on a lot or projects or maybe put a big dent in just one. I have a lot of things that need a lot of work. Today was ideal to get to it.

   But alas, I totally didn’t. I didn’t lift one single finger to do anything I intended to, and it made today a total zilch as far as professional productivity goes. I guess I can’t complain that I am not getting anything done as it was me who chose to blow it off, so I have to live with my decision.

  What happened was, my friend Rick Wey was in town from Nashville and he invited me to go to a Milwaukee Brewers game with his company. It’s a trucking freight company, and they have terminals all over the country. Rick comes up about once a year to do what he does and that has usually been in the summer. It’s become a tradition he goes to a ball game, and has invited me.

   The people who work at the Milwaukee terminal couldn’t be any nicer, and they have taken me in as one of their own. It doesn’t hurt that I am from there, but they’ve totally treated me like one of their family. I feel like an employee, without having to do that annoying thing called ‘work’.

   There’s a super nice lady named Joyce Brainard who puts out a pre game spread of food fit for royalty, and today was no exception. There were Usinger’s brats, which are the very top as far as sausages go, along with all the trimmings any tailgate party could want. It was an amazing meal, and everyone who came to the party was friendly and laid back. I felt completely at home there.

   Rick also brought his dad along from Nashville. He came up a couple of years ago, and he’s an extremely interesting fellow. I don’t know how old he is, but Rick is a couple of years older than me and I ain’t no teeny bopper. His dad is a sharp fun guy, and I can tell he was a great father by the way Rick is when he’s around him. I can feel the love and respect, and it’s a beautiful thing.

   The Brewers ended up getting stomped by the Cubs of all teams, but nobody cared. That’s not what this was about. It was about hanging out with nice people and not only enjoying a baseball game, but life itself. Yes things are hectic all over, but for one afternoon everything was perfect.

   We had delicious food and plenty of it, and perfect weather to enjoy a game. There were some of the sweetest people I can think of to enjoy it with, and we had unbelievable seats right behind third base that I know cost a lot. They didn’t have to include me, but they did. That’s why I went.

   Did I have work to do? Yes, but missing one more day wasn’t going to turn my life around. It’s days like today I’ll look at in the end and smile, so this was the right choice for today. Rick Wey is also a comedian and a very funny one, but he chose to keep a stable career for his family and I couldn’t respect him any more. I’ll take solid friends like him over showbiz B.S. every last time.

   Tonight I had an invitation from Marc Schultz to go to his house and watch the NBA College Draft. We’ve come to make a tradition of watching sports drafts, and it’s another fun evening to hang with a good friend. His wife Audrey always makes another great spread of food and we can hang out and talk sports all night. Again, was it productive? Probably not in the big scheme of it all, but it sure was fun for tonight. It was baseball all day and basketball all night, but it was a lot more than just that. The real highlights were being able to spend time with some absolutely super people who were nice enough to invite me to join them. That’s a high honor, and I appreciate it.

Nashville funnyman Rick Wey - a class act onstage and off.

Nashville funnyman Rick Wey – a class act onstage and off.

War Scarred Testicles

June 27, 2013

Wednesday June 26th, 2013 – Kenosha, WI

   My friend Jerry Agar rolled through town today on a cross country motorcycle trip, and we had a chance to sit down and catch up over a delicious lunch at The Brat Stop in Kenosha, WI. We’d originally hoped to have all the members of ‘Jerry’s Kidders’ from WLS and WGN reunite for a party, but we couldn’t hook up everyone’s schedules. People were out of town, so it was just us.

   Jerry and I have been through a lot together, and even more separately. We met in the late ‘80s when he was working at a tiny AM station in St. Charles, IL and I was working for the new club Zanies was starting in the Pheasant Run Resort at the time. It started as a one shot interview, but we kept in touch from that day forward. Today we looked back on all of our tangled adventures.

   Both of us ended up moving all over the country to pursue the radio dream, and that came with a heaping helping of hurt. Rarely have we lived in the same town or even same time zone, but we still managed to stay in touch by phone and email. We’d help each other with various projects or radio bits, and when one of us got fired – again – the first call we’d make would be to the other.

   Jerry had the additional pressure of a family to support, and his wife Ann should easily qualify for first ballot sainthood for all she’s had to endure with this mine field of a business. They have three fantastic kids who I consider to be surrogate nephews and a niece, and every time they had to pack up everything and move one more time Ann would hang in there and keep it all together.

   That’s the kind of family relationship I’ve always wanted – at least the together part. It’s not in the cards, and when I really needed it it was never there. I was always of the mindset it was cruel and unusual punishment to drag a wife much less kids through the treacherous jungle of radio.

   Comedy is no clam bake either, but at least it’s a predictable instability. As a comedian, I know I will be somewhere else each week. In radio, one never knows when the next time bomb will go off – only that it will. Stations get sold, GMs and Program Directors move on, so who can say if a job will be there tomorrow? It’s always been that way from my experience, but now it’s worse.

   Jerry is currently working in Toronto, and he has really made an impact on the market. He does talk radio, and does it extremely well. He’s found his niche, and few can do what he does with as much skill as he does it. One would think that would go hand in hand with total job security – but one could not be more mistaken. The planets could align against him and he’d be out on his arse.

   Jerry told me his station is in the process of getting sold, and my bung hole puckered. That puts everyone at the station on edge, and I’ve gone through it more than once myself.  Two other pals in radio “Stone and Double T” in Rockford, IL are going through the same hell. Their station just got sold as well, and the standard company line is always “We expect there to be NO changes.”

   My war scarred testicles. I wish I had a free lunch for every time I heard that splattering pile of verbal manure emanate from behind the desk of some greasy radio snake – only to get shown the door a short time later. Then to make it worse, they themselves are blown out a short while after that and it was like none of us ever existed in the first place. It’s a vicious never ending cycle.

   It was great to hang out with Jerry, but I can’t help feeling for him and his family. He’s settling in nicely in Toronto, but he was doing the same thing in Chicago before he got axed for reasons I still haven’t been able to figure out. If there is a hell, there’s a whole wing for radio management.

Hockey Hokum

June 26, 2013

Tuesday June 25th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Try as I might to the point of exhaustion, I just can’t seem to find any place for myself not only on the Chicago Blackhawks bandwagon, but that of hockey in general. I am a lifelong sports fan, and by all accounts I know should probably love it madly – but I couldn’t have any less interest.

   I almost feel guilty about it, but I can’t change how I feel. I think soccer stinks too, and hockey is basically soccer on ice. I know entire nations and untold millions live and die with either sport, but they just don’t do anything for me and never have. I just don’t seem to be wired in this way.

   I have tried for years to figure out why I can’t develop a love for hockey, and all I can come up with is that it probably started as a kid. There were never any games on TV to watch growing up in Milwaukee, which in turn probably led to nobody wanting to play it. I can only remember one time when the kids in our neighborhood farted around with it, but none of us even wore skates.

   There was a back yard in our neighborhood that had flooded in early spring one year, and then froze over when it got cold again. That produced as close to a rink as we’d ever get naturally, so we decided to try playing hockey. We basically slid around in our boots, and made do with some homemade style sticks. Granted those weren’t the best conditions, but we never played it again.

   I’ve tried to acquire a taste for hockey in later years, and I’ve even attended several games with the hopes of a fire being lit somewhere. I was performing in Winnipeg years ago, and I got to see a Jets game before they moved out of town. Some of the local comics were going and they asked if I wanted to tag along. It was great hanging with the comics, but the game didn’t matter at all.

   In Milwaukee, our local team was called the Admirals. They were always minor league, so that probably made it less than sexy to follow as well. I was happy if I heard they won, but never was I a rabid fan. I did notice a lot of women enjoyed it, so more than once I went to a game as a date situation through the years. I only went because I thought they would like it. What an idiot I was.

   The Admirals are still the team in Milwaukee, and I do consider myself a major fan – but that’s only because I know people in the front office. They have always been extremely nice to me, and I like and respect them as people. I’d go out of my way to do anything for them, and I wish I was a bigger fan of the sport so I could follow the team closer. Still, I’m a big fan of the organization.

   Top to bottom, there are some fantastic people who make the team go. Jon Greenberg has been a supporter of mine for years, going back to when he worked in the front office for the Brewers. I will owe that guy for years for all the free tickets he threw my way over the years. He has always been a class act, as have people like Mike Wojciechowski and Tim Van Wagoner. They’re great.

   I was even hired to perform at their Christmas party a few years ago by owner Harris Turer. He couldn’t have been nicer, even though it was a difficult situation. I’ll be a loyal Admirals fan for life because of the way they conduct their business. They’re big league all the way in my book.

   Living in the Chicago area, I also have become a fan of the way the Blackhawks do business. It has been nothing short of remarkable to see the way their management has turned the team into a first class product in just a few years. Owner Rocky Wirtz has changed the entire climate and it’s trickling down to the city. I see Blackhawks gear everywhere, and this is the second Stanley Cup they’ve won in four years. That’s super impressive, but I wish I liked the sport more to enjoy it.

A Benefit For P.A.W.S.

June 26, 2013

Monday June 24th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   Tonight was a pretty good night, but it could have been great. I hosted a benefit comedy show at Zanies in Chicago for the group P.A.W.S., which stands for ‘Pets Are Worth Saving’. I always try to contribute to worthy causes if and when I can, and tonight seemed like the perfect chance.

   Every once in a while Bert Haas offers me a chance to run my own show at Zanies, usually on a Monday night. The shows have been billed as ‘Dobie Maxwell and Friends’, and they’ve been a lot of fun. I try to give deserving up and comers a chance to work the prestigious Zanies stage.

   I’ve been able to give some good people a chance to get an audition video at a respected venue, and that feels great. I know how hard it can be to break into a new club, so any time I can open a door for someone I try to do it. It would be nice if that would come back around, but it’s not why I do it. It’s just fun to be nice, and even more so when I can help a cause. It’s what life is about.

   Kelly Greenwood is a former student and also has a day job as a teacher. She lives a few blocks from Zanies, and always asks me to be part of the Monday shows because it lets her get some quality stage time close to home and still be able to get up for school in the morning.

   I’ve seen her work hard to improve her act over the years, and I have no problem letting her go up. She adds to the shows, and I know how important regular stage time can be. Kelly is also a big pet person, and volunteers at P.A.W.S. on a regular basis. I suggested we make it a benefit show, and she loved the idea. She went through proper channels as did I, and we made tonight happen.

   We rounded up a stellar lineup of comedians to volunteer their time which featured Tim Slagle, Brian Hicks and Michael Palascak. Kelly’s father passed away just a few weeks ago so she wanted to focus on getting the word out and thought it would be easier not to have pressure to be funny.

   I knew we’d have a solid show, but unfortunately nobody was able to predict we’d get screwed by the Chicago Blackhawks game. It kept people away in droves, but we still had attendance that wasn’t embarrassing. I’d say it was a little more than half full, and nobody who came looked at it as a flop. Kelly was disappointed, and I felt her pain. I have put on countless empty benefit shows.

   This wasn’t empty by any means, but I still understand her disappointment. I know how hard it is to get the word out for any event, and it always seems like a disappointment even when people do show up. If there is even one empty seat, it can be easy to take it personally. I’ve been there.

   As a special treat, Chrys Lavelette showed up to support the cause. Chrys is one of the comics I started with in Milwaukee way back when, but she’s been living in Chicago for years. She does a simply brilliant mime piece called ‘Appendectomy of a Fat Man’ and I asked if she’d mind doing it tonight. She agreed, so I put her on last as the cherry on the sundae. She nailed it as I expected.

   Everyone on stage did a stellar job, and those who attended were thoroughly entertained. It was by no means a bomb, but I know the hockey game hurt not only us but a lot of other places too. It was unavoidable, but that’s part of the live entertainment game. Some things can’t be predicted.

   I do hope those who chose not to attend tonight also choose to donate to the cause. They got to see the Blackhawks win the championship, so how painful could it be to throw a couple of bucks in the kitty to save a kitty – or a pup? Everyone wins, and it’s easy to do. www.pawschicago.org.

A great show for a great cause.

A great show for a great cause.

Showing Off Uranus

June 24, 2013

Sunday June 23rd, 2013 – St. Charles, IL

   A phone call from Mike Preston usually means some kind of adventure is close behind, and it’s almost always fun. He called yesterday to ask if I’d be available for an impromptu appearance as The King of Uranus for his TV show ‘Psychobabble’. I told him I would help any way I could.

   The assignment today was to cover a comic book show at the Mega Center at Pheasant Run in St. Charles, IL. I was to dress in character, and Mike would follow me with a camera find people to interview for his show. I had nothing else going on, so I hauled out the garb and played along.

   It’s amazing what a strong reaction something as simple as dressing up in a goofy costume gets – even at a comic book show. I felt all eyes on me as I walked, but I’ve done it several times now so I’m starting to get used to it. It was uncomfortable at first, but now I’m starting to play with it.

   Nobody knows what to say, and I just carry on like there’s nothing odd or unusual. Sometimes someone will say a line, and I try to snap off a funny answer if I can. The most common remark people say is “Nice hat!” referring to my Jiffy Pop style “crown”. I don’t know why they would pick that out of the whole wacky ensemble, but that’s the comment I’ve heard the most to date.

   The standard line I now shoot back is “Who’d have believed it was margarine and not butter?” – which almost always gets a solid laugh. I’m getting a whole lot more comfortable in my skin as the character, and even though it’s not all the way there yet it’s getting closer every time I do it.

   Any time there’s a chance to practice, I’ll do it. This was an excellent opportunity to do it with zero risk. What was the worst thing that could happen, I get thrown out of a comic book show for dressing funny? That would be pretty hard to do from comic book shows I have seen in the past.

   One thing that made me feel better was that I dressed in a room with other characters that were walking around as well. I recognized Batman, and there were a few others I didn’t know. It was a funny scene as we all got into our costumes with no fanfare. Nobody made fun of each other, but we all looked pretty crazy walking out one by one in full regalia ready to walk around the show.

   There were plenty of interesting characters to interview, and I’ll bet we did a dozen interviews in an hour’s time. I didn’t so much stress the fact that I was the King of Uranus, but let them talk about what they were there for. I am pretty quick with a joke and have had practice interviewing people, so most of them came off a lot better than I’m sure anyone expected. It was a lot of fun.

    It was a special treat to get rejected for interviews by all the paid autograph celebrities there to sign for fans. The look of fright in their eyes as we walked over with a camera was priceless, and I had a hard time keeping a straight face as they ran in the other direction to avoid talking to us.

   Priscilla Barnes was first, and I wish we could have gotten a picture of her look of disgust. She recovered quickly, and after shrieking “NO!” when asked for an interview she said “But I thank you for asking” to save face with the people around her. I took it in stride and kept on walking.

   Pro wrestlers Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine and Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake were next. The funny thing is, I’d have been able to do great interviews with them with my immense knowledge of wrestling but neither one wanted any part of it. It’s their loss. I know I’m on to something big to get such negative reaction – but I got positive reaction too. We laughed the whole way home.

All hail The King of Uranus!

All hail The King of Uranus!

It's ALWAYS funny when it comes from Uranus!

It’s ALWAYS funny when it comes from Uranus!

Check out Mike Preston's 'Psycho Babble TV' www.psychobabbletv.com

Check out Mike Preston’s ‘Psycho Babble TV’ http://www.psychobabbletv.com

Twice As Funky

June 24, 2013

Saturday June 22nd, 2013 – Country Club Hills, IL

   The only thing I can think of that’s better than a funk fix is a double dose. That’s exactly what I got tonight in Country Club Hills, IL as I attended a live show featuring my two favorite musical acts of all time Cameo and George Clinton. That doesn’t happen often, so I had to see the show.

   I had never even heard of Country Club Hills until quite recently, but it’s a far southern suburb of Chicago that built a really nice outdoor concert facility. The weather could not have been any more perfect, and it was an ideal scenario for one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a long time.

   I’ve seen Cameo at least a dozen times, and they’re headliners in their own right. They’ve had double digit R&B hits, but their biggest crossover by far was ‘Word Up’ in 1986. I have all their CDs, and am a huge fan. They’ve got a strikingly distinct eclectic style, and I’ve always loved it.

   Their lead singer Larry Blackmon is known for wearing a codpiece on stage, and it has become his trademark. I’ve thought about trying it myself, but I don’t think comedy is ready for that just yet. It works for him though, and he and the rest of the band put on a rock solid hour long show.

   Unfortunately it wasn’t a sold out house, but those who were there loved it. I don’t know what the place holds, but I’d guess it was about half full. I had a great seat, ten rows back dead center. I could see and hear everything perfectly, and it made my 70 mile one way drive worth the effort.

   There was some tear down and set up time between the acts, but that’s to be expected. It wasn’t horrible, but by the time the transport vans pulled up behind the stage with George and the band in them, everyone was ready for the main course. It still wasn’t sold out, but we were all into it.

   I’ve seen George live probably 40-50 times now, but I have to say this was one of the very best performances I’ve ever seen. George has always been a master showman, but tonight he cranked it up to the limit and the more he did it the more we loved it. Nobody walked away disappointed.

   I read an article once where George said one thing he was always good at was hiding the fact if anything was going wrong either personally or with the band. It was always about the show. That can be extremely hard to pull off, and I know from plenty of firsthand and personal experience.

   In the last year or two, George has experienced a lot of passings of people close to him. He lost both his mother and one of his sons, along with guitar players Garry Shider and Cordell ‘Boogie’ Mosson. He also lost singers Belita Woods and Mallia Franklin. It has been a very tough stretch, but nobody would have known it tonight. He came out with a vengeance and took no prisoners.

   He made his customary grand entrance with the song ‘Cosmic Slop’, but then took it to another level by going up into the crowd at the outdoor theatre. I’ll bet he went a dozen rows up slapping hands, and it won the crowd over immediately. I’d seen him do similar things before, but not like this. It was like he was a man possessed, and was bound and determined to give us his best show.

   The band was on fire tonight, and they only played the biggest hits. They switched the order of how they usually do it, and that was good to see because I switch my order of bits around when I read the audience. I’m glad it’s not just me. George was soaked in sweat by the end of the night, but he made sure we got our money’s worth and more. He was all over that stage, and on a level I’ve rarely seen. He made everyone forget he’s 72. This was a night to remember. What a show!

"OWWWW!"

“OWWWW!”

Dr. Funkenstein - still funky at 72

Dr. Funkenstein – still funky at 72

The Peak Of Ripeness

June 22, 2013

Friday June 21st, 2013 – Niles, IL

   It’s the first day of summer, and once again I find another year slipping away. After today days start to get shorter again, so this is it – the prime day of the year. I’m not booked tonight, and I’m not thrilled about it in the least. I want to be out working as much as I can, and that’s every week.

   Nothing else makes me even close to happy. I’ve resigned myself to the icy fact that I’m never going to have that solid family relationship I have always wanted, but if I can’t have that the only other thing I’d ever want is a chance to be on stage entertaining people who are there to see me.

   I’ve been chasing that tricky rabbit longer than I think I should have, and I don’t feel any closer now than when I started. I have come untold light years as a performer, but nobody knows who I am so what good is it? I know I can go on stage and light up a room, but nobody powerful cares.

   Rodney Dangerfield had a great joke that said he quit show business and when he quit – he was the only one who KNEW he quit. That’s funny to anyone who isn’t living it. I feel like I’m there now myself, and I’m not laughing. I’m not even smiling. I’m panicking, and that’s never good.

   There are too many choices to make, and I have no idea which ones are correct. I’ve made a lot of stupid ones through the years, but even so I still paid my dues and developed my natural talent to the point it’s ripe and ready to pick. I’m at my peak just like today is the peak of the summer.

    I don’t want to waste any more time, as that peak ripeness won’t last forever. It will eventually get soft and rot, and the last thing I want is to be a rotten piece of fruit that fell off the tree. I have come way too far for that, so I decided to do something about it. I am not satisfied with this fate.

   In a perfect world, I’d be working six to seven nights a week in nice venues for audiences filled with my fans. I’d super serve those people, and give them my very best each night. I’d sign every autograph and pose for every picture after the show, and live the rest of my days brightening the days of as many others as humanly possible. I’ve got the ability, now I just need the opportunity.

   How the hell is that going to happen? I wish I knew. I read an interview with Lewis Black and he said he had resigned himself to the fact he’d never make it – and then he made it. I’m right at that point myself, and I don’t like it one bit. There’s no guarantee I’ll hit anything, and that rots.

   I can rattle off a dozen names of absolutely fantastic standup comedians that the public has no idea whatsoever who any of them are. Look these people up in no particular order and tell me if you don’t think they’re hilarious. I know they are, because they’ve paid their dues just like me.

   Here’s a list off the top of my head: Tim Cavanagh, Tim Walkoe, Tim Northern, Dwight York, Don Reese, Jim McHugh, James Wesley Jackson, Beth Donahue, John McClellan, Danny Storts, Ross Bennett, Keith Stubbs, Todd Johnson, Auggie Smith, Bill Gorgo, Rick D’Elia, Wally Wang and now I’m going to get in trouble because I’ll leave someone out unintentionally. Suffice to say not everyone makes it.

   I’ve said it before, and I wish it weren’t true – talent does NOT assure anyone of career success in the entertainment business. In sports it may be different, but this isn’t sports. This is a business based on subjective opinions of many that have never once attempted to do themselves what they are allegedly experts at choosing. This has always been frightening and extremely disturbing, but I don’t see it ending any time soon. There are hoops that are to be jumped through, like it or not.

   I don’t like it and never have, but if I intend to change my current status I need to suck it up for at least a little while and get back out there. There are so many places other than comedy clubs to approach, and that’s where it gets tricky. Where do I go and who do I talk to? I haven’t been able to figure it out until now, so what leads me to believe I’ll do it now? I can’t, so I need some help.

   I had lunch with Marc Schultz today, and in his world he’s in a similar situation. Marc books a variety of entertainment acts and has for years. He inherited an agency from his father, and even though he’s not a comedy booker per se I have gotten a decent amount of work over the years.

   Marc and I are friends, and there aren’t many bookers I’d call a friend first. I genuinely like the guy, and even if he never booked me again I’d still hang out with him. That’s all fine, but we put our heads together today to see what we could come up with. His business isn’t what it was, but what business these days is? We can both use a little freshening up, so we came up with a plan.

   Most of Marc’s clients are corporate types. Most of them would never hire a standup comic but he’s going to approach the ones that might. He’s always been good about trying to include me on any sampler videos he sends, and I totally appreciate it. But I can do the job, and he realizes that.

   We also agreed that Marc is going to go after club work that I haven’t gone after, for a fee. I’m delighted to pay anybody to get me work I don’t have, so this is a no brainer. If he can land some decent work, I’m all over it. I don’t want to work the toilet circuit anymore, so these will be good clubs that will pay decent money. He’s not familiar with the club market, but he’s willing to try.

   This is not a long term fix, but in the short run it could be great for both of us. I won’t be stuck doing what I’ve never liked, and it’s always good to have a third party selling me rather than me stumbling and stammering and asking for work like a vagrant asks for change. I’ve never liked it.

   Steady work is what’s it’s about in any facet of show business. Period. I’d rather work steadily and make livable wage than be a big star one minute and a has been bum the next. I’m all about a steady career with regular income. I’ve come close many times, but I’ve never been able to make it last. There’s always been a radio job to come along and shake things up in a destructive way.

   I’m not foreseeing any radio in my immediate future. That ship has sailed – or sunk. What I am going to do is cross every T and dot every I and go after all the quality standup comedy work I’m able to get. It could be comedy clubs, cruise ships, colleges or corporate. I can handle just about anything at this point, but what I can’t handle is not working at all. That’s totally unacceptable.

   I look at comics from my generation of performers like Louis CK and Jim Gaffigan, and I want to be doing what they’re doing. How did they get it? I don’t know. I’m sure it was a lot of things. Talent is a part, but so is persistence, connections, luck and who knows what else? It’s complex.

   If I don’t get myself in front of someone, I’ll never have any chance to do anything. That’s not what I want to have as my final legacy, so at least Marc is going to be out there trying to mention my name to people who can book me in decent venues. Why haven’t we done this before now?

   Neither one of us has an answer. Marc was doing his thing, and I was doing mine. Now we’ve both run out of ‘things’, and this is a logical fit – at least for now. I’m going to dive into booking myself in as many quality places as I can. No more toilets. If I succeed, my life will change soon. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s just that where I’m doing it hasn’t gotten me seen.

Saluting The Spurs

June 22, 2013

Thursday June 20th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Although I’ve only been through San Antonio, TX maybe two or three times at most in all my travels, I consider myself a loyal fan of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. I absolutely love their way of doing business, and in this era of showboating maniacs they’re a breath of fresh air.

  They have been perennial winners since they entered the NBA for the 1976-77 season, and have only failed to qualify for the playoffs four times. That’s beyond remarkable, and they do it with a matter of fact business like air that’s the ultimate in professionalism. They do things correctly, at least in my opinion. They don’t gloat or waste time making foolish statements – they just WIN.

   The organization is razor sharp from the top on down, and they make it a point to acquire great players who are also solid people. David Robinson was a quality player, but also not your typical off the court hoodlum. He came from the Naval Academy, and how many NBA teams search for talent there? Is there another basketball player that has ever come from there? Not that I know of.

   Tim Duncan is also a thoroughbred. They realized the center position is crucial for any team to win a championship, and they were able to get two outstanding ones back to back. It’s extremely rare, but the Spurs are an extremely rare organization. They know what they’re doing, and all the other teams know it. They have quietly built themselves if not a dynasty, a reasonable facsimile.

   Their coach Greg Popovich is one of my favorites as well. He took over in 1996, and won four NBA Championships. He’s now the longest tenured coach in not only the NBA but the ‘big four’ major sports. He’s looked at as a guru and one of the all time greats, but he does it very low key.

   His style of coaching is drenched in fundamentals, and Spurs teams are known for showing up ready to play. They don’t rely on flashy playground antics, they play and execute precision team basketball that almost looks like it’s from another era. I love watching them, and I cheer loudly.

   My hometown Milwaukee Bucks used to be a lot like the Spurs. When I was a kid they always made the playoffs, and at one stretch they won seven straight division championships.  But then they’d always run into a monster team in the playoffs and never be able to get over the big hump. It was frustrating at the time, but looking back the Bucks were a great franchise for many years.

   That’s no longer the case, and the Bucks have been mired in mediocrity for so long I lost track. I live in the Chicago area now, and I admit I follow the Bulls. I don’t dislike them, and they have a rich history as well. The ‘90s were amazing with Michael Jordan, but after that they fell off the face of the planet for many years and it’s only lately they’re starting to become winners again.

   The Spurs have done it year in and year out, and I can’t help but cheer for them. Excellence has a formula, and not everyone can achieve it much less maintain it. That goes for anything, not just sports teams. I have always aimed for excellence, but have not come within reach. It’s frustrating on one hand, but on the other it makes me have even greater respect for the few who do attain it.

   I was sad to see the Spurs lose to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals tonight. I’m not even that big of a basketball fan anymore, and a lot has to do with the way the Heat put their team together by buying it. Sure, why shouldn’t they win it all? They did it the easy way. The Spurs played the hand they were dealt, and have shown consistency for a long time. The Heat have now won back to back titles, but let’s see how their legacy matches up with the Spurs. They’re still my favorite.