Archive for August, 2013

Michael Jackson’s Birthday

August 30, 2013

Thursday August 29th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Today would have been Michael Jackson’s 55th birthday. What a fascinating character study he was on so many levels. Only a handful of people who ever lived have had a worldwide influence like he did during his run. Like Elvis, he was the right person in the right place at the right time.

   Did he have talent? He was loaded with it, but that doesn’t always guarantee success. There are many things that have to come together for massive success, and both Elvis and Michael Jackson were the proverbial ‘one in a million’. They were one in hundreds of millions, but that in no way insured their lives would be Shangri-La. Their problems were larger than life just like they were.

   From all I’ve read I don’t think Elvis was a dented can but Michael surely was. I don’t think he and his father got along well to say the least, and that’s usually where it starts. Unfortunately, we as children of relationships like that often tend to think fame and fortune will heal those wounds, but it never does. Sooner or later that fact becomes apparent, and it’s a stunning disappointment.

   I can’t comment on Michael Jackson’s personal life, as I wasn’t there. Whether he did what he was accused of or not I don’t feel qualified to talk about. It’s absolutely none of my business and nobody else’s but his and his accusers. Unfortunately, on that level one’s personal life becomes a wide open book to be rummaged through by the public on a whim. That’s the downside of fame.

   I’m just focusing on his career. The success he had with The Jackson Five alone would be a big deal, but that was only the beginning. His star steadily rose, and he took entertainment to heights that had never been seen on a worldwide level ever – including Elvis. He set the world standard.

   He rode the global wave of MTV, and pioneered the way music videos were done. Every other act to come along after Michael Jackson basically used his template of a lead dancer in front with a flock of dancers behind, but few came close to doing it as well as he did. He was the innovator.

   Elvis had his own greatness for his time, but he wasn’t a dancer or writer of songs. He was one of the most charismatic stage performers in history, and that alone is impressive. Michael took it to a whole other level at a different time, and his influence is still being felt today. What a talent.

   I’ve always been especially impressed with the ‘Thriller’ album. That came out the year after I graduated high school, so it’s been a part of my life for decades. I heard the songs played on the radio, and they were a part of my entire life experience just as the Beatles were for a generation before. I hear Beatles songs being played today, but I was never part of that intense culture blast.

   I watched Michael Jackson’s career soar, and it was quite impressive. During the ‘80s it wasn’t easy to turn on a TV or radio without seeing or hearing something about Michael Jackson. It was a true cultural phenomenon, and part of the fabric of life. How many ever reach that level? Him.

   I’m sorry his and Elvis’s lives ended so sadly and quickly. No mortal can sustain that lifestyle for long, but the question is if one could choose would it be the short fast life of a superstar or an ordinary one filled with mediocrity that lasted into old age? That’s a decision most never face.  

Every entertainer would LOVE to have a project like this on the resume - an all time classic.

Every entertainer would LOVE to have a project like this on the resume – an all time classic.


White Man’s Disease

August 30, 2013

Wednesday August 28th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   There is an evolution chart of success in standup comedy, and I need to move a position or two to the right or I’ll continue to drag my knuckles for the rest of my life. What I’ve been doing for so many years has been passed by. If I don’t start walking upright soon, I will get left in the dust.

   The icy truth is, a white male on stage telling jokes is not the way to break through and be seen by the masses. In other words – funny isn’t enough. Someone who just makes audiences laugh is no longer the standard bearer for success in the comedy business. An evolution has taken place.

   I don’t need to delve too deeply into the reasons why, but I do need to comprehend the bigger picture if I’m ever going to generate any kind of serious heat in the business. The landscape has changed completely, and it’s a whole new ball game. I’d better learn to play by the current rules.

   Unfortunately, I have a grave condition that plagues the majority of others in standup comedy and it’s called “Caucasianitis” or “White Man’s Disease”. It may have been a distinct advantage to be a white male in society the past few centuries, but in modern standup comedy it’s a curse.

   There has been a mega glut of white males between 20 and 50 attempting to stand out in a very crowded forest, and most end up getting lost in the shuffle. There are just too many, and we have become overpopulated like deer. There’s not enough food for us all, and we need to cull the herd.

   This is a very serious problem, and I don’t see it going away any time soon. Every city that has a comedy scene – which is every city – is producing more and more and it’s clogging the toilet at the top where people get their break. How is anyone supposed to stand out anymore? It’s tough.

   LA or New York used to be the place a comedian went to catch their big break. I was in LA for a year in the mid ‘90s, and it was crowded then. I’ve been to New York a few times, and it’s not a lot different there. The statistics are similar everywhere, and it makes succeeding even harder.

   So what’s the answer? Other than going to diesel truck driving school or welding academy, the only way to overcome this condition is to find a niche or a gimmick. That creates an entirely new set of problems, but it’s a necessity if a white male is going to swim in today’s overcrowded sea.

   It takes years to become proficient at the craft of standup comedy alone. Adding on the task of finding a niche or a gimmick is overwhelming, but also very real. Just being a funny person isn’t going to pay off like it once may have. Newbies coming up the ranks need to grasp this concept.

   At least when I started, there was enough work to go around and I could make a livable income practicing my craft. That no longer exists, and people have to keep their day jobs much longer. It makes the whole game harder – and it was hard before. Now more than ever, a plan is essential.

   People think my ‘King of Uranus’ idea is stupid – and it is. The one thing it isn’t is just another white guy telling random jokes about his observations of everyday life. Jerry Seinfeld did that to the fullest, and got paid handsomely. Evolution is happening, and that’s no longer a valid option.

Someday Has Come

August 28, 2013

Tuesday August 27th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   The major life purge continues, and I feel improvement every day. Organizing my inner world is the only thing that will organize my outer world, and I desperately needed it. Every bit of junk I throw out opens that much more space to fill with something much better that I can use today.

   Less truly is more, and I feel noticeably better with every full bag I either throw out or take to a thrift store for donation. There’s almost a spiritual quality to what I feel as I do it, and that makes me want to do it more. Today I spent a full eight hours working, and could have done eight more.

   Most of this stuff I will eventually get rid of, but for now I just need to know what’s there. That takes time, as I have to sort through every scrap of paper or trinket in every box but I’ve meant to do it for years and I’m finally “getting around to it”. Someday has come, and a feeling of genuine accomplishment has come with it. I should have done this decades ago, but didn’t have the time.

   I was much too busy dealing with life’s tornadoes, and there were many. I just stuck everything in boxes with no rhyme or reason and said I’d deal with it later. Well, it’s later and now it’s time to sort it all out and finally move forward. Until I do that, I’ll never be able to grow to the fullest.

   I’m doing it, and it feels beyond good. I know it’s right, so I’m staying with it. At first I sorted everything into big piles, but now I’m going through those with a fine tooth comb to eliminate all that I don’t absolutely need to survive now – which is most of it. I’ll find the occasional business card with a contact I haven’t talked to in a while or a forgotten comedy idea, but that’s about it.

   Out the rest of it goes, and I’m having less of a problem the more I do it. If I really need any of this stuff I’m sure I can troll it up somewhere, but for now I want it out of my life. The chances I will need any of it are far slimmer than a white man’s hopes of playing cornerback in the NFL.

   I’ve got things I want to do, and they take up enough time as it is. Having a backlog of useless clutter is just extra weight in the saddle bags. Cleaning it out will be a one time hassle, but then it will be gone for good and I can fill that space with much more important things. I need to do this.

   It’s finally to the point where it’s manageable, even though it will take a while to get it down to where it should have been in the first place. I bit off way more than I could chew, and I thought it would all work out. It didn’t, so rather than keep hauling it around the country I’m cutting bait.

   I’ll be able to do a little at a time for the foreseeable future, and that’s how it should be. It’s just like exercise – a little every day is the way to do it. Trying to cram it in all at once in a day or two doesn’t work and never did. It’s a gradual thing, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m just sorry it took so long. I’ve wasted a lot of valuable time and energy dragging this around and it’s gone forever.

   If I choose to dwell on that, I’ll depress myself right out of the game. I’m not the only one that has made mistakes, but it’s all about how one recovers. If I throw away as much evidence of the past as I can, I’ll have no choice but to look ahead. That’s where I need to be looking, and I’m on a great roll right now. It’s all about action, which I’m taking. I’m making room for a better life.

23 Hours Off

August 27, 2013

Monday August 26th, 2013 – Wheeling, IL

    The breakdown of time for an entertainer as far as offstage pain vs. onstage pleasure is totally lopsided. It’s ridiculous. IF we’re lucky, we get to be on stage about an hour a day – sometimes two if it’s a two show night, and there are. More often than not it’s only 45 minutes. That’s it.

   And that’s in the headliner position. It takes years to grow into that. When we first start out it’s in five minute chunks of stage time, and those are like nuggets of pure gold. Stage time is hard to get for most newbies, and the earlier in the journey the more difficult it is to get it of any quality.

   Everyone who lasts in comedy has horror stories of working under hellish conditions to acquire the much needed experience to move ahead. It’s not pleasant, but sometimes it’s necessary. It’s a lot like the plane crash survivors in the Andes Mountains who ate dead passengers because there was no food anywhere else. The same holds true in standup comedy. Stage time is nourishment.

   Unfortunately, what it takes to get that nourishment consistently comes with an extremely high price. It would be like trying to feed a family when the only food store available is a convenience store and the only restaurant is the airport. The cost is sky high, and the quality is at best so-so.

   Sometimes I wonder if the trade off is worth it. Yes there’s a buzz that comes with being on the stage, but is it powerful enough to last the rest of those 23 hours or more? At the beginning of the journey, it is. That’s what keeps us in the game. As time goes on, we begin to have our doubts.

   I’m not going to deny it, I love being on stage – when it’s going well. Last Saturday’s show in South Haven, MI is a perfect example. The show went extremely well, and things were all done correctly from a promotional standpoint. It was close enough to home where I could sleep in my own bed, and with driving time included I still think my work day came in at less than 8 hours.

   That travel time eats up productive hours though. Sometimes I’m able to make booking related calls from the car, but not often – especially when I’m driving home late at night. There’s a much higher risk at that time as well of drunk drivers, charging deer and who knows what other perils.

   The majority of our time off stage is spent trying to get back on stage somewhere, and that’s an ongoing process. As much as I love to perform – and I absolutely do – I dislike having to troll for work, but that’s the game. There’s a lot more time spent on that aspect than the performing part.

   And I didn’t even mention promotion. Today I did a newspaper interview for a show I’m doing this Saturday in Homewood, IL at a place called “The Twisted Q”. I haven’t worked in the south suburbs much, and I know I’m not a draw. That article will be crucial to having any chance at all to get anyone to come out. I’m delighted to get the call, but it also takes a chunk out of my day.

   This is why it’s so hard to get anything done. There are so many hidden time drainers involved in being an entertainer that nobody thinks about when they get in it. They think it will be just the fun parts. Ha! That’s the trap, and many fall for it. I know I did. It’s too late now. I’m in it for the long haul. All I can do is make the most of the 23 hours I’m off stage – and that’s on a good day.

Positive Shrinkage

August 26, 2013

Sunday August 25th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’m still working hard every day at purging myself of clutter. I have been spending a lot of time sorting through my mountain of junk in the last few weeks hoping to shrink it to less than a mole hill. If I have my way, I’ll be able to move at any time in one car load and still have room to pick up hitch hikers. Possessions mean less and less, and the less I have the more my mind stays free.

   Today I spent about six hours going through big piles, shrinking them into smaller piles. I have finally started to see at least a little progress, and that’s encouraging. Nothing is more frustrating than working several hours and not having it look like I did anything at all. Today I made a dent.

    Even after unloading several carloads of books in the last few weeks, I still have enough left to open a small used book store somewhere. I’d still like to trim my inventory by at least half, but it feels great to have come this far. It’s under control, and I can continue to unload them gradually.

    I also have all my clothes clean and in proper order. Every pair of socks I own is matched and in ‘sock ball’ form so I don’t have to try and match them five minutes before I need to leave for a show. The last thing I need is to be playing a game of ‘Concentration’ when I’m running behind.

   I’ve also got my paperwork sorted into categories, and that was probably the hardest job. After all the times I’ve moved, I have accumulated boxes of paperwork from receipts to comedy notes to articles I’ve saved to phone numbers of people all over the country. I have to go through every last scrap to see if I need it or not, and that takes a lot of time. I am finally to the point of sanity.

   There’s still a lot to sort through and organize, but at least they’re in the correct pile. I’ll throw a lot more out as I go, but I feel a lot better because I’ve unloaded all kinds of stuff I won’t need anymore. I’m caught up. If 1997 ever comes back I might be screwed, but I’ll take my chances.

   What got me going is my roommate politely asked me to straighten up my area because she has a cleaning person come in once a month and wants her to do the once over. I’d totally let my area get out of control, and I needed a kick in the ass to motivate me. Deadlines can be very effective.

   It can be a vicious cycle with keeping one’s living space organized. I’m so busy out and about with all I’ve got going, the last thing I want to do when I get home is clean or sort. I want to rest or get caught up with my emails or phone calls or anything other than sorting socks or old books.

   My roommate is a total sweetheart, and I’m very lucky to be living here. It’s a beautiful house in a really nice area, and she has worked unbelievably hard to get it. She worked her way through college and has a great job and works hard there too. She’s a super mom to her sons besides that, and one of those things isn’t easy much less all of them. I greatly respect her and all she’s done.

   I would never do anything to intentionally upset the apple cart, and it’s the right thing to do to keep my area organized. It took a lot of work to get it this far, so hopefully that will keep it from sliding back to where it was. The more I unload, the less chance there will be of that happening.

Grass Roots Support

August 26, 2013

Saturday August 24th, 2013 – South Haven, MI

   The only thing more fun for a comedian than having a smoking hot show on a Saturday night is having it while the person who booked it is in the room. That way there’s absolutely nothing lost in translation, and everyone is on the same page. Tonight I rocked the house in South Haven, MI.

   The guy who books it is a comedian named Jerry Donovan. I’ve worked for him a few times in the last year or so and he’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite contacts. He handles business in the most professional way, and is an absolute joy to work with. I wish all bookers were like him.

   It’s extremely rare for anyone to be proficient as both a performer and booking agent, but there is the occasional exception. Jerry is one as is Keith Stubbs in Salt Lake City. Jim McHugh does a superb job in Chicago as does Steve Sabo in Toledo. After them, I have a hard time naming any.

   Jerry is one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen in a long time. He finds classy venues in the concentrated area of western Michigan where he lives, and then goes about doing a thorough job of promoting them correctly. That’s the difference. He’s not just running half assed hell shows in  sleazy bars. He goes out and finds sponsors and makes sure they’re run properly. And they are.

   He makes sure there is adequate lighting and sound – another important detail too many tend to overlook – and hosts the majority of his shows himself. He’s a funny seasoned pro, so it also adds to the quality of the evening. From top to bottom, Jerry pampers the audience, venue and comics.

   What a treat it is to work for a guy like that. His hard work shows through, and every time I’ve been lucky enough to work for him it’s been a fun experience. Tonight was no different, as they had a sold out show and the biggest crowd they’ve had for a comedy night to date. It was a blast.

   To make the evening even more productive, I was able to bring along one of my students from the Zanies comedy class to do a five minute guest set. He asked to tag along and offered to drive, so that sold it right there. Any time I don’t have to drive, count me in. That was yet another treat.

   This is exactly how the comedy business should be on so many levels. The crowds Jerry brings in – get this – WANT to be there. They didn’t win free tickets by the pound by dropping business cards in a fish bowl at the tanning salon. Jerry promotes it all properly, and books top level acts.

   There’s a fair cover charge, and people either pay or they don’t. Those that choose to are there to be entertained. That’s the formula, but there’s nothing secret about it. It’s HARD WORK, and plenty of it. Jerry is out there busting his ass trying to make a living for himself and his family. If he makes a profit – and I sure hope he does – he earns every last penny.

   As I was getting paid after the show, Jerry told me of one of his venues that has dropped him as booker and is going with one of the greasy ones. They thought he was making too much, and got greedy. The other booker immediately cut the pay for the comics, and began using far lower acts to save money. Cutting corners like that is the beginning of the end before they start. Jerry does it right, and he has my loyalty to the death. It costs a little bit more to go first class, and he does it.

Jerry Donovan - a class act onstage and off!

Jerry Donovan – a class act onstage and off!

Betting On Uranus

August 24, 2013

Friday August 23rd, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   “It is impossible to win the great prizes in life without running risks.” – Theodore Roosevelt

   This is not only an inspirational greeting card quote – it has become the virtual blueprint for my life. After too many snake eyed rolls of life’s dice to count, it’s high time for at least one of them to hit the jackpot. I’m beginning to get carpal tunnel syndrome from rolling those dice so much.

   Today I did it again, but I feel great about my chances to win. There are two people I know that are starting a comedy content based website, and are looking to launch next month. They came to me recently and asked if I’d like to be a part of it. I said yes, and today we started the adventure.

   I can’t say who it is or give any details just yet other than it’s a project I feel is timed perfectly for the circumstances of today. They’re putting together original talent and ideas that haven’t had exposure anywhere else, and their chances of something hitting is excellent. It’s a smart gamble.

   The old way was to hope to get seen in a comedy club, and be asked to appear on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. He was it. David Letterman came along in the ‘80s, but before that it was Carson and a few other lower tier shows like Merv Grifin, Dinah Shore and Mike Douglas.

   There was also “An Evening at the Improv” on A & E, but that came along later too. For a long time, comedians moved to L.A. hoping to get a Tonight Show shot. That was the big prize, but as with most any entertainment genre the chance of getting that one slot was beyond astronomical.

   It’s a completely different ball game now, even though the objective remains the same. An act needs to get in front of as large of an audience as humanly possible in order to become known by name, thereby in theory creating a draw when they appear live. That’s the basic success formula.

   Network television shows have become diluted, and that’s not necessarily the way to do it right now. They don’t hurt, but how much do they help? I did a successful Craig Ferguson shot, but it didn’t put me over the top in one appearance. Nothing does. It takes a consistent plan to attain it.

   If someone can cultivate a steady following on the internet, that can lead to a totally legitimate fan base. There’s a whole subculture of people gaining followings maybe not in the millions, but enough to put butts in seats in places or sell them some trinkets. Jenna Marbles is such a person.

   She does her own You Tube videos, and gets a staggering number of hits – sometimes over one million or more. Wow! I’d be thrilled to get 100,000 paying fans who buy a DVD or t-shirt every year. The potential is right there, now I have to make it happen. I began work today as I recorded a video rant in character as the King of Uranus. I see clearly what needs to be done to develop it.

   I did a daily rant called ‘The Sixty Second Soapbox’ on a few radio morning shows I was part of. It’s a bit that got a lot of attention, and I loved doing it. It’s short but effective, and it’s perfect for the internet world of ultra short attention span. I’m going to rework a lot of those old soapbox rants and the site will be my showcase. This is the perfect idea at the perfect time. I’m pumped!

His Royal Weirdness - The King of Uranus!

His Royal Weirdness – The King of Uranus!

That Midas Touch

August 23, 2013

Thursday August 22nd, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I truly do have the Midas touch in life. Everything I touch turns to mufflers. I thought I’d found my way around that hassle at least for a little while, but when I started my car this morning I was greeted by that loud annoying noise of unquestionable familiarity. My car sounds like a Cessna.

   I know this is part of buying a used car, but this is the last thing I need right now. I’m on a very tight summer budget these days, and don’t have any extra cash to be throwing around on exhaust systems. The last one that fell off cost me $850. I still haven’t sold that turd, but even if I do I am never going to recoup that money for the exhaust system. It turns my stomach to think about it.

   I’m afraid to even have it looked at. They’re going to run the scam past me that I’ll need a new whizzenfluffer flange on my doo hickey pipe, but they don’t make those anymore so they’ll have to custom ship one in on a slow boat from the Congo. It will be made of pure ivory and cost only $3000 – plus 6 hours of labor from the specialist they will have to fly in from Japan to install it.

   I really like the Toyota Camry I bought, but it’s going to be a real killer financially. I juiced up my credit card all the way to buy it, as that was my only option at the time. I used to have a fund for repairs, but my little hospital fiasco in 2011 ended up totally wiping me out. I’m SO screwed.

   The car is very clean, and it had new tires, brakes, battery and a tune up when I bought it. It has extremely low miles for its age, and I assumed I’d have a trouble free car for a while. Having this jump out of nowhere put me in a foul mood, but there’s not much I can do about it. Life is cruel.

   I’ve been working my ball joints off of late doing all the shows I can find, and also working on all kinds of side projects that I am hoping at least one of eventually pays off financially. I’ve put it all on the line for so many years that I would have thought something should have hit by now.

   How many lumps can one guy take? I’m reaching my limit. I tried to turn my radio up loud all day, but it didn’t cover up the noise. It’s like taking a ‘French whore’ shower. Putting all the pit spray or cheap cologne on in the world won’t eliminate the stench of not having taken a shower.

   I’m trying hard to be a good person, I really am. I go out of my way to help others when I don’t have to, and have tried to make the world a better place than when I found it. One would think if there was some kind of higher power He or She would take that into consideration and cut me at least a little break. What the hell else do I have to do? All I’m asking for is relief from the storm.

   What makes this even more stressful is that I’m going into a period of even more instability for the next week or so. I’ve got three nights in a row that are door deals, and that could mean a total washout with zero cash. I took chances in three different places, and I can’t say what will happen or if even one paying customer will show up. Sometimes that’s how it works out, and this is it.

   I am at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL next Friday doing a storytelling show as requested by my friend Dave Hendrickson. He thinks that’s a hot thing right now, and I hope he’s right. I’ll cross my fingers, but I don’t know. Saturday I am working another door deal in Homewood, IL.

   Another friend Dave Rudolf is a musician and wants to try a comedy night at a music club. It’s a small room from what he tells me, and even if it fills I won’t make big money. It’s called “The Twisted Q”, but if nobody comes out it’s twisted bankruptcy. I could sure use a break right now.

The Chain Breaker

August 23, 2013

Wednesday August 21st, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

    For one million dollars free and clear in unmarked $50 bills, I couldn’t honestly tell you what I did on my 18th birthday. That was such a long time ago now it just blends in to the big blur that is life. One would assume it should be a special event to be cherished forever, but it wasn’t for me.

   I know what I didn’t do. I didn’t get high or drunk, as that’s never been my style. I didn’t have any parties or celebrations either. There was no big family get together or anything like that. My life was never ‘normal’, and by that time it was already going in a different direction than most.

   That direction was south. I was on my own by 17, having to scrape together a living by night as I finished high school during the day. I seriously thought about dropping out, but my grandfather was in the final stages of cancer and made it his last request that I finish. My father dropped out, and Gramps was completely embarrassed by it. I didn’t want to cause him more pain so I did it.

   I started my adult life in a big hole, and I’ve been digging my way out ever since. I had no time to party and chase chicks like most other kids my age, so I did what I had to do to survive. By the time I was 21 I was already getting started in comedy, and it was a long uphill climb from there.

   My birthday is in March, and Gramps died in December of the year I turned 18. That’s when I needed him most, but too bad for me. When he died, the already delicate relationships I had with the rest of the family collapsed immediately and World War III broke out in full bloody combat.

   My belligerent old man who was never there for me suddenly tried to step in and call the shots in my life and that went over like an accordion in Led Zeppelin. At first I tried the polite route to make an attempt at a father-son relationship, but that lasted just a few weeks before it got ugly.

   I don’t take bullies well, and that’s exactly what that bastard was – especially to anyone weaker or smaller than him. He treated all of his children like personal property, and I for one absolutely refused to take it. I got in his face, and the more I stood up to him the more he would back down.

   It’s never a pleasant time to be at war with one’s father, but that was an especially volatile time to be in that situation. Adolescence and puberty and all that goes with them are difficult enough, but not having parental support makes it downright scary. I’m surprised I didn’t turn to booze or drugs or crime, but I didn’t. For whatever reason, that just wasn’t in me. It’s not my personality.

   I vowed I was going to prove to everyone – especially the cantankerous ogre that was supposed to be a nurturing father and not my most hated enemy – that I was better than where I came from, and I wasn’t going to let anyone take my life or my dreams away from me. I chased the showbiz dream thinking I’d ace it in a hurry, but that provided a whole new set of political games to play.

   I made a ton of mistakes in comedy, but there was nobody there to reel me in. Gramps was the one steadying mentor figure in my life, but he was long gone at the time I needed guidance most. I made my choices with very limited perspective, and it launched my life path on an unnecessary detour that diluted my dream. With all of that on my plate, I’m surprised I made it as far as I did.

   What really hurt was the bubbling cauldron of anger I carried with me for so many years. I lost years of productive time I should have been growing and learning to focus on getting revenge on a psychopath who shouldn’t have had children in the first place. What a useless waste of youth.

   The reason I’m trudging up all this ancient mud from the past is my friend Max Bumgardner’s son Dustin turned 18 today. I couldn’t be more proud of Dustin if he was my own son – and Max is as high on my list as anyone can get. He’s one of my closest confidants and has been for years.

   Not only do I think Max is unbelievably talented and one of the smartest people I know – he is also a big time dented can. Max’s father is frighteningly similar to mine, and I knew right away when we first met that we were kindred spirits. Max has fought his whole life to break out of his father’s shadow, and his path has been no easier than mine. It’s like trying to sprint in knee deep sloppy mud while carrying two full bags of groceries and a watermelon. It’s an impossible task.

   Max and I became close when we worked on the morning show at 97.9 ‘The Loop’ in Chicago in 2004, but after we got fired we became even closer. He struggled with a lot of the same issues I did, and more than a few times we’d talk each other off a cliff when things got really difficult.

   We kept each other going, and were one of the few people the other could go to when life took a nasty turn. Dented cans can only relate to the pain of other dented cans, much like women trade stories about how painful their pregnancies were. I can sympathize, but I can’t truly empathize.

    I knew exactly where Max’s pain was coming from, and he knew mine. I never met his father, but we talked on the phone a few times on the radio. He actually seemed kind of nice, but that’s a very common trait of psychotic tyrants. Ted Bundy was nice enough to lure his victims to where he could do his deeds, and that was it. It was an act. My father often appeared gentle to outsiders.

    The pride of Max’s life has always been his two kids Dustin and Skylar. I have watched them both successfully grow from cute kids to solid young adults. Max has gone out of his way to be a world class father, and he has done a spectacular job. I remember sitting with Max and Dustin at a Bears game in Chicago in 2004, and what a beautiful father-son moment it was for those two.

   Max tells me all the time that Dustin looks up to me as an uncle figure. He plays my CDs over and over and Max told me I’m his ‘personal Rodney Dangerfield’. I remember how much I loved Rodney when I was that age, and to be put in that class is as flattering as it gets. I’m very grateful to have had Max and his family as friends all this time, and to see Dustin turn 18 is a major thrill.

   I don’t see Dustin all that often these days, but through the years we’ve enjoyed all kinds of fun times. I could see at an early age he was a wonderful kid filled to the brim with potential. He has an extremely sharp mind and is a gentle and loving soul – just like his dad. He’s got all the tools.

   He will have problems as we all do, but there won’t be that ugliness that goes with being from a rotten family situation. Any of us who have been through it know how sickening it is, and those who didn’t never truly will. I’m glad they won’t, and wish nobody had to. It’s not how I thought life should be – but for some of us it is. Dustin Bumgardner caught a break, and I’m glad he did.

   Max and I are always going to have deep scars of a painful childhood, but he showed courage to the tenth power for not turning right around damaging his own kids. It takes guts to break the chain of dysfunction, and Max has totally done it. I couldn’t be more delighted to see it happen.

   I called and left Dustin a message wishing him a happy birthday and telling him how proud he has made both his parents and me, and I meant every word of it. Max said it was a special day in his life, and he’s already ahead of ours by light years. Good for him. Dustin is the chain breaker.

Nothing Sexy

August 21, 2013

Tuesday August 20th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   There’s nothing sexy whatsoever about the daily grind of self employment. I suppose mopping floors at Walmart is no barn dance either, but at least there’s a steady paycheck involved. It’s not a wealth maker, but it’s there. My grandfather always made me promise I’d opt for the safe life.

   As much as I wanted to please him, that just wasn’t in my psychological makeup then. He kept his mouth shut and plowed through thirty years of a civil service job he totally hated dispatching garbage trucks and snow plows for the city of Milwaukee. He was miserable, but he got a check.

   The only time I saw him happy was after he retired. He was in his mid 60s, and he got involved with the senior center circuit and started his short lived entertainment career. He would take roles in their various plays and musical productions, and he was like a kid with the keys to a toy store.

   I never saw anyone love the entertainer’s life more than Gramps. He would take any kind of an instructional class he could sign up for if it had to do with anything close to entertainment or the arts. He took a creative writing course once and would pay me ten cents a page to type what he’d written in longhand. I don’t recall his stories being all that memorable, but I was teenager then.

   I wish I could read those stories now, and get more of an insight as to what was in his head. He forced himself to squelch his creative urges for decades to opt for the safe path of having a job to feed his family, and I don’t know how he did it. I know why, but not how. It must have been hell.

   It was especially disappointing for him, as nobody really thanked him for it. My grandmother’s personality and his were like oil and water, and she hated anything to do with show business. She never went to see any of his shows, and in fact made fun of his desire to be the life of the party.

   My father and uncle both took the civil service route and they hated their lives as well. Gramps and my father never saw eye to eye, nor did he and my uncle. I was the only one that he thought had a clue to what he was doing, and I went to see his shows all the time. It was torture for me to sit through senior citizen revues as a teenager, but I knew it made Gramps happy so I showed up.

   He LOVED it when I showed up, and would show me off to anyone who would listen. He was definitely the kid in that scenario, and I let him have his moment in the sun. He sacrificed almost an entire lifetime of doing what he despised just to get that chance on stage. That was his reward.

   Today I got up extra early, and started answering my huge mountain of emails. At 7:40 I had to do my weekly radio bit with ‘Stone and Double T’ on 104 The X in Rockford, IL and then I took the rest of the morning to rework my comedy class outline in order to record my lessons on video for an online course. Nothing sexy there, but it had to be done. Then I returned some phone calls.

   Most of those calls were concerning shows I’ve got coming up – many of them door deals with no guarantee whatsoever that even one person will show up. I’m hoping to scrape some kind of a living together out of all of it, and after a lifetime of slugging I’m still surviving week to week.

   Sometimes that struggle gets me so down I don’t feel like getting out of bed. I gave everything I had to be an entertainer, and have no wife and kids or retirement plan to fall back on when life gets hard – and it totally is right now. I’m out there dangling by myself, wondering if I made the right decision. For me, it was the only decision. There’s nothing sexy, but I’m still in the game.