Thirty Years Already?


Saturday November 9th, 2013 – Beloit, WI

As difficult as it may be for me to process in my sieve like brain, I’ve been performing standup comedy for thirty years as of this month. I’m not 100% sure of the exact date, but I do know that it was a Monday night in Milwaukee at a place called Sardino’s. That was my first time on stage.

I still vividly remember most of the experience, and it was a genuine thrill. I can easily go back there in my head and feel myself on stage that very first night. Actually it was on the dance floor, as the stage was set up for one of the many bands that played there. Mondays were usually dark.

That presented an opportunity for my future comedy mentor and father figure C. Cardell Willis and his manager Shirley Schaak to start running showcases. It was the only place in town that did comedy then, and there was no cover charge. This was right before the comedy boom of the ‘80s.

Oh, how I wish I could have a few minutes with that pie eyed kid after that first night. I was on stage maybe five minutes, but that was all it took. I was hooked for a lifetime, and had no idea of all the adventures I was about to experience. It would have been nice to have a little inside info.

Cardell and Shirley were absolute sweethearts. They were wonderful souls who nurtured all of us at that time. They took in strays, and gave us stage time and self esteem. I was a pup then, but I could see I wasn’t the only dented can in the bunch. Like most comedians, it was a misfit crew.

Comedy is often a ticket out of the emotional ghetto just like sports can be in the physical one. I was not in a good place then, and comedy was something on which I could focus. I worked like a maniac at it, and kept going back to Sardino’s week after week after week until I became a regular.

As I grew in experience I got a chance to “go on the road” with Cardell and Shirley as they had an actual paid show that ran in Beloit, WI – about 70 miles from Milwaukee. It was a bar owned by a local cop, and once in a while they’d do a comedy night. It was no big deal in retrospect, but at the time it felt like I was booked at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. I felt like I had really arrived.

I remember riding back and forth with Cardell and Shirley several times over the years, and the thrill never went away. They would get some nice audiences in that place, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you the name of the place or where it was. It was just some bar, but to me it was my dream coming true. Even though it was only a few bucks, I was being paid to do comedy. Wow!

Since those early days, I’ve been on an epic journey trying to chase something I never was able to find. I had a lot of fun along the way and really learned a lot, but I’m still missing what caused me to chase all of this in the first place – love and acceptance. That’s what most of us are in it for whether we know it or not. Everyone wants to find that place of belonging, but I’m still looking.

Tonight I had a one nighter at a bar in of all places Beloit, WI. I can’t say if it wasn’t the same place I worked with Cardell and Shirley, as I just don’t know. I have done literally thousands of joints exactly like it in the last thirty years, and they tend to run together. This one was very hard as the crowd was small, drunk and chatty. I tried to give them my best, but the whole time I was trying to work – again on a dance floor – I wondered if I spent my time wisely. I’m still not sure.

My comedy mentor and father figure C. Cardell Willis.

My comedy mentor and father figure C. Cardell Willis.

Cardell on stage at Sardino's in Milwaukee - the place I started doing standup comedy thirty years ago this month. Where did that time go?

Cardell on stage at Sardino’s in Milwaukee – the place I started doing standup comedy thirty years ago this month. Where did that time go?

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