Archive for November, 2013

Thirty Years Already?

November 12, 2013

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?

The Funniest Pitbull

November 12, 2013

Friday November 8th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

It’s been far too long since I’ve gotten a chance to enjoy one of my all time favorite comedians Bobby Slayton, but tonight was the night. Nicknamed “The Pitbull of Comedy”, there’s no better example I can think of of someone who is the exact opposite of the persona he portrays onstage.

I noticed the same thing when I used to be a pro wrestling ring announcer in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Without fail, the biggest villains in the ring were always the nicest people outside of it. The good guys were always the ones you had to watch out for. Outside the ring, they were the slimy ones.

Onstage, Bobby fits his persona perfectly. He has a gravelly voice, and he prowls the stage like a pit bull would prowl a junkyard looking for intruders. He has a razor sharp wit, and he pulls no punches as far as language or subject matter goes. He is the quintessential nightclub comedian.

I’ve always been a fan and student of standup comedy, and Bobby brings a lot to the table. His act is a clinic on how to work an audience, and I was hooked the first time I saw him years ago at the Zanies in Vernon Hills, IL. I had heard of him years before that, and he’s one of the very few that lived up to the hype. I was impressed when I first saw his whole set, and was again tonight.

He does so many things well, and always has. He does crowd work like few others I have ever seen, and that’s a craft all by itself. He also is great with callbacks, and he knows how and when to use them. His act is well structured, but there’s also room for going off in different directions.

Bobby is also an accomplished actor, and has had sizable roles in several big movies and TV shows. He’s been at it even longer than I have, and he continues to tour as much as he can. He’s feeling the pinch of the economy like most entertainers are, and we talked about that afterward.

We as comedians are usually too busy working on our craft to have time to plan a career, but it can’t be overlooked. We enjoy doing the shows, but everything else just saps our energy and is a huge pain in the ass. Bobby is very much like me in that he tends not to edit his intimate thoughts, and that has gotten him in trouble just like it has me. He will tell it like it is, and pulls no punches.

Unfortunately, there are some people who are not fond of that personality style. Often those are the ones who are in charge of deciding who gets breaks in the entertainment business and it tends to be a problem more than it doesn’t. Bobby chooses to do a style that doesn’t please everybody.

I think it’s great that he does, and he does it extremely well. There’s an art to pulling off an X rated show, and precious few can do it. That’s why I enjoy watching Bobby work whenever I’m lucky enough to have the chance. He is a master of so many skills, and they all come together at once in his act. I never get sick of watching any true craftsman work, and Bobby was on tonight.

He rocked both audiences as he usually does. Afterward we had a chance to sit around and talk about the state of the business today, and we both agreed it’s rough out there. We have to stay on top of it even more than we’ve already had to for decades. Bobby still loves to perform, and he is among the elite of his peers anywhere. I watched and learned, and realize that there’s still a lot to improve in my own act. That’s what makes it still fun. Enjoy Bobby at http://www.bobbyslayton.com.

Bobby Slayton - onstage he's known as 'The Pitbull of Comedy'.

Bobby Slayton – onstage he’s known as ‘The Pitbull of Comedy’.

Don't tell anyone, but offstage he's a total pussycat. Shhhhh. I don't want to ruin his reputation, but what a sweetheart he is.

Don’t tell anyone, but offstage he’s a total pussycat. Shhhhh. I don’t want to ruin his reputation, but what a sweetheart he is.

His Showtime special is hilarious, but see him in person whenever you can. He's one of the best there is . Period. www.bobbyslayton.com

His Showtime special is hilarious, but see him in person whenever you can. He’s one of the best there is. Period. http://www.bobbyslayton.com

Barbecued Buttocks

November 8, 2013

Thursday November 7th, 2013 – Ft. Atkinson, WI

There has been an incredible fire lit directly under my buttocks, and I am motivated like I can’t ever remember. The main ingredient in that fire is fear. If I don’t get myself making money soon I’m going to have some really rough times ahead – as if I haven’t had to deal with any until now.

I have sacrificed my entire adult life to hone my craft, and now it’s time for a payoff. It’s like a farmer taking his crops to market. Whatever it took to get those crops planted, watered, grown to maturity and then harvested is all history. All that matters is how much he can get for his supply.

I’ve got more than one crop to sell, and that’s a plus. I have a rock solid standup comedy show that I can perform to a wide variety of audiences from clubs to cruise ships to a corporate setting. I have never been a ‘saloon act’, and that’s going to be a huge help. It’s not where the money is.

Theatres and nicer venues have always been what I aspire to, and whenever I’ve been fortunate enough to play them I feel totally at home. I played some sweet venues in 2003 when I competed in the San Francisco Comedy Competition, and that has always stayed with me as what I wanted on a much more regular basis. The mythical smoky nightclub has never been where I want to be.

That’s why I totally love doing my ‘Schlitz Happened!’ show at Northern Lights Theatre in the Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. That’s exactly the kind of venue I picture, and everything that I need comes with it. The lights and sound are as good as it gets, and the staff couldn’t be nicer.

They have an advertising budget, and it’s a venue everyone has heard of. This is where to be in my opinion, but there are a lot of comedians who enjoy the bar gig scene. It’s home to them, and I’ll gladly let them have it. I want to focus on performing in venues where I get paid a lot better.

Another crop I have to sell is radio content. I have paid my dues there too, and can either host a show myself or be a funny sidekick. I’ve got years of hands on experience doing both, and would be able to walk right in to any radio station in North America to start a job tomorrow. I’m ready.

Cruise ships are another arena I’ve had experience and paid some dues. It was a big adjustment at first, but I was able to really improve in a short time, mainly because I had so much experience to draw from. None of it came easy, but sometimes farmers have a hard time nurturing their crop. There might be drought or flood or locusts or who knows what? It doesn’t matter. That’s history.

If I can just hang in there, I have to believe the future looks quite bright. I know I’m able to do the big shows – whatever it happens to be – but now I need someone to give me my shot. That’s the next step, and I’ve been putting the word out with as many people as I can reach in these last couple of days. I’m in touch with a major radio station in Chicago, and a cruise ship booker also.

I’m not going to keep doing what I’ve been doing forever, but I did have a show tonight in Fort Atkinson, WI at a bar called ‘Fat Boyz’. I’ve been there a couple of times before, and had a good time. It’s an older crowd, and they love comedy. There were about 60 people in there, and it was a fun show in addition to being a much appreciated payday on a Thursday night. I’d much rather be doing theatres, cruise ships and radio, and as hot as the fire feels on my buttocks I’ll get there.

There has been a fire lit under my buttocks.

There has been a fire lit under my buttocks.

Like a farmer, I have worked hard to develop my crop. Now it's time to get my payoff.

Like a farmer, I have worked hard to develop my crop. Now it’s time to get my payoff for a lifetime of paying dues.

If you're in Milwaukee in December, come see "Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst" at Northern Lights Theatre! www.paysbig.com

If you’re in Milwaukee in December, come see “Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst” at Northern Lights Theatre! http://www.paysbig.com

Disappointment Double Check

November 7, 2013

Wednesday November 6th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

I’m still dusting myself off after last night’s wrecking ball of disappointment, but there are lots of lessons to be learned here – both by me and by new comedians coming up the ranks. This was a frightening example of what happens when a product isn’t marketed properly. It’s sure death.

The problem last night was anything but the product. That was one of THE strongest lineups of Chicago standup comedy I’ve ever seen – and I’ve been around the block more than a few times. It was a magnificent lineup of talent, but unfortunately it wasn’t in front of the proper audience.

Comedians from “the golden era” of the ‘80s – and I’m just as guilty as anybody else – tend to be stuck in those days when it comes to marketing savvy. We didn’t have to do any marketing at all then, as comedy clubs were hip, trendy and it didn’t matter who was on the bill. People came out to laugh, and they usually did. Even if they didn’t remember the acts’ names, they had fun.

That was our first mistake. We wrongly assumed it would go on forever like that, and it would be a gravy train into perpetuity. The clubs were marketing themselves as a destination where the customer would have a good time. Rarely if ever did they market specific comedians. Red flag.

The ads always went something like “Come out to the Wacky Shack Comedy Corral and have a few laughs.” They would advertise drink specials before they’d advertise who’s there, and only then it would be the headlining act. Any of the openers’ names would never see the light of day.

Times were good then, so comedians could make a decent living without much effort and they rode that horse into the ground. They didn’t look at it like a business as a rule, and thought there was some kind of magic dust that would keep the money coming in forever. What idiots we were as a collective, and looking back I was in there myself. I thought I had a clue, but I totally didn’t.

VERY few comedians did, but those are the ones that did well. Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld are the two shining examples from that era who were outstanding business people from day one. The third member of the business holy trilogy I always acknowledge is James Gregory. He’s up there too, and has always had my utmost respect. James marketed himself before he was a headliner.

He sold cassette tapes and t-shirts and baseball caps, and catered to his fans like few others I’ve ever seen. He was a tremendous salesman, and I mean it as a huge compliment. He’s a really funny comic, but as I saw last night that alone won’t cut it. James knew from the start to sell his wares.

Part of the process of selling those wares is doing the unsexy things like having a website with a mailing list and current schedule of dates, and constantly working to keep one’s name out there and get more work. That was unheard of when I started but too bad for me. That’s the game now.

I’m thrilled to be able to call James a friend all these years later, and he calmly – and correctly – pointed out that he checked out the websites of all of us on the show last night and none had the show promoted on our sites. GUILTY. I’ve been working with my web guy Mark Filwett to have a total site redesign, but it’s still not there yet. It’s my fault because I’ve been up to my ass with a lot of other things, but nobody cares about that. I need to do better, and there are ZERO excuses.

Human nature can be one’s own biggest enemy, and it’s easy to fall into old habits – especially the bad ones. We as old timers were used to just showing up and getting paid. We did it for years and years, and stupidly assumed that circumstances would never change. That’s business suicide.

What business can last in today’s shark tank world with a business plan from twenty years ago or worse – no plan at all? What if McDonald’s had not evolved like they did over time and added menu items like salads, latte or a breakfast menu? They’d be with Howard Johnson’s – obsolete.

That’s exactly what’s going to happen to some really talented standup comedians, and I’m on a personal crusade that it won’t be me. There is a fire lit under my ass after last night that is red hot and I’m not going to sit around and feel sorry for myself. I need to get it in gear and move ahead.

This should be a loud clear air raid siren warning blast for all newbies getting or thinking about getting into standup comedy. Yes it’s important to work on your funny, but work on the business side just as much if not more than the comedy side. Without both, you’ll end up in a club nobody wants to be in like the guys at Zanies last night. We all have great acts, but we don’t have a draw.

It takes work to build that draw, and it’s getting more difficult by the day. There are more and more wannabes coming out of the wood work, and it’s harder not only to be seen but to obtain a sufficient amount of quality stage time to develop a sellable act. If nothing else, I did have that.

And part of therein lies the problem. Stage time was easy when I came up, and we all assumed it would be plentiful forever. Other than those few like Jay, Jerry and James, we all farted around when we should have been building our brand. Kudos to those who figured it out early. I didn’t.

Now my biggest fear is that I didn’t figure it out too late. I’ve spent long hard years building an act that can rock a room from coast to coast, but if I don’t have anyone who wants to pay to see it I’m out of business. Zanies has been great to me for many years, but if they cut me loose I would really be in a world of hurt. I need to build MY brand, and team up with venues that can sell it.

I’m on the right track with my “Schlitz Happened!” show about growing up in Milwaukee. It’s a very specialized and regional brand, but those who will like it will really become fans. It would be difficult to sell it anywhere outside of Wisconsin, but there are enough people there where I’ll be able to carve out a very nice chunk of business for myself and claim a territory. I’m ok with it.

This is not the ‘80s anymore. As much as those of us who lived through those times as comics hate to admit that, we all need to wake up and realize we’re in a whole new world. We do have a nice advantage in that we have an actual product to sell whereas the newbies are trying to market the hell out of nothing. We’ve actually got something to sell, but most of us don’t execute it well.

I’m going to model myself after people like James, and even Jay and Jerry. They played their game on the big stage in Hollywood, and that ship may have already sailed for me. James played his hand out of his home town of Atlanta. It’s a great town, and he’s a king there. Is there anything wrong with that? Not in my book. Atlanta money spends just as nicely as Hollywood or Chicago money. He’s built a great business, and continues to work it masterfully. http://www.funniestman.com is where we can all learn from a master. I am grateful for his support, guidance and inspiration.

James Gregory has been ahead of the game for decades. A great comedian, but a world class marketer. He gets it. I need to model his methods. www.funniestman.com

James Gregory has been ahead of the game for decades. A great comedian, but a world class marketer. He gets it. I need to model his methods. http://www.funniestman.com

A Missed Connection

November 6, 2013

Tuesday November 5th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

Imagine the feeling of going on a lifelong journey that took all your energy, dedication and free time for close to thirty long years, but right at the end you realized you were on the wrong vessel. You were supposed to catch a connecting ship years ago, but for whatever reason you missed it.

The reason itself isn’t important, but you arrive at what you thought was your final destination and there isn’t anyone at the dock to ask for directions, and there are NO refunds for the trip. It’s over, and there you are alone with a suitcase full of dirty underwear and empty shampoo bottles.

It’s a devastating combination of both total shock and extreme disappointment, and an ice cold slap in the face sending you into a deep panic mode. There are only a precious few stray bills left in your wallet, and all your credit cards are maxed to the hilt. You assumed there would be a big welcoming party at the dock and you’d get a significant expense check, but that never happened.

What to do now? There you are all alone at the dock exhausted from what you thought was the triumphant journey of a lifetime, but instead you find yourself back where you started. It’s thirty years later, and everything has changed. Nobody cares about your story – you’re just in the way.

That’s exactly how I felt after my show tonight at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago. I thought it was going to be a shining highlight of my professional life, but instead it was a bitter reminder of how cruel life and especially show business can be. Only a few ever get to taste the real big time.

Zanies is celebrating their 35th anniversary month, and bringing in some really tremendous acts as they’ve done for 35 years. Tonight it was the “Chicago Killers” which included “Uncle” Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe and me. I was thrilled to be included on such a lineup of classic Chicago acts.

The three of us have been regular Zanies acts for decades, and are what booker Bert Haas likes to refer to as “bangers”. We go up and consistently bang out rock solid shows no matter what the crowd conditions are, and he knows he can count on us getting laughs and pleasing the audience.

Tonight was the first time the three of us had ever been booked to be on one show, and that’s a big deal – or at least I thought it was. It would be like three popular rock bands putting together a special one night only show. One would think it would be an event and be able to create a buzz.

To top it off, hosting the show tonight was another long standing club headliner Jimmy Shubert out of Philadelphia. Jimmy has been out there as long as I have, and at one time toured with Sam Kinison in the heyday along with the whole Texas Outlaw crew. He’s another big time “banger”.

Between the four of us, there was more than 100 years of comedy experience on that stage, and I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of an all star cast like that. From top to bottom, that’s about the strongest lineup of club comedians I could ever picture. If anything, I would be the weakest link.

I would think that show should be sold out for months, or at least have a line that winds around the block tonight trying to score tickets. In a city of millions, there aren’t 100 fans of the standup comedy variety that would come out to see a first ever once in a lifetime all star monster lineup?

Apparently not. The show was not even close to being a sellout, and Zanies isn’t all that big of a venue. I think the capacity is maybe around 110, but I’m not exactly sure. Still, I was surprised it wasn’t jam packed – even with newbies coming up the ranks. Every new comedian in Chicago should have been there, if for no other reason than to see what a dead end club comedy really is.

Here you’ve got an all star lineup of heavy hitters on the comedy club scene, and nobody came out to see us. Not fans. Not the media. Not even other comedians that think that’s what they want to aspire to be. Tuesdays at Zanies are traditionally “Good Neighbor Night” where they let in the people who live in the zip codes near the club for a very low cover charge. That’s who came out.

There could have been anything on the bill, and they wouldn’t have known the difference. That totally stomps on any remaining shred of ego or self esteem any one of us may have come to the club with tonight, but it was painfully evident that there was nothing at all special about the show to these people. We all had to work like hell to even keep their attention, but we’re used to that.

All of us have been doing shows like that since we started, so it was no big deal. We all did our time, and did it extremely well. I watched the whole show, and all three of the other guys had me laughing out loud – and that’s nearly impossible after spending my life seeing standup comedy.

Those guys are world class performers, and master craftsmen all. I marveled at the smoothness of their acts, and they were all very complimentary to me as well. It was a treat to watch them all work, but the audience sure didn’t act like it. They were pretty stiff actually, and it was a chore.

Martin Balion has been the manager of the Chicago Zanies for decades, and he’s seen it all just like we have. Everybody loves Martin, and with good reason. He’s as laid back as they come and treats us like royalty. He knows more about comedy than most comedians, and immediately after I got off stage he took me aside and told me how far I’ve come and how hilarious he thinks I am.

Martin has seen all of us literally HUNDREDS of times, but to hear that from him put a pep in my step and made me feel like my life wasn’t a total waste after all. It sure felt like it on stage as I was working myself into a lather trying to loosen up a stiff crowd that wasn’t there to see me.

Nobody was there to see any of us, and that’s a crushing blow. There was a lady named Susan Bruno who used to work at a club called Who’s On First years ago, and she was there for Larry and Tim. My friend Joe Nuccio showed up, as he knows Tim and me. Other than that, there were ZERO fans of any of us and that totally rocked my world. What the hell did I do with my life?

I rode to the club with Tim Walkoe, and after I dropped him off at his house I openly wept all the way home. What an idiot I’ve been all these years thinking there was going to be some kind of payoff at the end of this long brutal journey I started all those years ago. I only fooled myself.

It’s not Zanies or any other club’s job to make anyone famous. It’s the act’s job to find the way to parlay his or her skills into something that can in turn become a draw where people will pay to see them years later in those same clubs where they started. For me I thought that draw would be radio, but I’ve got a whole other horror story on that subject. It never happened, and now here we all are with really great acts and nobody knows who we are. New comics should learn from this.

'Uncle Lar' Larry Reeb - a Chicago classic and one of the funniest comedians in America. www.unclelarryreeb.com.

‘Uncle Lar’ Larry Reeb – a Chicago classic and one of the funniest comedians in America. http://www.unclelarryreeb.com.

Ditto Tim Walkoe. A master at his craft, and also a talented musician. www.timwalkoe.com

Ditto Tim Walkoe. A master at the standup comedy craft, and also a very talented musician. http://www.timwalkoe.com

Jimmy Shubert used to tour with Sam Kinison and the Texas Outlaws. Go see him whenever you can. www.jimmyshubert.com

Jimmy Shubert used to tour with Sam Kinison and the Texas Outlaws. Go see him whenever you can. http://www.jimmyshubert.com

Pack Rats

November 6, 2013

Monday November 4th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

The only thing more painful in my life than a festering kidney stone was having to watch as my beloved Green Bay Packers took one in the shorts to those rat fink Chicago Bears – in Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football no less. I’d rather have a dozen more kidney stones and a goiter.

I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it totally does and I’m sour. It’s like an alcoholic attempting to ‘just drink a little’. It doesn’t work that way, and the best thing to do is stay away from alcohol completely. Some people manage to do it for a lifetime, but most alcoholics have a few relapses.

I was doing really well at staying away from Packers games this year, but last week I happened to watch them stomp on their other bitter rival The Minnesota Viqueens and I admit I soaked it in and savored every play. The Packers looked like a wrecking ball, and it was delightful to watch.

My friend Art Hinty is a Packer fan too, and we had big steaks before the game then went back to his man cave to watch it on a giant screen TV. Does life get better than that? Not for a football fan. Hanging with a buddy, eating red meat and watching your team stomp is the ultimate thrill.

Throw a couple of strippers in there and maybe some gambling, and it’s heaven on Earth. Most guys live for the thrill of victory from their NFL team of choice, but with every thrill comes a big risk. No team is going to win every game every year, so sooner or later losing becomes a reality.

I can deal with losing in certain instances, but not tonight. It looked to be stacked in the Pack’s favor, as the Bears were without their whiny starting quarterback every Packer fan loves to hate in Jay Cutler, and their best defender in Lance Briggs. NOBODY thought the Bears would win.

I got to enjoy hearing all the meathead callers on Chicago sports radio sniveling about how the Bears were going to get throttled by the Packers, and I enjoyed every call. By all accounts, that’s exactly what should have happened. Then Aaron Rodgers went down early, and all bets were off.

By then it was too late. I had already made the commitment to watch the game, and my tension level rose as the game went on with the lead changing hands several times. It was an outstanding football game – exactly what the NFL wants – but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted a victory.

Had Aaron Rodgers played the whole game as he usually does, chances are they would’ve won without much resistance. Too bad for me and millions of other Packer backers. That’s not how it went, and now the rest of the week I’ll have to hear the radio meatheads say they expected this.

I know it’s only a football game, and I shouldn’t think twice about it. Part of me has been there for years, but there’s still that raw little kid inside that feels pain when the Packers lose. I’m quite embarrassed, but I’m not going to lie and say I don’t feel violated. There’s some emotion there.

It’s absolutely euphoric when they win, but I’m not sure if it’s worth sitting through when they lose like they did tonight. There’s a part of me that feels betrayed or something, and it’s a whole lot deeper than it needs to be. Does the NFL care one way or the other? Not in the least. They’re the pushers, we’re the addicts. And they’ve got 32 flavors for sale. Baskin-Robbins only has 31.

The NFL is a drug - and there are 32 varieties. They don't care which one you choose, as long as they've got your business.

The NFL is a drug – and there are 32 varieties. They don’t care which one you choose, as long as they’ve got your business.

Afraid To Pee

November 5, 2013

Sunday November 3rd, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

Still no passing of my kidney stone, and it feels like I’m waiting for the royal baby to be born. I totally thought this would be over with by now. At this point I have heard so many horror stories I’m afraid to pee. Everyone I know who has ever had one has told me in detail how it played out.

I’m hearing horrific accounts of unbearable pain, free flowing blood and passing out, and quite frankly it’s scaring me half to death. I know that little bastard is in there somewhere as I can feel it, but for some reason it’s just refusing to leave. The doctor said it could be up to a week of this.

But what if it doesn’t pass in a week? I can’t afford another surgery, but I also can’t keep living in the pain I’m in. My drugs are running out, and none of the prescriptions have refills. I need the whole thing to be history, but that’s never how life works. I have no say in the matter. It’s nature.

I hadn’t taken any painkillers in a long time, and I’d forgotten how they clamp down on the old bowel plumbing. When I woke up today, I felt a pain on my other side and for a second I thought I had another kidney stone. It turns out I was having a sewage backup, and I needed some relief.

I must have sat on the crapper a good 45 minutes, and it felt like I was trying to pass a football – but not like Aaron Rodgers. Stuff like this is really funny when it’s happening to someone else, but try as I might I wasn’t able to muster one chuckle. I’m sure it will be hilarious when it’s over, but for now it’s a nightmare. I don’t know what hurt more, my kidney or my colon. Who cares?

I tried to read, listen to music, watch TV or anything else that might get my mind off the severe pain I’m having, but nothing worked for very long. I tried to make it through the day without any more drugs, just because I don’t want my bowels to go on strike anymore. One crisis is enough.

I’ll be the first one to admit I’m not very tough in situations like this. Some people are troopers and nothing bothers them. They don’t feel pain, or if they do they’re able to absorb it without any whining. I’m not going to lie, this is rocking my world and I’d do anything if it would go away.

Whoever said “When you have your health, you have everything” really knew what they were talking about. It’s so easy to take it for granted, when in fact all it takes is the tiniest little glitch – like a kidney stone – to throw the entire system off balance and out of whack. I see how it works.

What I don’t see is why everyone seems to want to offer their two cents as to what I need to do to get through this. “Just hang in there” doesn’t really do anything other than give some words to say when there’s nothing useful to say. What am I supposed to do, surrender? Who do I do it to?

The other thing I’m hearing constantly is “I bet you’ll have some new material from this!” I’ve got more than enough material, thank you. If health issues constituted comedy material, all of the new comedians would show up from burn units and trauma centers. There’s more to it than that.

If pain alone was what made up a successful comedy career, I’d be bigger than Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman combined. I’ve taken my lumps with the best of them, but nobody cares about that. Audiences are in their own pain. That’s the reason comedians exist. We heal it.

I've been hearing so many horror stories about passing kidney stones I'm afraid to pee.

I’ve been hearing so many horror stories about passing kidney stones I’m afraid to pee.

Pleasure And Pain

November 5, 2013

Saturday November 2nd, 2013 – St. Charles, IL

On a difficulty scale of 1 to 10, the show I did tonight was a 37. I probably should have stayed home, but I didn’t for several reasons – most notably that I needed the money. Also, backing out of a booking on the day of is the ultimate sin. It would take a major emergency for me to do that

The condition I’m in is close though, but I still thought it was right to suck it up and do a show. I was hoping to have passed my kidney stone by now, but it’s still there. Oh, is it there. I can feel it every time I sit, lay down, stand or walk. I took pain pills all day and tried to rest for the show.

The doctor in the emergency room told me that managing the pain was a matter of delicate trial and error, and that I’d have to estimate when the medicine would run out so I could take the next batch and not have any unnecessary torture. I told him I needed to perform in a few days, and I’d prefer not to have to cancel a show if I could help it. He told me he thought I’d be past it by now.

But he also said it could take up to a week to pass, “worst case scenario”. I’ve heard those three words enough for a dozen people for a dozen lifetimes, and I clenched my teeth when he uttered them. I didn’t want to get into my life story with the guy. I just wanted all this to be over already.

My show tonight was at a Moose Lodge in St. Charles, IL – about 40 miles away from where I live. Showtime was 7pm, and I was asked to arrive by 6:30 at the latest. That meant I had to time when I took my pain killers so I wouldn’t be impaired while driving but not in major pain either.

I’m no chemist, and in fact have very little experience with performing impaired. Most comics go through their stages of drug and alcohol use at least at some point, and know their limits as to dosage and timing. I don’t drink a drop and barely take aspirin, so this was new ground for me.

I did manage to get there by 6:30, but I could tell I was in no shape to perform. I could feel the pain killers wearing off, and everything was just off by a few degrees. Daryl Moon is a comedian who booked me along with a funny lady named Kelsie Huff, and I didn’t want to let them down.

As it turned out, they really didn’t need me for this show. The audience was fantastic, and they were there to laugh. Daryl hosted the show, and then brought up Kelsie who did a very funny 35 minute set. Daryl went back on and did about 40 minutes after that. Then they took a break for a Moose Lodge prayer, and they passed the hat to donate for needy children. Then it was my turn.

I’ve been doing comedy long enough to know what to do and when to do it. These people were really great, and even though the sound and lights weren’t great I leaned into it and gave them all I had. The medicine had worn off completely by then, and I could feel a twinge here and there as I did my show. I tend to be very animated and move around a lot on stage, and I did it all night.

The crowd loved it, and it wasn’t their fault I was hurting. They had no idea and didn’t need to be told. It was such a hot show I didn’t even do my normal closer – which these people would’ve gone nuts for. It was already a long show, and I sensed it was time to let it rest. I hung around for as long as I could, but I needed to get home as I wasn’t sure what to expect. About halfway there, I was in such pain I had to pull my car over and walk around. I sure hope this thing passes soon.

Kelsie Huff is a very funny lady. www.kelsiehuff.com

Kelsie Huff is a very funny lady. http://www.kelsiehuff.com

Daryl Moon is a very funny man. www.mooncomedy.com

Daryl Moon is a very funny man. http://www.mooncomedy.com

It was fun performing with both of them in St. Charles, IL at the Moose Lodge.

It was fun performing with both of them in St. Charles, IL at the Moose Lodge.

Breathing Room

November 2, 2013

Friday November 1st, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

I said at the beginning of the year I wanted this to be my best year ever. I don’t know if I made it, but I’m pretty close. Yes there were some disappointments, but for the most part I had a stellar 2013. A lot of exciting things happened this year, some of which have never happened before.

Off the top of my head, I made the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ show a reality and performed it several times in a fantastic venue, appeared on local, regional and cable television, had a speaking role in a legitimate Hollywood movie and got to meet and hang out with one of my heroes Bob Uecker.

Those are all highlights in my book, and I enjoyed every one of them. I also went to Atlanta to participate in the Laughing Skull Festival and got to hang out with the great James Gregory at his home there. James is also a hero of mine for how he has built his career, and getting to hang with him for an afternoon was a privilege. He treated me like a peer, and I’m an even bigger fan now.

Another feather in my cap this year was getting to be ‘The King of Uranus’ on March 13th at the Milwaukee Admirals hockey game. That was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had, and it went over extremely well. I know there’s something there, and I want to keep working on it.

I got to host some talk radio shows at WNTA in Rockford, IL and I really grew as a host in that format. It was a great opportunity to practice. I took full advantage of it as often as I could. I also hosted ‘The Mothership Connection’ paranormal talk show on WLIP in Kenosha, WI for half the year, and at some point I’d love to get that back on the air somewhere though I need to get paid.

Money was tight again this year, but it is for almost everyone. Summer was a complete disaster financially, but I’ve had a nice run of late and at least have a bit of breathing room. I’ve worked a lot of fun places in the last month and November and December look solid. The money I make is spent before I receive it, but at least my rent is paid with a few bucks left over for the other bills.

Living week to week is SO not what I want to be doing anymore. It’s hectic and a huge energy drain I’d rather not have in my life. Robbing Peter is bad enough, but then not paying Paul makes life a constant shell game. I don’t want to be dodging anybody, I just want to pay up what I owe.

For a while there, I was really in a tizzy. I don’t know how I scraped by this summer, but I sure don’t want that to happen in 2014. The key is to plan ahead, but that’s a lot easier said than done when it’s the end of the month and there’s goose eggs in the bank account. Money is the cushion.

If I can find a way to get some legitimate steady income, it won’t take that long to turn my life completely around in a very short time. I’ve put in my time, and I’m ready for a break. I have no idea what that break will be, but I know I’m ready for something. Nobody I know works as hard as I do for as little a payoff, but I can’t give up now. If anything, I’m going to work even harder.

I know the year’s not over yet, but I’m already planning for 2014 and even beyond. That’s just smart business, and I have to make at least some long term plans even though nothing is going to be guaranteed. I have a much better chance of success if I’m planning for it months or even years ahead, and that’s what I need to do. Money gives me some breathing room to look at my options.

2014 will be here sooner than later. Time to plan ahead.

2014 will be here sooner than later. Time to plan ahead.

A No Treat Halloween

November 2, 2013

Thursday October 31st, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

It’s Halloween, and the trick is on me this year. This kidney stone thing is a living hell, and I’m helpless as to do anything about it. I am completely at the mercy of my urethra, and it is refusing to cut me any slack. I’ve been in pain all day, and I have no idea when relief is coming – if at all.

Everyone tells me it will eventually, and I’m sure they’re correct. But until it happens I am in a world of hurt I can’t ever remember feeling. This is a torture of the highest degree, and I wonder what people did in the old days? At least I have some medication to help make it a tiny bit better.

I can’t imagine being out on the prairie harvesting crops in this kind of pain. I’d suck the barrel of a musket a lot sooner than later if that were the case. No wonder those people were all dead by the time they were my age. But even with the modern conveniences of today, this is still a bitch.

To make it worse, I’ve been hearing from people all day with their homemade folk remedies to help pass the stone. I’ve heard everything from drink cranberry juice to lemonade to a mixture of both. It’s like hiccup remedies, everyone seems to have some kind of family tradition to pass on.

Several women I’ve talked to who have experienced both childbirth and kidney stones have all said that it’s at least a tie in the pain department. Not ONE has declared childbirth to be the clear cut winner yet, and that scares me even more. I can’t imagine what passing this thing will entail.

By all accounts, it will be a tiny little nugget half the size of a grain of rice. Depending on who I talk to, it will happen with little fanfare or it will feel like I’m trying to pee a bowling ball. I am very partial to my lower extremities and I’ve already experienced enough pain there for about six lifetimes. My groin area has been a magnet for mayhem since childhood. I can use a rest already.

It was bad enough when I had my surgery in 2011. That still gives me nightmares, as not many who walk this planet ever acquire gangrene on their genitals. That puts me in a club I don’t want to be in – kind of like Amway minus the soap. That surgery was enough hurt to last past eternity.

The only good thing with that one is that I have a great story to tell. I’ve told it on stage in the past, and it’s gotten the shocked reaction I was hoping for. People’s ears perked up and I had the undivided attention of the audience to hear what happened. Nobody is wowed by a kidney stone.

I’m not wowed by it myself, but it sure has gotten my undivided attention. I’m not able to sit or lie down for any length of time without flaming agony, and when I try to walk it makes it hurt all the more. It’s constant, unrelenting pain – much like enduring a ‘Lord of the Rings’ triple feature.

If I could gouge out the offending kidney and donate it to someone ‘as is’, I surely would. The doctor could scoop out the stone before installing it in the new owner, and everyone would be in a dandy mood. I’d pee out of the other side stone free, and someone in need would receive a gift.

Even though I’m in intense pain, I know I’m still very lucky. There are people who need to go to dialysis several times a week for example. Marty Beimer is a radio friend who had some nasty back surgery and is still hurting from it years later. That all trumps me, but this is still not a treat.

It's Halloween and I have a kidney stone. I sure hope it's 'fun size'.

It’s Halloween and I have a kidney stone. I sure hope it’s ‘fun size’.