Archive for January, 2014

New Game, New Rules

January 30, 2014

Wednesday January 29th, 2014 – Brookfield, WI

Today I started what I hope will be a long and productive journey as a “professional humorist” and not a “comedian”- even though comedian is how I ended up being billed. I had a booking in Brookfield, WI at the BMO Harris Training Center speaking for some Coldwell Banker realtors. They were having their yearly awards breakfast, and I was hired to close it out with some humor.

Roy Scholtka is the owner, and I’ve been friends with his son Corey for years. Many years ago Roy asked me to speak to his realtors at a similar event, and I must have done at least a half way decent job or I don’t think he would have asked me back. I didn’t embarrass myself either time.

I don’t know the first thing about the real estate business other than it’s been in the crapper for several years like a lot of businesses have been, but I do know that ALL businesses boil down to the people business so that’s the angle I took with my preparation. I wanted to be ready for this.

The biggest reason was I didn’t want to let Roy down. He’s a super nice person, and has people skills that could be picked up from a weather satellite. He’s extremely likeable, and if I happened to looking for a home I would absolutely trust him or anyone he would recommend. He’s a pro.

He has been in the game for forty years, and knows what he’s doing. Corey has said often that he wasn’t blessed with the people skills his father has, and that’s why he doesn’t want to work at the office when he obviously could. He’s choosing to play to his own skill set, and that’s smart.

I told Corey I was making the transition from comedian to humorist, and he immediately talked to Roy about having me speak again. Roy called and offered me an opportunity to not only speak at his event but also have it recorded in a tremendous facility. That’s exactly what I needed to do.

As a comedian, word of mouth bookings are very common. I’ve been getting booked that way since the ‘80s. I don’t think I’ve used a video to get work more than two or three times in all the years I’ve been at it, and even then it was for an outside venue rather than a comedy club show.

That’s just how that business works – at least from my experience. The speaking game is totally different, and I’ve been paying attention to my speaking friends like Todd Hunt and Dale Irvin as they tell me I will absolutely need a video to get booked. New game, new rules. I’m fine with it.

I’ll bet I was a comedian for at least ten years before I ever thought about making a video (back then they were TAPES – what a dinosaur I am) and I only did then because I got a package deal from a video guy that was there to record one of the other acts on the show. I said yes reluctantly.

Recording my first time out today was the correct thing to do. I’m sure I’ll wince at what I did this morning a year from now, but I got some nice laughs and everyone was happy. I don’t have close to the polish of a Todd Hunt, and I doubt if I ever will. We’re going for different results.

Todd has a message in his presentation, and it’s excellent. I have a long way to go, but both he and Eric Feinendegen will help me craft a product that will get work. Eric coached me on what I should look to present today, and I think it came off really well. It was a very positive first shot.

A sincere thank you to Coldwell Banker Homesale Reality for having me as a humorous speaker for their annual awards breakfast. www.cbhsr.com.

A sincere thank you to Coldwell Banker Homesale Reality for having me as a humorous speaker for their annual awards breakfast today. http://www.cbhsr.com.

I've known Roy Scholtka for years through his son Corey, and he is one of the most naturally 'people skilled' person I know. He and his whole staff are wonderful people. If I need a home in Wisconsin, this is where I'd go first.

I’ve known Roy Scholtka for years through his son Corey, and he is one of the most naturally ‘people skilled’ people I know. He and his whole staff are wonderful people. If I need a home in Wisconsin, this is where I’d go first.

Hat Tricks

January 30, 2014

Tuesday January 28th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

As the first month of 2014 draws to a close, I have to make sure I maintain a steady rotation of change in the hat department. Anyone self employed has to play a number of roles, and there is a hat for each one of them. Some fit better than others, depending on the person wearing each one.

There’s one for sales and another for marketing. There’s one for product development and also one for customer relations. There’s one for taxes and accounting, and that’s one few like to wear. I never have, but it’s a part of the big picture so I want to make sure it stays in a prominent place.

Taxes and record keeping aren’t sexy, but too bad. Even the sexiest supermodels have to shave their pits. It’s much easier to tend to it once a week rather than let it grow wild for an entire year and deal with it then. That’s a pretty gross analogy, but I find it accurate. Taxes are gross to me.

I don’t enjoy doing any of it, and no matter how much I try to fool myself I know I never will. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep improving though. The more proficient I’m able to get, hopefully the less effort I’ll have to put in in the long run. It’s a hat I only wear when I have to.

In contrast, there are others I don’t like to take off. The creative hat that searches for ideas is an especially well fitting one, but I have to make sure I take it off once in a while so others can get a little top of head time. I spent all kinds of time wearing that hat the last few decades, and it was a big mistake. I let a lot of other duties lapse, and that’s why I find myself in my current position.

My sales and marketing hats laid around collecting dust, and I can’t afford to slip back into that old habit. I need to make sure they get some quality time, and plenty of it. It will be a major drain on the ideas and product maintenance hat time, but too bad. I need to produce different results. If I don’t make time to sell what I’ve already got, creating anything new is a futile waste of time.

Getting a newsletter out this month was nice, but that’s only the start. That’s going to be a BIG eater of time and energy, but it’s a must in my opinion. There are still some glitches that we need to work out, and almost half of our starting emails list either bounced back or were no good. That isn’t good, but it is a start. We did manage to have several hundred people open it so that’s a win.

There was quite a bit of positive feedback and that was encouraging, but it came from people I already know. The eventual purpose of the newsletter will be to develop relationships with those I haven’t met. There are more than seven BILLION possible recipients on the planet, so we have our work more than cut out. I’ve only got under 1000 in the fold so there’s big growth potential.

There’s also the hat of teacher. I really do enjoy the teaching and mentoring process, but that’s a lot of time and effort as well. Lining up classes is something I enjoy about as much as keeping tax records, but it’s also a necessary part of the process that needs to be done. I’ll gladly turn that hat over to someone else, but last time I did that guy stole money. For now, I am still wearing it.

And the biggest hat of all is the crown of the King of Uranus. I still believe there’s a gold mine under it, and with proper time, effort and input from business people it will be a home run. I have too many other hats to wear to give it the time it needs, but that’s how self employment works.

Everyone that is self employed has to wear a lot of hats - like it or not.

Everyone who chooses to be self employed has to wear a lot of hats – like it or not.

And then there's the royal crown worn by the King of Uranus.

And then there’s the royal crown worn by the King of Uranus.

Reference Checks

January 30, 2014

Monday January 27th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

When I first started performing standup comedy, I would go out of my way to study any and all other acts I could find at every level of development. I would watch all the others on any shows I happened to be on, but also seek out TV shows, live performances or anywhere else I could find.

I couldn’t get enough not only of standup comedy, but pop culture as well. I knew that I should familiarize myself with what was happening in the world so if I didn’t do jokes about it myself at least if someone else did I’d know what they were talking about. It took a lot of work but I did it.

Once in a while I’d see an older comedian use some reference that was painfully outdated, and it left a sour impression. It felt like ordering a sandwich in a restaurant and having it be served on really stale bread. It leaves a bad first impression, but it’s too late by then. The damage is done.

An example that still sticks in my mind decades later is a friend of mine from Pittsburgh named John Knight who told me about going to see Shecky Greene. John is of my comic generation and a very funny guy. He’s also a student of the game, and I’ve known him since I started in the ‘80s.

The same brothers that owned the Funny Bone Comedy Club in Pittsburgh where John started opened one in Milwaukee a few years later, and it started an exchange program between the two cities. We were like comedy cousins, and grew to know each other’s towns and each other well.

Shecky Greene is an old school act, but John was one of the few smart enough to know that it’s possible to learn from anyone so he went to see him. Had I been offered the opportunity, I would have joined him. I still would. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who has braved the wars.

I remember John telling me he enjoyed the show, but then told me of a bit Shecky did that used “The Bay City Rollers” and a song they did called “Saturday Night”. That’s a band that had their very short heyday in the mid ‘70s, and even though John and I both were familiar with them they were long out of the public’s eye by then and it made Shecky look like a big idiot – at least to us.

Cut ahead decades later, and now the performers of John’s and my generation are in exactly the same position. We’re probably close to the age Shecky Greene was John saw him, and the acts of today look at us the same way. John still performs and is a pretty hip guy, but it’s still a concern.

Neither of us have acts directly based on using many current references, and we’ve been smart enough to craft relatively timeless material that can hopefully continue to earn us our livings for the foreseeable future. Those who don’t develop this skill will get burned now more than ever.

For veteran performers it gets easy to ride a reference too long, and I’ve been guilty of it many times. I’ve been around the block quite a bit, and have all kinds of references that used to be hot but are now as laughable as Shecky using The Bay City Rollers. I have to constantly keep track.

Sometimes it’s fixable. I used to do a joke about a “Walkman Radio”. How dated is that? I’ve since changed it to “iPod” and I can milk it a while longer. I hope. Eventually it will be obsolete, but then again so will standup comedy. Some robot will be built to take my place. “Robocomic”.

I can make jokes about it, but I’m only fooling myself. This really is a major issue that needs to be addressed now more than ever. There are just too many things to keep track of, and with all of us going in so many directions on the internet it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with life.

It used to be if someone liked sports for example, there was a relatively limited amount of info available about it to the general public. They could read the same newspapers and magazines and all share basically the same information. It wasn’t in depth, but it was enough to stay informed.

Now there are websites and blogs and a whole new level of scrutiny that has never been around before. If someone likes sports now, it can easily become a full time obsession. Then stories like Alex Rodriguez on steroids or Dennis Rodman in North Korea become actual hard news stories.

Every subject that people used to be able to get away with just a passing knowledge of now has an entire subculture attached to it, and there aren’t enough hours in a day to keep current with all of them. For an up and coming standup comic, it’s harder than ever to have broad based material.

I’ve hosted a lot of showcases in the last few years that feature younger acts, and I admit that I watch a lot of them and have no clue as to what they’re talking about. They’ll go off on a movie I haven’t seen or band I’ve never heard of, and I’m totally lost. They might as well speak Chinese.

It becomes very easy to let this get out of hand, and I totally have. Part of the reason is that I’m just not interested in pop culture of today. I find it extremely boring, and not intended for me. All that I see coming out I’ve seen before, and I wasn’t necessarily all that fond of it then. It stinks.

Other than a very VERY few songs, I find the music of today absolutely horrific. Lady Gaga is a warmed over version of Madonna – and I never liked Madonna with her hairy armpits and gap teeth. I found her derivative, but she was able to carve out a career. Good for her, but I’m over it.

Even sports don’t come close to holding my interest like they once did. I used to easily be able to name every coach or manager of every team in most of the major sports if not current starting lineups. I could also go back at least ten years and name all the teams that won a championship.

Now I bet I couldn’t name who won the last championship – and I don’t really care. Unless the Packers win the Super Bowl, I’m pretty much over that too. And even when that happened just a couple of years ago life went on shortly thereafter. I’m just not into what’s going on in the world as a whole. I have enough to worry about with my own life, and that’s about all I can deal with.

Still, as a professional entertainer I can do better than I have been doing. One of the many wise things my grandfather taught me was to look through the entire Sunday paper. He would open all the sections and look at all the articles from cover to cover. He wouldn’t read all of them, but if a headline grabbed his attention he’d at least skim over some of the article to broaden his life base.

I used to do that for years, but I just lost interest somewhere. That’s just plain not acceptable if I still intend to grow as any kind of creative entity. There has to be more fuel added if I intend to keep the fire burning, and I don’t want to look like Shecky Greene to young audiences. I can still throw some heat, but it’s smart business to have a clue as to what’s current in pop culture today.

Shecky Greene had a tremendous run as one of the top nightclub comics in Las Vegas. Much respect.

Shecky Greene had a tremendous run as one of the top nightclub comics in Las Vegas. That is SO not easy to do. Much respect.

The Bay City Rollers had a short run of hit records in the mid '70s. I bet they thought they were SO cool when this picture was taken. Times change.

The Bay City Rollers had a short run of hit records in the mid ’70s. I bet they thought they were SO cool when this picture was taken. Times change.

Despite his deadpan look, my friend John Knight from Pittsburgh is one of the funniest comedians working today. I've known him since the '80s. www.comedyknight.com.

Despite his deadpan look, my friend John Knight from Pittsburgh is one of the funniest comedians working today. I’ve known him since the ’80s. He’s hilarious. http://www.comedyknight.com.

Body Clock Backlash

January 27, 2014

Sunday January 26th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

My body clock is way off, and I don’t know if it can ever be fixed. After years of heavy travels and morning radio, it’s impossible to establish a groove. Some days I’ll get up at 4am, and others that’s when I go to sleep. I used to be able to cover it up with youth, but these days I can’t do it.

After the show in Indiana last night, Jimmy McHugh decided he wanted to drive home to avoid impending snow. In the old days I’d have had no problem with that, and in fact it was par for the course for me to drive home from most any show eight hours or less from wherever I was living.

It’s a lot different now, and I am nowhere nearly as concerned about setting land speed records getting anywhere. Safety is much more important, as is comfort. We had beautiful hotel rooms in Fort Wayne, and I wanted to take full advantage of the king size bed, exercise room, hot tub and free breakfast. Jimmy did too, but he thought it was best to make it home to beat the snow storm.

He was driving and he booked the show, so I shut my mouth and got in the car. I didn’t want to start an argument and I could see his logic, but that’s not the choice I would have made. After the entire day of having my sphincter in a state of perpetual pucker, the last thing I wanted was to get right back in the same rental car and drive back home. Too bad. That’s the life of a road warrior.

Quite honestly, I am sick to death of being a road warrior. What drove me to become one is not what’s driving me now, and I’m finding it nothing short of annoying. Again, the actual shows are still fun but everything that goes into showing up for them is becoming less appealing by the day.

Jimmy is a great guy and I love hanging with him, and I can’t blame him for choosing to do the exact thing he did. But as it ended up, we made it to the Chicago area at around 3:30am and there was snow coming down everywhere. I had my car at his house, so I had another hour drive ahead of me right when my body clock was screaming for sleep. Sitting in a cold car wasn’t my choice.

I white knuckled it home, and was dead tired walking through the door. I was out in seconds of my head hitting the pillow, and then woke up at 1pm to none of the snow that had been predicted by the weather geniuses of last night. We probably could have stayed and driven back refreshed.

None of that matters now, as it’s over with – for today. But these kinds of choices always come up and after all these years I’m all choiced out. I’m looking to either travel less or find something else to do that gives me the creative outlet performing does without having to make these drives.

Flying isn’t any better, and in fact it’s worse. Having a pack of TSA orangutans go through my luggage is a completely different annoyance, and I’ve had my fill of it all. Right now, coming up with an effective way to make a comfortable living while establishing a home base is my number one goal for the immediate future. I don’t care where that base is, but a warm one would be nice.

Even if it isn’t, steady money is more important to me now than hectic travel. The snowy roads of Indiana look exactly like the ones in Chicago. I would much rather be able to stay in one place and find a way to have money come to me than get in a rental car and physically have to drive all over the place picking up small payments randomly strewn about the country. I’m way past that.

I used to pride myself on being a road warrior - able to withstand any and all adverse conditions.

I used to pride myself on being a relentless comedy road warrior – able to withstand any and all adverse conditions.

This pretty much sums it up these days. I've learned to appreciate a good nap. I've mellowed.

This pretty much sums it up these days. I’ve learned to appreciate a good nap. I’ve mellowed, but the road can still be tough. I’d love to find something to do that doesn’t involve as much travel – but what?

Braving The Elements

January 27, 2014

Saturday January 25th, 2014 – Woodburn, IN

Comedy work has been flowing very nicely of late, and January has been an excellent month. I love to stay busy, but it always ends up being part of a cycle. Right now I’m riding the wave on a hot streak, and life is peachy. Then it will be slow again, and then heat back up. That’s how it is.

I would absolutely work every night if I could – seven nights a week each and every week – but that’s a tall order. The performing part is that much fun, but unfortunately that isn’t everything to have to think about. Booking actual dates and dealing with travel become a full time occupation.

Tonight was the last of a manufactured three night run and I was booked with Jimmy McHugh and Patti Vasquez for a volunteer fire department fundraiser in a small town near Ft. Wayne, IN called Woodburn. That might not sound very exciting, but these kinds of shows can be electric.

Electricity became an important theme all day, as there was a power outage in the town and we weren’t sure if there would be a show or not. Jimmy and I were booked together in Frankfort, IL last night, so he chose me to be part of this fundraiser to make travel easier. We drove together.

Weather can obviously be an issue this time of year, and we knew that. We expect that driving can cause grief, but we weren’t expecting a power outage. Jimmy called around noon to check on the snow conditions, and was told they weren’t sure if they could get power back in time to do a show. They were worried on their end because they’d sold out and didn’t want to give refunds.

We heard back by mid afternoon they could get an emergency generator, but we were keeping our eye on the weather as well and knew we had some rough conditions for driving. It’s not that far from Frankfort, IL to Fort Wayne, IN with ideal conditions, but in the snow all bets are off.

The drive was unpleasantly tense most of the way as we went through everything from slush to sunshine to snowfall and everything in between. It was way more stress than Jimmy or I wanted, but that’s part of the game. Nobody gets to choose when the stress arrives, it’s always random.

Patti was about an hour behind us, as she had a show in Marinette, WI last night and didn’t get home until 4:30am. Jimmy was concerned she wouldn’t make it, and we would have to cover her time. We could have easily done it, but he promised three acts and didn’t want to fail to deliver.

She ended up making it about an hour before the show, and the three of us were frazzled as we drove to Woodburn from our hotel in the Ft. Wayne area. The shows themselves aren’t stressful, but getting there often is. We’d all had all we could stand all day, but we also had a show to do.

The generator was working fine, and there was a jam packed house ready to forget about power outages and bad weather and have some laughs. We gave them exactly that, and they couldn’t be a better audience if they tried. As stressful as it was to get there, they made it worth the trouble.

Jimmy really works hard booking these shows with his “Chicago Comedy All Stars” fundraiser concept. Last year he was here with Mike Preston and James Wesley Jackson, and they rocked as well by all accounts. He’s always looking for new business – http://www.chicagocomedyallstars.com.

The Chicago Comedy All Stars specialize in doing fundraiser comedy shows anywhere that needs to raise them. www.chicagocomedyallstars.com.

The Chicago Comedy All Stars specialize in doing fundraiser standup comedy shows anywhere and everywhere that needs to raise them. http://www.chicagocomedyallstars.com.

Tonight it was in Woodburn, IN with Jimmy McHugh and Patti Vasquez.

Tonight it was at a fire station in Woodburn, IN along with Jimmy McHugh and Patti Vasquez.

The show was really fun, but getting there and back in a snowstorm was brutal. Welcome to show business.

The show was really fun as usual, but getting there and back in a snowstorm was brutal. Welcome to real world show business.

Friday Fun With Friends

January 25, 2014

Friday January 24th, 2014 – Frankfort, IL

Tonight was another fun night working with long time friends. If I accomplish nothing else in my life, I’ve put together a stellar cast of characters that make me laugh and are fun to be around. There are a lot worse ways to make a living, and we all know it. Tonight was a true team effort.

Ken Sevara has booked the comedians at CD & ME in Frankfort, IL for seven years now. He’s a comedian himself, so he understands the process. I’ve become a regular there, and love to work in front of the audiences there. They come to be entertained, and they have always been friendly.

The staff there always treats us like royalty, and if nobody else appreciates it I surely do. It’s an extra perk that doesn’t happen everywhere, and that’s a shame. It happens here, so I look forward to coming back. Dean the owner is into comedy, and the tone has been set from the top on down.

Tonight it was an extra special treat to work with my good friend Jimmy McHugh. The two of us together on one show is hard to beat, and to top it off hosting the show was Brian Hicks. He’s another of Chicago’s best, and doesn’t live far away. The three of us together made it a big night.

The weather was nasty all day, so Jimmy and I rented a car and got a hotel room not far away. I live almost 100 miles one way from Frankfort, and I didn’t want to be dealing with driving home in a snow storm. Jimmy and I are working tomorrow night in Indiana, so this was the right call.

Right before the show started, Tim Slagle walked in. Tim, Ken and I were the original “Jerry’s Kidders” on WLS radio with our friend Jerry Agar. It was nice of Tim to pop in, and I knew we had to find a way to get us all on stage. This was too good of a group in one place not to do that.

I cut my show a few minutes early, and brought up Ken, Tim, Jimmy and Brian for a close out round robin version of “Chicago Style” standup comedy. We each took turns at the microphone, and the audience loved it. The energy in that kind of setting is electric, and we all plugged into it.

The audience got far more than they expected, and everyone had a fantastic experience. I enjoy being able to make things like this happen on the spur of the moment, and it was my call entirely. No matter what problems any of us may have, being on stage together for those few minutes was an escape. It was like we were our own version of the Rat Pack, and the audience came with us.

After our show, we hung around a TV and watched Pat McGann’s debut on David Letterman. I was delighted that there was a crowd there to support, and we were all rooting for him to knock it out of the park. He did exactly that, and spontaneous applause broke out when his set was done.

I’m telling you, that guy has got it. He looked completely at home, and was able to get several applause breaks throughout his set. David Letterman came over to him after he was done and had very complimentary things to say before they went to the commercials. I’d say he hit a home run.

There wasn’t any jealousy among the group of us watching, and I thought it was a great tribute to the character of the people in the room. Pat deserved the shot, and he nailed it. Good for him. I couldn’t be happier for him, or more pleased to have gotten to perform with such a classy bunch.

Jimmy McHugh is always one of my favorite people to hang with on stage or off. He's a great pro and an even greater friend. www.comedianjimmymchugh.com.

Jimmy McHugh is always one of my favorite people to hang with on stage or off. He’s a great pro and an even greater friend. http://www.comedianjimmymchugh.com.

Brian Hicks hosted the show tonight, and is another example of a solid professional. www.funnybrian.com.

Brian Hicks hosted the show tonight, and is another example of a solid professional. http://www.funnybrian.com.

Tim Slagle dropped in, and of course we made him be part of the show. He nailed it as I knew he would. www.timslagle.com.

Tim Slagle dropped in, and of course we made him be part of the show. He nailed it as I knew he would. http://www.timslagle.com.

Ken Sevara books the comedians at CD & ME, and also hosts his radio show 'Fly By Night' on AM 560 WIND in Chicago. www.kensevara.com.

Ken Sevara books the comedians at CD & ME, and also hosts his radio show ‘Fly By Night’ on AM 560 WIND in Chicago. http://www.kensevara.com.

All of us took a back seat to Chicago comedian Pat McGann who made his debut on the David Letterman Show tonight. Congrats Pat! You made us all proud. www.patmcganncomedy.com.

All of us took a back seat to Chicago comedian Pat McGann who made his network TV debut on the David Letterman Show tonight. Congrats Pat! You made us all proud. Way to go! http://www.patmcganncomedy.com.

Old Dogs And New Meat

January 25, 2014

Thursday January 23rd, 2014 – St. Charles, IL

There was a fall out tonight at Zanies Comedy Club in St. Charles, IL and once again I was the one called to fill in. I’m always grateful to get those calls, and I gladly said yes. The temperature was way on the wrong side of zero and my car barely started, but it was a pleasant ride to work.

I have always enjoyed working in St. Charles, and have been doing it with regularity since the club opened in 1989. I’ve seen several managers come and go, and like a lifer in prison I’m now part of the fabric of the walls. I’m a fixture, and there are several others in that category as well.

Vince Maranto is another. I have known Vince from the days of the first place I ever worked in the Chicago area called “The Comedy Cottage” in the mid ‘80s. That was a showcase club where an entire generation of extremely talented comedians cut their stage teeth, and I am honored that I was a part of that scene. What a blast. It was like being a musician in Liverpool in the late ‘50s.

I always liked Vince and thought he was a funny comedian, and we’ve worked together far too many times to count. He’s a headliner in his own right, but frequently works as ‘house emcee’ at Zanies to stay off the road. He was married with a son, and chose to be around. I can’t blame him for that, and in fact I commend him. Vince chose to make comedy work for him and that’s smart.

Mike Preston wasn’t a part of the Comedy Cottage scene, but he came around not all that much longer after. He’s another act everyone likes personally, and is also an excellent comedian that is able to close shows when needed. He also opted for the ‘house emcee’ gig because he helps take care of his mother in Crystal Lake, IL where he grew up. Again, who can blame a guy for that?

Vince never chose to make the move to L.A., but Mike did. He lived there for several years but decided to move back like a lot of people do. There’s no shame in doing it but it’s never pleasant to make that long trip home. I’ve done it myself, and so have countless others. It’s a cruel game.

Vince and Mike are two of my favorites to hang out with offstage, and I love their acts too. We have all seen each other’s acts so many times over so many years, we could probably recite them word for word by now. We’re three prime examples of what a working road dog comedian does.

I had no idea who I would be working with when I arrived at Zanies tonight, but was delighted to see Vince and Mike sitting around – and they were happy to see me too. We all knew we could relax and not have to worry about anything as far as the show went. That makes it a total breeze.

I happened to be the headliner tonight, and Mike was the feature. Vince always does a great job as host, but Mike or I could have easily done that role too. Any of us could have effortlessly fit in at any position, and I can’t remember the last time I was on a show like that. What a treat that is.

The audience tonight was mostly a group fundraiser event for a baseball team of some sort that is based in the western suburbs. There were a few others mixed in, but that group was the bulk of the audience. Vince, Mike and I knew exactly how to play it, and it came off without any hitches. The crowd saw a much better show than they realized, as there were decades of sweat equity put in by all three of us, and that just doesn’t happen every day. I’m proud to call those guys friends.

Right before the show started, Vince asked me if I’d heard about Pat McGann. I hadn’t, and he told me that Pat was taping his first David Letterman appearance tonight. I hadn’t heard that and was very happy for him. Pat is a wonderful guy and everyone likes him too – but he’s different.

Pat is not going to be a road dog kicking around for decades like Vince, Mike and me. Pat has big star written all over him, and I predicted that years ago. He’s got all the tools, and has put in his time the right way. There aren’t many that come along that are like him, and he’s on his way.

I’ve only seen it happen a few other times, but I was right each time I saw it. It doesn’t take all that much to see it, as it becomes quite obvious in a hurry. There are some people that show up at the right time with the right equipment, and they shoot up the ranks with little difficulty. It’s rare.

Frank Caliendo was one. He opened for me the first time he ever stepped on stage at a bowling center in Waukesha, WI. He was totally raw, but I could clearly see how that audience loved his impressions. I told him that night if he worked hard and stayed with it he’d take it to the big time.

Hannibal Burress was another. That kid has a load of natural ability, and combines it with one of the hardest work ethics I’ve seen since Frank Caliendo. Frank busted his hump and then some to get his name out, and Hannibal is the same. People with both those traits are extremely rare.

Michael Palascak is another. He’s done all kinds of TV, and is well on his way to a long career making big money doing something in the entertainment business. He might get a sitcom or have a movie career, but standup comedy has launched him to a higher level than most of us ever see.

Pat McGann is on that path as well, and tonight was his official launch date. I was told it won’t air until tomorrow, but unless there’s another 9/11 type story I’d say he’s golden. It might not be a big deal with the public, but he’s cementing his place of credibility within the business itself.

Like with pro sports, there are only a few of thousands that are considered legitimate prospects. Once in a while someone slips through the cracks and overachieves, but for the most part it boils down to a precious few at the top of the crop that are talked about and given chances to succeed.

In Pat’s case, he comes from a solid family that’s well connected on the South Side of Chicago where he’s from. I think his father is a judge, but I could be wrong. Whatever the case, he’s been groomed to be socially adept, and he totally is. Everyone likes Pat, and I see why he’ll be a star.

He’s got a razor sharp wit and is very funny naturally. He took a comedy writing seminar that I taught with Bill Gorgo years ago, and we immediately liked him then. It was obvious he was one of those rare ‘naturals’, but he also put in his time and worked at it. This is no surprise to anyone.

I’m thrilled for Pat’s success, but I also have to keep plugging on my road. I wasn’t given all of the gifts Pat was, and neither were most of the rest of us. There are a lot more Mike Prestons and Vince Marantos than there are Frank Caliendos or Pat McGanns. Dobie Maxwells are even fewer than that. My story is so out there, it stands eerily all by itself like Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. It now becomes up to me to play the hand I was dealt correctly and salvage as much happiness as is humanly possible. If I’m lucky, Pat or Frank or Hannibal or Michael will hire me as a pool boy.

Vince Maranto is one of Chicago's very best standup comics - and has been a friend for many years. He's a rock solid professional. www.vincemaranto.com.

Vince Maranto is one of Chicago’s very best standup comics – and has been a friend for many years. He’s a rock solid pro and I’m a lifelong fan. http://www.vincemaranto.com.

Ditto with Mike Preston. Mike is also the host of a very funny TV show called 'Psycho Babble'. I've been a guest several times, and it's always a blast. www.psychobabbletv.com.

Ditto with Mike Preston. Mike is also the host of an original and funny TV show called ‘Psycho Babble’. I’ve been a guest several times, and it’s always a blast. http://www.psychobabbletv.com.

Pat McGann recorded his first network TV spot tonight. He's on his way to becoming a big star. You heard it here first. I'm thrilled for Pat, he's a true talent and super nice guy. www.patmcganncomedy.com.

Pat McGann recorded his first network TV spot tonight. He’s on his way to becoming a big star. You heard it here first. I’m thrilled for Pat, he’s got talent galore and is a genuinely nice guy. http://www.patmcganncomedy.com.

Frank Caliendo opened for me his first time on stage at a bowling center in Waukesha, WI. I told him that night if he stayed with it and worked hard he could easily take it big time. He did, and it worked. Good for him. www.frankcaliendo.com.

Frank Caliendo opened for me his first time on stage at a bowling center in Waukesha, WI. I told him that night if he stayed with it and worked hard he could easily take it big time. He did, and it worked. Good for him. http://www.frankcaliendo.com.

Hannibal Burress is another rising star loaded with talent and a rock solid work ethic. I'm a big fan, and it's no surprise he's blowing doors off of everywhere he goes. He's a rare talent. www.hannibalburress.com.

Hannibal Burress is another rising star loaded with talent and a big time work ethic. I’m a huge fan, and it’s no surprise he’s blowing doors off of everywhere he goes. He is absolutely the real deal. http://www.hannibalburress.com.

Michael Palascak is another up and comer with star written all over him. He's also talented and has a super work ethic. www.michaelpalascak.com.

Michael Palascak is another up and comer with star written all over him. He’s also talented and has a super work ethic. Coincidence? Absolutely not. Success leaves clues. http://www.michaelpalascak.com.

Meals With A Mission

January 24, 2014

Wednesday January 22nd, 2014 – Niles, IL

The best and most fail safe investment I think anyone can make is establishing and maintaining contacts. Knowing the right people can be an incredible advantage in life, and I believe anybody can do it if they make up their mind to accomplish it. It does take effort, but so does everything.

I have been around the block more than a few times, and have crossed paths with an extensive collection of nothing less than amazing people along the way. I’ve met a few leakers as well, but so does everybody. There are all types of monkeys in this human zoo, and it’s up to us to choose with which ones we will associate. Building mutually beneficial relationships is a lifetime effort.

Unfortunately, time happens to be a rigidly limited commodity for us all and dilutes the entire process. As life goes on, the more connections we make lowers the odds of maintaining a regular personal contact schedule with everyone. There just aren’t enough lunches to go around for all.

I remember reading an article many years ago about how successful people use mainly lunches but also breakfasts and dinners for the purpose of maintaining contacts whenever possible. There is a plan going in, but it doesn’t have to be greedy or one sided. It can and should be a win/win.

I wouldn’t be able to find that article if I tried, but I’m going to work on applying that concept as much as possible. It makes a lot of sense, and it’s excellent business. Everyone has their own schedules and different people are available at different times, but lunch is the best opportunity.

Everybody eats lunch, and it’s in the middle of the day and usually short. A lot of business can be done in a short amount of time, even if it’s just catching up with what’s been going on in each other’s lives. The belly to belly personal contact is much more lasting than a phone call or email.

I’m consciously working on ramping up my lunch schedule, and today I met up with my friend Steve Olsher aka “America’s Reinvention Expert”. Steve is an entrepreneur, and has made some remarkable leaps in a very short time. I always enjoy hanging out with him, because he lives and breathes what he’s doing. He’s definitely all in, and that’s the kind of energy I want to be around.

When I met Steve he was doing a “Reinvention Workshop” in Chicago a couple of blocks from Zanies where I was teaching a comedy class. I sat in on his workshop and it was not only fun but interesting as well. We have stayed in contact, and in just a few years his presence has exploded.

He is now the successfully published author of three tremendous books “Journey To You”, “Internet Prophets” and “What Is Your What?”, and holds seminars around the country featuring the absolute top of the top names in the speaking field from Larry Winget to the late Jay Conrad Levinson to many more. Steve has put himself in a league with the best. http://www.steveolsher.com.

I have nothing but respect for Steve, and I like him personally too. He’s out there slugging just like me, and he doesn’t claim to know everything. It’s a journey and an adventure, and that’s the kind of person I never get tired of being around. I’m not 100% sure how we can help each other, but we have a similar mindset and that’s good enough for me. He offered a lot of insight on what I’m looking to do, and I appreciated it all. It was well worth the trip, and lunch was delicious too.

Steve Olsher is an entrepreneur, published author and a friend I greatly respect. www.steveolsher.com.

Steve Olsher is an entrepreneur, published author and a friend I greatly respect. http://www.steveolsher.com.

A Personal Victory

January 22, 2014

Tuesday January 21st, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Success! Ah, the taste is so sweet. It’s a small taste, but that’s ok. One bite of the highest grade of chocolate or finest cut of steak not only is still delicious – it makes one want more. After quite a few glitches to the point of completely starting over with a different company my new monthly “Maxwell’s Silver Humor Newsletter” has finally been sent out to a handpicked list of recipients.

In the big scheme of life I know it means less than nothing, but to me personally it’s as big of a victory as I’ve had in quite a while. When my business partner embezzled from me a while back it really rocked my world to the core. I totally didn’t expect it, and it jarred my business to a halt.

I had stupidly allowed him free reign of just about everything off stage, and when he pulled his little stunt and I had to fire him it set me back tremendously. We had a nice flow going, and I had a monthly newsletter that was very well received. This was before I started writing a daily diary.

Allegedly we had it up to 2500 recipients, but I can’t confirm that because I never saw any list. I took his word for it, but I have no reason to think he’d lie about that number. On the other hand I had no reason to think he’d steal from me either, but that’s a different story. I think it was right.

When we parted ways, not only did he not give me the mailing list he used it to try and start his own comedy classes using another teacher. I was shocked, hurt and infuriated all at once, and the whole situation degenerated into a big ugly mess. Many of the people on that list were friends of mine outside of comedy and weren’t students at all. I had to explain the situation over and over.

What a nightmare it all turned out to be, and quite honestly I seethed about it for years. I’m not the first person to get scorched by a business partner, but that was personal, messy and took a lot of inner discipline to not track him down and pound a tune on his skull with a monkey wrench.

After dragging everything through the mud for a few years he eventually moved to Australia -which still isn’t far enough away for my tastes but will have to do. I don’t know what he’s into now, and I really don’t care as long as it’s not comedy or comedy classes. The damage is done.

Once in a while I’ll have somebody out of the blue ask “Hey, whatever happened to your old newsletter? I used to really look forward to it.” It makes me cringe inside, but I always tell them I’ll make sure I add their name to the list when I start it up again. Today I fulfilled my promise.

I’ve been compiling email addresses for several years now, and our initial mailing had almost 2000 entries. I know a lot of those will bounce back, and that’s fine. We knew it would take lots of tweaking to get it going smoothly, but we just wanted to get it going. The glitches weren’t fun, and ended up delaying everything by eight days. Our target was the 13th, but we got it out today.

Kudos to my one man pit crew Eric Feinendegen for hanging in there and seeing it through. He knows the situation with the last guy embezzling, and we’ve got a different agreement altogether. Actually, it was almost a good thing I experienced all that because now it’s a much better system and I won’t have that happen ever again. It was a painful lesson, but one well learned. I received all kinds of responses today from people I hadn’t heard from in years. That’s just what I wanted.

This was a long, hard painful road back, but I’m here and it feels ecstatic. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever be able to pull it off, but I hung in there and kept pecking away for years until I could get all the ducks in a row to try again. Today is that day and the sweet taste of victory is extra delicious.

But I know that’s all it is, a taste – and a tiny one at that. This was just the very beginning of an ongoing process that needs to last the rest of my business life. I need to establish a track record to those that don’t know me but could potentially hire me, and there are too many of those to count.

Of the 2000 or so names I have on the list now, a lot of those are personal friends and/or people that aren’t ever going to hire me. There are several hundred comedians for example, and I’m glad to be in contact from a friendship angle but for business they’re not going to do me much good.

I might get an occasional referral or get thought of for a fallout, but that’s not where my target is. I want to get my name in front of bookers of the best paying work available. That’s the reason to do this at all, and that’s why I’m making it such a priority. It’s basically an ad for my services.

Sending out one email is fine, but it’s surely not the end all be all. I heard from several bookers I hadn’t had contact with in a while, and that’s exactly what I was looking to have happen. I have been pathetic at staying in contact consistently, but that ends as of today. I’m already a winner.

I’m sure it will lead to a few bookings at some point, and that’s fantastic. It’s money directly in my pocket just for reminding people I’m still here. Now I have to grow this list and find EVERY person that could possibly book me and get in front of them every month. That will take a while.

I don’t have a clue who books what in the corporate world, and I also need to delve into media as well. Jimmy Fallon is taking over The Tonight Show in a few weeks. Who is the talent booker for comedians? Jimmy Kimmel? Conan O’Brien? David Letterman? I should know all the names and have all the contact info of these people but I totally don’t. And that doesn’t include radio.

Who are the producers of the top national, regionally syndicated and local radio shows all over North America? What about The U.K. or Australia or even the Armed Forces Network? There is a LOT of work to do, and this is just the tip of the tip of a gigantic iceberg. This is where money will come from, and I need to treat this list like the gold mine it will be. It’s my ticket to success.

I know it will take time to get it really humming like I picture, but today was a terrific start and I’m thrilled to be back in the game. Eric did a phenomenal job, and I’m grateful to be teamed up with him. He’s been great to work with, but if he embezzles he’s going to have to work harder to make it happen than the last guy. I’m a lot more wary now, and that’s good. I think we’ll be ok.

It feels tremendous to finally be getting my business chops in gear. I’m going to add all kinds of valuable contacts to my list as the year progresses, and I’m finally going to be smart enough to grow them into relationships. I’m also going to reconnect with people I shouldn’t have let lapse.

The work on this project is only beginning, but today was a major step. To fight back from the lowest point I can imagine feels extra satisfying, and any bitterness I had toward Mr. Embezzler is all gone. He actually did me a favor. Without that experience, I wouldn’t be as ready as I am.

'Maxwell's Silver Humor Newsletter' is now a reality. If you'd like to get on the list, send a valid email address to bookdobie@gmail.com.

‘Maxwell’s Silver Humor Newsletter’ is now a reality. If you would like to receive it each month, send a valid email address to bookdobie@gmail.com.

Hopefully chicks will dig it.

Hopefully chicks will dig it.

Even if they don't, it should  be good for business.

Even if they don’t, it should be good for business.

Summer Strategy

January 21, 2014

Monday January 20th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

2014 is going on three weeks old, and I really like the direction it’s going. I’m working all over the place, yet staying close to home. Bookings are lining up exactly how they’re supposed to, but smart eyes need to be looking forward to the summer months. They are always the hardest to fill.

In the North, people don’t want to be inside when the weather is nice. Period. I can’t say that I blame them, as I feel the same way. There aren’t that many friendly weather months around here, so when they’re here the last thing I want is to be missing any fun. This is of significant concern, as I don’t want to be missing any paychecks either. I can’t have it both ways so I need a solution.

The time to think about coming up with a strategy is now – not on the Sunday before Memorial Day like I usually do. By then it’s too late, and all that’s left are scraps. 2013 was beyond terrible and I don’t intend to give an encore performance. June, July and August need my attention now.

One satisfactory solution would be another run on cruise ships. I shudder to think of doing that longer than three months, but I could stand twelve weeks if I had to – especially if I could have it booked soon. Knowing I had my summer nut covered would add confidence to everything else.

Another satisfactory solution would be – gasp – a radio job. I haven’t thought about doing that for a while, but the timing would be perfect. I swore I’d never bark up that tree again, but to say never just isn’t realistic. My needs are changing, and this might be the perfect time to rethink it.

I did manage to book a speaking engagement for the end of the month that will allow me to get some video that I can hopefully use to get more. I will at least have more avenues to scour to line up future work, and that brings hope for the summer as well. Depending on comedy alone for the summer months is a major mistake – at least in these times. I’d feel much better with a backup.

One thing that is going to eventually help immensely is a consistently sent monthly newsletter. Even though I’ve yet to send out the first one, it will get my name in front of as many bookers of paying work as I can find, and by sheer volume alone I’m sure some work will end up my way.

I should have been doing that all along, but I haven’t. There are reasons, but none qualify as an acceptable excuse. I was ‘busy’. Really? Busy doing what – not working? Again, I’m focused on marketing this year and this is one of the first things that need fixing. I’ve been bad far too long.

Having a newsletter start out now will give me at least a couple of chances to grab the attention of somebody who can hire me for the summer months. It will take at least six months before I am able to establish any consistency, and I know that going in. I’m expecting a payoff in December.

I’m looking to cultivate names of bookers, fans and media, and get them to hopefully think of me when an opportunity arises. That doesn’t happen overnight, so I’m starting to work on it now. My pit crew chief Eric had to switch carriers, as he didn’t like the software system of the first.

We knew there would be glitches getting started, and this was a big one. It’s a week after we’d hoped to get it sent, but nobody but us cares so we’re golden. We’ll keep plugging until it’s out.

It may be in the single digits outside, but I'm thinking about summer in my head.

It may be in the single digits outside, but I’m thinking about summer inside my head.

Another run on cruise ships may be a way to survive this summer.

Another extensive run on cruise ships may be a way to successfully survive the summer slow season.

A radio job wouldn't be bad either.

A radio job wouldn’t be bad either.

This doesn't appeal to me, even though the sign is pretty funny.

This option doesn’t appeal to me in the least, even though the guy’s sign is pretty funny.