Archive for February, 2014

R.I.P. WNTA

February 26, 2014

Tuesday February 25th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I heard sad news from my friend Jimmy McHugh today that radio station WNTA in Rockford, IL has changed formats from news/talk to “classic hits” – and everyone who worked there got the boot from the entire on air staff to the producers. It’s yet another example of the cruelty of radio.

I’ve been through that scenario myself, and it’s sickening. It always comes out of the blue, but one day the boss asks to see the air staff one by one and the purge is on. Word spreads around the building, but it’s too late by then. Everyone gets their pink slips, and then it’s all an afterthought.

The people that get shown the door are out of the building within minutes, and the rest of those that kept their jobs feel sad – in a way – but also relieved that it wasn’t them. The radio guillotine can fall at any time, and few are fortunate enough to escape the blade at some point in a career.

This news really hit home, as I had done quite a bit of fill in work on WNTA the last couple of years and learned a lot. I was never a talk radio host before – at least not a news/talk station. I did my Sunday night paranormal show “The Mothership Connection”, but that was a different vibe.

WNTA had a current events format, and it forced me to grow by leaps and bounds from a radio standpoint like no other job I ever had. My first radio gig was a classic rock morning show, and I took to that immediately. I had music to play, and all I had to do was fill in the cracks. I was able to do that without thinking. It’s what I do. Talk radio is a different animal, and one that can bite.

The first hour I did it, I knew I was in for some growing pains. I’m fine with being the side guy and throwing in a smart ass comment when needed. That’s way too easy. I’m great at reacting to situations and adding a punch line, I’ve been doing it since grade school. Hosting is a lot harder.

Most people don’t appreciate just how frighteningly difficult it is to sit alone in a room in front of a microphone and just talk much less be interesting for eight to ten minutes. That can feel like eternity. I thought I was relatively witty and a quick thinker on my feet, but those first few feeble attempts to do talk radio were embarrassing. I flat out stunk, and I’m not too proud to admit that.

But without the chance to stink repeatedly, there can’t be growth. Everyone stinks at first in all creative and artistic endeavors, but those willing to press on and pay dues become masters of the craft. WNTA had a long standing staff of talented professionals, and I was fortunate to fill in for all of them during my tenure. I filled in on every shift, and it was an education. I respect them all.

Doug McDuff was the morning show host, and then there was Ken DeCoster, Mark Mayhew, Paul Youngblood and Dean Ervin. Every one of them treated me great, and made me feel like I was part of the station even though I was just filling in. Producers Howard Bailey-Murray and a guy I only knew as Tim were also easy to work with. My entire experience there was pleasant.

Jim Stone is the Operations Manager, and I feel sorry for him because he had to fire everybody as per company orders. He’s got a heart and is a great guy, and I’m sure it was no picnic for him to have to do that. It was sad news all around, but I wanted to pay respects to all those people for being so nice to me when I was there. WNTA will live on in my heart, and I wish them all well.

I'm, grateful for the air time I had on WNTA in Rockford, IL. I'm very sorry to hear the station is changing formats.

I’m, grateful for the air time I had on WNTA in Rockford, IL. I’m very sorry to hear the station is changing formats.

Harold Ramis Respect

February 26, 2014

Monday February 24th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

It was all over the news today that Harold Ramis has passed away. I wasn’t aware he was sick, and I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing. There aren’t many that can hold a candle to his list of accomplishments, and by all accounts I have ever heard he was an extremely nice person.

Where does one start with an industry giant like this? If I could score just ONE of the huge hits he had, I’d be on easy street for the rest of my life. He either wrote, co-wrote, starred, co-starred, directed or acted in several of the biggest and most impactful comedy films of the 20th Century.

The list of his successful projects is staggering, including “Animal House”, “Groundhog Day”, “Caddyshack”, “Ghostbusters”, “Back To School”, “Stripes”, “Meatballs” and quite a few more. Those are all films of my generation, and until I saw the list I had forgotten how impressive it is.

It’s a shame that it takes a person’s passing to get a comprehensive list of all the achievements they managed to attain, but that’s how it works. I knew he was a giant in his field, but until I had heard he passed I never looked at his entire body of work so closely. The man was an all timer.

What I didn’t realize was that he’d moved back to Chicago in 1996. I knew he was from there, but had no idea he came back. I totally should have known that, and I would have loved a chance to meet him even once. I bet he wouldn’t have been difficult to track down, and I wouldn’t have been anything but polite and told him how much I admired his work. I bet we’d have hit it off.

Any time I’ve met someone truly creative, I have always been able to connect instantaneously. That’s who I am too, and it just clicks. Everyone I’ve met from George Carlin to George Clinton to Rodney Dangerfield to any number of others has always been a pleasant experience. I wish I’d had even a few seconds with Harold Ramis, as I bet it would have been a memorable experience.

He might not have remembered it, but I sure would have. I remember meeting Tim Kazurinsky years ago when I opened for his friend Bobcat Goldthwaite. They’d done a couple of the “Police Academy” films together and stayed in touch. Tim was unbelievably nice, and complimentary of my show to boot. Bobcat was great too. I find myself very comfortable around all creative types.

If Harold Ramis was around Chicago all these years, it’s my own fault that I didn’t take it upon myself to cross paths and meet him. It’s not a matter of asking him for anything or pestering him to put me in one of his films, it’s just a matter of professional respect. The man was legendary.

It’s my own fault I didn’t seek him out, and there are all kinds of others that I could have been in contact with as well. Second City is barely a block from Zanies in Chicago, and I’ve worked at Zanies since the late ‘80s. I could have made time to network with those people, but I never did.

I have nothing against improv comedy, but I had all I could handle with doing standup. Still, it would have been smart business to hang out after shows and schmooze with the Second City cast through the years. I was right there, but I blew it. Maybe Harold Ramis would have looked at me as a major schmucko, or maybe we’d have been friends. If nothing else, I would have enjoyed an opportunity to say hello just once. He enjoyed immense success, and I am a huge fan from afar.

There aren't many that can touch the massive success of Harold Ramis.

There aren’t many that can touch the massive success of Harold Ramis. What a run he had!

I Miss Uranus

February 25, 2014

Sunday February 23rd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I’ve really been enjoying life these last couple of months, and much of the reason for that I still have to attribute to the positive energy flow that was started by reconnecting with my siblings. It has improved my life to the core, and everything just feels better because of it. It gives me hope.

We have our meeting set up for March 8th, but don’t have a place just yet. I’ll let them choose, as it really doesn’t matter in the least from my end. I’d be ok with a can of sardines and a glass of water. It’s not about where we meet or what we eat, it’s about having closure. That’s what I have wanted as long as I can remember, and even getting together one time will do that. It’s all I need.

I had one of my super vivid dreams a few nights ago. I have those from time to time, and when I do they’re unbelievably life like. I have had them about being on stage or TV or even playing in the NFL or NBA. When I’m having one, it’s like I am in a completely different world. And I am.

I can’t explain how they differ from regular dreams, but they absolutely do. In this most recent one, I was at the restaurant where we were supposed to meet up, and I sat at the table the hostess told me to go to. The place was crowded, but I could feel eyes on me from all across the room.

The longer I sat, the more uncomfortable I became. I finally left thinking they weren’t coming, and then I got to the parking lot and they were all driving up in one car. I was overwhelmed with emotions, and I started to weep openly. They all did too, and we tried to go back inside but it was closed. I felt pure exhilaration to see them, and the dream was so intense it felt frighteningly real.

When I woke up, it was all I could think about. I know there are a lot of built up emotions from my childhood, but I didn’t think it would affect me as deeply as it has. This is exactly what I feel I’ve needed forever, and I don’t know how I know it but I know everything else is just a bonus.

I am fully prepared in my mind should things go south. I don’t think they will, mainly because all of us have volunteered to be there. Nobody is coming kicking and screaming, but that doesn’t mean someone won’t change their mind before that day. I won’t, but I can’t speak for the rest of them. I know I’m going in with the right mindset, and no matter how it plays out I’ll deal with it.

There’s no denying there was a lot of damage done to all of us. Childhood was an ugly blur of dysfunction, and it will be painful to go back into that mess. We’re not going in there to troll up that old sludge, but I don’t see how at least a little can’t splatter on us during our time together.

We’ve all got raw nerves exposed, and chances of someone hitting one are unfortunately really good. I’m not going to lash out at anyone, and should it get out of hand I’ll politely leave and not initiate any combat. I believe in my heart none of us want that, but if it happens I’ll remain calm.

Even then, I won’t carry any grudges or wish them anything other than peace. That’s what I’ve wanted, and we’re almost there. I have no idea if we’ll stay in contact after that night, and though I’d really like that we’ve all built lives for ourselves and nothing would change much for any of us. We’ve already learned to live without each other, so anything more than that will be an added treat. I’m looking very forward to March 8th, and no matter what happens I’m already a winner.

The change that has come over me is dramatic, and I’ve never felt better. It’s pretty late in life to be starting over, but that’s how I feel. No matter what happens on March 8th, I will hopefully wake up on March 9th with something to aspire to. Without hopes and dreams, life is worthless.

I’d still love to find a good woman and experience what a healthy love relationship is. That’s a goal I’d like far more than comedy. I have been striking out left and right lately, even though I’m trying my best to put myself in a position to make myself available to someone special. It’s been a total blow to my already shaky self esteem, but if I don’t try I’ll never get my chance. It’s hard.

But like with my siblings, I know what it’s like to be alone and not much will change if I don’t hook up with Miss Dreamy Pants. I know several women I’d love to hook up with, but for some reason it’s just not clicking at the moment. Maybe I’m changing too much and too fast for them.

All I can do is be myself, and that’s one thing that I know is absolutely improving by amazing leaps and bounds. My whole inner psyche feels better than I ever remember, and I have to think it will catch up in the rest of my life. Maybe the women I like now aren’t the right ones for me.

I’ll let that happen as it will, or maybe it won’t. If I have to die alone, I’ve always been able to deal with that. I’ve been alone my whole life, so it’s not a big deal. I know I have trust issues, but a big part of getting over that will be this meeting. I feel great about it and am ready for anything.

What I’m not feeling great about is my career – or lack thereof. I am having without a doubt by far my best shows ever, but I’m not making much of a dent anywhere. I can’t seem to crack all of the big comedy club chains like the Improvs or the Funny Bones, and that’s only because of a jag against me by a few people in charge. It has nothing to do with my ability, but that’s how it goes.

Could all that turn around in a second? Absolutely! ONE big break will turn it around, and I’ve always known that. What I don’t know is if I feel like hanging in there much longer and sucking raw sewage fumes. It’s just not thrilling me, and I need a place where I can channel my passion.

In all honesty, what I want more than anything else is to develop the King of Uranus and make it a viable entity rather than a half baked whim I have kicked around with no set direction. There is a goldmine in Uranus, and I feel it with all my heart. It excites me to an inner boil, and it feels like my inner mission despite the fact people have told me I’m nuts. A lot more have laughed.

That’s the whole idea. I live to make people laugh, and it doesn’t have to be just doing standup comedy. I love doing it, but not with the life toll it takes. The King of Uranus is a goofy gimmick by itself, but the creative genius will come from the marketing aspect of how it all gets executed.

I want to be the head of a successful company that sells funny. That could be clothing, trinkets, novelties, live shows – it doesn’t matter. I want to create a brand, and be the personification of it. Much like Vince McMahon personifies the WWE, I want to be associated with Uranus. No joke.

Crazy? Without a doubt. Stupid? That’s debateable. I feel this so strongly I can’t keep it in, and it’s all that trips my trigger right now. Sink or swim, this is where my passion lies. I can see it all as vividly and realistic as one of my intense dreams. This idea has rotted too long. I miss Uranus!

Did you know that this is the official international symbol for Uranus? You do now.

Did you know that this is the official symbol for Uranus? You do now.

Here's my logo. Remember - it's always FUNNY when it comes from URANUS!

Remember – it’s always FUNNY when it comes from URANUS!

See what I mean? Who doesn't think this is funny? I don't want them around me.

See what I mean? Who doesn’t think this is funny? If you don’t, stay away from me please.

She might think it's funny.  Maybe she'd like a date with royalty!

She might think it’s funny. Better yet, maybe she’d like a date with royalty! Uranus is for lovers.

Who doesn't? It's the butt of every nine year old's jokes. Pun intended. This is the level of the public's sense of humor, and I'm going to get a few bucks from each of them. Thumbs up Uranus!

Who doesn’t? It’s the butt of every nine year old’s jokes. Pun intended. THIS is the level of the public’s sense of humor, and I intend to get a few bucks from each of them. Thumbs up Uranus!

The Unforgiving Wheel

February 24, 2014

Saturday February 22nd, 2014 – Mattoon, IL

Here’s how the unforgiving wheel of show business fortune spins. I’ve been slugging it out for decades in beer halls, road houses and snake pits hoping to find a break somewhere to get me out of the trenches. I’ve honed my craft about as well as anyone in that time, yet I’m still struggling.

Trevor Burke is a twelve year old comedy super sensation, and opportunities are falling out of the sky. He’s got more movie credits than most adults ever get in a lifetime, and today he was in New York recording an appearance on ‘America’s Got Talent’. Is life fair? What do you think?

It’s not that I begrudge Trevor anything. Far from it. I’m thrilled for his opportunity, and hope it goes well. Even if it doesn’t, he’s still got a heavy hitting credit to use for anything else he ever does for the next twenty years. That’s what the business of show business is about – credibility.

Trevor has as much or more credibility with people that don’t know him as I do, and I’ve been doing it more than twice as long as he’s drawn breath on this planet. There’s a major flaw there, and it’s not Trevor. I have caught some bad breaks, but I also made some bad choices. I’m where I am as a result of all of it, and this is just a not so subtle reminder that I’ve misplayed my hand.

While Trevor was being flown – probably first class – to New York City to appear on national television before he’s even old enough to drive a car by himself, I drove 257 miles one way in a 1995 Toyota Camry to do a show at a Days Inn banquet room in Mattoon, IL for their Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner. What I was paid was probably less than Trevor’s airplane ticket.

Don’t get me wrong. I had a rip roaring show in Mattoon, and the people were very friendly all night. These were the movers and shakers of the community and certainly weren’t rubes or hicks. They were down to earth friendly people, and they loved the show. I have no complaints there.

What’s gnawing at me to the inner core of my soul is how much of this entire business is based on anything but logic, and there’s nothing I can do about it. With all of my hopes, dreams, talent and execution, all I could manage after all these years is a banquet at a Day’s Inn in Mattoon, IL for mediocre pay. Was it fun? Yes, but it’s far from a career move. It’s more like a steady hobby.

I was blessed with above average raw ability, but below average raw people skills. I tend to be way too open with my disdain toward idiots, bullies and especially incompetence, but this racket is full of all of that even more than civilian life. It’s taken all this time to figure out the hierarchy.

I’ve been improving tremendously, and I notice a definite uptick in my business and life itself. I’ve been surrounding myself with solid people on purpose, and weeding out weenies whenever I can. The formula has proven to be effective and I see dynamic results – but it has taken decades.

I sure didn’t have anything figured out when I was 12. I would have been thrilled with this kind of a break after I’d been in the business for 12 years, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Trevor’s hand is loaded, and I’m happy for him and his family. He is a special kid, and I know he will make the best of all this. He’s well grounded by his parents. I just think it would be nice if I get some kind of break too sooner than later. Nothing against Mattoon, IL, but it’s not where my rainbow ends.

I did a show in Mattoon, IL tonight for a room full of very nice people.

I did a show in Mattoon, IL tonight for a room full of very nice people.

Trevor Burke is 12 years old, and he was taping an appearance on 'America's Got Talent'. Good for him,  but it makes me wonder what I've been doing these last 25 years. I hope Trevor lets me drive his limo.

Trevor Burke is 12 years old, and he was taping an appearance on ‘America’s Got Talent’. Good for him, but it makes me wonder what I’ve been doing these last 25 years. I hope Trevor lets me drive his limo someday soon. http://www.trevorburke.com.

The Golden Circle

February 22, 2014

Friday February 21st, 2014 – Ottawa, IL

Any time I can find a way to get paid and stay within a 100 mile radius of home, I consider it a personal victory. That’s the golden circle and anything farther than that becomes a road gig and a chore. I didn’t always feel that way, and in fact it was the exact opposite. I used to love to roam.

I used to look for bookings as far from home as possible in places I’d never been, and the only thing I cared about was if I could at least break even to pay for my trip. It was the experience that interested me, not the money. I wanted to explore new places and have adventures coast to coast.

Those days are long over. If I had my way now, I’d find a place where I could work whenever I want, and it would hopefully have an apartment upstairs so I’d never have to leave. I’d live out my days in one place, and not complain a bit. At this point, I wouldn’t really care where that is.

It would be a bonus to have nice weather, but it’s not a requirement. I stay in the Chicago area because I have a lot of friends here. I can squeak out a living because I’ve been around for years, and most of the bookers use me regularly. It’s not a career move to live here, so I’d gladly move anywhere an opportunity came up. But where would that be? I’ll think I have to create my own.

I really enjoyed living in Los Angeles, but that’s the last place to be able to squeak out a living doing comedy. It’s not near anything, and the gigs that are there don’t pay. It’s a showcase town. Everyone and their grandma thinks they’re going to be the next big star, and it’s not about work.

New York has never interested me in the least. It’s filthy, crowded, expensive and the weather is just like here. I wouldn’t be in the top 2000 of New York acts, so why move there and start at the bottom when I’m one of the top acts in Chicago? I see no reason to ever move to New York.

I love Las Vegas, but again there’s nothing near it. Would living in town give me enough work to be able to survive? Perhaps. If I worked at it, I bet I could come up with some sort of deal that lets me stay in town at least a big chunk of the year. That might be a possibility sooner than later.

I like the Chicago area because there’s a significant chunk of population within 100 miles in all directions except east. But I can drive around Lake Michigan, and work in places like St. Joseph, MI and Michigan City, IN and all kinds of other little towns that keep me busy most of the year.

If I really focused on that 100 mile radius, I think I could do fine and still sleep in my own bed every night. Would that be a career? Not really. It would be steady work, and a job. That’s what I’ve been doing all these years, and it’s been all I could handle to squeak out a living that long.

Tonight I did a show in Ottawa, IL that was less than thrilling quite honestly. I was heckled by the sound guy of all people, and he had a mic and could talk back. People were walking back and forth in front of me during the show, and there wasn’t any stage. I had to stand on a dance floor.

The pay wasn’t great, but I was off on a Friday and it was exactly 86 miles from my front door. I gave them my best, got my check, and drove home. It wasn’t fulfilling, but it wasn’t an all day drive either. It will pay a bill or two while I keep working on my transition to being a humorist.

What I did tonight was a comedian gig. The people weren’t mean, and in fact the lady who was in charge was very friendly. But there wasn’t a lot of respect there whether they realized it or not, and it made my job far more difficult than it needed to be. For any money, it just wasn’t worth it.

I realize I could have turned this down, but I like to perform and since it was within the golden circle I said I’d do it. My policy has always been I would much rather work for low pay than not have a gig at all. I think I have to reassess that policy, and start to turn things down on occasion.

I’ve always been told the most powerful word in show business (and in life) is “no”. The more one can afford to say no, the more opportunities one is likely to get. When it’s possible to choose when and where one works, a whole new (and infinitely better) world emerges. That’s my goal.

I can’t picture a humorist having to do a gig like tonight. For one, a humorist would have been paid a lot more. When a buyer has to pay more, there’s immediately more respect before a show even starts. The performer has an opportunity to have a say over conditions, and it all runs well.

A comedian gets thrown into the fire, but nobody cares because it didn’t cost a lot of money. It never occurs to the buyer that seemingly little things like lights and sound really do matter, as do others like a proper introduction and getting the audience focused and attentive before the show.

Tonight everything was wrong. The audience was standing around in groups talking when I got there, and someone went on the microphone and started reading an introduction before they were seated. Nobody was listening, and I had to start out in a hole while they found their seats. Brutal.

There was no stage or stage lighting, and there was a DJ sitting at a table right behind me who talked to me through most of the show. At one point – right in the middle of a bit that needed the audience’s full attention – a song started playing for no reason. He had hit a button and started it by mistake. It totally ruined a very delicate moment, and when I glared at him he just laughed.

I did get some laughs out of the audience, but it was a whole lot harder than it needed to be. It took all of my years of experience to pull this one off, and halfway through I realized that it was a mistake to have said yes to this. For the few bucks I made, it was anything but ‘easy money’.

It was fast money in that I got paid tonight, but it took thirty years to be able to manage what I did under such unprofessional conditions. Would a top entertainer in any field perform like this? No. I did because I wanted to get paid. In the long run, I cheated myself. I’m far better than this.

No offense to anyone in the group tonight. They weren’t bad people, and in fact I received a lot of nice compliments after the show. But this isn’t what I need to be doing this late into the game. I am very good at what I do, and underselling my product like this is beneath what I have earned.

I picture myself performing at the top venues in the world, with full houses there to enjoy what I do. I can give world class shows, but not under the circumstances I had to face tonight. It was a wake up call, and I get the message loud and clear. From now on, I have to be careful when I say yes and shouldn’t accept a blind booking just anywhere. I’ve worked too hard for too long to get thrown scraps. If I don’t say no, they’ll keep coming. Close to home or not, this was a mistake.

Any time I can stay within 100 miles of Chicago and get paid, I consider it a victory. That's the 'Golden Circle'.

Any time I can stay within 100 miles of Chicago and get paid, I consider it a victory. That’s the ‘Golden Circle’.

Better Business Building

February 21, 2014

Thursday February 20th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I’ve been getting a lot of bookings of late, and that’s never a bad thing. It almost feels like the old days, as I’m working almost whenever I want to. Almost all of my weekends have been full, and there have been some week nights thrown in as well. This is how I’d prefer it to be always.

Realistically, that just won’t happen forever. Bookings come in waves, and I’m nearing the end of this particular one. All I had booked for this week was a Saturday in Mattoon, IL, but today I got a call to do a show in Ottawa, IL tomorrow night. Someone they had booked had to cancel.

It’s not for great money, but it’s a nonprofit organization and part of the deal is that they write me a letter of recommendation if they like what I do. I’m sure they will, as the lady who booked me has seen me several times before. I’ll make a few bucks, and get a testimonial for my files.

I wish I would have started collecting testimonials years ago, but I didn’t. Few comedians I’ve ever worked with do. We just don’t think about it. I could have had HUNDREDS by now, and it wouldn’t have been very difficult at all. I guess I can go back and salvage a few, but it’s too late to have the stellar list of thoroughly satisfied customers at my fingertips that I easily could have.

This is a big red flag for the future, and I won’t let it happen again. Now that I’m transitioning into being a humorist, I intend to compile a reference list of every single client that ever uses me from now on in any capacity from speaking to training to painting the lines on their parking lot.

This is just smart business, and I’m embarrassed by the fact I never did it before. I don’t have a reason other than nobody else did it either. That’s not acceptable. Nobody ever sold merchandise for years at the comedy club level except for James Gregory, and he was way ahead of his time.

Now almost everyone sells, only because it’s necessary to survive. Gas prices are high, and the pay in comedy clubs is the same or less than it was twenty years ago. Hawking some trinket after the show is not why most entertainers get into the business, but it has come to be expected now.

My business sense is growing rapidly, but I am nowhere near where I should be. I have a thirty year head start on my ‘show’. That’s about 97% of what I focused on all these years, and that has thrown me way off balance. I think it should be as close to 50-50 as possible, but that’s difficult.

I had a friend who was a fanatical bodybuilder, and he talked about how most of them train the ‘beach muscles’ like arms and chest, but neglect the legs. They’re apes above the waist but have bird legs, and that causes a major imbalance that prevents them from winning the big contests.

The same is true with show business. There has to be somewhat equal attention paid to both the show and the business. I’m just now coming around to that formula, but my show needs a whole lot of extra work because of all the years of neglect it has had. That’s what I’m doing this year.

My shows in Ottawa and Mattoon will be solid. I know that before I get there. In fact, I have to believe they’ll be up there with the best performances that Ottawa or Mattoon have seen recently, if not ever. But if my business were better, I’d do the same show in bigger towns for higher pay.

Just like bodybuilding,  a show business career needs balance.

Just like bodybuilding, a show business career needs balance. Without it, it’s freakish.

Testimonials are not difficult to get, but most entertainers never ask. I am going to change that starting immediately.

Testimonials are not difficult to get, but most entertainers never even think to ask. I am going to change that effective immediately.

Building my business will lead to more income - and that's the whole idea.

Building my business will lead to building more income – and isn’t that the whole idea?

Long Range Planning

February 21, 2014

Wednesday February 19th, 2014 – Gurnee, IL

One of the most difficult – yet very necessary – aspects of the entertainment business is to have a long term vision and work steadily toward distant goals that are far off into the future. There is usually no shortage of daily chores to keep one busy along the way, so finding time can be tough.

In my world it’s extra tough, just because I have so much going on. I have several projects I am working on at any given time, and that tends to slow things down even more. I’m too far into this to drop everything, so I’m choosing to team up with others and help delegate what I need to do.

I couldn’t do a newsletter by myself, and I know it. Eric Feinendegen is helping me get that up and running, and there have been several annoying glitches that have slowed it down. If I didn’t have him, I’d either have to shut it down or allow everything else come to a complete standstill.

A lot of my projects have come to a complete standstill, and frustrating as it may be what can I do but focus attention on the daily tasks? I’ve got all I can handle to keep myself solvent for one more month, but if I’m ever going to get out of that meat grinder there has to be a plan in place.

If I don’t work on the big picture, it will never come to be. But if I don’t tend to the daily grind, I won’t survive to shoot for the big prize. How cruel is that? The answer is to carefully divide my time between both, and stay as close as humanly possible to those parameters. It’s the only way.

Working on things that aren’t on the immediate agenda requires discipline, but I know it needs to be done so I’m including it whether I like it or not. One of those things is polishing my speech for corporate events. The last thing I want is to go up with a half baked rambling unfinished talk.

I worked diligently to prepare for my first booking last month for Coldwell Banker Realtors in Brookfield, WI, which by all accounts went quite well. I was happy with it for a first try, but I’m not naïve enough to think I don’t need a LOT of improvement. That was just a start, and to really move ahead I need to keep working on it constantly – especially when I am between bookings.

Tonight I had dinner with my speaker friend Todd Hunt who was kind enough to have watched my full video several times and make notes – five pages of them. His extreme attention to details is what he’s known for, and I listened intently as he went over his list of well thought out points.

Our roles were reversed, as for several years I have been helping him add humor to his speech. I’m his ‘fresh eyes’, and can see where the jokes go. It’s been a work in progress, and he’s used it to build a solid product. Now he’s returning the favor, and I can see how beneficial it really is.

I don’t have any speeches booked in the near future – or far future either come to think of it. It wasn’t really necessary for Todd to make his critiques tonight, but he was available and took the time to make notes so I took the time to listen. It was worth the price of dinner and much more.

Todd was dead on with his observations as I knew he’d be. I’ll add what he said, and then hear what Eric has to say as he’s a speaker too. I’ll bend and shape and tweak until my next booking – then I’ll do it again. And again. And again after that. I’ll have to find time, but I will. It’s crucial.

Long range planning takes discipline - especially when things get hectic.

Long range planning takes discipline – especially when daily life gets hectic.

Without the help of Eric Feinendegen, I wouldn't be able to have a newsletter to build a base of fans and people to hire me. It's long range planning.

Without needed help from Eric Feinendegen, I wouldn’t be able to have a newsletter to build a base of fans and people to hire me. It’s long range planning.

Todd Hunt is helping me polish my corporate humor speech. He has worked years on his own, and it's one of the best anywhere. www.toddhuntspeaker.com.

Todd Hunt is helping me polish my corporate humor speech. He has worked years on his own, and it’s one of the best anywhere. http://www.toddhuntspeaker.com.

Super Soup

February 20, 2014

Tuesday February 18th, 2014 – Chicago, IL

Not everyone gets an opportunity to look back over the body of work of their entire lives at the very end and sort out all the memories. The stereotypical picture is the old geezer on a death bed surrounded by family, making a final statement before peacefully drifting off into the next world.

I wonder what the percentage is of people that actually have it happen like that. My grandfather probably came the closest of anyone I’ve experienced. He died in hospice care, and I got to have several visits with him in his final days. It was awkward in many ways, and not pleasant at all.

He fought death tooth and nail to the bitter end, and bitter it was. Cancer attacked him brutally, but he hung in there and never gave up. He even went as far as volunteering for an experimental form of chemotherapy so that the doctors could tweak the dosage for future patients. That’s very ballsy in my opinion, and downright heroic. Gramps wouldn’t quit, but cancer wins in the end.

I remember trying to get his mind off his painful condition, and I asked him what his favorite memories were in his life, and it surprised me that he had to stop and think for a bit. I don’t even remember what he said, but the fact he had to think about it was a red flag – at least it was to me.

I have quite a few memories I wouldn’t mind sending off to my personal recycle bin, but those that I cherish are right up there at the top. I don’t have to wait until I’m on any death bed to haul them out and feel good. One that jumps to mind immediately is being on stage when everything is going well. If there’s a feeling of more pure delight and excitement than that I’m yet to feel it.

Another prime source of pleasant memories is time spent hanging out with other comedians. It may seem overrated to place it that high on a life list, but I know I’m not the only one to feel that way. There is just something magical about being in that fraternal mindset with people that have shared the experience of living a gypsy lifestyle and making audiences laugh. It’s a tight group.

Often meetings are held in some roadside grease trap diner, but today I had one at Bill Gorgo’s house. Bill is not only a terrific comedian, he’s as good or better in the kitchen. He co-authored a cook book not long ago, and anytime he invites comedians over for food – we all know to GO.

I first got to experience Bill’s mastery as part of the “Chicago Style Standups” group. That was several years ago now, and coincidentally the time I started writing my daily diary. We needed to have content on the group’s website, and I volunteered to write about my personal life’s exploits.

The group has long disbanded – at least my involvement in it, but we loved the camaraderie of those meetings so Bill will call one on occasion just because. The traditional fare was always his world class soups, and I don’t think he ever repeated one. It was the best soup we’d all ever had.

I had a lot of other things I could and probably should have done today, but when Bill calls for a soup session I know better than to miss it. Jimmy McHugh knows it too, and he showed up like I did. Dan Morris was a first timer, and he loved it too. James Wesley Jackson was scheduled for an appearance, but had to back out. Magician Dennis DeBondt was invited, but he got booked at the last minute. The rest of us had a blast, and made another memory that will only get sweeter.

Comedian Bill Gorgo 'cook's on stage, but he's even better in the kitchen.

Comedian Bill Gorgo ‘cooks’ on stage, but he’s even better in the kitchen.

He's the co-author of the successful cook book "Life Beyond Takeout!"

He’s the co-author of the successful cook book “Life Beyond Takeout!”

When one's ability to make soup can attract people from miles around, that person has a gift. Bill's delicious homemade soups make Campbell's taste like raw sewage.

When one’s ability to make soup can attract people from miles around, that person has a gift. Bill’s delicious homemade soups make Campbell’s taste like raw sewage.

Random Reflections

February 18, 2014

Monday February 17th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

For as long as I’ll be around, February 17th will have personal significance. It’s not because of the fact it’s both Michael Jordan and Larry The Cable Guy’s birthdays, but that’s also in the mix. They were both born the same year as me, and they’ve achieved levels of success few ever reach.

Nobody doubts Michael Jordan’s esteemed position, but “Larry” is a topic of debate. For one, that’s not the name I know him as but I have nothing but respect for what he has done. He’s the same age as me, and worked many of the same gigs I did on his long way up the comedy ladder.

He found what the public likes, and cashed in. Good for him! I don’t begrudge him in the least. He earned it, and by all accounts is a very nice guy. I haven’t seen him in quite a while and we were never close buddies, but we did cross paths a few times and always got along splendidly.

I’m long past caring in the least what any entertainer does in their act. Michael Jordan played sports, and that’s an unforgiving force. The nicest person in the world will get cut if they aren’t able to meet the physical requirements. That’s all it is. There is no gray area whatsoever there.

Entertainment is a whole other scenario. It’s completely subjective, and what is great to one is garbage to another. Is “Larry” funny? Millions of paying customers think so, and that’s the only thing that matters. Comedians like to say “I’m WAY funnier than THAT” while driving to their gig in a town nobody ever heard of that pays $200 flat while ‘hacks’ sell out arenas nationwide.

I admit, I used to be one of those elitist comedy snobs that thought I knew what funny is. Who gives me or anyone else that right to think we have authority and/or control on what’s funny or not funny? It doesn’t matter in the least. All that matters is who can sell tickets. That’s the key.

Does Dane Cook make me laugh? He hasn’t yet, and I doubt if he will in the future. Most of my comedian friends share the same opinion, yet he’s performing for more people in one night than most of us do in six months. Who’s ‘funny’ now? I’m changing my ways in my old age.

Do I think Larry The Cable Guy is funny? I really don’t care. I’m not his target audience, so what’s the difference? If we cross paths again – and I hope we do, I like the guy – we won’t be talking about either of our acts anyway. We’ll share pleasantries, and that’s all that I care about.

I’ve got enough to worry about doing what I think is funny, and finding enough people that are in agreement and will pay to come see me perform. I have a pretty good grasp on who my crowd is, but I need to get in front of a lot more of them in a hurry so I can sock away some cash soon.

Michael Jordan and Larry The Cable Guy are just a month older than me on a calendar, but as far as finances go they’re eons ahead. They could live like kings for six lifetimes, but I still have to worry about paying my bills every month. I thought I’d have that figured out by now, but no.

Every time I see Michael Jordan have another birthday, part of me feels like I never came close to where I could have. He’s got a gorgeous new wife and twin babies, and I’m trolling back into my past hoping women I had a crush on years ago might toss me a mercy date. I’m embarrassed.

But that’s not why this date has personal significance. Today was my grandmother’s birth date in 1911, and coincidentally the date her son (and my father) died. I don’t know if that carries any meaning in the cosmos, but it always causes me to reflect on this date whether I want to or not.

I almost let the day get by without thinking of it, but then I signed online and the first picture I saw was a photo I’d never seen before of my father and step mother when they were very young. My brother Bruce posted it, and it caused me to do a double take when I saw it. That’s not how I remember either one of them, and it cast a whole new light on things. Everybody’s life changes.

Bruce and I have only recently become Facebook friends, and I’m thrilled we are. I commented on the picture and how I had never seen it before, and it started us on a positive exchange about a lot of things that gives me confidence that our reunion in March will be nothing but spectacular.

I’m seeing a side of him as an adult that I never saw as a kid, and it’s amazing. He’s extremely intelligent and very sharp witted and funny. My other brother Larry and sister Tammy are funny in their own way too, so if nothing else I think we’ll have some big laughs – and also some tears.

I couldn’t help but stare at that picture for a bit. I don’t have any pictures of my father. Not just none with me – none period. He was such an evil ogre in my memory that I wanted to block him out of my life force from an early age. We never posed for any pictures together, and that’s sad.

The image of my step mother Ann was anything but what was in the picture. She was younger than I’d ever known her, and I have to say quite attractive actually. She was the polar opposite of that in my childhood, and I remember praying for her slow and painful death. The saddest part of that is that I got it. She died at only 59 from the horrific complications of diabetes of all things.

It was only when I heard she died that I was able to forgive her. She was Bruce’s mother and it was very apparent that we were the step children. It was torture to live through as a kid, but now I can see why it was. Blood IS thicker than water, and she didn’t have to be nice to us. My father made her life pure hell, and it was all a big gaping wound that is just now starting to heal over.

My grandmother was no June Cleaver mother figure either. She came with her own bag of ugly and that was passed down to my father, who passed it on to Ann and us. Grandma was a cold one for sure, and Bruce hated her just as much as I couldn’t stand Ann. But now they are ALL dead.

And soon enough, Bruce and Tammy and Larry and I will join them. We have limited time and opportunities to patch things up, and live the rest of our days in peace. I have wanted this to take place since childhood, and I can feel it will be good for all of us. Our exchange today was a treat.

People can and do change, or at least let their guards down. I built a terrific relationship with Grandma before she died, and that’s how I’ll remember her. Ann and Russ (I just can’t come to call him ‘Dad’) were a different story. They and I never hit it off, and that’s a painful memory.

Bruce idolizes Ann, and I’m glad. I will never say anything bad about her again, and I’m very sorry and ashamed for what I’ve said in the past. But that was a lifetime ago, and I can see how much we’ve all grown. Bruce and Tammy and Larry and I have a real chance at a happy ending!

Michael Jordan and I were born less than a month apart in the same year. That's about all we have in common unfortunately.

Michael Jordan and I were born less than a month apart in the same year. That’s about all we have in common unfortunately.

Larry The Cable Guy has the same birthday as Michael, but we have crossed paths a few times. Nice guy, and I respect what he has accomplished. Like Michael, he's had a great ride.

Larry The Cable Guy has the same birthday as Michael, and we’ve have crossed paths a few times. Nice guy, and I respect what he has accomplished. Like Michael, he’s had a great run of success.

Today is also the anniversary of my father's death. This is a picture I hadn't seen before today, and it's nothing like how I remember him. I want to be nothing like he was - or at least that awful memory.

Today is also the anniversary of my father’s death. This is a picture I hadn’t seen before today, and it’s nothing like how I remember him. I aspire to be nothing like he ever was – or at least that awful memory.

It's also the birth date of my grandmother in 1911. Here's a dorky picture of me, and her in some sort of Loyal Order of Water Buffalo attire. Not sure where she got that, but PITA wasn't happy.

It’s also the birth date of my grandmother in 1911. Here’s a dorky picture of me, and her in some sort of ‘Loyal Order of Water Buffalo’ attire. I’m not sure where she got that getup, but I’m sure PETA wasn’t happy.

Lost In Cyberspace

February 18, 2014

Sunday February 16th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Isn’t technology miraculous? It can be. But not today. I am just about ready to take a Louisville Slugger to my laptop, but what would that prove? I’d have a big mess to clean up, and I’d still be a foaming at the mouth maniac like I am now. I am beyond frustrated, and I’m ready to explode.

I have never claimed to be a computer geek. Oh, I’m a geek – but not in that way. Well, I guess I would be considered more of a geek/nerd hybrid. Would that be a ‘neek’, or a ‘gerd’? Whatever the case, I’m on the wrong end of geekdom. I get all the mockery without the techno superiority.

What set me so far off today was a document I was working on for my friend Eric Feinendegen who asked nicely if I wouldn’t mind looking over the script of a Toastmasters speech he is trying to get ready for a contest. It never bothers me to do that, and in fact I actually enjoy it. It’s a great opportunity to exercise creative muscles, and also help a friend. I’m flattered that he even asked.

I made some time to go over the speech, and added my input as I had any. It’s smart for anyone to have ‘fresh eyes’ look over any creative project, and I’m not unfamiliar with the process. I like punching up scripts, and I know there are people in Hollywood that get paid big cabbage to do it.

I’ve never been able to find the in on that gravy train, but I know I could pull it off if I ever get the chance. I just like doing it, but I think I have a flair for it as well. I spent about two full hours on Eric’s speech, and I thought I had some solid additions. I worked really hard and give my all.

But when I tried to save the document, it just disappeared. Poof. GONE. I don’t know how that happened, but it absolutely did. I don’t deny for a second I’m a textbook techno idiot, but I think I know how to save a document at this point. “Do you want to save the changes to…” Uh, YES!

It’s not that difficult – or at least it usually isn’t – but for whatever reason today it just vanished into thin air. First I was puzzled. Then I was livid. Then I graduated to something of a hybrid mix of bananas and berserk. Then it became rage. Then fury. I called Eric, and he tried to get it fixed.

It was to his benefit to help me find it, as the notes were for his project as per his request. I was happy to do it for him, and all I wanted was to let him look at what I had spent so much energy to complete. It would be impossible to duplicate it exactly, and panic set in as I knew I’d been had.

I tried every trick I could think of to find the document, and Eric tried to talk me through all of the ones he knew but that made it worse. Talking to someone over the phone without being there just makes it more insanely frustrating. I have ZERO patience for things like that, and I was raw.

I knew I’d have to do it all over again, and I resigned myself to the fact. I tried my best to get it as close to before, but I knew it wasn’t. Then I tried to save it again, and AGAIN it vanished into thin air. Now I was ready to hunt down Bill Gates personally but what could I do? It was too late.

I sucked it up and did it again yet a THIRD time, but this time I copied and pasted it to a blank document on my computer and of course it worked fine. What was the trouble? I haven’t a clue, but it made me blow a gasket. It’s over now, and I hope Eric wins his contest. I need a sedative.

My friend Eric Feinendegen asked me to look over his speech for a Toastmasters contest.

My friend Eric Feinendegen asked me to look over his speech for a Toastmasters contest he is entering.

I lost the document I worked on for two hours, and it sent me into a rage.

I lost the document I worked on for two hours, and it sent me into a rage.

You've got mail!

You’ve got mail!