Archive for February, 2014

Happy Birthday Hank Aaron

February 8, 2014

Wednesday February 5th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Today is the 80th birthday of one of my all time heroic icons Hank Aaron. Boy does it make me feel old. I’m sure he’s got plenty of aches and pains of his own, but it doesn’t take anything away from the outstanding accomplishments he achieved in his amazing career. He touched the sky.

I still remember watching him hit his 715th home run on April 8th, 1974 against the Dodgers off pitcher Al Downing on a tiny black and white TV set up on an ironing board in my grandparents’ basement. They were watching another program on their own black and white TV, and they were less than thrilled when I interrupted whatever they were watching with my screams of delight.

Gramps was a sports fan so he got it at least a little, but Grandma was really into whatever they were watching and I thought she was going to find a baseball bat and start swinging at me. She’d never liked sports, and thought it was all a big waste of time. It meant absolutely nothing to her.

But what an electric moment that was. Baseball was my life source then, and all anyone talked about at school was when he would break the home run record. It was extra big in Milwaukee as he came up with the Braves in 1954 and played with them until they moved to Atlanta in 1966.

The media in Milwaukee talked about it constantly, as I’m sure they did everywhere else. That was THE baseball record, and I assumed everyone was cheering for him to break it like all of my friends in the neighborhood and I were. To us it was a Milwaukee thing, as he had played there.

I don’t think I found out until years later what a horrible experience it was for him, and all the ugly hate mail he received. I was stunned, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth even today. It’s downright embarrassing that people would behave like that, but obviously they did. It’s a shame.

White people haven’t done much to win me over as a group, even though I was born into their population. Human beings in general don’t thrill me when I hear stories like that, but I don’t see it getting any better anytime soon. Hank Aaron is great regardless of what ethnicity he might be.

From a baseball standpoint, he was the picture of consistency throughout his career. He was an all star 25 times. WOW. That alone is a staggering figure. He also has the most runs batted in of all time. There’s another monster statistic. He had 17 consecutive seasons with 150 or more hits, and his number was retired by two teams. If there was ever a Hall of Fame player, Aaron was it.

When I was in high school, he came to our school to make a speech. I don’t recall what it was for, but my friend Jeff Phelps and I skipped out at lunch and went to buy baseballs to get signed when he showed up. That was the only time I’d ever skipped out of school, but I don’t regret it.

A limousine pulled up in front of Messmer High School that afternoon, and Jeff and I ran out with our fresh white baseballs and pens in hand. There was an entourage with him and everyone was surprised to see us. He signed the two baseballs, and then someone said “OK, no others.”

That’s a memory I won’t forget, and I’ll always be a fan of his accomplishments. I’m sorry he had to endure what he did. Happy birthday Hank Aaron, your greatness is forever appreciated.

To baseball fans of my generation, this was the biggest moment ever.

To baseball fans of my generation, this was the biggest moment ever.

This was the baseball card everyone wanted when I was a kid.

This was the baseball card everyone wanted when I was a kid.

I love this quote.

I love this quote.

Ninja Status

February 8, 2014

Tuesday February 4th, 2014 – Rosemont, IL

The brutal winter continues, with little relief in sight. Tonight we got blasted with several more inches of snow, and then it’s supposed to go right back into the deep freeze yet again. This is the kind of winter that makes a person move south, and I’m about ready to hop the next freight train.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have to travel so much. I already spend far more time than the average Joe getting to and from work, but in bad weather it’s unbearable. People drive like idiots in good conditions. Add even a little snow, ice or freezing rain and it becomes a giant nut house.

Tonight I had a gig hosting the “Ten Comedians For $10” showcase at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont, IL. The weather was a big issue, and the crowd was rather sparse. There were actually more than I expected, but it was nowhere near full and that makes it very hard for the comedians.

These shows exist so newer acts can get a chance to audition for paid work at Zanies, but most of them aren’t ready even though they think they are. It’s hard enough to impress a jaded booker who has seen it all in a full house, but on a snowy week night with a small crowd it’s impossible.

Standup comedy can be very awkward on slow nights in front of small audiences, and I’ve had to face that scenario literally thousands of times. Some acts handle it differently than others but it isn’t ever fun to have to jump start a cold crowd. It’s my job as a host to set the acts up properly.

I always try to get the audience to focus their attention on the acts, and on a night like tonight it becomes a huge challenge to maintain it through the entire show. Ten acts are a lot, and trying to squeeze any kind of energy whatsoever out of the crowd can be a tall order. It takes experience.

I’m one of very few that can do it, only because I’ve hosted so many shows in my time. I’ll bet I am in the top .001% of living humans that has had the most experience hosting standup comedy shows since 1985. I don’t have a lot of skills in life, but this is an area where I claim ninja status.

Unfortunately, I think I’ve about maxed out on the pay scale even though I enjoy hosting these shows very much. There’s a definite art to properly hosting any kind of a live show, even though most newbies look upon it as a chore. I’ve never looked at it that way and still don’t. It’s a craft.

Standup comedy is a craft as well, but it’s not at all the same as being a good emcee. There are all kinds of subtle nuances involved, and a good emcee pays close attention throughout the show so as to keep the energy flowing as consistently as possible. When there is a strong act, he or she must bring the audience back down. When there’s a weak one, it’s the opposite. It can be tricky.

Then to make it more difficult, most comedy clubs give the job of emcee to the weakest act on the show with the least amount of experience. It’s the lowest paying position, and it starts a show off terribly in my opinion but that’s become the tradition over time. It weakens the whole show.

Zanies is one of the few clubs anywhere that places a premium on a quality emcee. It’s smart to do that, and doesn’t cost all that much more. The audience tonight got a much better show for the $10 they paid because I knew what I was doing even if they didn’t know it. I took charge tonight.

When it comes to hosting standup comedy shows, I have achieved ninja status.

When it comes to hosting standup comedy shows, I have achieved ninja status.

A Date In Stone

February 8, 2014

Monday February 3rd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

It has been roughly six weeks now, and I’m still riding a high from the thought of reconnecting with my siblings. It has already changed my entire life for the better, and I feel it every day. I am very realistic in what I’m expecting from the actual meeting, and whatever happens I can handle.

All I ever wanted was closure, and I do think I’ll get it. The email exchanges I’ve had with my brother Bruce have gone tremendously well, and I can tell that he’s on the same wavelength that I am. Him getting our sister Tammy to come along was huge, as I wouldn’t have been able to do that. I don’t even know how to get a hold of her, but she agreed through Bruce to be a part of it.

Our other brother Larry is in too, and that’s everyone. I never really had a falling out with him, but for whatever reason we just fell out of touch. It’s been years, and I’ll be glad to see them all. It could have happened one at a time I suppose, but it’s going to happen all at once and I love it. I’m glad we’re all on the same page, and we’ve waited long enough. I’m looking forward to this.

Bruce will be flying up from Florida in March, and our scheduled meeting date is set for March 8th. Of course I have received several inquiries for bookings on that night – and well paid ones at that – but this is one time I wouldn’t think about budging. I’ve cleared my calendar, and that’s it.

There will be a lot of emotion I’m sure, and I want to enjoy every minute of it. I never thought I’d get this opportunity, and I don’t intend on blowing it. I know there’s a possibility it could get uncomfortable or even ugly, but even if that happened I won’t be upset. It won’t come from me.

I highly doubt it will come from the others either. This has been painful far too long, and even getting us all in a room is a major accomplishment. I don’t want anything but peace and closure, and from the tone of Bruce’s email that’s what everyone else wants too. If I have to sit through a few awkward moments I’m more than willing to do that for the chance at turning this all around.

Whatever happens after that date is really unimportant. I would love to be able to stay in touch with all of them, and at least have an open door for the rest of our lives. We are all getting older, and life isn’t guaranteed to anyone of any age. I’m glad we can do this while we’re all still alive.

I can only speak for myself, but I’m ecstatic this is happening. It has made my whole life better before it even happens, and the rest is gravy. It’s affecting the rest of my life, and I’m finding the change to be exactly what I wanted. All kinds of new people are coming into my life, and I feel a healthy and positive vibe everywhere. It should have been like this all along, but now it finally is.

The load that has been lifted off of my entire life is enormous, and I know now six weeks later that this was no temporary bipolar manic upswing. This was exactly where the source of my pain was for so long, and it has been addressed dead on. The results will have a major impact forever.

They already have. Absolutely everything about my life is markedly better, and I attribute this fact directly to this particular event. This was exactly what I needed, and I hope we can all come out of it better people with hope for the future. If nothing else, I want us to end any hostilities of the past and let the healing begin for us all. It already has for me, and it’s the best I’ve ever felt.

I don't know exactly how long it's been since all of my siblings and I have been in the same room, but it's been decades. We're scheduled to do it March 8th, and I'm thrilled beyond words.

I don’t know exactly how long it’s been since all of my siblings and I have been in the same room, but it’s been decades. We’re scheduled to do exactly that on March 8th, and I’m thrilled beyond words.

Manufactured Mania

February 6, 2014

Sunday February 2nd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I have wanted to see a Super Bowl in person since I was a kid, and I still do. My reasons are no longer the same, but if I ever get the chance I’ll definitely go. I used to want to go only to see my beloved Green Bay Packers win the ultimate prize, but now I’d like to observe all the marketing.

It would be great if the Packers happened to be in it, but it’s not necessary. I want to experience the manufactured mania for myself, and see what I can learn. That’s the biggest single event that I can think of, at least in the United States. I’m sure the World Cup and Olympics are also giants, but they’re both spread over time and space. The Super Bowl is a one day shot for a single city.

There are events the whole week, but the main event is the game. I’d like to see how the people in charge run everything, and I’m sure it’s much more complicated since 9/11. As a rule I usually don’t like big crowds, but for that I’d make an exception. That’s an experience I’d like to have.

I went to see the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and I’m still glad I did. I was already working in Nashville anyway, so it wasn’t that far of a drive. I bought a ticket from a scalper to see the track and field events, and it was worth every penny. I don’t remember exactly how much I paid, but it was significant. I think it was maybe $200 as I recall, but the experience I got is with me today.

The $200 would have been long spent on something forgettable like rent or car repairs, so I am glad I made the investment. I had the opportunity to go to a World Series game in Milwaukee in 1982, and I passed it up. The ticket would have cost $50, and I wasn’t about to pay it at the time. I assumed I would have plenty more chances to see my hometown Brewers in the World Series.

Right. And what did I do with that $50? Nothing I can remember, and certainly nothing that is close to experiencing a World Series game in person. Life is to be lived, and I completely wasted that particular opportunity. Should it come up again, I’ll choose more wisely. Who says it will?

I suppose I could go to the World Series any year if I wanted, but I don’t really want to unless it’s to see a team I happen to like a lot. Maybe if I’m in a town that happens to be hosting a game and I get a chance to go, I’ll do it. But it’s only one game. A Super Bowl is THE main attraction.

I really wanted to go a couple of years ago when the Packers were playing the Steelers down in Dallas. It was a brand new stadium, and there were tickets available. The weather was especially nasty and I didn’t have a plane ticket, so I decided not to go. Was it a correct choice? We’ll see.

This wasn’t the year, as I had no interest whatsoever in sitting outside in New York. I can have all the ugly weather I want right out my front door, I don’t have to pay big money for it. I’ll wait until it’s in a warm weather location, and go from there. Hopefully I can rustle up a free ticket or better find a way to get paid to be there. Whatever the case, I’d love to see one before I cash out.

Spectacle and showmanship are extra difficult to pull off effectively because there are all kinds of elements that need to come together at once – not the least important of which is the throng of people required to make anything that big that big. Dress rehearsals are fine, but when the curtain is raised for real there’s no turning back. I’d love to have an opportunity to be part of that energy.

I have wanted to see a Super Bowl live since I was a kid.

I have wanted to see a Super Bowl live since I was a kid. I still do.

In a perfect world, the Green Bay Packers would win by several touchdowns.

In a perfect world, the Green Bay Packers would win by several touchdowns.

The halftime show would be George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic.

The halftime show would be George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic.

Since I'm dreaming already, she'll be my date.

Since I’m dreaming already, she’ll be my date.

A Lion’s Share

February 6, 2014

Saturday February 1st, 2014 – Kalida, OH

Last week I was in Woodburn, IN. Tonight it was Kalida, OH. Three weeks ago I’d never even heard of either of those towns, and I was pretty good in geography class in my day. These are not places I ever intended to go, but after being there I’m glad I went. The laughter made it worth it.

It didn’t hurt that there was a paycheck involved either. Both these shows were fundraisers for worthy causes, and at the end of each night everyone was a winner. I’d do shows like these every single night of the year if they’d let me, but it’s not that easy. There’s a lot behind the scenes that needs to get done before any show can happen, and the last two weeks it was all done correctly.

Tonight we did a fundraiser for the Lions Club of Kalida. Apparently they’ve been doing them for ten years, and have been using comedians the whole time. I don’t know how they’d found out about Tim Walkoe, but I’m glad they did. Tim asked me to do it with him, and it made for one of the strongest lineups I can think of for any show. We’re both solid headliners, and we kicked ass.

The people in charge knew it too, and they were beside themselves with delight after the show. I knew we’d deliver, and they said it was the best show they’d ever had. Of course it was, but we both sacrificed decades of our lives to get to the point of being able to do it. They got a bargain at whatever price they paid, as getting one much less two acts like us in one night was a super buy.

Tim and I talked about it on the way back to the hotel. Not many acts of any sort would be able to pull off a red hot show like this no matter what they’re called. Most ‘comedians’ would be far too dirty, and most ‘humorists’ wouldn’t be able to get consistent laughs all evening like we did.

We both knew exactly what to do, as we’ve been at it for so long. This was a diverse group and not an easy read. There were ages ranging from 20s to 70s, and it takes a seasoned pro to pull off a show that makes them all laugh. Everyone might not get every single joke, but at the end of the night everyone had a great time. Nobody knew how much work went into it, and nobody cared.

It wasn’t their job to care. All they had to do was show up and have fun – and they did. It was a super deal with a dinner/show package that featured an all-you-can-eat steak dinner plus as much beer as you could drink. Normally that would be a giant red flag, but it ended up working well.

There weren’t any issues with drunken heckling, and in fact they were an excellent audience. It was a pleasure to perform for such a well behaved and attentive crowd, and they were all there to support the cause and laugh. Whatever the people who ran it did, they hit it all right on the head.

They got the word out with the town and surrounding areas, and I didn’t see an open seat in the whole place. I’d estimate there were probably 400 people in the Lions Club, and they brought in a very good sound system too. We had the tools we needed, and we knew what to do with them.

This was a home run from every angle. I have to believe there are groups like this in thousands of towns like this I’ve never heard of – and many more that I have. Getting people to set them up as well as this one was and last week in Woodburn, IN is a different story. They all did their jobs and it made ours easy. It isn’t like this every week, but for the last two it’s been comedy heaven.

I had never heard of Kalida, OH before last night. I'm glad I did. What nice people live there.

I had never heard of Kalida, OH before last night. I’m glad I did. What nice people live there.

Tim Walkoe and I did a comedy fundraiser for a packed house. It benefitted the local Lion's Club.

Tim Walkoe and I did a comedy fundraiser for a packed house. It benefited their local Lions Club.

Early Departure

February 6, 2014

Friday January 31st, 2014 – Findlay, OH

This is turning out to be an especially nasty winter, but we’ve been due for one for a few years now so I’m not complaining. If I’m going to be based where I am, it has to be expected. I’d love to be based somewhere else in the winter, and maybe that will happen in the future. But not now.

I have a booking tomorrow night in Kalida, OH with Tim Walkoe, but there’s a big snow storm on the way and Tim suggested we drive tonight to beat it. I had a booking tonight that got moved to a future date, so I happened to be off and agreed with Tim. It’s much less stress to get in early.

We agreed to split the cost of a rental car, and since Tim was working on a cruise ship he asked if I wouldn’t mind picking it up and then picking him up at his house in Chicago. He had been on a plane all day, and I totally know what that’s like. Getting to the next gig is always a challenge.

Tim has been out there slugging even longer than me. He started as a musician, and still plays a guitar at the end of his show – much to the delight of audiences. Guitar acts are often mocked by comedy ‘purists’, and I can see why. They often use the guitar as a crutch, and it’s a cheap laugh.

Those that do it well take it to a whole new level, and Tim is one. He is a brilliant comic talent in his own right, one of the funniest I’ve ever seen. He has a natural rhythm that lays me out, and most comedians that have ever worked with him will agree. He has huge respect from his peers.

He can slug it with the best of them, and then he picks up his guitar at the end and takes it even higher. I love to watch him work, and he still makes me laugh out loud even though I’ve seen his act literally hundreds of times. That’s the true sign of a seasoned pro, and Tim is definitely that.

I picked him up at his house about 7:30, and we started driving to Findlay, OH where the hotel we’d be staying at tomorrow was so we wouldn’t have to move. We were able to get a corporate rate from the event booker and it was a really nice place, so we decided to make the investment.

That’s part of the cost of doing business, and we’ve both been at it long enough to know it was a wise choice to beat the weather and worth every penny we spent. The stress it saved us from an all day white knuckle ride tomorrow was appreciated – especially by Tim who just flew all day.

I hadn’t seen him in a while, and started to tell him of my change in thinking of late. I’m trying to avoid as many of these trips as I can, and get myself more corporate type bookings that are far less demanding as far as frequency of travel. I don’t have the need to be on stage like I once did.

I could feel a separation between us as I talked about it, and it was very awkward. He’s still out there slugging, and I have nothing but respect for him for doing it. It’s a flat out brutal existence, and nobody works harder than Tim Walkoe. He started years before I did, and is still at it today.

I understand why he’s doing it, as I did it myself all these years. But I’m finding my life going a totally different direction, and I’m fine with it. Being on stage is fun, but truthfully at this point it just isn’t worth racing the elements to obtain. I have other interests developing, and the stage just isn’t the necessary element of daily life it once was. I can’t speak for Tim, but as for me I like it.

Tim Walkoe is without a doubt one of the funniest comedians working today. Period. www.timwalkoe.com.

Tim Walkoe is without a doubt one of the funniest comedians working in North America today. Period. http://www.timwalkoe.com.

A Secret Agent

February 6, 2014

Thursday January 30th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

My friend Marc Schultz is a second generation talent booker who has been around the business his entire life. His father had an office in downtown Chicago, and Marc has been able to see with his own eyes how the game of live entertainment has evolved since the ‘60s. It’s a new ballgame.

Marc has been able to adapt and change with the times, and is still in business today. He knows what he’s doing, and I have great respect for his lifetime of hands on experience in the field. We have lunches regularly, and I constantly learn from him about the bigger picture of the business.

Marc’s father used to book a lot of circus acts, and Marc still does. If you need an elephant or a high flying trapeze act, Marc is your source. There aren’t many people anywhere that know how to find those acts, and it’s been a successful niche for decades. Marc is a straight up guy and very honest, and everything is above board with him. That’s why he’s been able to stay in it so long.

Part of his evolution has been having to expand into other areas, and that’s where I come in. He gets requests for cabaret type acts on occasion, and I’m on his list for comedians. He books a few magicians, jugglers and other variety acts, and comedy falls into that category. I probably get one or two bookings a year from Marc on average, but they’re always good and they pay pretty well.

The thing that stands out about Marc is that he knows the acts he books inside and out. When a client calls and tells him what kind of entertainment they’re looking for, Marc can offer the right list of people that will do the best job for the best price. He has invested a lifetime in learning it.

That was something he learned from his father, as that’s how the game worked then. A client’s trust was placed with the booker, and it was up to the booker to deliver the goods. They had the responsibility of determining which acts were competent enough to do the job and hiring them.

As with a lot of fields, the internet has changed everything. Clients no longer need to develop a trust with an experienced booker, because every bad act and their grandma’s uncle has a website and there’s no real need for a middle man anymore – or at least that’s what most clients assume.

Marc doesn’t have a website at all, and he’s proud of that fact. He thinks the internet has ruined the entertainment business, and the more I see the direction it’s all going the more I have to agree with him wholeheartedly. It’s now a big unorganized mess, and that penalizes the professionals.

Most people that book live entertainment only do it on rare occasions. They might use it as part of an annual event like a corporate holiday party for example, and they aren’t familiar in the least with what they’re doing. They can – and often do – easily make a stupid mistake based on price.

Booking the lowest priced entertainer sight unseen is about as smart as looking for the surgeon that’s offering the best deal on a quadruple bypass. It’s always better to go with the experienced one and pay a little more, rather than save five bucks and get completely stung. It’s a no brainer.

Unfortunately, most people that book entertainment like that have no brains. They THINK they may know what they’re doing, but they totally don’t. Then prices come down for the good acts.

This has become a real problem, and I talk with Marc about it quite a bit. His clients and he are on the same page, but it has taken a lifetime to get there. He has developed a satisfied client base across North America, and much of his business comes from word of mouth. He’s done the job.

When someone that has no clue takes a stab at booking live entertainment, it’s a total crap shoot with the odds favoring the crap. If all that’s available to consult are the acts themselves, they will of course make lofty promises to “do a good job”. Then they’ll tank it and blow it for all eternity.

I’ve seen this happen in the standup comedy world too many times to count. Somebody is hired for a private show for big money because they knew someone in the company that had the ear of the person in charge of hiring, and then they’re terrible and the company never hires anyone else.

This is one of the main reasons I’m now looking to brand myself as a “business humorist”, but that’s also no guarantee there aren’t leakers in that field as well. I’ve made a point to check out a few of those people, and quite frankly I’m not all that impressed. Not many are able to pull it off.

The ultimate goal for any entertainer is to eventually have name recognition. I do to a very tiny degree, but most of that is with bookers. Marc Schultz knows what I can do, and knows I am one of the most versatile acts he can use. I have vast experience, and won’t embarrass him in a pinch.

Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago know it too. I have worked for them so long without an issue and produced consistent results, they know what they’re getting every time. They can send me to any of their clubs or any private event and know they don’t have to worry. That’s good for us all.

Dealing with higher paying private clients isn’t like that. They often go for someone that won’t be the best fit only because they happen to have a flashy website or a five minute video that may catch their eye. Five minutes isn’t a full show, and like a movie trailer often has all the best lines.

People like Marc are a lot more important than clients may think, but they don’t realize it. He’d charge them a fair price for the entire package – even though it may seem like it’s higher than the process of scouring the internet looking at random websites. In the end, it’s worth the final price.

Even worse is dealing with the dreaded “committee”. Every one of my orifices pucker instantly just thinking about that word. This is just the spreading of incompetence to a group rather than an individual idiot that has no clue whatsoever. I’ve lost many a booking to a committee’s brilliance only to find out they booked the wrong act and it was a total disaster. Welcome to show business.

My speaker friend Todd Hunt talks about dealing with committees all the time. He often sends me emails of rejection he gets on an almost daily basis, and they’re beyond ridiculous. But that’s how the game is played, and if I’m going to get in it and win I need to be aware of all the aspects so I can play it correctly. The focus needs to be on marketing, and that’s what I am working on.

I’ve been compiling testimonials of late, and I’ve never done that before. In the comedy world that wasn’t an issue. Now it is. I’ve got a proven track record for decades, but people hiring have no idea about any of it unless I tell them and provide people they can call to verify. I am going to do what it takes to succeed at this game. I’ve come too far to get clumped in with everyone else.

If you ever need to book a circus, my friend Marc Schultz can get you any act you need - including an elephant.

If you ever need to book a circus, my friend Marc Schultz can get you any act you need – including an elephant.

Not sure where to find this guy, but I hope he doesn't put his wallet in his back pocket.

Not sure where to find this guy, but I hope he doesn’t put his wallet in his back pocket.

My speaker friend Todd Hunt has to deal with idiots all day that are too cheap to use an agent with experience. Despite the look on his face in this picture, Todd is very good at what he does. www.toddhuntspeaker.com.

My speaker friend Todd Hunt has to deal with idiots all day that are too cheap to use an agent with experience. Despite the look on his face in this picture, Todd is very good at what he does. http://www.toddhuntspeaker.com.