Archive for May, 2014

Goodbye For Now

May 23, 2014

Friday May 23rd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Since everything else in my life is broken at the moment, why not make it a matched set? I am going to take a break from writing my daily diary for a while, and I have no idea how long it will be. When I started, I wanted to see if I could do it thirty straight days. That was March 14, 2006.

I’ve always been a diary keeper, but I have no idea why. I just thought it was neat to be able to look back over things that happened in the past – even though I rarely if ever read any of what I write. Once it’s done it’s done, and the main joy I get is from the doing. That’s why I’ve done it.

As a kid I wrote about things like going to see live professional wrestling matches with my best friend Timbo who would eventually go on to commit not one but two bank robberies. Worse yet, he tried to pin one on me and I had to wear a wire to get him to confess and then testify in court.

I chronicled that orally on cassette tapes, and I still have them somewhere. I’ve never been able to listen to them, as that time is still a painful memory. At the end of every day I’d narrate all that happened, but I kept it under three minutes. Maybe someone will want to hear them in the future.

This particular incarnation of keeping a daily diary has changed my life – both good and bad. If nothing else it has given me a discipline I didn’t know I had. I now have literally THOUSANDS of pages of stories and events and opinions that I can sort through and use however I feel like it.

I have no idea what I could use it for, but there has to be some kind of a book in here wouldn’t one think? Many times I wrote with the young comedian of the future in mind, hoping to shed an ounce of insight on the insanity of the business and also the actual craft of comedy. I think I did a good job in sharing subtle and not so subtle points that are timeless and can help a lot of people.

Other times I just ranted about what was making my innards percolate, and some of it ruffled a few feathers. Actually, more than a few. I am now banned from several comedy clubs and people have told me how surprised I’d be at who actually reads what I write. Well, that’s 100% correct.

Frankly, I’m shocked anyone has read it at all. I did it mainly for me, but am delighted that I had some regular readers that actually got what I was trying to say and do. Others couldn’t stand my point of view, and chose to excommunicate me from communities I didn’t even know I was in.

Whatever the case, it’s exactly as advertised – a diary of a ‘dented can’. I’m struggling in many areas of my life right now, and just need to take a break and get myself better. As a rule I haven’t been afraid to discuss anything and everything in my life – even the very deepest darkest parts.

Well, in the last week and a half since Mother’s Day I’ve been going through a situation I don’t want to talk about right now. It’s personal, and I need to deal with it for a while. I have helped as many others as humanly possible over a lifetime, but now it’s time to focus on me for a while.

I may start up again in a month, a year – or never. I just don’t know. What I do know is that my life is all over the place and needs some regular structure. I think I’m going to go as far as trying the day job route, just so I can get my head straight and see what’s really important. Comedy has changed drastically just as life has, and everyone is in a constant state of transition. I am as well. If you enjoyed reading my thoughts, THANK YOU! If you didn’t, I thank you for at least taking the time to read my ramblings. I’m going to use this time off to recharge and regroup. Hope to be back again. Goodbye for now.

Thanks for reading my daily 'Dented Can' diary if and whenever you did so. I'm going to take a break for a while, not sure how long. Goodbye for now!

Thanks for reading my daily ‘Dented Can’ diary if and whenever you did so. I’m going to take a break for a while, not sure how long. Goodbye for now!

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Reboot Needed

May 12, 2014

Sunday May 11th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Happy Mother’s Day – and I mean it. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Christmas all should be celebrated to their fullest by everyone possible. I just happen to be an exception to a rule I had no part whatsoever in writing. We all get poker hands dealt in life, and it’s up to us how to play.

I happened to get the hand I did, and by now I’m really sick of playing it. I thought I was going to be playing high stakes poker when I sat down at life’s table, but at this point I’ve got a hand of Jokers, Uno cards and the old maid. I don’t even know what the hell game I’m playing anymore.

I wish I could just start over and have a chance to succeed somewhere. A reboot would help me shuffle those cards and hopefully get a hand I can potentially win in life. Right now, I’m circling the drain and nobody hears my cries for help. To me they’re plain as day, but nobody else hears.

All I’m asking for is a chance to work steadily and earn a respectable living at what I was made to do – entertain people. It wouldn’t take all that much to turn my life around in just a few weeks of steady work. Three months on a cruise ship would change my life, as would a tour of comedy clubs in bigger cities or something like a Bob and Tom tour. It’s not like I wouldn’t do the job.

I’m in my absolute prime right now, and every second I’m not using my talents they’re wasting away and soon will be gone. Just because a few people don’t like me personally, I seem to be off the radar of the entire world. The saying “When you’re hot you’re hot” works in both directions.

I have heard all kinds of stories of people getting one break and it turning their life around, but are any of them completely true? Stories often tend to get bent in translation, and a legend comes into play that might not be totally accurate. All I know is I could stand a break right about now.

Everything is piling up around me, and I feel like Adam West’s Batman character being caught in some trap where there looks to be no escape. He and Robin always managed to get themselves free and stay alive at the last second, but that’s the TV version. Real life works quite differently.

I don’t know what else to say other than I’ve tried everything I know how to try and I’m out of ideas as to what to do next. I’m having a hell of a time faking it, and at some point I’m just going to snap and that will be it. I’m trying my best to avoid that, but how? What is going to change?

Last night I opened the show for a very nice and funny lady named Caryn Bark. She is known in the Jewish community, and we performed at her synagogue of all places. That’s fine, and I’m unbelievably flattered that she would ask me to open for her. I only had to do about half an hour, and that’s not very difficult as a rule. That wasn’t the case tonight, and it was anything but easy.

Were they nice people? Absolutely. Was it my crowd? Absolutely not. They were older Jewish people that were there to see Caryn. Caryn does a lot of Jewish material in her show, and she was terrific. They loved her, and well they should have. They didn’t hate me, but I wasn’t their thing.

The fact that I’m even doing gigs like this so far into the game is a major red flag. I should be a draw by now, and have an audience of people coming to see me like they came to see Caryn. She is a very smart business person, and also funny. I don’t begrudge her in the least and I don’t want to sound ungrateful either. I’m the one that is in the line of fire here, and I don’t know how to fix the problem. If I did, I would have done it years ago. Something went wrong, and needs a reboot.

I just wish I knew what it was. There are so many things broken right now, I don’t know where to start or what to look to fix first. The pain about the situation with my mother is not ever going to go away. It may fade into the background for a while, but days like today it will come back to torture me for as long as I’ll be alive. The damage is done, and I don’t see how it can be repaired.

For the longest time I wasn’t sure if she was living or dead, but I did get confirmation from my brother Larry that she is indeed still alive and living about an hour north of Milwaukee. He’s the one that has always been in touch with her the most over the years, but he isn’t thrilled about it.

There are just some people alive that should flat out not breed. I’ve done a comedy bit about it for years, and it lays crowds out. Unfortunately, I happen to be the product of two prime parents that qualify for the list. Both of them should have been spayed, neutered, clipped, trimmed, fed salt peter, sterilized, fixed or whatever other term anyone wants to use. Why was I ever born?

There’s no way life needs to be this difficult. It’s like trying to run a car engine without oil. It’s going to seize up at some point, and that’s where I feel my life is right now. It’s miraculous that I made it this far, but after taking so bad of a pounding for so many years I’m just too banged up to continue under my own power. I need a hand from somewhere, but it’s not coming. I feel so lost.

And to think just a few months ago I was feeling on top of the world. My drive to Tucson and back for New Year’s Eve week was a total blast in many ways. That’s how life should be every week, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why it isn’t. I’ve come so close so many times, but then through no fault of my own I’m out of the groove again off my game. It gets SO frustrating.

A radio job somewhere would be fantastic. Again, it’s not like I haven’t paid my dues or would stink up the joint. I’ve got legit experience at some real radio stations, and my ability hasn’t ever been the issue. It’s always some outside factor I can’t control, and I can’t keep taking direct hits.

If I’m going to keep plugging, I’m going to have to have some stability. Period. If I can’t find a way to do that my life will be over a lot sooner than later. The stress of keeping it together week to week is really starting to take a hefty toll. I feel the life draining from me, and I can’t stop it.

It’s like I’m a plate spinner and all my plates are coming down at once. What the hell do I do to stop it without turning everything into a Three Stooges pie fight? I wish I knew. I’ve been trying as hard as I can to figure that out my whole life, but it’s been especially tough since getting fired from the radio job at The Loop in Chicago in 2004. It’s ten years ago now, but it still haunts me.

I put all my chips on the table for that gig, and it was looking like I would be set for life. There is no reason I shouldn’t be other than some clueless nimrod decided to fire us because “once in a while change for the sake of change is good.” Well, apparently that was one of those times in the confines of his marble sized brain and ten years later here I sit debating whether to off myself.

I really don’t see why I’m alive right now, and I can’t scream out any louder for help. One day I will just pick up a rope and a maid will find me swinging from some hotel room shower head and that’ll be it. I’ll get my picture in their local nose blower – and they’ll spell my name wrong.

Looking back over my life it seems like such a waste. I was given a scoop of talent, and when I tried to develop it I kept getting my legs clipped out from under me. When I asked for help there was nobody there, and there still isn’t today. I’m hurting. Thanks Mom! Happy Mother’s Day.

This pretty much sums up my position in life these days.

This pretty much sums up my current life situation.

Mother Flunker

May 11, 2014

Saturday May 10th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I am in pain today. It is excruciating pain. It is a pain so intense and overwhelming that I don’t want to live anymore pain. I thought I would never have to come back to this horrible place, but here I am. It is an ugly and a terrifying place. I wish I wasn’t so damn familiar with it. But I am.

It’s like my soul is a teatherball attached to a giant rope on a pole, and no matter how hard I try to escape I just come back to where I started. This is the place I have been trying so diligently to escape from as long as I can remember, but here I am again and I don’t know how to deal with it.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and I have been getting that stinging fact rammed down my throat every time I have turned on my radio for the last week. It’s been non-stop, and it’s getting to me just like Christmas ads. It’s unavoidable, and a constant reminder of what I have missed in life.

I must admit, I assumed getting back in touch with my siblings would finally remove that pain, and to some degree I think it did in the Christmas department. I felt a strong need for some kind of closure, and I got it. One dinner meeting doesn’t mean everything is now “fixed”, but it was a gigantic step in the right direction. At least they showed up so we could compare notes as adults.

I didn’t think we’d ever have the chance to do that but we did, and I know it was good for all of us. I’ve been in touch with my brother Bruce since, and it’s been all positive. He was the one that I never dreamed would be willing to come around but he’s been unbelievably great. I hope we’re all able to keep it going so we can heal. It took a long time to get it done, but it was SO worth it.

Deep inside I always felt that if we could just sit down peacefully as adults we would be able to talk things out intelligently, and that’s pretty much what we did. I don’t anticipate any arguments with any of them ever again, only because it takes two to argue and I’m not up for it. If they had smoldering issues with me, I’m sure anything would have been brought up during our meeting.

The issues we all had with our tyrant father are hopefully dead along with him. We don’t miss him, but we all missed out on a nurturing father/child relationship. He was a vicious bastard, and a bully to boot. He didn’t love himself and he sure didn’t love us, but his memory is now fading.

With my mother it’s a different story. All of us are united on the fact our father was a pecker of epic proportions, but our mother situations are all different. Bruce’s mother and I never hit it off, but I will say she doted over Bruce and gave him everything she could under the circumstances.

I say good for Bruce and good for her. She was forced into the role of step mother, and I have a whole different view of it now than I did then. Bruce was her only child, and I see why it worked like it did. It was brutal to deal with back then, but I get it now and have no hard feelings at all.

Whatever problems Bruce may have sure don’t originate from a lack of love and attention from his mother. In retrospect I’m very happy for him, because he doesn’t have that hideous feeling of total isolation that I have felt for a lifetime. It’s overwhelming, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

My mother Jean left abruptly when I was five months old. Tammy was 4 ½ and Larry was 2 ½, and that can’t be good for any of us. Kids need a father figure at the very least, but the mother is the source of loving and nurturing and life itself. Fathers take off all the time, but whoever hears of mothers doing it? I can’t think of many others, and most people can’t relate to the aftershock.

Looking back from an adult perspective, I have no doubt my mother leaving when I was at the age I was did major damage to my emotional growth. How could it not? I have to believe it was also devastating to Tammy and Larry. They were to the age where they had at least some sort of memories of her. Larry might have been a tad young, but I would think Tammy still has some.

I never talked about this with either of them, because it just never felt right. I was never all that close with any of them growing up, and it was a delicate subject that wasn’t ever brought up. Our father never sat us down and told us what went on, so it kind of got swept under the rug forever.

This is all very deep and personal, but I’m writing about it because I need to get it out so others that have similar struggles – and I hope they are VERY few and far between – can know they’re not alone and hopefully gain at least a little comfort in knowing others are suffering like they are.

I don’t enjoy knowing that others are in pain too, but it does make me feel a little less freakish. Nobody wants to be out there all alone, but that’s where I’ve been for as long as I can remember. I grew up with our grandparents, and Tammy and Larry stayed with our father who’d married the woman that became Bruce’s mother. They all grew up in the same house, while I was the freak.

People have told me my entire life to just “shut up and get over it already” and “that was in the past” and any other kind of half baked Zig Ziglar or Hallmark Card cutesy slogan. “God is in the driver’s seat” and “Everything happens for a reason” is really easy to say when you’re doing ok.

Well, I’m not ok and I know it. I’ve tried to “suck it up” and “hang in there” as long as anyone can, but after enough time passes one realizes the hoped for “ship” is just never going to come in. If it hasn’t by now, it isn’t coming. My mother left and never came back, and that’s what dented my can the deepest. If she was dead at least I could have closure, but she isn’t. All I have is pain.

My self esteem and self worth is completely in the toilet. How the hell could I expect to attract the ideal quality mate when I’ve got so many things still hurting so badly inside? If I at least had some financial security I wouldn’t be under so much constant stress to survive month to month.

The people that tell me to “lighten up your blog” can kiss the fuzziest part of my pink buttocks. This is not for you. If you want light and fluffy, go read Marmaduke in your morning newspaper. This is mainly for myself, but also those that have had to navigate their own insane life jungle. It isn’t easy even when things are ‘normal’, but for dented cans life can be absolute hell on Earth.

That’s where I am now, and I’m not going to lie. I am REALLY hurting to the point of wanting to end my life. I’ve had enough and I can’t stand the pain anymore. I have talked to a few shrinks over the years, and I guess it maybe helped a little at the time – but I don’t see what’s so different about writing about it here. The only hope I have is that it might give someone else a little hope.

No matter what happens, I can honestly and proudly say I have tried my best to pay back all of the bad breaks I’ve caught in life with good. I never thought I was the only one suffering, but my problems are far from what most others face. I have helped a large number of other people when I didn’t have to, and I did it because it was the right thing to do. Warts and all, I do have a heart.

What I don’t have is someone to go to when I need a boost. Where was my mother? I never got even ONE hug, or a cake for my birthday or anything a child is supposed to get from a mother. If you haven’t experienced that deep emptiness, you have zero right to tell me what to write about.

No matter how old I get, there's always going to be a lost little boy inside looking for his mother.

No matter how old I get, there’s always going to be a lost little boy inside looking for his mother.

Rickles Still Tickles

May 10, 2014

Friday May 9th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I forgot to mention yesterday that it was the birthday of Don Rickles, who turned 88. He’s been one of my very favorite comedians my entire life, and one of the few big names I haven’t crossed paths with at some point. I almost got to meet him once, but then he had to cancel due to illness.

He is the elder statesman these days as far as comedy royalty goes, and there will never ever be another like him for many reasons. He was able to pull off an extremely delicate style of comedy that is quickly being exterminated by the insane oversensitivity of modern political correctness.

There is a barely visible fine line between outrageously funny and over the top offensive, and Don has been able to walk it masterfully for decades. Not many could come close to doing what he does, although many have tried and failed miserably. Don would be the equivalent of the guy that gets paid to diffuse bombs. One wrong maneuver, and there’s no 401K or a retirement plan.

But with great risk comes great reward, and Don Rickles has forged himself his own one man brand that still identifiable today. He was on TV when I was a kid, and he’s still on today. He’s a lot older now, but the basic act is still the same. How many musicians have hung on that long?

Part of what makes him so great is that he has off the charts likeability. The audience can sense his insults aren’t meant to be hurtful, and that’s EVERYHING when doing that style of humor. If he were a dashing young bull hunk with a full head of flowing hair and a mouth full of piano key teeth, he or anyone else would be hard pressed to pull off the act he does. He’s the perfect patsy.

Another part of what makes him so great in my opinion is his consistent ability to work in such a wide variety of situations. I’ve never seen him live, but on television he’s been tremendous as a roaster on the Dean Martin celebrity roasts, a powerhouse guest on almost every talk show in the history of the genre and he’s also a more than competent actor appearing on many classic shows.

I happen to love his work as do millions of others, but there are some that think he’s some kind of racist or bigot. This proves to me how out of control political correctness is, and that’s a whole other topic for another time. Rickles is great because he rips EVERYBODY, and that’s not easy.

His 1967 album “Hello Dummy” could not be released today without the Jesse Jacksons of the world organizing protest marches and demanding him to be reprimanded by the government. It’s insane, and I even saw Rickles get booed on Letterman for cracking an Obama/basketball joke.

Lighten UP already, o pompous and holier than thou world. It’s a JOKE. Nobody can take any jokes anymore, and I think the world is much worse off for it. Rickles points fingers at himself as well as everyone else, and he says a lot of things people think in a funny way. I’m still a big fan.

Standup comedy is difficult enough, but what Don does is way past that. Ripping somebody is a specialized art – especially without offending. It’s easy to rip someone at their own expense to get a laugh from the audience, but doing it without hurting the target’s feelings is not easy to do.

Jay Leno talked about that in an interview once where he said if he saw a bald guy in the crowd he’d rip him about his ugly shirt instead of being bald. The guy would love it because it didn’t go where everyone else did, and I get that concept. I’ve used it myself, and it works really well. Don Rickles is the absolute master of insult comedy, and to still be doing it at 88 proves his greatness.

Don Rickles is he elder statesman of standup comedy these days. He's still going at 88. WOW!

Don Rickles is he elder statesman of standup comedy these days. He’s still going at 88. WOW!

Political correctness has polluted the world. Don's album "Hello Dummy" would cause an uproar if it were released today.

Political correctness has polluted the world. Don’s album “Hello Dummy” would cause an uproar if it were released today.

Comedian Steve Baird

May 9, 2014

Thursday May 8th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

More sad news of a comedian passing away came today, and I have had about enough already. This has been one of if not the worst years I can ever remember for losing comedians, and today it was another funny nice guy named Steve Baird – yet one more I had worked with in my day.

It’s one thing to hear someone from one’s same city or state dies. It happens every day and that is sad enough, but rare is the case where it’s somebody one knows personally. I can look through the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel obituaries – and I occasionally do – but it’s hardly ever anybody I actually knew. Even when comedians die, it’s not always someone I had ever met one on one.

This year it has been one after another, and I’ve crossed paths with them all. First it was David Brenner, then John Pinette. Then it was ventriloquist Otto Petersen of “Otto and George”, now Steve Baird. I know everyone’s number comes up eventually, but this has been way too many.

The camaraderie between comedians runs shallow and deep at the same time. We often pair up randomly when we are hired to work the same venue anywhere from a night to a weekend to the entire week. Many times we’re thrown together to share an apartment for a week, and that’s how our bonds either form or they don’t. I have always gotten along great with most other comedians.

There are a few turds in the litter box, but that percentage is amazingly low. Most road warriors have a respect for one another because we know how hard it is to hack out a living how we do it, and more often than not a mutual respect develops in a very short time. If someone happens to be the real deal, it shows almost immediately. There’s a vibe there, and a kindred soul recognizes it.

Steve Baird and I weren’t as tight as I am with a lot of comics, but I had nothing but respect for him, and thought he was a funny act. He was from Indianapolis originally, but moved to Florida in recent years and I hadn’t talked to him other than when he’d asked me about teaching his own comedy classes. I had no problem with that as he was more than competent, so I helped him out.

I’d never begrudge someone from making extra money hustling legitimately. He wasn’t taking business from me in Florida when I’m in Chicago so I sent him my lesson plans to look over and wished him well. He thanked me profusely, and I was glad to do it. I respected him as somebody who had paid dues and I liked him as a person as well. He had a dry wit and he made me laugh.

There’s a human side to comedians that the public rarely if ever sees, and I’m not sure if they’d want to. We’re painfully human like everyone else, and our lives are not a constant laugh festival where the party never ends. Quite often our lives are loaded with more problems than anybody.

Jim Bouton wrote about that human side of athletes in his book “Ball Four”, and got himself in a flaming heap of trouble for it. Mickey Mantle was moody and drank a bit. So? He was a human being, but the public wants to see their heroes as being infallible and perfect. It may be different in the internet generation, but it used to be taboo. Comedians were in that off limits category too.

Every Major League ball player isn’t famous for a lifetime, and in fact most aren’t remembered at all outside the towns they played in. Comedy is the same. There are hundreds if not thousands of comedians I’ve crossed paths with that will never be famous to the public but I think the world of as people. They chose a hard profession, and that alone earns my respect. Steve Baird was one in that group, and I am crushed to hear this news. He was funny, friendly and he’s gone too soon.

Another funny comedian has passed away far too soon. Steve Baird and I worked together on several occasions. I'm very saddened to hear of his passing.

Another funny comedian has passed away far too soon. Steve Baird and I worked together on several occasions. I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing.

The People Business

May 9, 2014

Wednesday May 7th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I want to talk more about the whole “game” aspect of show business. It’s easy to come off as a crusty old bastard brimming with bitterness – and I’m sure some think I am. Maybe they’re right to a certain degree, but I want to go into the reasons why. It’s not just something I felt like doing.

Most entertainers that last even a little while I find to be of above average intelligence as a rule. This is often where their problems originate, as the public as a rule are a pretty sorry lot. I wish it were different, but it is what it is. Alexander Hamilton’s quote “The masses are asses” rings just as true in 2014 as it did in 1790 when he said it. The bar for greatness has been set painfully low.

Quite often the great artists are on a completely different plane than the public, and that causes great pain because there is no outlet for their artistic output. A lot larger audience wants to see an Adam Sandler movie than wants to see Woody Allen’s next release. Aiming low is a wise target.

This is not to say nobody smart or talented ever makes it, or only idiots do. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I am pointing out is that show business is a people business, and if one has no insight on one’s customers, it’s easy to come crashing down in a hurry. There are rules involved.

There are also dues to be paid like tolls on a highway. The next booth is going to charge you an individual amount for that particular stretch of road, not caring that the last dozen all took a piece of your bank roll. If you want to ride, you have to pay. Period. That’s how it is in showbiz also.

Where the difference lies is that most highways have very detailed maps and it’s easy to find a manageable route. If one doesn’t have a GPS device, there are usually maps of the area put up in rest areas for any and all to freely use to their advantage. Show business’s route is more hidden.

There aren’t any pubic maps posed, and more often than not others on the same highway either don’t know where they’re going or are deliberately on a path to self implosion. That can be part of the DNA makeup of a dented can, and it can cause that person to make unhealthy decisions.

I have made more than my share of unhealthy decisions along my turbulent life trail, but I also made a few solid ones. Probably the most solid has been that I have STAYED WITH IT. I could have put a bullet in my head or the heads of several others by now, but I haven’t. That’s my only advantage at the moment. I’ve been around the block plenty of times, and I have seen the game.

If I do manage to win in the end, I will end up being one of the exceptions people talk about. It isn’t easy for anyone, but my circumstances have been especially difficult. And who would care about that? Uh, NOBODY but me. Where someone comes from is unimportant. All that matters is where one ends up. And if I am going to end up a winner in life the game has got to be played.

A big part of the problem is that I no longer have the hunger to do it – at least at a comedy club level. Been there, done that, burned bridges and learned a lot. That doesn’t mean I can’t enter an entirely different league, and that’s what I intend to do. Corporate humor would qualify, and I’m going to handle myself a lot differently than I did in comedy clubs. I know the rules better now.

The Uranus project is another arena altogether, but there’s still a game involved. I know it now, and I didn’t when I started in comedy. I see things more clearly, and that’s the direct result of all those crippling mistakes. I may have hurt myself, but I’m not dead yet so there is still a chance.

Show business - like EVERY business - is a people business.

Show business – like EVERY business – is a people business. Too bad a lot of people are idiots.

It’s All A Game

May 9, 2014

Tuesday May 6th, 2014 – Niles, IL

One concept I wish I would have grasped a lot sooner in show business – and life itself – is that it’s all a game. As wise as my grandfather was and as many lasting lessons as he taught, I don’t recall that one ever being on his list. If he said it I didn’t hear it, and I know I would have remembered.

Truth and fairness are not the determining factors for most of us, even though we’re taught that if we work hard and keep our noses clean spectacular things will happen. After a lot of lost years hoping that was the case, I am rapidly losing faith. I’m sorry, but this world is run by imbeciles.

Every once in a while someone with legitimate talent, morals and a giving heart slips through a crack somewhere and gets a nice run in the sun – but I have to think even that person knows it’s a fluke and against the odds. It just is. I wish this world were run fairly for all, but it never was.

My grandfather was a perfect example. There was not a more straight up spirit that ever walked this planet. Gramps cared about others and fought hard for what he thought was right. He treated people how he wanted to be treated, and worked hard at a job he really wasn’t fond of but it was what he had to do to support his family like he imagined an ideal husband and father would do.

He toiled and slaved at his job for the City of Milwaukee, and it came time to hand out a major promotion from within to supervisor. Gramps was totally qualified to do that job, but he lost out to another guy in his office that was a better ass kisser. I remember it crushed him at the time.

The reason this came up today is that my friend Marc Schultz organized one of his semiannual entertainer lunches. Everyone from magicians to circus acts to musicians to comedians shows up, and they’re always a lot of fun. Marc is a great guy, and I don’t know of anyone that doesn’t like him. He’s very laid back, and again treats entertainers like people and not farm animals. It’s rare.

The big lunch is held in November, but he’s been having a smaller one in spring of late. It’s at a Chinese restaurant with a private room, and we all hang out and tell war stories. This particular installment was well represented by a stellar lineup of Chicago’s finest comedy talent including Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe, Bill Gorgo, Skip Griparis and me. That’s quite the local all star team.

Other than Bill, the rest of us have worked at Zanies regularly for decades. Skip does musical comedy vignettes, impressions and original songs and is one of the most talented human beings I have ever met. He is world class great at what he does, as are Larry, Tim and Bill at the craft of standup. And I would like to think I’ve got a few marshmallows to bring to the camp fire too.

Between all of us, NOBODY is lighting the world on fire. We’re all getting by at best, but that is as far as it goes. I have huge respect for all those guys, but like Gramps none of them – or me – chose to play the game correctly. We thought just being good at what we do would handle it.

HA! There’s the killer mistake we all made. None of us chose to move to Los Angeles and stay there, and right or wrong that’s where “big time showbiz” happens. Eventually, anybody that hits pay dirt in show business on a big time will have business to do in Los Angeles. That’s how it is.

The fact is, Larry and Tim and Bill and Skip and I happen to like living where we do. It doesn’t appeal to us to play any stupid games, and that’s why we’re where we are. Talent doesn’t matter and rarely does. It’s nice if one has it, but not necessary. All that counts is how to play the game.

This is where it gets dangerous, because unfortunately this is the truth. Nobody wants to hear the truth – especially those in charge. They know everything I just said is on the money, but it’s the 2000 pound elephant in the room. It needs to be ignored, and I have never been good at that.

It’s also easy to get in a mental rut and let bitterness take over. That’s not good either, and it’s easy to do. I have seen quite a few people on a lot of levels rant and rave, and I admit I’ve been known to do it myself. I’m doing it now, but I’m trying to separate bitterness from actual facts.

Here’s an actual fact that needs to be digested by everyone that gets into the entertainment biz on any level: only a precious few ever really “make it” on a big time level, and luck is definitely one of the main ingredients. Hard work is another. Talent does have a place in the mix but there are a lot of talented people so it ends up being a given. Very very rarely is talent that important.

The whole “right place, right time” factor really does exist. It’s huge actually, and very few get themselves in that position either. Bill Gorgo is an example. He is a naturally funny person with an exceptional talent for not only writing jokes but punching up existing ones. He’s also a funny act, and probably could have acted had he chosen that route. He’s very likeable and looks good.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get started in standup comedy until he was 40 years old. He operated a trucking company his father started, and he was the only son so when his father passed it was the thing he felt he had to do. Was he “wrong”? Of course not – in life anyway. But in show business he didn’t play the game. Could he have worked at it part time? That’s hard to say, but I doubt it.

Also, he had a wife and daughter to support and he happens to be Italian and being close to his family is important to him. He helped care for his mother for years, and I respect him greatly for all of that. He did a commendable job in his life choices, but for show business he hurt himself.

He came up the comedy ranks in Chicago at a great time, but had a glass ceiling and was never going to move to L.A. like his and my generation of comedians did. Many of those people are on as solid of footing as there can be in the entertainment jungle. People like Mark Roberts and John Riggi may not be household names, but they have both played the game correctly and won big.

One would think they would automatically reach back and grab all the talented ones they could from their past, but it rarely works that way. Once in a while it may, but it’s not the rule. Chicago might as well be Uranus, and out of sight truly is out of mind. They have their own community.

This is just how the game works, and even though a few exceptions slip through once in a blue moon it’s pretty much a standard blueprint. If one wants to truly hit the big time, one has to get connected with those that make the decisions – and that’s traditionally where the trouble starts.

Who’s to really say what’s “good” in entertainment? Sports is easy to judge. If somebody can perform physically, they’re hired – even if they’re a detestable human being. Acting and comedy and music have a lot more grey area, and a lot of it is who gets the push from the source of power.

Another sad reality is that one is either really big or really small – no in between. I think all of us at the lunch today assumed we could be local stars in Chicago and live with that. Even that did not happen, and here we all are not getting any younger and left to fend for ourselves to eke out a living WAY out of the spotlight. We play the game or don’t, and each choice comes with a price. Is it too late to choose again? Maybe, and likely. The trick is to have a plan in place and work it.

Just like Monopoly, show business - and life itself - is a game. There are rules involved, and the winners learn them early.

Just like Monopoly, show business – and life itself – is a game. There are rules involved, and the winners learn to master them early.

A Future Addiction

May 7, 2014

Monday May 5th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

The last thing I need is another time sucking vampire in my life, but said life rarely if ever lets me have even a little say in much of anything. I can see myself hopelessly falling farther behind in my pursuits more than I already am, and on one hand it scares me to death. On the other, I am thrilled to have discovered online Scrabble through Facebook. I can’t believe I hadn’t played it.

I have long said there are just too many things to do in the 21st Century, and I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. It’s the most amazing time in recorded history while simultaneously being the most frightening. Things are evolving so fast, I don’t know who can keep up. I’ve been lost for years.

Revolutionizing gadgets, gizmos and electronic miracle machines come out seemingly by the day, and most of them are absolutely mind blowing. I have enough to do every day struggling to avoid sleeping under a freeway bridge that I haven’t let myself get sucked up in the technology that only BILLIONS of others sharing this planet use every single day. I am borderline Amish.

I resisted for years to even get a cell phone, but now I can’t live without it. Even though I know the government knows where I am at all times, the advantages far outweigh that pesky little fact. I’m not involved in any criminal activities, so they’re not going to see much other than poverty.

How many billion trillion dollars are spent on video games in modern times? I wouldn’t hazard a guess, but it’s a lot more than kids in my generation spent on baseballs, gloves and bats. I know I’m officially the last of the old school generations, but things really were different when I was a kid. Who can say if it was better without all these George Jetson toys or not? But it is different.

I have loved Scrabble since I was old enough to know what it was. I didn’t have many to play it with then so usually it was my Uncle Dave aka “Hogie” and his wife Charlene aka “Mack”. How the nicknames “Hogie” and “Mack” derived from “David” and “Charlene” is still a family secret. They’re all dead, so nobody is going to be giving it up any time soon. You’ll have to believe me.

“Auntie Mack” as she was known was a wacky cracker from my earliest memory. She was out there way past Uranus and drifting into uncharted space territory. She was one of those that had a better relationship with dogs and cats than with people. When we played Scrabble I would smoke her like a picnic ham from about age twelve on, and she would think I was trying to show her up.

I wasn’t trying to show anybody up. I just loved playing the game, and I wanted to play against the best competition possible. I didn’t care if I lost, I just loved the challenge. Scrabble was made for people like me, as were crossword puzzles. I have loved them all my life, and can’t see losing interest now. It’s probably what will carry me through my pudding years if I hold out that long.

It eventually becomes an issue with any woman I happen to be interested in. If she doesn’t like Scrabble or at least crossword puzzles I’m in for a lonely ride. It keeps the brain sharp, and it’s a lot of fun to compete with someone that’s really good. That’s part of it too. Playing someone just so-so isn’t fun either. I want it to be a challenge for both of us, and it’s tricky to find that person.

There’s a woman I’ve known for a few years who lives in Michigan, and I saw her for lunch on Saturday when I was in the area. She asked me if I liked Scrabble and she had my full attention. I told her I did, and she asked if I wanted to play on line. I had no idea one could, and I’m in it up to my triple word score. I don’t need this distraction, but then again I totally do. I love it already.

Booze? Cocaine? Not interested. Scrabble? Call the Betty Ford Clinic.

Booze? Cocaine? Not interested. Scrabble? Call the Betty Ford Clinic. I’m hooked for life.

Crossword puzzles are my thing as well - but only the hardest ones. I like it when they make me sweat.

Crossword puzzles are my thing as well – but only the hardest ones. I love it when they make my brain sweat.

Craig Ferguson BLOWS…

May 6, 2014

Sunday May 4th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

A few days ago, I happened to write an entry in this very diary about Craig Ferguson. Not that it matters, but I happen to be a fan and I wrote some nice things. I meant them all, and I really do think he is a talented and funny fellow. Appearing on his show was truly a highlight of my life.

I didn’t think much of it, other than I wished him well in his new endeavors. I was sorry to hear he didn’t get the David Letterman slot, and again not that it matters what I think I do believe he’d be the natural choice. The guy is second to none in my opinion, and would have been ideal for it.

Part of me wanted him to get it for my own agenda. He likes to work off the cuff as do I, and it has always been a fantasy for me to pair up with a talk show host that I can shoot lines back and forth with like Rodney Dangerfield had with Johnny Carson. They were a tremendous TV team.

Rodney appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny a whopping 70 times, and it helped make his career. I vividly remember looking forward to it as a teenager, and they always delivered the laughs. I would love to have a national TV outlet to do the same, and Craig Ferguson would have been a great pairing. He doesn’t know that, but I would have been able to keep up with his wit.

I only got to do my standup when I was on, and it was a frightening experience in many ways. I made a lot of mistakes I totally wouldn’t do again, but everyone needs to have their first slot on national television to get the experience over with. It’s very intimidating, but it didn’t kill me.

I’d be MUCH more relaxed and prepared a second, seventh or seventieth time, and I’d love to do it. In all likelihood, it won’t be on the show as it sits. The talent coordinator that booked me is not there anymore, and I don’t have any in. It’s not like Craig and I were buddies beforehand, I only opened for him at Zanies in Vernon Hills, IL and killed time when his plane was delayed and the CBS liaison saw me and told me I was hilarious. That started the process of me being on the show.

When I finally did it, he left the room before I went on. That must be their policy, and I think it is to give the comedians the floor and let them work. Personally, I hoped he’d be in the room and call me over to the couch like Johnny used to do. Still, we crossed paths as he was leaving and I was about to go on and he shook my hand and wished me well. I sensed a genuine spirit in him.

What really blew me away most is when I wrote my recent diary and saw how many loyal fans he has. Wow! I’ve never seen anything like it, and I was beyond impressed. I wrote entries about Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld the two days prior, because it happened to be their birthdays. I didn’t get even ONE response to either of those entries – but when I wrote about Craig I was deluged.

And a persnickety lot they were. They corrected me on my facts and informed me of all he had coming up. I could only dream of having such dedicated fans, and that’s why I’m writing about it now. I’m assuming they are going to find it as they seem to scout out anything that happens to be written about their hero. I do know his birthday is coming up on May 17th, so don’t correct me.

I would LOVE a fiercely loyal fan base like Craig Ferguson has, and I am totally fine with it if a lot of them happen to overlap. I’ll take second place, as long as I’m on the radar. Check out my appearance on the show. It’s on You Tube, but it’s not my best work. I have a DVD and a CD as well, and if you’d like a copy send me an address and I’ll ship out whatever you like. Hopefully you will become my fans too. Craig Ferguson blows…everyone else’s fan base away. Kudos!

Craig Ferguson has THE most loyal fan base I've ever seen. If I could have half that much support I'd be doing more than well.

Craig Ferguson has THE most loyal fan base I’ve ever seen. If I could have even half that much support I’d be doing more than well. PLEASE…be my fans too!

Hen Party Hell

May 6, 2014

Saturday May 3rd, 2014 – South Haven, MI

Night number three of the mini tour, and tonight’s stop in South Haven, MI was the only place of the three that I had performed before. When I was here last time, the crowd was excellent and I took no prisoners. Tonight wasn’t like that, and by the end of the night I felt like the prisoner.

Bachelorette parties have long been the bane of standup comedy, but for whatever reason they never stop coming. I have no idea why it appeals to them, but apparently it does and it’s rarely a good idea for anyone involved – especially comedians. Every one of us eventually battles this.

Tonight was a lost cause from the start, and I could tell when I walked in it was trouble. There were three separate parties in the room – all of them sitting directly in front. Red flag and a half. To make it harder, Jerry Donovan was not the host like he was the past two nights, and I knew I would have my work cut out. No rookie emcee can hope to fend off three bachelorette parties.

No offense to anyone, but ONE party gone astray can ruin a whole show much less three. It’s a disaster waiting to happen, and there’s not a whole lot anyone can do about it. Most venues don’t warn the parties to be quiet during the show, and those that do have it fall on deaf ears. They are usually drunk before they get there, and think it’s ok to be the center of attention the whole night.

Dealing with it from the stage can be maddening, and tonight it absolutely was. There was one particularly gassed up bimbo that would NOT shut her pie hole from the time the show started to the second I got off stage. I never knew I had so much admiration for Ike Turner until tonight.

She would ‘WOOOOO’ like Ric Flair after every joke, and it got to be completely annoying in a very short time. The opening acts were all very nice kids, but they had no idea how to deal with it other than to plow through their jokes. It threw all of them, and I see why. It’s very distracting.

What stinks the most is that the venues are making money off of them so they rarely if ever say or do anything to shut them up. They expect us to deal with it, and sometimes it’s just impossible no matter what we try. I was ready to take the mic stand and crack her skull in half like an egg.

I have absolutely ZERO patience and tolerance left for any of this insanity anymore. If this is what standup comedy is, I don’t want to be in this business anymore. ENOUGH already. I have battled enough drunks for a dozen lifetimes, and it’s like cancer – the one battling always loses.

They might hold out for a while, but the bigger force always wins. Battling cancer and drunks won’t stop either from happening again and again, and I for one am over it. If I didn’t have such respect for Jerry Donovan, I would have just placed the mic in the stand and walked off stage to my car and peacefully driven home. I just don’t have a need to fight through this useless idiocy.

I painfully plowed through my set, and by the end of the night I was about ready to take a hot bath and slit my wrists like Pantangeli in The Godfather Part 2. Phil Anglin came out to see me and that made it worse. He’s one of my most loyal fans, and he drove two hours to see the show. He brought his friend Joe, and they both thought I was great. I thanked them, but I felt SO low.

I guess they weren’t the only ones that liked the show. I had people lined up to tell me they’d really had fun, and Jerry’s wife reported to Jerry that it was a killer night. I sure didn’t see that from my perspective, but I’ll let them think what they think. Still, I loathe bachelorette parties.

Bachelorette parties are almost always hell for comedians. They never look like this...

Bachelorette parties are almost always hell for comedians. They never look like this…

....but frequently behave like this.

….but frequently behave like this.

Comedian Tim Slagle has a classic comedy bit about bachelorette parties. www.timslagle.com.

Comedian Tim Slagle has a classic comedy bit about bachelorette parties. http://www.timslagle.com.