Archive for June, 2014

Rock Star In Rockford

June 30, 2014

Friday June 27th, 2014 – Rockford, IL

Ah, a flash of the good old days. For at least one day I got to be in the comedian groove again. I’ve been out of it for a while, and it felt very much at home to be back. This is what I was born to do – at least the performance part. I got to work in a nice venue in front of a receptive crowd, and there were no long drives to make. This is exactly how I picture my comedy future to look.

Long time Chicago comedian Ken Sevara books monthly comedy shows at a wonderful Italian restaurant in Rockford, IL called Franchesco’s. I was the headliner for their opening night a few years ago, and it’s been a while since I’ve been back. I never bugged Ken about it, and that’s one of my problems. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get lost in the mix because there are so many comics.

He knew I did a killer job, and so did the staff. That was never the question. Quite a few of the staff that remembered me from that night walked up and said hello within ten seconds of walking in the door. I know they weren’t faking, because it’s a busy restaurant with lots of people coming and going all the time. They were sincere, and it felt very satisfying to have them remember me.

There was also a table of people that were there a full 45 minutes before the show that had seen me perform at a place called L.T.’s that ran weekly comedy shows for years. They said they had been waiting for me to come back to town, and didn’t want to miss it. I almost felt like a big star.

I also got to be on the radio this morning with “Stone and Double T” on WXRX, and they have always been fans and treat me great. Their station is probably not my demographic, but it’s still a lot of fun to be on with them so I always say yes whenever they ask. They’re both real people on the radio, and that is SO refreshing. If they were Bob and Tom, I would be a millionaire by now.

They’re not Bob and Tom, and Rockford isn’t Las Vegas – even though the actual room where they do the shows could easily be in Vegas. It’s a gorgeous facility, and has a separate and sound proof entrance from the bar and restaurant area so as to keep the showroom quiet during shows.

They have big screen TVs all over the room that say ‘Comedy Night’, and it’s a perfectly sized and proportioned room that seats probably 150ish. They can show clips of upcoming acts if they like, or list drink and food specials. Everything about this particular space is how it should be for all standup comedy shows, but rarely is. It’s a pleasure to work rooms like this whenever I can.

It’s EXACTLY the kind of venue I’d want to promote my own shows on a consistent basis, but they’re almost nonexistent. This one has just about everything anyone could want, including tons of free parking and a liquor license plus full menu of delicious food. There’s a lot to work with.

I would never infringe on Ken’s room, and that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m just saying it has all the features I’d be looking for to do my own shows. Rockford may be a bit small to shoot for a weekly show anyway, and that’s important to know. It’s easy to burn out in a smaller town.

I’d love a place similar to this in Milwaukee to do ‘Schlitz Happened!’ more regularly, and one in the Chicago area wouldn’t hurt either. Even if I did weekends once a month and promoted the hell out of them I bet I’d develop a following sooner than later. This is the future of the business.

Franchesco's Ristorante in Rockford, IL is a great place to have dinner and see a comedy show. If it's a 'bistro' or a 'ristorante', it's hard to go wrong. www.franchescos.com.

Franchesco’s Ristorante in Rockford, IL is a great place to have dinner and see a comedy show. If it’s a ‘bistro’ or a ‘ristorante’, it’s hard to go wrong. http://www.franchescos.com.

Ken Sevara books the shows, does comedy himself and also hosts a radio show on WIND called 'Fly By Night'. Find him at www.kensevara.com.

Ken Sevara books the shows, does comedy himself and also hosts a radio show on WIND called ‘Fly By Night’. Find him at http://www.kensevara.com.

'Stone and Double T' are two of the nicest - and most competent - radio people I have ever met. I'd do anything for those guys. www.wxrx.com.

‘Stone and Double T’ are two of the nicest – and most competent – radio people I have ever met. I’d do anything for those guys anytime. http://www.wxrx.com.

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Kindness 101

June 28, 2014

Thursday June 26th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

No matter how many complicated problems I have or how disappointed or overwhelmed I feel – and I do on a daily basis – I have not forgotten that the only thing that matters is kindness. I am making it a priority in my life, even when nobody is looking. It’s what makes life worth living.

I’m obviously not perfect, but I feel myself getting into a groove and I really like it. I’m always on the lookout as to how I can make someone at the very least smile a little. That’s a positive, but it takes it to a whole new level if I can get an outward laugh. One to one laughter is comedy too.

Another of my grandfather’s countless wisdom pearls was “Find the ugliest person in the room and make it a point to be extra nice to them. They’ll appreciate it a lot more than everyone else.” I know that’s not P.C., but it’s SO true. Gramps knew how to cut to the chase with total candor.

I’ve always tried to be nice whenever a situation presented itself and I don’t intend to stop, but now I am actively seeking those opportunities before they happen. Holding doors for people in a public place is a great example. Just holding the door itself is nice, but it only takes a teeny tiny smidgeon of extra effort to make it an event. A deep bow and arm gesture can work wonders.

Sometimes a goofy little line like “PRESENTING…his (or her) ROYAL majesty…” will light up a stranger’s face and make them laugh out loud. It doesn’t work every time, but even when it doesn’t I find that especially funny. Imagine what the person must be thinking. I find it hilarious.

I also find that it takes my mind off my problems several times a day. We all hear how what we think shapes our lives until we’re sick of hearing it, but it really is true. We can only think about one thing at a time, and the more good things we focus on the less time there is for the ugly stuff.

This takes a concerted effort, and I am not saying it’s easy – especially at the start. I just know that as for me I have been putting a lot of effort in of late and I’m seeing results that I really like. My goal was and is to make kindness my habit, and to train myself to go there without thinking.

Another thing I have been working on is making a call a day to someone I haven’t talked to in a while and saying hello for no reason other than their name jumped out at me on my phone list. I try to be objective, and just scroll through my massive list and pick somebody out at random.

This has been getting outstanding results. I’m dusting off relationships that have been put on hold as life does its thing, and everybody has those. There isn’t time to keep close track with all the people we know, but this is a great way to let people know they’re still on the friend radar.

Yet another little deed I’m working on is writing a personal email to someone as well, telling them all the good things I can think of about them and how much I appreciate them. I don’t lie, and I really try to honestly seek out their good qualities and let them know it. Sometimes I have not heard back, and maybe those people think I’m a weirdo. That may be true, but I did mean it.

None of this means anything other than I think it’s the right thing to do. There are still idiots I can’t stand, but I refuse to let them waste my energy. I would much rather focus on those I like.

Life's magic password is KINDNESS. Pass it on.

Life’s magic password is KINDNESS. Pass it on.

No Religion Please

June 27, 2014

Wednesday June 25th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I’m going to stomp all over a very touchy subject today, even though I probably shouldn’t. I’ve already gotten myself into enough trouble with some of the posts I’ve made through the years, so why stop now? This is the subject that happens to be on my mind today, so I’ll bring it up gently.

Okay maybe not so gently, but here goes: Please STOP trying to force your religion down my throat. I don’t want to hear it, and I’m not interested. If and when I ever do want to hear it, I will ask. Until then – ZIP IT. Whew, that felt good. I just hope people will take it right and let it be.

I’ve lost count in the last couple of weeks of self appointed do-gooder zealots thinking they’re helping my cause by waving a bible in my face. I’m trying to be polite, but it’s getting very hard. If it helps you get through your own personal mine field, great. Personally, I think it’s all hooey.

Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism – all of it. There, how’s THAT for pissing in the pool of the highest amount of people in one fell swoop? I’m not trying to start any unwinnable fights, but after looking at it objectively, logically and intelligently that’s the conclusion I come up with.

I was “force churched” as a kid, and at that time I bought it hook, line and sinker. I also bought the concepts of Santa Claus and professional wrestling mind you. I believed in those with all my heart as well, but was eventually clued in to the truth. I feel exactly the same way about religion.

This is a subject that really gets people going. Look around the world at the wars going on right now. How many of those have religious overtones? I’d be shocked if any DIDN’T. Can anybody define exactly what ‘God’ is? It seems to be different all over the world, but who really knows?

It sure isn’t what I was taught as a kid, and I can’t believe the billions that still believe it. I am not claiming to be smarter than anyone, but from a logic standpoint does it make sense? We read stories written thousands of years ago that were translated into many languages, and we believe it without question just because we’re told to? Really? I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. It’s a tale.

Of all the billions, trillions and zillions of planets, why would this little one be so important? It doesn’t make sense from that point alone. And if God is supposed to be perfect and without fault, how come humanity is so flawed and continues to screw the pooch generation after generation?

If indeed God made us in His image, either He’s imperfect or He cranked out a faulty product. We’re genetic AMC Gremlins, and it’s not getting any better. And I’m not buying the “free will” argument either. Good people get screwed all the time, and I just don’t see how a loving God is able to sit back and let that happen. I am totally disillusioned, and I admit my faith is evaporated.

When I was a kid, my grandfather told me “Explore all the religions you can now. One day you will wake up and discover it’s all crap. There IS no pie in the sky, and this life is where you have to do your best. After that you take your chances.” I thought he was crazy then, but he was right.

If you are a member of any organized religion and you believe it, that’s your business. I won’t get in your face or mock you. You can do what you like for you, but please don’t force it on me.

My views on God have done a 180 over the years. My grandfather predicted it and he was correct.

My views on God have done a 180 over the years. My grandfather predicted it and he was correct.

It Takes A Champion

June 26, 2014

Tuesday June 24th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

If I have learned nothing else from my life’s long twisted journey, it’s that making one’s living exclusively as an entertainer for any significant amount of time is nothing less than a big old, icy cold, rock hard, unforgiving, unrelenting, cruel, nasty, fire breathing seven days a week BITCH.

Anyone that has lasted more than ten years has my undying respect, and then there are the lifer types like me that have gone past any and all ‘normal’ boundaries, and find ourselves desperately hanging on for dear life from week to week despite having sacrificed our lives to polish our craft.

My particular scope of view has been standup comedy, radio and professional wrestling. I have friends in each of those areas that have been at it for decades and are either struggling to hang on even a little bit longer or feverishly looking for something else so they can continue to survive.

And I know there are other fields like actors, dancers, musicians, magicians, film makers and a few more categories I’m sure I missed that are in this same (sinking) boat. We’ve devoted our all to our crafts, but never “made it big”. That term is so unfair, and it’s never about who is the best.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until someone hears me – there are all kinds of talented people at any given craft that are virtual unknowns, and quite often those with minimal talent manage to claw and scratch their way to the top by having razor sharp focus and wanting the spotlight more.

It takes almost a psychotic obsession to hit the big time in any creative endeavor, or a once in a lifetime streak of amazing luck. Or both. That’s rare enough, but now find a way to keep yourself around for more than a few months or even a year. Trust me, it’s NOT easy and most people fail.

In the comedy field, I can easily name dozens of really solid acts that just never found a way to get that break we all need. There are all kinds of reasons for it, but that doesn’t mean they are not talented – and solid citizens as well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter in this vicious death race.

Names that pop into my mind off the bat include Dwight York, Don Reese, Dwayne Kennedy, Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe, Jimmy McHugh, Beth Donahue, James R. Zingelman, Tim Northern, Danny Storts and Ron Ferguson. For every one of those names there are a dozen more, and I will stop naming because I know I’m excluding a friend that I like and respect. But you get the idea.

This all started when I got a phone call today from Rick D’Elia – another highly respected road warrior I love onstage and off. What a classy chap he is, and funny too. He is originally from the Boston area, but has been living on the west coast for years. We met in 2003 at the San Francisco Comedy Competition and have stayed in touch. He’s out there still slugging it out just like me.

He’s driving across the country, and working a week in Oklahoma this week to earn money to get himself home. He’s getting thrown out of his apartment for subletting while he was out trying to make a living in the crumbling comedy business, and he needs to find a place when he returns. I love Rick like a brother, and could totally empathize with his situation. This is why I have zero patience for cocky know-it-alls that have paid zero dues. The show business meat grinder is not for everyone. My heart goes out to Rick and everyone else still in the game. It takes a champion.

Rick D'Elia is a super funny comedian onstage and a classier person off stage does not exist. Look him up along with every other name I posted in this entry. They're ALL great, and deserve a break. www.rickdelia.com.

Rick D’Elia is a super funny comedian onstage and a classier person off stage does not exist. Look him up along with every other name I posted in this entry. They’re ALL great, and deserve a break. They’ve paid big dues. http://www.rickdelia.com.

Idiots On The Internet

June 26, 2014

Monday June 23rd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Two things I have never suffered well throughout my life are (in no particular order) idiots and bullies. Occasionally they show up in the same person, and that makes it extra hard to dummy up and let it pass. I have been getting better at keeping my big mouth shut, but I still suffer relapses.

I always make the disclaimer that I don’t think I know everything and never have. I am wrong a whole lot, and when it happens I readily admit it. When I’m right I will often defend it, and that is where much of my trouble lies. It doesn’t matter if one is right. All that matters is perception.

Today I got into a war of words with somebody on Facebook of all things. I thought I’d learned to stay out of those high school skirmishes, but something caught my eye and I commented on it. The next thing I knew I was in the middle of a knock down drag out verbal clash…with an idiot.

A comedian and former student of mine commented on how he was putting together a chunk of new material, and that he didn’t like most of it. Harmless enough. Someone else that claims to be a comedian chimed in with “Adding five minutes of material a month is a new hour every year.”

I probably should have let it go, but I find that statement to be flat out ridiculous and I thought it was necessary to point that out to younger comedians. NOBODY “adds five minutes a month” of quality comedy material. It’s not that easy. It’s like adding five pounds of muscle. It’s HARD, and it takes a lot of sweat and effort to achieve it. If it were that easy nobody would ever be paid.

Standup comedy is a craft – and an extremely difficult one at that. If one really wants to master it, that person needs to know the rules and have some respect for how much sacrifice goes into it. I’ve spent a lifetime paying dues, and when some imbecile fires off the stupid gun I get incensed.

What set me off was some pompous female – I refuse to call her a lady – that got on some trip about how “positive thinking could make it happen” and blah blah blah and how I was ‘negative’ and more blah blah blah. Sorry, there’s nothing negative about it when it happens to be the truth.

She just copped an attitude on the wrong day in the wrong way, and I admit I let her have it for not only agreeing with an incorrect statement, but doing it so smugly. She has NEVER been on a comedy stage in her life, and to think she knows her ass from asparagus twisted my left nipple.

She wrote back trying to insult me, and I just laughed and unfriended her. Unfortunately, she is a “fan” of comedy to the point of stalker, and now my name will be dragged through the mud yet again. I have a knack for pissing people off, but only idiots. Smart people and I get along great.

Another feud with anyone is just not what I need right now. I’ve had enough for six lifetimes, but I felt I had to defend the craft of comedy so any newbie with a clue wouldn’t see that and get the wrong idea. It’s not easy to add new material – especially when an act is just getting started.

More accurately, five quality minutes a YEAR is more realistic. Whether she hates me or not, truth is truth. I just have to learn to shut my mouth and not start fights with idiots. Nobody wins. On the up side, hopefully she’ll spread my name to other idiots so they’ll all stay away from me.

This about sums it up in regards to Facebook.

This about sums it up in regards to Facebook.

Just because we've come a long way technologically, it doesn't mean we've been able to weed out idiots.

Just because we’ve come a long way with our technology, it doesn’t mean we’ve been able to weed out idiots. Stupid transcends everything.

My Own Space

June 24, 2014

Sunday June 22nd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I’m back from my bittersweet weekend in Sparta, WI and am ready to move forward. It’s fun to visit good friends, and Jim Wiggins and Bill Gorgo are as good as they get. Jim’s family treats Bill and I like we’re in the will, but on the down side doing difficult shows for tiny audiences is a self esteem sucker and a dignity drainer. At this time in my life I just don’t need to be doing this.

Jim and Bill get it. They’ve been doing comedy for decades just as I have, and they know how I feel. Bill has been a high school teacher for years now, and has already made his transition into being able to do comedy when he feels like it. It works for him. I’m not so sure it works for me.

Jim could see that I was less than thrilled with the shows this weekend, and he took me aside at least four or five times to strongly suggest that I find my own space and start promoting my own shows. He said it should be a place where I can live as well so all my energy can stay in one spot. He’s done it himself more than once, and said it can be an exciting experience plus creative bliss.

There’s a comedian named Chris Speyrer that did exactly what Jim speaks of in the small town of Mason City, IL. That’s the home town of another funny comic named John Means – aka “Dr. Gonzo.” John and his wife owned a restaurant on the main drag, and Chris bought a building on the same block and has been able to keep the doors open several years now. I congratulate him.

Mason City is tiny, but it’s within driving distance of Peoria and Springfield and Chris books a lot of his headliners from the Bob and Tom radio show which is on in both of those cities. He has been smart to do that, and kudos to him for taking the plunge. That took a lot of guts on his part.

I’m not sure if a town that small would be to my personal liking, but there are all kinds of other options in a lot of other places. I have been wondering for years now how I could get off the road but still get on stage regularly, and my own place would be a way to do it. It would solve a lot of problems – but create a lot more. I’m fine with that at this point, and would enjoy the challenge.

I don’t know if I can find a place that I can live as well as do shows, as everything would have to be ideal for that to happen. I don’t have any money to buy any buildings, but that’s never been my goal. I just want to do standup comedy shows on a regular basis for people that want to enjoy what I do. I don’t want to have to fight drunks or drive 1000 miles to get there. Does that exist?

Between Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Rockford, I have to believe there has to be at least one facility that would be able to fit my needs. Ideally it would seat around 100 comfortably, and in theory I’d be able to work there every single week of the year for several years if I’d want to.

If I could attract audiences, why would I not want to? I’ve said before that 100 people a night for multiple nights in a week can provide a very nice living. I’m not greedy, and I wouldn’t need anything else to survive quite nicely. In an area that’s populated, it would take years for everyone to see the show in a 100 seat room and I could keep it going indefinitely. Mr. Wiggins was right.

I see this theory both in Milwaukee for the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ show and somewhere near the Chicago area that’s not near a Zanies club. I wouldn’t attempt to compete with them because for one I couldn’t, and also they have been great to me for a lifetime. There are plenty of other joints in that squared circle, and I’m up for trying to get my own thing going. If I had two dozen in my own audience, there would be only one person to blame. That I could live with. I like Jim’s idea!

Chris Speyrer figured out a way to get off the road. He bought a building and started his own venue. Smart!

Chris Speyrer figured out a way to get off the road. He bought his own building and started his own comedy venue. Smart!

If you are ever near Mason City, IL go see his club. www.mclimits.com

If you’re ever near Mason City, IL visit Chris’s club. http://www.mclimits.com

Bigger Fish Ahead

June 23, 2014

Saturday June 21st, 2014 – West Salem, WI

The times, they are a changin’. I can’t believe how drastic the changes are, and my entire life is being rattled to the core. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there are always aftershocks to have to deal with. Things that used to be a constant in life no longer are and it all takes getting used to.
This weekend I am doing a two night run of renegade commando style comedy shows with two of my all time favorite friends and comedians, Jim Wiggins and Bill Gorgo. I think the world and a few other planets of both of those guys onstage and off, and I would hang with them anytime.

Jim is a cancer survivor, and is coming back strong after recent surgery that left him without a bladder. He can’t travel like he once did, and his son Josh volunteered to approach local places in the area of Sparta, WI where they live to set up shows. Josh is in his 30s and has known Bill for most of his life. Jim and Bill were roommates in Chicago for years, and they’re close like family.

They have graciously brought me into the mix, and I’m flattered to be a part of it. We’ve done several shows in the past couple of years, and some have been better than others. It’s not easy to set up a comedy show, and a lot of things have to happen on many levels for it all to go correctly.

The venue has to be behind it from the start, and willing to promote from within. Most never do even close to what it takes, and then wonder why there’s nobody there on the night of the show. I can’t count the number of half baked productions I’ve been a part of, but I know I’ve had my fill.

Unfortunately, this trip added two more to that list. Last night we did a supper club near Sparta, and tonight it was a bowling alley in West Salem. Both venues were able to seat close to 100, but I don’t think we had more than 25-30 each night. Last night’s audience was mostly Josh’s wife’s family, and although they were outstanding laughers it didn’t hide the fact someone lost their ass.

I never like to see that happen, but unfortunately it rarely if ever has to. If a venue owner would listen to a promoter’s input and take the proper steps, there could be a full house where everyone is able to make a buck. It’s never an easy buck, and that’s where most venue owners get fooled.

They think by putting up a poster in their own place “word will get out”. NO. They have to put effort into promotion, just as they’d need to if they had karaoke, pool leagues or a new sandwich on their food menu. Live comedy is just the opportunity to promote something that is hopefully a unique product in their area. If done correctly it can be a consistent money maker for a long time.

These last two nights just weren’t it. Going into details as to why won’t change the fact that the ball was dropped somewhere. I don’t want to point fingers, as I’m past the point of dealing with all of this. I don’t need to be on stage that badly to suffer through such humiliation. I don’t think Jim and Bill agree. They had fun, and that’s great. I had fun being with them – but not the shows.

Between the three of us, we’ve got well over 100 years of hard earned hands on experience. To labor in front of 25 people a night just isn’t my idea of fun these days. We’re all beyond it. I love those guys and Josh too, but it would have been more fun to ride up and just visit without shows.

We got paid, but I still feel unfulfilled. In the past, I’d clench my jaw and keep slugging. Now, I really don’t care. I don’t need approval from anyone else. I would much rather handle my own business. It takes the pressure off. I want to cast for bigger fish, and this isn’t where they swim.

Jim Wiggins is a cancer survivor and one of the most experienced comedians walking the planet. He deserves to perform for full houses of loyal fans. www.lasthippie.com.

Jim Wiggins is a cancer survivor and one of the most experienced comedians walking the planet. He deserves to perform for full houses of loyal fans – and I’m a big one. http://www.lasthippie.com.

Bill Gorgo has paid his dues as well. He's very funny, and I'm a big fan of his onstage and off.

Bill Gorgo has paid his dues as well. He’s very funny, and I’m a big fan of his as well.

Embracing The Struggle

June 23, 2014

Friday June 20th, 2014 – Sparta, WI

Yet another life lesson I continue to learn is that life lessons never stop at any age – and neither do problems. I’m sure my grandfather told me that at some point in my youth, but I was probably preoccupied with thinking I would be the exception to the rule and missed it. We all think that.

When we’re kids, we assume that life gets better and at some point everything is problem free. I remember being around seven or eight and knowing a couple of families in our neighborhood that had a house full of kids that were all older than me. The Lutes family lived on my block and the McCauleys lived across the street. They were friendly to me, and I knew most of them well.

I still remember walking around in the neighborhood talking with them and thinking how great their lives were. They all seemed so much older and fully matured at the time, but in reality they totally weren’t. They were regular people going through the same problems everybody else does.

Tim Lutes worked at Sears. I remember thinking he was a borderline celebrity because I’d seen him there on the sales floor with his name badge on when my grandparents were shopping. I was really impressed, and in my mind he had totally ‘made it’. He could buy all the candy he wanted.

His brother Cliff was into cars, and that was my greatest love besides sports. Cliff would work on his old Ford Fairlane in the driveway, and I would often wander over and keep him company. Looking back, he had the patience of a saint and would answer my deep probing dumb questions about how cars worked. He could have chased me away, but he didn’t. I thought he was a genius.

The McCauleys were my sports connection, and they were the first ones to let me play in their baseball games. I’m still not sure how many there were, but I do know they were all boys. I liked them all, and again they didn’t have to be nice to me but they were. They showed me how to not bat cross handed, and how to field a ground ball correctly. To me, they were all sports superstars.

They were all bigger than me, and could run faster, throw harder and hit better. I assumed they would all not only play Major League Baseball, but end up in the Hall of Fame. In reality, it was just a bunch of average kids that played baseball in summer just like the kids everywhere else.

Tim Lutes was never named CEO of Sears, nor was Cliff at Ford. None of the McCauleys ever played Major League Baseball, and as far as I know they’re all still alive and facing the same life problems everyone else does. They might be different problems, but they still need to be solved.

If and when they are, there will be a whole new set just around the corner and the process starts all over again. It’s the perpetual pile of problems that wear us all down, and I don’t see anything on the horizon to break the chain other than death. And who knows if that’s the end of the line?

The current lesson I am in the process of learning is that I will always have problems, and that I might as well learn to embrace them. The obstacles I faced as a kid seem pretty tame compared to what I’ve gone through in just these past few months, but they seemed insurmountable then.

I didn’t realize all I had going for me along with what I was trying to overcome, and I see now that none of us ever are without struggles – at least not for very long. Life is process of perpetual change and evolution, and then we each have to make our individual adjustments accordingly. It may not be fair, but that’s just the way life works. I’m receiving a new batch of problems. Yay!

Welcome to life, where everyone has problems to overcome. NO exceptions.

Welcome to life, where everyone has problems. NO exceptions.

Generosity Times Three

June 20, 2014

Thursday June 19th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I haven’t forgotten about my daily focus on kindness, but today kindness happened to focus on me. I can’t say I’m upset, and just when I was about to throw in the towel that anyone else was in the game, in come three shining examples to remind me I’m not alone. I’m giddy beyond words!

It’s no secret that I’ve been going through some rough patches of late. Actually, they have been more than rough. It kind of feels like I have been riding uphill on the long and winding highway of life, and it’s a cobblestone road and I’m on a bicycle with no seat. And I’m not wearing pants.

Although I have a heaping helping of problems in my in box, the majority of them are a result or at least a byproduct of a lack of money. I’ve heard it said that if money can fix your problems you don’t have any problems. Well, I’d like to meet the halfwit that said that. I bet he was rich.

Money is an issue for a lot of us, and many times it’s not our fault. Many times it is as well, but I’m giving myself the benefit of the doubt on this one. I was on track to financial freedom when I had my morning radio job at 97.9 ‘The Loop’ in Chicago in 2004. I keep harping on that, but it’s the truth. It took a lifetime to land that gig, and I was in the right place at the right time for once.

The owner of the station then was Bonneville International – which is basically the Mormon Church. They are very good people to work for, as they treat their employees well. We were part of a long term plan that would have kept me employed to this day, and I’d be making big bank.

Jobs like that don’t grow on trees, and when the company unexpectedly sold out that plan was no longer in effect and we were bounced like a third party check. I’ve spent the last ten years in recovery mode, hoping to catch another break like that. Unfortunately, they are extremely rare.

The sad part is, the snake that fired us has NO clue and couldn’t care less what damage he has done to all of us that were part of the show, but that’s the cold hard business of radio and life in general. Precious few care about anyone else, and in retrospect it is the worst break of my career.

Well, today got at least a little brighter when I went to my post office box and got – count ‘em – THREE completely unsolicited yet extremely generous donation checks from people that know I’m struggling right now and wanted to help. I couldn’t believe it, and it made me weep with joy.

Two of the checks came from friends of mine, but the third – and by far the largest – was from an anonymous donor who reads my daily diary entries and wanted to help. He included his name in an email, but insisted he wanted it to remain anonymous so I will respectfully grant that wish.

This really gives me hope on a lot of levels. First, I will be able to make it through yet another bleak weak summer. That’s always an issue in comedy, and this year is not looking bright at all. I have a few things lined up for the next three months, but nothing earth shattering. It’s sparse.

Second, it takes the lion’s share of the intense pressure off of having to worry about how I am going to cover my rent so I can focus on more important long term goals like finding a job with health insurance, and completing the book I am working on. I can now focus on that for a while.

Thirdly, it restores faith. I have given money to many when I had it, and I didn’t expect it back. It’s the right thing to do sometimes, and this was one. I experienced the joy of giving, and so are those who helped me. It’s hard to match my joy though. I TRULY appreciate this. Thank you all!

Money sure does talk, and today I'm screaming in return. THANK YOU THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

Money does talk, and today I scream at the top of my lungs in return – THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

Mental Illness

June 20, 2014

Wednesday June 18th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I need to make a difficult declaration of five words that to my knowledge I have never used in a sentence describing myself. They are harsh words and even a little intimidating, and they may turn more than a few people off. Too bad. If I don’t get them out, more damage will be done.

Here goes: I have a mental illness. Wow. That really looks horrific as I see it in print, but it’s a fact and I have to deal with it. Millions of others have one too, and mine isn’t any better or worse than anyone else’s. The only thing it is is mine, and if I don’t deal with it I’m in for a dim future.

Nobody enjoys being ill in any way, but mental illness has a stigma. People automatically assume that it means barking at the moon and hearing voices in one’s head. I’m sure there are those saddled with these worst possible symptoms, and my heart goes out to them. This is anything but comedy fodder or something to make fun of. It’s an unpleasant part of the human condition and millions need help.

It’s far from a secret that I have struggled with depression for many years. Most creative types – at least the countless ones that I’ve met – do, and I’ve always known I’m not alone in this fight. Unfortunately, when those dark clouds roll in is the time when it feels like nobody else is around. A feeling of utter hopelessness and despair sets in, and it feels like there will never be any relief.

I’ve been to the point of suicide more than once, and it’s not a happy place. I’m not there now, and that’s why this is the time to bring this up so I can get help. When I’m low, there’s nothing I can think of that makes me feel better. I’m drained of life and I don’t even want to get out of bed.

Lots of others share my condition, and everyone’s situation is individual. Some have it a whole lot worse than me, and others not so much. Mine comes and goes, and sometimes certain triggers – usually family holidays – really set me off. This last Mother’s Day was one of my very worst.

One thing that has really helped is getting back in touch with my siblings after being apart for a lifetime. We were never raised in the same household, and we only visited in short spurts during our extremely tumultuous childhoods. That was no place for any kid, and we were all hurt by it.

Being able to talk about it recently has really been therapeutic for me, and I think for them too. While I’m delighted we finally got a chance to do it, I’m not delusional enough to think I’m now ‘cured’. I’m much better, but I’ll always be dealing with this and other issues for as long as I am above ground. I need to see a therapist at least for a while, and work through this pile of issues.

Like most comedians, I’ve gone through a lot of painful events that were far above and beyond whatever the boundaries of “normal” might be. I’ve been through hell, and it’s only natural to be damaged by it all. Thinking I can just “suck it up” or “tough it out” is as stupid as stupid can get.

There is nothing wrong with needing help mentally, and it doesn’t mean that I’m going to need it forever. I do need to get myself on some kind of a program, because inevitably that darkness is going to return like it always does. That’s not the time to think about finding help. It’s too late.

I also may need to take medication. Quite honestly that has always scared the hell out of me for many reasons, but I have spoken with many friends recently that are on meds and there are quite a few that I had no idea were on anything until they told me. Most of them swear by it, and I will wait to see what a doctor says. This is all very uncomfortable to admit, but I feel it’s necessary.

Too many people refuse or are afraid to admit they struggle with mental illness, but that’s just plain ridiculous. It would be like denying one has chicken pox, when everyone else can see them plain as day. Illness is what it is – illness. There are doctors that are in business to make it better.

The reason I am being so up front about this is to hopefully help someone that may be afraid to seek help on their own. I had a family full of wack jobs that were FAR worse off than me, but of all of them not one ever sought help even once. As a result, the rest of us had to suffer with their inner anguish and it made for some unpleasant memories that are part of what I am still fighting.

I can’t stress enough that just because someone deals with this sort of struggle it doesn’t make them a bad person, or “crazy”. There’s good crazy and bad crazy, but this is neither. It’s a matter of one’s all around health, and quite often the problem is a chemical imbalance. That’s treatable.

I haven’t been officially diagnosed by anyone, but from everything I’ve been reading lately I’m a classic example of having bipolar disorder. Yikes! That’s even more frightening to read in print than “I have a mental illness”, but I am just reporting the facts. Everything I’ve read points to it.

A lot of great artistic types have or had it as well, and they all had to deal with their own way. I want my story to have a happy ending and I don’t think suicide is in that script. Many can’t begin to understand why anyone would want to kill themselves, but only the depressed can understand.

I don’t understand how people can’t stop drinking or abusing illegal drugs, but that’s not where my illness lies. Thankfully I have never had to struggle with that along with my depression, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it every day. Quite honestly I’m not sure I’d still be here if I did.

I don’t want to name names of the people I’ve spoken about this with recently, but many are of higher stature in the entertainment business. Out of respect to their confidence in me to share the stories they did, I don’t see a need to mention any names. There’s still that stigma attached to the subject of mental health issues, and I wouldn’t want to cast any shadows on those that I respect.

One famous person I will mention by name that struggled viciously with his mental illness for years was Jonathan Winters. He spoke quite freely about it, and was locked up on more than one occasion. It didn’t make him any less of a performer and his unique genius was without question.

Coming from someone who is allegedly supposed to be a comedian, there hasn’t been a whole lot of funny in this particular post. I don’t deny that one bit, but life isn’t always a comedy show – especially for comedians. We’re some of the most dented cans on a planet chock full of them.

I don’t ever feel that my depression hurt my actual act, but it sure did hurt me in my off stage dealings business wise. If someone happened to catch me on the wrong day, they just might get a face full of the unvarnished me. That’s not smart business on my part, and I am sure it hurt me.

I’m not saying going to a counselor or therapist a few times and popping a bottle of happy pills are the answer for a trouble free life, but getting myself checked out and diagnosed will sure help me avoid this inconsistent roller coaster I have been riding for too long. I need to find stability.

I couldn’t be more grateful for all the friends that have made it a point to contact me and offer their input. This has been one of the most stressful periods of my life, and it’s comforting beyond belief to know I have so many caring souls in my corner who have been where I am themselves.

Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of. The shame is in not admitting it and getting treatment.

Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of. The shame is in not admitting it and getting treatment.

The great Jonathan Winters struggled with mental illness throughout his life, as do many 'creative types'.

The great Jonathan Winters struggled with mental illness throughout his life, as do many other ‘creative types’.