Archive for the ‘Standup Comedy’ Category

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

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’.

Fathering Forgiveness

June 16, 2014

Sunday June 15th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Happy Father’s Day! Those that know me well may think I have finally flipped completely, but I couldn’t be more sincere. I think this is going to be the best Father’s Day of my life, and it once again took me by surprise. At this point I don’t care how it took me – I am just delighted it did.

I have finally found it in my deepest being to forgive my father unconditionally for everything he ever did or said to hurt me. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I know that I have finally gotten over one of if not the biggest psychological humps in my life. It won’t be an issue again.

There have been so many things going on in my life lately, Father’s Day took a back seat in my mind this year. As with all the family based holidays that have been so difficult for so long, some years are better than others. This year Mother’s Day sent me over the edge, and that was enough.

I’ve still got some hurt I need to work through with her, but the old man and I have completed our business as of today. I think it was due to my sitting with my sister Tammy and talking about everything I felt a need to talk about on Friday. As we were looking through family pictures, we ran across his driver’s license and old work ID. Seeing him from a distance changed everything.

As a child, he was a giant fire breathing dragon to be feared. One little mistake or indiscretion could and often did bring the undiluted wrath of hell’s fury. Sometimes it involved beatings, but even getting yelled at with his intimidating snarl would strike extreme fear into every one of us.

He was a bully, and loved to get over by using fear and intimidation tactics. I eventually caught on to his game, and after that I no longer feared him. I learned to despise him and all bullies, and I have stood up to them in all forms my entire life. I’ve gotten some world class ass whippings as well, but at least I went down swinging. He was the inspiration for it, and the emotions ran deep.

For years and years no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t let it go. I read books and articles about forgiveness, and I knew they were correct by saying I needed to do it – but I couldn’t find the button and it wouldn’t go away. I thought I did a few times, but I was only fooling myself.

My step mother was the only person I ever knew that was in his class of evil, and between the two I had more issues than Mad magazine. She was the only humanoid I ever ran across that was in his league of evil, and as a child I prayed for her slow and painful death. Guess what? I got it!

It was only when I heard she had died that I was able to forgive her. My grandmother told me, and Grandma’s brain was in outer space due to Alzheimer’s. She must have told me ten times in two minutes, and when she did I immediately knew how wrong I was for wishing what I wished.

I was an adult by then, and when I heard the witch was dead I was able to see the situation a lot clearer than I could as a child. My step mother was a small town girl from the U.P. of Michigan, and came to Milwaukee the ‘big city’. Then she married Satan, and she had her cross to bear for the rest of her life. I’m not condoning her treatment of me, but I was able to forgive her for it.

I knew right then I was over it, and that it wouldn’t be an issue ever again. It hasn’t been, and it won’t be in the future. The damage is done, and I see things differently now. I don’t want to wish her soul to barbecue or anything like that. I’ve got my own problems, and wasting energy on her is not going to help either one of us. Getting closure on it all has been a huge load off my psyche.

I now have the exact same feeling about him, and I can finally dust off and move on. It used to eat at me from within, and quite often Father’s Day was a major trigger. I’d see my friends with good fathers be able to have someone to go to in times of need, and know I’d never have that. It made me angry, bitter and hurt more than I can put into words. Now, I don’t feel that anymore.

Do I still think he was a butt plug in the poop shoot of humanity? Without question. He was an all out loser that never should have had children, but he had his own problems. He was never that all powerful ogre he portrayed so well all throughout my childhood. He was a scared little boy all along, and didn’t want anyone to know it. He tried to cover it up by pretending he was a monster.

I think the biggest monster of all lived inside his own head. My grandfather used to tell me of how he would try to motivate my father time and time again and was never able to reach him. It always bothered Gramps, but he never stopped trying. When I got to be a teenager we would go out for breakfast once a week and catch up. He did the same with my father. It became tradition.

Gramps told me many times that between the two breakfasts each week I was without a doubt the adult of the two. My father apparently bitched about everything and was still that unsatisfied kid while I was growing into adulthood and maturing. For whatever reason, the old man was not able to figure life out. He told me himself that he was “a major underachiever and proud of it.”

There are a grand total of ZERO pictures of my father and me at any point in our lives. Not as a baby, not as a kid, and surely not as an adult. We didn’t have contact for years, and I talked to Tammy about that. She said he was a huge pain in the ass at the end, and made all of their lives a constant circus. I’m glad I wasn’t around for it, but I’m sorry they had to endure that for so long.

I know I’m not the only one that has had father issues, but mine were pretty intense. My friend C.J. Vincent reminded me that “you don’t forgive your father, you forgive yourself.” I agree with that wholeheartedly, but I think it’s important to be able to see things from the father’s viewpoint to do it completely. I’m not saying anyone has to forgive the actions, but knowing why is crucial.

My father was a coward. He was a social misfit, and had extremely low self esteem. None of it gives him a pass for how he treated us, but it sure does explain why. I looked at his picture on his driver’s license and ID card, and I saw a pathetic lowlife rather than that fire breathing monster.

I should have had Tammy make a copy of it so I could show it, but I didn’t think of it then. All I could do was just look at it with disgust and know with total certainty that it wasn’t any of our faults that we were treated worse than cattle by him. I think that’s what C.J. means by forgiving ourselves. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to get to this point, but I can feel that I absolutely have.

That doesn’t mean I’m ‘fixed’ though. There are still a few bubbling issues with my mother to work through, and I’m just not there yet. I know it’s basically the same story and the exact same principle should be used, but I’m human and there’s still some hurt there. I’ll get to it when I do. Apparently according to Tammy she’s still alive, so maybe there will be a meeting in our future.

I have a strict limit of one crisis at a time, so I’ll just enjoy this victory and know that I just got dealt a bad hand in the parental department I’ll have to play out for as long as I continue to draw breath. The only kind of true revenge I can get is to be a father figure and mentor to as many kids of all ages that I can. I was shown kindness from Gramps, and that’s what I am going to use as a model to show others. I feel like I’m finally free from the dragon’s evil grasp. Next crisis please.

Father issues run deep, and unfortunately with many. Forgiveness can be extremely difficult, or even unheard of to some.

Father issues run deep, and unfortunately with many. Forgiveness can be extremely difficult, or even unheard of to some.

Apparently I'm not alone or this poster wouldn't exist.

Apparently I am not alone, or this poster would not exist.

The Password Is “KINDNESS”

June 15, 2014

Saturday June 14th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Of all the posts I have ever made and all the writing I have ever done, I’d have to pick this one installment as my definitive work. It sums up who I am and what makes me tick, and when I put it up on Facebook I got unbelievably sincere responses – many from people I hadn’t heard from in years. This is what clicked with me that I am indeed a writer and not some typing schmuck.

It really took the pressure off as well with having to please anyone else with what I’m doing as a comedian. From now on I am calling the shots, and wherever it leads me will be where I go.

– – –

As I get older, I realize that the only thing that really matters in this life is kindness. That’s it. Everything else is pure and utter useless bullshit. We all have hopes and dreams and that’s great, but in the end it’s only what we do for others that really passes the test of time.

I used to think I wanted fame and fortune and all the dreams comedians have when they start out. As time slides away I can clearly see what a waste it is to focus on only that. There’s nothing wrong with wanting – or getting – it, but even if one does it’s no guarantee of happiness or lasting impact.

All too often little gestures or moments are what make the biggest difference, both good and bad. I know the bad side all too well, and there are a few people I have pissed off so badly they want nothing to do with me ever again.

Unfortunately those people are considered big in the comedy world, and it has cost me a lot of work that I could really use right about now. I still don’t know what I did to piss them off that badly, and it was completely unintentional. I said I was sorry, but they wouldn’t hear of it.

I don’t claim now or ever did to be perfect or without fault. My screw ups in life have been many and often. BUT – I like to think there is a heart in there somewhere, and I’m going to spend the rest of my life strengthening that muscle. I don’t know how or what I can do to make people’s lives better, but as long as I’m drawing breath that is going to be my razor sharp focus.

I may not ever get rich, famous or even beloved – but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the giving. My heart is still aching to the core about the passing of Dan Ronan. That kid touched a lot of people in exactly the way I am talking about. He was far from perfect either, but his core was pure.

I have a lot of contacts, and it’s virtually impossible to keep track of everyone. Facebook makes it a little easier, but there are many more that aren’t even on it. And I’m talking about one on one contact – even if it’s just for a minute or two. Planting those positive seeds every day are what life is all about.

When I told Dan’s parents about our road trip, his mother’s eyes lit up and for just a split second Dan was alive again. She smiled broadly as she told of how much that trip meant to him. Well, it must have meant at least a little because he ended up telling her about it.

Quite honestly it was no big deal to me at the time. Road trips are old to me to the point of being an unwelcome grind, but I knew Dan could handle it and he was thrilled to be asked. I remember fondly and vividly how much I was thrilled for my first road work, so I was passing it forward. That’s the kindness I’m talking about. It was little to nothing at the time I did it, and I forgot about it.

But when it came back from her memory at such a horrific time it was healing and cathartic for us both. Little moments like that are what I want to create more of with as many people as humanly possible until the day when I am in a coffin of my own. That could come at any time, and yesterday drove that point home deeply right through my already downtrodden heart.

If I have pissed you off even a little in our dealings – please accept my deepest and heartfelt apology. I was wrong, and I am very sorry. Dave Stroupe, Colleen Quinn and Al Canal from the Funny Bone chain and Bob and Tom think I’m the devil, and try as I might I can’t change it.

I said I was sorry, and I truly am. Nobody can make anyone accept an apology, but even they can’t change what’s in a person’s heart. I know I have one, and all I can do is move on and do the best I can. I’m sorry they’re so angry, but that’s on them. I’m not the dastardly scum bucket they seem to think I am.

My comedy career is going nowhere, and unfortunately that’s true for a lot of people – many with considerable talent. Talent is never the determining factor. It’s nice if one has it, but not the top requirement. Getting to the top echelon of show business is extremely rare for anybody. Hard work and luck are huge ingredients, and talent and timing are in the mix as well.

I’m really sorry to make this long rambling post, but I have so many raw emotions charging through my veins right now I can’t help it. I am still at the house of my friend Sheri who had a stroke before she was 50. She is alive, but every day is a struggle just to get out of bed and get dressed.

Perspective is everything, and I’m finally gaining some in life. The comedy game is brutal, and I fought through it for thirty years only to learn what’s really important – kindness. I hope I can make the most of whatever time I have left, and that time will be spent following my heart rather than trying to please some idiot in Hollywood I don’t respect. I’m playing a much more satisfying game now, and it’s one that everybody can win.

I’m sorry it took the death of such a vibrant soul to hit me this hard, but I don’t intend to make it in vein. Dan’s life has breathed new inspiration into my own, and has given me a razor sharp purpose I only partially felt before. I don’t intend to make long posts like this often, but I felt I needed to do this one and get it ‘out there’. My mistakes sure are, and those that hate me like to tell it to anyone who will listen. I can’t change that, but I can change my inner source of power, and I am doing that now. It’s all about the kindness. Period.

– – –

It may have taken years for me to find my voice, but after this particular post I think I finally have. It flowed out of me when I wrote it, and it got touched people’s hearts. That’s the goal.

Amen!

Amen!

Preach it, Aesop!

Preach it, Aesop!

Back From The Dead!

June 15, 2014

Saturday June 14th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Hey blogosphere, it’s me! I thought I was going to be out of commission a lot longer, but I can’t stay away. Old habits die hard, and after years of writing as a discipline I find I can’t live without it as part of my daily routine. Actually, what I need more of is any kind of routine at all. I’ve been all over the place in the rest of my life and anything but disciplined. Writing has been my constant.

The first thing I am going to do is FINALLY admit to myself that I’m actually a writer. For so long, all I ever pictured myself as was a comedian. No wonder my life is in shambles. That’s like trying to complete a marathon on a pogo stick. It seems fun in theory, but not at all practical.

I still love comedy, and always will. I don’t ever intend to stop doing it altogether, but trying to base my entire living on it is just not going to happen for the long haul. That haul is over and I’ve hauled it to the limit. I squeezed more out of goofing off than anyone I know, but it’s time for an evolution. Hopefully it will be an upgrade. Working the road like a gypsy is a real energy sucker.

What stinks is that I am at my absolute performance peak right now. I can rock a room with the absolute best of them, but the rooms I have been rocking are half full or less and in places where nobody powerful will ever see me. If I want change, I have to get myself seen by a gate keeper.

That ship may or may not have sailed, but if it didn’t I won’t be riding in the honeymoon suite. I will probably have to stow away in the guts of the ship and sleep on a potato pile, but hopefully I will still get myself there. Where “there” is, I’m not really sure – but I know it’s not where I am now. I am at one of if not the lowest point of my adult life, and the next little while is uncertain.

I can handle that, as my whole life has been uncertain. I have been stuck in exactly this kind of predicament before, and quite honestly it doesn’t scare me in the least. I’m not thrilled about the prospect of having to start all over yet again, but I can do it. I’ve done it before, and I survived.

In typical Mr. Lucky fashion, this past month that I have not been making daily diary entries as I have since 2006 has been one of the most fascinating and action filled months of my life. I don’t know where to start, as so many significant events have happened I can’t keep up with them all. It’s never been this crazy.

Mother’s Day really sent me over the edge, and I put out a plea for help with some selected friends. Holidays like that have always been torture, and some years are better than others. This year kicked my ass with steel toed boots, and it took me by surprise. I was feeling very low, and needed to get some help.

The result was a series of events that were so both horrific and yet life affirming that I feel there needs to be an entire book devoted to that subject alone. I won’t get into it here, as I just want to move on and be positive. I’m still sorting it all out, and it’s yet another part of my tangled web.

That was the lowest of lows, but there was also a highest of highs. Last night I had dinner with my sister Tammy and her husband Jake at their home in Racine, WI. That meeting was something I have been wanting since childhood, and I got a lot of closure to a lot of issues that have been eating at me since my earliest memories. It took twenty years of us being apart, but the payoff was SO worth it.

I have also been devoting my entire life to the mission of daily kindness. That’s all that matters in this out of control world, and I have experienced some tremendous examples that I will share as I can by recycling posts I made on Facebook in the last few days. I feel I have been on a writing high.

I make no promises (or threats) that I will make daily posts like I have for so long. I’ve proved to myself I can do it, and that’s enough. I will write whenever I have inspiration, and be eternally grateful to any and all who may read it. I feel like I’m back from the dead, and it feels fantastic!

This is the first picture of me taken when I was dropped off at my grandparents' house. I was initially supposed to be sent to an orphanage, but they ended up raising me. I'm not sure if that was a good choice or not, but that's how it went. I thought it would be a good picture to include as I dust myself off and start my diary again. Thanks for reading, and I hope I can make it worth your effort.

This is the first picture of me taken when I was dropped off at my grandparents’ house. I was initially supposed to be sent to an orphanage, but they ended up raising me. I’m not sure if that was a good choice or not, but that’s how it went. I thought it would be a good picture to include as I dust myself off and start my diary again. Thanks for reading! I’ll try to make it interesting.

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!

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.

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.