Archive for the ‘Standup Comedy Insruction’ Category

Flea-ing The Scene

July 25, 2014

Sunday July 20th, 2014 – Wilmot, WI

There’s a flea market that’s now a lot farther than it used to be from where I lived, but if I have time on a Sunday I’ll still make the drive. It’s a ski hill in Wilmot, WI which is really close to the Illinois state line, and having a flea market in summer is a great way to make use of their space.

I discovered it last year, and even though it’s not that great I still go at least a couple of times a month to if nothing else get in an exercise walk. It’s always an enlightening education to soak in the human freak show at any flea market, and I look at my $1 admission as really cheap tuition.

My main goal is to scope out a product I think I can sell myself. I realize nothing is easy, but I sure don’t want to be doing what 99% of the vendors are doing. Most of them pack up some kind of truck or trailer with a random collection of useless crap I wouldn’t take for free. Why do that?

The grunt work alone of setting up and tearing down couldn’t begin to come close to any profit that may possibly be brought in. I can’t believe some of the flat out junk some people put out for sale. What are the chances someone will come along and need a left front fender for a ’67 Buick Wildcat or a pool table with a ripped felt? Wouldn’t it be a lot smarter to bring pictures instead?

If I would happen to be looking for a used pool table, I wouldn’t think to look at a flea market in Wilmot, WI – or anywhere else. But I see people week after week with displays that make my eyes tired just to look. It reminds me of my Grandfather and father, and I want to set it all ablaze.

My grandparents, father and uncle were all borderline hoarders. They had issues with throwing anything away. When they eventually died, everyone else had to clean up their messes. I vowed I never wanted to be like that, and I intend to keep my word. I am not going to put anyone through that kind of hell when I croak. I want all my possessions to fit into the back seat of a small car.

The reason I go to flea markets is not to buy something for .95 and hope I can sell it for $1.50. I want to see how and what the public buys – if anything. Times are getting tighter by the minute and not many of us have a pocket full of disposable income. I’ll bet all those vendors are hurting.

Collectibles as a whole are going through the floor. I’ve been wheeling and dealing sports stuff for years, mainly to give me something to do. That business is occupying the bottom of the toilet, along with stamps, coins and especially Beanie Babies. What a waste of time that stupid fad was.

Come to think of it, they’re all pretty stupid. Sports cards are basically pictures of sweaty men. That may be popular at a bath house somewhere, but as far as contributing to society it really has no lasting value. It’s kind of fun to collect, but when life gets hard who has time for any hobbies?

My only ‘hobby’ at the moment is trying to pay bills for another month and keep my aging car on the road. Trying to track down a three legged albino porcupine Beanie Baby is a luxury I just can’t indulge myself with right now. And if I could, I’d hunt for it on Ebay without the sweating.

Still, I enjoy walking in the fresh air and taking in the sights which are many. I have no idea of what I would ever sell, but maybe I’ll find a product. Whatever it is, it won’t be old pool tables.

Flea markets can be both entertaining and educational - but finding a real bargain is pretty rare. It's mostly junk.

Flea markets can be both entertaining and educational – but finding a real bargain is rare.

Advertisements

An Extended Mess

July 23, 2014

Friday July 18th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

My life is an extended mess, and I don’t know how to fix it. It’s not messy like a lot of people, and in fact my mess is pretty boring. There are no drug or alcohol addictions or cheating on my pregnant wife with a secretary. But it’s still there. A mess is a mess, and they’re a bitch to clean.

I am flopping around desperately like a fish in a boat, with a giant hook in my mouth. My eyes are bugged out and I’m suffocating – with water just inches away. If someone would remove the hook and toss me back in the water, I would have a chance to start over. I would like that chance.

The hook in my mouth is being an entertainer. I have given up everything else in order to attain a skill level most never come close to, but it has put me in an unstable financial position. I can no longer earn a living like I have all of my adult life and my eyes are bugging out. I’m suffocating.

But water is just inches away. All it would take to turn my life around is one phone call with an extended run of bookings somewhere. It could be comedy clubs, casinos, cruise ships colleges or I could write for a TV show. I could also do radio. It’s not like I’m a total zero. I have a skill set.

The skill set I have is very specialized, and those that are at the top end of the scale are hauling in enormous bank. I don’t need that right now quite honestly. I’d be thrilled with medium money on a steady basis, but entertainment is a feast or famine game. I am smack dab amidst a famine.

There are few if any entertainers that don’t experience this at some point, but many have a nest egg put away to fall back on during the lean times. I had one started, and a nice one at that. Then I had a “worst case scenario” pop up in 2011 and health problems cleaned out every last nickel.

This was after getting blasted out of a radio gig in 2004 that would have paid great money and offered full insurance benefits so the crisis in 2011 wouldn’t have been nearly as devastating as it was. But it was. And ever since then I have been watching everything I have worked so hard for for so long dry up in front of my eyes. I know I’m not the only one suffering, but it’s still a mess.

How does one manage to clean up a life mess? It usually takes a while for one to develop, and it can’t be taken away in one fell swoop – even though that’s what most of us expect. It’s like the dieter that took a lifetime to put on that extra 100 pounds, but expects to take it all off in a week.

It’s not realistic, and in fact it’s dangerous to even try. There has to be a slow steady battle plan in place, and it’s neither pleasant nor easy. But that’s what it takes to achieve desired results, and it gets harder as one gets older because so many other things pop up and become obstacles also.
I’ve got so many problems right now I have no idea where to start. I do a little something every day on as many as I can, but then I look at how high the mountain is and I lose hope. What’s the solution? I sure wish I knew. A steady income would make things a lot easier, but how to get it?

I’m working on getting a resume out to ‘normal’ jobs, but I can’t lie. My heart isn’t in it. I need stability, but I sure don’t want to do it this way. Landing another radio gig that lasts several years would be ideal, but who is passing those out these days? Nobody. Back to cleaning up my mess.

Sometimes I feel like a fish sitting at the bottom of the boat - with water just inches away.

Sometimes I feel like a fish sitting at the bottom of the boat – with water just inches away.

My Drug Of Choice

July 5, 2014

Thursday July 3rd, 2014 – Rosemont, IL

Whenever I’m stupid enough to think I have anything figured out is exactly the time I find out I don’t. I’ve been harping on and on of late about how dead 4th of July week is in comedy clubs, and then I show up at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont, IL tonight to a fully jam packed house.

Sometimes clubs give out free tickets to help drum up business on slower weeks, and that can make for less than stellar audiences. Usually the degree of respect and attention somebody gives an event they attend is in direct proportion to how much they paid to get in. That’s human nature.

I don’t care how the audience got in tonight, I wanted to take every one of them home after the show. Wow, what a molten lava hot crowd it was, and it got better as the night went on. There is absolutely no way to predict when an audience this good will show up, but when one does it’s an absolute treat to be alive. This is why old dogs like me stay in the business so long. It’s our drug.

I wish everyone could experience the intensity of the high that occurs when a room full of total strangers is riveted on your every word and laugh at all the right places. It’s the most intoxicating feeling I have ever experienced, and one of the reasons I never felt a need to try drugs or alcohol.

I don’t see how anything else can feel that good – and I get paid for it on top of that! I already know I will be hooked for life on the performance part. The problem lies in getting myself in the position to be on that stage again. That’s always the hard part, and why bookers treat us like dirt.

They know full well we’ll do just about anything to get that stage time, and they don’t mind if they exploit it to the fullest. Make a 1000 mile drive for $100? Be right there! The allure of stage is that powerful – especially on nights like tonight. It was pure, uncut heroin of the highest grade.

I was host tonight, and there were a dozen other acts on the show doing about six minutes each. It was a best of Chicago area showcase night, and the acts were all solid. But they don’t have the experience I do, and I knew right where to hit this audience from the start – and I never stopped.

There’s something very comforting about having that extra ‘passing gear’, and it gives one the ultimate stage confidence without getting cocky. Only years of hard earned experience can truly provide that feeling, and it can never be faked though many try. It’s intangible, but really shows.

In a situation like this, I can make the entire show better. I lead things off with a blistering set, and then bring every other act on with an introduction that makes them sound like they are giants in their field. That becomes contagious, and the audience wants to believe it. It all feeds on itself.

Everyone was still abuzz after the show, and people were lining up to shake my hand and thank me from audience members to comedians to wait staff for telling the crowd to tip. I did my job to the fullest, and everybody went home happy. This is how I think it should be every single night.

Unfortunately, nobody of consequence saw this show. The manager of Zanies had the evening off, and there were no talent scouts in the room. I was a star for little bit, now I’m back to being a nameless schmuck again. None of those people remember my name, but I sure made them laugh.

The intoxicating feeling of being on a stage performing standup comedy when it's going well is like no other feeling. It's the BEST! I never get sick of it.

The intoxicating feeling of being on a stage performing standup comedy when it’s going well is like no other feeling. It’s the BEST!

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.

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!

John Pinette

April 7, 2014

Sunday April 6th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

As if I wasn’t feeling low enough already, I got a phone call from a friend asking if I had heard John Pinette was found dead in his hotel room today. I hadn’t, and it struck a painful nerve in my heart. I have known, liked and respected John for many years, and while I won’t lie and try to claim we were close friends he was a comedy peer and we shared a stage on many occasions.

What freaked me out deeply was that I had just thought of him yesterday. I was between shows in the green room at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago last night, and happened to run across one of John’s DVDs laying around. John was a regular at Zanies, and that’s how we hooked up years ago. The owner of Zanies Rick Uchwat acted as John’s manager, and they were extremely close.

I’m not sure exactly what their professional relationship was, but John and Rick were a hell of a team. Both were loaded with natural charisma, and they could always be seen together when he worked at Zanies – which was often. I loved them both, and always looked forward to when they would both be around. John was a world class comedian, and I never met a kinder human being.

John had a March birthday like I do, and I tried to at least contact him on his birthday if I’d not seen him in a while. Rick had a March birthday too. I’d accidentally overlooked John’s birthday this year, and seeing that DVD last night jarred my memory. I made a mental note to get in touch.

Unfortunately, now I’ve missed my chance forever and I feel horrible. John was a super gentle soul, but did have some vicious demons. I could see he was in pain, and we talked about it often. It was hard not to like the guy, and I felt very sad for him when he’d tell me about his life story.

He was from Boston originally, and totally a dented can. Like me, he was a big time giver and those are the people that get screwed over the hardest. He told me of many instances where he’d gotten the shaft, and I know it hurt him. It should have, because he had a mammoth heart of gold.

Whenever he would play a Zanies, he was famous for buying food for everyone from comics to staff and even fans. One time I saw him spend $100 at Taco Bell, and that’s not easy to do. There was a lot of pain inside him, but he always tried to make others happy instead of wallowing in it.

I hadn’t seen John a lot in the last few years, but the last time we did cross paths I thought he’d looked as good as I’d ever seen him. He had an operation to keep his weight down and it worked. He was in great spirits, and we had a lot of laughs. I always felt relaxed and at home around him.

He possessed an off the charts level of likeability onstage and off that few if any ever begin to approach. He had ‘it’, and then some. He even opened for Frank Sinatra for a while, and that’s a powerhouse credit all by itself. He was an amazing talent, and I am lucky to have crossed paths.

His main credit was being the guy that was car jacked on the final episode of “Seinfeld”, but he was so much more than that. I salute his life and accomplishments, and I hope he is finally at peace. If anyone deserves it, it’s him. He had a heart bigger than he was, and everyone that ever met him adored him. I know I did – and still do.

There has never been a funnier - or kinder - comedian than John Pinette. He was beloved by all who knew him. I am one. SO sad to hear of his passing today.

There has never been a funnier – or kinder – comedian than John Pinette. He was beloved by all who knew him, and I am one. He was a giant talent with an even bigger heart.

A Personal Victory

January 22, 2014

Tuesday January 21st, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Success! Ah, the taste is so sweet. It’s a small taste, but that’s ok. One bite of the highest grade of chocolate or finest cut of steak not only is still delicious – it makes one want more. After quite a few glitches to the point of completely starting over with a different company my new monthly “Maxwell’s Silver Humor Newsletter” has finally been sent out to a handpicked list of recipients.

In the big scheme of life I know it means less than nothing, but to me personally it’s as big of a victory as I’ve had in quite a while. When my business partner embezzled from me a while back it really rocked my world to the core. I totally didn’t expect it, and it jarred my business to a halt.

I had stupidly allowed him free reign of just about everything off stage, and when he pulled his little stunt and I had to fire him it set me back tremendously. We had a nice flow going, and I had a monthly newsletter that was very well received. This was before I started writing a daily diary.

Allegedly we had it up to 2500 recipients, but I can’t confirm that because I never saw any list. I took his word for it, but I have no reason to think he’d lie about that number. On the other hand I had no reason to think he’d steal from me either, but that’s a different story. I think it was right.

When we parted ways, not only did he not give me the mailing list he used it to try and start his own comedy classes using another teacher. I was shocked, hurt and infuriated all at once, and the whole situation degenerated into a big ugly mess. Many of the people on that list were friends of mine outside of comedy and weren’t students at all. I had to explain the situation over and over.

What a nightmare it all turned out to be, and quite honestly I seethed about it for years. I’m not the first person to get scorched by a business partner, but that was personal, messy and took a lot of inner discipline to not track him down and pound a tune on his skull with a monkey wrench.

After dragging everything through the mud for a few years he eventually moved to Australia -which still isn’t far enough away for my tastes but will have to do. I don’t know what he’s into now, and I really don’t care as long as it’s not comedy or comedy classes. The damage is done.

Once in a while I’ll have somebody out of the blue ask “Hey, whatever happened to your old newsletter? I used to really look forward to it.” It makes me cringe inside, but I always tell them I’ll make sure I add their name to the list when I start it up again. Today I fulfilled my promise.

I’ve been compiling email addresses for several years now, and our initial mailing had almost 2000 entries. I know a lot of those will bounce back, and that’s fine. We knew it would take lots of tweaking to get it going smoothly, but we just wanted to get it going. The glitches weren’t fun, and ended up delaying everything by eight days. Our target was the 13th, but we got it out today.

Kudos to my one man pit crew Eric Feinendegen for hanging in there and seeing it through. He knows the situation with the last guy embezzling, and we’ve got a different agreement altogether. Actually, it was almost a good thing I experienced all that because now it’s a much better system and I won’t have that happen ever again. It was a painful lesson, but one well learned. I received all kinds of responses today from people I hadn’t heard from in years. That’s just what I wanted.

This was a long, hard painful road back, but I’m here and it feels ecstatic. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever be able to pull it off, but I hung in there and kept pecking away for years until I could get all the ducks in a row to try again. Today is that day and the sweet taste of victory is extra delicious.

But I know that’s all it is, a taste – and a tiny one at that. This was just the very beginning of an ongoing process that needs to last the rest of my business life. I need to establish a track record to those that don’t know me but could potentially hire me, and there are too many of those to count.

Of the 2000 or so names I have on the list now, a lot of those are personal friends and/or people that aren’t ever going to hire me. There are several hundred comedians for example, and I’m glad to be in contact from a friendship angle but for business they’re not going to do me much good.

I might get an occasional referral or get thought of for a fallout, but that’s not where my target is. I want to get my name in front of bookers of the best paying work available. That’s the reason to do this at all, and that’s why I’m making it such a priority. It’s basically an ad for my services.

Sending out one email is fine, but it’s surely not the end all be all. I heard from several bookers I hadn’t had contact with in a while, and that’s exactly what I was looking to have happen. I have been pathetic at staying in contact consistently, but that ends as of today. I’m already a winner.

I’m sure it will lead to a few bookings at some point, and that’s fantastic. It’s money directly in my pocket just for reminding people I’m still here. Now I have to grow this list and find EVERY person that could possibly book me and get in front of them every month. That will take a while.

I don’t have a clue who books what in the corporate world, and I also need to delve into media as well. Jimmy Fallon is taking over The Tonight Show in a few weeks. Who is the talent booker for comedians? Jimmy Kimmel? Conan O’Brien? David Letterman? I should know all the names and have all the contact info of these people but I totally don’t. And that doesn’t include radio.

Who are the producers of the top national, regionally syndicated and local radio shows all over North America? What about The U.K. or Australia or even the Armed Forces Network? There is a LOT of work to do, and this is just the tip of the tip of a gigantic iceberg. This is where money will come from, and I need to treat this list like the gold mine it will be. It’s my ticket to success.

I know it will take time to get it really humming like I picture, but today was a terrific start and I’m thrilled to be back in the game. Eric did a phenomenal job, and I’m grateful to be teamed up with him. He’s been great to work with, but if he embezzles he’s going to have to work harder to make it happen than the last guy. I’m a lot more wary now, and that’s good. I think we’ll be ok.

It feels tremendous to finally be getting my business chops in gear. I’m going to add all kinds of valuable contacts to my list as the year progresses, and I’m finally going to be smart enough to grow them into relationships. I’m also going to reconnect with people I shouldn’t have let lapse.

The work on this project is only beginning, but today was a major step. To fight back from the lowest point I can imagine feels extra satisfying, and any bitterness I had toward Mr. Embezzler is all gone. He actually did me a favor. Without that experience, I wouldn’t be as ready as I am.

'Maxwell's Silver Humor Newsletter' is now a reality. If you'd like to get on the list, send a valid email address to bookdobie@gmail.com.

‘Maxwell’s Silver Humor Newsletter’ is now a reality. If you would like to receive it each month, send a valid email address to bookdobie@gmail.com.

Hopefully chicks will dig it.

Hopefully chicks will dig it.

Even if they don't, it should  be good for business.

Even if they don’t, it should be good for business.

Bill’s Pills

June 30, 2013

Saturday June 29th, 2013 – Ann Arbor, MI

   Oh, for consistent bookings like this weekend in Ann Arbor, MI. I forgot how much fun being a comedian can be, and this trip was a pleasant reminder. This is exactly how it should be, and if I had my way my schedule would be loaded with gigs like this. I don’t know if they’re out there.

   There are so many things that are right about this club. It’s been running successfully for more than thirty years, so that’s usually a good sign. They’ve had time to work out the bugs, and there is a bond with the community that now has transcended generations. It’s become a town fixture.

   I highly doubt any other comedy club could knock them off the perch, and if another one tried to open I don’t think they could last. Both clubs might suffer, and both could close. This is a one club town, and they are doing an outstanding job serving their customers. It’s run as it should be.

   All I’m asking for realistically is about 25-30 places like this around the country to practice my craft and make a respectable living. I work enough for Zanies in Chicago and am developing the whole ‘Schlitz Happened!’ concept that I can stay closer to home and keep working every week.

   I’d love to be working close to home two weeks a month, and have the other two weeks on the road doing gigs like this. It’s an easy drive, and the pay is enough where I can come out at least a little bit ahead. I’m not greedy, and this is very satisfying on many levels. These people get me.

   Tonight’s shows were even better than last night. My friend Bill Mihalic drove from his house in the northern Detroit suburbs to hang out and bought me a delicious and healthy dinner at B.D. Mongolian Barbecue. He didn’t have to do that, but I’m glad he did. It was a special day for him.

   This was his first official day of being retired from the automotive industry. Bill slugged it out in corporate America, and developed comedy writing as a hobby along the way. He took my one day seminar right here in Ann Arbor ten years ago this month, and has been writing ever since.

   Stories like Bill’s make me keep teaching classes whenever I can. He’s not taking what may be considered the “traditional route”, and that’s why I’m extra proud of him. He has blazed his own trail, and that’s even more difficult than coming up the ranks the way that everybody else does.

   I’m sure corporate America has a laundry list of major hassles of its own, but Bill managed to hang in there long enough to make it to retirement, and now he’s free to pursue what he wants to do but also enjoy the perks of having a beautiful home, family and all that goes with it. He won.

   I have all the respect in the world for Bill, because he WORKS. Whether it was his day jobs or writing jokes, Bill has a Herculean work ethic that has always impressed the hell out of me and it still does. Over dinner tonight he was like a kid in his giddiness describing all his future projects.

   It was refreshing to hear someone with that much excitement about comedy projects, and it put me in a better mood than I already was. It’s easy to see the pitfalls of the business, but when I see someone as excited as Bill it makes me happy for him and proud that my class got him started.

   Bill writes a daily joke sheet called “Bill’s Pills”. He’s also been writing for Jay Leno for a few years now, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for him. You can get a free subscription to Bill’s jokes at www.highimpacthumor.com. This was a fun trip, and I’m glad I came. Now I only have to fill 51 more weeks each year with gigs like this and I’ll be set. I’ll worry about it later. This was fun.

A Day Well Spent

June 20, 2013

Wednesday June 19th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI/Libertyville, IL

   The emotional roller coaster ride continues. It was mostly a series of tremendous ups today, but there was one down. I guess without the downs the ups are meaningless, so for today I’ll attempt to keep my focus on those. There were several, and it was a day that will have a lasting impact.

   I drove up to Milwaukee for a series of errands this morning. With gas prices sky high, one has to clump errands together these days. I hadn’t seen my cousin Wendy in a while, so I asked if she wanted to have breakfast. Her daughter Katie is the working partner of Milwaukee Police Officer Josh Albert who was severely injured by a wrong way drunk driver in a car accident in October.

   Wendy reported that Josh is not only up and walking, but he’s back to work. That’s miraculous news, and anyone who saw him being rolled into Shank Hall in a wheel chair would agree. I will never forget the emotional vibe that engulfed the room when he arrived that night. It was electric.

    I was delighted to hear the super news about Officer Albert, but then she followed that up with a horrible story about how the 8 year old daughter of her other daughter has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. That really bothered me, and still does. Life can be so ugly, and I fail to see why.

   Why doesn’t Charles Manson have a brain tumor? That waste of sperm chugs on into old age a stalwart picture of health, but a beautiful little 8 year old girl has a brain tumor. Who is in charge of handing life’s fates out, and where is the complaint department? It all seems SO uncalled for.

   After breakfast I attended a book signing by my long time friend Tyrone Pierre Dumas. Tyrone is in the generation of Milwaukee comedians ahead of me, but we’ve been friends going on thirty years now. He goes back to my earliest days, and has always been a supporter of everything I do.

   He wrote a book titled “Food is my Orgasm”, and today was his big day. Tyrone has also been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and has had some other health issues. His book was written with the premise that some people like food more than sex – or at least would have to think about it.

   James Gregory in Atlanta joked about that same thing when we hung out a few months ago. He said if forced to choose between the best sex of his life or a great meal he’d have to really think it over. Tyrone has been working on this book for years, and he put out a press release to invite me so I had to show up. Even with gas prices soaring, the price of friendship was worth every cent.

   At the end of it all, nobody will remember how much my gas cost today. Seeing Tyrone’s face light up with recognition when I walked in the book store immediately told me I had made a wise investment. He was telling everyone that I had driven up from Chicago, and they all appeared to be impressed that someone would come all that way just to attend a book signing in Milwaukee.

   I would have driven up from Miami to see him have his day. Writing a book or doing anything else creative is never an easy task, and I for one can relate to the process. I bought a book at full price, and was happy to do so to support the effort. There was nothing but positive energy in the room, and that’s what life is supposed to be about in my opinion. I was happy to see his success.

   Tyrone stopped doing comedy years ago, but he’s still a dented can like most of us are. He saw the hard road comedy is, and chose instead to be a husband, father, community activist and make his contribution that way. He’s a top shelf human being, and I’m proud to call Tyrone my friend.

   Tonight was also a big night at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL where a comedy class I’ve been teaching had their graduation show. Those are always fun, but tonight was extra special. Of all the classes I’ve ever taught, I’d have to say this was the one that worked the absolute hardest.

   They were a group of Toastmasters, and unlike most of my classes they had previously known each other before signing up. Most of the other classes are random groups comprised of a totally unfiltered mix of anyone and everyone from anywhere and everywhere. This was a different mix.

   These people wanted to learn to add humor to their speeches, and quite honestly I was a bit of a skeptic when I’d heard about them. Improv Playhouse attracts a different clientele than Zanies in Chicago, and it’s far enough away where they don’t compete. It’s not far from home, so I do it.

   We’ve had a few classes to this point, but honestly nothing special. It’s been a tough sell to get full classes, but standup comedy isn’t their focus like a Zanies or any other comedy club. They’re an improv theatre, and standup is a side bar. That’s fine, and if we can fill a class up I’ll show up.

   This was a totally different scenario. They came to Improv Playhouse specifically requesting a class custom made just for them. I’ve had a couple of requests like that over the years, but these guys came to learn. They were from a corporate background as a whole, so I aimed my lessons at that angle. It was a challenge for me to customize my lesson plan, but I always enjoy challenges.

   The leader of the group is a guy named Eric Feinendegen. He’s in the financial business, and is an award winning speaker in the Toastmasters world. He told me at the beginning of class that he wanted me to “whip the group into shape”, so I tried to oblige. If someone tells me they want the truth, I’ve always been one to give it to them. Come to think of it, I give it when they don’t ask.

   It was funny to me to hear these people grumble and groan throughout the run of the class. I’ve never thought of myself as a taskmaster, but they seemed to view me as a cross between Captain Bly and some ruthless Third World dictator. All I was doing was stressing comedy fundamentals, and not backing down. The process is NOT easy, and I assured them I understood their feelings.

   And I totally do. Nothing about standup comedy is easy, even though the best ones can make it look that way. Looking effortless requires PLENTY of effort, and this class got to see how much that was. It was a lot more than they thought, but to their credit they kept showing up each week.

   They had a splendid work ethic, and even though they moaned and groaned they were a willing bunch and trusted my input – for the most part. Some of them fought it at times, but I never mind that at all. I am there to make suggestions, but in the end it’s the student who gets the final word.

   Tonight was their reward for all their hard work and putting up with what they perceived to be my constant and relentless harassment, and they all came through with flying colors. I love to see these nights happen, and I’ve seen it too many times to count. I never get sick of it though, and it was just as much fun for me to watch them go up and kill it as it was for them. They all nailed it!

   The biggest compliment of all came from Eric when he made it a point to come up afterward to tell me I changed his life. He said taking my class opened his eyes to a whole new world, and it’s comments like that that make me keep teaching all these years. What a flattering thing to hear on many levels, and I was truly humbled by it. This was a fantastic night for the class and a big day for Tyrone Pierre Dumas, but I still can’t help thinking about an 8 year old’s delicate situation.

A Moment For Moe

June 19, 2013

Tuesday June 18th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Tomorrow is going to be a jam packed day, so I wanted to make mention a day early that it will the anniversary of the birth of Moe Howard of The Three Stooges. I always get confused on how to refer to dates like that. If someone is dead it can’t be their birthday, but it’s still a date of birth.

   Whatever the case, Moses Harry Horwitz was born on June 19th, 1897. By all accounts, he was a wonderful man. I have seen several interviews of people who knew him, but not once did I ever see anyone say even one unkind word. I sensed a great love and respect for him from everybody.

   Like most males, I instantly fell in love with the Stooges as a boy. My whole generation was an unexpected fan base due to their mass exposure on UHF television. Like millions of other young boys my age, I saw them every afternoon when I came home from school. They were superstars.

   None of us knew or cared about their back story then, we just loved it when Larry got a clump of hair pulled out by the roots or Curly would take a monkey wrench blow to the skull or a metal bear trap to the derriere. Shemp would do in a pinch, but he wasn’t our favorite. Curly was king.

   As I got older and got into the entertainment game myself, I developed a whole new respect for how truly great they were and what a fantastic career they had. It was basically a family business with Moe being in charge for decades – nothing like his cruel, heartless on screen bully persona.

   He held the act together, and they lasted for decades despite a few personnel changes along the way much like most bands have to endure. Sometimes losing a key member ends the band’s run as it did with Led Zeppelin when John Bonham died. They decided they didn’t want to continue.

   Moe kept it going after the deaths of both Curly and Shemp – who were both his real life blood brothers. That can’t be easy, but Moe managed to pull it off without a hitch. They took advantage of their TV popularity and made full length movies for the generation of kids just before mine.

   I was a little late for those, but I did see them on TV. What boy didn’t love the Stooges? None that I ever knew. Girls couldn’t stand them, but too bad. Before puberty hits, the Stooges capture a boy’s heart way more than girls do. Then one day we wake up and our hormones are in charge.

   Still, those moments of laughter with The Stooges are precious memories to this day. I vividly recall sitting next to my grandfather as we were both doubled over in front of the television while Moe ran a saw blade over Curly’s scalp and bent the teeth. These are moments that are forever in a boy’s mind, and what makes them even more special is that their work lives on through time.

   Curly and Shemp were dead years before I was born, but I saw their work and it made me howl with laughter. As I got older I learned to appreciate Shemp, and as an adult I appreciated what all of them accomplished. The greatest honor is to continue to make people laugh after one is dead.

   I tried my best to entertain when I was here, but it would be unbelievably special if I could amuse a generation or more that haven’t been born yet. That means I have to create products that can last that long, and live shows don’t cut it. Somehow, I need to record product and duplicate myself.

   I’d always heard The Stooges weren’t fabulously wealthy in their day, and that the studio got most of the revenue. That’s typical of the business, but nobody can ever take away their fabulous legacy to untold MILLIONS. Moe Howard was a high class act, and I will always be a loyal fan.

Moe Howard - June 19, 1897 - May 4th, 1975

The Great Moe Howard – 6/19 1897 – 5/4 1975

Much nicer off screen than on. It was all an act.

Moe was MUCH nicer off screen than on. It was all an act – one that was beloved by millions and still is to this very day.