Posts Tagged ‘alcohol’

The False Face

November 16, 2013

Thursday November 14th, 2013 – Richland, MI

One of the truly difficult aspects of being funny for a living – and there are almost too many to count – is having to do it when the mood just isn’t there. It’s great fun to the point of intoxication to be on stage when one is in a groove and ‘feeling it’, but that isn’t the case every single night.

I’m sure it’s that way for other professions too, but it’s more difficult for comedians. We create the environment of laughter completely by ourselves, and bring the audience along for the ride. It begins and ends with us, and therein lies the magic of standup comedy when it’s done correctly.

I have no doubt there are days when strippers aren’t feeling the least bit sexy, but they will pull it off – literally – anyway. They have a distinct advantage over a comedian in that they’re able to go through the motions – literally – and please their audience. What they do is much more visual.

A comedian has to bring it from within, and that’s a lot harder in my opinion. I’m sure it can be unpleasant for a stripper to have to show her wares to a room full of drunken sailors, but she grits her teeth and plows through anyway. Drugs and alcohol might help, but comedians can’t do that.

We need to be at the top of our mental game, or at least I do. I can’t think of any comedian that goes on stage drunk or high on a consistent basis and maintains any sort of consistency. I know a lot that get blasted beyond belief after their shows, but while they’re on stage they’re cold sober.

Tonight was one of those nights where I just wasn’t feeling it. I’ve had a lot of those over a lot of years, but one learns as a professional to suck it up and get through it. That can be as difficult as anything I’ve ever done, but too bad. If I want to get paid, I will keep my problems to myself.

This has been the ultimate challenge at times, especially for someone like me that tends to use how I’m feeling to shape my show on a given night. I had a booker once tell me early on that he could tell exactly how my day went by watching my set. Some shows were upbeat, others dark.

One stretch that really stands out even now was when I was going through the horror of having to testify against my former best friend for robbing a bank. It took years for the whole scenario to play out, but I had to block it out of my mind for that time I was on stage every night. It was hell.

But torture as it was, it helped to make me a professional. Audiences don’t care about problems that aren’t theirs, and in fact they’re at a comedy show to forget about theirs for a little while. My job is to entertain them, and nothing else. They don’t care that I’m more miserable than they are.

Tonight I was in Richland, MI working for my friend Phil Anglin. He’s a major fan of comedy, and runs shows at his two bars a few times a year. He treats all the comedians like big stars, and I love working for the guy. His staffs couldn’t be any nicer, and they feed us a delicious meal too.

On paper, it’s one of the sweetest gigs I’ve ever had. In reality, it was deer hunting season so it was half full tonight in a place that’s not that big to begin with. I had to fight a drunken lady that babbled the entire night, but I plowed through and gave my best. Everyone was raving afterward, but I was someplace else mentally. I strapped on the false face one more time, and nobody knew.

Some nights a comedian just isn't in the mood to be funny.

Some nights a comedian just isn’t in the mood to be funny. Too bad. We do it anyway.

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The Chain Breaker

August 23, 2013

Wednesday August 21st, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

    For one million dollars free and clear in unmarked $50 bills, I couldn’t honestly tell you what I did on my 18th birthday. That was such a long time ago now it just blends in to the big blur that is life. One would assume it should be a special event to be cherished forever, but it wasn’t for me.

   I know what I didn’t do. I didn’t get high or drunk, as that’s never been my style. I didn’t have any parties or celebrations either. There was no big family get together or anything like that. My life was never ‘normal’, and by that time it was already going in a different direction than most.

   That direction was south. I was on my own by 17, having to scrape together a living by night as I finished high school during the day. I seriously thought about dropping out, but my grandfather was in the final stages of cancer and made it his last request that I finish. My father dropped out, and Gramps was completely embarrassed by it. I didn’t want to cause him more pain so I did it.

   I started my adult life in a big hole, and I’ve been digging my way out ever since. I had no time to party and chase chicks like most other kids my age, so I did what I had to do to survive. By the time I was 21 I was already getting started in comedy, and it was a long uphill climb from there.

   My birthday is in March, and Gramps died in December of the year I turned 18. That’s when I needed him most, but too bad for me. When he died, the already delicate relationships I had with the rest of the family collapsed immediately and World War III broke out in full bloody combat.

   My belligerent old man who was never there for me suddenly tried to step in and call the shots in my life and that went over like an accordion in Led Zeppelin. At first I tried the polite route to make an attempt at a father-son relationship, but that lasted just a few weeks before it got ugly.

   I don’t take bullies well, and that’s exactly what that bastard was – especially to anyone weaker or smaller than him. He treated all of his children like personal property, and I for one absolutely refused to take it. I got in his face, and the more I stood up to him the more he would back down.

   It’s never a pleasant time to be at war with one’s father, but that was an especially volatile time to be in that situation. Adolescence and puberty and all that goes with them are difficult enough, but not having parental support makes it downright scary. I’m surprised I didn’t turn to booze or drugs or crime, but I didn’t. For whatever reason, that just wasn’t in me. It’s not my personality.

   I vowed I was going to prove to everyone – especially the cantankerous ogre that was supposed to be a nurturing father and not my most hated enemy – that I was better than where I came from, and I wasn’t going to let anyone take my life or my dreams away from me. I chased the showbiz dream thinking I’d ace it in a hurry, but that provided a whole new set of political games to play.

   I made a ton of mistakes in comedy, but there was nobody there to reel me in. Gramps was the one steadying mentor figure in my life, but he was long gone at the time I needed guidance most. I made my choices with very limited perspective, and it launched my life path on an unnecessary detour that diluted my dream. With all of that on my plate, I’m surprised I made it as far as I did.

   What really hurt was the bubbling cauldron of anger I carried with me for so many years. I lost years of productive time I should have been growing and learning to focus on getting revenge on a psychopath who shouldn’t have had children in the first place. What a useless waste of youth.

   The reason I’m trudging up all this ancient mud from the past is my friend Max Bumgardner’s son Dustin turned 18 today. I couldn’t be more proud of Dustin if he was my own son – and Max is as high on my list as anyone can get. He’s one of my closest confidants and has been for years.

   Not only do I think Max is unbelievably talented and one of the smartest people I know – he is also a big time dented can. Max’s father is frighteningly similar to mine, and I knew right away when we first met that we were kindred spirits. Max has fought his whole life to break out of his father’s shadow, and his path has been no easier than mine. It’s like trying to sprint in knee deep sloppy mud while carrying two full bags of groceries and a watermelon. It’s an impossible task.

   Max and I became close when we worked on the morning show at 97.9 ‘The Loop’ in Chicago in 2004, but after we got fired we became even closer. He struggled with a lot of the same issues I did, and more than a few times we’d talk each other off a cliff when things got really difficult.

   We kept each other going, and were one of the few people the other could go to when life took a nasty turn. Dented cans can only relate to the pain of other dented cans, much like women trade stories about how painful their pregnancies were. I can sympathize, but I can’t truly empathize.

    I knew exactly where Max’s pain was coming from, and he knew mine. I never met his father, but we talked on the phone a few times on the radio. He actually seemed kind of nice, but that’s a very common trait of psychotic tyrants. Ted Bundy was nice enough to lure his victims to where he could do his deeds, and that was it. It was an act. My father often appeared gentle to outsiders.

    The pride of Max’s life has always been his two kids Dustin and Skylar. I have watched them both successfully grow from cute kids to solid young adults. Max has gone out of his way to be a world class father, and he has done a spectacular job. I remember sitting with Max and Dustin at a Bears game in Chicago in 2004, and what a beautiful father-son moment it was for those two.

   Max tells me all the time that Dustin looks up to me as an uncle figure. He plays my CDs over and over and Max told me I’m his ‘personal Rodney Dangerfield’. I remember how much I loved Rodney when I was that age, and to be put in that class is as flattering as it gets. I’m very grateful to have had Max and his family as friends all this time, and to see Dustin turn 18 is a major thrill.

   I don’t see Dustin all that often these days, but through the years we’ve enjoyed all kinds of fun times. I could see at an early age he was a wonderful kid filled to the brim with potential. He has an extremely sharp mind and is a gentle and loving soul – just like his dad. He’s got all the tools.

   He will have problems as we all do, but there won’t be that ugliness that goes with being from a rotten family situation. Any of us who have been through it know how sickening it is, and those who didn’t never truly will. I’m glad they won’t, and wish nobody had to. It’s not how I thought life should be – but for some of us it is. Dustin Bumgardner caught a break, and I’m glad he did.

   Max and I are always going to have deep scars of a painful childhood, but he showed courage to the tenth power for not turning right around damaging his own kids. It takes guts to break the chain of dysfunction, and Max has totally done it. I couldn’t be more delighted to see it happen.

   I called and left Dustin a message wishing him a happy birthday and telling him how proud he has made both his parents and me, and I meant every word of it. Max said it was a special day in his life, and he’s already ahead of ours by light years. Good for him. Dustin is the chain breaker.

Car Struck

August 20, 2013

Monday August 19th, 2013 – McHenry, IL

   If I have ever hit it big financially for any reason, the one and only vice that frightens me even a little is old cars. I’ve never had a drink of alcohol in my life, nor have I ever experimented with illegal drugs. Ever. People doubt me when I say that, but it’s true. I never took even one puff of a joint or did one line of cocaine. For whatever reason, those things never held any allure for me.

   Old cars on the other hand have owned my heart since childhood. My grandpa and I used to go on long walks when I was a kid, and he’d show me how to identify cars. Buick had the portholes, Pontiac had the Indian, a Lincoln Continental had the suicide doors, and the list went on and on.

   I was captivated by the cars of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, and I still am. They’re rolling works of art, even though most of the cars of today are actually much better products. I don’t care. I’d still love to have at least a couple of the old ones to enjoy. I don’t need a fleet, a few will do nicely.

   My friend Bill Mihalic in Detroit invited me to the big Woodward Dream Cruise last weekend, and I really wanted to go. I’ve heard about it for years, but I had to take comedy work to pay the bills and had to back out at the last minute. One of these years I’m going to get the chance to go.

   There’s just something about an old car show that puts me in a good mood. I love to look at all that hard work and pride of ownership in one place, and most of the owners are more than happy to share info about their babies. I’m genuinely interested in hearing it, so it works out splendidly.

   Today I happened to be out and about and found a big car show in McHenry, IL that’s held on Monday nights apparently. I had no idea it existed, but when I drove by I had to stop. It was free, and there were about 150-200 cars – mostly of that ‘50s to ‘70s vintage that I have loved so long.

   I was in my own personal heaven as I strolled through the aisles of gorgeous cars soaking all of them in for their intrinsic beauty. They had the standard fare of Chevelles and Thunderbirds and Chargers and the like, but there were also some more obscure entries one doesn’t see very often.

   I saw several Mercury Comets for example. When was the last time I saw ONE at a car show? They’re basically Ford Fairlanes, but it was still cool to see them. I also saw a ’65 Buick Skylark. I owned one years ago, and LOVED it. Mine had a crunched up front fender when I got it, but it was still drivable and had a lot of power. I’d barely touch the accelerator and it would really fly.

   I’m also a big sucker for Cadillacs. I’ve always loved them and always will. I think I’d qualify as an honorary soul brother, as I dearly love barbecue, soul music, Cadillacs and white women. If I had my way I’d never be without at least one Caddy in my garage, but at this point I’m just one small step from living in a garage myself. If and when a windfall comes, so will the vintage tin.

   Jay Leno really lived out the car fantasy, but I don’t think I’d have to take it that far. He’s been able to afford it so it’s no big deal, but at this late stage in the game it would take a lot less for all my wildest dreams to be satiated. I’d probably turn out like Elvis and end up giving cars away.

   That would be fun, I have to admit. I’d get more of a kick out of watching the look of surprise on someone’s face than if I actually owned it myself. Still, no matter who owns them I still love to ogle the classics. I loved every minute of the car show tonight, and it was a nice little surprise treat after the disappointment of missing out on the Detroit experience. I’ll be a car fan for life.

I LOVE Cadillacs! This is my favorite year - 1966. Super sleek!

I LOVE Cadillacs! This is my favorite year – 1966. Super sleek!

Another classic - the 1965 Buick Skylark

The 1965 Buick Skylark – another classic beauty!

The 1967 Mercury Cougar XR7 - I want one!

The 1967 Mercury Cougar XR7 – I want one!