Posts Tagged ‘basketball’

Buck Off

July 5, 2014

Wednesday July 2nd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

That Mother Nature can sure be one icy hearted cruel bitch when she wants to. I have been in a one way love affair with the game of basketball ever since I was old enough to know what it was, but she personally saw to it a marriage between basketball and I would never be consummated.

I loved baseball and football too, but basketball was my favorite – probably due to the fact that my hometown Milwaukee Bucks were the only winning local team besides Marquette University basketball coached by Al McGuire, then known as the Warriors. All the other local teams stunk.

Like most school kids, I was delusional and cocksure I was going to have my pick of any major professional sport I was going to play – maybe even two or three. I would make the Hall of Fame in at least one, and then I’d spend the rest of my life signing autographs at baseball card shows.

Little did I know Moms Nature had other plans. She left my toolbox completely bare of any of the tools I would need to play any sport professionally including badminton, bocce or full contact Chinese checkers. I’m Caucasian, clumsy and never came close to being six feet tall. Game over.

That didn’t mean I wasn’t a great fan, and I followed all my local sports teams in Milwaukee as I grew up. The Bucks were my team, and in high school I got a job as a ball boy. That was going to be as close as I would ever get to participating in professional sports, but I had fun anyway.

It’s been painful to be a Bucks fan since Senator Herb Kohl bought the team in 1985, but if he hadn’t they would have left town. I’ve continued to cheer for them, but that’s like cheering for a sheep in a wolf pack. All the cheering in the world won’t help, even if the intentions are sincere.

I was holding out hope when the team was recently sold to a pair of billionaires, but that hope was violently dashed to the pavement this week when the team hired Jason Kidd to be their new head coach. I don’t care one way or the other about Jason Kidd, but how the owners handled the situation spoke volumes. They botched it to the highest degree, and it was totally uncalled for.

Larry Drew was the coach of the team last year, and they had the worst season in their history. He was in a no win situation, but I thought he handled it with class and professionalism. That had to be a nerve shredding meat grinder, but he hung in there to the end of what was a brutal season.

It’s not uncommon for new owners to come into a situation and put their own stamp on things. I was the victim of it several times in radio, and that’s why I was so sensitive to Larry Drew and his situation. I wasn’t surprised that he was let go, but it was done in a way that lost my fandom.

I know he’s got a guaranteed contract for two more years and will be making millions without having to work, but that’s not the point. Couldn’t they sit the guy down and explain things like a human being rather than let it play out in the media? No human deserves to be treated like cattle.

Not that it means anything to the new owners or anybody else, but I’m not going to cheer for a team that handles business like this. The San Antonio Spurs don’t, and they win championships. I love how they do business on and off the court, and they are my new team. Buck off, Bucks.

This is the logo of the Bucks teams I cheered for since I was a kid. Their new billionaire owners lost me in their first week.

This is the logo of the Bucks teams I cheered for since I was a kid. Their new billionaire owners lost me their first week.

Badger Battle

March 31, 2014

Saturday March 29th, 2014 – Wilton, WI

Whenever the topic of comedic timing comes up, it loses the majority of those involved in the conversation as it’s an intangible entity. As a rule one either has it or they don’t, and there isn’t a thing they can do about it if they don’t. It’s like singing. If one doesn’t have it, it’s a lost cause.

This is a different subject for a different day. Today I had an example of comic timing that was completely different. I wish I’d recorded the show so others could learn from it, and it was so out of the ordinary that I think I could have learned from it myself. Situations like this are quite rare.

My show tonight was at a sports bar in Wilton, WI. I am a cheese head by birth, and I must say that before I booked this show I had never heard of Wilton. For those that may care, it’s between Elroy and Sparta along the famous bike trail. The population is 542, and there are no stop lights.

The ‘downtown’ consists of four bars, a post office and a Hardware Hank. There were a couple of other buildings that looked like they could be shops of some sort, but I couldn’t tell if they had gone out of business or not so I won’t count them. This town makes Mayberry look like Chicago.

A truck driver named Jeff and his wife bought and remodeled the bar, and did a spectacular job from the ground up. I was pleasantly surprised when I walked in, and the joint was jumping. Too bad the reason it was jumping was because the Wisconsin Badgers basketball game was on TV.

This is the timing I’m talking about. What are the chances a basketball game would have even a minor affect on a comedy show – in Wisconsin no less? This isn’t a state known for basketball, but on this night it was all anyone could talk about. Like it or not, that was the headliner tonight.

Both Jeff and his wife are not only nice people, they’re very sharp at business. I talked to them before the show, and told them we needed to call an audible. Both the game and comedy shared a scheduled starting time of 8pm, and unfortunately comedy was going to lose. The question now was whether to try and squeeze the show in before the game ended, or wait until it was finished.

I would have been fine with waiting until the game was over, but I’m not sure if the customers would have wanted to stay around – especially if the Badgers lost. Either way, I was going to be the one in the trick bag tonight so it really didn’t matter. I wanted to insure the bar made a profit.

We ended up starting about 8:15, and things were fine. There was a separate stage area that was away from the TVs, and the people wanted to see the show. The opening act did a fine job for the circumstances, and then I got on and started strong. I almost thought I had a chance to pull it off.

Then the game got interesting, and the people yelling at the bar became a distraction. I couldn’t avoid it, so I had them give updates from the bar. I started and stopped bits, and it was absolutely maddening after a while. Then to make it worse the game went into overtime, so I told the crowd I’d leave stage and we’d all watch the game. When it was over I’d finish my show. The Badgers did win, and I went back up and finished my set. It took the skill set of a Ninja, but I pulled it off.

I was cheering for my home state Wisconsin Badgers in the NCAA tournament - just not when I was scheduled to perform.

I was cheering for my home state Wisconsin Badgers in the NCAA tournament – just not when I was scheduled to perform.

It required the skill level of a Ninja to pull off a show tonight - but I did it. THAT'S timing.

It required the skill level of a Ninja to pull off a show tonight – but I did it.

A Sour Pickle

March 22, 2014

Thursday March 20th, 2014 – Mystery Small Town Location in Illinois

I’m in a pickle, and it’s a big old sour one. I really enjoy performing, and always have. I enjoy getting an income too. I have almost always jumped at any chance I ever got to perform, even if it happened to be in less than ideal conditions or subpar pay. I always thought it was better to get on stage and practice my craft than not do anything and let it rot. Those days are officially over.

There comes a point where there’s nothing to gain from doing tiny little gigs in tiny little towns for tiny little money. The time and effort it takes to get there, do the show and get back no longer makes it worth my while. Not only that, the drain it puts on the self esteem really kills the deal.

Tonight I had one of those gigs in a town I’m not going to mention nor will I name the booking agent that sent me there. I have no issues with anyone but myself here, so that’s where I’m going to point all fingers. In a way it’s a major positive, as I have graduated past these kinds of shows.

The booker in question and I have a very good relationship. This person asked if I’d like to do a show in a small town approximately 180 miles from Chicago. The money wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. But on a Thursday night when I had nothing to do I said yes as I usually do when things like this come up. On paper it would be a breeze, and I would sleep in my own bed.

I had the option of doing all the time myself, or bringing an opener. I like to give people a shot whenever I can, so I asked Caryn Ruby if she wanted to come along. Caryn is trying very hard to gain road experience, and she asked if I ever had a chance for her to tag along if she could do it.

I have an ever growing list of people like that – mostly former students – and that’s yet another reason I take gigs like this. They don’t float my boat like they used to, but if I take someone with me that’s excited just to be there it gives me a charge in return. Their energy helps me endure it.

Caryn is always very professional, and knows how valuable of an experience it is to be able to get in front of a real audience – even if it’s a small one. She had her chance tonight, and it was as small an audience as I’d care to have. There were a total of 14 people, and I think a few of those worked at the sports bar where the show was held. This is just not what I need to be doing now.

March Madness basketball killed the comedy show, but since it’s a sports bar one would think the person would realize that and now schedule a comedy show. I didn’t think about it from my end, but that’s not my job. I don’t own a sports bar. I’m not pointing fingers, but it does add up.

There was a separate room in said sports bar that holds around fifty, and we did the show under bad lighting with no stage. We stood in front of three dart boards, and people had to walk right in front of us if they had to use the bathroom – which almost all of the 14 people did at some point.

It was embarrassing, humiliating and not fun whatsoever. I had to do more than a full hour time wise, and at the end of the night the owner and crowd were thrilled. I did get my pay, but the ride home was hollow and unfulfilled. Caryn was happy, but I was miserable. It sucked out my soul.

Caryn could see I was less than thrilled, and started to tell me all the good things about the gig and how much fun she had. I appreciated her effort, but I wish she would have just kept quiet to let me brood or bring up another subject. Trying to salvage this situation was not going to work.

Again, I’m not angry at anyone but myself – and I’m not even angry at myself. I’m just not in the same mindset I’ve been in for decades when I would just suck it up and drive home and hope to come back another day. I’ve reached the point of not wanting to come back at all. I’m over it.

I have done too many nights exactly like this in too many small towns over too many years to count, and I have reached my limit. Driving roughly 400 miles to entertain roughly 14 people is just that – rough. It’s surely not smart from an economical standpoint, and I surely don’t need it for the experience. I have more than enough of that, so there’s no reason for me to even be here.

Caryn popped for dinner, which was all you can eat soup and salad at a truck stop just outside of town. I have eaten in thousands of places like that in my life, and it was just ok. Sometimes it can make an entire trip to discover some hidden jewel of a restaurant in a secluded location, but tonight wasn’t it. It was run of the mill chicken soup and bowls of lettuce served by a teenager.

I looked around at the locals eating there with us, and I saw absolutely zero spark whatsoever in any of their eyes. They all looked like lost zombies having a little snack before going back out on their hunt for brains. They weren’t bad people, but I didn’t feel a kinship with them and me.

The couple that owned the sports bar were very nice people as well. They had done about half a dozen shows there in the past, and of course “they were all packed full except tonight.” I have to believe I have heard that phrase or variations thereof more than any other living performer.

“Hey, you should have been here last week,” or “I don’t know what happened – we promoted it all over town” or any number of other last minute band aid excuses just doesn’t cut it anymore. It lets me know that I no longer need to be doing these kinds of shows, even if it means working at a car wash or bagging groceries. Doing it like this isn’t working, and it’s destroying me inside.

I have feelings and an ego like every performer, but nights like this in places like this are just what the doctor ordered to rip all that out of the socket and leave me feeling like a cow that has been completely milked out. I’m much better than this, and there’s no reason for me to continue saying yes to shows like this. I didn’t think it would be as bad as it was, and it kicked my keester.

People talking through the show and walking back and forth in front of me to the bathroom is just plain disrespectful. I don’t think they even realized it, so I did not take it personally. I gave them my best show, and at the end of the night they all loved it – but at what cost? My dignity.

I took my money and thanked the owners, and I truly wish them nothing but the best not only in business but in life. They seemed like nice people, I just can’t afford to come back here again. Even if it was ‘sold out’, it’s what – fifty? Sixty? Easy money does not exist. This was painful.

Caryn Ruby opened for me in a small town in Illinois tonight in front of 14 people. If you missed it, I can assure you it won't happen again. www.carynruby.com

Caryn Ruby opened for me in a small town in Illinois tonight in front of 14 people. If you missed it, I can assure you it won’t happen there again. http://www.carynruby.com

Sly And The Kidney Stone

November 1, 2013

Wednesday October 30th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

One thing I haven’t been a stranger to throughout my life is physical pain. Most of us deal with it at least a little, but there are those unlucky few that screw up the curve. I’ve always hovered at that elite upper echelon, even though it’s the last place anyone wants to be. I’ve had my scrapes.

When I was about ten, I stupidly rode a kid’s mini bike in an alley that summer wearing only a pair of shorts and flip flops. I spun out on cement, and scraped myself bloody from head to feet. I ended up being a walking scab, and it was extremely painful and inconvenient. But that’s not all.

In high school I broke both my nose playing basketball and my arm playing baseball in a single year. They were only a few months apart, and that was pretty painful. I’ve also had far more than my share of dental torture over the years. Root canals, braces, and big needles are familiar to me.

A week after my 30th birthday, I flipped my Mustang convertible upside down and ended up in intensive care with a twice cracked sternum, a broken jaw and lots of bloody scrapes. That was a horrific ordeal as well. I was in constant agony, and I basically had to learn how to walk again.

Then in 2011, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and had to have some gangrene sliced from my testicles of all places. That was nothing short of intense not to mention frightening, as I had a couple of day window where I wasn’t sure if I was going to lose all my plumbing or not. That’s a situation every man fears, and I wasn’t guaranteed I wouldn’t be singing soprano in a boys choir.

All of those things on their own were quite unpleasant, but tonight I experienced what I think is THE most physical pain I’ve ever felt at one time in one place. I was awakened from a sleep by a pain in my lower left abdomen. It wasn’t very strong at first, but it was enough to wake me up.

I wasn’t able to go back to sleep, and the pain got progressively worse. I couldn’t move, and it felt like I was going to die right there. I crawled to my computer and Googled ‘appendicitis’ as I wasn’t sure if the appendix is on the right or left side. It turns out it’s the right, so I was stumped as to what it was. Are there any important organs on the left side, or is it a stash of useless parts?

There came a point where I knew I needed to get myself to a hospital, and I got in my car to go back to Condell Hospital in Libertyville, IL where I had my surgery in 2011. They’re a top notch facility, and everyone there has always been on the ball from my experience. I set out to get there but the pain was so intense I thought I was going to pass out behind the wheel. I was quivering.

I hadn’t been to the hospital in a while, and I got lost on my way. I stopped to ask directions at a gas station, and I could see by the look in the eye of the attendant he knew I was in major pain. I made it to the hospital about 4am, and fortunately there was nobody else waiting to get treated ahead of me. I had to fill out the admission paperwork, and I could barely keep the pen steady.

It took the nurse about thirty seconds to figure out it was a kidney stone. They ran blood work and did a CAT scan, and eventually gave me some pain medication that was sent from heaven to relieve me of this Earthly horror. I’ve been through the wars a few times, but I can’t recall ANY pain I’ve ever had being worse than this. I sure didn’t expect to have to deal with this right now.

I'm no stranger to physical pain, but my first kidney stone is THE most excruciating feeling I've ever had. It's brutal.

I’m no stranger to physical pain, but my first kidney stone is THE most excruciating feeling I’ve ever had. It’s brutal.

Deep Sleep

October 29, 2013

Thursday October 24th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

I have had recurring dreams throughout my life, and I wish I could figure out why they happen and what if anything it means. They range from the traditional being back in high school without my homework to being on the radio when my song ends and I don’t have another one to others.

One I have fairly regularly is being booked to do a huge comedy gig, but can’t find my way to the stage. I’ll spend most of the dream feverishly trying to get to the venue, and then I’m not able to find anyone to report to backstage, and I never actually get to perform. It’s always frustrating.

Other times I dream I am on a network show, and go out and destroy the audience. They laugh at everything I say, and I know even before I say my next line that it’s going to crush. Sometimes the host is David Letterman, and he and I sit and talk afterward. It’s not clear if it’s on TV or not, but we’ll chat about the business just like two comics would – and he always treats me as a peer.

Another batch of dreams I’ve had for years is being a professional athlete and playing baseball, basketball or football. They are incredibly vivid, and it feels like I’m really doing it. I am right in the heat of action, and always know exactly what to do. In basketball I’m the point guard and get a rebound and dribble it up the court and either pass it off for a basket or sink a perfect jumper.

In football I’m usually a kickoff returner and feel the rush of trying to run one back for a score. Sometimes I make it a long way up the field, and other times I get tackled. Other times I’m in the defensive backfield and can feel where the quarterback is going to throw and I intercept the pass.

In baseball I’m the pitcher, but I usually get to bat and end up smacking a solid hit somewhere. I can’t control when these dreams happen, but when they do they’re of uncanny clarity and I can feel every tiny detail as if it’s not a dream. It’s a sensational feeling, and I don’t want to wake up.

One that has always puzzled me is where I’m walking down a city street and come upon a city bus that’s been abandoned. The bus is running, and I climb in the driver’s seat and start driving it on the scheduled route. I stop to let passengers on and off, and even answer questions they’ll ask.

I’ll feel that big steering wheel in my hands, and I know exactly what I’m doing and where I’m going. It’s unbelievably fun to be doing this, and I can’t get enough of it. When I’m done driving I just park the bus and get off. At that point I’ll usually wake up, but I still remember everything.

I can’t begin to guess what this could possibly mean, other than I need to take better care of my diet after 9pm. I’ll bet I’ve been having a variation of this dream more than twenty years and I’m still without a clue as to what it might mean. It’s a blast to drive the bus while I do it, then it’s over.

I had this particular dream again last night, and as a bizarre twist my only passenger was Rick Harrison from “Pawn Stars”. We were talking about comedy and pawn shops, and out of the blue I got pulled over by a cop and he wanted to arrest me for theft. Rick thought he was being set up.

I know it’s weird, but it’s so vivid I can still picture it. It’s like I was really getting arrested and I thought I was going to jail. This time I was glad I woke up. Even my life isn’t THAT out there.

I have had recurring dreams for years. Am I nuts? Probably.

I have had recurring dreams for years. Am I nuts? Probably.

Pleasure Over Business

June 29, 2013

Thursday June 27th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   In a perfect world, I would have spent the entire day hard at work. I would have gotten up early and hit the ground running. I would have gotten a little bit done on a lot or projects or maybe put a big dent in just one. I have a lot of things that need a lot of work. Today was ideal to get to it.

   But alas, I totally didn’t. I didn’t lift one single finger to do anything I intended to, and it made today a total zilch as far as professional productivity goes. I guess I can’t complain that I am not getting anything done as it was me who chose to blow it off, so I have to live with my decision.

  What happened was, my friend Rick Wey was in town from Nashville and he invited me to go to a Milwaukee Brewers game with his company. It’s a trucking freight company, and they have terminals all over the country. Rick comes up about once a year to do what he does and that has usually been in the summer. It’s become a tradition he goes to a ball game, and has invited me.

   The people who work at the Milwaukee terminal couldn’t be any nicer, and they have taken me in as one of their own. It doesn’t hurt that I am from there, but they’ve totally treated me like one of their family. I feel like an employee, without having to do that annoying thing called ‘work’.

   There’s a super nice lady named Joyce Brainard who puts out a pre game spread of food fit for royalty, and today was no exception. There were Usinger’s brats, which are the very top as far as sausages go, along with all the trimmings any tailgate party could want. It was an amazing meal, and everyone who came to the party was friendly and laid back. I felt completely at home there.

   Rick also brought his dad along from Nashville. He came up a couple of years ago, and he’s an extremely interesting fellow. I don’t know how old he is, but Rick is a couple of years older than me and I ain’t no teeny bopper. His dad is a sharp fun guy, and I can tell he was a great father by the way Rick is when he’s around him. I can feel the love and respect, and it’s a beautiful thing.

   The Brewers ended up getting stomped by the Cubs of all teams, but nobody cared. That’s not what this was about. It was about hanging out with nice people and not only enjoying a baseball game, but life itself. Yes things are hectic all over, but for one afternoon everything was perfect.

   We had delicious food and plenty of it, and perfect weather to enjoy a game. There were some of the sweetest people I can think of to enjoy it with, and we had unbelievable seats right behind third base that I know cost a lot. They didn’t have to include me, but they did. That’s why I went.

   Did I have work to do? Yes, but missing one more day wasn’t going to turn my life around. It’s days like today I’ll look at in the end and smile, so this was the right choice for today. Rick Wey is also a comedian and a very funny one, but he chose to keep a stable career for his family and I couldn’t respect him any more. I’ll take solid friends like him over showbiz B.S. every last time.

   Tonight I had an invitation from Marc Schultz to go to his house and watch the NBA College Draft. We’ve come to make a tradition of watching sports drafts, and it’s another fun evening to hang with a good friend. His wife Audrey always makes another great spread of food and we can hang out and talk sports all night. Again, was it productive? Probably not in the big scheme of it all, but it sure was fun for tonight. It was baseball all day and basketball all night, but it was a lot more than just that. The real highlights were being able to spend time with some absolutely super people who were nice enough to invite me to join them. That’s a high honor, and I appreciate it.

Nashville funnyman Rick Wey - a class act onstage and off.

Nashville funnyman Rick Wey – a class act onstage and off.