Posts Tagged ‘Bert Haas’

Fill In Fun

September 5, 2013

Tuesday September 3rd, 2013 – Rockford,IL/Chicago, IL

   The fill in fairy has been waving a wand in my direction the last few days, and I’m delighted to be included in the mix. I received calls from Jim Stone in Rockford, IL asking me to fill in on the radio at WNTA the rest of the week and from Bert Haas at Zanies in Chicago asking me to fill in tonight as their headliner. There was also a TV appearance included, and I said yes to everything.

   It feels great to be on somebody’s go to list, as I can use some work right about now. The radio gig is easy – only a two hour shift from 3 to 5pm today through Friday. I can do that in my sleep. The hardest part is getting to the station. There’s no easy route from where I live and it’s a hassle trying to guess when to leave. I don’t want to be too early, but I don’t want to cut it close either.

   Today I left at a reasonable hour and had no problems. There’s construction everywhere, but it wasn’t close to being as bad as I’ve seen it at times. I drove west on Illinois Highway 176 all the way to Marengo, and then it’s US Highway 20 all the way to Rockford. I arrived relaxed at 2:40.

   Everyone at the radio station is very laid back and easy to deal with. Howard Bailey Murray is the producer, and about as cool a customer as there is. He’s been there for a long time and knows what he’s doing and knows the town in case I have any questions. He makes my job really easy.

   I’m getting to be a much better talk show host also. I used to be petrified to have zero guests or callers to bounce off of, but today I went right into a solo rant about a couple of things that I was thinking about, and had no trouble whatsoever making it to the commercials with time to spare.

   After the radio show I drove right to Zanies on Wells Street in Chicago’s Old Town. There was a TV show called “Urban Grind TV” that wanted to interview me and film part of my show. I try hard to be an interesting interview, as I’ve been on the other side and know what I’d like to hear.

   The guy in charge is named Wally, and he was extremely professional as he explained what the show was about on the phone. It airs on Chicago’s Comcast three times a week, and they’ve built a loyal following in more than four years on the air. Their website is www.urbangrindtv.com.

   There was a crew of four including Wally, and they went out of their way to make sure it was a pleasant experience. They were thanking me for being willing to do it, and I thanked them for the chance to be on. It all worked perfectly without a glitch, and I wish the rest of life was that easy.

   The crowd tonight wasn’t large, and they weren’t the ideal TV audience but I didn’t mind a bit. I was thankful for the work, and did my best to lean in to it and do what I do. They came around eventually, but they didn’t realize what a solid show they saw all the way through. The host was Vince Maranto who is one of Chicago’s best comedians. He works often as an emcee for Zanies.

   The feature act was another Chicago act named Kevin Williams. I’ve worked with him before, and found him to be both competent and friendly off stage. It’s been several years since I’ve seen him work, and he’s grown by leaps and bounds. He had me laughing out loud several times. That takes a lot from an old battle scarred war horse like me. Today was a fun day from start to finish.

Old Reliable

August 18, 2013

Saturday August 17th, 2013 – St. Charles, IL

   In the constantly evolving world of standup comedy, we as performers get used to the ongoing soap opera drama of venues opening and closing over time. Anybody who lasts even a few years is able to name several places that used to do comedy shows that no longer do. It’s inevitable. It ranges from actual full time comedy clubs to one nighter hell gigs at biker bars in small towns.

   I couldn’t begin to count all the joints I’ve performed in that have not only discontinued doing comedy shows, but permanently closed their doors. I feel like “Fast Eddie” Felson, the character Paul Newman played in “The Color of Money”. Comedians and pool hustlers share the lifestyle of being nomadic transients drifting randomly across the country piecing together an existence.

   Of all the venues I’ve ever worked – and there are many – the one place I’ve probably worked the most is the Zanies Comedy Club at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL. That one room sums up my career – or lack thereof – better than any other place. I’ve worked there for decades.

   It opened in the late ‘80s, but I don’t remember the exact year. Maybe it was ’88. Maybe it was ’89. It was somewhere around there. I was just a punk kid opening act then, and nothing to write home about. For whatever reason, I hooked up with the Zanies chain in Chicago and they would use me a lot. It wasn’t because I was particularly good. I think it was because I would show up.

   Zanies had several locations including Chicago in Old Town, Mt. Prospect, IL and eventually Vernon Hills, IL and I worked them all time and time again. Mt. Prospect and Vernon Hills have since closed, and a gorgeous new location has opened in Rosemont, IL. I’ve been there as well.

   But the stage I’ve worked the most by far through the years is at Pheasant Run. It’s a beautiful setup for comedy, and most performers love working there. The stage is large, and the lights and sound are excellent. It’s a long narrow room, but when it’s jamming the atmosphere is electric.

   I’ve had hundreds of my best shows on that stage, and there have been some clunkers too. I’ve grown exponentially as both a person and a performer since I started, and a lot of that growth – at least on stage – happened right there. It’s been my training ground, and I have learned my craft.

   On the downside, St. Charles, IL is not considered a comedy hotbed. Major motion picture and network TV executives don’t book first class flights to St. Charles to scout for new faces to turn into superstars. It’s not that kind of gig. Every comedian in America wants to play the downtown Zanies in Old Town, as it has history. Everyone from Leno to Seinfeld to Kinison worked there.

   There have been big stars at Pheasant Run, but it’s not the same. No offense to anyone, but it’s just not. I’ve had my share of working in Old Town, and I’m grateful to be counted among those who have played such a legendary venue. I worked my way up from opener to solid headliner.

   But whenever the chips were down and I needed a paycheck, I could always count on getting a booking in St. Charles. When I would lose a radio job or when I was recovering from my horrific car accident in 1993, Pheasant Run was where I got work and I’m still grateful for it to this day.

   Even last week I picked up the opening slot because Bert Haas knew I could use a payday. The late show headline spot tonight opened up, and I got called again. Bert could have called anyone else, but he called me. I can’t be any more grateful, and this is why I’ll always be loyal to Zanies.

My Comedy Training Ground

My Comedy Training Ground

The Big Crap Shoot

August 14, 2013

Monday August 12th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

    Tonight I hosted the ‘Rising Star Showcase’ at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago as I have been doing frequently for several years. They’re held the first two Mondays of every month, and it’s a chance for up and coming comedians from all over to get a five minute audition for a booking.

   Nights like this used to be much more common in comedy clubs around the country, and I have myself driven anywhere from long to downright insane distances countless times for five minute chances to sell myself to a booker. It’s not the most economical way to do business, but it works.

   It boils down to one gambling on one’s own performing abilities with hope that the investment up front of driving time, gas, food and lodging will pay off on the back side with years of getting paid work. In theory, it’s always better to do a live set for a booker than to send a video. It’s easy for the booker to get distracted or not even watch a video. A live audition increases one’s odds.

   Still, there’s no guarantee of success. More than once I’ve driven across multiple states only to find out the booker that swore on two bibles he or she would be there had “something come up” and then leak out at the last minute. It’s maddening, but it goes with the territory. It’s a gamble.

   If I had to guess, I’d say in all the times I’ve driven somewhere to audition for work I’ve gotten hired about 90-95% of the time. If I didn’t get actual work, at least I was able to make enough of a favorable impression on a booker to be considered for future work. I only went when I thought I was ready, and it has paid off handsomely. Unfortunately, times have changed significantly.

   There was a very solid lineup of talent on the bill this evening, and as always I gave each one a stellar introduction and made sure the audience was paying attention. How many times has some bumbling emcee or worse yet drunken radio goof brought me up with a lousy intro? Too many.

   I go out of my way to respect the effort these people made to take their shot, as I’ve been there myself. Not all of them are ready, but that’s on them. From my standpoint everyone gets the star treatment with their intro so at least they’ll have a fair shot to prove themselves if they’re ready.

   Tonight’s lineup was absolutely ready. The audience was red hot as well. I’ve seen it line up in every combination from bad audience and good acts, good audience and bad acts to bad audience and bad acts. Tonight was good on all fronts, and when that happens it’s a pleasure to participate.

   I cheer for these comics to have solid sets, as I can so relate to what they’ve done to get there. I give Bert Haas at Zanies credit for coming out on a night off to not only watch new talents but to give them feedback as well. It takes time out of his already busy schedule, and I wish there were more bookers that did it. It’s an extreme courtesy to the comedians whether they know it or not.

   Back when I was starting, having a solid set in front of a booker would almost guarantee work at some point – even if it was a couple of years down the road. Now, it means nothing. There are just too many acts for the amount of available work, and most acts tonight won’t get a booking.

   Does it mean they weren’t funny? Not at all. A few were a little green, but they still had a lot of potential. Will they be ready in six months or a year? Maybe, but if they’re not getting paid work on a regular basis somewhere, it makes it tougher to hang in there and keep getting the stage time it takes to get better. How does anyone get seen and ‘make it’? I wish I knew. It’s all a crapshoot.

Summer Synergy

July 10, 2013

Monday July 8th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   The dreaded slowness of summer isn’t turning out to be as bad as I thought. I’ve been getting a lot of calls for shows, classes and even some inquiries for corporate speaking engagements. I was getting a bit stressed there for a bit, but it seems to be much better now. It always goes in cycles.

   With the crazy way the business not to mention the whole world is changing, it’s even more of a challenge to stay on top of things than it ever has been – and it wasn’t easy before. There are so many details to keep track of, it’s easy to lose hold of them all and become totally overwhelmed. 

   I thankfully got a call from Bert Haas at Zanies in Chicago to host both Rising Star Showcases this month. They’re traditionally the first two Mondays of each month, and the call couldn’t have come at a better time. It will help me get through the summer drought, plus I enjoy doing them.  

   Since I was going into Chicago anyway, I arranged a long overdue meeting with James Wesley Jackson to discuss the DVD project that’s been sitting for far too long. This is what I’m referring to when I talk about things falling through the cracks, and it’s time to get this project in motion.

   James deserves this and more, and I feel horrible it’s been on the shelf for so long. Life tends to have too many distractions, and it was totally unintentional. James has had the patience of a saint about it and then some, but now it’s getting to the point of being ridiculous. It’s time for action.

   I’ve said it before and I meant every word – James Wesley Jackson is one of the absolute most delightful human beings I have ever met both in comedy and out. Any comedian who has had the pleasure of working with him feels the same way. I’ve never heard a bad word about him EVER.

   He’s just a peaceful soul and a kind hearted human being – not to mention a really funny comic who happens to have a very unique style. James transcends boundaries much like Bill Cosby has for fifty years, and when you see him perform in person it’s virtually impossible not to like him.    

   We were fortunate to catch a red hot show on video, and I’m really proud of the product we’ve been able to put together. Mike Preston brought two cameras that particular evening, and it looks and sounds excellent.  Pedro Bell’s cover artwork is also very well done, and it’s ready for sale.

    I had money at the time we recorded it, but that’s all gone now. James wanted to do his part so he gave me some seed money to get things started. I am totally grateful and it came at the perfect time, but I was bound and determined to get it going anyway. I think we can sell some product.

    I plan to focus on getting James some positive attention within fans of Parliament/Funkadelic – and I’ve been one of those myself since the ‘70s. There are all kinds of them all over the world and I bet with my own money that more than a few will remember James and want to buy one.

    I could be completely wrong and have it blow up in my face, but even if that happens it’s a lot better than doing nothing. There’s a lot more to do including getting a press release written up to be included with inquiries to media outlets, and then we can see if I was correct with my guess.

   I really hope this project does well not only for James, but financially for us both. We have survived this long, so a little longer might not be convenient but we at least are finally “standing on the verge of getting it on.” That’s a P-Funk reference by the way. That’s where the most paying customers will come from, at least I think so. I think we can book some live shows as well.  

Once upon a time called NOW...the 21st Century Enviromedian is back!

Once upon a time called NOW…the 21st Century Enviromedian is back!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

April Fuel

April 3, 2013

Monday April 1st, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   It’s April 1st already, and somehow I feel like I’m the fool. Time is flying faster than I can keep up with and the first quarter of 2013 is now part of history. Really? I’m still behind on having my computer Y2K proofed, and I have a calendar in my wallet from my insurance agent from 1994.

Where does the time go? Away. That’s all that really matters. I’m seeing how important it is to make productive use of every free second I can, and I severely regret all the time I’ve completely pissed away until now. It’s not a renewable resource, and when it’s gone it’s gone. It’s precious.

If there is reincarnation, I sure hope we get a chance to come back and live life with knowledge going in, rather than being the empty headed halfwits we are now. Having someone to show us a few secret tips would help, but I guess that’s what parents are for in theory. I missed that boat.

My grandfather was great, but he died when I was 18 – right when I needed those tips the most. I made some extremely stupid mistakes on my own, and have kept that up to some degree for the duration. It takes years to get out of bad decisions, and sometimes the damage can be permanent.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to come into the world with some preexisting smarts? Damn, I’d be a major player and a multimillionaire by now. Too much freedom can be a bad thing, but I am by far not the only one to have mangled potentially good situations. Life is a big blind crapshoot.

Tonight I hosted the Rising Star Showcase at Zanies in Chicago, and after the show I hung out with Bert Haas, Jimmy McHugh and Kevin Naughton. Bert is the booker of Zanies, and his wife Sally is a comedian. Jimmy and Kevin are comedians who’ve done it as long or longer than me.

Bert was telling us that he and Sally were having a heated discussion on what a comedian’s job focus is. Sally’s view – and the three of us readily agreed – was that it was to always be working to improve one’s act and to be a better performer. It made perfect sense to Jimmy, Kevin and me.

Bert told us we were all wrong, and said it boils down to two words – SELL TICKETS. That’s never what any true comedian wants to hear, but it is the truth. If we don’t sell tickets, what does it matter what our act is? We might as well be hobby comics, and unfortunately most of us are.

This is a cold hard concept, and one I haven’t been good at embracing. It’s also the exact cause of why I’m not getting the results I’d like and other people are. I’ve known Jimmy McHugh and Kevin Naughton for years, and I like them both as people and think they’re funny comedians too.

Unfortunately, all three of us are among the struggling when it comes to our business. Any one of us could go on national television tomorrow and at the very least not embarrass ourselves, but what is embarrassing is how we’re all living hand to mouth after all these years of paying dues.

Had any of us had the vision of selling tickets first, our lives would be completely different in a good way. We’d be free to work on our acts – even though that’s really never a priority with fans who come to see us. James Gregory knows it. Jeff Foxworthy too. It’s April, time to smarten up.

Power For A Day

March 26, 2013

Monday March 25th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   Even before all is said and done in life, I realize that I am but a speck of tiny sand on an infinite beach. What I think or say or do doesn’t move the needle one way or the other on the grand scale of life, so all that really matters is to be able to please myself. It’s all temporary, so enjoy the trip.

That being said, I had a chance tonight to make some people happy and I did it. It doesn’t mean diddly squat to anyone but those involved, but that still makes it worthwhile in my eyes. I didn’t do it for any other reason than I know how good it feels to be able to make a dream come true.

If only for one night, I had the power of deciding who would be on the show at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago. Zanies is one of the top comedy clubs in North America, and getting the chance to book a show is like having the chance to manage a Major League Baseball team for one game or decide on the set list for The Rolling Stones for one concert. It’s a feeling of power for a day.

Bert Haas is the regular booker of Zanies, and that’s no easy task. Booking any comedy club is a challenge on many levels, and I could go off in many directions on how it’s often done poorly. There are a lot of behind the scenes factors that the public or even other comedians seldom see.

Bert trusts me on occasion to put together a ‘Friends of Dobie Maxwell’ show on a Monday to basically give himself the night off. He spends a lot of time between the three Zanies clubs in the area, so once in a while a night off helps recharge the batteries. I get that, and I’m glad to help.

I’ve been around the block enough to know how to put a standup comedy show together. I also know literally hundreds of standup comics on all levels, and every one of them would love a shot to work on the Zanies stage but rarely if ever have gotten the opportunity. I felt it was my duty to put as many deserving acts as I could up tonight to let them have their moment of fun in the sun.

Granted, it was a Monday night and the audience was stiff but many of the people who went up will never forget this day for the rest of their lives. Having a chance to make that happen for one person would have been a thrill, but there were several tonight. I got to play Santa and I loved it.

I’ve had similar experiences in my own life, and I’ll never forget those moments. I got to meet George Clinton, George Carlin and Rodney Dangerfield in person, and even though it was only a brief meeting each time, I will cherish all those memories until the final breath of my dying day.

I tried to squeeze as many acts as I could on the show tonight, and I hosted and gave them all a stellar introduction like they were going on at Carnegie Hall. I wanted to make their experience a pleasant one, even though in the big picture the only ones it will make any difference to is them.

One by one, they all came up and thanked me after the show, and I told them all they were very welcome and I meant it. They offered me the chance to do something nice, and that gives me the feeling of extreme satisfaction that I was at least able to make a tiny difference and do something good for someone else. Maybe I didn’t stop any wars or cure any cancer, but this feels SO good.

Rising Star Return

September 12, 2012

Monday September 10th, 2012 – Chicago, IL

   After a few months of being away, I hosted the ‘Rising Star Showcase’ at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago this evening. There are routinely two each month, usually the first two Mondays. I’ve not done them in a while because it’s an issue getting back and forth since I moved to the sticks.

From where I live now, it’s about 50 miles one way from my driveway to Zanies. When I lived in Chicago it was less than 5 miles, and that’s a significant difference. I used to be able to hop on a city bus a block from home, and it dropped me off two blocks from Zanies – a bargain for $2.

Driving presents a whole other issue. In any big city it’s a pesky hassle at best, but the Chicago streets are Thunder Dome. Between potholes, maniac cab drivers and red light cameras that snap pictures of license plates in intersections, it’s a constant sensory overload to maneuver anywhere.

Finding legal and affordable parking spots is another nightmare. Bloodthirsty ticket writers are out en masse, always looking for their next victim. They prowl the street just waiting for a meter to expire, and no matter how much anyone complains they’ll finish the ticket anyway. Bastards.

There’s a valet parking option, but that gets expensive too. There’s a parking lot just two doors from Zanies that costs $12. When I first started out it was $6, and stayed that way for years. Then it kept going up and up and now it’s double the cost in just a few years. It reminds me of postage rates, and that’s maddening too. Prices are doubling everywhere, but what I get paid is the same.

Still, I love to work so I showed up anyway. There was a hole in the schedule tonight so I filled it. It never hurts to get on the Zanies stage, as every comedian in Chicago would love to be doing exactly what I’m doing. I don’t take it for granted, nor do I disrespect any of the acts performing.

All of the acts on the show are there to be seen by Bert Haas, who is the booker. He’s very rare in the fact that he actually watches the performers and gives them a belly to belly critique. That’s not at all how most other bookers do it, and I respect Bert greatly for putting in the effort. He has been giving up free Mondays for years to do this, and I can’t think of many others who’d do that.

I’ve had to do auditions for years, and know what it feels like to get treated poorly. I’ve had to drive hundreds of miles, and then show up and go onstage without a shower or chance to prepare or relax before the show. I’ve had bookers fail to show up, or be in the other room when I was on and miss my set. That’s unbelievably frustrating, especially after driving several hundred miles.

It’s all part of the process, and anyone who has lasted as long as I have has similar stories and a lot of them. It can be such an icy cold business, and I see no real reason for it other than the ones doing it know they can get away with it. Bert making a point to watch the acts is quite refreshing.

I feel I owe it to the acts to give them a stellar introduction, and I do my best to do exactly that. I know what it’s like to have my name mispronounced, or be announced as being from anywhere but where I’m really from. It was a solid show tonight, and I enjoyed getting back in the groove.

A Lesson In Showbiz

September 1, 2010

Monday August 30th, 2010 – Chicago, IL

I’ve got two days back on dry land to pack in about a week’s worth of errands, then it’s  back on the ship for a full week run. Then I return to Chicago late on Tuesday September 7th to pick up my car and start driving to Michigan for a two night casino run in the U.P.  starting on the 8th. My schedule feels like a blender with the farthest right button pushed.

I’m glad to get the gigs, but sooner or later I won’t be able to keep up this pace. At least on the ship my travel is taken care of for me. Airline tickets purchased in my name and all I have to do is make it to the airport on time to sit in the seat. That’s not always been easy either, but at least the hard part is done by someone else. Now I need someone to drive.

That’s one thing that has really lost it’s luster in a big way. I don’t care if I ever have to drive an automobile again. I still need to get places, but someone else can drive. I’ll relax and enjoy the ride as a passenger, or maybe just nod out and sleep. Whatever the case, it’s not my goal to keep making marathon cross country drives to do gigs in remote locations.

The pay will be decent for the week though, and on Saturday I’ll be back in Milwaukee at the Potawatomi Casino. Normally I’d be in the Northern Lights Theatre, but apparently they’re remodeling it and the comedy will be somewhere else. That’s ok, they are always on top of it there and I’ve never had any problems. I’ll work wherever they tell me to go.

Tonight I was back at Zanies in Chicago hosting the Rising Star Showcase. I probably should have taken the night off, but I really do enjoy doing it – especially when the shows are how it was tonight. The audience was razor sharp and the lineup of talent was dead on and it was a joy to watch it all come together. I keep the flow going and it’s a fun night.

It doesn’t hurt that I get paid either, and I stand by my old school axiom that it’s always a good bet to accept the gig as not many comedians anywhere on any level are able to turn a buck on a Monday night. Any money is found money, and the gig itself is pretty easy.

A flaming example happened tonight of what NOT to do in a showcase situation. Some goofy wannabe bastard had his ’manager’ contact Bert Haas to arrange the showcase date, as is the protocol. Bert really does try to squeeze as many people on as he can, some that I probably wouldn’t if I were in charge. That’s his option, and I don’t tell him what to do.

He gave the ok for this ham and egger to get his tryout, and the guy brings about fifty or more people into the club to see him. There was a line out the door. Well, Bert insists the showcasers show up by 7:30pm SHARP. 7:31 and it’s a done deal. That’s his rule, and he enforces it fairly to all people. I’ve seen him throw a lot of experienced people off shows.

Well, the ’manager’ flips out and decides he’s going to pull every one of those people in the audience out to ’stick it to Zanies’. Bert didn’t panic a bit, and in fact helped clear out the room so the waitresses could clean the tables and get them ready for the next group of people who would take them, which is exactly what happened. That guy screwed himself.

This is a VERY important lesson for all performers to learn, even though it’s not at all a pleasant one. Unfortunately, life will go on with or without YOU, no matter who ‘you’ is. I know exactly what that feels like, as I’ve had my share of scuffles with clubs myself.

The sad thing is, it doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right. It just doesn’t. I’m sure both of those guys thought they’d made their point and sent Zanies scrambling because Bert has a rule he won’t budge for anyone. Not true. They were all totally forgotten about before the show even started. Other people came in, filled those seats and it was a spectacular show.

This is a very humbling fact to swallow, but a fact nonetheless. I remember my own tiff with the ape who used to own the Comedy Café in Milwaukee. I ended up not only being stiffed out of $400 for shows I did, I’ve never been back since. This happened in 1994.

It doesn’t matter that I was right, it burned a bridge. There were plenty of others to take my place, and over the years it became like I never existed, at least not there. They didn’t close without Dobie Maxwell, and I didn’t starve because I didn’t work their grease trap.

Was that smart business? No, it really wasn’t. That place was by all accounts a haven of all kinds of debauchery and skullduggery, and I’m glad I never had to work for that puke, but burning that bridge took me out of the mix there forever. I gave them the power, and that’s my mistake. It would have been much better to be the one to decide if I work there.

The Zanies example is going to be very similar. I didn’t catch the guy’s name or see his manager, but I know Bert knows it, and you can bet it will be a dark day on the sun when they get a chance to audition again. That’s just how it is, but none of this needed to be.

It always baffles me why the greenest newbies with the least amount of promise always think it’s a good idea to pack the house on an audition night with their buddies. That’s not EVER going to get anyone booked, at least by anyone who’s been around the block. They can see through it, and know the only real way to be a comic is to make strangers laugh.

Hopefully, that kid will learn his lesson. He needs to gas the ‘manager‘ dork, unless he plans on going into the pro wrestling business, and start over again. He needs to find him and only him in charge of making contact calls, and he needs to patch it up with Bert.

If that guy really wants to work at Zanies, he’ll apologize to Bert and start over again at ground zero, minus Mr. Manager. Bert is very fair, and I believe he’d be open to throwing the kid another shot, but not under current circumstances. Rules are rules, follow them.

After the show, Bert and I talked about the incident in the office as I was waiting for my check. He was reminded of something he once heard when a club owner brought out a big bucket of water and told a comic to stick his hand in up to the elbow. Then he told him to take the arm out and asked him “Notice any difference in the water?” Of course there was none. The place where the arm was filled in in less than a second, and now it’s a plain old bucket of water again. Any one person can be replaced. Fast. This is a lesson for all of us.

Double Exposure

May 25, 2010

Monday May 24th, 2010 – Kenosha, WI/Chicago, IL

Any time a comedian can get on radio or TV, it’s a good thing. Today I did both. First it was a radio appearance on WLIP in Kenosha, WI – the same station on which I’m the host of ‘The Mothership Connection’ on Sunday nights. There’s a show in the afternoon called ‘Happenings Q & A’. It’s hosted by Frank Carmichael, who owns Happenings magazine.

It’s amazing what a small world it is. I’d heard the show many times, as that’s what was on as I was learning to run the control board at WLIP for my show. I’d heard of Frank for a long time before that, because he published the magazine. Still, it never occurred to me that he’s the brother of a comedian named Kurtis Carmichael who I knew from years ago.

He was a competent comedian, but his ‘fame’ came from being a TV Bozo The Clown in Milwaukee and getting kicked off the air for being too suggestive. He caused a big stir when he did it, and I remember watching it a few times back when he was on in the ‘80s. It probably wasn’t meant for kids, but I laughed really hard. He was the original Krusty.

Kurtis was a funny guy and I always liked him, but his real flair was for business. He’s one of the most entrepreneurial people I know, and he was always telling me about what he had going. He used to have a fleet of motorized ice cream tricycles and hire people to drive them near the beach and sell ice cream for him. I always admired his money sense.

I haven’t seen Kurtis Carmichael in years, but as soon as Frank said he had a brother in comedy, I immediately knew who it was. They look similar, and it hit me right away that it had to be Kurtis. Evidently the opportunity bug bit Frank too, as he’s had the magazine for years. Good for both of them. I always enjoy hearing entrepreneurial success stories.

Tonight I filmed a pilot for a standup TV show that was held at Zanies in Chicago. The show was run by Bert Haas, directly from a conversation he and I had on the way back to Chicago from Hot Springs, AR last summer. I think there’s room for another show like it, as many came and went during the ‘80s and ‘90s. This is just an old idea done over again.

The good part is, it’ll have comedians that aren’t the Hollywood mainstays. There are a ton of undiscovered comedians between the coasts who are too busy working to be on one of the coasts trying to get discovered. Those are the people Bert and I interact with daily.

I have nothing to do with the production of it per se, but Bert made me part of the pilot anyway. He didn’t have to do that, and I sure appreciate it. The taping went very well and it was loaded with great acts from Tim Walkoe to Dwayne Kennedy to a dozen more that totally deserved to be included. I hope this show takes off, I think it’s got some potential.

Today was a good day all around. It was fun if nothing else, but I think it was more. I’m sure both of these contacts will pay dividends in the future, and I appreciate it that both of them would include me in their projects. This is what building a network is all about, and the whole idea is to help each other grow. Two healthy contact seeds were planted today.

Red Flag Rising

May 25, 2010

Sunday May 23rd, 2010 – Chicago, IL

There’s a red flag flying sky high. Time to knuckle down and work even harder. I was asked to be part of a panel discussion at a comedy seminar held in Chicago this weekend called ‘The Inside Joke – 2010’. It was a venture by a local guy named Nate Baumgart.

Events like this are never easy to pull off, so kudos to Nate for even attempting to do it. I did one several years ago at Zanies, and it was all kinds of work to get it up and running. I don’t mind work at all, but these events require a lot of things that try one‘s patience.

Who can predict what can draw enough interest to get someone to attend a seminar? It’s a crapshoot, and advertising is not and never was cheap. It’s a little easier now with social networking, but it’s still not easy to get multiple butts out to fill up seats for any reason.

I thought Nate did a very commendable job attracting people from all areas of Chicago comedy even though the turnout was rather sparse. He had some top level people from the improv and standup scene, and if anyone was interested in learning they should have been there shaking hands and kissing babies. Nate kept the admission price ridiculously low.

If I’m not mistaken, each session was able to be attended for only a buck, and it was $5 for the weekend. That’s insane. We charged $350 for the weekend for the seminar we did at Zanies and we still didn’t turn a profit. We used the money to cover all of our expenses and advertising, and that ate it up quickly. We also had to purchase an insurance policy.

I don’t know what Nate’s expenses were, but I hope he didn’t lose his shorts. I don’t see how he couldn’t have, but that’s not my business. My business was to make comments on a panel about standup comedy that included Bert Haas from Zanies, Chris Ritter – the guy who used to own the Lakeshore Theatre, and comics Bill Gorgo and Cameron Esposito.

There were a lot of disagreements about a lot of topics, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What I found disturbing was that nobody was there to see it. There are a whole lot of aspiring performers of all kinds in Chicago, and this is an event that should’ve been a waiting list only kind of thing. It was a great chance to pick the brains of some veterans.

I hope the business isn’t passing me by, but I’m in a dangerously close place where that could easily happen. I heard some names talked about by the panel I have never heard of, and I’m supposed to be in the business. That’s a huge red flag, and I need to fix it quickly.

The whole comedy game is changing, much like life itself. It used to be that everybody in comedy knew or at least had heard of everyone else. Now, there are people I’ve never heard of that are signing movie deals. I guess I should pay more attention to the internet.

I’m not really one for chat rooms or message boards or all the other things most comics need to know these days. It’s all evolving there, and if I don’t catch up and learn who’s on top of it I’m SO dead in the water. This was a wakeup call. I need to get better yesterday.