Posts Tagged ‘Bill Cosby’

Just Cos

July 13, 2014

Saturday July 12th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Today is Bill Cosby’s 77th birthday, and I challenge anybody to name a 20th century entertainer that has touched more people in a positive way. I sure can’t, and if there is one not only does my hat go off to that person, I will include my head along with it. Bill Cosby stands alone at the top.

My grandfather took me to see him when I was about 14. I will admit I wasn’t thrilled about it at first, mainly because I was a 14 year old know it all punk and didn’t think it would be any fun to have to sit through something like that. Looking back, I clearly see what a flaming idiot I was.

I remember getting to the Performing Arts Center in Milwaukee with Gramps early and finding our seats. All that was on the stage was a microphone in a stand, and I remember experiencing an immediate sense of disappointment. I don’t know what I had expected, but it was more than that.

To make it worse, there was an opening act we had to sit through. It was a piano player named Walt Michaels. I don’t know why I remember his name all these years later, but I do. He wasn’t bad, and in fact he was unbelievably good – but I was 14 and knew everything about everything.

Then Bill Cosby came out and within ten minutes both Gramps and I were bent over clutching our sides with laughter. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. He proceeded to pound it out for an hour and a half, and by the time the show ended the entire audience could not breathe.

I was a fan from that day on, and I’ve never stopped. Especially since I’ve done comedy – or at least a reasonable facsimile of it – for so many years, my respect for what he has accomplished is enormous. His place in the all time annals of standup comedy is in stone, but he’s not done yet.

And that’s not counting what he accomplished in television. Fat Albert was a staple of the ‘70s on Saturday mornings, and I watched it regularly as did millions of kids of my generation. After that he only came out with the biggest sitcom of the ‘80s. Most mortal entertainer types would be thrilled to be able to lay claim to any one of those things. Bill Cosby is more than a mere mortal.

Sure, he had a few movies that flamed out. So what? Most of us never get even ONE chance to star in a movie and he got several. People make jokes about “Leonard Part 6” and “Ghost Dad”, but who wouldn’t love to be made fun of like that? If those are his worst problems, he’ll be fine.

I have been unbelievably fortunate to have met more than a few legendary comedians in person from George Carlin to Richard Pryor to Bill Hicks and others, but Bill Cosby is one I would still love to meet. I don’t know what I’d say other than how much I love his work, but that’s enough.

I wouldn’t consider myself a peer, as he’s pretty much in a class by himself. I’m a lifelong fan though, along with millions of others white and black, old and young, Northern and Southern and just about any other kind of difference. Bill Cosby has made more people laugh than anyone else.

Can anyone think of a higher honor than that? There isn’t one. If he’s a dented can he sure does hide it well, but it wouldn’t surprise me. We all are to some degree, but people like Bill Cosby do us all a favor and make the ride a little more pleasant. What an amazing contribution he’s made.

Bill Cosby is still going strong at 77. What a career he has had. Wow.

Bill Cosby is still going strong at 77. What a truly legendary career he has had. Wow.

All Hat, No Cattle

March 20, 2014

Tuesday March 18th, 2014 – Rosemont, IL

The Bat Phone rang at the last minute again yesterday, and I was asked to host the “10 for $10” showcase at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont, IL tonight. I never mind getting that call, as it’s an easy gig and I like to observe the next generation of comedians and know what they’re doing.

There are more absolutely horrendous acts these days than ever before, but there are good ones too. It’s always rare in any creative field to see “naturals”, but when it’s easier for anyone to gain access to doing it there are bound to be higher odds. But at the end of the day, true talent shines.

When I started, not that many people were doing standup comedy. Most cities had a core group of comedians, and they knew each other. It was that way in Milwaukee, and I was one of about a dozen at the core of the comedy scene for several years. Some came and went, but for the bulk of that time that same dozen or so were it. It was that way everywhere for the most part back then.

As time has passed, there has been an explosion in the number of wannabe comedians and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Most of them I see are complete idiots quite honestly, and I fail to see their reason for doing it. I was an idiot too, but I knew it and realized I had a long way to go. I respected the craft, and would do whatever was needed to improve. I was a student of the game.

I am still a student of the game, and that’s why I host showcases whenever I can. When I came up, most of us were on roughly the same level. I started out on the bottom but quickly caught up. Today there is a great chasm between generations, and the cockiest ones seem to be the newbies.

The dawn of the internet generation has not done standup comedy any favors. I’m seeing a new breed of newbies that think they know it all before they start, and it’s laughable to listen to all the attitude they bring without having ever done anything. In Texas they call that “all hat, no cattle”.

I’ll preach that standup comedy is the hardest performance art there is to my dying day because it happens to be the truth. I can’t think of any craft that isn’t difficult, but standup comedy is high atop any list. Anyone that has ever truly succeeded knows that, and greatly respects the process.

I know I do, and that’s why I try to be extra nice to those coming up the ladder. There are many rungs on that ladder, and we’re all at different levels at any given time. Very few ever make it to the very top one, but those that do deserve the ultimate respect. Bill Cosby is one I can think of.

He has taken standup comedy about as far as anyone ever has, but he’s still out there working it at age 76 – and the key word is WORKING. His schedule is full, and still works clean fifty years after he started. Is there a coincidence there? Hardly. We can all learn from his success methods.

Any real comedian doesn’t have time to cop any attitude. He or she is out there working on the craft constantly, and not trying to become a star the easy way by avoiding work. This new breed of cocksure rookies needs to dial it back a few notches and study the masters. I know I do, and it tells me how much more work I need to do. Bill Cosby has so much cattle, he doesn’t need a hat.

gene wilder

Bill Cosby is busier than I am at age 76. And he doesn't need the money. All comedians can learn from him.

Bill Cosby is busier than I am at age 76, and he doesn’t need the money. He’s at the top of the ladder. All comedians can learn from him.

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!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Evolution 9

August 5, 2010

Tuesday August 3rd, 2010 – Lake Villa, IL

Any good artist, or person in general for that matter, constantly evolves. Singers, actors, comedians, writers, radio personalities, anyone. Early Elvis and The Beatles are a far cry from their later stuff, and that’s good. Not all fans may like it, but growth causes change.

I’m at a point in my comedy where I’m feeling a huge need to grow. I’ve not had much of a chance to be an ‘artist’, because most of my ‘career’ has been spent trying to eke out a living. Part of that means playing it safe and not taking any artistic risks to get a check.

It’s easy to call that ‘selling out’, and in many ways it’s exactly that, but what’s so damn wrong about it? When push comes to shove, most people in the business would totally do it, and I can’t say I blame them. It’s difficult enough to make a living in the regular world, much less the surreal circus that is show business. I do see why a lot of decisions occur.

In some ways, some sort of conformity is good – at least at the start. It does tend to keep an act grounded in my opinion. It establishes a starting point to evolve from, and it makes it easy to chart progress. Early George Carlin or Richard Pryor weren’t even close to what they were at their end point, but they were both legends in the business. They evolved.

Even Bill Cosby has evolved. I saw him live when I was a kid and he was unbelievably fabulous. Then, I saw him just a few years ago and he was still funny, but talked about his childhood in a completely different way than the Cosby legend most of us are used to did.

He was still great, but in a different way. I think it’s necessary to keep growing or it will all fall in on itself and crumble. This is probably a major reason as to why bands break up, other than it’s extremely difficult to get people to work in harmony for any length of time. Fans want to keep hearing ‘the old stuff’, and musicians want to keep creating new music.

I’m lucky enough where I don’t really have that many fans. I have some, and I’m totally grateful for every single one of them, but in reality I’m a comedy mercenary. I get hired to do various commando jobs around the country, and I’m gone the next day. I’m in and out. That’s how it was in vaudeville, where comedians used to use the same act for fifty years.

Personally, that would be a prison sentence to me. I don’t care how well it paid. I enjoy working and tweaking and reinventing my show and also tailoring it to the specific crowd on that particular evening. That’s part of the joy of performing, and what keeps me going.

In my early twenties, I was extremely angry about a lot of things and out to prove to the world I wasn’t about to take it’s BS. I was green and inexperienced, and made all kinds of stupid mistakes, several of which I’m still paying for today. But I’m not that person now.

George Clinton’s famous quote is “Free your mind, and your ass will follow.” I tweaked it just a little. I have freed my mind, and my act will follow. I’m not sure where it will go, but it will go somewhere. As I grow and change, my act has to or I’ll be in comedy hell.

Asleep At The Meal

January 31, 2010

Friday January 29th, 2010 – St. Charles, IL

This is turning out to be a stellar week of work at Zanies for many reasons. First, we’ve had good numbers for every show so far. I’m not sure if I’m a draw, but it doesn’t matter. I see butts in seats and they’ve walked out smiling and that’s what makes everyone happy.

I’ve been getting great reports on the comment cards, and that never hurts either. Still, I never liked those things and still don’t. The booker of a venue should know what acts are right for that particular room, and not have to consult the unwashed masses for their input on who they want to see in the future. Most of them have no idea what they’re looking at.

That’s no offense to anyone, just fact. Most clubs have some kind of mailing list card to fill out which allows people to suggest who they’d like to see at the club. Most put names like ‘Jay Leno’ or ‘Jerry Seinfeld’ or ’Bill Cosby’ or even some comedians who’ve died.

Sorry comedy fans, Bill Cosby’s career path won’t be leading him to St. Charles, IL any time soon. He has quite a few bigger venues he could sell out in the time it takes to whip up a batch of Jello pudding. He doesn’t need to be working a 300 seat comedy club. I do.

That’s why I don’t need some halfwit marking down bad scores just because he doesn’t like the shirt I’m wearing or the waitress didn’t bring his Long Island Ice Tea fast enough. That kind of thing happens all the time in a lot of one nighters, and it isn’t very fair at all.

But what is? Not much that I know. I just know that Cyndi does her job as the manager and a lot more and tonight she took the comics out to dinner at the world class restaurant called “The Harvest” in the resort. It’s an outstanding experience, from the off the charts food to the amazing service. It’s one of the absolute finest places I’ve ever eaten a meal.

The resort doesn’t have to do that and neither does Cyndi, but they do and we were very grateful for everything. Our server couldn’t have been more thorough and kept our drinks and butter and everything else full the entire meal. We went early enough so it wasn’t that busy yet, and we could enjoy the whole experience. THIS is what makes life worth living.

Hanging out with wonderful friends and eating fantastic food for free is a nice job perk, especially in this day and age. I might not be Donald Trump, but I sure got treated exactly like him tonight. No matter what goes wrong in the next month, this was a total highlight.

After dinner we all went back to the showroom for the start of the first show. I was full from dinner and sat in the back to watch the show like I’m supposed to do. I need to keep track of what happens in case I need to comment on it. Too bad I nodded out in about ten minutes. The host did his time and brought the feature act up, but I slept through all of it.

A waitress woke me up literally right as I was getting introduced. I leapt from my chair and tried to be calm, but I was WAY out of it. There I stood, in front of a full house after just waking up. That’s most people’s worst nightmare. Not me. I enjoyed the challenge.