Posts Tagged ‘Bill Gorgo’

Scrabble Babble

July 22, 2014

Thursday July 17th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I think I am finally ready for old age – that or a long prison term. I have found the activity that is going to keep my brain occupied for the rest of my days on this out of control little planet. I’m hooked for life, and if there’s a rehab program I don’t want to participate. “It” is online Scrabble.

I have loved words and word games since my earliest memory. My grandfather would work on the daily crossword puzzle in the newspaper, and as I got older I would help – or at least make an effort. I didn’t solve many clues at first, but in time I got better and learned to enjoy the process.

Gramps never played Scrabble, but I had an uncle that introduced me to it at a young age albeit under unusual circumstances. My wacky aunt would always want to play, and she was a piece of work to say the least. She eventually caused us to bend the rules, and allow for trading of letters.

I’m sure that’s not the first time additional homemade rules have been implemented to a board game, but even that didn’t help my Aunt Charlene. She would always find a way to get into a big argument with my uncle, and it put everybody on edge. Still, I grew to adore the game anyway.

I had never heard of a Scrabble club before I moved to Lansing, MI in 1990 to take my first job in radio, but I was fascinated with the idea. The club met on Saturday mornings, with most of the members being women quite a bit older than me. I was 26 then, and they saw me as fresh meat.

They would bring assorted home baked goodies to share with the group, and many would bring craft projects to knit or crochet during the games. On the surface they didn’t look like a school of bloodthirsty sharks, but then I’d sit down and get shredded flesh handed to me week after week.

Wow, were they cold blooded. They would beat me like Ike Turner beat Tina, and never break a sweat. They’d keep on knitting and crocheting, and the grandmotherly smile would never leave their face for a second. Try as I might, I don’t think I ever won even one game. They crushed me.

I only went a few times, but I had a fresh respect for how much I needed to learn and how good someone could get at a game I thought I was already good at. They were on a level I hadn’t even conceived of, but it also made me want to improve. I have played whenever I could since then.

I can’t believe it took me this long to discover there was an entire online community of players, but I have now become one of them. I am hooked. It’s only been a couple of months, but I can’t see myself ever getting sick of playing. I do it whenever it’s convenient, and I don’t have to play an entire game if I don’t want to. But if I do, I can play as many games as I want at a single time.

Just like with the Scrabble club in Lansing, at first I was finding myself getting torched with an alarming degree of regularity. It was discouraging, but I knew I’d get better if I hung in there and that’s what I’ve done. Now I’m starting to win games regularly, and I can feel myself improving.

My two most regular opponents have been Bill Gorgo and Kristie Dickinson. They are terrific players that consistently kicked me around for weeks, but now I’m starting to win a few and they don’t like it. It’s a super challenge, and I’m never bored. I have found my passion for the future.

Anybody want to play Scrabble? I'm hooked for life.

Anybody want to play Scrabble? I’m hooked.

Advertisements

My Own Space

June 24, 2014

Sunday June 22nd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I’m back from my bittersweet weekend in Sparta, WI and am ready to move forward. It’s fun to visit good friends, and Jim Wiggins and Bill Gorgo are as good as they get. Jim’s family treats Bill and I like we’re in the will, but on the down side doing difficult shows for tiny audiences is a self esteem sucker and a dignity drainer. At this time in my life I just don’t need to be doing this.

Jim and Bill get it. They’ve been doing comedy for decades just as I have, and they know how I feel. Bill has been a high school teacher for years now, and has already made his transition into being able to do comedy when he feels like it. It works for him. I’m not so sure it works for me.

Jim could see that I was less than thrilled with the shows this weekend, and he took me aside at least four or five times to strongly suggest that I find my own space and start promoting my own shows. He said it should be a place where I can live as well so all my energy can stay in one spot. He’s done it himself more than once, and said it can be an exciting experience plus creative bliss.

There’s a comedian named Chris Speyrer that did exactly what Jim speaks of in the small town of Mason City, IL. That’s the home town of another funny comic named John Means – aka “Dr. Gonzo.” John and his wife owned a restaurant on the main drag, and Chris bought a building on the same block and has been able to keep the doors open several years now. I congratulate him.

Mason City is tiny, but it’s within driving distance of Peoria and Springfield and Chris books a lot of his headliners from the Bob and Tom radio show which is on in both of those cities. He has been smart to do that, and kudos to him for taking the plunge. That took a lot of guts on his part.

I’m not sure if a town that small would be to my personal liking, but there are all kinds of other options in a lot of other places. I have been wondering for years now how I could get off the road but still get on stage regularly, and my own place would be a way to do it. It would solve a lot of problems – but create a lot more. I’m fine with that at this point, and would enjoy the challenge.

I don’t know if I can find a place that I can live as well as do shows, as everything would have to be ideal for that to happen. I don’t have any money to buy any buildings, but that’s never been my goal. I just want to do standup comedy shows on a regular basis for people that want to enjoy what I do. I don’t want to have to fight drunks or drive 1000 miles to get there. Does that exist?

Between Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Rockford, I have to believe there has to be at least one facility that would be able to fit my needs. Ideally it would seat around 100 comfortably, and in theory I’d be able to work there every single week of the year for several years if I’d want to.

If I could attract audiences, why would I not want to? I’ve said before that 100 people a night for multiple nights in a week can provide a very nice living. I’m not greedy, and I wouldn’t need anything else to survive quite nicely. In an area that’s populated, it would take years for everyone to see the show in a 100 seat room and I could keep it going indefinitely. Mr. Wiggins was right.

I see this theory both in Milwaukee for the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ show and somewhere near the Chicago area that’s not near a Zanies club. I wouldn’t attempt to compete with them because for one I couldn’t, and also they have been great to me for a lifetime. There are plenty of other joints in that squared circle, and I’m up for trying to get my own thing going. If I had two dozen in my own audience, there would be only one person to blame. That I could live with. I like Jim’s idea!

Chris Speyrer figured out a way to get off the road. He bought a building and started his own venue. Smart!

Chris Speyrer figured out a way to get off the road. He bought his own building and started his own comedy venue. Smart!

If you are ever near Mason City, IL go see his club. www.mclimits.com

If you’re ever near Mason City, IL visit Chris’s club. http://www.mclimits.com

Bigger Fish Ahead

June 23, 2014

Saturday June 21st, 2014 – West Salem, WI

The times, they are a changin’. I can’t believe how drastic the changes are, and my entire life is being rattled to the core. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there are always aftershocks to have to deal with. Things that used to be a constant in life no longer are and it all takes getting used to.
This weekend I am doing a two night run of renegade commando style comedy shows with two of my all time favorite friends and comedians, Jim Wiggins and Bill Gorgo. I think the world and a few other planets of both of those guys onstage and off, and I would hang with them anytime.

Jim is a cancer survivor, and is coming back strong after recent surgery that left him without a bladder. He can’t travel like he once did, and his son Josh volunteered to approach local places in the area of Sparta, WI where they live to set up shows. Josh is in his 30s and has known Bill for most of his life. Jim and Bill were roommates in Chicago for years, and they’re close like family.

They have graciously brought me into the mix, and I’m flattered to be a part of it. We’ve done several shows in the past couple of years, and some have been better than others. It’s not easy to set up a comedy show, and a lot of things have to happen on many levels for it all to go correctly.

The venue has to be behind it from the start, and willing to promote from within. Most never do even close to what it takes, and then wonder why there’s nobody there on the night of the show. I can’t count the number of half baked productions I’ve been a part of, but I know I’ve had my fill.

Unfortunately, this trip added two more to that list. Last night we did a supper club near Sparta, and tonight it was a bowling alley in West Salem. Both venues were able to seat close to 100, but I don’t think we had more than 25-30 each night. Last night’s audience was mostly Josh’s wife’s family, and although they were outstanding laughers it didn’t hide the fact someone lost their ass.

I never like to see that happen, but unfortunately it rarely if ever has to. If a venue owner would listen to a promoter’s input and take the proper steps, there could be a full house where everyone is able to make a buck. It’s never an easy buck, and that’s where most venue owners get fooled.

They think by putting up a poster in their own place “word will get out”. NO. They have to put effort into promotion, just as they’d need to if they had karaoke, pool leagues or a new sandwich on their food menu. Live comedy is just the opportunity to promote something that is hopefully a unique product in their area. If done correctly it can be a consistent money maker for a long time.

These last two nights just weren’t it. Going into details as to why won’t change the fact that the ball was dropped somewhere. I don’t want to point fingers, as I’m past the point of dealing with all of this. I don’t need to be on stage that badly to suffer through such humiliation. I don’t think Jim and Bill agree. They had fun, and that’s great. I had fun being with them – but not the shows.

Between the three of us, we’ve got well over 100 years of hard earned hands on experience. To labor in front of 25 people a night just isn’t my idea of fun these days. We’re all beyond it. I love those guys and Josh too, but it would have been more fun to ride up and just visit without shows.

We got paid, but I still feel unfulfilled. In the past, I’d clench my jaw and keep slugging. Now, I really don’t care. I don’t need approval from anyone else. I would much rather handle my own business. It takes the pressure off. I want to cast for bigger fish, and this isn’t where they swim.

Jim Wiggins is a cancer survivor and one of the most experienced comedians walking the planet. He deserves to perform for full houses of loyal fans. www.lasthippie.com.

Jim Wiggins is a cancer survivor and one of the most experienced comedians walking the planet. He deserves to perform for full houses of loyal fans – and I’m a big one. http://www.lasthippie.com.

Bill Gorgo has paid his dues as well. He's very funny, and I'm a big fan of his onstage and off.

Bill Gorgo has paid his dues as well. He’s very funny, and I’m a big fan of his as well.

It’s All A Game

May 9, 2014

Tuesday May 6th, 2014 – Niles, IL

One concept I wish I would have grasped a lot sooner in show business – and life itself – is that it’s all a game. As wise as my grandfather was and as many lasting lessons as he taught, I don’t recall that one ever being on his list. If he said it I didn’t hear it, and I know I would have remembered.

Truth and fairness are not the determining factors for most of us, even though we’re taught that if we work hard and keep our noses clean spectacular things will happen. After a lot of lost years hoping that was the case, I am rapidly losing faith. I’m sorry, but this world is run by imbeciles.

Every once in a while someone with legitimate talent, morals and a giving heart slips through a crack somewhere and gets a nice run in the sun – but I have to think even that person knows it’s a fluke and against the odds. It just is. I wish this world were run fairly for all, but it never was.

My grandfather was a perfect example. There was not a more straight up spirit that ever walked this planet. Gramps cared about others and fought hard for what he thought was right. He treated people how he wanted to be treated, and worked hard at a job he really wasn’t fond of but it was what he had to do to support his family like he imagined an ideal husband and father would do.

He toiled and slaved at his job for the City of Milwaukee, and it came time to hand out a major promotion from within to supervisor. Gramps was totally qualified to do that job, but he lost out to another guy in his office that was a better ass kisser. I remember it crushed him at the time.

The reason this came up today is that my friend Marc Schultz organized one of his semiannual entertainer lunches. Everyone from magicians to circus acts to musicians to comedians shows up, and they’re always a lot of fun. Marc is a great guy, and I don’t know of anyone that doesn’t like him. He’s very laid back, and again treats entertainers like people and not farm animals. It’s rare.

The big lunch is held in November, but he’s been having a smaller one in spring of late. It’s at a Chinese restaurant with a private room, and we all hang out and tell war stories. This particular installment was well represented by a stellar lineup of Chicago’s finest comedy talent including Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe, Bill Gorgo, Skip Griparis and me. That’s quite the local all star team.

Other than Bill, the rest of us have worked at Zanies regularly for decades. Skip does musical comedy vignettes, impressions and original songs and is one of the most talented human beings I have ever met. He is world class great at what he does, as are Larry, Tim and Bill at the craft of standup. And I would like to think I’ve got a few marshmallows to bring to the camp fire too.

Between all of us, NOBODY is lighting the world on fire. We’re all getting by at best, but that is as far as it goes. I have huge respect for all those guys, but like Gramps none of them – or me – chose to play the game correctly. We thought just being good at what we do would handle it.

HA! There’s the killer mistake we all made. None of us chose to move to Los Angeles and stay there, and right or wrong that’s where “big time showbiz” happens. Eventually, anybody that hits pay dirt in show business on a big time will have business to do in Los Angeles. That’s how it is.

The fact is, Larry and Tim and Bill and Skip and I happen to like living where we do. It doesn’t appeal to us to play any stupid games, and that’s why we’re where we are. Talent doesn’t matter and rarely does. It’s nice if one has it, but not necessary. All that counts is how to play the game.

This is where it gets dangerous, because unfortunately this is the truth. Nobody wants to hear the truth – especially those in charge. They know everything I just said is on the money, but it’s the 2000 pound elephant in the room. It needs to be ignored, and I have never been good at that.

It’s also easy to get in a mental rut and let bitterness take over. That’s not good either, and it’s easy to do. I have seen quite a few people on a lot of levels rant and rave, and I admit I’ve been known to do it myself. I’m doing it now, but I’m trying to separate bitterness from actual facts.

Here’s an actual fact that needs to be digested by everyone that gets into the entertainment biz on any level: only a precious few ever really “make it” on a big time level, and luck is definitely one of the main ingredients. Hard work is another. Talent does have a place in the mix but there are a lot of talented people so it ends up being a given. Very very rarely is talent that important.

The whole “right place, right time” factor really does exist. It’s huge actually, and very few get themselves in that position either. Bill Gorgo is an example. He is a naturally funny person with an exceptional talent for not only writing jokes but punching up existing ones. He’s also a funny act, and probably could have acted had he chosen that route. He’s very likeable and looks good.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get started in standup comedy until he was 40 years old. He operated a trucking company his father started, and he was the only son so when his father passed it was the thing he felt he had to do. Was he “wrong”? Of course not – in life anyway. But in show business he didn’t play the game. Could he have worked at it part time? That’s hard to say, but I doubt it.

Also, he had a wife and daughter to support and he happens to be Italian and being close to his family is important to him. He helped care for his mother for years, and I respect him greatly for all of that. He did a commendable job in his life choices, but for show business he hurt himself.

He came up the comedy ranks in Chicago at a great time, but had a glass ceiling and was never going to move to L.A. like his and my generation of comedians did. Many of those people are on as solid of footing as there can be in the entertainment jungle. People like Mark Roberts and John Riggi may not be household names, but they have both played the game correctly and won big.

One would think they would automatically reach back and grab all the talented ones they could from their past, but it rarely works that way. Once in a while it may, but it’s not the rule. Chicago might as well be Uranus, and out of sight truly is out of mind. They have their own community.

This is just how the game works, and even though a few exceptions slip through once in a blue moon it’s pretty much a standard blueprint. If one wants to truly hit the big time, one has to get connected with those that make the decisions – and that’s traditionally where the trouble starts.

Who’s to really say what’s “good” in entertainment? Sports is easy to judge. If somebody can perform physically, they’re hired – even if they’re a detestable human being. Acting and comedy and music have a lot more grey area, and a lot of it is who gets the push from the source of power.

Another sad reality is that one is either really big or really small – no in between. I think all of us at the lunch today assumed we could be local stars in Chicago and live with that. Even that did not happen, and here we all are not getting any younger and left to fend for ourselves to eke out a living WAY out of the spotlight. We play the game or don’t, and each choice comes with a price. Is it too late to choose again? Maybe, and likely. The trick is to have a plan in place and work it.

Just like Monopoly, show business - and life itself - is a game. There are rules involved, and the winners learn them early.

Just like Monopoly, show business – and life itself – is a game. There are rules involved, and the winners learn to master them early.

A Personal Insult

April 23, 2014

Tuesday April 22nd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I’m not all that great at a lot of things in life, and that can be a downer sometimes. Everybody has individual strengths and weaknesses, and it’s human nature to gravitate toward what we are naturally good at. I have never been good at typical ‘manly things’ like building stuff or hunting and fishing. Had I been born back in pioneer days, my family and I likely would have starved.

One subject I know quite a bit about is standup comedy. I happen to be pretty good at not only doing it, but teaching others how to do it and/or how to improve what they already do. I’ve done it my entire adult life, and I was a fan of it before that. I’ve been teaching since 1994, and have a long list of people that have taken my class that have nothing but flattering things to say about it.

I greatly appreciate the nice things those former students say, and many of them have grown to become personal friends. I love to be around standup comedy from a technical standpoint, as I’m constantly learning myself so I can be a better teacher. I put in a lot of time and effort to study it.

As far as charging goes, my classes have always been an unbeatable bargain because I make it a mission to give all my students ten times whatever they happen to pay for the class at whatever venue they happen to be available. I’ve taught them at comedy clubs, colleges and in a corporate setting. I personally tailor each class to those particular students’ needs, and I work super hard.

When I started teaching classes in 1994 there wasn’t a standup comedy class within 1000 miles of Chicago. Actually, I started teaching in Milwaukee but moved them to Chicago for Zanies not long after. The Zanies classes were a lot of fun, and we had a steady stream of students lined up.

Other classes started popping up in time, and that’s going to happen in any business. What still infuriates me is that those ‘teachers’ have never done what they’re teaching. I’m out there in the trenches week after week slaying the dragons, and that qualifies me to be a teacher. I earned it.

Some wannabe looks at what I do and thinks it’s a source of free money so they start their own “class” and people take it because they don’t know any better. I’ve seen them come and go, and I get more frustrated by the day because those people are stealing money from students, and telling them things that are completely wrong. It’s the equivalent of a man teaching a pregnancy course.

I have no problem if another competent comedian teaches a class, and in fact I’d recommend it if I knew the person. Bill Gorgo is a perfect example, and he’s terrific. Our teaching styles are as polarly opposite as our acts, but that’s ok. Both of us have the same goals and that’s teaching our students the craft of standup comedy. Bill and I teach together often, and it’s good for everyone.

Lately I’ve been getting some former students asking me if they should take some of the classes available. What am I supposed to say? “Sure, give your money to someone that hasn’t done what they’re teaching while I’m busting my hump to stay afloat with gas at $4 a gallon.” It’s an insult, and I can’t believe how many people don’t get that. What, am I holding out some magic secret of success I’m not telling you but some other genius will? I just don’t get how some people think.

Would you pay top dollar to take a course on pregnancy taught by a man?

Would you pay top dollar to take a course on pregnancy taught by a man? You deserve what you get.

I Give Up

April 21, 2014

Friday April 18th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Not that I ever mistakenly thought I knew everything about anything, today wiped out anything and everything I might have thought I knew about the entertainment business. I thought I knew a lot more than I did, but now I realize I didn’t know a blithering thing. In short, I am a total idiot.

I received a phone call this afternoon from the person that booked me into the difficult country club gig I did last Saturday with my friend Bill Gorgo. Seeing that name light up on my caller ID made my tail pipe pucker instantly, because that usually means there’s trouble. There was no real reason to call since we’d been paid immediately after the show, so I was prepared for the riot act.

Private shows like this are always extremely delicate. It only takes ONE person upset to ruin the entire evening, and possibly put an end to comedy shows ever being done again. I have seen a lot of people overreact both on the client side and on the performing side, and I have enough time on the clock by now to know the only thing one can do is one’s best – and that’s exactly what I did.

Was I happy with it? Not in the least. That was a tight audience, and we were under extremely difficult circumstances with the lights and how the stage was set up in the room. Bill Gorgo is an excellent comedian and a seasoned performer. He knew the situation was going to be tough also.

The only thing we had going in our favor from the start was the person who booked us is also a performer – and a friend of ours. That can go either way though, as I’ve seen friendships dissolve like Alka-Seltzer tablets when somebody takes it upon themselves to break the rules agreed upon before the show. This particular show needed to be clean, and that was made clear from the start.

Bill went a little close to the edge, but he’s a pro and didn’t cross it. I’ve learned in my old age to stay far away from the edge line in shows like this, so if nothing else if they didn’t think I was funny at least that’s their only complaint. The number one deal killer is for a comic to work dirty or ‘blue’, and I can’t believe how many acts think that rule does not apply to them. Yes it does!

I don’t work blue as a rule, but once in a while some rants I do can tend to infuriate some folks – especially if they’re some crusading do gooder for the P.C. police. They can and do show up at any time completely at random, and again all it takes is one in a position of power to complain to the booker and it’s my head on a platter. And friend or not, that can mean losing future bookings.

I was going to take my medicine like a man, but I wimped out at the last second and let the call go to voicemail. I wasn’t up for defending myself, and I knew in my heart I really did give them my very best under the circumstances. I sweat all the way through my sport coat, and that should be proof enough. If they weren’t happy with it, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do as a remedy.

I waited a few minutes, but had to play the voice mail back because I didn’t want any problems to fester. If I needed to apologize, I was ready to do whatever was necessary. As it turned out, the call was to give me sincere kudos because the contact person said they loved the whole show, but especially my ending rant. Go figure. I thought I knew how to read audiences by now. I give up.

I thought I could read an audience after all this time, but I guess I can't. I give up.

I thought I could read an audience after all this time, but I guess I can’t. Those people loved me. I give up.

Soul Suckers

April 14, 2014

Saturday April 12th, 2014 – Somewhere in Northwest IN

I have to be careful how I word what I want to say, and I want to say it without sounding like a moron or ingrate. I am growing extremely more dissatisfied by the minute with what I am doing for a living – at least on the level at which I’m doing it. Something has to change, and I know it.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy performing. Far from it. I love to perform on a live stage more than anything I have ever done – but only for audiences that are there specifically to enjoy a show. I’m not interested in having to fight for attention and force myself on anyone. That’s not my desire.

Tonight I had a booking at a country club in Northwest Indiana. Country club audiences tend to be either really terrific or really tough. I did one with Jim McHugh this past Valentine’s Day, and it was a monster show from start to finish. The people loved it, and it was a fantastic experience.

Tonight was not like that. Were the people nice? Yes. Were we treated well? Without question. That’s why I have to be careful with how I word this, as I don’t want to appear ungrateful for the opportunity. There were a lot of comics that could have been called for this show, and I was glad to get it. It pays my rent for May – at least it should if the transmission doesn’t fall off of my car.

The opening act was Bill Gorgo, someone I love to hang with on stage and off. We arranged to ride together, and that’s always convenient. They also fed us a delicious dinner before the show, and that was appreciated as well. Like I said, I don’t want to trash anything or anyone involved.

The contact person we had to deal with all night was an absolutely stunning woman in her 20s that was so good looking it was a distraction. Where was she when I was young and moderately cute? I know, probably not born yet. Still, she was pleasant to look at tonight and very nice also.

Everything around the gig was outstanding, but the show itself was extra difficult. Bill started it off, and had to really push to establish himself. I’ve seen him work hundreds of times, and this was rough. He had to work harder than necessary, and I knew I’d have to also. And I was right.

I wore a sport coat tonight because it was a country club, and by the end of my set I had soaked all the way through it with sweat. We were on a tiny makeshift stage next to hot lights that didn’t illuminate us very well. That made it even harder, and the crowd was a bit older and super snug.

Were they bad people? Of course not. I tried my very best to entertain them to the fullest, but I had several jokes that work like magic 99.9% of the time fall flat tonight. These were people that couldn’t relate to ‘normal’ problems like being broke or driving a rickety car. They were affluent and of a different mindset. I kept hammering and got them with my closer, but it took all I had.

I was paid immediately afterward, and I’m very grateful for that especially. But speaking from an artistic point of view, these kinds of gigs are soul suckers. Nobody knew who we were, and it wouldn’t have mattered if we were there or not. I don’t want to be the faceless idiot that nobody asked to see. I want to have FANS, and please them all night. Being a mercenary is getting old.

I know that sounds cocky and elitist to an outsider, but too bad. I’ve been at this far too long to keep having to fight to establish my credibility every single night. I know what I’m doing at this point, and having to start over again each and every night is not only frustrating, it’s humiliating.

Very few civilians know anything about what it takes to make a standup comedy show operate smoothly, and even fewer ever think to ask. I’ve only got thirty years of hands on experience, so what could I possibly add to the mix? It’s obviously better to ask the janitor how it should work.

There are all kinds of subtle yet extremely crucial ingredients that go into a successful standup comedy show that hardly anyone realizes. Everything from the lights, sound system, placement of the stage in the room, seating arrangements, pre show announcements asking for silence to an emcee that gives an act a proper introduction. Any one of them missing can ruin the experience.

All too often several if not all of these things are not done correctly, and then I’m left to slug it out by myself in less than ideal conditions. People that don’t perform can’t see how this could be an issue, but it totally is. “Just go up there and be funny,” they say. “What’s so hard about that?”

That is SO wrong, I wish I didn’t have to dignify it with a comment. But that’s how a lot of the people that aren’t in the business think about comedians. They think we just go up there without any preparation and act goofy off the cuff, and they often begrudge having to pay us for doing it.

Was tonight’s gig fun? In a word – NO. I’m probably cutting my own throat by saying that, but I refuse to lie. Was it appreciated? Absolutely YES. I needed that money desperately, and I could not be any more grateful from that standpoint – but from someone that has paid the large amount of dues I have it’s like I just dumped my life down a garbage disposal. It wasn’t worth the effort.

I have said it before, but it’s still true – I have held a long time job in show business, but never have been able to forge a career. As crazy as it sounds, I have been too busy working to construct a career, but it’s true. Driving all over civilization to do shows in bars, country clubs or even real comedy clubs isn’t the way to build a career. It’s a way to develop an act, THEN try for a career.

Building a career in show business requires establishing name recognition with as many people as possible in order to build a potential customer base, and that’s much harder than it may sound. Name recognition comes from media exposure, and that becomes an entirely new challenge to be handled by a performer. Building an act is difficult enough. Then it has to be showcased for sale.

That’s where most of us fall short. It’s not easy to get on national TV, and once one gets there it takes regular appearances to become known to a big enough segment of the public to be able to become a legitimate draw. I had my one little shot for five short minutes on national TV and did well – it just wasn’t enough to put me over the top to be recognized. In reality, it did me no good.

It was a fun experience, but fun isn’t cutting it out here in life’s jungle. Having to slug this hard each week for a living is really getting to me. I’m just not into it anymore. I made my nut for this week, but just barely. And it wasn’t easy. Next week, I have no work. This wasn’t in my dream.

Trying to make a living week after week as an entertainer can feel like the weight of the world on one's shoulders. It's NOT easy.

Trying to make a living week after week as an entertainer can feel like the weight of the world on one’s shoulders. It’s NOT easy.

Super Soup

February 20, 2014

Tuesday February 18th, 2014 – Chicago, IL

Not everyone gets an opportunity to look back over the body of work of their entire lives at the very end and sort out all the memories. The stereotypical picture is the old geezer on a death bed surrounded by family, making a final statement before peacefully drifting off into the next world.

I wonder what the percentage is of people that actually have it happen like that. My grandfather probably came the closest of anyone I’ve experienced. He died in hospice care, and I got to have several visits with him in his final days. It was awkward in many ways, and not pleasant at all.

He fought death tooth and nail to the bitter end, and bitter it was. Cancer attacked him brutally, but he hung in there and never gave up. He even went as far as volunteering for an experimental form of chemotherapy so that the doctors could tweak the dosage for future patients. That’s very ballsy in my opinion, and downright heroic. Gramps wouldn’t quit, but cancer wins in the end.

I remember trying to get his mind off his painful condition, and I asked him what his favorite memories were in his life, and it surprised me that he had to stop and think for a bit. I don’t even remember what he said, but the fact he had to think about it was a red flag – at least it was to me.

I have quite a few memories I wouldn’t mind sending off to my personal recycle bin, but those that I cherish are right up there at the top. I don’t have to wait until I’m on any death bed to haul them out and feel good. One that jumps to mind immediately is being on stage when everything is going well. If there’s a feeling of more pure delight and excitement than that I’m yet to feel it.

Another prime source of pleasant memories is time spent hanging out with other comedians. It may seem overrated to place it that high on a life list, but I know I’m not the only one to feel that way. There is just something magical about being in that fraternal mindset with people that have shared the experience of living a gypsy lifestyle and making audiences laugh. It’s a tight group.

Often meetings are held in some roadside grease trap diner, but today I had one at Bill Gorgo’s house. Bill is not only a terrific comedian, he’s as good or better in the kitchen. He co-authored a cook book not long ago, and anytime he invites comedians over for food – we all know to GO.

I first got to experience Bill’s mastery as part of the “Chicago Style Standups” group. That was several years ago now, and coincidentally the time I started writing my daily diary. We needed to have content on the group’s website, and I volunteered to write about my personal life’s exploits.

The group has long disbanded – at least my involvement in it, but we loved the camaraderie of those meetings so Bill will call one on occasion just because. The traditional fare was always his world class soups, and I don’t think he ever repeated one. It was the best soup we’d all ever had.

I had a lot of other things I could and probably should have done today, but when Bill calls for a soup session I know better than to miss it. Jimmy McHugh knows it too, and he showed up like I did. Dan Morris was a first timer, and he loved it too. James Wesley Jackson was scheduled for an appearance, but had to back out. Magician Dennis DeBondt was invited, but he got booked at the last minute. The rest of us had a blast, and made another memory that will only get sweeter.

Comedian Bill Gorgo 'cook's on stage, but he's even better in the kitchen.

Comedian Bill Gorgo ‘cooks’ on stage, but he’s even better in the kitchen.

He's the co-author of the successful cook book "Life Beyond Takeout!"

He’s the co-author of the successful cook book “Life Beyond Takeout!”

When one's ability to make soup can attract people from miles around, that person has a gift. Bill's delicious homemade soups make Campbell's taste like raw sewage.

When one’s ability to make soup can attract people from miles around, that person has a gift. Bill’s delicious homemade soups make Campbell’s taste like raw sewage.

Teacher’s Pets

February 13, 2014

Monday February 10th, 2014 – Chicago, IL

Just when I start to get discouraged that standup comedy is dead – or at least severely wounded – along comes a night like tonight to refill my coffers with hope. There’s nothing like an evening of new and exuberant performers having one hot set after the next to reignite the fires of passion.

Every once in a while Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago gives me a Monday night and bills it as “Dobie Maxwell and Friends”. I am allowed to book anyone I want, and can do as much or little time as I want. As long as the show is 90 minutes I’m golden. It’s as close to power as I ever get.

I really enjoy these nights, because I go out of my way to hand pick acts I think not only would do well on their own but also blend with the other acts to make a quality show. I’ve been around plenty long enough to understand how the flow of a comedy show works, and I like the process.

I probably get three or four of these a year, and whenever I get the call I always say yes. It’s an excellent opportunity to pass out breaks, and to me there’s no more satisfying feeling than being able to give some hard working young comic a chance to work the Zanies stage. It’s a big deal.

Tonight I decided to make it a “Best of Zanies Comedy Class”, as we have new classes starting this month. We need to get more of a community spirit going, and I thought this would be a way to kick start it a little. My co-teacher Bill Gorgo has been handling the beginner level classes for a while now, so I asked him to pick some of his favorites that haven’t had a chance to do Zanies.

Quality stage time is THE most prized commodity for a newbie, whether he or she knows it or not. There are open mic nights everywhere, but that’s not quality stage time. In fact, sometimes it does more to stunt someone’s growth than encourage it. It’s a bunch of clueless upstarts waiting around for stage time, with nobody in the room having any idea what to do with it. It’s useless.

Unfortunately, that’s often the only places new comedians can get any stage time and they do it out of desperation. Nights like tonight can be magical, and tonight was. Bill chose a killer lineup, and they did their part working social media and made sure people showed up to see them. It was a fun night for everyone, and the feeling of excitement the whole night made me glad we did it.

There’s a kid named Ranjit Souri (RUN-jit SOW-ree) that really lit it up. He’s a fantastic joke writer, and also acts and does and teaches improv. I was blown away by his advanced chops. A Chicago Public Schools high school teacher named Amy Shanker is sharp too. Another teacher Elly Greenspahn went up, and she’s been getting better every time I see her. She really nailed it.

Everyone that went up tonight nailed it – including Bill who closed the show and showed all of his students that he wasn’t just blowing hot air in class. It’s funny when students come out to see us perform and discover that we actually do know what we’re talking about. It’s very satisfying.

Nights like this have always been fun for me. I’ve hosted thousands of shows of all kinds, but doing these takes on special meaning. Four of the six acts we booked were making their Zanies debuts. That’s a big deal in Chicago, and everyone aced their opportunities. Being part of that is special, and will only get more special as they climb the ladder. That first taste is the sweetest.

Bill Gorgo and I teach comedy classes at Zanies in Chicago. Tonight we had a showcase for some of our best students.

Bill Gorgo and I teach comedy classes at Zanies in Chicago. Tonight we had a showcase for some of our best students.

Ranjit Souri does and teaches improv, but he's a fantastic joke writer and lit it up in his Zanies debut!

Ranjit Souri does and teaches improv, but he’s a fantastic joke writer as well and lit it up in his Zanies debut!

Alex Adelson had a rock solid set as well. Very impressive!

Alex Adelson had a rock solid set as well.

Amy Shanker is a Chicago Public Schools high school teacher who really has a bright future in comedy. She's 'got it'. She tore it up tonight!

Amy Shanker is a Chicago Public Schools high school teacher who really has a bright future in comedy. She’s ‘got it’. Watch for her!

What are the chances we'd have TWO Chicago Public Schools high school teachers? Elly has been doing comedy for a while now, and gets better and better each time I see her. Tonight she was terrific. It was a night to remember for everyone.

What are the chances we’d have TWO Chicago Public Schools high school teachers? Elly has been doing comedy for a while now, and gets better and better each time I see her. Tonight she was terrific. It was a night to remember for everyone.

Back To Class

January 14, 2014

Monday January 14th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I can feel the tornado of life spinning, but it’s all good. I’ve got everything I enjoy in life going on right now, and I can see my biggest concern will once again be time management. I am trying to be organized, but time just gets away when I get going on a project and I want to avoid getting too far behind in any one realm. That’s going to be a major challenge, but it’s how things are.

One area I haven’t devoted much energy to in a while are my comedy classes. I really enjoy the whole teaching experience, and I know I’ve got something good there. I have lost count of all the people that I have gone on to become long time friends with that have taken the class. That alone is an excellent reason to keep teaching, but I also love it because it keeps me close to the source.

I become a better performer the more I teach, because I’m focusing on the fundamentals of the craft. I’d do it every day if there were enough outlets, and I’ve got a good position with Zanies in Chicago as their chief instructor. That’s a position I’ve earned over time, but I’m ready for more.

Bill Gorgo and I have been working for several years now at developing our lesson plans, and I love it when we can both teach sessions together. We’ve done writing and performing workshops as well as multiple week classes, and we both agree it’s almost as much fun as performing itself.

There are only a scant few other instructors around America that have established credibility in teaching standup comedy, as it’s a difficult endeavor. There are many I’ve seen that are only in it to score a quick buck, and that has always infuriated me. I’m all about entrepreneurial endeavors, but flat out scamming crosses the line in my opinion. I always give more than a student expects.

Some of the names that have been around for years include Judy Carter and Steve North in Los Angeles, Jeff Justice in Atlanta, Neil Leiberman in San Francisco and Steve Roye who has lived in a lot of places. I’ve met everyone but Jeff, but I hear nothing but good things about his classes.

One person I have spoken to on the phone, interviewed on the radio and been interviewed by is Dave Schwensen. He was out of Cleveland, OH until very recently where he taught workshops at the Cleveland Improv. He is very credible as he was the manager of the Improv both there and in Hollywood, and has written multiple very solid books including “How to Be a Working Comic”.

I never have a problem with anyone teaching who is competent, and there are enough students for everyone. Many students like to compare teachers, and that’s fine too. Not every sports coach reaches every player, and comedy is very similar. I know personally that I have my fans and also my detractors. That’s how it is in any creative endeavor, and we all need to seek out what works.

Dave’s wife is a flight attendant, and he’s in the process of moving to Chicago to teach classes at the Improv in Schaumburg. We talked on the phone yesterday, and agreed this could be great for everyone – especially students. We’ll both offer high quality classes and raise the bar higher.

Dave is very credible, and has been around a long time. He’s also an excellent marketer, and I know I’ll learn from him in that department. Competition is good, but we’re really not competing head to head. He has his strengths and I have mine. Students win. http://www.thecomedybook.com.

A new session of standup comedy classes will be starting at the legendary Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago on Sunday February 9th, 2014 at 3pm. For signup information, go to www.zanies.com.

A new session of standup comedy classes will be starting at the legendary Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago on Sunday February 9th, 2014 at 3pm. For signup information, go to http://www.zanies.com.

Bill Gorgo will be teaching that session, and he's both an excellent teacher and wonderful person.

Bill Gorgo will be teaching that session, and he’s both an excellent teacher and wonderful person.

Dave Schwensen has been teaching classes for years at the Cleveland Improv. He's moving to Chicago to teach at the Improv in Schaumburg. Good for him. It will be great for the students, and raise the bar for all of us. Welcome Dave. His books are excellent. www.thecomedybook.com.

Dave Schwensen has been teaching classes for years at the Cleveland Improv. He’s moving to Chicago to teach at the Improv in Schaumburg. Good for him. It will be great for the students, and raise the bar for all of us. Welcome Dave. His books are excellent. http://www.thecomedybook.com.