Posts Tagged ‘birthday’

Jerry Seinfeld

April 30, 2014

Tuesday April 29th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Yesterday I mentioned that it was Jay Leno’s birthday and how he was the king of the comedy club boom of the ‘80s – and he was. Today it’s the birthday of the prince – Jerry Seinfeld. Those two ruled the roost in the glory years, and everybody else was choking on their exhaust fumes.

I find it beyond remarkable the two of them were born only a day apart. I don’t know if there’s anything to astrology or not, but this makes me take notice just as the fact that Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh share the same birthday January 12th. Coincidence? Perhaps, but it sure is odd.

Just because Jay was looked upon as the king of that era, there was no shame whatsoever in all Jerry was doing. He was working most if not all the same top level venues Jay was, and raking in hefty coin himself. I never saw any check stubs, but neither was sleeping in his car. They did ok.

Again, just like with Jay I was informed of Jerry’s greatness through my association with Rick Uchwat who owned Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago. Rick was a father figure to comedians of all eras, and Jay and Jerry were like his oldest sons. Both have spoken highly of Rick just as I do, and Rick gushed in return when it came to both of them. Jerry wasn’t that far behind Jay’s status.

Like Jay, Jerry was a meticulous trooper who was relentless about working constantly. The two saw comedy as a business a lot sooner than most of us do, and kudos to them for doing it. If there was one thing that wasn’t a joke to either it was standup comedy. They had the correct mindset.

Just like I think Jay gets unfairly sniped from people that only judge him by the Tonight Show, Jerry gets lumped in with the countless sea of bad comedians that copied his style. I know quite a few people that don’t care for Jerry’s standup, and I always tell them that they should look again.

It’s fine not to care for someone’s individual style, I’m like that too. There are some comedians I don’t enjoy at all, even though they’re huge names. That’s fine, but it doesn’t mean I don’t look at what they do and study it. Just because I don’t like a certain act doesn’t mean I don’t respect it.

I happen to really like and respect Jerry Seinfeld’s act, and in fact I use one of his routines as a classic example of a quality comedy bit for my classes. Even those that didn’t like him before are usually converted when I break down what he did and how he did it. The man is an all time great and even if he didn’t have his monster sitcom he’d still have lots to be proud of. He’s a megastar.

And like Jay and me – he is also left handed. I don’t have anything in common with those two financially, but as far as creativity goes I have to believe we are cut from the same cloth. Lefties are wired to have careers based on creativity. It doesn’t mean righties can’t have success too, but they’re the exception. We’re the rule. It makes perfect sense that both of these guys are lefties.

I have been fortunate to have a chance to meet and open for both Jay and Jerry and it was a real treat. Neither would remember me now, but I sure remember them. I learned from watching them both, and I give them the big props they deserve. From a performer’s viewpoint, they are royalty.

Never mind his enormously successful sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld is one of the all time greats of standup comedy. Period.

Never mind his enormously successful sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld is one of the all time greats of standup comedy. Period. That’s no small feat.

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My Magnificent Mentor

April 22, 2014

Monday April 21st, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I can’t let this time of year pass without paying true heartfelt tribute to my number one comedy mentor C. Cardell Willis. I’ve had influences and partial mentors along the way, but Cardell was “the man” right from day one. He was a father figure on stage and off, and I’ll love him forever.

For whatever reason, he used to celebrate his birthday on August 3rd. For years, I thought that’s when it was. I’m usually pretty good at remembering people’s birthdays – at least getting it close enough to be respectable. If I don’t hit it the exact day, I’ll usually get it at least within a couple.

This has been a lifetime thing, WAY before Facebook made it so easy for us all. It has always been important to me to acknowledge someone’s birthday whenever I can and at least give them the respect of letting them know I remembered. Birthdays are one’s personal holiday, and I find nothing at all wrong with celebrating one’s existence despite what the Jehovah’s Witnesses say.

My mother apparently joined them shortly after she abandoned our family when I was a baby, and that was the excuse she used the few times I’ve seen her for not sending any birthday cards to any of her three children or even acknowledging our existence. I can’t begin to put into words how painful it is to be ignored by one’s own mother in life, so birthdays are a soft spot with me.

Cardell is far ahead of both my natural parents on my memory list. He did much more good for me than both of them ever did, so I felt a need to honor him out of respect. It wasn’t until the end of his life I found out his real birthday was April 20th. That’s also Hitler’s birthday, so maybe he was embarrassed or something. It doesn’t matter to me what the day is, as long as I pay respect.

In the entertainment business, it’s a common mistake to assume that if someone is famous they are the best at what they do and a good person, but nothing could be further from the truth. Some famous people are all that, but others are flat out scoundrels. Fame and measure of character are not and never have been intermingled. Some total pukes make it through for reasons unknown.

Cardell was never famous – and unbelievably few ever are – but he was absolutely loaded with character. Not only did he make time to mentor a city full of wayward comedians, he also helped inner city kids as a scoutmaster for Boy Scouts for years. I’m sure there are adults now that recall him with the same deep fondness and respect for the kindness he showed them years ago as I do.

What is often the saddest turn of events is that we never get to pay back those that did the most good for us. He always told us to “pay it forward” – and that’s what I have tried to do for as long as I’ve been a full time comedian. There have been literally hundreds of meals bought for young comedians through the years that were a direct result of Cardell’s mentoring. He lives on in me.

Mentorship is a skill by itself, and too often those that are best at it don’t get recognized for the effort it takes. It’s not just a one day thing and that’s it. It’s a constant process over a time period that can range from years to decades to a lifetime. Cardell was with me for decades at a time that I really needed his help. Not only is he still with me, through me his wisdom has been passed on.

It rarely takes much at the time, and there frequently isn’t much fanfare. It’s often just a matter of knowing what to say and when to say it. My grandfather was a terrific mentor also, and he and Cardell shared similar traits. Both knew precisely when and how to say what needed to be said.

The first big deal I can remember as a comedian – which sounds so laughable now – was when I was going to host a show for the first time. I had only been around a short time and was greener than a bag of $20 bills. Why any idiot would trust me to host a comedy show then is beyond me.

Some idiot did, and I was both thrilled and scared to death at the same time. I had no idea what to do, but Cardell sat me down and give me several much needed pointers. He told me what I had to know, and walked me through it in a few minutes. He said he knew I could handle it, and even if that was a fib it was exactly what I needed to hear at that time. His kind words were medicine.

Time and time again he’d cheer me as I climbed steps up the comedy ladder. They seem so tiny now, but back then it felt like I was climbing Mt. Everest each time. Having a friendly face in my corner through those intimidating steps was SO inspiring, and the face I saw continually was his.

What felt even better was hearing second and third hand from others how he thought out of the local comics in Milwaukee at the time I was the one he thought would go the farthest. “That boy is GOING someplace, you watch!” he’d say. “I hope he takes me with him. I might need a job.”

I heard this back from numerous sources through the years – and he eventually told me himself. He said I had the natural gift and the drive it took to get out and take my swings on a bigger field than Milwaukee. Comedy clubs were just starting to explode then, and he was adamant about me getting out and taking my shot. “You’ll never get anywhere staying here. Move on.” And I did.

Milwaukee was my home town and I wanted to prove to some people – mainly my father – that I wasn’t the loser he always told me I would be. Cardell could see that was the raw source of my pain, and tried to get me to focus on building a career. I was an angry kid, and needed guidance.

It’s the classic tale of the old bull and young bull, and looking back he said all the right stuff at all the right times and I love him dearly for it. It didn’t always hit me at the time, but I needed to hear exactly what he said. Youth always thinks it knows better, but wisdom only comes with age.

Probably the sweetest of so many sweet memories was Cardell and his manager Shirley Schaak taking me out for dinner before I went on my first road trip. They were proud of me, and both of them beamed through our meal. Cardell gave me time tested tips on road survival, and at the end of the night they gave me a card with $25 in it “for a flat tire”. I’m weeping in thanks even now.

Kindness like that endures forever – especially for a dented can like me that wasn’t used to that from anybody. Cardell and Shirley were my comedy parents, and I love and appreciate them now more than ever. I never took them for granted, but in hindsight all those good things they did not only for me but for all the comedians in Milwaukee shine even brighter. I try to pass on the love they passed to me, but I always fall so far short. Thank you Cardell! Shirley too! I love you both.

My magnificent mentor in comedy C. Cardell Willis. A kinder soul and more competent mentor has never lived.

My magnificent mentor in comedy C. Cardell Willis. A kinder soul and more competent mentor has never lived. I owe the man SO much.

Just because someone isn't famous doesn't mean they aren't talented. Cardell's reach went WAY past entertainment. He was a life changer for many. What a fantastic human being. It's up to me to help keep his memory alive.

Just because someone isn’t famous doesn’t mean they aren’t talented. Cardell’s reach went WAY past entertainment. He was a life changer for many. What a fantastic human being. I want to keep his memory alive.

A Costly Freebie

April 3, 2014

Wednesday April 2nd, 2014 – Rosemont, IL

No matter how hard anyone tries to disprove it, there truly is no such thing as a free lunch. The concept sounds wonderful – but then again so does world peace and true love. That’s why people continue to try to attain all of them, but to no avail. Some things in life were just not meant to be.

That’s not to mean all of the people trying don’t mean well, I just don’t think the end result can ever be achieved. There’s always a glitch, hitch or hiccup in the mix, and the end result proves to be nothing but wasted time. I had an example of it shoved in my face today, and I’m still hurting.

I have some friends in Kenosha, WI that insisted they wanted to buy me a birthday lunch. That ship has sailed in my opinion, since my birthday is March 14th. I appreciated the thought, but it’s not necessary to belabor the point this far after the actual date. An email or call would be enough.

But no, they weren’t going to stand for that. They were going to take me to lunch if it was their last activity in life, and it got to the point where all I could do was bow to their command. Never mind that since I moved recently, Kenosha is now a 40 mile trip one way. Lunch was on them.

Not only did I have to cut several hours out of my day to plan for this event, it put 80 miles on my car. Even though my Toyota Camry gets decent mileage, that still means burning about three gallons of gas at these rock bottom prices of $3.89 a gallon in the Chicago area these days. Ouch.

So before I took my first bite, my ‘free’ meal has already cost $12 – not to mention all the wear and tear on my tires, brakes, drive train and transmission. It all adds up in time, and this was one more drain on my total resources I just didn’t need today. Truly, a birthday email would suffice.

Nope. I was special. They needed to prove that by taking me to an all I could keep down buffet that cost $7.50. Again, I truly appreciate the thought but it’s not like it was a five star meal at the Ritz Carlton. I chose to eat healthy, so it was basically just a couple of bowls of salad and water.

Halfway through the meal, one of my friends happened to recognize someone he knew that had won an election yesterday and was now a local alderman. He invited the guy to join us for lunch, and the guy asked me what I did for a living. I never like to say I do standup comedy, as that’s an open invite to hear every horrific ‘joke’ ever thought of. It’s one of the worst tortures imaginable.

Sure enough, just as I feared my friend said “He’s a comedian!” That started it off, and I had to painfully endure a barrage of old jokes that sucked any remaining pleasure out of my ‘free’ lunch that might have still been there. Basically, I’d paid a $12 cover to hear them rattle off old jokes. I know they meant well, and I really appreciate their intentions – but this was a very costly detour.

Wednesdays are supposed to be my booking day. I had fully intended to put in my time and do my due diligence in establishing a pattern of making the rounds with the bookers I already work for and more importantly looking for new ones. With an hour there and back and two hours gone at the restaurant, there was no time left for what I needed to do. NO more ‘free’ lunches. Please.

There never has been, never will be nor is there now a free lunch.

There never has been, never will be nor is there now any free lunches.

The Birthday Race

March 16, 2014

Friday March 14th, 2014 – Springfield, IL

Another birthday comes and goes, and I’m realizing the rest of my days are now a race against the clock to see if I can manage to accomplish anything of significance. My ego won’t allow me to give up now, but my intelligence tells me it’s going to be a long shot. Either way, here we go.

I’m still holding on to the statistic I read years ago that the average self made millionaire is 53 years old, and has tried 15 different things. I’m getting close to the age, and I think I’ve tried far more than the 15 things already. I’d count, but it would probably depress me. Failure is draining.

It’s inspiring to read the stories of people that made it after a long struggle like an Abe Lincoln or Rodney Dangerfield, but I have to believe there’s a longer list of those that died without a big break ever arriving. My comedy mentor C. Cardell Willis is an example, as is my grandfather.

A lot fewer people than I think they both deserved ever saw how great both of them were and it will irk me as long as I live. Those two were tremendous human beings loaded with giving hearts and master people skills, and despite all their efforts they died in obscurity. That seems so unfair.

Jeffrey Dahmer and Al Capone will be known forever. Gramps and Cardell will not. Why does the world have to be so hardcore and rub salt into the wounds like that? I don’t know, and I don’t know if I want to know. From an onlooker’s point of view it’s a cruel joke – but that’s how it is.

This week I’m back in Springfield, IL at Donnie B’s Comedy Club. Donnie and I have hit it off from the first few minutes we met, and are big fans of one another. He thinks I’m one of the best acts he’s ever seen, and I think he’s one of the best entrepreneurs I’ve ever seen. We mesh well.

A reason for that may be that Donnie is also a dented can. His family history and mine are cut from the same stained cloth, and he hasn’t seen his twin sister in decades. He’s familiar with my story, maybe that’s why we hit it off so well. There’s a synergy and mutual respect with him that I seldom if ever find with most club owners, and it’s always a pleasure to work here. I enjoy it.

There are precious few comedy club owners I have ever run across that grasp the importance of advertisement and promotion like Donnie B does. The late Jeff Gilstrap is the only other one that I can think of that comes close. He was the owner of ‘Comedy Off Broadway’ in Lexington, KY.

Jeff would constantly run the comedians from radio station to radio station most mornings, and that’s the way it is here. Donnie picks me up at the hotel early, and we make the rounds doing all the important morning shows. Many comedians complain about it, but I get why it’s important. It gives his club a presence in town, even if the people don’t come out the particular week I’m here.

Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that will be the case this week. St. Patrick’s Day weekend isn’t the best for comedy, and they have a big parade downtown here. The club isn’t located near that area, so we might have to eat some cheese whether we like it or not. Of course we won’t like it, but Donnie and I are survivors and we’ll keep pressing on. Still, I had a fun birthday anyway.

Another birthday passes, and my cake turns into an official fire hazard.

Another birthday passes, and my cake turns into an official fire hazard.

I'm working in Springfield at Donnie B's Comedy Club - one of my very favorite stops.

I’m in Springfield, IL this week at Donnie B’s Comedy Club – one of my very favorite stops.

My grandfather never got his big break in life. I want to do my best to keep his memory alive.

My grandfather never got his big break in life. I want to do my best to keep his memory alive. His mentoring skills were off the charts.

My comedy mentor C. Cardell Willis deserved more than he got as well. Love ya Cardell!

My comedy mentor C. Cardell Willis deserved more than he got as well. Love ya Cardell! Every time I go on stage, a part of you is with me.

Michael Jackson’s Birthday

August 30, 2013

Thursday August 29th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Today would have been Michael Jackson’s 55th birthday. What a fascinating character study he was on so many levels. Only a handful of people who ever lived have had a worldwide influence like he did during his run. Like Elvis, he was the right person in the right place at the right time.

   Did he have talent? He was loaded with it, but that doesn’t always guarantee success. There are many things that have to come together for massive success, and both Elvis and Michael Jackson were the proverbial ‘one in a million’. They were one in hundreds of millions, but that in no way insured their lives would be Shangri-La. Their problems were larger than life just like they were.

   From all I’ve read I don’t think Elvis was a dented can but Michael surely was. I don’t think he and his father got along well to say the least, and that’s usually where it starts. Unfortunately, we as children of relationships like that often tend to think fame and fortune will heal those wounds, but it never does. Sooner or later that fact becomes apparent, and it’s a stunning disappointment.

   I can’t comment on Michael Jackson’s personal life, as I wasn’t there. Whether he did what he was accused of or not I don’t feel qualified to talk about. It’s absolutely none of my business and nobody else’s but his and his accusers. Unfortunately, on that level one’s personal life becomes a wide open book to be rummaged through by the public on a whim. That’s the downside of fame.

   I’m just focusing on his career. The success he had with The Jackson Five alone would be a big deal, but that was only the beginning. His star steadily rose, and he took entertainment to heights that had never been seen on a worldwide level ever – including Elvis. He set the world standard.

   He rode the global wave of MTV, and pioneered the way music videos were done. Every other act to come along after Michael Jackson basically used his template of a lead dancer in front with a flock of dancers behind, but few came close to doing it as well as he did. He was the innovator.

   Elvis had his own greatness for his time, but he wasn’t a dancer or writer of songs. He was one of the most charismatic stage performers in history, and that alone is impressive. Michael took it to a whole other level at a different time, and his influence is still being felt today. What a talent.

   I’ve always been especially impressed with the ‘Thriller’ album. That came out the year after I graduated high school, so it’s been a part of my life for decades. I heard the songs played on the radio, and they were a part of my entire life experience just as the Beatles were for a generation before. I hear Beatles songs being played today, but I was never part of that intense culture blast.

   I watched Michael Jackson’s career soar, and it was quite impressive. During the ‘80s it wasn’t easy to turn on a TV or radio without seeing or hearing something about Michael Jackson. It was a true cultural phenomenon, and part of the fabric of life. How many ever reach that level? Him.

   I’m sorry his and Elvis’s lives ended so sadly and quickly. No mortal can sustain that lifestyle for long, but the question is if one could choose would it be the short fast life of a superstar or an ordinary one filled with mediocrity that lasted into old age? That’s a decision most never face.  

Every entertainer would LOVE to have a project like this on the resume - an all time classic.

Every entertainer would LOVE to have a project like this on the resume – an all time classic.


Spike’s Big Night

July 22, 2013

Sunday July 21st, 2013 – Evanston, IL

   I can’t think of too many things that feel better than a friend remembering a birthday, so that’s why I try to do it whenever I can. It’s not all that difficult, but it really makes a difference. I love the beaming look of joy on someone’s face when they are truly surprised, and it never gets old.

   Today was my friend Spike Manton’s 50th birthday. He’s a very low key guy when it comes to any kind of celebrations, and I learned from his wife Tami that he’d made specific instructions to NOT under any circumstances have any kind of party or make a big deal of it. That’s how he is.

   As luck would have it, our mutual friend and fellow member of the morning show on 97.9 ‘The Loop’ in Chicago Max Bumgardner was going to be in town for a Monday business meeting so I suggested we go over and pay Spike a surprise birthday visit – especially since he didn’t want it.

   Spike, Max and I are like brothers, and I’m sure it will be that way for life. Being on a morning radio show tends to bond people together, as it can be such an intense experience. I can’t think of many jobs other than an astronaut where that much intimacy between workers exists constantly.

   How many spouses speak to each other four hours a day, five days a week from 5-9am? I doubt if there are many, and those that do probably have some epic battles. Spike, Max and I got along extremely well, and we enjoyed each other’s company on air and off. We had a rare chemistry.

   The human dingle berries of the vaunted Emmis Communications happened to be way too full of themselves to know what they had, so they chose to blow us out the door when the station was sold in 2004. They proceeded to make stupid decision after stupid decision, and now they’ve lost the station and their stock is worthless. I can’t say any of the three of us have ever shed one tear.

   What I can say is that we’ve remained friends, and every time we get together it’s like we were never apart. I’ve heard pro athletes talk about that feeling, as have military veterans. The bonding in intense situations lasts for life, and believe it or not a morning radio show can be very intense.

   There’s no use bitching about what went wrong, but the bottom line is that we got a bloody red raw deal and it’s too late to do anything about it now. What we have is our lasting friendship that will continue as long as we’re alive, and I thought it was important to visit Spike on his big day.

   I met Max at his hotel in Schaumburg, and we had about a half hour drive to Spike and Tami’s house in Evanston. We stopped and got a card, and bought him a Dunkin’ Donuts gift certificate because he used to suck down their coffee by the gallon every morning. It was the perfect gift for him, and I had some obscure sports books I knew he’d like so we threw those in to top it all off.

   We arrived at 6:30 – to the minute when Tami told us to be there. He was in the basement with his daughter, who was distracting him so he’d stay down there so we could surprise him. It was a perfect plan, as we walked downstairs and ambushed him with his gifts. He was truly surprised.

   Even though Spike is very dry and non emotional, we could tell he was glad to see us. The look in someone’s eyes in a situation like that never lies. We had a wonderful dinner, and had a lot of laughs to go with it. Spike and Tami’s kids Mickey and Samantha have grown into beautiful and well behaved teens, and that also reminded us how time waits for nobody. Spike is a great friend, as is Max. Was it worth losing our jobs how we did for their friendships? I say absolutely yes.

Hail To The Mentors

May 16, 2013

Tuesday May 14th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   Hooray for the mentors of the world. They provide insight and wisdom to those climbing up an invisible and often difficult ladder, and all too often their unselfish efforts go underappreciated or worse yet not appreciated at all. I for one have always been grateful to my mentors, and still am.

   In the radio business, my main mentor when I started was Pat Martin. Pat is a radio lifer who is just as passionate about the business today as he was when I met him in the late ‘80s. He’s spent his life learning his craft like I’ve spent mine in comedy, and he knows what he’s talking about.

   I can’t thank Pat enough for all he’s done for me through the years. He was the first to suggest I give morning radio a shot, as he thought I had the natural ability to do it well. He lent me a tape program he recorded about getting into the radio business, and it was very nice of him to do that.

   We kept in contact, and eventually Pat turned me on to my first job in Lansing, MI at WMMQ in 1990. Another contact of his was Dan Balla. He was the Program Director there who needed a morning show in a hurry after his last guy had some personal problems and needed some rehab.

   Pat was doing us both a favor, and I ended up getting the job. It was shaky to say the least, and then Dan ended up moving on to another gig in Oklahoma City and left me in Lansing in a rotten situation. That station was as dysfunctional as radio gets – and that says a lot. It was an education of the highest order, but after six tumultuous months I’d had enough. I quit to return to comedy.

   I don’t blame Pat for the situation in Lansing, even though I still tease him about it. He wanted to see me get a morning gig, and I did. I didn’t get fired, and in fact they wanted to sign me for a new contract. I didn’t do it, and Pat was my main source for advice at that time. He really helped.

   Through all my roller coaster radio adventures, Pat was the one person I could count on to give me an honest assessment of what was going on. He was always proud of me for landing jobs, and told many people that I was a ‘comedic genius’. Hearing that from a third party is very flattering.

   One year when I was really down and out and between jobs, Pat and his wife Jennifer made it a point to invite me over for Thanksgiving and I’ll never forget it. Pat insisted we watch the movie ‘The Party’ starring Peter Sellers, which remains one of my favorite comedy moves to this day.

   I also have to admit that it was Pat that suggested I use ‘Mr. Lucky’ as my comedy persona. He was always making suggestions, and even though I didn’t always agree I appreciated him taking the time to do it. I knew he was always in my corner, and he was only trying to help me advance.

   Today is Pat’s birthday, and it was this day years ago when the Mr. Lucky incident happened. I took him out for a birthday lunch, and the waitress got my order completely wrong while getting Pat’s order – which was a lot more complicated – absolutely perfect. The more that went wrong, the more Pat laughed. He said “There’s your persona. You’re Mr. Lucky.” I knew he was right.

   I had a ton of other things to do today, but I couldn’t let Pat’s birthday pass without taking him out for another lunch. I drove to Milwaukee to hang out with him, and I was disappointed that he didn’t have a line of his disciples waiting to do the same. I’m by far not the only one he’s helped, but that’s par for the course with great mentors. They’re rarely appreciated enough, even though they’re constantly of a giving nature. If nobody else is grateful for Pat’s kindness, I certainly am.

Thank You Rick Uchwat

March 20, 2013

Tuesday March 19th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

     I’ve got a jam packed performing schedule coming up in the next couple of weeks, and I plan on loving every last minute of it. I’ll be all over the place, and in a good way. The money will be appreciated of course, but it’s never been about that. It’s the fun and thrill of being on the stage.

After a lifetime of chasing this elusive dream, I still haven’t gotten tired of the live performing part of the process. I’ve become extremely sick of most of everything else, but that time on stage is still golden – especially when it goes well. There are still times when it doesn’t, but that’s rare.

Far more often than not, I am able to go up there in front of a room full (or not that full) of total strangers and win them over with laughter. I clearly see their defiant stares of “you’d better make me laugh, mister” whether they know it or not. Then when I do, they line up to tell me how much they enjoyed it and I see an entirely different look in their eye. It’s one of admiration and respect.

Once in a while it’s a look of horror or disgust, and occasionally they won’t even look at me at all. Tonight was one of the good nights when they looked at me like a superstar. I’m at Zanies in Chicago yet again, and that’s the place I feel as comfortable as anywhere I’ve ever worked. I am officially one of their boys, and that’s not a bad place to be. Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld are too.

Leno and Seinfeld and Richard Lewis and Larry Reeb and Tim Walkoe have all been staples of Zanies for decades. Obviously Leno and Seinfeld have gone on to much greener pastures, but both are looked at with reverence as having been people to put Zanies on the map. They’re legends.

The one everyone attributes a huge part of their success to – including me – is Rick Uchwat. He was the owner and founder of Zanies in 1978, and was an unbelievably charismatic personality at a time when comedy was just getting hot. He had a way about him that made everyone develop a fierce loyalty, but it wasn’t fear based like a lot of club owners tend to be. Rick earned a respect.

Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld still have a fondness for Rick to this day, as do a lot of others in an insane business built on self worship. Not everyone cared for Rick, as he could tend to polarize a percentage of the people he dealt with but that’s what I loved most about him. He was straight up and didn’t mince words. You knew where you stood with him, and I was always in good stead.

Rick passed away in 2011, and I miss him terribly. He was a great friend, even though we were not in constant contact. He made sure I always had bookings at Zanies, and he told me no matter how many people I pissed off I’d always have a comedy home on his stages. I never forgot that.

When I had my near fatal car accident in 1993, Rick had a check in my hospital room the very next day for $1500 to cover my immediate needs. I had to pay it back, but I worked it off on his stages at the various Zanies clubs and I’m forever grateful to him and Zanies for that kindness.

Today would have been Rick’s 66th birthday. I had a rock solid show at his club tonight, and I dedicated it to him from the stage. If not for Zanies, I wouldn’t be a comedian. Thank you Rick!

Rick and Jerry

Jerry Seinfeld and Rick Uchwat

Zanies in Chicago - my home club

Zanies in Chicago – my home club

A Radioactive Birthday

March 16, 2010

Sunday March 14th, 2010 – Chicago, IL/Kenosha, WI

Another birthday comes and goes, and I realize I’m doing pretty well considering where I came from. The years are piling up, but so are the victories – even if they’re small ones. I may not be a household name or independently wealthy, but a lot of other things that are a lot more important are falling into place very nicely. I’m learning, growing and feel good.

What really told me I’m on the right track was the number of emails, calls and texts that greeted me as I got up this morning. I know birthdays are listed on all the social networks, but it still felt good to hear from so many people. I counted over 400 emails, not counting the calls and text messages. They came from friends, comedians, fans and even strangers.

I appreciate every single one of them and I’m going to answer every one, even if it takes until my next birthday. There were a few I didn’t get, but it really didn’t bother me like in the past. None of my siblings sent me anything, and they knew it was my birthday. That’s a wound that is scarring over, and I accept that it just won’t be any different in this life.

I can honestly say I’ve done my very best in trying to patch those things up, and it’s just not going to work out. I said I was sorry for whatever I did to piss them off that much and meant it, now it’s not on me. I also have an uncle who screwed me over on an inheritance I was supposed to get from my grandparents, and I haven’t heard from him in years either.

I hear he has cancer and is circling the drain, and it’s a shame things had to work out as they did. It was a pretty low life stunt he pulled, but that was years ago and the damage is done. I think my father was probably in on it too, but whatever the case, neither one did a damn thing for their family because they didn’t do anything to live their own life’s dream.

They’re each going to have died bitter and alone, with lots of family angst left over. I’ve made more than my share of my own mistakes, but at least I can feel myself improving as the years go by and it’s significant. It won’t be said that I followed in my father’s shadow, and that alone gives me hope for the future. I’m definitely getting by on my own merits.

Lots of other people have family problems, but mine seem so embarrassing and odd. I’ll never understand why I got thrown in with such a bunch of hard headed people who don’t think anything like I do, but I did. I don’t think I’m better than anybody, but I do think my life’s choices were better. We just come from different worlds. I can’t understand theirs.

My cousin Brett and I get along great and always have. He just turned 40 and is coming to his own peace. His father and he aren’t going to get along, and he’s come to terms with that and it’s in his past. It’s still a shame, but it’s not going to change. Ever. That’s life.

I’m learning how to enjoy life more too as I get older. The intense need to stick it in the ass of anyone to prove myself is LONG gone. I really don’t care who likes me or doesn’t, and that’s taken a lot of pressure off. I have enough people who like me that I can be with them and not have to waste one iota of energy on the idiots. That makes life a lot easier.

Today was a radio themed birthday and it couldn’t have gone any better. First, it was an afternoon in Chicago to be on WGN with Jerry’s Kidders at 3pm. We hadn’t been on in a while, and we all were in the mood to have fun. The weather was beautiful and we had an abundance of funny news stories, so we went on the air and let it rip for longer than usual.

We’re normally on for a half hour to close out Jerry Agar’s show, but today we opened because of the way the schedule worked out. Since we had extra stories, Jerry just kept us on the air and we finished when we were done. We were in good form and on point so the time flew by and we had some solid laughs during our time. It was relaxed and a pleasure.

I had to pinch myself halfway through, but as we sat there it occurred to me that I was at one of the biggest radio stations in America on my birthday riffing comedy bits with some of my friends, and no matter what else happens in life – that alone was pretty impressive.

Who gets to do that? Not many, and I don’t care if anyone else appreciates it. I do. It’s a thrill to have the ear of a station’s listeners that’s that big, and I told the guys that after we finished. They know it too, and the feeling of gratitude and accomplishment after we were done pumped us all up as we went across the street to the Billy Goat Tavern for burgers.

We discussed how we can turn this project into money, as we haven’t done that yet. It’s a big challenge, and I’ve always loved challenges so rather than frustration we decided to look at it as opportunity. We’ve all put a lot of work into this project and now it’s time to get paid for it. The burgers tasted great and we were all in a positive mood the whole day.

My next destination was WLIP in Kenosha, WI to do the Mothership Connection radio show at 8pm. We had an extra full house of sit in guests tonight and that was as much or even more fun than WGN this afternoon. The vibe was dead on, and I think we had over a dozen people in the little studios of WLIP. There were about four people to each mike.

There were all our regular callers plus a few new ones, and we had great guests too. Our former co-host Scott Markus was back from L.A. and he’s always a help, so he got Ursula Bielski to come on with us who wrote several books on Chicago ghost lore. Scott has one too, and the whole show just fell together. It was like a three hour on air birthday party.

John Vass is a fan of Jerry Agar’s on WGN, but he asked if he could come and hang out with us and of course I said yes. He added to the show, and that’s always how it’s been as long as we’ve been on the air. I’d like to think I’ve got something to do with creating that vibe, as I’m the one who runs the show. Like George Clinton, I’m just the referee of it all.

I’m going to keep cranking out my little blog for the indefinite future. If people enjoy it, I’m flattered. I heard from my friend Arnold Mukai in Seattle and he says it allows him to live the show business life vicariously through my adventures. That’s great. If I can help a person escape, I’m all for it. Hopefully, I can inspire someone to live their own dreams. It won’t change the fact that I’m always going to be a dented can, but it does help to know it gets better as time passes. This was a fantastic birthday, and I’m grateful for every one.