Posts Tagged ‘C. Cardell Willis’

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.

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.

Gramps 101

November 19, 2013

Monday November 18th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

Anyone who knows me well knows how immense an influence my grandfather was and still is in my life. Gramps was my father figure, first mentor and number one fan. If it weren’t for all of his well placed wisdom and patience, I have no doubt I’d be dead or in prison. He was my hero.

For as long as I am alive, November 18th will be a personal holiday because it was his birthday. He was born in 1912, and I was able to obtain a Mayoral Proclamation in Milwaukee last year on the 100th anniversary of his birth. He was proud to be a Milwaukeean, and I know he would have been blown away if he knew his personal centennial would be an official day in his home town.

I doubt if it meant anything to anyone but me, but I’m really glad I went through the procedure to make it happen. I have the document in my possession, and it means a lot just like having one created for my comedy mentor C. Cardell Willis. If anyone has ever earned kudos, those two did.

Gramps and Cardell were a lot alike in that they were both students of the game of life and they both had the teaching gene. They went out of their way to acquire knowledge, but then would not be satisfied unless they could pass it on to someone else. I am lucky to have had them both as my mentor precisely at the time I needed them most. It was important to me to honor their memories.

Gramps and Cardell also shared the trait of not sugarcoating anything. They called it like it was and I appreciate them both for that. They are two of the few people I have ever met that were not afraid of stepping on toes. They weren’t looking to offend, but they wouldn’t back down either.

I remember taking long walks with Gramps and getting into these long involved conversations about anything and everything. I could ask him anything, and he’d give me an answer. He would always tell me to think for myself, and not just go along with something because it was popular.

He had some ideas that would be unorthodox today to say the least, but I can’t deny they make perfect sense even now. What I owe Gramps – and anyone smart enough to want to acquire true wisdom – is to compile a book of lessons he taught me. I didn’t realize it then, but he wrote it on my heart all through my childhood. Those long walks were when he etched his lessons into me.

I can’t believe how far ahead of his time Gramps was. He took me on my own personal ‘Scared Straight’ adventure when I was maybe 12. He arranged a personal tour of the Ethan Allen School for Boys juvenile detention center in Delafield, WI. It scared me far more than any lecture could.

“This is about the age your father started acting up,” he said between puffs of his non-filter Pall Mall cigarette. “I could tell you about this place, or I could show it to you. I’m showing it to you so when you think about doing something stupid THIS is where they’ll send you. And if you do get sent here – don’t call me. You’re on your own.” Gramps had a flair for the dramatic, and it worked.

I’ve been without Gramps longer than I had him, and I can’t think of one thing I wouldn’t give to have a single hour with him now. I know he’d have valid insight, and would throw out his raw thoughts on everything. Wow, would I love that right now. I can’t have it, so the best way to pay him back is to put out a book of our experiences together. He dictated it to me years ago.

My grandfather got his college degree at age 52 after years of night school. He taught me far more than any college ever could.

My grandfather got his college degree at age 52 after years of night school. He taught me far more than any college ever could.

Mentor and mentee - aka me.

Mentor and mentee – aka me.

Thirty Years Already?

November 12, 2013

Saturday November 9th, 2013 – Beloit, WI

As difficult as it may be for me to process in my sieve like brain, I’ve been performing standup comedy for thirty years as of this month. I’m not 100% sure of the exact date, but I do know that it was a Monday night in Milwaukee at a place called Sardino’s. That was my first time on stage.

I still vividly remember most of the experience, and it was a genuine thrill. I can easily go back there in my head and feel myself on stage that very first night. Actually it was on the dance floor, as the stage was set up for one of the many bands that played there. Mondays were usually dark.

That presented an opportunity for my future comedy mentor and father figure C. Cardell Willis and his manager Shirley Schaak to start running showcases. It was the only place in town that did comedy then, and there was no cover charge. This was right before the comedy boom of the ‘80s.

Oh, how I wish I could have a few minutes with that pie eyed kid after that first night. I was on stage maybe five minutes, but that was all it took. I was hooked for a lifetime, and had no idea of all the adventures I was about to experience. It would have been nice to have a little inside info.

Cardell and Shirley were absolute sweethearts. They were wonderful souls who nurtured all of us at that time. They took in strays, and gave us stage time and self esteem. I was a pup then, but I could see I wasn’t the only dented can in the bunch. Like most comedians, it was a misfit crew.

Comedy is often a ticket out of the emotional ghetto just like sports can be in the physical one. I was not in a good place then, and comedy was something on which I could focus. I worked like a maniac at it, and kept going back to Sardino’s week after week after week until I became a regular.

As I grew in experience I got a chance to “go on the road” with Cardell and Shirley as they had an actual paid show that ran in Beloit, WI – about 70 miles from Milwaukee. It was a bar owned by a local cop, and once in a while they’d do a comedy night. It was no big deal in retrospect, but at the time it felt like I was booked at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. I felt like I had really arrived.

I remember riding back and forth with Cardell and Shirley several times over the years, and the thrill never went away. They would get some nice audiences in that place, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you the name of the place or where it was. It was just some bar, but to me it was my dream coming true. Even though it was only a few bucks, I was being paid to do comedy. Wow!

Since those early days, I’ve been on an epic journey trying to chase something I never was able to find. I had a lot of fun along the way and really learned a lot, but I’m still missing what caused me to chase all of this in the first place – love and acceptance. That’s what most of us are in it for whether we know it or not. Everyone wants to find that place of belonging, but I’m still looking.

Tonight I had a one nighter at a bar in of all places Beloit, WI. I can’t say if it wasn’t the same place I worked with Cardell and Shirley, as I just don’t know. I have done literally thousands of joints exactly like it in the last thirty years, and they tend to run together. This one was very hard as the crowd was small, drunk and chatty. I tried to give them my best, but the whole time I was trying to work – again on a dance floor – I wondered if I spent my time wisely. I’m still not sure.

My comedy mentor and father figure C. Cardell Willis.

My comedy mentor and father figure C. Cardell Willis.

Cardell on stage at Sardino's in Milwaukee - the place I started doing standup comedy thirty years ago this month. Where did that time go?

Cardell on stage at Sardino’s in Milwaukee – the place I started doing standup comedy thirty years ago this month. Where did that time go?

The Stench Of Filth

July 13, 2013

Friday July 12th, 2013 – “Parts Unknown”     

   I had the night off tonight, so I decided to support a group of new comedians that were hosting what is called in comedy an ‘open mic’ (or ‘open mike’, depending on the person.) I started at an open mic at Sardino’s on Farwell in Milwaukee in November of 1983, and have literally gone on stage in this situation at least several hundred if not thousands of times. I’m no stranger to them. 

   An open mic means virtually anyone can sign up to go on stage and perform at the venue that’s holding the event. It’s a cattle call, and any and all levels of experience show up. Mostly it’s new performers cutting their teeth, but on occasion a seasoned veteran drops in to work on material.   

   When I was just starting out, having those veterans drop in was both a rare treat and a learning experience. It was a clinic to watch a pro go up and get solid laughs out of the same small crowd everyone else had been struggling with all night. It showed us rookies we had a long way to go.

   One of the first touring comedians I remember meeting was a hilarious Chicago comic named Danny Storts. He was passing through town and went on one night and blew the room away for a solid twenty minutes. Most of the rest of us could barely stay on stage for five minutes, and none of us could maintain steady laughs that long. Danny showed us how a real professional operates.

   I got to be friends with Danny over the years, and still am today. He’s living down in Nashville now, still making a living doing comedy as far as I know. Danny taught me several lessons about comedy on stage and off, and I cherish his friendship and mentoring even now. He’s a solid pro.    

   One area that was heavily stressed by both Danny Storts and my main mentor C. Cardell Willis was the issue of keeping one’s act clean – especially starting out. It’s not a matter of prudishness or censorship, it’s a smart business decision. One needs to learn the craft of comedy first, THEN if he or she chooses to ‘work blue’ or add more adult topics or strong language, it’s their choice.

   There is not one topic, swear word or group of swear words that can shock or offend me at this point – or so I thought. I’ve heard it all in my comedy tenure, and more than that before I stepped on a stage as I hung around my father’s motorcycle gang maggots. They could curse with almost anyone, but the all time champion of foul language I ever heard was my German grandmother.

   Wow, could she let it rip. She was 5’1” – maybe, and usually wore a babushka. That made her stand out even more when the flurry of filth would fly out of her – quite often in a public location in front of mixed company. Grandma had a real flair, and could make the bikers cover their ears.  

   That being said, the open mic tonight featured some of the filthiest material I have heard in one night on one stage in I don’t know when. I don’t even want to call it comedy material, as I didn’t find a thing funny about it. I thought I was past the point of being shocked, but I was very wrong.

   I’m not going to say where the place was, and I’m not going to name any names. I can’t see the point, other than starting a verbal war with those guys. I talked to the kid who ran the show when my time to go on was coming up and told him I didn’t want to go on. I wanted no part of tonight.

   I guess I’m now the grumbling old fart I never thought I’d be, but this was an insult to standup comedy on many levels. It wasn’t comedy, it was just young guys either swearing or describing a vile or disgusting act in detail. That’s not standup comedy, and it pollutes those of us who do it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

A Change Of Seasons

March 19, 2013

Friday March 15th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

The seasons of life are changing, and I feel it. On the calendar, spring is just around the corner. In life, it’s just the opposite. I’m starting to feel the chill of autumn, and I’d better prepare myself for the inevitable or it’s going to be a nasty winter. Like it or not, summer’s heat is over forever.

There are a lot of disappointments floating around in my head, but most of them I’ll never have a chance to make good on no matter how much I’d like to. Some were my fault, others weren’t. I wish I could go back in time and make corrections, but it’s too late now. Forward progress only.

“The past is the past” is easy to throw out there as a catch all to make everything new and right again, but that past also made waves of repercussion that reached into the future which now turns out to be the present. In other words, science was right. There are reactions for all of our actions.

Bad choices we make without thinking in our youth can come back to haunt us years later, just as the better ones can pay dividends over a lifetime. I see kids in their twenties with ugly tattoos all over and a dozen face piercings and am grateful I didn’t do that. My mistakes were subtler.

All I want to do now is finish strong and salvage a life that was worth all the trouble that went into living it. I’ve paid some serious dues in my day and then some. What good would any of all those hard lessons I may have learned be if I don’t use them for good to help others? Not a thing.

What’s becoming crystal clear as I get older is that life is all about giving back. My grandfather did some of his best work in life with me, and he was 52 when I showed up on the scene. He told me years later that raising me was a satisfying challenge and his efforts are still paying off today.

Coincidentally, he also finished his college education at age 52 and I have a picture of him that always inspires me to keep going. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think about something he said or did when I was a kid that helps me get through a situation now. His influence still exists.

Gramps really made a lasting difference in my life, and that makes me want to turn around and be that same positive force in as many other lives as I can. C. Cardell Willis was also a powerful mentor figure comedy wise as was and is Gene Perret. These names may not be famous to many, but their work is golden and I won’t forget any of them ever. I want to pass their work to others.

That’s why teaching comedy classes means so much to me. I still love to perform, but there’s a different kind of satisfaction that comes from teaching and mentoring. Seeing that twinkle in the eye of someone who latches on to a concept and it works is a tremendous feeling I never get sick of. Hopefully my students will see me fondly years from now as I see Gramps, Cardell and Gene.

I wish I could go back and change some of the bad choices I made, but we’ve all got things we aren’t proud of in our past. Pressing on and maintaining forward momentum is the correct way to proceed, but that can be easier said than done. Life is a roller coaster ride, and when there’s a hill to climb it can get steep and that forward momentum stops. Life sure has a lot for us to deal with.Gramps Graduation Pic

Drifting And Drafting

June 25, 2010

Thursday June 24th, 2010 – Lake Villa, IL

Boy, do I have a lot of work to do. The more I get done, the more that needs to be done. I sure wish I’d had better vision years ago, I’d be a powerhouse by now. But I didn’t. And I’m not. On second thought, my vision was ok. It was my follow through that was weak.

For whatever failings I may have experienced in life, looking back on it I think it was an absolute lack of leadership that really caused me to drift. My grandfather was a wonderful mentor, but he died six months after I graduated high school. That’s probably the time for the most need for a father figure, but I was all alone in the world and made weak choices.

Granted, sooner or later the blame has to stop about where a person came from, and I’m not going to harp on it any more than I have to. Yeah, I had a few bad breaks, but I had a big hand in blowing a lot of other opportunities all on my own. Part of it was because of a burning inner rage I really didn’t know was there until years later. It affected my choices.

I was always trying to get back at someone or show someone I was good for something, and all that was a gigantic waste of productive time. Nobody cared. Had I been smart and spent my time focused on good things rather than sticking it to others, I’d be a big success rather than sitting here wondering what went wrong. I know I’m not alone in that either.

A lot of people screw up in life, but I think the real trick is how to bounce back and get a second chance. Maybe that’s all part of what we’re here to learn, and if it is I think I am finally discovering my purpose. I really AM learning, even if it comes with a major price.

The only thing that concerns me is if I have enough time left to make any real difference in anyone’s lives. I sure hope so, but I keep seeing all the time I wasted trying to figure all of this out and it crushes my hopes. I feel like I’m just getting started now, when in reality I should have been at this point about twenty years ago. I’m starting the race way too late.

I thought about that as I watched the NBA draft on ESPN tonight. I’m a sucker for those things no matter what the sport. I see all these young kids with high hopes and dreams get their name called, knowing they have NO idea what’s in store for them in the real world.

Most of them have been pampered since grade school, and think the pro career is going to work out without a glitch and they’ll be happy ever after. There have to be thousands of stories of kids that lost it all in just a few years or fizzled out and never made it at all.

Pro sports is probably the only thing even more brutal than show business. Well, it IS a form of show business but it’s different in that once the skills are gone, they’re absolutely gone forever. Comedy and music and acting at least have a little more margin for error.

Some of those kids tonight will get cut or traded or have to play in Europe or get caught up in drugs or booze or who knows what and look back when they’re my age and wonder what they should have done differently. I wish them well, but I‘ve got my own problems.

I thought about that too as I sat around sorting out boxes I’ve been meaning to sort for a long time. I’d been planning on this night for a while, knowing I needed some time alone to just think my life through. I tried to throw as much away as I could, and I’m glad I did.

A lot of it was paperwork and notebooks with unachieved goals written in them. I threw all kinds of papers out that had headers like ‘Goals for 1997’ with ambitious projects that I never got to, and part of that really made me feel like a failure. That time is gone forever and whatever I did instead sure didn’t make up for me not achieving what I had intended.

Part of the reason was that I was either getting fired from radio stations across America or having to testify against my best friend in a bank robbery trial. All of that put a damper on life and clouded even more what was already a blurry vision of what life was about. If I had the clarity of thinking I have now back then, I would be in a totally different place.

But I’m sure a lot of other people say that too. Too bad. We didn’t have that clarity then and that’s why we all did what we did. I for one regret it horribly, but what can I do? Who do I blame besides myself? I can’t blame my grandfather, I’m sure he didn’t want to die.

In a perfect world, he’d have been my mentor through my turbulent twenties and helped me get a grasp for what both the real world and show business were all about. I needed an experienced guide to coach me through the difficulty of getting established, knowing that I had some actual talent that could go to a higher level. I would have had a different life.

C. Cardell Willis was a wonderful showbiz mentor, but no offense to him he wasn’t the big time guy I needed. He gave me all he had and I appreciate it beyond words, but as far as helping me take it to the big time, he couldn’t help me after a certain point. I was once again all by myself, and there’s no way anybody can do it alone. I lacked a higher mentor.

It’s extremely disappointing to think about all this, but it’s true. The only good I can see coming of it is that I’ll hopefully get to be a super mentor to some bright kid coming up in a new generation. I know now what to do, but it took way too long to learn it. Some kid is out there in the same position I was, and if I can offer even a bit of wisdom I‘m happy to.

That kid may not even be born yet, OR, he or she could be reading it right now without me even having a clue. I surely hope so, even if I never know it. That’s the right thing for anyone to do – pass good energy forward. If I can help someone else, I’ll always make it a point to do so. That’s what real giving is all about. I hope others can avoid my mistakes.

I would LOVE to have had the chance to be drafted by any big time pro sports league so I could have felt the thrill of hearing my name called by the commissioner and walk down the aisle smiling from ear to ear with camera lights flashing and TV analysts touting me.

That’s not going to happen, at least in this life. Maybe in a parallel universe I’m a Hall of Famer with a drawer full of championship rings and a fat bank account, but in this life I’ve got to worry about paying rent every month. I hope I learn whatever lessons I need to.

Shame And Pride

March 26, 2010

Thursday March 25th, 2010 – Chicago, IL

Whatever problems I might have seem pretty pale in comparison to Rick Finch, former member of KC and The Sunshine Band. He was arrested for having sex with teenage boys in the music studio at his home and apparently he admitted it to police. That’s pretty hard to explain one’s way out of, and I have to believe any kind of a career he has is now over.

Most people don’t even know who he was, but I’ve always been a fan of that band since I was a kid and I’m not ashamed to admit it. They cranked out some mega funky hits back then that still sound good today. They were all about showmanship, and I always love that no matter what the product is. Good entertainment is difficult to produce. I respect them.

The reason I knew who Rick Finch was is that he was the ’other guy’ in the team of two creative people. KC is known for the hits, but Rick Finch co-wrote a lot of them and had a big part in the creative process. Another example would be Meatloaf and Jim Steinman.

Meatloaf only sang the songs that Jim Steinman wrote, but nobody really cares about it other than Jim Steinman. Elton John and Bernie Taupin are another example. Elton sings and writes the tunes and Bernie writes the lyrics. That’s been successful for forty years.

Rick Finch and KC wrote songs in the ‘70s, and then had an ugly split in about 1981. Is it a coincidence the band stopped having hits right around that time? KC continues to tour even now, but they’re an oldies act for sure. Whatever creative magic they had is finished.

I hate to hear stories like that because finding that match is difficult. A comedy example would be Martin and Lewis. They were on top of the world and then they broke up too. In a perfect world it wouldn’t happen, but this never will be a perfect world. I feel worse for the victims. The guy obviously has a problem and I hope it isn’t too late to get some help.

My guess is, he’s going to die miserably in prison. I can’t see a pleasant outcome for the guy who molests teenage boys in his house when he’s supposed to be a mentor figure. It’s not an accident and no matter how rich or famous he used to be, that’s all over with now.

Whatever unpleasant obstacles I’ve had thrown in my life’s path, it wasn’t that. I’ve had my share of other problems, but I’ve never been molested by any scout masters or priests. Maybe I was just too damn ugly, but at least I never had to have those kind of memories.

The story really shocked me when I read it. I totally knew who he was, and it came out of the clear blue unexpectedly. How does anyone put a positive spin on that? What does a publicist or press liason say, especially when he admitted it? It can’t be a pleasant task for his lawyer either. Then of course there will be everyone in the music industry gossiping.

All the articles I’ve had over the years have always been positive. It’s part of coming up the ladder, and they’re used in a publicity package to send out to get more press or send to bookers. I may get some negative press in the future, but it won’t be anything like this.

On a positive note, I had lunch with Vince Carone today. He’s a former student who has a chance to really do something in the business. He’s 27 now but was probably 19 at most when he took the class at Zanies. He was always a nice kid but now he’s really maturing.

When I was coming up in Milwaukee in the ‘80s, my mentor C. Cardell Willis groomed me to be ‘the one’ who would do something in the business. He said that of all the comics in town at that time, I was the one that had the most chance of taking comedy the farthest.

He taught me about the road and how it would be a grind, but that’s how comedy had to be to make a living and not just be a hometown hobbyist. Cardell always told me I would take comedy farther than he’d be able to, and he was right. I did. He didn’t have resources at his disposal to go on the road full time. He had a family to support and he did his duty.

The comedy boom of the ‘80s didn’t have much of a place for Cardell. He wasn’t in the right place at the right time, funny as he was. He was my age now when clubs were in the infant stages, and most of the comics then were twenty somethings. He never had a shot.

Vince is really starting to come into his own and I told him at lunch today I feel exactly the way Cardell did when he told me I’d take it farther than he ever would. Vince will be the one to leave me in the dust, and if it has to be someone I’m glad it’s him. He’s got an amazing work ethic but he’s got a heart too. He also has a business sense. That’s RARE.

I’m proud of all my students, and just as children they’re all individuals. I support them and try to be there when they have a question, but sometimes we drift apart over years and I don’t hear from them for a while. I’m busy bailing water out of my own boat, and I have my own career to mishandle. I’m making dumb new mistakes so I’ll have more to teach.

Vince has always kept in contact and I’m very grateful for that. He’s very classy and it’s going to take him very far. He’s not insincere as many in show business can be, and I will always be in his corner cheering for his success. He gave me his SECOND finished DVD, which for 27 is outstanding. It wasn’t half assed either. Both projects are very impressive.

I was farting around with morning radio at 27, wondering what direction to go. We had no recording capability back then, and if I did my act was so brutal I’m glad there’s not a recording of it I’d have to destroy. Vince did a fine job and I’m happy for him. Not only is it funny, he put a nice package together and twenty years from now he’ll still be proud.

Vince knew what he wanted from the start, just like I thought I did. Even at 19, he was always asking questions and sending me emails and I respected him for that. He was right on the money, and I’m not surprised he’s starting to do well now. He’s only 27, but he’s a veteran of the wars because he started young like I did. He’ll blow me out of the water.

I told him to be careful for what he wished for. All I wanted back then was to be a solid act and kick ass on stage wherever I went. I thought that was all I needed. Well, I got that wish, and was I wrong. There’s a lot more, and Vince is doing it right. Rick Finch isn’t.