Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

Famous For A Night

April 29, 2014

Sunday April 27th, 2014 – Milwaukee, WI

Tonight I had the delightful opportunity to both donate to charity and enjoy a world class meal at the same time. It doesn’t get much better than that, and I’m glad I did it. The event was held in downtown Milwaukee at a restaurant called The Capital Grille, and it was a classy experience.

I had heard of that restaurant, but one always has to experience something firsthand to really be able to form an opinion. And even then, it might be a little off. I always like to give something at least two or three chances so I can make up my mind, but there isn’t always time in life for that.

Tonight was my first time, and if I never get back it was a grand slam so that’s acceptable. I’d find it very hard to believe they could top this experience, but it was a special night and everyone on staff was on their best behavior. I’m sure they always are, but tonight they were off the charts.

My film director friend Mark Gumbinger invited me to this event, as he thought I’d be one of a very few possibilities on his contact list that he could invite that would both appreciate the event and be willing to invest more than a few bucks for the experience. This was not a $9.99 fish fry.

I am certainly not swimming with the biggest financial fish right now, but I do make a point to donate to charities whenever and however I am able and tonight was a chance to do that. A good friend of Mark’s was the person putting on the event, and this was the fifth year it has been held.

He and his wife tragically lost their son to cancer at only 27. I can’t begin to imagine the horror that would be, and once again they were wonderful people who handled it with dignity and class. Mark introduced us and they couldn’t have been any friendlier and grateful that I could be there.

There were some high powered movers and shakers in attendance, as Mark’s friend owns a few businesses and his brother is a former mayor of Kenosha. Everybody was friendly, and I’d guess about 75 was the final tally. It’s been growing every year apparently, and I’m glad I was invited.

Mark and I were seated at a table with people from the cancer charity, and he brought it up that I was a comedian. I really can’t stand that as that’s not why I was there, but Mark wouldn’t let up one bit. I know he meant well, but I was really embarrassed. I’ve never been one to flaunt that in front of strangers, but they couldn’t get enough of it. They treated me as if I was a big time star.

Word got around the room that a “famous comedian” was in attendance, and I felt eyes looking at me as I went to use the bathroom. I know some people live for the attention, but that has never been my thing. I’m fine with doing my show and then escaping back into my obscure existence.

Just as we were about to leave, a lawyer made his way over to our table and asked if I wouldn’t mind answering a few questions he had about standup comedy. He wasn’t at all the typical slimy lawyer stereotype, and I tried to answer him as honestly as I could. I didn’t want to take away the focus of the event, but they raised some good money and I was honored to be a part of it. I think I may be asked to perform next year, and if it helps the cause I surely will. These are fine people.

I attended a charity event tonight in Milwaukee at a place called 'The Capital Grille'. Wow!

I attended a charity event tonight in Milwaukee at a place called ‘The Capital Grille’. Wow!

There are locations all over, but this one was outstanding. www.thecapitalgrille.com.

There are locations all over, but this one was outstanding. http://www.thecapitalgrille.com.

I was invited by my film director friend Mark Gumbinger. Here he is with singer Gordon Lightfoot.

I was invited by my film director friend Mark Gumbinger. Here he is with singer Gordon Lightfoot. http://www.edmundfitzgerald.com.

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.

Healing With Humor

November 13, 2013

Monday November 11th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

This has been a rough year health wise for more than a few of my friends. It’s been no polka in the park for me either having to deal with my recent kidney stone, but that’s nothing compared to what some other people I know have had to face. Many are comedians, and it doesn’t seem right.

I would think since comedians provide a service to humankind we’d get some sort of free pass, but we aren’t exempt from the same health horrors everyone else faces. Sometimes it even seems like we get it worse, which I could never understand. There are a lot of people I know suffering.

Jim Wiggins had cancer surgery just a couple of months ago, and he’s having to get used to life with no prostate or bladder. He is now cancer free which is something to celebrate, but that came with one hell of a price. He’s recovering nicely from what I hear, and hopes to work again soon.

Scot Wickmann is another comedian friend who has been dealing with health issues for a long time. He has been on kidney dialysis for quite a while, and recently he had triple bypass surgery. That’s serious enough, but apparently there was an infection and he had to have more surgery.

Bill Gorgo has been getting updates from Scot’s wife Jackie, and she said Scot just had one of two more surgeries he needs and everything went smoothly. He had an abscess on an artery, and that sounds frightening. I don’t have details and the last thing I ever want to do is bother Jackie.

The bottom line is, even if his next surgery goes well he’ll be lucky to be out of the hospital by Christmas. Crikey. I thought the eight or nine days I spent in the hospital for my surgery in 2011 was horrific – and it was. I can’t begin to imagine having to be in a hospital bed for six weeks.

Again, my problems really aren’t problems compared to what Jim and Scot and so many others are going through, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of them. There are a lot of people in a lot worse shape than me, and I want to help comfort them if I can. It’s all about human kindness.

All that actually matters in life is what we are able to give – especially to those that truly are in need. What could I do myself or help to organize that will make someone’s life even a little more pleasant when there’s a long road of recovery ahead? There has to be some way of reaching out.

I was delighted to be able to organize the big benefit comedy show last October for Milwaukee Police Officer Josh Albert after he was almost killed by a drunk driver going the opposite way on a freeway on ramp. His injuries were beyond a nightmare, but we were able to assist financially.

Peter Jest of Shank Hall in Milwaukee donated the hall, and the all comedians donated our time to perform. Drew Olson was a fabulous host that night, and Officer Albert’s work partner and my cousin Katie Anderer and her whole family got the word out to make it a success. We received a blanket of media coverage as well, and it ended up being a successful event that helped someone.

That’s what life is about. Period. I know we all need to pay our bills, but after that it’s what we are able to give that has any lasting meaning. Seeing my personal friends having to endure all of the personal hell they’ve been through makes me want to jump up and take action to help them.

But what could that be? I’d like it to be comedy related somehow, but I don’t think doing a live show is the answer. I would gladly volunteer to do it in a second if that would help, but it doesn’t strike me as the solution. I think there needs to be something that is able to reach more shut ins.

Scot Wickmann is going to be laid up in bed for a while. Even if he wanted to see a live show I doubt if he could make it unless they wheeled his bed right into the performance area. I’d be fine with it, but I can’t see it happening. A room full of beds with people from ICU would be silly.

It’s hard enough to be funny in a traditional comedy setting, but this would be off the charts to try and pry laughs out of hospital patients. That’s not what I had in mind. I would like to create a product that could be used to touch people depending on their condition, and that’s a wide scope.

One idea I had would be to interview comedians who have endured health issues, and try to put a comedic perspective on things that as a rule aren’t funny. When I was in the hospital, I couldn’t help but notice there are a lot of potentially funny events that only someone who has experienced them could relate to. I bet it would be of great comfort to have a video for new patients to watch.

There has to be a way to produce a video of comedians telling their hospital stories, and have it run on a constant loop on one of the hospital TV channels. I’d bet there could be several releases over time, as a lot of comedians have stories. I’m sure some celebrities would jump on board too.

David Letterman went through major heart surgery a while back, and I’m sure that gave him an abundance of stories that are a lot funnier now that he’s fully recovered. Sometimes it seems like the situation is overwhelming while in the hospital, and something to offer comfort would help to put a patient’s mind at ease. I remember how I felt when I was laying there and it was a bad trip.

Another idea I’d love to pursue would be establishing a humor library in all hospitals so people could watch and listen to comedy as they recover. It could be standup comedy CDs and DVDs or funny movies or even written publications like Mad magazine or comic books. It could help pass the time for patients, and even the employees could use it. I’m sure a medical staff has stress too.

I realize that these are all pie in the sky dreams, but I want to put it out there in the universe so hopefully someone else will see it and act on it. Even if it’s bouncing an idea back at me, I’ll take whatever I can get and move forward however I can. This is an idea that has no time restrictions.

We always see photo ops where celebrity athletes go in and meet sick kids in the hospital, and I think that’s a great thing don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see more of it, but what better source of cheering people up who need it is there than comedians. This would be a way to really be of use.

I think this would be a great place to develop the King of Uranus character. It’s so goofy that it can’t help to at least get the attention of somebody in a sick bed and take their mind off their pain for the moment. One way or another, I really want to reach out and make a hurting person laugh.

Hearing of Scot’s current situation and Jim’s recent issues has brought this idea to the forefront of my thoughts. It would be a great opportunity to match comedians with recovering patients and I’m going to keep thinking of what I can do to get this ball rolling. Service is what life is about.

I want to establish a program for comedians to be able to cheer up hospital patients as they recover. Any ideas?

I want to establish a program for comedians to be able to cheer up hospital patients as they recover. Any ideas?

An appearance by The King of Uranus might be in order. It's always FUNNY when it comes from URANUS!

An appearance by The King of Uranus might be in order. It’s always FUNNY when it comes from URANUS!

Cancer No More

October 18, 2013

Thursday October 10th, 2013 – Sparta, WI

In all my years of gallivanting around North America, I can only recall a couple of times when my schedule happened to work out conveniently. I am notorious for having horrific routing over most of my career, and the stress from it has probably already shaved some years off of my life.

I’ve got some more coming up in a couple of days, but for now I’m exactly where I want to be. I’ve got a show tomorrow night in LaCrosse, WI and that allowed me to take a ride to Sparta, WI with my friend Bill Gorgo to visit our mutual friend Jim Wiggins on his birthday. It was a special birthday for Jim as he was just released from a nine day hospital stint after having major surgery.

If anyone can relate to the misery of nine days in the hospital it’s me. That’s how long I had to rot when I was in for my own surgery in 2011. It seems like two lifetimes ago now, but it was an unexpected obstacle in an already difficult life. I wasn’t expecting it, and it changed me forever.

Other than total financial disaster, I’m much better for it today. My type 2 diabetes is in check, and I could have easily lost all my plumbing. Any time a man has his junk sliced up like sushi it gets his undivided attention. ‘Testicle’ is a funny word – unless it involves surgery on one’s own.

I’m just now getting to a point where I can talk about it freely on stage. I’ve done it a few times and it’s gotten mixed responses. There’s a fine line between comedy and sympathy and there has to be just the right mixture of funny in place to get laughs rather than ‘oohs’ – or stunned silence.

I’m still working on it, and hopefully I’ll be around a while longer to polish it into a closing bit. Anytime severe discomfort and someone else’s genitals are involved, it’s always a guaranteed hit with a crowd. ‘America’s Funniest Videos’ has proven it for years. Nothing follows a crotch hit.

Jim Wiggins had a crotch hit of his own as he had his prostate and bladder removed. That’s not funny in the least, but life plays no favorites – even with comedians. It’s our job to find the funny in a lot of things that don’t seem glib on the surface, and I have no doubt Jim will use this as fuel for future routines. We can’t help it. A true comedian always looks for funny in every situation.

Sometimes that’s what keeps us going. Life can be downright frightening, and if anyone could come even close to relating what Jim was feeling it was me. He had a lot more done than I had to have, but I know how lonely and intimidating it can be laying alone in a hospital bed waiting for some stranger to carve into your bean bag like dark meat on a turkey. It makes sleep impossible.

I wanted to make sure I saw Jim on his birthday, but Bill and I weren’t sure if he would still be in the hospital or not. His hospital was in LaCrosse, so either way we knew we’d see him but it’s much better that he was at home. He was tired and moving slow, but he looked remarkably good. We didn’t know what to expect, but he exceeded our expectations. We were just glad to see him.

The best news of all is that he’s now cancer free. He had gone through three painful bouts with chemo, and that’s now over with. Now the thing to focus on is healing, and Bill and I focused on that as we sat and visited. Jim eventually nodded off to sleep, but I knew he was glad we showed up. I was glad we did too. For once my routing made it possible for me to be in the right place.

Comedian Jim Wiggins 'The Last Hippie In America' no longer has cancer! www.lasthippie.com

Comedian Jim Wiggins ‘The Last Hippie In America’ no longer has cancer! http://www.lasthippie.com

Thank You Randy Kosanke

September 10, 2013

Monday September 9th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

My long time good friend Randy Kosanke in Milwaukee sent out this mass email yesterday:

To all my friends,

I guess I have some bad news. They’ve taken me off chemo as it’s not working anymore. The cancer is spreading too fast. The doctor says I have three to six weeks left. I guess this is kind of shocking news, but please don’t be too upset.

I have been given a great life that I wouldn’t trade with anyone. I have the best family anyone could want, from probably the most perfect wife you could want to two of the greatest kids any man ever had and their wonderful spouses, and now the perfect grandson.

I also have the best friends any man could want who have given me the best times and laughs imaginable. I haven’t missed out on anything.

I truly love all of you and thank God for all our times together. Please don’t worry or mourn for me as I look forward to the next adventure. Please help out Jan as she’s under a lot of stress.

There will be no funeral as I am to be cremated and have my ashes thrown on Racquel Welch’s breasts – which probably sag too much and will spill on the floor. I guess they will dump them in my asshole neighbor’s yard.

It would be impossible to tell each and every one of you what you’ve meant to me, but know that I love you all deeply. Please don’t e-mail or call as I am too tired to respond.

Thank you all and goodbye.

Randy

It stopped me in my tracks, especially since I didn’t even know he was sick. I was stunned to get it, and couldn’t help thinking about it all day. Once again, the message is clear. Life is short.

I’ve known Randy going on thirty years. A rabid fan of comedy and long time active supporter of the local scene in Milwaukee, he was a frequent audience member that loved to hang out with the comedians afterward. He was especially supportive of beginners, and a longtime fan of mine.

One night he told me out of the blue that out of all the Milwaukee comedians of that time, there were only three that he thought had legitimate talent – Chris Barnes, Will Durst and me. Will had already moved to San Francisco years before, but is still a native of Milwaukee and started there. Randy was an authority on the local scene, and closely monitored every act that went on stage.

I agree wholeheartedly on his assessment of Chris and Will. To include me up there with them is as flattering as it gets, and he wouldn’t say it if he didn’t mean it. He and his wife attended my “Schlitz Happened!” show last April, but he didn’t let on that he was sick. I will miss him dearly.

I’ve got story after story of things he did over the years that really meant a lot. Just a few years ago, I was booked to be the first comedian ever at Milwaukee’s German Fest. Throughout much if not all of recorded history, Germans haven’t traditionally been known for frivolity and mirth.

They surely know how to bake a mean strudel and can dance the polka with anyone, but when it comes down to chuckles and yucks they’re severely lacking. Maybe twenty total showed up to see me perform on an outdoor stage that was built to seat several thousand, and it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I gutted it out, and Randy and Jan were there to support

Afterward we drowned my sorrows in a large plate of sausage, and Randy cheered me up when I really needed a lift. He was such a fan of comedy that he wouldn’t let me get down about it. He kept telling me that I did a great job under the circumstances, and that I was blazing a new trail.

The single story that sums up Randy by far the most took place in 1992 when I had purchased a professional wrestling organization for which I had served as ring announcer. I bought a ring and a truck to haul it and put on shows around Southeastern Wisconsin. A unique adventure it was.

There were all kinds of painful aspects of that endeavor, but the hardest was taking proper care of the actual ring. It was heavy and cumbersome, and a total pain in the ass to deal with. I hadn’t considered it when I bought the business, and it turned out to be one of the main reasons I sold it.

The ring was stored at one of the wrestler’s houses who happened to live out in the sticks. He’d leave it set up in the summer, so if guys wanted to go and work out moves they could. It became a nightmare when it rained, and I’d have to make sure it was taken down and stored in the truck.

One day it was scheduled to rain, and I couldn’t get any of the wrestlers to help me move that damn ring. They all had piss poor excuses, but the rain was coming and I needed to take it down or the canvas would get soaked and the plywood underneath would warp. I was in a tight spot.

I had an office then, and Randy happened to wander in to say hello since he lived not far away and often would drop in. I told him of my situation, and without blinking he said he’d be glad to help and that’s exactly what he did. That ring was a bastard to move, but he helped me do it with not one word of complaining. I offered to pay him or buy him dinner, but he wouldn’t hear of it.

THAT is a true friend, and I never forgot him for that. When I was backed into a corner he did not hesitate to help and never asked for a thing. I must have thanked him hundreds of times over the years, and we’d laugh about it every time I brought it up. He’d ask if he could be a wrestler.

All of these memories came flooding back today, and there wasn’t one bad one in the bunch. I don’t have any good ones of my father, but I have a ton of Randy. I know his email instructed us not to write back, but I never listened to anyone until now and I ignored it and wrote anyway.

I thanked him for everything, and told him he was a true winner in life – and he is. He has love from a great family and that’s what I have always wanted. All the fame in the world won’t match what he has, and he realizes it too. Randy Kosanke will hold a special place in my heart forever.