Posts Tagged ‘challenge’

Nobody Has To Know

March 6, 2014

Tuesday March 4th, 2014 – Chicago, IL

Once again I was called in for short term bullpen duty by Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago, and once again I answered the call. For whatever reason, they needed me to fill in for tonight only so that’s what I did. I always enjoy the chance to work, even though the crowd isn’t always stellar.

I’m not talking about Zanies crowds necessarily, but about audiences in general. There are a lot of variables that make up any particular group of random strangers, and each gathering is its own mini lottery with astronomical odds. Like hands of cards, the possibilities are virtually limitless.

Sometimes a given group meshes perfectly with the act on stage, and when that happens life is absolute bliss. Depending on the experience of the performer, he or she can make adjustments to find the sweet spot of what the audience is buying on that night. Trying to find what that happens to be is part of the fun of live performing. It all happens in the moment, and it’s a calculated risk.

Inexperienced entertainers have a limited range of where they can go. They give whatever they have, and leave it to chance. Sometimes it’s the correct fit, and sometimes it isn’t. That’s part of the process, and why it takes so long to master the craft of standup comedy. It’s quite involved.

Matching wits with an audience is a tremendous challenge, and I’ve learned to respect it over a lifetime. It’s a constant mental chess game, much like how the quarterback takes on a defense in a football game or a pitcher vs. batter matchup in baseball. It’s a series of guesses and adjusting.

On rare occasions, it all works out right from the start. I’ve had nights I could seemingly do no wrong, and I can’t figure out why. It just clicks, and I run with it. Other nights nothing works no matter what I try, and over time I have amassed quite a stash of tricks to haul out in the moment.

Part of the process includes trying several tactics to obtain the most positive response. One that can be highly effective is interaction. A dead audience can spring into life with crowd work, and I’ve implemented it successfully many times. I’ve also had it blow up in my face too. It’s tricky.

This whole game is tricky – but that’s why I love it. It’s a constant challenge, and even when it goes right there’s always the next audience to figure out and they could be stone faced. I liken it to doing crossword puzzles – something else I really enjoy. There’s always the next one to solve.

Tonight’s crowd on the surface seemed very good. It was quite large for a Tuesday, but I found them to be one of those rare hands of cards that was difficult to play. Vince Maranto was hosting, and he’s one of the most experienced emcees around. They liked him, but he talked to them a lot.

Calvin Evans was the feature act tonight, a younger comic who is very likeable on stage. I saw him have a tough time keeping their attention, and he eventually had to politely ask them to keep the table talk down. He handled it very well, but I knew I would be in for a challenge and I was.

This was one of those shows when every little thing went wrong, and no matter what I tried fell flat. It didn’t help that the whole front row was chatting during the whole show, but that happens. They all clapped loudly at the end, but I’ve had far better audiences. Shhh. Nobody has to know.

Performing for live audiences is never the same twice in a row.

Performing for live audiences is never the same twice in a row. That can be good and bad.


One Man Bind

October 1, 2013

Sunday September 29th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

I’m working about as hard as a one man band can, but it’s becoming very obvious I need to put a functioning team together if I’m ever going to rise above my current level of achievement. That can be a challenge for anyone, but it’s especially tough for anyone with deep rooted trust issues.

Dented cans share the unfortunate common experience of being deeply scorched emotionally at an early age – usually by those closest to us that are traditionally supposed to be our most trusted and biggest supporters. Are there any strippers or porn stars that don’t have some daddy tweak?

What about serial killers? Do any of them come from healthy and productive homes? There are almost always exceptions to every rule, but try as I might I can’t think of even one example here. I highly doubt Ted Bundy’s pop took him fishing every summer or his mom baked him cookies.

I realize nobody’s life is perfect and we all have humps in our past we’re trying to get over, but some of us have had to go through certain levels of hell that were simply not designed for a child of any age to endure. It’s not our fault, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to live with the pain.

There are only a precious few I can talk about this with who truly get it. My cousin Brett is one and my friend Max Bumgardner is another. Most others will casually say “Get over it,” or “Let it go.” That’s like telling an alcoholic to “Stop drinking” and expect that to be a one time cure all.

It didn’t help that I chose the career with the biggest failure and rejection rate of all, but maybe it was because I’m so used to disappointment it just felt comfortable. At this point I don’t have a clue other than I know I need to do something other than I have been doing. That isn’t working.

If I’m ever going to have a chance at the big prize, I’m going to have to trust someone – even if it ends up grinding my heart into confetti as it has so many times before. That doesn’t sound very appealing, but it’s a risk all winners must take. It’s just harder for dented cans, as we’ve felt such severe pain when everything blows up. It clouds our thinking when it comes to picturing success.

I wish I didn’t have to talk about this at all, but it’s very real and I put it out there because I am by far not the only one dealing with it. I know for a fact it has held me back in many areas of my life from business to personal relationships, and if I don’t overcome it soon I will never succeed.

Today I went through all the projects I’m working on, and came up with a list of the top dozen people I think could help me most right now. That would be a great place to start practicing what I’m preaching, and throw it out there. I have a rock solid list of contacts, but I am often reluctant to ask for anything because I’m afraid I’ll owe them or something. I don’t know, but it’s a quirk.

I read an article recently that talked about the way to get over one’s biggest fear is to look right down the barrel of the gun and do it anyway. It takes a prodigious pair to pull that off, but I have rarely backed down from challenges in my life so it’s either get it done or live a life unfulfilled.

I need to be the head of several winning teams for all my projects to succeed. Period. I can’t do it myself, and I’d be stupid for trying. As much as it scares me, I need to trust some other people.


Free Cell Fever

June 7, 2013

Tuesday June 4th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   As ridiculous as it sounds, I think there’s something in the human animal that enjoys struggle. Somewhere inside, we crave it. What’s more satisfying than overcoming a humongous challenge and beating the odds to gain a victory? Nothing I can imagine. We love it when it gets difficult.

   I’m a big fan of the computer game Free Cell. It’s a form of solitaire, and played with a deck of cards. The game involves moving all the cards around in descending order and alternating colors, and it can be highly addictive. I love it because it keeps the brain busy, and can be challenging.

   There are literally hundreds of thousands of different combinations, and allegedly all but one is solvable. Some games are far too easy, most present at least a slight degree of difficulty but then there are those few that drive me up the wall and across the ceiling – and they’re the ones I love.

   They keep me baffled for a while, and I might go back and play the same game fifty times over before I eventually figure it out – but I usually do. I go in spurts, but when I get on a bender I am known to drop everything else I’m doing and put all my effort into solving that particular game.     

   It’s completely frustrating for a while – sometimes a long while – but then when I do solve that particular game there’s an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment like little else I’ve ever felt. I’ve run across other Free Cell players, and most of them know exactly what I’m talking about.  

   The harder the effort that’s required, the more satisfying the feeling of victory is when it finally happens. Only the biggest challenges have appeal. The others aren’t even close. Putting forth an epic effort is never easy, and I guess that’s why it feels so good to win. It’s the ultimate victory.

   More and more people are having to put forth that kind of epic effort in life just to stay alive in this financial climate, and they’re feeling the utter frustration of a difficult Free Cell game times ten. It’s no cakewalk out there, and tensions are rising. Try waiting five seconds at a green light.

   My grandparents used to talk about how The Depression was good in that it helped to get all of their generation on the same page, and it kept them humble. They pulled together  and it gave life a sense of purpose. The generation of today seems defeated – at least those I talk to. Challenging computer games are one thing, but gas prices rising by the day are squeezing us all like Charmin. 

   I’ve struggled my whole life, so I’m used to it by now. It’s not necessarily pleasant, but I have a thick callous built up over decades so it doesn’t scare me when my world blows up. I’ve had it happen so many times now, it doesn’t even move the needle anymore. Others aren’t that way.

   I’m feeling tensions build on every level, and it scares me. Jobs are nowhere to be had, and the majority of everybody I know is completely tapped out. I am too, but I don’t have a house full of hungry kids to feed and a giant mortgage to pay on that house I couldn’t sell even if I wanted to.   

   With a Free Cell game, if it gets too tough I can take a break for a while or do something else. It’s not that way in life. When the tornado hits, there’s no choice but to hang in there and slug it out. There’s no pause button, and it can get really stressful. We’re all stuck in a pressure cooker.

   I wish I knew what the solution is, but I don’t. Where is that ultimate victory feeling in life like I feel in Free Cell going to come from? I’ve got all I can do to pay my bills every month, and so do millions of others. I rarely have time to play Free Cell at all. I’m too busy trying to survive.