Posts Tagged ‘charity’

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.

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

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.


Sharing For Sheri

March 12, 2014

Tuesday March 11th, 2014 – Hawthorn Woods, IL

Long before I reconnected with my birth family, I was part of the Zanies Comedy Club family. I have worked more than my share of jobs, but have never seen a group of closer knit people than I have at Zanies. There are several Zanies locations in the Chicago area, and the one that recently closed in Vernon Hills, IL had a particularly sweet staff. Those people have always been super.

I worked at that club frequently from the day it opened until the day it closed. Coincidentally, I was the first comedian to ever step on that stage and the last one to close the last show. That club was my home both in comedy and in life, and I even developed my comedy classes in that space.

The last three places I have lived have all been with former Zanies employees, including where I am now. That’s why when the opportunity arose to have a fundraiser for Sheri Johnson, I knew it was my duty to set the wheels in motion. I had no doubt the others would follow, and they did.

A tremendous turnout of both former Zanies staff and Chicago comedians came out tonight to make a successful event at Hawthorn Hills Country Club – who generously donated their facility for the evening. It was comforting to see all those friendly faces again, and we pulled off a gem.

Liz Long really helped, as she was the manager of Zanies for years. Actually, Sheri was too at one point so it was totally in house. Many of the wait staff showed up early to help set things up, and a few with teenage kids brought them out to help with the heavy lifting. It was a team effort.

The comedians came out as well, and I’m very grateful to Patti Vasquez, Mike Preston, Trevor Burke, John DaCosse, Sonya White and ‘Uncle Lar’ Larry Reeb. They put on a killer evening of comedy, and nobody got paid a cent. All except Trevor knew Sheri, and it was nice of them to be willing to come out and support. The people in attendance got a huge bang for their charity buck.

I didn’t get a final count numbers wise of attendance, but the main area where the actual show was held was standing room only. There were side areas to the left and right of the stage as well, and they had people too. The room looked full, and that’s all that mattered. It wasn’t a flop at all.

Even better, the final total of donations including a 50/50 raffle and quite a bit of donated swag was almost double what I was estimating. It was a raging success, and I couldn’t be happier but I also am not surprised. Those people are givers, and they came together tonight and did it right.

I have to say I’m extremely disappointed in the rest of the Chicago comedy scene. I posted the event on a couple of Facebook groups of younger comedians and got ZERO response. That made my bung hole pucker, as it didn’t shine well for the younger generation. Here national headliners came out and generously donated their time and talent, but open mic piss ants couldn’t show up.

I thought there was NO excuse for that whatsoever, not just from a comedy standpoint but from a humanity standpoint. A vibrant young woman has been struck down in the prime of life with an absolutely horrific health crisis, and not ONE of several HUNDRED aspiring comedians had one ounce of human compassion to come out and support? Even for selfish reasons they should have come out to network with comedians and bookers. They missed out, because it was a great night. If you missed it and still want to donate, here is the link:

The 'Sharing For Sheri' benefit comedy show was a smash, thanks to the efforts of a family of wonderful people. I am proud of them all.

The ‘Sharing For Sheri’ benefit comedy show was a smash, thanks to the efforts of a family of wonderful people. I am proud of them all.

Can’t Stop Now

October 2, 2013

Tuesday October 1st, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

October 1st? Already? I haven’t mailed my Valentine’s Day cards yet, but we’re already in the 4th quarter of 2013. I try to stay current, but I’m only fooling myself. This feels like one big April Fool’s prank, but I know it’s real. Time is sliding away like a runaway toboggan, and I feel like it bucked me off a while ago. All I can do is watch it get smaller as it races down the hill. Bye bye.

This has been a very eventful year so far. I’ve done a lot of fun things, but financially it’s been a major bust. I’ve got less money now than I can ever remember, and that is causing major stress on a daily basis. I need to plug into a steady source of income, and I’m looking for it every day.

Emotionally, I’ve become a human yo-yo. One day I’m bullet proof and ready to take on every challenge there is, and the next I’m ready to donate my organs and turn in my keys. Some people might call that bipolar. I call it the life of a dented can entertainer. There are big ups and downs.

I feel like I’m out at sea in a dinghy during a typhoon. I’m at the mercy of the sea – frightening as that may be. I’m bobbing around with no real direction, and whenever I try to find one a force far stronger than me sends me wherever it wants. After a while, it all becomes so overwhelming.

If there were hatches to batten down, I would. But a dinghy doesn’t have hatches. It’s exposed, and the waves come blasting up over the sides. I could read all the books I want on how to steer, but when those winds start blowing none of it matters. There’s nothing to do but wait things out.

The fact is, I really need a break. I have paid decades of dues and even those who think I’m The Antichrist will admit I have ability. Why it’s been this difficult to land somewhere and stay put is far out of my realm of comprehension. All I want is the opportunity to work in a field where I’ve been given gifts, and earn a decent living. It’s either feast or famine – and right now it’s famine.

All it would take is ONE little break to turn my whole life around, but where is it? In my mind, I should be working as a comedian every week – or at least every weekend – to full houses with people there to see me. I’d also love a steady radio gig and to continue teaching comedy classes.

Charity functions would also be a priority, and I would be the nicest guy anyone has ever seen. I would sign every autograph and pose for every picture, and make people feel special like we all want. It would be The Golden Rule in action, and we would all be better as humanity. Why isn’t it happening? I was ready for it years ago, but I seem to be going farther away rather than closer.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it feels like I’m never going to make it. I work harder than any other comedian I know personally, but it doesn’t pay off. It feels like I’m trying to get a new roll of toilet paper started, but I can’t find the first square to get things going. It’s frustrating me to no end, and I’m trying everything in my power to make something happen. What else is there to do?

The only consoling fact I can think of is that there have been a lot of people that have gotten to the point I am – and that’s when something popped. Lewis Black tells how he’d resigned himself to the fact he wasn’t going to make it, and that’s when he got a break with Comedy Central. I am way past the point of no return, so there’s nothing for me to do but keep on working even harder.

Life can be an emotional yo-yo.

Life can be an emotional yo-yo.

The 4th quarter of 2013 is here.

The 4th quarter of 2013 is here.

A Wasted Trip

September 9, 2013

Saturday September 7th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   I’m the only person I know who consistently fails at charity work. How embarrassing is that? If I had to pick the one most frustrating thing about my career so far it would have to be that. I have put my heart and soul into projects with the best of intentions, then had them blow up in my face.

   I’ve rented halls and lost deposits more than once – more than a few times – but I always make the effort to try and help someone that needs it. I just think it’s the right thing to do, even if there isn’t a payoff. It’s not about me, but it sure does hurt when nobody shows up to support an event.

   Today I had a different problem. There was an email blast on one of the local Chicago comedy groups on Facebook asking if anyone would be interested in volunteering to host a 3 mile run for Children’s Cancer in downtown Chicago next to Soldier Field. I answered and was chosen for it.

   I’ve got plenty of hosting experience, and any time I can help a cause like that I’ll jump at it if I’m available. It’s a chance to give back, and there are always really great people all around that make it worth the effort. Shaking hands and making contacts is a byproduct of helping the cause.

   The contact woman I talked to asked that I be at Soldier Field at 8:30am if possible. I’d need to get up extra early, as I live about 60 miles away. I didn’t think there would be traffic on Saturday but just to make sure I left at 6:30. There was no traffic at all, and I pulled in downtown at 7:45.

   I’d much rather be early than late like I often am, but that’s just because I have so many things going on at once. I’m constantly getting delayed by one glitch or another, but today it all worked out perfectly. I showed up early, and walked the grounds saying hello to the people already there.

   One of the co-chairs of the event was a guy who had a son that had cancer, and I could tell that he was a ‘Type A’ alpha male personality and needed to be in charge. That’s fine, as I’m used to dealing with those kinds of people from my earliest forays into both comedy and radio. This day was not about me whatsoever, and all I wanted to do was help the cause. I shut up and let him go.

   As the event got started, the guy just took over and ran with the hosting duties. He had the mic and wasn’t about to give it up for any reason. The woman I reported to apologized profusely, but I told her as long as the job got done I wasn’t angry – and I wasn’t. It was a total waste of time to have to make the effort to get up so early and get down there, but again none of it was about me.

   Before the run started, they brought up a long line of kids who were being treated for cancer. If I had been hosting, I probably would have broken down and not been able to continue. As it was I couldn’t help but weep openly as I watched kid after kid in various stages of health get a medal. 

   Some looked better than others, but there were a few that were in pretty rough shape. They had been through the deepest darkest part of hell and then some, and it showed. My little situation of having someone else do the hosting didn’t really matter then. It didn’t matter before that, but the impact those kids made as I watched them walk (and some had to be carried) not ten feet in front of me will last for the rest of my life. I had never seen anything like that, and it really moved me.

   What stood out the most was the unbelievable spirit of love I felt from the families and friends of the kids involved. There were tents all over the grounds with groups of people in custom made t-shirts that said things like ‘Megan’s Miracle’ and ‘Ryan’s Hope’. It truly did move me to tears.

   There were people of all races in attendance, and the one thing they all shared in common was a child that was being treated for some form of cancer. There was a Mexican woman who spoke and her knees buckled when she spoke of her son “being in heaven”. That made everyone lose it, and the tears started pouring down my face. I can’t begin to imagine this woman’s intense pain.

   Before the walk started, they had a moment of silence for all the kids that have passed and then did a balloon release over Lake Michigan. That was unbelievably emotional also, and there were all kinds of people hugging and crying and families were interacting and comforting each other.

   I’ll bet there were at the very least a couple thousand people spread out over the grounds, and it was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever witnessed to watch them show such support for all of those kids. It wasn’t just about their own team, but they were there as a group for everybody.

   I wanted to hug every one of those kids as they walked by me on the podium, and their parents too. What torture that must be to have to go through, even with the medical advancements of the modern age. This is something that goes far beyond my comprehension, and I have no answers.

   I know the lady I reported to was upset with the guy who took over, but I told her it wasn’t my place to make a scene. What was I supposed to do, jump in front of the guy in front of thousands of people who were there to support suffering kids they knew personally and start doing my act?

   They didn’t need me today, and that’s just something I’m going to have to shut up and eat. I’m less than thrilled I had to get up so early and hike all the way downtown at my own expense, but I’m sure I’ll get over it. If my choice is that or having a small child with cancer, I’ll choose this.

   It ripped my heart clean out of my chest to see kids so young have to have this horrific disease. The youngest was only twenty months old. That isn’t even two years, and already she’s a cancer survivor. Making pooty pants or not finishing her supper seems rather meaningless, doesn’t it?

   I felt so helpless watching this unfold in front of me, but it made me want to be a champion of charitable causes anyway. I wasn’t needed today, but there has to be something I can do to bring a smile to someone’s face in a situation like this. I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s needed.

   One of the main reasons I want to develop the King of Uranus character is to be able to go into hospitals and cheer people up. It could be kids, but maybe not. I’m sure parents and families that have to endure this horror are wiped out on many levels. They could use a laugh at some point.

   This kind of thing runs FAR deeper than the daily insanity of the entertainment grind. I’ll keep showing up at events that will have me, and if I can offer something to help the cause I’ll throw my ego out the window and pitch in. At the end of the line, this is what truly lasts. The love I felt today was electric, something I felt little of as a kid. I’m sorry it was cancer that brought it out.

A Hectic Schedule

May 6, 2013

Saturday May 4th, 2013 – Palatine, IL/Milwaukee, WI

   What am I, nuts? More than a little, apparently. I drove back from my show in Marion, OH last night for two reasons – one; it didn’t come with a hotel room like most gigs do. Second; I needed to be back in time to host a talent showcase at Harper College in Palatine, IL from 10am to 1pm.

   I knew that was going to be an extra bitchy drive, but I didn’t want to say no to Scott Cashman. He’s the Director of Continuing Education, and a super nice person. He’s gone out of his way to make me feel welcome at Harper and really wants to have my comedy class as part of his regular curriculum. This is a once a year special event, and it’s an honor to be asked to host so I said yes.

   I thought I could make it home by about 3:30, so that would give me at least a few hours to get some sleep in before the event. Of course I hit some weather in Ohio and Indiana, and then some traffic and construction in the Chicago area and I didn’t get home until 5:30. I barely got into my snoring rhythm when it was time to get right back up, take a fast shower and show up at Harper.

   The event went smoothly as I knew it would. It’s a showcase for all the classes that is designed to rustle up new enrollment. They had everything from a live fencing demonstration to an improv troupe to all kinds of live music, and everyone did really well. It was fun to be a part of it all, but by the end of a three hour event I was ready to hibernate like a bear. I couldn’t wait to get home.

   Before that, I had a stop to make to hopefully cheer up one of my former comedy students who   hasn’t been feeling well of late. He was kind enough to visit me when I was in the hospital and it was only right that I support him in return. Sometimes a short visit can do wonders, and I tried to spread at least a few kind vibes. I do try to do the right thing whenever I can, even if it’s difficult.

   I was a refried zombie by the time I got home, and didn’t even undress before hitting the couch with a vengeance for a power nap. I needed to be back up and on my way to Milwaukee to host a charity auction for Milwaukee Montessori School by 5:00, but I desperately needed some sleep.

   The next thing I remember, I woke up and looked at my watch and it was 6:45. I was in such a deep sleep I had forgotten where I needed to be, but I knew I was late and tried to focus on what appointment I had blown. I realized it was the auction, and shot off the couch like a moon rocket.

   I got dressed in record time, and ran to my car like Batman had just gotten the bat signal. I felt horrible about oversleeping, but it was too late now. There’s always a feeling of helplessness that goes with missing a deadline, and all I could do was get there as fast as I could and try not to piss anyone off. I volunteered for this event, and it was my obligation to get there. I had zero excuses.

   I was asked to host this same event last year by Ian Spanic of The Spanic Boys. He and his dad Tom have been huge supporters of mine, and I’ve always been a fan of their music. I was glad to have been able to help a worthy cause last year, and it was flattering to be asked back once again.

   I called Ian from the car and told him I’d be late but was on the way. I told him what happened, that I just had too much going on and overslept. He was cool about it, but I still felt like an ass to have done that. We’d had this gig booked for months. All the other stuff I had came along later.

   In the end, the auction went fine and nobody knew. I was only a few minutes late, even though I was in total panic the whole way there. The crowd was there to support the kids, and I was too.