Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Harold Ramis Respect

February 26, 2014

Monday February 24th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

It was all over the news today that Harold Ramis has passed away. I wasn’t aware he was sick, and I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing. There aren’t many that can hold a candle to his list of accomplishments, and by all accounts I have ever heard he was an extremely nice person.

Where does one start with an industry giant like this? If I could score just ONE of the huge hits he had, I’d be on easy street for the rest of my life. He either wrote, co-wrote, starred, co-starred, directed or acted in several of the biggest and most impactful comedy films of the 20th Century.

The list of his successful projects is staggering, including “Animal House”, “Groundhog Day”, “Caddyshack”, “Ghostbusters”, “Back To School”, “Stripes”, “Meatballs” and quite a few more. Those are all films of my generation, and until I saw the list I had forgotten how impressive it is.

It’s a shame that it takes a person’s passing to get a comprehensive list of all the achievements they managed to attain, but that’s how it works. I knew he was a giant in his field, but until I had heard he passed I never looked at his entire body of work so closely. The man was an all timer.

What I didn’t realize was that he’d moved back to Chicago in 1996. I knew he was from there, but had no idea he came back. I totally should have known that, and I would have loved a chance to meet him even once. I bet he wouldn’t have been difficult to track down, and I wouldn’t have been anything but polite and told him how much I admired his work. I bet we’d have hit it off.

Any time I’ve met someone truly creative, I have always been able to connect instantaneously. That’s who I am too, and it just clicks. Everyone I’ve met from George Carlin to George Clinton to Rodney Dangerfield to any number of others has always been a pleasant experience. I wish I’d had even a few seconds with Harold Ramis, as I bet it would have been a memorable experience.

He might not have remembered it, but I sure would have. I remember meeting Tim Kazurinsky years ago when I opened for his friend Bobcat Goldthwaite. They’d done a couple of the “Police Academy” films together and stayed in touch. Tim was unbelievably nice, and complimentary of my show to boot. Bobcat was great too. I find myself very comfortable around all creative types.

If Harold Ramis was around Chicago all these years, it’s my own fault that I didn’t take it upon myself to cross paths and meet him. It’s not a matter of asking him for anything or pestering him to put me in one of his films, it’s just a matter of professional respect. The man was legendary.

It’s my own fault I didn’t seek him out, and there are all kinds of others that I could have been in contact with as well. Second City is barely a block from Zanies in Chicago, and I’ve worked at Zanies since the late ‘80s. I could have made time to network with those people, but I never did.

I have nothing against improv comedy, but I had all I could handle with doing standup. Still, it would have been smart business to hang out after shows and schmooze with the Second City cast through the years. I was right there, but I blew it. Maybe Harold Ramis would have looked at me as a major schmucko, or maybe we’d have been friends. If nothing else, I would have enjoyed an opportunity to say hello just once. He enjoyed immense success, and I am a huge fan from afar.

There aren't many that can touch the massive success of Harold Ramis.

There aren’t many that can touch the massive success of Harold Ramis. What a run he had!

Another Planet

January 1, 2014

Monday December 30th, 2013 – Tucson, AZ

Life is just full of pleasant surprises these days, and I’m not complaining. Today I had another one come out of nowhere, and again it absolutely blew me away. Whatever cosmic slot machine I have been playing of late is paying off handsomely, and the jackpot is the biggest I’ve ever hit.

Today I had the privilege of reconnecting with some people I have to admit were never friends. I hadn’t had any issues with them, but frankly we just were not close. We were acquaintances on the comedy trail twenty years ago, and through the magic of Facebook have gotten back in touch.

C.J. Vincent was a comedian based out of the Chicago area, and worked some of the same gigs I did in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. We crossed paths on several occasions, and like with a lot of comedians we interacted on a professional level. Like me, C.J. had a tendency to be a polarizer.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a problem in the entertainment business. Word gets out one way or another, and it can be extremely difficult to shake a reputation once it settles. I had heard about C.J. before we ever crossed paths, but we never had a problem. I liked the guy.

One of the reasons he took some heat was because he had a business manager when nobody in the Chicago area was using one. Nobody says it can’t be done, and I never had a problem with it. His manager’s name was Mary Ellen Landen, and they successfully teamed up for several years.

Then, as happens often in standup comedy, for whatever reason they decided to move on. That has been the case of countless people I’ve worked with through the years, and there are all kinds of reasons for it. Some people can’t take the grind, and others decide to try something different.

One thing that stood out about C.J. from my recollection was his intellect. The guy functions at a level far higher than almost anyone I’ve ever met. He’s one of the most intelligent people I can ever remember meeting, and that’s probably why he clashed with people in the comedy industry.

I’m nowhere near C.J.’s level, and I’ve had my own scrapes. He’s a very smart person, but also a moral one and most of the beefs he had were about ethics. Unfortunately, there are quite a few in the entertainment game that are less than Gandhi level when it comes to treating people fairly.

I hadn’t had contact with C.J. or Mary Ellen in decades, but somehow we reconnected through the magic of Facebook like so many others. It really is a terrific way to go back through life and get caught up, and I don’t remember if he found me or I found him. Either way, we’re in touch.

C.J. noticed I was booked at Laffs in Tucson this week, and he and Mary Ellen now live on the outskirts of town. He invited me out to see their setup, and said it would be a relaxing retreat into nature. They run a nonprofit organization that specializes in education and wildlife preservation.

It’s called ‘WOW Arizona!’ aka Wild Outdoor World. Their website is http://www.wowaz.com and they’re doing some of the most amazing work I’ve ever seen. I had no idea they were doing this, and it was one of the most memorable and pleasant experiences I can ever remember having. It’s as far removed from standup comedy as there could ever be, but there’s still showbiz involved.

C.J. and Mary Ellen have people come to their home and they act as tour guides to see the great wonders of the desert. They’re both walking encyclopedias of fascinating knowledge of the local terrain and terrific hosts who understand showmanship. They’ve put together a unique endeavor, and it was extremely kind of them to invite me out to see it. It far exceeded all my expectations.

Quite honestly, when C.J. said “come out and take a tour”, I assumed it would be a few minute walk around their yard and then we’d have lunch and talk about comedy. HA! Was I wrong, but that’s not a bad thing. I ended up getting treated to one of the most amazing tours I’ve ever had.

I arrived at their compound around 11am, and it’s at the end of a dirt road located on the north end of town. They are not far from Coronado National Forest, which is almost two million acres of untouched desert beauty. Tucson has a lot going for it, and I see why they chose to move here.

Mary Ellen greeted me and C.J. showed up a few minutes later in biking gear to begin a desert ride with one of their clients. It was a married couple from Germany who live in Quebec, Canada named Peter and Patricia, and Patricia was celebrating her 50th birthday. She and Mary Ellen had a hike planned, and they invited me to come along. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I said yes.

Mary Ellen loaded me up with a backpack that had ice cubes and a rubber tube that was used to drink water during the hike. I hadn’t planned on hiking that long, but this was a serious endeavor. We left around 11:30, and walked for HOURS. Yikes. About halfway through my legs were like noodles, but it was too late to turn back. I was in for a penny, in for a pound. I was lost in nature.

And what a spectacular place to get lost it is. We crossed into the Coronado National Forest for much of the way, and I can see why people fall in love with Arizona. There is one particular spot where we stood smack dab in the middle of hundreds of saguaro cacti, and it was like no feeling I have ever experienced. There was a distinct vibe and energy present, and it was awe inspiring.

Patricia has psychic abilities, and she said she could feel all kinds of energy going on there, and called it a ‘vortex’. I know I felt it too, and we stood there for several minutes to soak as much as we could. The stunning degree of absolute silence was deafening, but also majestic and soothing.

I don’t know exactly how far we walked, but it was several miles for sure. When we got deeper into the trip we went up and down some rather treacherous hills and my tongue was hanging out. I was using muscles I hadn’t used in a long time, and I felt every bit of it – but it was fantastic!

We met up with C.J. and Peter who were mountain biking another route, and we sat for a while and listened to C.J. tell us about the desert. The guy knows his stuff, as does Mary Ellen. She had been filling Patricia and me in on a list fascinating facts as we’d been walking, and the entire day was an educational jaunt. I hadn’t expected anything close to this, but I soaked in every minute.

After we got back, I thought I was going to drop over. Four hour hikes aren’t what I’m used to, but this was great fun. C.J. made us some delicious tortilla soup, and he’s a fabulous cook as well as just a warm nice person as is Mary Ellen. This is a day I won’t soon forget, and we graduated from acquaintances to friends. We had a super time, and I highly recommend anyone come out to experience this spectacular place. It’s like another planet, but one I would definitely call home.

I spent the day hiking through the Coronado National Forest in Tucson, AZ courtesy of WOW Arizona! www.wowaz.com

I spent the day hiking through the Coronado National Forest in Tucson, AZ courtesy of WOW Arizona! http://www.wowaz.com

It was a day filled with spectacular desert beauty. I felt like I was in a live action Roadrunner cartoon.

It was a day filled with spectacular desert beauty. I felt like I was in a live action Roadrunner cartoon.

Mary Ellen Landen (left) and C.J. Vincent (center) were acquaintances I knew from standup comedy twenty years go. Today, we became friends. Thanks for the wonderful experience!

Mary Ellen Landen (left) and C.J. Vincent (center) were acquaintances I knew from standup comedy twenty years go. Today, we became friends. Thanks for the wonderful experience! It was like visiting another planet.

Sweat Home Chicago

October 22, 2013

Tuesday October 15th, 2013 – Toronto, ON/Chicago, IL

Back to the highly intense stress of travel and deadlines. It was great to take a few days to visit a friend, but I had to get back to Chicago for a week of work at Zanies Comedy Club. I was up to my armpits in things to do before, but now it’s over my head. Those few days away put me in the trick bag, and it will take herculean effort to dig out. There’s nothing I can do but keep plugging.

It was fun to relax a few days with Jerry Agar and daughter Kaelin, and I really enjoy Toronto. This was the most I’d ever seen of it, and I hope I can get back to perform someday. I don’t have an in and Jerry doesn’t either, but if I put it on the radar I’ll bet I’ll get a booking at some point.

I knew I was in for a stressful return trip as my flight was scheduled to get in at 5:30pm. That’s cutting it way too close for an 8:30 show, but Jerry didn’t think of it when he bought the ticket. It wasn’t intentional, but I cringed when I learned of it because I knew I was on a paper thin margin for error. One little glitch could make me miss my show at Zanies, and that would spell trouble.

Everything about today was difficult. I flew out of a different airport than I flew in, and it was out in the sticks and an hour drive. Jerry missed his exit, and we were riding around looking for a place to turn back around. We’d left in plenty of time, but there’s still that underlying tension of wondering if we’d find it. Jerry had never been there before, and neither one of us knew the way.

We did get there eventually, but it was so far out in the boonies there were no restaurants to get a snack before my flight left. There was a coffee shop in the airport, but as soon as we walked in a lady informed us they were closing…not for the day – for good. It was like a comedy sketch.

There was a snack bar open, and we had a sandwich and visited for a while. Jerry is busting his ass in Toronto trying to get ahead, and he’s doing a marvelous job on the air – but he did the very same thing in Chicago and Kansas City before that and Raleigh, NC before that. He’s wants what I want – stability. I know this isn’t the right occupation for that, but damn it would be refreshing.

Jerry had to get back to the city, and I assumed I was going to get on my plane without a glitch. Ha! Who are we talking about here? There was a weather squall in Chicago and it caused a delay of about an hour, and that made my bilge hole pucker. Now it would be a race to make my show.

This is the part of the business nobody ever plans for, and it was torture waiting until we finally got to board the small plane and head home. I tried to do a crossword puzzle to forget about it all, but I couldn’t help thinking I was going to be late. I can’t stand that feeling of such helplessness.

The ride back was even bumpier than the ride there, and by the time we landed I was ready for a full body massage to loosen up. I made it through customs, and then had to locate my car in an immense remote parking lot which took longer than I expected. My jaw was clenched like a vise.

I got to my car, and there’s always that hope there aren’t four flat tires – or worse no tires at all. Everything was there, and I fought traffic on the Kennedy Expressway for a while and I got there with minutes to spare. I did my show, and it actually went very well. The audience had no clue of the stress level I went through to get there, but they don’t need to know. They have stress of their own.

Other than the dreaded Bears, there are a lot of things I love about Chicago.

Other than the dreaded Bears, there are a lot of things I love about Chicago.

Hidden Comedy Gems

October 5, 2013

Thursday October 3rd, 2013 – Rosemont, IL

Once again Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago have come through when I could use some work the most, and gratitude permeates my entire being. I’ve got several random fill in dates scattered through the rest of the year, and I couldn’t be happier. I can pay some bills but still remain local.

The openings are at all three of their Chicago area clubs and at all positions on the shows. One night I might be the headliner, and the very next I might feature or host. Normally that’s not how a club books an act and it’s a dangerous game to play politically, but Zanies and I have a history.

They know I’m a strong headliner, and I have nothing to prove. They also know I am versatile enough to handle any role on any show, and won’t bitch about not headlining. I’m there to earn a living, and also to work on new material in a productive environment. Being an emcee or feature in good rooms is the ideal place to work out new bits, and I’ll take advantage of this opportunity.

Every comedian wants to be the headliner, but it’s not easy to move up the ranks. I could write several articles about this tricky and delicate process, and I intend to in the not too distant future to benefit up and coming comedians. For now suffice to say I’m thrilled to get the local income.

I have several headline dates coming up soon, but this week I’m hosting three shows at the new Rosemont, IL location. I’m thrilled to be working with Carl LaBove, quite simply one of the best standup comedians in America. In my opinion, he should be a lot more well known than he is.

I’m always bitching and complaining about comedians I think should get more recognition, but I can’t help it. I know how difficult it is just to survive in this insidious business, but then there is a higher level of people with tremendous natural ability who are special. Carl is in that category.

I’m sure it’s the same with actors, musicians, athletes or any other competitive endeavor. There are all kinds of people who want to be stars, but very few have the ability, drive and luck to make it happen as they pictured. The magic formula is a combination of all three – and extremely rare.

I have frequently named all kinds of acts I think should be huge stars, and I mean it. My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is one. That guy hustles his business like nobody else, has a rock solid and hilarious stage character and can work clean. He should be on The Tonight Show, Ferguson, Letterman, Kimmel, Conan or any other show immediately. Find him at http://www.funniestman.com.

Steve ‘Mudflap’ McGrew is another hidden treasure. That guy is world class funny, and I can’t figure out why he hasn’t popped on a big time level. Jimmy Shubert is another gem. Then there’s Dwayne Kennedy, Steve Seagren, Tim Northern, Beth Donahue, Tim Walkoe, Larry Reeb and a whole lot of others who are out there making people laugh week after week. They’re all warriors.

Carl LaBove is right there with all of them. I first met him when I was just starting out. He was best friends with Sam Kinison, and part of the ‘Texas Outlaws’ with Bill Hicks, Ron Shock and a few other guys from the ‘80s. Carl has an amazing life story which I won’t delve into, but it sure is worth checking out as is his hilarious act. He’s at Zanies in Rosemont, IL the rest of this week, and I will be watching every minute of every show he does. He’s a master. http://www.carllabove.com.

Zanies is my 'home club'. They have been good to me for decades and I am very grateful.

Zanies is my ‘home club’. They have been good to me for decades and I am very grateful.

Check out my friend James Gregory 'The Funniest Man In America' www.funniestman.com

Check out my friend James Gregory ‘The Funniest Man In America’ http://www.funniestman.com

The great Carl LaBove - quite simply one of THE best standup comics in America today. What a talent - and a great guy too. www.carllabove.com

The great Carl LaBove – quite simply one of THE best standup comics in America today. What a talent – and a great guy too. http://www.carllabove.com

Desperation Doesn’t Lie

September 21, 2013

Thursday September 19th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

I think I spent the single best dollar I’ve ever spent today. I had a few stops to make in Chicago and one of them happened to be near where I used to live in Andersonville near Clark and Foster. I really enjoyed my time there, but the neighborhood changed quite a bit and rents skyrocketed.

It’s one of THE most diverse neighborhoods I have ever been to much less lived. It’s where the Swedish of Chicago first called home, and there’s still some Swedish influence remaining today including delicious restaurants and a museum. There’s also a large gay population which brings a lot more outstanding restaurants. There are some rough areas nearby, and that brings riff raff too.

It does provide an entertaining mix if nothing else, and I had some time so I walked around on Clark Street to enjoy the show. There’s never a shortage of unique humanity to gawk at, and on a sunny summer day they’re all out. I wasn’t disappointed as I made my way north from Foster St.

As I approached a McDonald’s, I couldn’t help but notice an old woman desperately asking all who passed her for money. I don’t know how else to describe her but one of the ugliest humans I have seen up close in a long time. I don’t claim to be any dreamboat sexpot, but she had a whole face full of ugly going on. She was striking, but not in the good way. Everyone was avoiding her.

My grandfather and I used to take walks when I was a small child, and he’d tell me there were homeless people and there were flat out bums – and there was a big difference. He couldn’t stand bums, as they were just looking for a free ride. Homeless people were an entirely different story.

Gramps told me the sure way to always tell if someone was a bum or really in need was to look them straight in the eye. “You’ll know immediately,” he said. “Desperation doesn’t lie. It will be in their eyes, and you’ll know it when you see it. Always take time to help whenever you can.”

This woman today was a total mess. She looked to be in her 70s, and who knows what sad tale of woe left her in this way? Her clothing was ragged and smelled like she’d just finished a rodeo, and her teeth barely numbered in the single digits. Her skin resembled a well worn catcher’s mitt.

As I got closer to the McDonald’s, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to avoid her pitch. She had persistence if nothing else, and all the rejection she got didn’t seem to bother her. I couldn’t help but see her face as she got a foot from mine and started wheezing her way through her sales pitch asking me for money. She was slow and stammering, and it took her a long time to muster it up.

What those others didn’t hear was, yes she wanted money…to buy a chicken sandwich. They’d long passed before she could get to that part, and she had no takers. I told her I wouldn’t give her money, but if she wanted a chicken sandwich I’d buy her one. That’s when the magic happened.

I saw that look in her eye that Gramps had talked about, and I could tell she was definitely not faking. When I told her I’d buy her that sandwich, her entire face lit up like that giant Christmas tree they decorate at the White House every year. I can’t remember ever feeling such a dynamic pulsating energy of pure and unadulterated gratitude in all my life. It made me step back a little, as it completely took me by surprise. Her entire countenance changed in barely a few seconds.

She was no longer the prune faced old lady that looked like Alice the Goon from the Popeye cartoons I watched as a kid. I felt a beam of spiritual light emanate from her and I gazed into the deepest part of her soul. I can’t explain it other than I felt a very real jolt of energy in that instant.

I asked if she wanted to eat inside the restaurant or if she wanted me to bring her the sandwich to eat outside. She followed me inside, and when we walked in I could feel every eye in the place staring as she limped her way to the counter behind me. It made me feel totally uncomfortable.

Apparently they had kicked her out of the McDonald’s more than once, and the manager came out from behind the counter to shoo her out once again. I told the manager I was going to buy the lady her chicken sandwich, and we’d both be gone in a minute. He was satisfied with that answer and instructed a counter person to take the order. Everybody in the restaurant was still gawking.

I asked the woman if she wanted anything else, and she shook her head no. All she wanted was a chicken sandwich, but I felt like buying her one of everything on the entire menu. I don’t know when she last had a meal of any kind, but if she wanted a chicken sandwich she’d surely get one.

She sat down at a table, and I watched as she gummed that sandwich with the few teeth she had left. It looked like a comedy sketch Carol Burnett would have done, but she had a look of content on her face as if she was eating the most expensive lobster on the menu at the finest restaurant.

Gramps was right – desperation can’t be faked. She needed that sandwich. This woman has had a rough go in life – a whole lot rougher than most of us ever have to face – and if all it took was a chicken sandwich to make her feel that good, count me in. She might have smelled a little ripe on the outside, but inside there was a whole lot going on there. That energy I felt was unmistakable.

As I watched her gulp down her sandwich, I tried to think of any time in my life when I was as hungry as she must have been and I drew a total blank. I’ve seen some troubled times of my own for sure, but nothing close to what must have put her in this bad of shape. My problems are zilch.

She finished the rest of the sandwich, and I asked if she wanted anything else. She again shook her head no and gave me a giant beaming sincere smile of gratitude that laid me out emotionally. It might have been short of teeth, but there was a major punch packed with her pure gratitude.

There didn’t need to be many words spoken. I felt her raw spirit, and it was a sweet one. There was a lot more to this person than that frightening outer appearance, and it felt like I was touched by a being of higher vibration than usual. I know it sounds goofy, but I can’t make any of this up.

I’m not bringing this up to try and pump myself up by what a wonderful guy I am for buying a homeless person a sandwich. I got a lot more out of her than she got from me. There was a very real and vibrant spirit inside her that I can’t remember being able to see so clearly in a stranger at any time in my life. Maybe it was a coincidence, but it sure felt like it was much more than that.

I was going to snap her picture with my phone, but decided against it. I thought she’d suffered enough, and didn’t want to make her more of a freak show. I don’t know why this happened, but I won’t soon forget it. If nothing else, I made Gramps proud. It was the best dollar I ever spent.

The best dollar I ever spent.

The best dollar I ever spent.

Summer Synergy

July 10, 2013

Monday July 8th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   The dreaded slowness of summer isn’t turning out to be as bad as I thought. I’ve been getting a lot of calls for shows, classes and even some inquiries for corporate speaking engagements. I was getting a bit stressed there for a bit, but it seems to be much better now. It always goes in cycles.

   With the crazy way the business not to mention the whole world is changing, it’s even more of a challenge to stay on top of things than it ever has been – and it wasn’t easy before. There are so many details to keep track of, it’s easy to lose hold of them all and become totally overwhelmed. 

   I thankfully got a call from Bert Haas at Zanies in Chicago to host both Rising Star Showcases this month. They’re traditionally the first two Mondays of each month, and the call couldn’t have come at a better time. It will help me get through the summer drought, plus I enjoy doing them.  

   Since I was going into Chicago anyway, I arranged a long overdue meeting with James Wesley Jackson to discuss the DVD project that’s been sitting for far too long. This is what I’m referring to when I talk about things falling through the cracks, and it’s time to get this project in motion.

   James deserves this and more, and I feel horrible it’s been on the shelf for so long. Life tends to have too many distractions, and it was totally unintentional. James has had the patience of a saint about it and then some, but now it’s getting to the point of being ridiculous. It’s time for action.

   I’ve said it before and I meant every word – James Wesley Jackson is one of the absolute most delightful human beings I have ever met both in comedy and out. Any comedian who has had the pleasure of working with him feels the same way. I’ve never heard a bad word about him EVER.

   He’s just a peaceful soul and a kind hearted human being – not to mention a really funny comic who happens to have a very unique style. James transcends boundaries much like Bill Cosby has for fifty years, and when you see him perform in person it’s virtually impossible not to like him.    

   We were fortunate to catch a red hot show on video, and I’m really proud of the product we’ve been able to put together. Mike Preston brought two cameras that particular evening, and it looks and sounds excellent.  Pedro Bell’s cover artwork is also very well done, and it’s ready for sale.

    I had money at the time we recorded it, but that’s all gone now. James wanted to do his part so he gave me some seed money to get things started. I am totally grateful and it came at the perfect time, but I was bound and determined to get it going anyway. I think we can sell some product.

    I plan to focus on getting James some positive attention within fans of Parliament/Funkadelic – and I’ve been one of those myself since the ‘70s. There are all kinds of them all over the world and I bet with my own money that more than a few will remember James and want to buy one.

    I could be completely wrong and have it blow up in my face, but even if that happens it’s a lot better than doing nothing. There’s a lot more to do including getting a press release written up to be included with inquiries to media outlets, and then we can see if I was correct with my guess.

   I really hope this project does well not only for James, but financially for us both. We have survived this long, so a little longer might not be convenient but we at least are finally “standing on the verge of getting it on.” That’s a P-Funk reference by the way. That’s where the most paying customers will come from, at least I think so. I think we can book some live shows as well.  

Once upon a time called NOW...the 21st Century Enviromedian is back!

Once upon a time called NOW…the 21st Century Enviromedian is back!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

War Scarred Testicles

June 27, 2013

Wednesday June 26th, 2013 – Kenosha, WI

   My friend Jerry Agar rolled through town today on a cross country motorcycle trip, and we had a chance to sit down and catch up over a delicious lunch at The Brat Stop in Kenosha, WI. We’d originally hoped to have all the members of ‘Jerry’s Kidders’ from WLS and WGN reunite for a party, but we couldn’t hook up everyone’s schedules. People were out of town, so it was just us.

   Jerry and I have been through a lot together, and even more separately. We met in the late ‘80s when he was working at a tiny AM station in St. Charles, IL and I was working for the new club Zanies was starting in the Pheasant Run Resort at the time. It started as a one shot interview, but we kept in touch from that day forward. Today we looked back on all of our tangled adventures.

   Both of us ended up moving all over the country to pursue the radio dream, and that came with a heaping helping of hurt. Rarely have we lived in the same town or even same time zone, but we still managed to stay in touch by phone and email. We’d help each other with various projects or radio bits, and when one of us got fired – again – the first call we’d make would be to the other.

   Jerry had the additional pressure of a family to support, and his wife Ann should easily qualify for first ballot sainthood for all she’s had to endure with this mine field of a business. They have three fantastic kids who I consider to be surrogate nephews and a niece, and every time they had to pack up everything and move one more time Ann would hang in there and keep it all together.

   That’s the kind of family relationship I’ve always wanted – at least the together part. It’s not in the cards, and when I really needed it it was never there. I was always of the mindset it was cruel and unusual punishment to drag a wife much less kids through the treacherous jungle of radio.

   Comedy is no clam bake either, but at least it’s a predictable instability. As a comedian, I know I will be somewhere else each week. In radio, one never knows when the next time bomb will go off – only that it will. Stations get sold, GMs and Program Directors move on, so who can say if a job will be there tomorrow? It’s always been that way from my experience, but now it’s worse.

   Jerry is currently working in Toronto, and he has really made an impact on the market. He does talk radio, and does it extremely well. He’s found his niche, and few can do what he does with as much skill as he does it. One would think that would go hand in hand with total job security – but one could not be more mistaken. The planets could align against him and he’d be out on his arse.

   Jerry told me his station is in the process of getting sold, and my bung hole puckered. That puts everyone at the station on edge, and I’ve gone through it more than once myself.  Two other pals in radio “Stone and Double T” in Rockford, IL are going through the same hell. Their station just got sold as well, and the standard company line is always “We expect there to be NO changes.”

   My war scarred testicles. I wish I had a free lunch for every time I heard that splattering pile of verbal manure emanate from behind the desk of some greasy radio snake – only to get shown the door a short time later. Then to make it worse, they themselves are blown out a short while after that and it was like none of us ever existed in the first place. It’s a vicious never ending cycle.

   It was great to hang out with Jerry, but I can’t help feeling for him and his family. He’s settling in nicely in Toronto, but he was doing the same thing in Chicago before he got axed for reasons I still haven’t been able to figure out. If there is a hell, there’s a whole wing for radio management.

Hillbillies, Hobos and Halfwits

May 28, 2013

Monday May 27th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   It’s Memorial Day, and I’m in a reflective mood. The weather today in the Chicago area really rots, and it’s ruining people’s mood. I can feel it. Barbecues are being cancelled, and I sensed an ominous vibe from quite a few people as I ran a few errands today. I tried to make sense of it all.

   I’ve been in a funk myself of late, and that’s never good. I feel myself sliding down the rails of the abyss, and I know it’s going to be hell to crawl back out. No matter what anyone says, it’s the lack of money that’s causing 99% of it, and there are all kinds of tangled wires that are the cause.

   It stinks and I wish it weren’t that way, but then I think of the people in Oklahoma who’ve just had their whole lives swept away in seconds and it makes me shut my yap. That’s a horrible spot to be in, and what’s left of my heart goes out to every one of them – toothless hillbillies or not.

   This world is full of the toothless, clueless, hopeless and shameless. There are hillbillies, hobos and halfwits, and we’re all thrown together to fight our way through the jungle. We either squeak out a way to survive the madness, or we’re wiped out like bugs on a windshield. It’s a cruel gig.

   The whole war thing has never made sense to me either. I have the utmost respect for all of the brave souls who had the courage to give their lives, but the concept of war itself makes me puke. We’ve been doing it as long as we’ve been a species, but I still can’t see anything good about it.

   Why do we have to kill each other for any reason? I know I sound like a bleeding heart hippie, but I really mean it. I’ve always said I have a ton of people I can’t stand, but I don’t want to kill any of them. I might not want to be within 500 miles of them, but they can go live away from me and screw up their own lives. I would like to think the karma train will run them over eventually.

   Look at all the sadness Memorial Day brings to millions of Americans who lost someone in the service of the country. There are parentless kids because of it, and lonely spouses and all kinds of ugliness that I just don’t see a legitimate reason for. I know war is about money in the end, but if that’s the only way to get it then I’ll stay broke. Someone at the top is missing what life is about.

   Sometimes I feel like I’m the one missing what life is about. In my warped little pea brain, I’ve always thought life was supposed to be happy and fulfilling. We should cheer people up at every possible opportunity, and that’s what I’ve always tried to do. Sometimes it has worked out great, but others it feels like I totally missed the happy boat. Of late it’s been the missed the boat way.

   One thing that really cheered me up today was a note from a wonderful comedian named Beth Donahue – Weedman. What a fireball she is, and I’ve always been a huge fan. She tells it like it is, but unfortunately not everyone can handle that kind of honesty. I know. I’m like that as well.

   Beth and I have both been around about the same time, and we’ve both done comedy and radio along the way. We both have our fans, and both have our detractors. Unfortunately, neither of us has figured out that pesky success formula or chased it very hard. We chose to do things our way and that’s not always the way to win the approval of those difficult to figure out ‘powers that be’.

   I have all the respect in the world for Beth, and the others like her that never seem to reap what they so richly deserve. I feel the same way about the troops who gave it all up so rich politicians can get richer on the blood of the grunts that did the dirty work. This planet is a cosmic carnival.

Beth Donahue-Weedman is one of the funniest comedians in America

Beth Donahue-Weedman is one of the funniest comedians in America!

Go see her at Nashville Zanies on June 2nd, 2013! www.zanies.com

Go see her at Nashville Zanies on June 2nd, 2013! http://www.zanies.com

Better Than Sex!

March 3, 2013

Friday March 1st, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   Tonight was one of those special nights that remind me why I still do standup comedy. I was at Zanies in Chicago for two shows this evening, and the early show was one of the best I’ve had in a long LONG time. I’ve been having extra solid shows of late, but this one took it to a new level.

This was one of those rare matches of performer and audience that was picture perfect on every level. I knew almost before I said my first word this would be my crowd, and I don’t know how I knew that but I did. I guess it was instinct garnered from all my years, but my ticket was punched for this one. This particular group was with me from buzzer to bell and we all enjoyed the ride.

I wish I could bottle the feeling of sheer exhilaration that happens on nights like this. It’s better than any feeling I’ve ever felt, and I can’t imagine any sensation on this planet topping it. People often say something is ‘better than sex’, but this feeling truly is. How many people have sex with 100 or more at once, and make it last for almost a solid hour? I’m telling you, it’s an intoxicant.

I heard an interview with Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers not long ago, and he spoke of what a rush it was to be on stage playing music. He said it’s the only time in his life he ever feels truly free, and I’m right there with him. When I’m on stage on a night like this, I feel like Superman.

It’s like being out with a woman I am totally attracted to, and knowing the deal with be closed at the end of the evening. It makes the whole experience that much better from the actual dinner itself to the movie or show to the car ride home. It doesn’t always work that smoothly, but when it does it’s pure heaven. It’s also what keeps one coming back when things don’t fall into place.

I’ve done literally thousands of standup comedy shows in my life, and most of them on average have gone pretty well. At the end of the evening, if the entire audience was quizzed as to whether or not they thought I was a professional, I’d bet I’d get an overwhelming amount of yes answers.

There have been some horrific experiences, but that goes with the territory for anyone who has performed live in any genre of entertainment. Sometimes it’s just not there even for the big ones, but it’s very rare. Most professionals are able to pull off a show to the satisfaction of the crowd.

I’m about as picky as anyone I’ve ever met when it comes to my standards. I’m often bummed out by a performance the audience considered exceptional. They line up to tell me how they were entertained and I thank them sincerely – and mean it – but I know in my heart I could do it better.

Tonight was not that kind of night. I don’t think I could have done anything a whole lot better, and it was satisfying to be able to shake people’s hands afterward and hear how much they were enjoying it too. I really wish I would have recorded this one, but I know how special it truly was.

Then there was the late show. It was fine, but nowhere near the mutual orgasm of the first one. I was still on a high from the early show though, and it didn’t bother me in the least. No matter if I ever get famous or not, I’ve reached a skill level few ever do. It’s taken years, but it’s worth it.

Catching Up Late

December 23, 2012

Wednesday December 19th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   It sure didn’t take much for technology to pass me by. For as geeky and nerdy as I can be about a lot of things, gadgets have never been of much interest to me. I couldn’t care less about playing video games, even though it’s a multibillion dollar industry worldwide. It just never grabbed me.

‘Pong’ was my first exposure to that world, and I have to say I was less than impressed. I know that was the dark ages and they’re light years ahead of that now, but I have absolutely no interest in getting caught up. My time is limited as it is, why do I need to blow away virtual space aliens?

I probably should also know a lot more about computers than I do, but that doesn’t interest me very much either unfortunately. I could have probably made a nice side income fixing computers or designing websites, but I just never went in that direction. I chose something stable – comedy.

It’s laughable how dumb that choice seems now, but that was what interested me so I chased it and excluded everything else to the point of being embarrassingly deficient in having knowledge about things millions of others have known of and used for years. I’m a self made ‘techno-tard’.

That being said, I finally broke down and bought myself an iPod a few weeks ago. I’d meant to do it for years, but I just never got around to it. My music tastes are mostly old school funk, and I have plenty on CDs, cassettes and even 8 tracks. I felt no pressing need to get all 21st century, but I’ve been doing a lot of exercise walking and I wanted to upgrade what I listen to while I do it.

I did it on the cheap as I tend to do, and went to a pawn shop near my house and scored one for $80 with tax out the door that will more than meet my current needs.  The guy who sold it to me was right about my age, so at least I didn’t feel totally humiliated by having a teenager mock me.

I’ve been experimenting with it for a couple of weeks now, and I love it more every day. I like the fact that I can burn only the songs I like and leave the rest off so I never have to hear them as long as I live. Everyone knows what it’s like to buy a CD and like only one song. What a waste.

I have a ton of CDs that I only like a few songs on, and I’ve been feverishly building myself an outstanding collection of tunes tailor made for me. Music radio stations are in trouble because no program director on Earth can choose what you like better than you. I’m enjoying the freedom.

I’ve got all my Parliament/Funkadelic CDs loaded in as well as everything else I like including stuff I really haven’t listened to all that much. I hope to add and subtract over time and develop a broader musical scope. What amazes me most is the amount of songs I can pack onto this thing.

My current count is 2518 songs, even though not all of them are going to stay there forever. I’ll keep farting around until I get more familiar with the process, but that’s a lot more songs than I’ll probably need in about six lifetimes. When I worked at The Loop in Chicago, I was told the play list hovered around 400 songs, with some getting shuttled in and out to freshen the pot from time to time. It may be late, but I’m catching up at my own pace. What’s next, a daisy wheel printer?