Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Rising Star Return

September 12, 2012

Monday September 10th, 2012 – Chicago, IL

   After a few months of being away, I hosted the ‘Rising Star Showcase’ at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago this evening. There are routinely two each month, usually the first two Mondays. I’ve not done them in a while because it’s an issue getting back and forth since I moved to the sticks.

From where I live now, it’s about 50 miles one way from my driveway to Zanies. When I lived in Chicago it was less than 5 miles, and that’s a significant difference. I used to be able to hop on a city bus a block from home, and it dropped me off two blocks from Zanies – a bargain for $2.

Driving presents a whole other issue. In any big city it’s a pesky hassle at best, but the Chicago streets are Thunder Dome. Between potholes, maniac cab drivers and red light cameras that snap pictures of license plates in intersections, it’s a constant sensory overload to maneuver anywhere.

Finding legal and affordable parking spots is another nightmare. Bloodthirsty ticket writers are out en masse, always looking for their next victim. They prowl the street just waiting for a meter to expire, and no matter how much anyone complains they’ll finish the ticket anyway. Bastards.

There’s a valet parking option, but that gets expensive too. There’s a parking lot just two doors from Zanies that costs $12. When I first started out it was $6, and stayed that way for years. Then it kept going up and up and now it’s double the cost in just a few years. It reminds me of postage rates, and that’s maddening too. Prices are doubling everywhere, but what I get paid is the same.

Still, I love to work so I showed up anyway. There was a hole in the schedule tonight so I filled it. It never hurts to get on the Zanies stage, as every comedian in Chicago would love to be doing exactly what I’m doing. I don’t take it for granted, nor do I disrespect any of the acts performing.

All of the acts on the show are there to be seen by Bert Haas, who is the booker. He’s very rare in the fact that he actually watches the performers and gives them a belly to belly critique. That’s not at all how most other bookers do it, and I respect Bert greatly for putting in the effort. He has been giving up free Mondays for years to do this, and I can’t think of many others who’d do that.

I’ve had to do auditions for years, and know what it feels like to get treated poorly. I’ve had to drive hundreds of miles, and then show up and go onstage without a shower or chance to prepare or relax before the show. I’ve had bookers fail to show up, or be in the other room when I was on and miss my set. That’s unbelievably frustrating, especially after driving several hundred miles.

It’s all part of the process, and anyone who has lasted as long as I have has similar stories and a lot of them. It can be such an icy cold business, and I see no real reason for it other than the ones doing it know they can get away with it. Bert making a point to watch the acts is quite refreshing.

I feel I owe it to the acts to give them a stellar introduction, and I do my best to do exactly that. I know what it’s like to have my name mispronounced, or be announced as being from anywhere but where I’m really from. It was a solid show tonight, and I enjoyed getting back in the groove.

A Lesson In Showbiz

September 1, 2010

Monday August 30th, 2010 – Chicago, IL

I’ve got two days back on dry land to pack in about a week’s worth of errands, then it’s  back on the ship for a full week run. Then I return to Chicago late on Tuesday September 7th to pick up my car and start driving to Michigan for a two night casino run in the U.P.  starting on the 8th. My schedule feels like a blender with the farthest right button pushed.

I’m glad to get the gigs, but sooner or later I won’t be able to keep up this pace. At least on the ship my travel is taken care of for me. Airline tickets purchased in my name and all I have to do is make it to the airport on time to sit in the seat. That’s not always been easy either, but at least the hard part is done by someone else. Now I need someone to drive.

That’s one thing that has really lost it’s luster in a big way. I don’t care if I ever have to drive an automobile again. I still need to get places, but someone else can drive. I’ll relax and enjoy the ride as a passenger, or maybe just nod out and sleep. Whatever the case, it’s not my goal to keep making marathon cross country drives to do gigs in remote locations.

The pay will be decent for the week though, and on Saturday I’ll be back in Milwaukee at the Potawatomi Casino. Normally I’d be in the Northern Lights Theatre, but apparently they’re remodeling it and the comedy will be somewhere else. That’s ok, they are always on top of it there and I’ve never had any problems. I’ll work wherever they tell me to go.

Tonight I was back at Zanies in Chicago hosting the Rising Star Showcase. I probably should have taken the night off, but I really do enjoy doing it – especially when the shows are how it was tonight. The audience was razor sharp and the lineup of talent was dead on and it was a joy to watch it all come together. I keep the flow going and it’s a fun night.

It doesn’t hurt that I get paid either, and I stand by my old school axiom that it’s always a good bet to accept the gig as not many comedians anywhere on any level are able to turn a buck on a Monday night. Any money is found money, and the gig itself is pretty easy.

A flaming example happened tonight of what NOT to do in a showcase situation. Some goofy wannabe bastard had his ’manager’ contact Bert Haas to arrange the showcase date, as is the protocol. Bert really does try to squeeze as many people on as he can, some that I probably wouldn’t if I were in charge. That’s his option, and I don’t tell him what to do.

He gave the ok for this ham and egger to get his tryout, and the guy brings about fifty or more people into the club to see him. There was a line out the door. Well, Bert insists the showcasers show up by 7:30pm SHARP. 7:31 and it’s a done deal. That’s his rule, and he enforces it fairly to all people. I’ve seen him throw a lot of experienced people off shows.

Well, the ’manager’ flips out and decides he’s going to pull every one of those people in the audience out to ’stick it to Zanies’. Bert didn’t panic a bit, and in fact helped clear out the room so the waitresses could clean the tables and get them ready for the next group of people who would take them, which is exactly what happened. That guy screwed himself.

This is a VERY important lesson for all performers to learn, even though it’s not at all a pleasant one. Unfortunately, life will go on with or without YOU, no matter who ‘you’ is. I know exactly what that feels like, as I’ve had my share of scuffles with clubs myself.

The sad thing is, it doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right. It just doesn’t. I’m sure both of those guys thought they’d made their point and sent Zanies scrambling because Bert has a rule he won’t budge for anyone. Not true. They were all totally forgotten about before the show even started. Other people came in, filled those seats and it was a spectacular show.

This is a very humbling fact to swallow, but a fact nonetheless. I remember my own tiff with the ape who used to own the Comedy Café in Milwaukee. I ended up not only being stiffed out of $400 for shows I did, I’ve never been back since. This happened in 1994.

It doesn’t matter that I was right, it burned a bridge. There were plenty of others to take my place, and over the years it became like I never existed, at least not there. They didn’t close without Dobie Maxwell, and I didn’t starve because I didn’t work their grease trap.

Was that smart business? No, it really wasn’t. That place was by all accounts a haven of all kinds of debauchery and skullduggery, and I’m glad I never had to work for that puke, but burning that bridge took me out of the mix there forever. I gave them the power, and that’s my mistake. It would have been much better to be the one to decide if I work there.

The Zanies example is going to be very similar. I didn’t catch the guy’s name or see his manager, but I know Bert knows it, and you can bet it will be a dark day on the sun when they get a chance to audition again. That’s just how it is, but none of this needed to be.

It always baffles me why the greenest newbies with the least amount of promise always think it’s a good idea to pack the house on an audition night with their buddies. That’s not EVER going to get anyone booked, at least by anyone who’s been around the block. They can see through it, and know the only real way to be a comic is to make strangers laugh.

Hopefully, that kid will learn his lesson. He needs to gas the ‘manager‘ dork, unless he plans on going into the pro wrestling business, and start over again. He needs to find him and only him in charge of making contact calls, and he needs to patch it up with Bert.

If that guy really wants to work at Zanies, he’ll apologize to Bert and start over again at ground zero, minus Mr. Manager. Bert is very fair, and I believe he’d be open to throwing the kid another shot, but not under current circumstances. Rules are rules, follow them.

After the show, Bert and I talked about the incident in the office as I was waiting for my check. He was reminded of something he once heard when a club owner brought out a big bucket of water and told a comic to stick his hand in up to the elbow. Then he told him to take the arm out and asked him “Notice any difference in the water?” Of course there was none. The place where the arm was filled in in less than a second, and now it’s a plain old bucket of water again. Any one person can be replaced. Fast. This is a lesson for all of us.

A Snow Plowed Crowd

February 11, 2010

Tuesday February 9th, 2010 – Chicago, IL

Just about the time I think I have this whole standup comedy thing figured out, I have a night like tonight and it blows me all the way back to the starting line again and I wonder why I ever started performing in the first place. When it‘s good, it’s great. Not tonight.

I was scheduled to work the downtown Chicago location for Zanies this week but I have been moved do to other bookings. Zanies had a chance to book someone they wanted and instead of blowing me out like happened with my show last Saturday in Fond du Lac, WI, they moved me out to Vernon Hills on Thursday and Friday. That’s closer for me anyway.

The downtown location is the only one that does a Tuesday show, so I still needed to do it as part of my week. No problem, I enjoy working. I didn’t enjoy driving through a nasty snow storm to get there, but that’s part of the deal. Nobody at the club expected any kind of a crowd because of the weather, but we were all proven wrong. People kept coming in.

By the time the show started, we were all feeling pretty good. The wait staff had people to sell drinks to, and the comedians had an audience. Win/win. The only thing wrong with that is the majority of them only wanted the drinking part. The show was an afterthought.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve had to deal with such an ugly babbling mob of boozed up, rude, chatty bubbleheads  like these people, and I had all I could handle to not just put the microphone down and walk out the door and get in my car and drive home. If I wasn’t at a Zanies, I would have seriously considered doing it. These people didn’t want a show.

They wanted to BE the show. There was a group of about a dozen or so flamingly white suburban types who obviously had had too much to drink. They found a need to comment on EVERY SINGLE LINE I did, and after the first six minutes I have to admit it got old.

They had started when the other acts were on stage, but the booze really kicked in when I got up there, and I had to fight with them the whole time. I’m WAY past that, but not in their minds apparently. The more I tried to ignore them, the more they tried to participate.

The rest of the crowd wasn’t that great either, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get any kind of a roll going so I did the best I could, and got off stage exactly five minutes after the manager Martin gave me my five minute light. I’d had enough of these monkeys.

As I cleaned the snow off my car afterward, I saw two of the front row boozers having a cigarette in front of the club. They didn’t know it was me right next to them and one said to the other “What an ass that last guy was. He acted like he didn’t even want us to help.”

I wanted to take my snow brush and jam it where there’s normally not that much natural snowfall, but I bit my lip and got in the car and drove away. He wasn’t worth it, and I had my fill of idiots for one night. Still, after all these years of stage time, a night like this will sneak up and rattle the cage of even the most savvy veteran. I guess this keeps us humble.

Checkups And Hookups

February 3, 2010

Monday February 1st, 2010 – Chicago, IL

I was all set to get back out and start exercising today when I got a call reminding me of a dental appointment I made six months ago. It’s time for a cleaning and my dentist said I need to come in every six months to make sure I don’t have to have any more root canals.

I’m all for that. I think I have the price of a brand new car in my mouth in what I had to put out of pocket for my dental nightmares the last couple of years. I had a nice little wad o’ cash stashed until everything came crumbling down. That was one of the things I blew it on, but what were my choices? I was in so much pain I had to get it done. That‘s life.

Everyone at my dentist’s office is Russian, including he and his wife. They’re very nice people and do impeccable work, but the sympathy/pain factor from them is nonexistent. It probably reflects how and where they grew up, but they have the bedside manner of Josef Mengele when they’re working. They’re there to get the job done, not to spread comfort.

My cleaning today was as painful as some of the cavities I’ve had filled. They poked for way too long in my opinion, and way too deep too. A few times I’d let out an ‘AH!’ when the lady cleaning my teeth hit a tender spot, but she would say ‘Shhhh’ like it didn’t hurt.

The good news was I had no cavities this time, but I’m surprised I have any teeth in my head at all that aren’t filled already. One thing I wasn’t blessed with is strong dental genes and at this point I’m thankful for any teeth I do have left. I’m careful every time I bite into anything, and at some point I’m sure I’ll have to go back there for more expensive work.

My whole mouth was aching as I left the dental office, but at least my bill didn’t have a comma in it like it usually does. I counted my blessings and got in my car and drove south to Chicago to buy Bill Gorgo his belated birthday dinner. At least he asked for soft pasta.

He’s always invited me over for some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten on Christmases, so the least I could do was buy him one for his birthday. Bill helps me a lot with comedy classes and is a very funny comedian in his own right. We always have a lot to talk about.

We’ve wanted to expand the teaching we do to include comedy writing exclusively and we talked about how we can make that happen. This is another project that will take work but will we worthwhile. There are a lot of people who are interested in just being writers.

Bill is the guy I can delegate things to for comedy classes. Jim McHugh is my go to guy for Uranus Factory Outlet right now. He’s been great in prodding me in a good way to get the project going and his brother in law Mark Huelskamp is going to be my web designer.

Joey Oshey is emerging as my Mothership Connection radio go to guy. He’s been really helpful getting guests for the show and is fitting in well. I need to delegate with all of my various projects and now I’m finally getting smart and lining up quality people in whom I can depend on to help me get things done right. Why did it take so long to figure this out?

A Boozy Floozy

January 29, 2010

Thursday January 28th, 2010 – St. Charles, IL

I’m working at Zanies in St. Charles, IL this week which is located in the Pheasant Run Resort. The club is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year and I’ve worked every one of them. How far I’ve come, both personally and as a comedian. It was my training ground.

I still love working there. The manager is Cyndi Nelson, one of the nicest people I have ever met in life, much less the comedy business. She was a waitress and ended up getting the manager’s job when the last one was caught tapping the till, and she’s become one of the best comedy club managers in the country. She lives and breathes everything comedy.

I’ve seen club managers burn out all over the country, and I hope that doesn’t happen to Cyndi. She’s been there for several years and every comic loves working for her. She puts a whole lot of extra effort into her job to make us feel like we’re really in show business.

Most of the old pros really appreciate it and look forward to playing there. I know I do. The physical makeup of the club itself is very good. The stage is roomy and high enough up so everyone in back can see. The sound is crisp and the lighting is good too. It rocks.

The headliners have to do some local suburban radio shows, but that’s ok. Hopefully it helps put butts in seats. A new addition this time through was a pod cast by two guys who call their show “The Greatest Show In The World”, which is an outstanding title, rivaled only by my friend Steve “The Homer” True’s “ The World’s Greatest Sports Talk Show.”

Title is important, but these guys have a really good show too. They’re named “Frankie & The Cheez” and both of them used to be in radio until they got a dose of the old see ya later and never went back. You can hear them at http://www.thegreatestshowintheworld.com.

The shows this week have been well attended so far. Last night there was a late holiday party of Payless Shoes managers from the Chicago area and they were an especially good audience. I tend to go over well to working class audiences, as I don’t talk down to them.

Tonight was even fuller, and 99% of the audience was very good. Unfortunately, it had to be right up front where the 1% sat, and they ruined it for everyone else. Typical. I saw the problem the first ten seconds I was on stage, because it was from a super hot blondie who would NOT shut up. She was distracting by both her looks and drunken babbling.

To make it even worse, she was with some total bag of donuts loser with a shaved head, goatee, chain wallet and attitude to match. Plus, he was a Sox fan and had to let it be said to the point of me having to shut him up to the roaring applause of the rest of the crowd.

This was no easy task, and I had all I could handle to keep the show under control as the evening went on. There was a very full house tonight and it was a fundraiser for some sort of softball league or something, and I could tell they were a bit older than last night and a lot more white collar. I know how to read my audiences after all these years of doing it.

Last night I had a more direct approach to capture them right away, but tonight I needed to be less aggressive up front and gradually ramp it up. Paying attention to these details is what makes a professional entertainer, and it takes years of experience to nail it correctly.

I also knew I had to work ‘big’. The room in Pheasant Run is narrow and long, just like the downtown Zanies in Chicago. This one is about three times as large, so when they are full to the back, the comedian has to be very careful to work to all parts of the audience.

I made sure I did that tonight. I consciously slowed my cadence WAY down, especially in the first few minutes, and used big sweeping animated gestures to punctuate my points. Old school professional wrestlers were great at this, as they had to communicate the story of the match to the people in the cheap seats. It’s a very subtle technique, but effective.

Miss Boozie Boobs started in with her vociferous diarrhea up front, and I could tell I’d be dealing with her the rest of the night. She wanted attention, and I guess her mini skirt and halfway exposed voluptuous knockers weren’t enough. I wanted to dive on her right there, but there were a couple hundred people who wanted to hear jokes. Too bad for me.

She not only would not shut up, she started talking to another woman at the table right behind her. That lady talked back and they started up a conversation right in the middle of  the show. How rude, and I told her that in a way that made the audience laugh but they’d started to get sick of it too, and it was to the point where it could have gotten very ugly.

In the past, I might have really flipped out on her from stage, and I wouldn’t have been wrong in doing it. Cyndi was in the other room because she knows I can handle most any situation on stage and she knows she doesn’t have to baby sit when I’m on. She would’ve had my back no matter what I chose to do, but I made a decision I wasn’t going to snap.

There was a room full of nice people who were enjoying the show and I wanted to give them the very best I could give. I ignored the drunk couple, but DAMN she was sexy. It’s bad enough I have to get heckled by a hottie, but that she was with such an oil can loser is even worse. He gets to have wild sex with her and I get to sit by myself and write about it.

The very worst was that I finally got them relatively quiet enough to launch into my big closer, which is totally a rhythm bit. If I get taken out of my rhythm, it’s shot. It builds up a momentum and the audience gets into it and when it works it’s an ass kicker. When it’s interrupted, it fizzles. Usually, by the time I get to it I’ve got the audience in my grasp.

I almost had them there tonight, but right in the middle of my closer the two love birds got up and left and ruined my flow. They sat right in front and the whole crowd saw them leave. I tried to ignore them but nobody could. Everyone was gawking as they walked out.

This goes with the territory of being a club comic. I did the best I could, and it was still a very good show. I got strong laughs for most of the night, and nobody else in the crowd knows or cares how difficult it was, but I do. I hope those two were too drunk to screw.