Posts Tagged ‘Comcast’

The Funniest Man In America

April 2, 2013

Saturday March 30th, 2013 – Atlanta, GA

   Sometimes words with big meanings get thrown around carelessly, and that ruins the power of those particular words. Two that come to mind immediately are “genius” and “legend”. There are only a scant few who truly qualify as one of those, and far less that qualify as both. Today I got a chance to spend time with someone who is both, and I will be better for it for the rest of my life.

To me, a legend is a person or thing that comes along that completely changes whatever might be the perceived standard. Better yet, if there’s no perceived standard there is one set and kept up by said legend and it becomes used as the measuring stick for everything that comes along after.

Examples I think of immediately are McDonald’s, Michael Jordan and Zig Ziglar. They’ve all established their brand, and been able to maintain it even when competition has come from a lot of sources. They’re still looked upon as the leader in their field, and everyone else chases them.

In standup comedy, there aren’t many who have been able to change the game. Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld have traditionally been recognized as the top two acts of the comedy club era, but a name that never comes up and should is James Gregory aka “The Funniest Man In America.”

James is from Atlanta, and has been performing sold out shows to adoring fans for thirty years. That alone is impressive, but what makes him legendary is the way he markets himself and stays on top of the mountain in a business where backstabbing and throat cutting are par for the course.

I’ve always been a huge fan of James from afar, as I’ve known of him for decades. His name is familiar with anyone who works the road as a comedian, if for no other reason that he’s handled his business so much better than everyone else. He understands the game better than anyone else, but he also executes his plan to perfection. He has a system like McDonald’s does, and it works.

James’ manager is Lenny Sisselman, someone I’ve known for many years. He used to manage the Zanies Comedy Club in Nashville, and I always liked him personally and respected his rock solid integrity. Lenny is as honest and trustworthy as they come, and that’s rare in this business.

I’ve always told Lenny how much I admire James, and always wanted to meet him personally. I got my chance a few years ago when we were both on a comedy TV show taping for Comcast that happened to be shot at Zanies in Nashville. All the comedians went out for dinner after the show, and I got to sit at James’ table as he held court telling great stories that made us all laugh.

James has a larger than life charisma, onstage and off. He’s a true character, and one can’t help but be mesmerized by his magnetic personality. He reminds me of how wrestler Dusty Rhodes is able to grab an audience during interviews. There’s a southern rhythm that hypnotizes listeners.

Dusty is known as a microphone master, and it’s no surprise he and James are personal friends. James loves pro wrestling, and that’s another reason I’m a fan. He understands the way wrestlers create personas to establish their rapport with their audience, and that’s exactly what he’s done.

I happened to be attending the Laughing Skull Festival in Atlanta this week and I received an email from Lenny saying James would like to invite me to visit him at his house while I was in Atlanta “if I had some time.” If I had some time? Let’s cancel the festival and I’ll just hang out with James for a while. That alone would have made my trip worthwhile. Of course I had time.

   We talked on the phone, and James said he was an early riser and I should plan on coming over as soon as I got up. Fine with me. I was a bit nervous in the car because I didn’t want to look like a total goober. Even though we’d met once, we’re not that close. I didn’t want to offend the man.

I arrived at his house, and I immediately knew why James has achieved legendary status. It’s a kind of place a person drives past in stunned awe and asks “I wonder who lives THERE?” It’s an awesome sight, as is the six car garage attached to it. I knew I was in for an amazing experience.   

   James welcomed me like I was an old friend, and led me to his living room to sit down. If ever the Atlanta Falcons need a place to practice in a pinch, there would be plenty of room inside this house. It was immaculately kept, and I was afraid to touch anything but James was a great host.

He made me feel right at home, and then proceeded to tell me some stories of how he started in the business and about his family. He’s incredibly humble, and more than once he apologized for ‘talking about himself’ when in fact that’s exactly why I was there. I wanted to hear all about his life and what he did to be able to stay on top of the game for as long as he has. This was a treat.

He told me about how he’s been working since he was 12 years old, and how his amazing work ethic he learned in sales has transferred over into comedy. He was the first comedian that offered merchandise after his shows – and that includes Leno and Seinfeld. James had cassettes and hats and t-shirts for sale after shows when he was still a feature act, and it’s done him more than well.

Marketing has always fascinated me, and I listened intently as James explained how he worked his way up from being an opening act sleeping on a couch to one of the biggest comedy club acts that ever stepped on a stage in the modern era. He didn’t start until he was in his 30s, and most of the rest of us start in our late teens or early twenties. James made up for lost time and then some.

What I got for my effort was basically a one day one on one seminar from one of the friendliest comics I’ve ever met. I really feel like we hit it off, and I couldn’t get enough of his stories of the way he built his business and career. He’s known as a ‘southern act’, but he really isn’t. Yes he’s from Georgia, but he doesn’t do any typical North/South stuff or anything like that. He’s careful not to go in that direction, and his act is hilarious and clean. That’s why he’s able to sell tickets.

James also has a fantastic hook. He’s billed as “The funniest man in America”, something he’d had written about him by a newspaper reporter years ago. His website is www.funniestman.com, and you can judge for yourself. What a treat it was to spend the day with someone I’ve been such a fan of for so long, only to find out he’s a truly nice person to go along with his legendary status he’s earned in the business. I can’t wait to start implementing the things I’ve learned this week.

Here Comes The KING!

February 21, 2013

Wednesday February 20th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   I truly believe 2013 is going to be my most memorable year ever – and in a good way. I feel an energy building and positive things are happening all over the place. This is exactly the way I’ve always pictured it, but for whatever reason it’s taken this long to finally happen. I am SO ready.

I’ve already had a great experience filming a TV spot for Comcast in Indianapolis this year and I think that will lead to other opportunities as the year unfolds. I knocked that spot out of the park and did different material than I did on my Craig Ferguson spot – which was four years ago now.

The Laughing Skull Festival will be a positive experience in Atlanta in March, as everyone that has done it has nothing but raves about the entire vibe of the event. Then in April it’s a chance to shine in my hometown of Milwaukee with a series of ‘Schlitz Happened!’ shows. It’s all a dream come true, and exactly what I want to be doing. I’m finally starting to see a payoff for my efforts.

Today I got the best possible birthday gift I could imagine when Jon Greenberg called to invite me to be a part of a promotion on March 13th for the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team as they’ll be doing a “Tribute to Uranus Night”. Anyone who knows about Uranus knows March 13th is the date Sir William Herschel discovered the planet in 1781, and it’s the perfect day to pull this off.

I’m not exactly sure what the final outcome will be, but I get to make an appearance during the game as The King of Uranus and I couldn’t be more thrilled. What fun it will be to show up with full regal splendor and walk out on the ice in front of hockey fans. Some may boo, others will be stunned – but EVERYONE will laugh and that’s the whole idea. This legitimizes this gimmick.

I’m especially thrilled to be doing this for the Admirals, as they’ve always been marketers and promoters of the highest order. My friend Tom Green used to sing the national anthem at games in full Elvis regalia, and it was a fantastic promotion that fans came to know and enjoy. They’ve always been ahead of the curve with their promotional savvy, and this is the perfect gig for me.

I have known Jon Greenberg and Admirals VP of Business Development Mike Wojciechowski for years and couldn’t think higher of both of them personally or professionally. Woj is naturally funny and has always been a fan and supporter of mine and Greenie worked in the front office of the Milwaukee Brewers for years and would always leave tickets for me whenever I needed any.

These are exactly the kind of people I want to work with and be around, and I’m flattered they decided to let me be a part of this event. Nobody else on Earth could pull this off and if nothing else it will be one of the most memorable nights of my life. Who else could be King of Uranus or more importantly – who else would even WANT to be? I’m going into this without competition.

This could be a huge success or a total flop, but I’m totally betting on success. Greenie told me they’re always looking for promotional angles, and when they saw March 13th as the anniversary date everyone in the office laughed immediately. Of course they did. Like my slogan says – ‘It’s ALWAYS funny when it comes from Uranus!’ And it is. I can’t wait to breathe life into a King.

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