Posts Tagged ‘comedian’

Rock Star In Rockford

June 30, 2014

Friday June 27th, 2014 – Rockford, IL

Ah, a flash of the good old days. For at least one day I got to be in the comedian groove again. I’ve been out of it for a while, and it felt very much at home to be back. This is what I was born to do – at least the performance part. I got to work in a nice venue in front of a receptive crowd, and there were no long drives to make. This is exactly how I picture my comedy future to look.

Long time Chicago comedian Ken Sevara books monthly comedy shows at a wonderful Italian restaurant in Rockford, IL called Franchesco’s. I was the headliner for their opening night a few years ago, and it’s been a while since I’ve been back. I never bugged Ken about it, and that’s one of my problems. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get lost in the mix because there are so many comics.

He knew I did a killer job, and so did the staff. That was never the question. Quite a few of the staff that remembered me from that night walked up and said hello within ten seconds of walking in the door. I know they weren’t faking, because it’s a busy restaurant with lots of people coming and going all the time. They were sincere, and it felt very satisfying to have them remember me.

There was also a table of people that were there a full 45 minutes before the show that had seen me perform at a place called L.T.’s that ran weekly comedy shows for years. They said they had been waiting for me to come back to town, and didn’t want to miss it. I almost felt like a big star.

I also got to be on the radio this morning with “Stone and Double T” on WXRX, and they have always been fans and treat me great. Their station is probably not my demographic, but it’s still a lot of fun to be on with them so I always say yes whenever they ask. They’re both real people on the radio, and that is SO refreshing. If they were Bob and Tom, I would be a millionaire by now.

They’re not Bob and Tom, and Rockford isn’t Las Vegas – even though the actual room where they do the shows could easily be in Vegas. It’s a gorgeous facility, and has a separate and sound proof entrance from the bar and restaurant area so as to keep the showroom quiet during shows.

They have big screen TVs all over the room that say ‘Comedy Night’, and it’s a perfectly sized and proportioned room that seats probably 150ish. They can show clips of upcoming acts if they like, or list drink and food specials. Everything about this particular space is how it should be for all standup comedy shows, but rarely is. It’s a pleasure to work rooms like this whenever I can.

It’s EXACTLY the kind of venue I’d want to promote my own shows on a consistent basis, but they’re almost nonexistent. This one has just about everything anyone could want, including tons of free parking and a liquor license plus full menu of delicious food. There’s a lot to work with.

I would never infringe on Ken’s room, and that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m just saying it has all the features I’d be looking for to do my own shows. Rockford may be a bit small to shoot for a weekly show anyway, and that’s important to know. It’s easy to burn out in a smaller town.

I’d love a place similar to this in Milwaukee to do ‘Schlitz Happened!’ more regularly, and one in the Chicago area wouldn’t hurt either. Even if I did weekends once a month and promoted the hell out of them I bet I’d develop a following sooner than later. This is the future of the business.

Franchesco's Ristorante in Rockford, IL is a great place to have dinner and see a comedy show. If it's a 'bistro' or a 'ristorante', it's hard to go wrong. www.franchescos.com.

Franchesco’s Ristorante in Rockford, IL is a great place to have dinner and see a comedy show. If it’s a ‘bistro’ or a ‘ristorante’, it’s hard to go wrong. http://www.franchescos.com.

Ken Sevara books the shows, does comedy himself and also hosts a radio show on WIND called 'Fly By Night'. Find him at www.kensevara.com.

Ken Sevara books the shows, does comedy himself and also hosts a radio show on WIND called ‘Fly By Night’. Find him at http://www.kensevara.com.

'Stone and Double T' are two of the nicest - and most competent - radio people I have ever met. I'd do anything for those guys. www.wxrx.com.

‘Stone and Double T’ are two of the nicest – and most competent – radio people I have ever met. I’d do anything for those guys anytime. http://www.wxrx.com.

Numbers Don’t Lie

April 27, 2014

Friday April 25th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

After all of the painstaking effort I have put in over a lifetime feverishly attempting to create an identity that is moderately recognizable to the largest amount of people possible, it’s laughable at how tiny a number that turns out to be. It isn’t even close to 1/1000th of 1% of people on Earth.

It’s not anywhere near 1/100th of 1% of the United States, nor does it approach 1/10th of 1% of the population of the Chicago metropolitan area where I have been based for the majority of my adult life. How’s that for taking some humble pies to the face? It’s like I’ve never even existed.

I tried to figure out as close to a number of people I have performed live for over my entire life, and the closest number I could come up with is somewhere between around 750,000 and an even million. And that took thirty years of hard work. How many of those would remember my name, even if there were cash and prizes involved? Even at 1% – which it isn’t – I am still an unknown.

Even at a million I am still an unknown, but that’s more than enough to make a fantastic living – provided that million is reachable and relatively in a maintainable service area. If they were all over the globe at random, that would make it difficult to serve them by doing live performances.

The people I have performed for are scattered randomly all over North America, and that’s my biggest problem. Other than the Chicago/Milwaukee corridor, nobody has a clue as to who I am – and it’s not all that much there. I can draw a few dozen, but nothing that will define a career.

Most of my work has been done to groups of about 100-200 on average, and often it’s been far lower than average. How many times have I worked some road house honky-tonk hell hole in an obscure town 1000 miles or more from home in front of 50 or far less? I couldn’t begin to count.

And even if they liked me – which often they did – was I smart enough to ask for an address of any kind to stay in touch so maybe they might come back next time I was in town? Even before email I guess I could have sent post cards, but it would have taken time and money I didn’t have.

The truth is, obtaining top of mind awareness with a large group of people is one of the hardest things imaginable. Even McDonald’s has to keep their name pounded into the public’s head, and who hasn’t heard of McDonald’s? They have worldwide presence and a huge advertising budget. I wander all over the country to entertain random people in comedy clubs. I’m a faceless drifter.

I could live with that if the money was there, but right now it just isn’t. It doesn’t matter what I happen to do on stage unfortunately. I used to think that’s all that meant anything, but that’s just plain wrong. All that matters is if one can put butts in seats, and that’s something I have not ever figured out how to do. Mike Tyson is selling out his one man show. I don’t draw flies to manure.

What any of this means I really can’t say, other than I need to have more people become aware of who I am as quickly as possible. I started a newsletter this year, but that only has around 2000 on the list. And how many of those actually read it? I sure won’t be getting cocky any time soon.

Gaining the attention of just 1% of the American public is a lot harder than it sounds. I've been trying for 30 years, and I'm not even close.

Gaining the attention of just 1% of the American public is a lot harder than it sounds. I’ve been trying for 30 years.

Lights, Camera, ACTING!

April 16, 2014

Tuesday April 15th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

One of the first warnings I heard when I started doing standup comedy was “actor/comedian” = “neither/nor”. I think there’s a lot of truth to that to a certain degree, just as the Confucius saying “He who chases two rabbits, catches none.” The point is to focus on ONE thing and do that well.

I knew I enjoyed standup comedy more than anything, so that’s what I stayed with exclusively and never bothered to look into anything else. I’m not so sure that was the smartest move all this time later as I objectively look back on my life and analyze the decisions I made along the way.

I’m not so sure I’d recommend that to someone starting out now – especially with how life has changed so radically on every level. When I started, I could make a living exclusively in comedy by the time I was in my early 20s. Like minor league baseball, I wasn’t getting rich but I had the opportunity to learn my craft on the job and work my way up the ranks. That’s a lot harder now.

Then there was a time when Hollywood seemed to be passing out development deals to comics like candy at Halloween. Lots of people got off the road and moved to L.A. in hopes of being the next big thing. A few like Jerry Seinfeld and Drew Carey pulled it off, but a lot more struck out.

One of the big things that held a lot of comedians back was that they weren’t good actors. They never made it a point to attempt to learn the craft, and I can totally see why. It takes a lot of effort to be a good comedian, and that’s enough to keep anyone occupied for a lifetime. It sure kept my attention. Still, I don’t think it would hurt any standup to take a few acting classes and vice versa.

They’re very different crafts, and I’ll throw improv in there as well. That’s a whole other thing by itself, but the smart performer in the 21st Century would be wise to at least sample a little taste of all three to get an idea of what’s involved. Even if only for comparison purposes, I’d say do it.

Entertainment doesn’t seem to be so much about craft and skill these days as it is about getting famous. I’m not a fan of that formula, but I can’t fight it. That’s how it is. With the internet now a force that isn’t going anywhere, a lot more unpolished talents are getting exposed far too early.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have talent, I just think it can be a bad thing to be seen too early. It’s like eating green bananas. They haven’t ripened yet, and to eat them will give the one eating them a nasty case of the trots. The same is true with any acquired skill, but everyone is impatient.

I have a friend named Regina Prokop who is a legitimate Hollywood casting agent. She got me a part as an extra in the film “While You Were Sleeping”. Was I an actor? No, I was dressed as a mailman and walked past Sandra Bullock for a few seconds. Was it fun? Sure. Should I have put more effort into pursuing bigger roles? Absolutely. Credits like that can impress when added up.

Regina has put out a very affordable EBook called “Lights, Camera, ACTING!” I recommend it to anyone who wants the real scoop on how to get started correctly. I get nothing from it but to help a friend. It’s a steal at just $2.99. http://store.blurb.com/ebooks/371661-lights-camera-acting

My friend Regina Prokop is a real Hollywood casting agent. Follow her on Twitter @ReginaCast. Here she is on the red carpet at a big event.

My friend Regina Prokop is a real Hollywood casting agent. Follow her on Twitter @ReginaCast. Here she is on the red carpet at some huge event.

Regina got me a part in 'While You Were Sleeping'. If you rent it, I'm in there. Thanks Regina!

Her guidance got me a part in ‘While You Were Sleeping’. If you rent it, I play a mail man – but I didn’t go postal. Thanks Regina!

Regina's new EBook is a great way to get started in on camera work. It's a great bargain and full of useful information.

Regina’s new EBook is a proven way to get started in on camera work. It’s a fantastic bargain and full of useful information.

John Pinette

April 7, 2014

Sunday April 6th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

As if I wasn’t feeling low enough already, I got a phone call from a friend asking if I had heard John Pinette was found dead in his hotel room today. I hadn’t, and it struck a painful nerve in my heart. I have known, liked and respected John for many years, and while I won’t lie and try to claim we were close friends he was a comedy peer and we shared a stage on many occasions.

What freaked me out deeply was that I had just thought of him yesterday. I was between shows in the green room at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago last night, and happened to run across one of John’s DVDs laying around. John was a regular at Zanies, and that’s how we hooked up years ago. The owner of Zanies Rick Uchwat acted as John’s manager, and they were extremely close.

I’m not sure exactly what their professional relationship was, but John and Rick were a hell of a team. Both were loaded with natural charisma, and they could always be seen together when he worked at Zanies – which was often. I loved them both, and always looked forward to when they would both be around. John was a world class comedian, and I never met a kinder human being.

John had a March birthday like I do, and I tried to at least contact him on his birthday if I’d not seen him in a while. Rick had a March birthday too. I’d accidentally overlooked John’s birthday this year, and seeing that DVD last night jarred my memory. I made a mental note to get in touch.

Unfortunately, now I’ve missed my chance forever and I feel horrible. John was a super gentle soul, but did have some vicious demons. I could see he was in pain, and we talked about it often. It was hard not to like the guy, and I felt very sad for him when he’d tell me about his life story.

He was from Boston originally, and totally a dented can. Like me, he was a big time giver and those are the people that get screwed over the hardest. He told me of many instances where he’d gotten the shaft, and I know it hurt him. It should have, because he had a mammoth heart of gold.

Whenever he would play a Zanies, he was famous for buying food for everyone from comics to staff and even fans. One time I saw him spend $100 at Taco Bell, and that’s not easy to do. There was a lot of pain inside him, but he always tried to make others happy instead of wallowing in it.

I hadn’t seen John a lot in the last few years, but the last time we did cross paths I thought he’d looked as good as I’d ever seen him. He had an operation to keep his weight down and it worked. He was in great spirits, and we had a lot of laughs. I always felt relaxed and at home around him.

He possessed an off the charts level of likeability onstage and off that few if any ever begin to approach. He had ‘it’, and then some. He even opened for Frank Sinatra for a while, and that’s a powerhouse credit all by itself. He was an amazing talent, and I am lucky to have crossed paths.

His main credit was being the guy that was car jacked on the final episode of “Seinfeld”, but he was so much more than that. I salute his life and accomplishments, and I hope he is finally at peace. If anyone deserves it, it’s him. He had a heart bigger than he was, and everyone that ever met him adored him. I know I did – and still do.

There has never been a funnier - or kinder - comedian than John Pinette. He was beloved by all who knew him. I am one. SO sad to hear of his passing today.

There has never been a funnier – or kinder – comedian than John Pinette. He was beloved by all who knew him, and I am one. He was a giant talent with an even bigger heart.

A Costly Freebie

April 3, 2014

Wednesday April 2nd, 2014 – Rosemont, IL

No matter how hard anyone tries to disprove it, there truly is no such thing as a free lunch. The concept sounds wonderful – but then again so does world peace and true love. That’s why people continue to try to attain all of them, but to no avail. Some things in life were just not meant to be.

That’s not to mean all of the people trying don’t mean well, I just don’t think the end result can ever be achieved. There’s always a glitch, hitch or hiccup in the mix, and the end result proves to be nothing but wasted time. I had an example of it shoved in my face today, and I’m still hurting.

I have some friends in Kenosha, WI that insisted they wanted to buy me a birthday lunch. That ship has sailed in my opinion, since my birthday is March 14th. I appreciated the thought, but it’s not necessary to belabor the point this far after the actual date. An email or call would be enough.

But no, they weren’t going to stand for that. They were going to take me to lunch if it was their last activity in life, and it got to the point where all I could do was bow to their command. Never mind that since I moved recently, Kenosha is now a 40 mile trip one way. Lunch was on them.

Not only did I have to cut several hours out of my day to plan for this event, it put 80 miles on my car. Even though my Toyota Camry gets decent mileage, that still means burning about three gallons of gas at these rock bottom prices of $3.89 a gallon in the Chicago area these days. Ouch.

So before I took my first bite, my ‘free’ meal has already cost $12 – not to mention all the wear and tear on my tires, brakes, drive train and transmission. It all adds up in time, and this was one more drain on my total resources I just didn’t need today. Truly, a birthday email would suffice.

Nope. I was special. They needed to prove that by taking me to an all I could keep down buffet that cost $7.50. Again, I truly appreciate the thought but it’s not like it was a five star meal at the Ritz Carlton. I chose to eat healthy, so it was basically just a couple of bowls of salad and water.

Halfway through the meal, one of my friends happened to recognize someone he knew that had won an election yesterday and was now a local alderman. He invited the guy to join us for lunch, and the guy asked me what I did for a living. I never like to say I do standup comedy, as that’s an open invite to hear every horrific ‘joke’ ever thought of. It’s one of the worst tortures imaginable.

Sure enough, just as I feared my friend said “He’s a comedian!” That started it off, and I had to painfully endure a barrage of old jokes that sucked any remaining pleasure out of my ‘free’ lunch that might have still been there. Basically, I’d paid a $12 cover to hear them rattle off old jokes. I know they meant well, and I really appreciate their intentions – but this was a very costly detour.

Wednesdays are supposed to be my booking day. I had fully intended to put in my time and do my due diligence in establishing a pattern of making the rounds with the bookers I already work for and more importantly looking for new ones. With an hour there and back and two hours gone at the restaurant, there was no time left for what I needed to do. NO more ‘free’ lunches. Please.

There never has been, never will be nor is there now a free lunch.

There never has been, never will be nor is there now any free lunches.

The Golden Circle

February 22, 2014

Friday February 21st, 2014 – Ottawa, IL

Any time I can find a way to get paid and stay within a 100 mile radius of home, I consider it a personal victory. That’s the golden circle and anything farther than that becomes a road gig and a chore. I didn’t always feel that way, and in fact it was the exact opposite. I used to love to roam.

I used to look for bookings as far from home as possible in places I’d never been, and the only thing I cared about was if I could at least break even to pay for my trip. It was the experience that interested me, not the money. I wanted to explore new places and have adventures coast to coast.

Those days are long over. If I had my way now, I’d find a place where I could work whenever I want, and it would hopefully have an apartment upstairs so I’d never have to leave. I’d live out my days in one place, and not complain a bit. At this point, I wouldn’t really care where that is.

It would be a bonus to have nice weather, but it’s not a requirement. I stay in the Chicago area because I have a lot of friends here. I can squeak out a living because I’ve been around for years, and most of the bookers use me regularly. It’s not a career move to live here, so I’d gladly move anywhere an opportunity came up. But where would that be? I’ll think I have to create my own.

I really enjoyed living in Los Angeles, but that’s the last place to be able to squeak out a living doing comedy. It’s not near anything, and the gigs that are there don’t pay. It’s a showcase town. Everyone and their grandma thinks they’re going to be the next big star, and it’s not about work.

New York has never interested me in the least. It’s filthy, crowded, expensive and the weather is just like here. I wouldn’t be in the top 2000 of New York acts, so why move there and start at the bottom when I’m one of the top acts in Chicago? I see no reason to ever move to New York.

I love Las Vegas, but again there’s nothing near it. Would living in town give me enough work to be able to survive? Perhaps. If I worked at it, I bet I could come up with some sort of deal that lets me stay in town at least a big chunk of the year. That might be a possibility sooner than later.

I like the Chicago area because there’s a significant chunk of population within 100 miles in all directions except east. But I can drive around Lake Michigan, and work in places like St. Joseph, MI and Michigan City, IN and all kinds of other little towns that keep me busy most of the year.

If I really focused on that 100 mile radius, I think I could do fine and still sleep in my own bed every night. Would that be a career? Not really. It would be steady work, and a job. That’s what I’ve been doing all these years, and it’s been all I could handle to squeak out a living that long.

Tonight I did a show in Ottawa, IL that was less than thrilling quite honestly. I was heckled by the sound guy of all people, and he had a mic and could talk back. People were walking back and forth in front of me during the show, and there wasn’t any stage. I had to stand on a dance floor.

The pay wasn’t great, but I was off on a Friday and it was exactly 86 miles from my front door. I gave them my best, got my check, and drove home. It wasn’t fulfilling, but it wasn’t an all day drive either. It will pay a bill or two while I keep working on my transition to being a humorist.

What I did tonight was a comedian gig. The people weren’t mean, and in fact the lady who was in charge was very friendly. But there wasn’t a lot of respect there whether they realized it or not, and it made my job far more difficult than it needed to be. For any money, it just wasn’t worth it.

I realize I could have turned this down, but I like to perform and since it was within the golden circle I said I’d do it. My policy has always been I would much rather work for low pay than not have a gig at all. I think I have to reassess that policy, and start to turn things down on occasion.

I’ve always been told the most powerful word in show business (and in life) is “no”. The more one can afford to say no, the more opportunities one is likely to get. When it’s possible to choose when and where one works, a whole new (and infinitely better) world emerges. That’s my goal.

I can’t picture a humorist having to do a gig like tonight. For one, a humorist would have been paid a lot more. When a buyer has to pay more, there’s immediately more respect before a show even starts. The performer has an opportunity to have a say over conditions, and it all runs well.

A comedian gets thrown into the fire, but nobody cares because it didn’t cost a lot of money. It never occurs to the buyer that seemingly little things like lights and sound really do matter, as do others like a proper introduction and getting the audience focused and attentive before the show.

Tonight everything was wrong. The audience was standing around in groups talking when I got there, and someone went on the microphone and started reading an introduction before they were seated. Nobody was listening, and I had to start out in a hole while they found their seats. Brutal.

There was no stage or stage lighting, and there was a DJ sitting at a table right behind me who talked to me through most of the show. At one point – right in the middle of a bit that needed the audience’s full attention – a song started playing for no reason. He had hit a button and started it by mistake. It totally ruined a very delicate moment, and when I glared at him he just laughed.

I did get some laughs out of the audience, but it was a whole lot harder than it needed to be. It took all of my years of experience to pull this one off, and halfway through I realized that it was a mistake to have said yes to this. For the few bucks I made, it was anything but ‘easy money’.

It was fast money in that I got paid tonight, but it took thirty years to be able to manage what I did under such unprofessional conditions. Would a top entertainer in any field perform like this? No. I did because I wanted to get paid. In the long run, I cheated myself. I’m far better than this.

No offense to anyone in the group tonight. They weren’t bad people, and in fact I received a lot of nice compliments after the show. But this isn’t what I need to be doing this late into the game. I am very good at what I do, and underselling my product like this is beneath what I have earned.

I picture myself performing at the top venues in the world, with full houses there to enjoy what I do. I can give world class shows, but not under the circumstances I had to face tonight. It was a wake up call, and I get the message loud and clear. From now on, I have to be careful when I say yes and shouldn’t accept a blind booking just anywhere. I’ve worked too hard for too long to get thrown scraps. If I don’t say no, they’ll keep coming. Close to home or not, this was a mistake.

Any time I can stay within 100 miles of Chicago and get paid, I consider it a victory. That's the 'Golden Circle'.

Any time I can stay within 100 miles of Chicago and get paid, I consider it a victory. That’s the ‘Golden Circle’.

Heckling Isn’t Helping

February 16, 2014

Saturday February 15th, 2014 – Indianapolis, IN

The good karma boat has been docking at my port quite often of late, and I’m not complaining. Today I received a call to do a last minute fill in gig in Indianapolis at a place called Latitude 39. It’s a huge entertainment complex with a bowling center, video arcade, restaurants and nightclub.

They book bands in the nightclub space, and have comedy shows on weekends. I worked there last summer, and it was a lot more fun than I expected. I was probably about due for a rebooking anyway, but the call came today because someone wasn’t able to get a flight from the east coast.

Fine by me. I had a super show last night that paid well so my week’s nut was already covered. This was found money, and who these days couldn’t use some of that? Indy is an easy drive, and I was able to get Dan Morris as the opener. It happened to be his birthday, and he wasn’t booked.

I really like Dan, onstage and off. He is very intelligent, even for a comedian. Believe it or not, that’s one trait that is virtually universal in comedians. Some of us may play an idiot character on stage, but very few if any successful comedians are dumb in real life. We might do dumb things – and I’ve tiptoed through those tulips many times – but we’re not dumb people. It can’t happen.

To perform comedy successfully, one must not only grasp a given concept or topic but also put a comedic twist at the end to get the laugh. That requires above average intelligence, even though the public would probably think otherwise. Believe it or not, it takes a smart whip to play stupid.

Dan is a college graduate, and reads a lot of books. He has a good relationship with his parents, and has worked in the corporate world for nonprofit organizations for years. He understands how marketing works, and works hard at it. Those just aren’t the ingredients of the typical comedian.

He started a little late, but he’s only in his 30s and has been doing it five years. He’s funny, but like all of us needs steady work to polish his persona. He’s still finding himself on stage, and that can be a painful process at times. Some nights it just doesn’t go well, and there’s no avoiding it.

Tonight wasn’t Dan’s best night, and I felt bad for him. I know he was giving them everything he had, but they just weren’t buying it. They didn’t hate him, but I don’t think they got anything he was trying to do. He struggled through like a trooper, and I’ve been there many times myself.

I’ve got a lot more experience, so I knew what buttons to push with these people. I was able to get them going up front, as I have a much higher energy level than most openers. That’s just how I work, and nights like tonight it really helps. I was able to take them to a higher level in a hurry.

What Dan didn’t have to deal with was a loud heckler who would NOT shut up. Why he had to wait until I got on is a mystery, but he kept yelling one word things like “CHEESEHEAD!” and “PACKERS!” for no discernible reason. After about twelve interruptions, it got to be a bit much.

I sliced him to shreds without being mean, and that shows how much I’ve grown. At one time I would have gone for the throat, but I knew it wasn’t worth it. This was free money, and I took it. And of course the halfwit had to come up afterward to say how much he’d “helped” me. Thanks!

Latitude 39 is a spectacular entertainment complex with locations in several cities. I happened to be in Indianapolis tonight, and it's a gorgeous facility. www.latitude360.com.

Latitude 39 is a spectacular entertainment complex with locations in several cities. I happened to be in Indianapolis tonight, and it’s a gorgeous facility. http://www.latitude360.com.

Dan Morris is an up and coming Chicago comedian. He does very intelligent humor, and is a super nice guy. Watch for him! www.danmorriscomedy.com.

Dan Morris is an up and coming Chicago comedian. He does very intelligent humor, and is a super nice guy. Watch for him! http://www.danmorriscomedy.com.

If you ever go see live standup comedy, no matter what the beers you've consumed tell you - talking back to the comedian is NOT helping. Can it.

If you ever go see live standup comedy, no matter what the beers you’ve consumed tell you – talking back to the comedian is NOT helping. Can it, or suffer the consequences.

New Game, New Rules

January 30, 2014

Wednesday January 29th, 2014 – Brookfield, WI

Today I started what I hope will be a long and productive journey as a “professional humorist” and not a “comedian”- even though comedian is how I ended up being billed. I had a booking in Brookfield, WI at the BMO Harris Training Center speaking for some Coldwell Banker realtors. They were having their yearly awards breakfast, and I was hired to close it out with some humor.

Roy Scholtka is the owner, and I’ve been friends with his son Corey for years. Many years ago Roy asked me to speak to his realtors at a similar event, and I must have done at least a half way decent job or I don’t think he would have asked me back. I didn’t embarrass myself either time.

I don’t know the first thing about the real estate business other than it’s been in the crapper for several years like a lot of businesses have been, but I do know that ALL businesses boil down to the people business so that’s the angle I took with my preparation. I wanted to be ready for this.

The biggest reason was I didn’t want to let Roy down. He’s a super nice person, and has people skills that could be picked up from a weather satellite. He’s extremely likeable, and if I happened to looking for a home I would absolutely trust him or anyone he would recommend. He’s a pro.

He has been in the game for forty years, and knows what he’s doing. Corey has said often that he wasn’t blessed with the people skills his father has, and that’s why he doesn’t want to work at the office when he obviously could. He’s choosing to play to his own skill set, and that’s smart.

I told Corey I was making the transition from comedian to humorist, and he immediately talked to Roy about having me speak again. Roy called and offered me an opportunity to not only speak at his event but also have it recorded in a tremendous facility. That’s exactly what I needed to do.

As a comedian, word of mouth bookings are very common. I’ve been getting booked that way since the ‘80s. I don’t think I’ve used a video to get work more than two or three times in all the years I’ve been at it, and even then it was for an outside venue rather than a comedy club show.

That’s just how that business works – at least from my experience. The speaking game is totally different, and I’ve been paying attention to my speaking friends like Todd Hunt and Dale Irvin as they tell me I will absolutely need a video to get booked. New game, new rules. I’m fine with it.

I’ll bet I was a comedian for at least ten years before I ever thought about making a video (back then they were TAPES – what a dinosaur I am) and I only did then because I got a package deal from a video guy that was there to record one of the other acts on the show. I said yes reluctantly.

Recording my first time out today was the correct thing to do. I’m sure I’ll wince at what I did this morning a year from now, but I got some nice laughs and everyone was happy. I don’t have close to the polish of a Todd Hunt, and I doubt if I ever will. We’re going for different results.

Todd has a message in his presentation, and it’s excellent. I have a long way to go, but both he and Eric Feinendegen will help me craft a product that will get work. Eric coached me on what I should look to present today, and I think it came off really well. It was a very positive first shot.

A sincere thank you to Coldwell Banker Homesale Reality for having me as a humorous speaker for their annual awards breakfast. www.cbhsr.com.

A sincere thank you to Coldwell Banker Homesale Reality for having me as a humorous speaker for their annual awards breakfast today. http://www.cbhsr.com.

I've known Roy Scholtka for years through his son Corey, and he is one of the most naturally 'people skilled' person I know. He and his whole staff are wonderful people. If I need a home in Wisconsin, this is where I'd go first.

I’ve known Roy Scholtka for years through his son Corey, and he is one of the most naturally ‘people skilled’ people I know. He and his whole staff are wonderful people. If I need a home in Wisconsin, this is where I’d go first.

The Popeye Feeling

December 30, 2013

Sunday December 29th, 2013 – Tucson, AZ

This is the best I’ve ever felt on the inside in my entire life. I am finding it difficult to describe other than it feels like Popeye after eating a case of spinach. There’s an unbelievably pure energy that is coming alive within me like someone turned on a power switch and I am now plugged in.

I feel an inner confidence like I’ve never felt before, and my self esteem has risen dramatically. If I could bottle this up and sell it I’d be a millionaire by the time I got back to Chicago, but I am not worried about that. I’m going to be the millionaire I always thought I’d be, even though I am not exactly sure how I’m going to do it just yet. I just know that the ingredients are all in place.

There has been a fire lit in me that I never had lit before. I’ve had some great moments, but this feels like a whole other level. I feel like I’m finally behind the wheel of a giant space ship to take me absolutely anywhere I want to go, and all I have to do is fill in a destination and I’ll get there.

I’m thinking with crystal clarity, and ideas are flying into my head faster than I can write them down. I’ve always been an idea person, but now it feels like I turned the blender up two or three notches to the right and it’s now on ‘puree’. All cylinders are firing, and the feeling is amazing.

Whatever ‘the zone’ is, I’m soaking in it. I’ve been here before, and recognized it then as well. When I’m in it it’s great, but then it goes. Maybe that’s a euphemism for ‘bipolarity’, but I don’t think I’m going to get anywhere close to being as down as I used to get. I’ve addressed my pain.

It took a long, hard and rocky lifetime, but I feel like I’m right where I need to be at exactly the right time. All those difficult roads led me here, and this is the starting line for me to do whatever I’m going to be known for in a positive way. I am already known for a few things I am not proud of, but those will fade away as I get used to this. I feel like “The Jeffersons”. I am movin’ on up.

Last night’s early show at Laffs in Tucson was a perfect example. The crowd was rather snug, and in the past I may have gone off on them or even verbally insulted them. I’ve been known to do that on occasion over the years, and it’s bad business. Some audiences are better than others, and yes once in a while there are flat out bad ones. This wasn’t one of those, but they were slow.

Instead of launching into cocky comedian mode, I took a step back and decided I was going to give them my absolute best performance no matter what. If they didn’t like it it was their choice, but it wouldn’t be for lack of effort. I had to work really hard, and I didn’t get a strong response.

When that happens, my first reaction is to not make myself available afterward like I try to do after most shows, and just assume they were all stupid. I didn’t do that last night, and set myself up at the exit to see what kind of reaction I’d get from them – if any. I was blown away by all of the positive comments I got about how much people enjoyed the show, and I saw they meant it.

I thanked every one of them, and meant that too. I also remembered to offer business cards for anyone that might want one, and I quickly mentioned that I’m starting a newsletter soon and also write this diary of what the life of an entertainer is like. There were a lot of people who took one, and by the end of the second show I was totally out. Little by little, I can feel it coming together.

Whether I do standup comedy or inspirational speaking or any other variation, this will be what I need to do for the rest of my life. Not every audience will enjoy what I do, but I’ve been able to handle that for years. Rejection goes with being a live entertainer, and my skin is elephant thick.

What I haven’t perfected is the business end, but I can feel that falling into place this week. I’m consciously making it a point to talk about it on stage but not overdo it. Right around ten minutes before I’m finished, I make a quick mention that I would like to stay in contact with them if they liked what I did, and promised I wouldn’t sell their names to Amway. It doesn’t feel forced at all.

Maybe subconsciously before I didn’t think I was good enough or that my merchandise wasn’t worth buying, but I’ve always felt uncomfortable trying to push anything. I’ve sold CDs over the last ten years or so, but I never enjoyed it. Now I have a whole new view. I’m offering them their opportunity to take a little souvenir of their evening home. If they don’t want one, that’s fine too.

I guess I have never given myself credit that I entertained them and they might actually WANT to take something home with them or maybe even share with someone else. This is something to change immediately, and I can feel it already has. I know I’ve got a solid show, and I’m going to let people make up their own mind. If they want to take something home, I will have it for them.

The great James Gregory told me this several years ago, but I wasn’t ready to hear it then. My heart and soul wasn’t in it, but it totally is now. I feel it. James is a master marketer, and he told me most sales are made out of impulse right after a show. We have worked hard to put our show together, so why not take advantage of it by making merchandise available when people like it?

I knew he was right when he told it to me, and then he told it to me again earlier this year as I sat in his house in Atlanta. He doesn’t have to tell me a third time. I’m finally there, but what put me there was freeing myself inside and that came from initiating contact with my brother Bruce to initiate contact with my other brother Larry and sister Tammy. That’s what has been the key.

This is totally The Law of Attraction in action, and there are countless books written on how it really works. I’ve read or partially read so many of those books over time I’ve worn off most of my fingerprints turning pages, but it’s only now that I see that it really does work. It took one big event to open my eyes, but now they’re wide open and I’m seeing things with 20/20 clear vision.

I can’t say how long this powerhouse feeling will last, but it doesn’t matter. I know eventually I’ll have some setbacks, slumps and unforeseen hurdles to jump, but life is like that for everyone. What I’m so excited about is that I’ve identified the cause of what was holding me back so long, and realizing just how toxic and unproductive it has been. I’ve lost a lot of golden opportunities.

I also see that I’ve got a whole lot more of them ahead, and I’ll be able to use my mountain of mistakes as building material to construct my own books and programs to help others who might be having the same problem I did. Nobody I’ve ever seen or heard has dug deep into this topic.

Even if they have, there are enough dented cans to go around for us all. This goes way beyond the boundaries of just making people laugh. There’s depth here, and it’s taken a lot of struggling for a lot of years to acquire this ability to see clearly. This is how I always wanted my life to be.

I'm in a life groove that I've never been in before - and it feels fantastic! It's like Popeye after he ate a case of spinach.

I’m in a life groove that I’ve never been in before – and it feels fantastic! It’s like Popeye after he ate a case of spinach.

The Law of Attraction really works. I'm going to use it like never before in 2014.

The Law of Attraction really works. I’m going to use it like never before in 2014.

James Gregory aka "The Funniest Man in America" is my marketing mentor. I am FINALLY ready to listen to what he's been telling me for years. www.funniestman.com.

James Gregory aka “The Funniest Man in America” is my marketing mentor. I am FINALLY ready to listen to what he’s been telling me for years. http://www.funniestman.com.

A Comedian No More

December 9, 2013

Sunday December 8th, 2013 – Island Lake, IL

When I started doing comedy in Milwaukee, all I wanted was to be the best comedian in town. I thought if I could achieve that, everything else would take care of itself. I’d eventually achieve my goal after several years of struggle, but it didn’t mean anything. I had been chasing the wind.

Then I moved to Chicago aiming to be one of the top comedians there. I realized it was a much bigger city, and claiming the top spot might not be realistic. Still, I did manage to become one of the top acts in town but it got me even less than it did in Milwaukee. I’d pursued the wrong goal.

I’m very proud of how far I’ve come as a performer, and there is a tremendous personal delight and satisfaction in knowing I have been able to live my original dream. Now I need to establish a new dream and make that one reality. From now on, I aim to be the very best MARKETED act.

Wow, what a difference that will make. I always assumed marketing would take care of itself, and if I was the best comedian around people would just find me. Nothing could be further from the truth, and what a painful realization that was and still is. The good thing is is that it’s fixable.

The first item that needs fixing is my title. ‘Comedian’ is akin to ’witch’, ‘leper’ or ‘pedophile’ when it comes to landing highly paid corporate work. Unfortunately, I clearly see why this is and I get it. The word itself has been forever linked to ‘dirty’ or ‘filthy’, and there’s no going back.

I had nothing to do with this negative association, but it absolutely exists and I need to avoid it like the plague for business purposes. In my heart I’m proud to be a comedian, but that won’t fly with those who hire entertainment. As with ‘gay’, the definition has totally changed over time.

Perception is reality, and I can’t change it. People who have a significant amount of money to spend on comedy related entertainment will gladly hire a ‘humorist’ or ‘humorous speaker’, but shudder at the thought of a ‘comedian’. ‘Comedians’ tell dirty jokes in honky tonks and saloons.

That’s the perception in a business environment, and I’m not going to try to fight it. I’ll let them call me anything they want if it will get me hired, but that’s when I’ll really shine because I have the skills to pull off exactly what they want. I have thirty years experience as a live entertainer.

Whether they know it or not, I’m able to deliver a funny show without swearing once. That’s a daunting task, to which any professional will attest. I was never a ‘dirty act’ in a club setting, but these people don’t know it. From now on, I won’t refer to myself by that term. It’s career-o-cide.

Next on the list of things to fix is finding out who books humorous speakers and getting myself on their radar with a positive association. They don’t know me from Adam but I’m sure there are a lot of mediocre acts in that area just as there are in comedy clubs. Being funny to strangers isn’t easy in any arena, and the supply of quality is always lower than the demand. I have to stand out.

My new ‘pit crew’ Eric Feinendegen is helping me in this area. He’s a speaker himself, and he comes from a corporate environment which will be a huge help. He’s got contacts with people in places I’ve never approached, and that’s exactly what I need. I’m finally chasing the right dream!

"Humorists" and "humorous speakers" get paid on average far more than "comedians".  I am no longer a comedian from this moment forward.

“Humorists” and “humorous speakers” get paid on average far more than “comedians”. I am no longer a comedian from this moment forward.