Posts Tagged ‘comedy class’

A Personal Insult

April 23, 2014

Tuesday April 22nd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I’m not all that great at a lot of things in life, and that can be a downer sometimes. Everybody has individual strengths and weaknesses, and it’s human nature to gravitate toward what we are naturally good at. I have never been good at typical ‘manly things’ like building stuff or hunting and fishing. Had I been born back in pioneer days, my family and I likely would have starved.

One subject I know quite a bit about is standup comedy. I happen to be pretty good at not only doing it, but teaching others how to do it and/or how to improve what they already do. I’ve done it my entire adult life, and I was a fan of it before that. I’ve been teaching since 1994, and have a long list of people that have taken my class that have nothing but flattering things to say about it.

I greatly appreciate the nice things those former students say, and many of them have grown to become personal friends. I love to be around standup comedy from a technical standpoint, as I’m constantly learning myself so I can be a better teacher. I put in a lot of time and effort to study it.

As far as charging goes, my classes have always been an unbeatable bargain because I make it a mission to give all my students ten times whatever they happen to pay for the class at whatever venue they happen to be available. I’ve taught them at comedy clubs, colleges and in a corporate setting. I personally tailor each class to those particular students’ needs, and I work super hard.

When I started teaching classes in 1994 there wasn’t a standup comedy class within 1000 miles of Chicago. Actually, I started teaching in Milwaukee but moved them to Chicago for Zanies not long after. The Zanies classes were a lot of fun, and we had a steady stream of students lined up.

Other classes started popping up in time, and that’s going to happen in any business. What still infuriates me is that those ‘teachers’ have never done what they’re teaching. I’m out there in the trenches week after week slaying the dragons, and that qualifies me to be a teacher. I earned it.

Some wannabe looks at what I do and thinks it’s a source of free money so they start their own “class” and people take it because they don’t know any better. I’ve seen them come and go, and I get more frustrated by the day because those people are stealing money from students, and telling them things that are completely wrong. It’s the equivalent of a man teaching a pregnancy course.

I have no problem if another competent comedian teaches a class, and in fact I’d recommend it if I knew the person. Bill Gorgo is a perfect example, and he’s terrific. Our teaching styles are as polarly opposite as our acts, but that’s ok. Both of us have the same goals and that’s teaching our students the craft of standup comedy. Bill and I teach together often, and it’s good for everyone.

Lately I’ve been getting some former students asking me if they should take some of the classes available. What am I supposed to say? “Sure, give your money to someone that hasn’t done what they’re teaching while I’m busting my hump to stay afloat with gas at $4 a gallon.” It’s an insult, and I can’t believe how many people don’t get that. What, am I holding out some magic secret of success I’m not telling you but some other genius will? I just don’t get how some people think.

Would you pay top dollar to take a course on pregnancy taught by a man?

Would you pay top dollar to take a course on pregnancy taught by a man? You deserve what you get.

Grass Roots Support

August 26, 2013

Saturday August 24th, 2013 – South Haven, MI

   The only thing more fun for a comedian than having a smoking hot show on a Saturday night is having it while the person who booked it is in the room. That way there’s absolutely nothing lost in translation, and everyone is on the same page. Tonight I rocked the house in South Haven, MI.

   The guy who books it is a comedian named Jerry Donovan. I’ve worked for him a few times in the last year or so and he’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite contacts. He handles business in the most professional way, and is an absolute joy to work with. I wish all bookers were like him.

   It’s extremely rare for anyone to be proficient as both a performer and booking agent, but there is the occasional exception. Jerry is one as is Keith Stubbs in Salt Lake City. Jim McHugh does a superb job in Chicago as does Steve Sabo in Toledo. After them, I have a hard time naming any.

   Jerry is one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen in a long time. He finds classy venues in the concentrated area of western Michigan where he lives, and then goes about doing a thorough job of promoting them correctly. That’s the difference. He’s not just running half assed hell shows in  sleazy bars. He goes out and finds sponsors and makes sure they’re run properly. And they are.

   He makes sure there is adequate lighting and sound – another important detail too many tend to overlook – and hosts the majority of his shows himself. He’s a funny seasoned pro, so it also adds to the quality of the evening. From top to bottom, Jerry pampers the audience, venue and comics.

   What a treat it is to work for a guy like that. His hard work shows through, and every time I’ve been lucky enough to work for him it’s been a fun experience. Tonight was no different, as they had a sold out show and the biggest crowd they’ve had for a comedy night to date. It was a blast.

   To make the evening even more productive, I was able to bring along one of my students from the Zanies comedy class to do a five minute guest set. He asked to tag along and offered to drive, so that sold it right there. Any time I don’t have to drive, count me in. That was yet another treat.

   This is exactly how the comedy business should be on so many levels. The crowds Jerry brings in – get this – WANT to be there. They didn’t win free tickets by the pound by dropping business cards in a fish bowl at the tanning salon. Jerry promotes it all properly, and books top level acts.

   There’s a fair cover charge, and people either pay or they don’t. Those that choose to are there to be entertained. That’s the formula, but there’s nothing secret about it. It’s HARD WORK, and plenty of it. Jerry is out there busting his ass trying to make a living for himself and his family. If he makes a profit – and I sure hope he does – he earns every last penny. www.jerrydonovan.com.

   As I was getting paid after the show, Jerry told me of one of his venues that has dropped him as booker and is going with one of the greasy ones. They thought he was making too much, and got greedy. The other booker immediately cut the pay for the comics, and began using far lower acts to save money. Cutting corners like that is the beginning of the end before they start. Jerry does it right, and he has my loyalty to the death. It costs a little bit more to go first class, and he does it.

Jerry Donovan - a class act onstage and off!

Jerry Donovan – a class act onstage and off!

Twice In One Day

March 19, 2013

Sunday March 17th, 2013 – Chicago, IL/Kenosha, WI

   What would life in Mr. Lucky land be without an unexpected crisis coming every day or two to make sure my tension levels are always at their highest? BORING, that’s what. Believe me, I am craving a boring life more than a vampire craves blood, but it’s just not in the cards for this chap.

As if I needed more car trouble, I popped a tire on the freeway on my way to teach my Sunday afternoon comedy class at Zanies in Chicago and am lucky I didn’t kill myself. It happened right as I was arriving in the city and I was in fairly heavy traffic in the middle lane. That’s dangerous.

I’ve had so many things go wrong on this ‘free’ car I got from my friend Rich that I assumed it was out of ways to torture me. It’s already emptied my wallet and self esteem, and like a woman scorned it has done so with a heartless vengeance. I thought I had gotten out of her line of fire.

WRONG! I had the presence of mind to keep both hands on the wheel and stay in my lane, but slowing down too much would be dangerous as I’d have a good chance to get road sodomized at high speed. I wouldn’t mind at all to get hit, but not by a semi going 70. I would be human soup.

I did manage to get out of traffic safely, and checked my trunk to find a spare little donut with no jack or lug wrench. I know I should have checked this when I got the car, but I go through so many vehicles sometimes I don’t get around to it. I get confused, and assume I have everything.

I called Bill Gorgo to cover the first part of class, and drove on my shredded tire probably two miles at slow speed until I was able to make it to the parking lot of a hotel. I asked the desk clerk if maintenance might have a tire jack, and sure enough a guy came out and helped me. I’ve tried to help people my whole life, and having it come back when I really needed it was appreciated.

I even tried to slip the guy $10, but he was totally cool about it. I’ve done things like that many times for other people so I didn’t feel guilty at all. I sincerely thanked him and made it to Zanies to finish the class. I thought my car problems were through for the day and focused on comedy.

WRONG AGAIN! I needed to be in Kenosha to host ‘The Mothership Connection’ radio show on AM 1050 WLIP by 8pm, but just as I crossed into Lake County on I-94 the donut popped and I was back to trudging along at five miles an hour. I knew I didn’t have a jack, and tried to make it to a spot that wouldn’t require a tow in the morning. Nothing was going to be open on Sunday.

It took a long time, but I nursed the car to a tire shop in Waukegan where I have done business before. I turned on my flashers and rode the shoulder all the way, feeling the piercing looks from everyone who passed me as they gawked at my ratty two tone car with ‘URANUS 2’ plates and a ‘I (heart) URANUS’ bumper sticker. Being the center of attention this way is not what I desire.

So to review, I had two flat tires in one day. That doesn’t scare me. It’s typical for Mr. Lucky’s odds. One time I got two speeding tickets in the same day – in WYOMING. No joke. How many cops are patrolling Wyoming? I found them both. I’ll get past this, but for today it was a hassle.

Flat Tire #1

Flat Tire #1

Flat Tire #2

Flat Tire #2

Comedy Conquers Cancer

September 24, 2012

Saturday September 23rd, 2102 – Sparta, WI

   If life could get any more fun than I had today, I bet I’d have to pay a serious cover charge. It’s days like this that will hopefully put a smile on my face should I be lucky enough to survive long enough to make it into a nursing home. I’ll drool into my yogurt cup thinking about the fun I had on stage working with the people I liked the most. Today will be a day I will use as the standard.

Bill Gorgo, Tim Walkoe and I were booked in Sparta, WI along with our friend Jim Wiggins to do a cancer benefit set up by Jim’s son Josh. It was held at a bowling alley of all places in a very well set up banquet room that had a seating capacity of 330 – and I didn’t see any of them empty.

Josh worked extremely hard organizing the evening, and even hand built the stage we stood on. His wife Amy decorated the stage area with a huge backdrop, and everyone in town pitched in to make the event a huge success. I’ve seen nights like this totally tank it, as everyone drops the ball by not doing what they say they’ll do. Not tonight. This was one of the best run events I’ve seen.

Everyone in the comedy world adores Jim Wiggins. You can’t help but love him, as his energy precedes him into a room like cheap perfume on an ugly stripper. Jim is a giant of a soul, and his warmth is contagious to everyone around him. Everywhere he goes, he’s a magnet for people on all levels from other comedians to wait staff in restaurants to audiences at his shows. It’s magic.

Jim has survived cancer two times now, and has just been informed it’s back. He will be going through the ugliness of chemo yet again, but he’s got the balls of a burglar about facing it. He is an inspiration to everyone, and that’s why we all wanted to be a part of this show out of respect.

This was an absolutely stellar lineup of comedians, and to make it even more fun Steve Purcell drove up from Madison to hang out and be a part of it. Steve has worked with all of us and is on everyone’s list of favorite people. He took my comedy class at Zanies years ago, and is a shining example of why I teach them. He’s funny and classy and having him there added to the evening.

To really put the whole night over the top, Jim was surprised by his daughter who flew in from Colorado Springs to surprise him. Nobody knew she was coming, and it was emotional to watch Jim’s reaction when he saw her. There’s a lot of love there from his kids, and that’s something I just can’t relate to unfortunately. I never experienced anything even close to that with my father.

The vibe in the room was red hot from the start of the show right to the end. Tim and Bill and I rocked the house, but we’ve all got decades of experience and knew what to do. Steve did a guest set and knocked that out of the park as well – but we all knew this was Jim’s night and wanted to let him enjoy his moment. He was magnificent, and he did it in front of his kids, friends and fans.

Hanging out with fellow comedians can be one of the sweetest feelings there is, because we are all tuned in to the same wavelength. We don’t have to edit anything for the public, and the laughs in situations like that are pure and uncut. We had a night of them onstage and off, and I know we all will remember this for a long time to come. Find Jim at www.lasthippie.com. He’s worth it.