Posts Tagged ‘comedy clubs’

Comedian Steve Baird

May 9, 2014

Thursday May 8th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

More sad news of a comedian passing away came today, and I have had about enough already. This has been one of if not the worst years I can ever remember for losing comedians, and today it was another funny nice guy named Steve Baird – yet one more I had worked with in my day.

It’s one thing to hear someone from one’s same city or state dies. It happens every day and that is sad enough, but rare is the case where it’s somebody one knows personally. I can look through the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel obituaries – and I occasionally do – but it’s hardly ever anybody I actually knew. Even when comedians die, it’s not always someone I had ever met one on one.

This year it has been one after another, and I’ve crossed paths with them all. First it was David Brenner, then John Pinette. Then it was ventriloquist Otto Petersen of “Otto and George”, now Steve Baird. I know everyone’s number comes up eventually, but this has been way too many.

The camaraderie between comedians runs shallow and deep at the same time. We often pair up randomly when we are hired to work the same venue anywhere from a night to a weekend to the entire week. Many times we’re thrown together to share an apartment for a week, and that’s how our bonds either form or they don’t. I have always gotten along great with most other comedians.

There are a few turds in the litter box, but that percentage is amazingly low. Most road warriors have a respect for one another because we know how hard it is to hack out a living how we do it, and more often than not a mutual respect develops in a very short time. If someone happens to be the real deal, it shows almost immediately. There’s a vibe there, and a kindred soul recognizes it.

Steve Baird and I weren’t as tight as I am with a lot of comics, but I had nothing but respect for him, and thought he was a funny act. He was from Indianapolis originally, but moved to Florida in recent years and I hadn’t talked to him other than when he’d asked me about teaching his own comedy classes. I had no problem with that as he was more than competent, so I helped him out.

I’d never begrudge someone from making extra money hustling legitimately. He wasn’t taking business from me in Florida when I’m in Chicago so I sent him my lesson plans to look over and wished him well. He thanked me profusely, and I was glad to do it. I respected him as somebody who had paid dues and I liked him as a person as well. He had a dry wit and he made me laugh.

There’s a human side to comedians that the public rarely if ever sees, and I’m not sure if they’d want to. We’re painfully human like everyone else, and our lives are not a constant laugh festival where the party never ends. Quite often our lives are loaded with more problems than anybody.

Jim Bouton wrote about that human side of athletes in his book “Ball Four”, and got himself in a flaming heap of trouble for it. Mickey Mantle was moody and drank a bit. So? He was a human being, but the public wants to see their heroes as being infallible and perfect. It may be different in the internet generation, but it used to be taboo. Comedians were in that off limits category too.

Every Major League ball player isn’t famous for a lifetime, and in fact most aren’t remembered at all outside the towns they played in. Comedy is the same. There are hundreds if not thousands of comedians I’ve crossed paths with that will never be famous to the public but I think the world of as people. They chose a hard profession, and that alone earns my respect. Steve Baird was one in that group, and I am crushed to hear this news. He was funny, friendly and he’s gone too soon.

Another funny comedian has passed away far too soon. Steve Baird and I worked together on several occasions. I'm very saddened to hear of his passing.

Another funny comedian has passed away far too soon. Steve Baird and I worked together on several occasions. I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing.

In Tide, Out Tide

March 23, 2014

Saturday March 22nd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

After being on an extended hot streak with getting bookings for the last three months, the tide has now gone out. That’s how the game works, and it’s a cruel cycle. When the tide is in, I have more than I can handle making sure I get to gigs on time, have clean clothes to wear and all that kind of minutia. I often have to do radio interviews or other promo stuff that sucks up time also.

Everything else gets pushed back, and then when the tide goes out again I’m left with sky high piles of miscellaneous chores that need my attention – but there’s no money to spend on anything because I have no income. The money I earned from all the work I just did is long gone, and here I sit at ground zero waiting for the process to start all over again. This isn’t how I want life to be.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what to do to change it. I need money to survive as everyone does, but when I’m out earning it I don’t have time to concentrate on getting myself out of the cycle of perpetual frustration. I’m going to have to figure it out, as it’s not going to change without effort.

I’ve got all these little poles in the water, hoping to snare a fish that will feed me for a while. It would be a whale if I had my way, but it doesn’t need to be. Just something bigger than a guppy would make life easier. Living hand to mouth like I am is getting more discouraging by the day.

I still have the dream alive to really hit the mother lode, but standup comedy doesn’t have to be the way I hit it. The way it’s looking now, I’m not going to be in the business much longer and it isn’t a bad thing. My needs are different and the business is different, so I’m not going to fight it.

Part of me will be a standup comic forever, and I’m proud of that. I attained a level of skill that very few ever come close to, but it didn’t come without an enormous price. I have earned all that I have, but now it needs to be transferred to another arena for a payoff. That’s where the trick is.

Will I hit it big as a speaker? Maybe, but it won’t be an accident. Will the King of Uranus be a sensation, if even for a short time? That could happen too, and I hope it does. In my mind, that is the kind of thing I was born to do. Struggling to stay afloat like I am just isn’t part of the dream.

Now here comes summer sooner than later, and I am BONE dry for bookings. I have a couple of things between now and June, but not much. Then it’s Death Valley Days after that. I wish my schedule was jammed full of working the top venues for top dollar six or seven nights a week.

It’s not like I couldn’t deliver great shows. I’d blow the roof off a lot of places from theaters to top comedy clubs to auditoriums that never even had comedy shows before. It’s SO frustrating to not be able to pack a room when I know I have the ability. All it would take is one big tour to get my finances in order for life, and then I could really start to do good and help people. I want that.

The tide is out right now, and this is when it’s the hardest to stay positive. I have piles of tasks I can’t stand doing that need doing, and there’s no money to hire anyone to do them. Sometimes I feel I have almost arrived, but others I feel farther away than ever. This is one of the far times.

The tide of life goes in and out. Right now mine is out.

The tide of life goes in and out. Right now mine is out. That’s the hardest time to stay positive.

Still Getting Better

November 26, 2013

Sunday November 24th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

After all these years of performing standup comedy, I still feel not only that I am growing but I have a lot more upon which I can improve. That might disappoint some people, but I love it. I’ve got a reason to stay the course, and that’s important right about now. The road is plenty rough.

I just finished up a nice run of work that ended last night with week of eight shows at Zanies at the Pheasant Run in St. Charles, IL. Last night’s shows were very strong, and I felt myself doing a lot of things better than I ever have before. I’m going through a growth spurt, and it feels great.

That particular stage has always been one of my very favorites, and I’m extremely comfortable there. I’ve gone through a lot of growth spurts there through the years, but now it’s time to find a launching pad to take what I’m doing to a bigger audience. I know in my heart I’m ready to pop.

What I don’t know is where that launching pad is located. My crowd is not a typical bar crowd, and maybe not even a typical comedy club crowd. I do well in comedy clubs, but I still think I’m best suited for theatres. They don’t have to be huge cathedrals, but I’d much prefer that setting.

The atmosphere at Pheasant Run is very close, as there has been a theater there for decades and they are known in the area for it. I would assume at least some of the people who come to Zanies have been there at some point, and as a rule the audiences in that part of the world like what I do.

I appeal most to people over 30, and the fact that I’m not filthy is a huge plus. I can do a whole show and not say one swear word if necessary, and that’s a lot more rare than most people would think. I can also slug it out with bikers and sailors when I have to, even though that’s gotten old.

That’s never the kind of comedian I wanted to be, and it’s painful when I have to do it after all these years. Unfortunately I’m good at it, so the crowds usually love it. I can’t stand having to be my own enforcer, but most clubs refuse to bounce anybody these days because they buy drinks.

I’ve never been interested in being a saloon comic, even though that’s frequently where I have gotten hired over the years. Some comedians live for it, but I’ve always viewed it as a paycheck. I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life, but I have sucked in second hand smoke for a dozen.

The direction I’m thoroughly enjoying is the shaping of stories that have personally happened to me, and taking the audience on a trip. I used to just try to think of jokes, but this adds so much more depth of character. I don’t just stand there and talk, I like to move around and use my face and body for punctuation. I lean into it and give them all I’ve got, and it’s really working well.

This is going to be a perfect fit to take the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ show to the next level. I’ll be at Northern Lights Theater at Potawatomi Casino the next five Saturdays, so I’ll have ten shows to keep this momentum going. The only thing I wish I could change would be to add more shows.

In a perfect world, I’d be performing seven nights a week somewhere. The fewer miles I have to go, the better. Having a month of shows an hour from where I live is a huge leap in a direction I’ve been looking to go for a long time. I’m going to enjoy this next month. http://www.paysbig.com.

I will be performing my one man show 'Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst' at Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee 11/30/13 and every Saturday in December. www.paysbig.com.

I will be performing my one man show ‘Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst’ at Northern Lights Theater at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee 11/30/13 and every Saturday in December. http://www.paysbig.com.

Momentum Shifts

July 17, 2013

Tuesday July 16th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   The life of any entertainer always boils down to the constant shifting of momentum. The tide is either in or out at any given time, but it doesn’t stay there forever no matter what direction it may be headed. I was in a particularly lengthy out tide for a while, but now I feel it coming in again.

   My phone is ringing all over the place, and I can feel good things headed my way. I have some interesting and different opportunities on the table I wasn’t expecting, and I’m going to seriously focus on making the most of them. New opportunities with new people are exactly what I need.

   One thing I wasn’t expecting was this movie role I auditioned for last week. I received word of getting the part, and shooting is this week. I only have a few lines, but I appreciate the fact I was considered and will go in and give it my very best whether it leads to anything else or not. It will only add credibility to everything else I’m doing, and I’m sure I’ll meet some new connections.

   A standout role in a popular film would sure come in handy right about now. Look at what the role in ‘Caddyshack’ did for Rodney Dangerfield. He nailed it, and it put him over the top with a whole new generation of fans. I was one of them, and it still makes me laugh whenever I see it.

   This isn’t going to be that kind of a role, but I get to play a clueless security guard and it looks like I’ll be able to have fun with it. It’s great practice if nothing else, and it just may open me up to get a shot at my own Rodney type role in some other movie. ‘Mr. Lucky’ is a solid character.

   Another area I feel some heat happening is in the corporate market. I’ve traditionally not had a lot of bookings there, but now I feel it’s a much better fit. I can not only perform a squeaky clean comedy show or after dinner speech, I can also create comedy workshops for training purposes.

   I always tell my classes and it’s true – doing standup comedy is THE most difficult task to pull off consistently in all of the entertainment business. If one can be successful at it for any amount of time at all, anything else appears easy. That’s where I am now. Bring it on, and I’ll handle it.

   I’ve also been working on updating my personal website. It’s long overdue, and today I met up with my web guy Mark Filwett. He’s really talented, and he does what he says. I’m thrilled with my www.schlitzhappened.com  site. He’s mark@lakecountygeeks.com if you need a web guy.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

   I’m spending my days working on as many things as I can get done. One of these days one area will get hot, and I’ll focus my energy on that. Right now, I’m still trying to find out what it might be. I’m rattling cages in different areas, but they’re not all that far off from what I’ve been doing.

   I’ve always been performing and teaching comedy, I’m just looking to do it in a different arena than I’ve been used to. Comedy clubs have never been where the big money is, and I find a lot of those who book them not to my liking. They can be shady, and it’s getting worse. Why not move up the trough and drink a little closer to the main teat? I’ve been hanging out at the wrong end.

   Tonight I was invited to a delicious dinner with my magician friend Dennis DeBondt. His Aunt Boots just turned 90, and she lives just a few minutes from me on a gorgeous lake. Dennis owns a cottage next door, and whenever he’s up here he gives me a call. Boots is a sweetheart, and she invited some friends over to celebrate one of their birthdays. The food and company were of the highest order, and we sat around and had a lot of laughs. This is exactly how life should work.

Stability? Ha!

March 4, 2013

Saturday March 2nd, 2013 – Oswego, IL

   If one wants stability or anything even remotely resembling it, entertainment is not the business path to pursue. I would personally recommend barber or diesel truck driving school – which I just might have to sign up for myself in the not too distant future to start supplementing my income.

I thought I’d had a solid gig lined up for tonight, but it fell through without notice earlier in the week. Well, that’s not totally true. BOY did I notice. It left a gaping hole in my paycheck for this week. I was to be filling in for someone who thought they had double booked, but it turned out it was for next month and my services weren’t needed. Good solution for them, unfortunate for me.

I truly must have been insane when I chose to be in this business all those years ago. I couldn’t wait to get into it then, but now I’ve had more than my fill of last minute inconvenient situations exactly like this and I need to line up some kind of a financial backup plan before I end up broke.

I’m already hovering over the financial abyss, and so are most of my comedian friends who are in the exact same boat. There used to be plenty of work to go around, and if we hustled we could find a job of some sort every single week. It might not have been Vegas, but it still paid the bills.

That’s no longer the case for several reasons, the sinking economy being a main one. Another big reason is flat out bad comedy. There are a lot of mediocre acts out there who have the desire to be comedians, but not necessarily the ability. They are however willing to make those weekly long drives and stay in flea bag hotels just to be able to claim they are professional entertainers.

It really is a brutal business in many ways – a lot different than most others. Other than maybe musicians in a band, I can’t think of any other industry that requires this kind of skill set. There’s much more to it than being funny, and unfortunately that can weed out those who do have talent. After a while we end up as just glorified truck drivers, hauling our four wheeler loads of jokes.

The constant grind of always having to look for the next job gets very tiring after a short while. I am SO sick of it myself, but it’s a necessary evil to keep working. I’ve managed to reach a level of competence with enough bookers to have them call me, but I’ve also burned bridges years ago that would be nice to be able to reclaim now. All these elements combined make it even harder.

Even harder than that, I’m looking to keep it local or at least regional so that narrows my field of potential gigs as well – at least in the traditional comedy venues. Comedy clubs aren’t the only way to make a living, but that’s where I’ve cut my teeth and I know the game. I need to develop a much broader base of income, and I’m working feverishly at doing just that. It’s for survival.

I don’t like to be off on a Saturday night, so I tagged along with Jim McHugh to a club called ‘Comedy Comedy’ in Oswego, IL booked by Bert Borth. Bert is a good guy, and has been in the game as long as or longer than I have. He’s a comic, but also books rooms and we get along fine. I’d work for him in a second, but he knows I’m a Zanies guy in the Chicago area and that’s how it is. No hard feelings on either side. I did a guest set to stay sharp, but losing that paid gig hurts.

What A Week!

February 11, 2013

Saturday February 9th, 2013 – St. Charles, IL

   This week at Zanies in St. Charles, IL at the Pheasant Run Resort is comedy heaven for several reasons. After spending a lifetime experiencing anything and everything that can go wrong with standup comedy, it was a delicious treat to have everything work out correctly without a glitch.

First, it’s close to home. What a wonderful treat not to have to worry about travel for a change. Anytime I can work a week of comedy shows and sleep in my own bed is a humongous positive. If I never have to stay in a hotel ever again, my life would not miss a beat. I’ve done it too much.

Second, it’s a quality venue. The sound and lights are always great, and since it’s been open for so long there is at least a fighting chance most if not all of the audience at least knows the reason they are there. There is visible security in place to escort the morons who don’t get it out the door but that doesn’t happen often. When it does, Lenny Creagh handles it beautifully. He’s a real pro.

Third, it’s managed well and has been for years. Cyndi Nelson is one of the most respected and beloved comedy club managers anywhere, and she recently moved on to manage the new Zanies in Rosemont, IL. Tracey Whitmer is now in her place and like Cyndi she actually enjoys comedy and treats the comedians with respect. It’s refreshing to show up at a club and feel wanted there.

All of these things are the foundation of an outstanding work environment, but what really sent this week into orbit was the solid lineup of comedians. I was extremely fortunate to share the bill with a pair of my all time favorites both onstage and off in Vince Maranto and Jimmy McHugh.

Zanies has used house emcees for years, and I am a big proponent of that concept. It makes the shows far better as a whole, as someone with experience starts the night and maintains an energy that can’t be achieved by putting up a rank amateur like most comedy clubs have done to death.

Vince is one of the Zanies regular hosts, and does a fantastic job. We’ve known each other for at least twenty five years, and he’s a solid headliner in his own right as is Jimmy McHugh. They have both been through the wars just like I have, and it’s a breeze working with guys like that as nothing can rattle any of us at any time. We’ve all seen it before, and our calmness level is high.

The three of us are comedy mercenaries at this point, but that’s not a bad thing. We still love to perform and all do it well, but none of us are big stars and may never be. We’ve all paid our dues and are big leaguers as far as being professional comedians, and we all respect each other’s acts.

I watched Vince and Jimmy this whole week and they still make me laugh out loud even if I’ve seen their bits literally hundreds of times. They’re both well written and well performed, and I’m a fan of them both as people and as comics. Getting to be on a show with them was fun but rare.

Comedy clubs as a rule just don’t book that much talent on one show like a Zanies does. For at least four nights, I had a dream working environment and I enjoyed every second of it as I know how uncommon it truly is. Next week I’m back to the grind, and I will appreciate this even more.

Sweet Home Cooking

December 9, 2012

Saturday December 8th, 2012 – Milwaukee, WI

   Anytime I get to perform in a first class venue like the Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino, I’m in a good mood. No, it’s better than that. I’m ecstatic! I live for places like this, and it fulfills my mental picture of what being in show business is about. This is how it should be.

It’s even better that it happens to be in my home town, and I finally got what I always wanted when I started in comedy – respect. Every performer wants to be recognized in their home town, but ironically that’s the place it’s usually the most difficult to get it. I know all kinds of comedian friends who tell me stories of how they don’t work in their home town due to festering conflicts.

Boy, can I relate to that unfortunately. I’ve had more than my share of unpleasant dealings with slithering serpents and unscrupulous imbeciles over the years, and I thought it would never end. I don’t suffer bullies well and never have, and all too often that’s the type that runs comedy clubs.

They know comedians are hungry to get stage time, and are willing to do just about anything to get it. It’s like crack to an addict, and the club owners know it. They don’t have talent themselves other than being able to sell drinks, and we’re the attraction that brings people in to order them.

Of course there are exceptions, and not all comedy club owners are Satan’s henchmen – but the majority of those I’ve dealt with in Milwaukee over the years are frighteningly close. For reasons I still have never figured out, it’s just never been a town that nurtures the growth of comedians or entertainers of any genre. I hear the same complaint from musicians, singers and most all others.

It saddens me to know my home town doesn’t have a respectable ‘scene’, but that’s just how it is and always has been. Cities like Minneapolis and Boston and San Francisco are comedy towns but Milwaukee just isn’t. That’s why it means so much to perform at such a stellar venue locally.

The sound and lights are fantastic, and there’s a gigantic stage for me to roam around like I like to do. The working conditions are absolutely perfect, and after having to deal with more than my share of squeaky microphones and ‘lighting systems’ that were nothing more than a 40 watt bulb over the years it’s absolute heaven to walk into a situation that has it figured out from the get go.

The people I deal with are also top shelf all the way. The stage manager Steve makes everyone feel at home, and whenever I walk into the dressing room I feel like I’ve arrived. There’s always a refrigerator full of ice cold drinks, and we get a delicious meal either before or after our shows.

If nobody else appreciates these perks, I certainly do. It’s taken a lifetime to earn them, and I’m grateful every time I get to walk out on that stage. Tonight I had two very fun shows, and I had a line of people after each one telling me how much they enjoyed it. Some of them I’ve known for years, but there were also strangers who said they’d heard my name and wanted to see my show.

I totally feel at home working this stage, and I’d love to do my ‘Schlitz Happened!’ Milwaukee themed show here at some point. It would be the ideal location, and I’m ready to try it in 2013.

Battle Stations

October 25, 2012

Tuesday October 23rd, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   Battle stations, everyone. Oh, wait a minute – it’s just me. I’m backed against a wall and I can’t count on anyone but myself to slug my way out. I’d love to get a helping hand from someone but it’s still hard for me to trust. I’ve been scorched so many times in life, I can’t help being a cynic.

This has to be the time to develop a new approach and a better attitude. I’ve been stuck in mud too many times to count, and it’s not like this is the worst I’ve ever had it. Yes, I owe a chunk of coin to the IRS but I’m surely not the first person to be in this position. It’s how I choose to deal with it that counts, and I’m choosing to take the high road and handle it with class and dignity.

If nothing else, it will get me to break my current pattern of behavior which hasn’t been giving me the results I really want. I’ve been barely squeaking by, which is not what I think life should be about. I want to surf the big waves, at least for a little while to experience what that feels like.

It really does boil down to a matter of money, and this is the perfect opportunity to improve my life dramatically. I am uneducated and inexperienced when it comes to money matters, and that’s totally my fault. It’s been a constant source of pain and misery, but that has to change in a hurry.

I have made up my mind to not only pay what I owe to the IRS, but completely transform how I handle my finances from now on. I’ve had enough of how I’ve mangled it for so long, and I am frustrated to the point of taking immediate action to insure it doesn’t happen again. I’m not going to sit back and feel sorry for myself, even though sometimes that seems like the easy alternative.

Today I circled my wagons and tried to come up with my smartest plan of action. I’ve got a lot of possibilities, but I can’t be farting around with long shots right now. No more Ralph Kramden or Lucy get rich quick schemes for me – at least not for the next little while. It’s time to bet safe.

I wouldn’t be above getting some kind of a ‘stable’ job for the next year or so, but just doing it to do it will be a guarantee of pure misery. I don’t mind working, I just want to do something I’ll be able to enjoy. A lot of people don’t have that luxury, but I’ve been able to do it for a lifetime.

No matter how many times I get screwed over in entertainment, I still love doing the actual job. Being on stage as a comedian or on the radio or teaching classes are all great fun when it’s going well – which after all these years is more often than not. If I have trouble, it’s with management.

Comedy bookers and radio management can be absolutely maddening to deal with, and I often say what’s on my mind and get myself in trouble. Still, there are others that think I’m one of the easiest people to work with anywhere. Those are the ones I’m going to gravitate to from now on.

I made a list of my best contacts, and I’m going to rattle their cages and let them know I could use some quality work right about now. I’ll do comedy clubs, cruise ships, corporate work, teach classes, do holiday parties or whatever else I can go make some money and rebuild the nest egg I had to fritter away last year when I was laid up. I’m going to find a way to come back and win.