Posts Tagged ‘Danny Storts’

It Takes A Champion

June 26, 2014

Tuesday June 24th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

If I have learned nothing else from my life’s long twisted journey, it’s that making one’s living exclusively as an entertainer for any significant amount of time is nothing less than a big old, icy cold, rock hard, unforgiving, unrelenting, cruel, nasty, fire breathing seven days a week BITCH.

Anyone that has lasted more than ten years has my undying respect, and then there are the lifer types like me that have gone past any and all ‘normal’ boundaries, and find ourselves desperately hanging on for dear life from week to week despite having sacrificed our lives to polish our craft.

My particular scope of view has been standup comedy, radio and professional wrestling. I have friends in each of those areas that have been at it for decades and are either struggling to hang on even a little bit longer or feverishly looking for something else so they can continue to survive.

And I know there are other fields like actors, dancers, musicians, magicians, film makers and a few more categories I’m sure I missed that are in this same (sinking) boat. We’ve devoted our all to our crafts, but never “made it big”. That term is so unfair, and it’s never about who is the best.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until someone hears me – there are all kinds of talented people at any given craft that are virtual unknowns, and quite often those with minimal talent manage to claw and scratch their way to the top by having razor sharp focus and wanting the spotlight more.

It takes almost a psychotic obsession to hit the big time in any creative endeavor, or a once in a lifetime streak of amazing luck. Or both. That’s rare enough, but now find a way to keep yourself around for more than a few months or even a year. Trust me, it’s NOT easy and most people fail.

In the comedy field, I can easily name dozens of really solid acts that just never found a way to get that break we all need. There are all kinds of reasons for it, but that doesn’t mean they are not talented – and solid citizens as well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter in this vicious death race.

Names that pop into my mind off the bat include Dwight York, Don Reese, Dwayne Kennedy, Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe, Jimmy McHugh, Beth Donahue, James R. Zingelman, Tim Northern, Danny Storts and Ron Ferguson. For every one of those names there are a dozen more, and I will stop naming because I know I’m excluding a friend that I like and respect. But you get the idea.

This all started when I got a phone call today from Rick D’Elia – another highly respected road warrior I love onstage and off. What a classy chap he is, and funny too. He is originally from the Boston area, but has been living on the west coast for years. We met in 2003 at the San Francisco Comedy Competition and have stayed in touch. He’s out there still slugging it out just like me.

He’s driving across the country, and working a week in Oklahoma this week to earn money to get himself home. He’s getting thrown out of his apartment for subletting while he was out trying to make a living in the crumbling comedy business, and he needs to find a place when he returns. I love Rick like a brother, and could totally empathize with his situation. This is why I have zero patience for cocky know-it-alls that have paid zero dues. The show business meat grinder is not for everyone. My heart goes out to Rick and everyone else still in the game. It takes a champion.

Rick D'Elia is a super funny comedian onstage and a classier person off stage does not exist. Look him up along with every other name I posted in this entry. They're ALL great, and deserve a break. www.rickdelia.com.

Rick D’Elia is a super funny comedian onstage and a classier person off stage does not exist. Look him up along with every other name I posted in this entry. They’re ALL great, and deserve a break. They’ve paid big dues. http://www.rickdelia.com.

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The Stench Of Filth

July 13, 2013

Friday July 12th, 2013 – “Parts Unknown”     

   I had the night off tonight, so I decided to support a group of new comedians that were hosting what is called in comedy an ‘open mic’ (or ‘open mike’, depending on the person.) I started at an open mic at Sardino’s on Farwell in Milwaukee in November of 1983, and have literally gone on stage in this situation at least several hundred if not thousands of times. I’m no stranger to them. 

   An open mic means virtually anyone can sign up to go on stage and perform at the venue that’s holding the event. It’s a cattle call, and any and all levels of experience show up. Mostly it’s new performers cutting their teeth, but on occasion a seasoned veteran drops in to work on material.   

   When I was just starting out, having those veterans drop in was both a rare treat and a learning experience. It was a clinic to watch a pro go up and get solid laughs out of the same small crowd everyone else had been struggling with all night. It showed us rookies we had a long way to go.

   One of the first touring comedians I remember meeting was a hilarious Chicago comic named Danny Storts. He was passing through town and went on one night and blew the room away for a solid twenty minutes. Most of the rest of us could barely stay on stage for five minutes, and none of us could maintain steady laughs that long. Danny showed us how a real professional operates.

   I got to be friends with Danny over the years, and still am today. He’s living down in Nashville now, still making a living doing comedy as far as I know. Danny taught me several lessons about comedy on stage and off, and I cherish his friendship and mentoring even now. He’s a solid pro.    

   One area that was heavily stressed by both Danny Storts and my main mentor C. Cardell Willis was the issue of keeping one’s act clean – especially starting out. It’s not a matter of prudishness or censorship, it’s a smart business decision. One needs to learn the craft of comedy first, THEN if he or she chooses to ‘work blue’ or add more adult topics or strong language, it’s their choice.

   There is not one topic, swear word or group of swear words that can shock or offend me at this point – or so I thought. I’ve heard it all in my comedy tenure, and more than that before I stepped on a stage as I hung around my father’s motorcycle gang maggots. They could curse with almost anyone, but the all time champion of foul language I ever heard was my German grandmother.

   Wow, could she let it rip. She was 5’1” – maybe, and usually wore a babushka. That made her stand out even more when the flurry of filth would fly out of her – quite often in a public location in front of mixed company. Grandma had a real flair, and could make the bikers cover their ears.  

   That being said, the open mic tonight featured some of the filthiest material I have heard in one night on one stage in I don’t know when. I don’t even want to call it comedy material, as I didn’t find a thing funny about it. I thought I was past the point of being shocked, but I was very wrong.

   I’m not going to say where the place was, and I’m not going to name any names. I can’t see the point, other than starting a verbal war with those guys. I talked to the kid who ran the show when my time to go on was coming up and told him I didn’t want to go on. I wanted no part of tonight.

   I guess I’m now the grumbling old fart I never thought I’d be, but this was an insult to standup comedy on many levels. It wasn’t comedy, it was just young guys either swearing or describing a vile or disgusting act in detail. That’s not standup comedy, and it pollutes those of us who do it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

The Peak Of Ripeness

June 22, 2013

Friday June 21st, 2013 – Niles, IL

   It’s the first day of summer, and once again I find another year slipping away. After today days start to get shorter again, so this is it – the prime day of the year. I’m not booked tonight, and I’m not thrilled about it in the least. I want to be out working as much as I can, and that’s every week.

   Nothing else makes me even close to happy. I’ve resigned myself to the icy fact that I’m never going to have that solid family relationship I have always wanted, but if I can’t have that the only other thing I’d ever want is a chance to be on stage entertaining people who are there to see me.

   I’ve been chasing that tricky rabbit longer than I think I should have, and I don’t feel any closer now than when I started. I have come untold light years as a performer, but nobody knows who I am so what good is it? I know I can go on stage and light up a room, but nobody powerful cares.

   Rodney Dangerfield had a great joke that said he quit show business and when he quit – he was the only one who KNEW he quit. That’s funny to anyone who isn’t living it. I feel like I’m there now myself, and I’m not laughing. I’m not even smiling. I’m panicking, and that’s never good.

   There are too many choices to make, and I have no idea which ones are correct. I’ve made a lot of stupid ones through the years, but even so I still paid my dues and developed my natural talent to the point it’s ripe and ready to pick. I’m at my peak just like today is the peak of the summer.

    I don’t want to waste any more time, as that peak ripeness won’t last forever. It will eventually get soft and rot, and the last thing I want is to be a rotten piece of fruit that fell off the tree. I have come way too far for that, so I decided to do something about it. I am not satisfied with this fate.

   In a perfect world, I’d be working six to seven nights a week in nice venues for audiences filled with my fans. I’d super serve those people, and give them my very best each night. I’d sign every autograph and pose for every picture after the show, and live the rest of my days brightening the days of as many others as humanly possible. I’ve got the ability, now I just need the opportunity.

   How the hell is that going to happen? I wish I knew. I read an interview with Lewis Black and he said he had resigned himself to the fact he’d never make it – and then he made it. I’m right at that point myself, and I don’t like it one bit. There’s no guarantee I’ll hit anything, and that rots.

   I can rattle off a dozen names of absolutely fantastic standup comedians that the public has no idea whatsoever who any of them are. Look these people up in no particular order and tell me if you don’t think they’re hilarious. I know they are, because they’ve paid their dues just like me.

   Here’s a list off the top of my head: Tim Cavanagh, Tim Walkoe, Tim Northern, Dwight York, Don Reese, Jim McHugh, James Wesley Jackson, Beth Donahue, John McClellan, Danny Storts, Ross Bennett, Keith Stubbs, Todd Johnson, Auggie Smith, Bill Gorgo, Rick D’Elia, Wally Wang and now I’m going to get in trouble because I’ll leave someone out unintentionally. Suffice to say not everyone makes it.

   I’ve said it before, and I wish it weren’t true – talent does NOT assure anyone of career success in the entertainment business. In sports it may be different, but this isn’t sports. This is a business based on subjective opinions of many that have never once attempted to do themselves what they are allegedly experts at choosing. This has always been frightening and extremely disturbing, but I don’t see it ending any time soon. There are hoops that are to be jumped through, like it or not.

   I don’t like it and never have, but if I intend to change my current status I need to suck it up for at least a little while and get back out there. There are so many places other than comedy clubs to approach, and that’s where it gets tricky. Where do I go and who do I talk to? I haven’t been able to figure it out until now, so what leads me to believe I’ll do it now? I can’t, so I need some help.

   I had lunch with Marc Schultz today, and in his world he’s in a similar situation. Marc books a variety of entertainment acts and has for years. He inherited an agency from his father, and even though he’s not a comedy booker per se I have gotten a decent amount of work over the years.

   Marc and I are friends, and there aren’t many bookers I’d call a friend first. I genuinely like the guy, and even if he never booked me again I’d still hang out with him. That’s all fine, but we put our heads together today to see what we could come up with. His business isn’t what it was, but what business these days is? We can both use a little freshening up, so we came up with a plan.

   Most of Marc’s clients are corporate types. Most of them would never hire a standup comic but he’s going to approach the ones that might. He’s always been good about trying to include me on any sampler videos he sends, and I totally appreciate it. But I can do the job, and he realizes that.

   We also agreed that Marc is going to go after club work that I haven’t gone after, for a fee. I’m delighted to pay anybody to get me work I don’t have, so this is a no brainer. If he can land some decent work, I’m all over it. I don’t want to work the toilet circuit anymore, so these will be good clubs that will pay decent money. He’s not familiar with the club market, but he’s willing to try.

   This is not a long term fix, but in the short run it could be great for both of us. I won’t be stuck doing what I’ve never liked, and it’s always good to have a third party selling me rather than me stumbling and stammering and asking for work like a vagrant asks for change. I’ve never liked it.

   Steady work is what’s it’s about in any facet of show business. Period. I’d rather work steadily and make livable wage than be a big star one minute and a has been bum the next. I’m all about a steady career with regular income. I’ve come close many times, but I’ve never been able to make it last. There’s always been a radio job to come along and shake things up in a destructive way.

   I’m not foreseeing any radio in my immediate future. That ship has sailed – or sunk. What I am going to do is cross every T and dot every I and go after all the quality standup comedy work I’m able to get. It could be comedy clubs, cruise ships, colleges or corporate. I can handle just about anything at this point, but what I can’t handle is not working at all. That’s totally unacceptable.

   I look at comics from my generation of performers like Louis CK and Jim Gaffigan, and I want to be doing what they’re doing. How did they get it? I don’t know. I’m sure it was a lot of things. Talent is a part, but so is persistence, connections, luck and who knows what else? It’s complex.

   If I don’t get myself in front of someone, I’ll never have any chance to do anything. That’s not what I want to have as my final legacy, so at least Marc is going to be out there trying to mention my name to people who can book me in decent venues. Why haven’t we done this before now?

   Neither one of us has an answer. Marc was doing his thing, and I was doing mine. Now we’ve both run out of ‘things’, and this is a logical fit – at least for now. I’m going to dive into booking myself in as many quality places as I can. No more toilets. If I succeed, my life will change soon. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s just that where I’m doing it hasn’t gotten me seen.

Paying It Forward

January 12, 2013

Friday January 11th, 2013 – Shakopee, MN

   I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude, but it’s not easy. That speeding ticket yesterday was a kick in the lug nuts, not to mention the wallet. I don’t know why money has to be such an issue in life but it absolutely is. Some find a way to master it, while others inherit more than they need.

The latter are usually the first to say “Don’t worry – it’ll all work out.” It’s easy not to have to worry when there’s a trust fund in place or a rich relative available to help bail one out of a cash pickle. I’d love to be able to count on someone when times get bleak, but I’m a one man band.

All I want is enough to not have to worry about stupid stuff like speeding tickets. Whatever the reason, it was my turn and I will have to pay up. I would guess I drive about five times more than the average driver, so it’s inevitable I’ll get more speeding tickets over the course of my lifetime.

Still, yesterday was not when I needed it. I’m trying to come out swinging this year and get my financial ship righted to get out of debt. I don’t expect any free rides and I’m willing to pay what I owe, but that one materialized out of nowhere and urinated my flickering candle of hope out.

Plus, it happened at the beginning of the trip to put a damper on the whole weekend. I tried not to think about it last night in Eau Claire and tonight in Shakopee, MN, but I couldn’t help it. I did this run for the money, and now not only won’t I be making any I have to pay out of my pocket.

It is what it is, and I’ll shut my mouth and keep slugging. I’m working with a young kid named Dan Ronan this weekend and he’s got big time written all over him. He’s 23, and has spectacular upside potential. I was able to bring him along on this run and if nothing else at least I can enjoy a chance to mentor someone who appreciates it. I’m unbelievably impressed with his raw ability.

Dan lives in the Chicago area, and we crossed paths a few years ago at the Zanies Rising Star Showcase. He was only 19 then, but I could see his talent immediately. He’s stayed with it and is starting to come up the ladder and it was my pleasure to help him by including him on this run.

He’s got a great work ethic, and he’s a student of the game just like I was at 23. I see a big part of myself in him, but I think he’ll take it a lot farther than I ever did. He’s got a great look and an unusual delivery and I see him all over TV in the not too distant future. This kid is a big leaguer.

Hopefully, I can plant some of the nurturing seeds in him that comedians like Gary Kern, Kyle Nape, Danny Storts and others planted in me when I was his age. Those guys showed me how to be a comedian both by their words and their actions. Now it’s my turn to pay some of it forward. I don’t need a run like this for anything but money, but Dan needs the stage time to get his chops.

He came through with flying colors last night and tonight. He was nervous beforehand for both shows, and perused his set list like it was the winning lottery numbers. I used to do all that, and it made me smile watching him do exactly what I did all those years ago. Having a chance to act as a mentor to a talented kid like Dan is a treat, and I’ll focus on that. He’s got a very bright future.