Posts Tagged ‘Dennis DeBondt’

Business School

September 15, 2013

Saturday September 14th, 2013 – Burlington, WI

I’ve been putting more time and energy in on improving my business skills all of this year than I have in the past ten years. I haven’t seen much as far as tangible results, but that’s only a matter of time. I’m finally doing a lot of things correctly I should have been doing years ago, but didn’t.

I still have an extremely long way to go, but at least I’m making the sincere effort to get better at something that has never interested me. It would be like a classic car collector that loves doing body work but neglects what’s under the hood. Without a functional drive train, it’s of little use.

It might look good sitting in a museum, but that doesn’t do much good. If it doesn’t run, who’s ever going to want to buy it? Some sap might take a chance, but it wouldn’t be at top dollar. I am in a similar situation with my career. If I don’t get significantly better at my business, my show is absolutely meaningless. It will have been the world’s longest and most unproductive hobby ever.

Eventually I’m going to have to hire someone to help handle my business. I’ve never wanted to do that in the past, but now I’m looking at it differently. I wasn’t sure I had a product to sell, so it made me gun shy to approach anyone in the big time. I really think there was a subconscious fear of not being good enough, and I successfully steered myself away from anything big for decades.

Now I totally feel I’m ready, and in fact I think I waited too long. Circumstances have gotten in the way, but that happens to everyone. I stayed the course and paid my dues – and the dues of six or seven other people also. I didn’t take any shortcuts, and I can hang on stage with most anyone.

Acts like Louis CK, Lewis Black, Jim Gaffigan and several others in that category are my peer group. Larry The Cable Guy worked the same hell holes I did (and still do). Nothing against any of them, but they somehow made the jump to reaching a wider audience. They’re not any funnier because they’re selling out big venues, but they’re sure being perceived that way by the public.

Unfortunately, I haven’t put out an energy that would make anyone perceive that about me. I’m seen as a club act by most bookers – even ones that I happen to like. It’s not their job to promote me to larger venues, and I can’t wait for it to happen by itself. I need to believe it in my head first (and mean it), and then project it outward until it becomes a reality. I finally believe I can do this.

My act is rock solid, and has been for years. Not everybody loves what I do, but that rings true for all acts – even the most popular ones. I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt all kinds of regular people all over the English speaking world would love what I do if they ever get to see it.

It’s up to me to make it happen. I’m a race car driver and I need a pit crew. Tonight I hung out with my magician friend Dennis DeBondt. Dennis is as highly skilled at handling his business as I’ve ever seen. He does comedy magic, but it’s mostly comedy. He’s a funny guy first even if he is billed as a magician. He sells himself extremely well, and is always working at getting booked.

Entertainers like Dennis and my speaker friend Todd Hunt have a harder road in that there isn’t a ‘circuit’ or even regular places for them to work like I can in comedy clubs. They charge more, but I see why. They really earn it. I learned a lot from Dennis tonight, and I intend to continue.

He comes from an entirely different breed of entertainers than comedians who work in comedy clubs exclusively. That’s a boil on the ass of show business, and has been since the comedy club boom hit in the early ‘80s. The real money has always been in snagging the corporate bookings.

The actual circumstances for those can often be horrendous, but the pay is good enough where the temporary inconvenience becomes worth it. As an ‘artiste’, doing those never appealed to me on any level. I was always in it for the love of the craft, and would rather take a low paying show in front of a quality audience than a high paying one that isn’t. I’m starting to change my ideals.

In the old proverbial perfect world – which it never is or has ever been – I’d work great gigs in big venues for audiences who are there to see me. Is that always a pleasant experience? Ask guys like Steve Martin or Dice Clay. They both had amazing runs, but neither paints a perfect picture.

There are hassles with everything, but I’d much rather deal with the hassle of working the three thousand seat theatre in a town than trying to stand on a beer case in some snake pit biker dive in the worst part of the same town that’s not all that great in the first place. I’d like to have choices.

Dennis booked a show tonight at a summer camp near Burlington, WI. It was for dads and their daughters between age 5 and up to maybe 12. There were probably 75 girls and 60 dads sitting in rustic surroundings that had a microphone but no stage lights. They left all the house lights on for the show, but it wasn’t a problem. Dennis is a pro, and handled it fine. I could have done it also.

What I couldn’t have done was pull off a 50 minute magic show that kept the attention of both the dads and the daughters. Dennis is masterful at grabbing attention and holding it, and he did a spectacular job. I found myself laughing out loud several times, and that’s unheard of for comics because we’ve seen and heard everything countless times. Funny is funny though and Dennis is.

In the car on the way up and back, I got a crash course in phone negotiation skills – something that’s as appealing to me as getting a do it yourself Ronco Home Colonoscopy kit for Christmas. I absolutely abhor being on the phone with a potential client, but that’s probably due to the fact I haven’t made the effort to master the skill. I’m not saying I’ll ever love it, but I do need to try it.

Dennis is in a bit of a different boat as to what he needs to sell, but not all that much. He does a significant amount of kids birthday parties, and that’s something a comedian doesn’t get asked to do. Standup comedy isn’t aimed at kids, and not just because it’s dirty. It takes maturity to get it.

Negotiation tactics are the same in most any genre, and that’s what I learned about. Dennis has perfected his pitch system over decades, and I appreciate him sharing some tips. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be an expert negotiator any time soon, but it’s a very positive start. I need to learn.

The fee Dennis got tonight was very impressive. It was well above what I usually get to close a typical one nighter comedy show, but he earned every penny. His experience showed, but I have a similar amount in the standup comedy world. I’ve done much harder gigs than this for far less.

I’ve got work coming up in October and beyond, but as of now zilch for the rest of September. That rots. It’s my own fault, but I’m doing something about it and that’s all I can do. I’ll be ok.

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.

A Tall Order

June 12, 2013

Tuesday June 11th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   I got a call from my friend Dennis DeBondt a few days ago asking if I felt like riding along to a show he had in Milwaukee this afternoon. Dennis is a talented comedy magician, and I happened to have today free so I said yes for a number of reasons. One, I enjoy his company. Two, he has a very good act. Three, he’s an outstanding businessman and I always learn something from him.

   I met Dennis through our mutual booking agent friend Marc Schultz a few years ago. Hooking up with Marc has also been an education in that it taught me there are all kinds of people who are professional entertainers and aren’t on any ‘circuit’ per se. They make their own work, and that’s even harder than what I’ve done all these years. I didn’t think that was possible, but it totally is.

   At least in the comedy club world, there are gigs that can be rebooked indefinitely. I’ve worked for Zanies in Chicago every year for the past twenty plus years. They’ve opened and closed clubs along the way, but whatever work they have I’ve gotten usually several times a year and it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship. I’ve honed my skills there, and they have a reliable solid act.

   Guys like Dennis get work where they can. He’s billed as a comedy magician, but he’s really a comedian who does magic. He’s truly a funny guy with a likeable razor sharp wit, and at 6’7” he casts a tall shadow on stage. He’s a very good magician too, but the comedy is his strong point.

   He works corporate events and private parties, and after 26 years in the business most referrals are from word of mouth from satisfied customers. Bookers like Marc use him regularly when the need for a magician comes up, but rarely does he get booked more than once. It’s got nothing to do with his talent, it’s just that that’s the nature of that end of the business. I’m not used to that.

   I’ve gotten some shows like that in my time, but the majority of my work for decades has been in comedy clubs. It’s time to branch out, and Dennis has been very helpful in throwing out ideas. He markets himself very well, and his website is www.veryfunnymagic.com. If you ever need to hire a magician for any reason, Dennis is your man. He’s funny, and can adapt to any situation.

   I’ve always been very adaptable myself, and as an entertainer in the trenches that serves as the most valuable tool of all. Having the lightning fast presence of mind to be able to adjust to most any scenario without having a full blown panic attack is a skill not everyone possesses. We do.

   Today’s assignment for Dennis was a magic show for 90 fifth graders at Donges Bay School in Mequon, WI. That’s a tall order to say the least, but Dennis is a tall guy and he pulled it off with flair and panache. He did almost a full hour, and I can’t think of many entertainers that could pull that off but also entertain their parents just as well. He has a gift, and I enjoyed the whole show.

   I’m pretty good with kids myself, but standup comedy is not the right outlet. I can tell stories to keep them entertained and there can be funny parts in them, but standup itself is generally not the right fit. Magic tricks are a perfect fit, and Dennis had them from his first ten seconds on stage.

   I respect the hell out of guys like Dennis who are not only fantastic entertainers, they also have rock solid business skills to go with it. How does a person get booked at a school to perform for fifth graders? Dennis performed for the parents of one of the mothers, and they in turn told her to book Dennis for the kids show. That’s how it’s supposed to work. I closed my mouth and opened my ears all day today, and I was treated to an entertaining show and some lessons to go with it.

Try entertaining kids for a solid hour. NOT easy.

Try entertaining kids for a solid hour. NOT easy.

My friend Dennis DeBondt entertains EVERYBODY! Hire him.

My friend Dennis DeBondt entertains EVERYBODY! Hire him.

Gout And About

March 11, 2010

Wednesday March 10th, 2010 –

Chicago, IL

Apparently I have gout. Perfect! That’s exactly the kind of disease Mr. Lucky would get and actually I couldn’t be happier to hear it. For someone with zero health insurance, gout is sweet music to my ears compared to full blown major knee surgery and all that torture.

I talked to the doctor and after reviewing my x-rays she said after hearing a description of how the pain started and looking at the x-rays she came to the conclusion it’s probably an attack of gout and that’s what we’d address. An MRI is expensive and it cut me a huge break by not having to pay for it myself, because I can’t right now. This was great news.

Gout is a buildup of uric acid in the joints, and usually manifests itself in the big toe or even in the fingers. Sometimes it goes to the knees, and when it does it’s only one. This is going to be a lot easier to fix than ripped knee tendons, and I’m already feeling way better than I did even yesterday. I’ve known for a while my diet has been horrible. I deserved it.

Red meat is one of my favorite things on earth, especially bloody rare steak. I love steak and eggs for breakfast, and I’ve been known to have a steak for lunch too. Or dinner. Or a late night snack at a truck stop on the way home from a gig. Red, rare meat is delicious to me and always was. I’m surprised I didn’t get this before, and it’s probably not over yet.

There’s probably enough beef packed in my intestines to start my own cattle ranch. I’ve had small spurts of exercise and health in the last couple of years, but as a whole meat is a way of life in my world. I just love it and always have. Now I’m starting to pay the price.

This is a total wake up call. I’ve been hitting the snooze button for a few years now but I really need to get it in gear IMMEDIATELY. This is a warning signal for a lot of other things that could go wrong in a New York minute. My heart could pop like a zit walking up a flight of stairs, and unless I really start watching myself, I’m going to be a statistic.

The pain I felt was nothing less than excruciating with this. The doctor said that crystals form from the uric acid and cause pressure on whatever joint is near and I learned kidney stones are also a buildup of uric acid and those are also painful. Either way, I need to take the hint and cut WAY back on red meat and I totally will. I don’t want to feel this again.

Apparently, drinking alcohol can make gout flare up too. At least I don’t have to worry about that, and whatever red meat problems I’ll have later in life won’t be compounded a few more times with the havoc alcohol takes on a system. I made that choice correctly to not drink, and that’s one I’ve never regretted. At least I wasn’t a complete and total idiot.

I went to the Old Country Buffet today with Marc Schultz, comedian Tim Walkoe and a comedy magician named Dennis DeBondt who are all great guys. It was very enjoyable to sit and hear great showbiz stories and it didn’t bother me at all to stay away from red meat and eat plates of vegetables. I’ve had a lifetime of eating whatever I want, and it’s time to watch myself. I heard the warning. Gout is a funny word, but the pain it brought wasn’t.

This whole experience really lit a fire under me though. It’s all part of a collective good because that’s how I’m going to choose to accept it. I am going to take full responsibility for getting myself to this point and also full responsibility for getting myself out. If I don’t and my heart does explode, hopefully I‘ll still be able to inspire others to chase the dream.

What a difference a single year makes. Exactly one year ago today I was in Los Angeles filming my first national television spt on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. It’s a memory I’ll never forget, and in many ways it seems like six lifetimes ago. In other ways I feel like it was last week and I want to get out there and do a lot more of them. And I do.

What’s it going to take to make that happen? I wish I knew. The rules of show business have never been cut and dried, but they’re getting even harder to figure out as time passes and technology advances. What was standard procedure just a few years ago is obsolete.

Methods of contacting bookers have changed, as have the outlets for content. Cable TV used to be the goal for standups, like an HBO or Showtime special, but now the internet’s giant presence dwarfs all of that. Youtube is huge, but how can anyone turn a buck with it if it’s always free? These are all legitimate concerns that puzzle me on a consistent basis.

I loved the whole experience of being on The Late Late Show, and if I never get back to do it again, it was still a huge highlight of my life. Celia Joseph the talent coordinator was one of the sweetest people to work with I’ve ever met, as were the whole staff at the show including Craig Ferguson. I’m a big fan and respect his talent immensely. He’s a winner.

But I totally believe that I’m a winner too. I’m happy for Craig Ferguson and I hope I’ll get a lot more chances to interact with him as time goes on, but I have to take my chances and put myself in a position to do that. I haven’t been as good about that as I could have.

Another major mistake I’m making is not following up with Jeff Foxworthy’s help with his management company. I know I pissed off the lady I was supposed to contact, and that really scared me off but it was unintentional. I need to get in there and use that contact.

Jeff is a straight up great guy, and I know he was sincere by doing this favor for me. I’m not going to let a little faux pas keep me from the big time, and I need to go and reconnect with them immediately. I’m SO ready for this right now. I wasn’t sure if I was before, and it turns out I wasn’t, so I’m glad I waited. Now, I’m sure I am and it’s time to go grab it.

My birthday is coming up on Sunday, and I can’t stop it. I’ve had a lot more of them to ponder than I ever thought I would, and after all I’ve been through I really am lucky to be alive and somewhat coherent. A case of gout doesn’t scare me at all, especially after those horrible knee pains have gone away. There was a solution to the problem, and I found it.

Now it’s time to pull out all the stops and keep chasing whatever I’ve been doing for all these years. I can do lots of TV spots, but someone has to say yes, which means I have to keep asking. So I will. Gout won’t take me out of the game. In fact, it’ll bring me back.