Posts Tagged ‘education’

Another Planet

January 1, 2014

Monday December 30th, 2013 – Tucson, AZ

Life is just full of pleasant surprises these days, and I’m not complaining. Today I had another one come out of nowhere, and again it absolutely blew me away. Whatever cosmic slot machine I have been playing of late is paying off handsomely, and the jackpot is the biggest I’ve ever hit.

Today I had the privilege of reconnecting with some people I have to admit were never friends. I hadn’t had any issues with them, but frankly we just were not close. We were acquaintances on the comedy trail twenty years ago, and through the magic of Facebook have gotten back in touch.

C.J. Vincent was a comedian based out of the Chicago area, and worked some of the same gigs I did in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. We crossed paths on several occasions, and like with a lot of comedians we interacted on a professional level. Like me, C.J. had a tendency to be a polarizer.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a problem in the entertainment business. Word gets out one way or another, and it can be extremely difficult to shake a reputation once it settles. I had heard about C.J. before we ever crossed paths, but we never had a problem. I liked the guy.

One of the reasons he took some heat was because he had a business manager when nobody in the Chicago area was using one. Nobody says it can’t be done, and I never had a problem with it. His manager’s name was Mary Ellen Landen, and they successfully teamed up for several years.

Then, as happens often in standup comedy, for whatever reason they decided to move on. That has been the case of countless people I’ve worked with through the years, and there are all kinds of reasons for it. Some people can’t take the grind, and others decide to try something different.

One thing that stood out about C.J. from my recollection was his intellect. The guy functions at a level far higher than almost anyone I’ve ever met. He’s one of the most intelligent people I can ever remember meeting, and that’s probably why he clashed with people in the comedy industry.

I’m nowhere near C.J.’s level, and I’ve had my own scrapes. He’s a very smart person, but also a moral one and most of the beefs he had were about ethics. Unfortunately, there are quite a few in the entertainment game that are less than Gandhi level when it comes to treating people fairly.

I hadn’t had contact with C.J. or Mary Ellen in decades, but somehow we reconnected through the magic of Facebook like so many others. It really is a terrific way to go back through life and get caught up, and I don’t remember if he found me or I found him. Either way, we’re in touch.

C.J. noticed I was booked at Laffs in Tucson this week, and he and Mary Ellen now live on the outskirts of town. He invited me out to see their setup, and said it would be a relaxing retreat into nature. They run a nonprofit organization that specializes in education and wildlife preservation.

It’s called ‘WOW Arizona!’ aka Wild Outdoor World. Their website is http://www.wowaz.com and they’re doing some of the most amazing work I’ve ever seen. I had no idea they were doing this, and it was one of the most memorable and pleasant experiences I can ever remember having. It’s as far removed from standup comedy as there could ever be, but there’s still showbiz involved.

C.J. and Mary Ellen have people come to their home and they act as tour guides to see the great wonders of the desert. They’re both walking encyclopedias of fascinating knowledge of the local terrain and terrific hosts who understand showmanship. They’ve put together a unique endeavor, and it was extremely kind of them to invite me out to see it. It far exceeded all my expectations.

Quite honestly, when C.J. said “come out and take a tour”, I assumed it would be a few minute walk around their yard and then we’d have lunch and talk about comedy. HA! Was I wrong, but that’s not a bad thing. I ended up getting treated to one of the most amazing tours I’ve ever had.

I arrived at their compound around 11am, and it’s at the end of a dirt road located on the north end of town. They are not far from Coronado National Forest, which is almost two million acres of untouched desert beauty. Tucson has a lot going for it, and I see why they chose to move here.

Mary Ellen greeted me and C.J. showed up a few minutes later in biking gear to begin a desert ride with one of their clients. It was a married couple from Germany who live in Quebec, Canada named Peter and Patricia, and Patricia was celebrating her 50th birthday. She and Mary Ellen had a hike planned, and they invited me to come along. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I said yes.

Mary Ellen loaded me up with a backpack that had ice cubes and a rubber tube that was used to drink water during the hike. I hadn’t planned on hiking that long, but this was a serious endeavor. We left around 11:30, and walked for HOURS. Yikes. About halfway through my legs were like noodles, but it was too late to turn back. I was in for a penny, in for a pound. I was lost in nature.

And what a spectacular place to get lost it is. We crossed into the Coronado National Forest for much of the way, and I can see why people fall in love with Arizona. There is one particular spot where we stood smack dab in the middle of hundreds of saguaro cacti, and it was like no feeling I have ever experienced. There was a distinct vibe and energy present, and it was awe inspiring.

Patricia has psychic abilities, and she said she could feel all kinds of energy going on there, and called it a ‘vortex’. I know I felt it too, and we stood there for several minutes to soak as much as we could. The stunning degree of absolute silence was deafening, but also majestic and soothing.

I don’t know exactly how far we walked, but it was several miles for sure. When we got deeper into the trip we went up and down some rather treacherous hills and my tongue was hanging out. I was using muscles I hadn’t used in a long time, and I felt every bit of it – but it was fantastic!

We met up with C.J. and Peter who were mountain biking another route, and we sat for a while and listened to C.J. tell us about the desert. The guy knows his stuff, as does Mary Ellen. She had been filling Patricia and me in on a list fascinating facts as we’d been walking, and the entire day was an educational jaunt. I hadn’t expected anything close to this, but I soaked in every minute.

After we got back, I thought I was going to drop over. Four hour hikes aren’t what I’m used to, but this was great fun. C.J. made us some delicious tortilla soup, and he’s a fabulous cook as well as just a warm nice person as is Mary Ellen. This is a day I won’t soon forget, and we graduated from acquaintances to friends. We had a super time, and I highly recommend anyone come out to experience this spectacular place. It’s like another planet, but one I would definitely call home.

I spent the day hiking through the Coronado National Forest in Tucson, AZ courtesy of WOW Arizona! www.wowaz.com

I spent the day hiking through the Coronado National Forest in Tucson, AZ courtesy of WOW Arizona! http://www.wowaz.com

It was a day filled with spectacular desert beauty. I felt like I was in a live action Roadrunner cartoon.

It was a day filled with spectacular desert beauty. I felt like I was in a live action Roadrunner cartoon.

Mary Ellen Landen (left) and C.J. Vincent (center) were acquaintances I knew from standup comedy twenty years go. Today, we became friends. Thanks for the wonderful experience!

Mary Ellen Landen (left) and C.J. Vincent (center) were acquaintances I knew from standup comedy twenty years go. Today, we became friends. Thanks for the wonderful experience! It was like visiting another planet.

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The Maxwell Method

June 7, 2013

Thursday June 6th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Above all else in life, it is of the ultimate importance to me to be a quality person. A few would swear that I am in the final four of the ‘Guess the Antichrist’ tournament, but it’s only a few. I’ve never claimed to be perfect or even close, but when it’s all over I’d like to be remembered for the good I did and the happiness I spread to as many as humanly possible. It’s all that matters to me.

   One of the few things in my power that I can do that I think may have any kind of lasting effect at all in a positive way is to catalog and pass along all the painful lessons I’ve learned during my decades in the entertainment jungle. Hopefully it can help dented cans who have yet to be born to have some kind of a map to follow in the pursuit of their dreams. I had little help in my corner.

   I shudder to think what I could have been had I made better decisions, but it’s much too late to change paths now. I chose what I chose and did what I did, and now here I sit with the results. It doesn’t mean I’ll never catch a break, but I sure did take a long way around. I screwed the pooch.

   The most positive action in my situation is to freely list all the stupid mistakes I made, hoping I can help others who are coming down the pike for years to come. I know I’m not the first idiot to misplay his cards, and that coupled with some rotten breaks has put me deep into the trick bag of life. It could and probably should have been a much smoother ride, but it played out how it did.

   I started another blog about six months ago that has a growing number of articles that will help anyone who may be interested in attempting standup comedy either now or in the future. There’s a lot of practical and timeless information, and I know it can be of tremendous help to beginners.

   I call my program “The Maxwell Method of Standup Comedy”, and I am offering these articles at zero cost as my gift to the universe at http://maxwellmethodcomedy.wordpress.com/. I wanted to plant some positive seeds that will hopefully produce trees that will give shade long after I am gone. It’s the old theory of “teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” That’s my goal here.

   I sure haven’t made much of an impact in the comedy world. I’ve managed to squeak out a tiny living for decades, but that’s about it. I’m considered a journeyman at best, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about. I totally do. Every last lesson I’ve learned – I’ve EARNED.

   Maybe that was my purpose, and it’s all I can give. I’ve taken some big hits in my life, and I’ve learned some excruciating lessons on many subjects. I know well of what I speak, and if anybody is even halfway smart they’ll study what I have to say and if nothing else do the exact opposite.

   I’m in one of those frustrated artistic moods lately that makes me feel as if nothing I’ve done in my professional existence is or ever has been worth a flea fart. I don’t feel very funny and I don’t even feel like I’m a skilled writer. What I do know is what I am talking about is the correct info.

   I do have passion about standup comedy. I love to create, perform and teach it – even though at this time I still haven’t broken through to a level of recognition I know I have in me. I know I’ve got some natural ability, but I don’t feel even close to have discovered how to construct a career.

   If I’m supposed to learn a lesson from it I’m failing miserably. I’m highly annoyed, and it feels as if all I’m doing is losing valuable time. I was on a roll the last couple of days and cranked out four solid articles. I have a lot more to say, so hopefully somebody can learn something useful.  

Hail To The Mentors

May 16, 2013

Tuesday May 14th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   Hooray for the mentors of the world. They provide insight and wisdom to those climbing up an invisible and often difficult ladder, and all too often their unselfish efforts go underappreciated or worse yet not appreciated at all. I for one have always been grateful to my mentors, and still am.

   In the radio business, my main mentor when I started was Pat Martin. Pat is a radio lifer who is just as passionate about the business today as he was when I met him in the late ‘80s. He’s spent his life learning his craft like I’ve spent mine in comedy, and he knows what he’s talking about.

   I can’t thank Pat enough for all he’s done for me through the years. He was the first to suggest I give morning radio a shot, as he thought I had the natural ability to do it well. He lent me a tape program he recorded about getting into the radio business, and it was very nice of him to do that.

   We kept in contact, and eventually Pat turned me on to my first job in Lansing, MI at WMMQ in 1990. Another contact of his was Dan Balla. He was the Program Director there who needed a morning show in a hurry after his last guy had some personal problems and needed some rehab.

   Pat was doing us both a favor, and I ended up getting the job. It was shaky to say the least, and then Dan ended up moving on to another gig in Oklahoma City and left me in Lansing in a rotten situation. That station was as dysfunctional as radio gets – and that says a lot. It was an education of the highest order, but after six tumultuous months I’d had enough. I quit to return to comedy.

   I don’t blame Pat for the situation in Lansing, even though I still tease him about it. He wanted to see me get a morning gig, and I did. I didn’t get fired, and in fact they wanted to sign me for a new contract. I didn’t do it, and Pat was my main source for advice at that time. He really helped.

   Through all my roller coaster radio adventures, Pat was the one person I could count on to give me an honest assessment of what was going on. He was always proud of me for landing jobs, and told many people that I was a ‘comedic genius’. Hearing that from a third party is very flattering.

   One year when I was really down and out and between jobs, Pat and his wife Jennifer made it a point to invite me over for Thanksgiving and I’ll never forget it. Pat insisted we watch the movie ‘The Party’ starring Peter Sellers, which remains one of my favorite comedy moves to this day.

   I also have to admit that it was Pat that suggested I use ‘Mr. Lucky’ as my comedy persona. He was always making suggestions, and even though I didn’t always agree I appreciated him taking the time to do it. I knew he was always in my corner, and he was only trying to help me advance.

   Today is Pat’s birthday, and it was this day years ago when the Mr. Lucky incident happened. I took him out for a birthday lunch, and the waitress got my order completely wrong while getting Pat’s order – which was a lot more complicated – absolutely perfect. The more that went wrong, the more Pat laughed. He said “There’s your persona. You’re Mr. Lucky.” I knew he was right.

   I had a ton of other things to do today, but I couldn’t let Pat’s birthday pass without taking him out for another lunch. I drove to Milwaukee to hang out with him, and I was disappointed that he didn’t have a line of his disciples waiting to do the same. I’m by far not the only one he’s helped, but that’s par for the course with great mentors. They’re rarely appreciated enough, even though they’re constantly of a giving nature. If nobody else is grateful for Pat’s kindness, I certainly am.