Posts Tagged ‘entertainment’

Entrepreneurial Evolution

July 25, 2014

Monday July 21st, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Like it or not, a whole lot of us are going to have to get more entrepreneurial in a hurry. I have been interested in having my own business ever since I can remember, but it always took a back seat to being a comedian. It’s only been recently that I’ve understood that comedy IS a business.

What a dummy I’ve been, but it’s not too late to change. I always use the great James Gregory from Atlanta as the gold standard of comedians that understand the business side best, and I have yet to run into anyone better. The only close horse in the race is Heywood Banks, and then all of the rest of us are sliding around in a giant mud pit hoping to find a couple of straggling nickels.

There are a lot of stellar business people in the comedy field in Los Angeles, but I am thinking of road dogs like me. James figured it out early, and has been consistently at the top of the game for decades. Heywood has done well for himself too, and I respect both those guys enormously.

If they’re not natural entrepreneurs, they sure have worked hard at fooling everyone. They are both extremely hard workers, and it is no accident either one of them has achieved their success. They have handled their business well, and didn’t choose to play the Hollywood roulette game.

These are two shining examples of entrepreneurs in the comedy game, but I’m talking of life in general. Ma and Pa public are broke, and there’s no sign of relief in sight. They can either get out there are start some kind of a business or they can learn to like cat food. Times are excruciating.

My grandfather used to tell me horror stories about The Great Depression, and from all he said it wasn’t that great. He was forced to become an entrepreneur, and he did just about anything he could get involved in to try and feed his family. According to both Grandma and Gramps, it was nothing to joke about. Everyone was tense, and nobody had any clue if it would ever get better.

Well, it looks like history is repeating itself after all. The whole country is broke, and 99.999% of us can use some extra cash right about now. For most of us it’s not extra either – it’s all we’ve got. Prices of food and gas and everything else are rising steadily, and nobody I know is doing at least halfway decently much less kicking ass. Life is rather bleak, but there has to be a solution.

Reading about The Great Depression, there were people that made fortunes for the ages. There are people doing it today as well, but they were rich to start with. The rich truly are getting richer but I don’t see how I can get any poorer. I’m barely hanging on, and it’s not how I want to live.

It’s been a constant struggle to keep the bills paid, and the distraction that is saps my creativity for projects I want to do. I did get a couple of very generous gifts, but I used that money to erase a hefty credit card bill and stop the bleeding of that insane interest rate. Now I am right at zero.

That doesn’t mean some emergency couldn’t wipe me out again, and I am still dangling by the thinnest of threads. I don’t think a job alone will be the long term solution. I will have to earn my own fortune, as there is nobody that’s going to leave me theirs. A lot of others share this scenario and we all have choices to make. The law of the jungle is adapt or die. It’s not “like it was”, and it’s not going to be any time soon. Being an entrepreneur is in my future, so I may as well like it.

Tough times force a lot of people to become entrepreneurs against their will. I am going willingly.

Tough times force a lot of people to become entrepreneurs against their will. I am going along willingly.

My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is the standard bearer for road comic entrepreneurialism. He's the king. www.funniestman.com

My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is the gold standard bearer for road comedian entrepreneurialism. He is the KING. http://www.funniestman.com

Heywood Banks is far from a slouch. He has always had a solid grasp on the business side of things. www.heywoodbanks.com.

Another friend Heywood Banks is far from a slouch. He has always had a solid grasp on the business aspect. http://www.heywoodbanks.com.

An Extended Mess

July 23, 2014

Friday July 18th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

My life is an extended mess, and I don’t know how to fix it. It’s not messy like a lot of people, and in fact my mess is pretty boring. There are no drug or alcohol addictions or cheating on my pregnant wife with a secretary. But it’s still there. A mess is a mess, and they’re a bitch to clean.

I am flopping around desperately like a fish in a boat, with a giant hook in my mouth. My eyes are bugged out and I’m suffocating – with water just inches away. If someone would remove the hook and toss me back in the water, I would have a chance to start over. I would like that chance.

The hook in my mouth is being an entertainer. I have given up everything else in order to attain a skill level most never come close to, but it has put me in an unstable financial position. I can no longer earn a living like I have all of my adult life and my eyes are bugging out. I’m suffocating.

But water is just inches away. All it would take to turn my life around is one phone call with an extended run of bookings somewhere. It could be comedy clubs, casinos, cruise ships colleges or I could write for a TV show. I could also do radio. It’s not like I’m a total zero. I have a skill set.

The skill set I have is very specialized, and those that are at the top end of the scale are hauling in enormous bank. I don’t need that right now quite honestly. I’d be thrilled with medium money on a steady basis, but entertainment is a feast or famine game. I am smack dab amidst a famine.

There are few if any entertainers that don’t experience this at some point, but many have a nest egg put away to fall back on during the lean times. I had one started, and a nice one at that. Then I had a “worst case scenario” pop up in 2011 and health problems cleaned out every last nickel.

This was after getting blasted out of a radio gig in 2004 that would have paid great money and offered full insurance benefits so the crisis in 2011 wouldn’t have been nearly as devastating as it was. But it was. And ever since then I have been watching everything I have worked so hard for for so long dry up in front of my eyes. I know I’m not the only one suffering, but it’s still a mess.

How does one manage to clean up a life mess? It usually takes a while for one to develop, and it can’t be taken away in one fell swoop – even though that’s what most of us expect. It’s like the dieter that took a lifetime to put on that extra 100 pounds, but expects to take it all off in a week.

It’s not realistic, and in fact it’s dangerous to even try. There has to be a slow steady battle plan in place, and it’s neither pleasant nor easy. But that’s what it takes to achieve desired results, and it gets harder as one gets older because so many other things pop up and become obstacles also.
I’ve got so many problems right now I have no idea where to start. I do a little something every day on as many as I can, but then I look at how high the mountain is and I lose hope. What’s the solution? I sure wish I knew. A steady income would make things a lot easier, but how to get it?

I’m working on getting a resume out to ‘normal’ jobs, but I can’t lie. My heart isn’t in it. I need stability, but I sure don’t want to do it this way. Landing another radio gig that lasts several years would be ideal, but who is passing those out these days? Nobody. Back to cleaning up my mess.

Sometimes I feel like a fish sitting at the bottom of the boat - with water just inches away.

Sometimes I feel like a fish sitting at the bottom of the boat – with water just inches away.

Still Flying High

July 5, 2014

Friday July 4th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I’m still on a high from the show last night at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont, IL. No matter how many problems I have or how low I may feel on a given day, having shows like that is what keeps me above ground. I don’t see why I can’t experience that more regularly, like every week.

If I had my way – but I rarely do – I would be on stage every night of my life that I was able to stand even halfway erect and talk into a microphone – but only if I have the circumstances I had last night. It was a stellar venue with world class lights and sound, and people were there to see a show. When those criteria are met, I can almost always exceed their expectations and then some.

The misery comes when it’s some low rent hell hole blood and guts roadhouse dive that has no idea of how to run a show, but tries to anyway. It’s a chore to get anyone to shut up and listen for more than thirty seconds, and at the end of the night it makes me question why I was ever born.

Those aren’t the places to do real comedy, they’re just a chance for everyone to make a couple of relatively quick bucks. Notice I didn’t say easy – just relatively quick. The pain only lasts for about an hour onstage in situations like that, but can leave residual damage on the soul forever.

As much as I want to do shows like last night every night until I can no longer stand by myself, I don’t ever want to work the toilets again. I’ve long past my time of doing them, but sometimes I have to suck it up and do it for the money. Does that make me a whore? Unfortunately, it does.

It’s well and good to stand firm and be an ‘artiste’, but for most of us it’s not realistic – at least not these days. Absolutely ANY paying gig has to be considered by most of us working the road, and the quality is getting lower by the week. So is the pay. Nights like last night are a rare treat.

The one and only way to make things change for the better is to become a draw that enough of the public is familiar with and will buy tickets to see me. It doesn’t have to be anywhere close to the whole public, but it does have to be enough to sell tickets every week. That’s super difficult.

This has nothing to do with ego, although it is a blow to anybody’s that they aren’t able to fill a 50 seat room more than once a year. This is strictly business, and business often has very little or nothing to do with the show. But without a show, someone’s business won’t endure for the ages.

I’m in the same pickle barrel I’ve been in for years. I have a rock solid act, but nobody knows who I am so I can’t get a chance to prove it on a consistent basis. I’ve been too busy out making a living to get in front of the right people, and those people I have gotten in front of didn’t think I was what they were looking for – even though most people have no idea what they’re looking at.

A show like last night would have been a perfect example of one to have had when somebody with power was in the audience. I was up and down a dozen times, and kept the show rolling on many levels. Somebody with smart eyes would have seen that and plugged me in to something.

Too bad for me, they weren’t there. They’re never there when I rip it up, and that’s what makes me so frustrated. I KNOW I can do this, and so do a lot of others – especially all my detractors.

I'm learning as I get older to savor the good times. The tide will turn soon enough. When life goes well, it needs to be savored for all it's worth.

I’m learning as I get older to savor the good times. The tide will turn soon enough. When life goes well, it needs to be appreciated.

Butts In Seats

July 4, 2014

Monday June 30th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

It’s Half Year’s Eve, and if I owned a bar or comedy club I’d make a big deal out of it and milk it for all I could. Too bad I don’t want to own a bar or a comedy club, but if I did this would be a big night – at least on paper. The trick is always getting butts in seats. It’s damn near impossible.

I’ve said it before, but only because it’s true. I challenge absolutely anybody to create any kind of event whatsoever from scratch, and get at least 100 people to show up. I’m not even worrying about paying customers, I’m just talking about attracting 100 pairs of butt cheeks into one room.

The butt cheeks don’t even have to be attached to a head. 100 seats filled with 200 butt cheeks. That’s the challenge, and a monumental one it is at that. I’ve been trying to do it for decades, and I haven’t succeeded on my own more than a fist full of times. I have total respect for promoters.

There are too many variables to count as far as what can go wrong to spoil any live event. Bad weather can keep customers away, but so can good weather. If there’s a storm, people don’t want to leave the house. If it’s a beautiful night they might feel like doing something outside instead.

Time of the month can be a factor as well, in more ways than one. People get paid at different times of the month, but usually it’s around the first and the middle. If there’s an event later in the month, customers may have full intentions of attending but there’s just no more money to spend.

Sometimes with couples, “time of the month” can absolutely be a factor. That may seem gross, but it’s a fact. P.M.S. can mean S.O.L. as far as getting someone to come out and attend any live event. Nobody ever thinks about any of this unless they have tried to promote events themselves.

I’ve lost my ass so many times trying to promote my own various live events I have to sleep on my stomach. It’s uncanny how many times I have happened to be competing the same night with a major sporting event – or worse yet a minor sporting event that was only important in the town where my event was. I’ve been bankrupted by high school football games, bake sales and bingo.

Promoting one’s own events is an unforgiving mother – giving with one hand and taking with the other. Just because something works one way one time is no guarantee it’s going to work all the time. I’ve had weekends where one event goes well and I make a halfway decent profit, but lose it all and then some on the very next night when some fluke power outage closes the doors.

Bigger businesses have problems like this too, but they have much more of a cushion to be able to absorb the punishment of one night gone badly. If I take it in the shorts, those shorts may well be soiled by the following morning. It’s a risk to be a promoter of any kind, but there are rewards as well. If one is willing to roll the dice and roll up his or her sleeves, good things can be in store.

I’m going to start promoting my own shows in the very near future. I am willing to take a risk and lose if it’s for me, but driving hundreds of miles for someone else without a guarantee that’s worth my while is not what I need to be doing ever again. I did it far too long, and it never paid off. If I’m going to work for any clueless imbeciles, that imbecile is going to be ME. Nobody is going to watch over my career like me, so it’s plain old smart business. I’m ready to get started.

No matter the size of either, butts in seats is what the entertainment business is about.

No matter the size of either, butts in seats is what the entertainment business is about.

The Unenviable Fraternity

July 3, 2014

Sunday June 29th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Since I was already on the far south side of the Chicago area yesterday without a gig, I decided to call some of my friends to see if I could find anybody home. I don’t get that far south as much as I probably should, and I have a lot of people I haven’t seen in a while. Why waste the chance?

Tim Slagle was the first to call back, so we got together at his house in Dyer, IN. Tim and I are a lot alike in that we tend to polarize people, and then make it worse by not caring what anybody thinks. We have both burned a few bridges in our time, but that happens with a lot of performers no matter the genre. People with strong opinions who don’t have power tend to become pariahs.

If and when these people happen to catch a break, their past sins are often forgiven because of their newfound success. Everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon then, and that’s just how the game works. Tim and I are two examples of many who made a living, but never hit our jackpot.

Personally, I really like Tim both onstage and off. He is brilliantly funny, and even though his style is completely different than my own I am a huge fan of his work. He’s not afraid to ruffle a few feathers, and sometimes more than a few. That takes gargantuan testicles, and I respect him.

We are part of the unenviable fraternity of comedians that came through the boom years of the ‘80s but never got a sitcom. It seemed like everyone did – and there were quite a few – but there were a lot more of us that didn’t find our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and are now in our 50s and 60s wondering how we’re going to pay our bills next month. That’s not the place to be.

At least former athletes have a pension plan if they played long enough. I’ve been around three other genres of the entertainment business in standup comedy, pro wrestling and radio, and none of those three have any kind of financial security. One either makes it big or they starve. Period.

I was trying to figure out the actual number of long time road dog comedians that are now in a similar position, and I would guess it to be maybe three to five thousand. I am not talking about part time weekend warriors, as there are thousands more of those scattered across the continent.

I’m talking about people like Tim and me and all the others that came up during the boom and are now struggling to stay booked every week. That was never a problem before, but times have changed drastically in the last few years and that includes a new generation of wannabe comics.

The newbies of today don’t have the opportunity we did to get out on the road and earn a living at a young age. The work isn’t there for them either, and the whole business is changing. It’s the law of supply and demand in full effect, and unfortunately the demand has gone down while the supply has exploded. There isn’t enough quality work for everybody and there needs to be a cull.

I’m sure this process has happened in other businesses too, but I can’t think of any because this is the one that I have chosen. I was a ring announcer and promoter in wrestling and I’ve seen that business go through changes too. It takes a very specialized set of skills to succeed in that racket. Radio is another business on the slide for many reasons. I guess I just don’t know how to choose a career very well. I’ve had a long run in comedy, but I see the future and know I need a change.

Tim Slagle is a comedian that does comedy for smart people. He's one of my favorites. Check out his hilarious CD 'Europa'. www.timslagle.com.

Tim Slagle does comedy for smart people. He’s one of my all time favorites. Check out his hilarious CD ‘Europa’. It’s a classic! http://www.timslagle.com.

Bigger Fish Ahead

June 23, 2014

Saturday June 21st, 2014 – West Salem, WI

The times, they are a changin’. I can’t believe how drastic the changes are, and my entire life is being rattled to the core. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there are always aftershocks to have to deal with. Things that used to be a constant in life no longer are and it all takes getting used to.
This weekend I am doing a two night run of renegade commando style comedy shows with two of my all time favorite friends and comedians, Jim Wiggins and Bill Gorgo. I think the world and a few other planets of both of those guys onstage and off, and I would hang with them anytime.

Jim is a cancer survivor, and is coming back strong after recent surgery that left him without a bladder. He can’t travel like he once did, and his son Josh volunteered to approach local places in the area of Sparta, WI where they live to set up shows. Josh is in his 30s and has known Bill for most of his life. Jim and Bill were roommates in Chicago for years, and they’re close like family.

They have graciously brought me into the mix, and I’m flattered to be a part of it. We’ve done several shows in the past couple of years, and some have been better than others. It’s not easy to set up a comedy show, and a lot of things have to happen on many levels for it all to go correctly.

The venue has to be behind it from the start, and willing to promote from within. Most never do even close to what it takes, and then wonder why there’s nobody there on the night of the show. I can’t count the number of half baked productions I’ve been a part of, but I know I’ve had my fill.

Unfortunately, this trip added two more to that list. Last night we did a supper club near Sparta, and tonight it was a bowling alley in West Salem. Both venues were able to seat close to 100, but I don’t think we had more than 25-30 each night. Last night’s audience was mostly Josh’s wife’s family, and although they were outstanding laughers it didn’t hide the fact someone lost their ass.

I never like to see that happen, but unfortunately it rarely if ever has to. If a venue owner would listen to a promoter’s input and take the proper steps, there could be a full house where everyone is able to make a buck. It’s never an easy buck, and that’s where most venue owners get fooled.

They think by putting up a poster in their own place “word will get out”. NO. They have to put effort into promotion, just as they’d need to if they had karaoke, pool leagues or a new sandwich on their food menu. Live comedy is just the opportunity to promote something that is hopefully a unique product in their area. If done correctly it can be a consistent money maker for a long time.

These last two nights just weren’t it. Going into details as to why won’t change the fact that the ball was dropped somewhere. I don’t want to point fingers, as I’m past the point of dealing with all of this. I don’t need to be on stage that badly to suffer through such humiliation. I don’t think Jim and Bill agree. They had fun, and that’s great. I had fun being with them – but not the shows.

Between the three of us, we’ve got well over 100 years of hard earned hands on experience. To labor in front of 25 people a night just isn’t my idea of fun these days. We’re all beyond it. I love those guys and Josh too, but it would have been more fun to ride up and just visit without shows.

We got paid, but I still feel unfulfilled. In the past, I’d clench my jaw and keep slugging. Now, I really don’t care. I don’t need approval from anyone else. I would much rather handle my own business. It takes the pressure off. I want to cast for bigger fish, and this isn’t where they swim.

Jim Wiggins is a cancer survivor and one of the most experienced comedians walking the planet. He deserves to perform for full houses of loyal fans. www.lasthippie.com.

Jim Wiggins is a cancer survivor and one of the most experienced comedians walking the planet. He deserves to perform for full houses of loyal fans – and I’m a big one. http://www.lasthippie.com.

Bill Gorgo has paid his dues as well. He's very funny, and I'm a big fan of his onstage and off.

Bill Gorgo has paid his dues as well. He’s very funny, and I’m a big fan of his as well.

It’s All A Game

May 9, 2014

Tuesday May 6th, 2014 – Niles, IL

One concept I wish I would have grasped a lot sooner in show business – and life itself – is that it’s all a game. As wise as my grandfather was and as many lasting lessons as he taught, I don’t recall that one ever being on his list. If he said it I didn’t hear it, and I know I would have remembered.

Truth and fairness are not the determining factors for most of us, even though we’re taught that if we work hard and keep our noses clean spectacular things will happen. After a lot of lost years hoping that was the case, I am rapidly losing faith. I’m sorry, but this world is run by imbeciles.

Every once in a while someone with legitimate talent, morals and a giving heart slips through a crack somewhere and gets a nice run in the sun – but I have to think even that person knows it’s a fluke and against the odds. It just is. I wish this world were run fairly for all, but it never was.

My grandfather was a perfect example. There was not a more straight up spirit that ever walked this planet. Gramps cared about others and fought hard for what he thought was right. He treated people how he wanted to be treated, and worked hard at a job he really wasn’t fond of but it was what he had to do to support his family like he imagined an ideal husband and father would do.

He toiled and slaved at his job for the City of Milwaukee, and it came time to hand out a major promotion from within to supervisor. Gramps was totally qualified to do that job, but he lost out to another guy in his office that was a better ass kisser. I remember it crushed him at the time.

The reason this came up today is that my friend Marc Schultz organized one of his semiannual entertainer lunches. Everyone from magicians to circus acts to musicians to comedians shows up, and they’re always a lot of fun. Marc is a great guy, and I don’t know of anyone that doesn’t like him. He’s very laid back, and again treats entertainers like people and not farm animals. It’s rare.

The big lunch is held in November, but he’s been having a smaller one in spring of late. It’s at a Chinese restaurant with a private room, and we all hang out and tell war stories. This particular installment was well represented by a stellar lineup of Chicago’s finest comedy talent including Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe, Bill Gorgo, Skip Griparis and me. That’s quite the local all star team.

Other than Bill, the rest of us have worked at Zanies regularly for decades. Skip does musical comedy vignettes, impressions and original songs and is one of the most talented human beings I have ever met. He is world class great at what he does, as are Larry, Tim and Bill at the craft of standup. And I would like to think I’ve got a few marshmallows to bring to the camp fire too.

Between all of us, NOBODY is lighting the world on fire. We’re all getting by at best, but that is as far as it goes. I have huge respect for all those guys, but like Gramps none of them – or me – chose to play the game correctly. We thought just being good at what we do would handle it.

HA! There’s the killer mistake we all made. None of us chose to move to Los Angeles and stay there, and right or wrong that’s where “big time showbiz” happens. Eventually, anybody that hits pay dirt in show business on a big time will have business to do in Los Angeles. That’s how it is.

The fact is, Larry and Tim and Bill and Skip and I happen to like living where we do. It doesn’t appeal to us to play any stupid games, and that’s why we’re where we are. Talent doesn’t matter and rarely does. It’s nice if one has it, but not necessary. All that counts is how to play the game.

This is where it gets dangerous, because unfortunately this is the truth. Nobody wants to hear the truth – especially those in charge. They know everything I just said is on the money, but it’s the 2000 pound elephant in the room. It needs to be ignored, and I have never been good at that.

It’s also easy to get in a mental rut and let bitterness take over. That’s not good either, and it’s easy to do. I have seen quite a few people on a lot of levels rant and rave, and I admit I’ve been known to do it myself. I’m doing it now, but I’m trying to separate bitterness from actual facts.

Here’s an actual fact that needs to be digested by everyone that gets into the entertainment biz on any level: only a precious few ever really “make it” on a big time level, and luck is definitely one of the main ingredients. Hard work is another. Talent does have a place in the mix but there are a lot of talented people so it ends up being a given. Very very rarely is talent that important.

The whole “right place, right time” factor really does exist. It’s huge actually, and very few get themselves in that position either. Bill Gorgo is an example. He is a naturally funny person with an exceptional talent for not only writing jokes but punching up existing ones. He’s also a funny act, and probably could have acted had he chosen that route. He’s very likeable and looks good.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get started in standup comedy until he was 40 years old. He operated a trucking company his father started, and he was the only son so when his father passed it was the thing he felt he had to do. Was he “wrong”? Of course not – in life anyway. But in show business he didn’t play the game. Could he have worked at it part time? That’s hard to say, but I doubt it.

Also, he had a wife and daughter to support and he happens to be Italian and being close to his family is important to him. He helped care for his mother for years, and I respect him greatly for all of that. He did a commendable job in his life choices, but for show business he hurt himself.

He came up the comedy ranks in Chicago at a great time, but had a glass ceiling and was never going to move to L.A. like his and my generation of comedians did. Many of those people are on as solid of footing as there can be in the entertainment jungle. People like Mark Roberts and John Riggi may not be household names, but they have both played the game correctly and won big.

One would think they would automatically reach back and grab all the talented ones they could from their past, but it rarely works that way. Once in a while it may, but it’s not the rule. Chicago might as well be Uranus, and out of sight truly is out of mind. They have their own community.

This is just how the game works, and even though a few exceptions slip through once in a blue moon it’s pretty much a standard blueprint. If one wants to truly hit the big time, one has to get connected with those that make the decisions – and that’s traditionally where the trouble starts.

Who’s to really say what’s “good” in entertainment? Sports is easy to judge. If somebody can perform physically, they’re hired – even if they’re a detestable human being. Acting and comedy and music have a lot more grey area, and a lot of it is who gets the push from the source of power.

Another sad reality is that one is either really big or really small – no in between. I think all of us at the lunch today assumed we could be local stars in Chicago and live with that. Even that did not happen, and here we all are not getting any younger and left to fend for ourselves to eke out a living WAY out of the spotlight. We play the game or don’t, and each choice comes with a price. Is it too late to choose again? Maybe, and likely. The trick is to have a plan in place and work it.

Just like Monopoly, show business - and life itself - is a game. There are rules involved, and the winners learn them early.

Just like Monopoly, show business – and life itself – is a game. There are rules involved, and the winners learn to master them early.

Jay Leno

April 30, 2014

Monday April 28th, 2014 – Lake Villa, IL

Today is Jay Leno’s birthday, and I think it’s important to acknowledge exactly how huge of a career he has had. There have been controversial events surrounding him at times, but that’s not what I want to discuss. I don’t have enough information to claim to be able to speak intelligently on the subject. I heard what everyone else heard, but quite frankly none of that is my business.

What is my business is standup comedy, and Jay Leno was the absolute undisputed king of it at the peak of the comedy club glory years. He was in the right place at the right time, and everyone I came up the ranks with spoke his name in revered tones. He was the one everyone aspired to be – or at least his status. He worked the top venues for top dollar, and he worked CONSTANTLY.

I think the majority of the public has no clue what a work ethic Jay Leno has always had. I was privy to it through working with Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago and knowing the owner Rick Uchwat. Rick and Jay were very close, and Rick would always tell the rest of us how far we had to go to even get close to Jay’s work ethic. He figured it out early, and rode the wave to the top.

A lot of people choose to only look at his Tonight Show years, and base their opinion solely on that. That’s not the whole picture, just as people often judge Woody Allen on how he treated Mia Farrow and that whole situation. Again, none of that is my business and I have no right to judge.

Jay Leno was a huge success long before he ever got The Tonight Show, and had he not gotten it he would definitely not have starved to death. Money is one thing he mastered early, and I’m a fan for that alone. He found a way to get paid top dollar, yet he never coasted. He had two jobs at all times since he was young – one that he lived off of and one that he saved. That’s SO unusual.

I read several times where he said he saved every penny he made from The Tonight Show, and lived off the money he made in comedy. I did the exact same thing when I had my radio jobs, but unfortunately none of them lasted long enough to make a difference. I was always able to squeak out a living in comedy while I was doing radio, and I banked the radio cash. I see how he did it.

What’s so fantastic is that he did it for so long. At one point a lot earlier than most, he was at a place where he didn’t have to work if he didn’t want to – but he totally wanted to. He was out on the road constantly either opening for music acts or headlining from coast to coast. He worked it, onstage and off. I saw him live in the ‘80s and it was like nothing I’d ever seen. He was amazing.

I think he did somewhere around two hours, and it was rapid fire JOKES with zero fat. He had the crowd in his pocket the entire way through, and I was in awe. He brought the goods, and did it night after night after night. Young comics coming up the ladder today and those that may not have enjoyed him on The Tonight Show need to realize how great a standup he is and respect it.

What I found odd is that Jay is left handed. Many entertainers are, but he is so mechanical that I was surprised to hear of it. He’s also dyslexic and overcame that quite nicely. I have respect for Jay Leno’s tremendous accomplishments, and I wanted to make it public. He earned his success.

Everyone has their opinion, but the fact is that Jay Leno was THE KING of standup comedy during the boom years of the 1980s. Period.

Jay Leno was the undisputed KING of standup comedy during the boom years of the 1980s. Period. He earned it.

I Give Up

April 21, 2014

Friday April 18th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Not that I ever mistakenly thought I knew everything about anything, today wiped out anything and everything I might have thought I knew about the entertainment business. I thought I knew a lot more than I did, but now I realize I didn’t know a blithering thing. In short, I am a total idiot.

I received a phone call this afternoon from the person that booked me into the difficult country club gig I did last Saturday with my friend Bill Gorgo. Seeing that name light up on my caller ID made my tail pipe pucker instantly, because that usually means there’s trouble. There was no real reason to call since we’d been paid immediately after the show, so I was prepared for the riot act.

Private shows like this are always extremely delicate. It only takes ONE person upset to ruin the entire evening, and possibly put an end to comedy shows ever being done again. I have seen a lot of people overreact both on the client side and on the performing side, and I have enough time on the clock by now to know the only thing one can do is one’s best – and that’s exactly what I did.

Was I happy with it? Not in the least. That was a tight audience, and we were under extremely difficult circumstances with the lights and how the stage was set up in the room. Bill Gorgo is an excellent comedian and a seasoned performer. He knew the situation was going to be tough also.

The only thing we had going in our favor from the start was the person who booked us is also a performer – and a friend of ours. That can go either way though, as I’ve seen friendships dissolve like Alka-Seltzer tablets when somebody takes it upon themselves to break the rules agreed upon before the show. This particular show needed to be clean, and that was made clear from the start.

Bill went a little close to the edge, but he’s a pro and didn’t cross it. I’ve learned in my old age to stay far away from the edge line in shows like this, so if nothing else if they didn’t think I was funny at least that’s their only complaint. The number one deal killer is for a comic to work dirty or ‘blue’, and I can’t believe how many acts think that rule does not apply to them. Yes it does!

I don’t work blue as a rule, but once in a while some rants I do can tend to infuriate some folks – especially if they’re some crusading do gooder for the P.C. police. They can and do show up at any time completely at random, and again all it takes is one in a position of power to complain to the booker and it’s my head on a platter. And friend or not, that can mean losing future bookings.

I was going to take my medicine like a man, but I wimped out at the last second and let the call go to voicemail. I wasn’t up for defending myself, and I knew in my heart I really did give them my very best under the circumstances. I sweat all the way through my sport coat, and that should be proof enough. If they weren’t happy with it, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do as a remedy.

I waited a few minutes, but had to play the voice mail back because I didn’t want any problems to fester. If I needed to apologize, I was ready to do whatever was necessary. As it turned out, the call was to give me sincere kudos because the contact person said they loved the whole show, but especially my ending rant. Go figure. I thought I knew how to read audiences by now. I give up.

I thought I could read an audience after all this time, but I guess I can't. I give up.

I thought I could read an audience after all this time, but I guess I can’t. Those people loved me. I give up.

John Pinette

April 7, 2014

Sunday April 6th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

As if I wasn’t feeling low enough already, I got a phone call from a friend asking if I had heard John Pinette was found dead in his hotel room today. I hadn’t, and it struck a painful nerve in my heart. I have known, liked and respected John for many years, and while I won’t lie and try to claim we were close friends he was a comedy peer and we shared a stage on many occasions.

What freaked me out deeply was that I had just thought of him yesterday. I was between shows in the green room at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago last night, and happened to run across one of John’s DVDs laying around. John was a regular at Zanies, and that’s how we hooked up years ago. The owner of Zanies Rick Uchwat acted as John’s manager, and they were extremely close.

I’m not sure exactly what their professional relationship was, but John and Rick were a hell of a team. Both were loaded with natural charisma, and they could always be seen together when he worked at Zanies – which was often. I loved them both, and always looked forward to when they would both be around. John was a world class comedian, and I never met a kinder human being.

John had a March birthday like I do, and I tried to at least contact him on his birthday if I’d not seen him in a while. Rick had a March birthday too. I’d accidentally overlooked John’s birthday this year, and seeing that DVD last night jarred my memory. I made a mental note to get in touch.

Unfortunately, now I’ve missed my chance forever and I feel horrible. John was a super gentle soul, but did have some vicious demons. I could see he was in pain, and we talked about it often. It was hard not to like the guy, and I felt very sad for him when he’d tell me about his life story.

He was from Boston originally, and totally a dented can. Like me, he was a big time giver and those are the people that get screwed over the hardest. He told me of many instances where he’d gotten the shaft, and I know it hurt him. It should have, because he had a mammoth heart of gold.

Whenever he would play a Zanies, he was famous for buying food for everyone from comics to staff and even fans. One time I saw him spend $100 at Taco Bell, and that’s not easy to do. There was a lot of pain inside him, but he always tried to make others happy instead of wallowing in it.

I hadn’t seen John a lot in the last few years, but the last time we did cross paths I thought he’d looked as good as I’d ever seen him. He had an operation to keep his weight down and it worked. He was in great spirits, and we had a lot of laughs. I always felt relaxed and at home around him.

He possessed an off the charts level of likeability onstage and off that few if any ever begin to approach. He had ‘it’, and then some. He even opened for Frank Sinatra for a while, and that’s a powerhouse credit all by itself. He was an amazing talent, and I am lucky to have crossed paths.

His main credit was being the guy that was car jacked on the final episode of “Seinfeld”, but he was so much more than that. I salute his life and accomplishments, and I hope he is finally at peace. If anyone deserves it, it’s him. He had a heart bigger than he was, and everyone that ever met him adored him. I know I did – and still do.

There has never been a funnier - or kinder - comedian than John Pinette. He was beloved by all who knew him. I am one. SO sad to hear of his passing today.

There has never been a funnier – or kinder – comedian than John Pinette. He was beloved by all who knew him, and I am one. He was a giant talent with an even bigger heart.