Posts Tagged ‘game’

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.

Just One Pawn

September 15, 2012

Friday September 14th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL 

This here show business thing sure isn’t the glamorous carefree cakewalk people might think it is. I guess it might be for somebody somewhere, but not in my contact circle. Everyone I’ve been talking to lately is taking it in the shorts, with no signs of a turnaround any time soon. It’s ugly.

My haphazardly pieced together comedy booking schedule continues to blow up in my face by the day, and it’s a common thread throughout my peers. Today I received yet another happy note telling me a new one nighter in Lexington, KY closed after one show where only 4 people came.

This is disturbing news on several levels, but at the end of the day it’s one more night’s pay I’ll have t to find a way to live without. What makes it even worse is that I’m booked to work a show at the University of Kentucky in Lexington the very next night. It would have been a perfect fit.

I don’t think that’s ever happened even once in all my years of road dogging, and it would have been a nice little kiss from the cosmos. My reputation on the road – and well deserved – has been one of having the worst routing of anyone working. I wish it weren’t true, but it has been forever. I have notoriously driven hundreds of miles out of my way to pick up shows, and done it often.

I did it for years, thinking it would get me somewhere. I showed up wherever and whenever I’d get hired, and too many times to count I got there worn out from too long of a trip. But I did what I thought I had to do, and I don’t regret it. I busted my ass, and earned my chops like few others.

What good all those years of doing the hustle does me now, I can’t say. Nobody with power or clout who could help advance my career was ever at any of those shows, and all these years later I’m still struggling to survive by the month. Gas has doubled in that time and so has my age. I’ve spun my wheels literally and figuratively, and I don’t have a whole lot to show for it. I feel used.

That one nighter in Lexington would have paid for the hotel room I’m going to need on a night off that week, and also a chunk of the gas to get back and forth. I was thinking of renting a car to save the wear and tear on my own. It’s got high miles and could puke at any time. Why risk it?

Now I may have to since I lost this booking I thought I had. I’ve worked for that booker quite a few times over several years, and this is the first time anything like this has happened. It’s brutal, but I don’t blame the booker. It’s just how the times are right now. Difficult is how it is for us all.

Of higher concern is the other news I received today that the immediate contact person I dealt with at Carnival Cruise Lines is no longer employed in that position. I always got along with her very well, and we had been in touch of late to discuss going back out again this winter. I’m very sad to hear she’s not there anymore, as I thought well of her both personally and professionally.

I feel bad for her, but I feel bad for me too. I’m going to have to start all over again and there’s no guarantee the new person in charge will ever return an email much less book me. This is how the game works, and that’s what it is – a game. Life is a big chess match, and I’m just one pawn.

I don’t know why it has to be like this, but it obviously is. Something’s wrong somewhere, and it’s probably some form of trickledown effect from the top where’s it’s probably screwed up way beyond our feeble comprehension. We’re just the worker ants. The orders come from the queen.

But who really is ‘the queen’ anyway? Does anyone really know? No, I don’t mean Elton John and I don’t mean the President of the United States either. I don’t think that position is more than a high profile broadcast news anchor. The real source of power tells the President what to say to us worker ants, and he has no choice but to read what is put in front of him. That’s what he does.

I know I sound like I’m in the tin foil hat wacko patrol, but I really feel there’s a deeper reason for why things are the way they are. I thought that before I started hosting a paranormally themed radio talk show and the more I dig into topics like these the more disgusted with humanity I get.

It certainly does appear at least on the surface that humankind as a whole is absolutely rotten to the core, doesn’t it? It does to me anyway. Yes there are a number of good eggs, and I try as hard as I can on a daily basis to be one of them. But it seems like I’m in a painfully outnumbered band of gypsy renegades who are no match for the Death Star. Evil is everywhere, and it is in charge.

I’m not claiming to be perfect, but damn. They’re really making it rough out here. At least I try to think of and respect my fellow human being whenever I can. I make an honest attempt daily to follow the rules I was told we’re all supposed to use to play this game called life, but too few do.

I have a lot of valued friends and business peers that do, but they’re getting boned in the stinker dot as hard as or even harder than I am. What gives? Why does it keep occurring? I think it’s just plain wrong, but I have no recourse but to peck away on a keyboard and let my aggravation ooze.

I sure wish I could do much more, but I don’t see how. I can barely keep my own life operating week to week. What would I do with power? I’d like to think I’d do a lot of good, but who could guarantee that? I’ve always heard that absolute power corrupts absolutely. If that’s true, that’s an unbelievably disillusioning thought. It’s almost like we’re hard wired inside to screw the pooch.

So where does that come from? God? Here we go with that whole question again. Who or what is ultimately responsible for placing the human species as a whole on this planet has a deep inner flaw, and it has trickled down and pissed into the gene pool all of us share. Our DNA is polluted.

Maybe I’m taking this way too deep, and I hope I am. Maybe we’re just in a tough slump and it will all turn around as the pendulum of yin and yang swings back and forth as it has always done. Or has it? Has it always been this way and I’m just now tuning in, or are we all sliding down that giant cosmic commode faster than we’re able to save it as it appears? Is there hope for us idiots?

I don’t know if we’ll ever know, but I do sense a deep seeded feeling of something being really wrong and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better any time soon. My grandfather was a cynic to the bone. As a kid I couldn’t see his point of view, but now I think I see it clearer than he did.