Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

No Complaints

July 19, 2014

Tuesday July 15th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I am by nature a complainer. I think most comedians are to some degree, and that’s a large part of why many of us are attracted to the concept of comedy in the first place. Our minds tend to go that way anyway, so why not pick apart life in general and point out the flaws and absurdities?

It’s hilarious when done right, and I became skilled at it early. I used to pick apart school lunch every day in grade school, just because I thought it was funny. It was funny, at least to the kids in my class. I used to get them rolling to the point they almost choked on the food, and that’s about the best compliment I could ever imagine. Killing a kid would have made me a comedy legend.

Then one day out of the blue one of the lunch ladies got in my face and said she was sick of my smart mouth and told me to shut it once and for all. She said how hard they worked every day on a limited budget to feed us, and then I’d walk in and get all the kids laughing. She said it hurt all the kitchen employees, and they dreaded seeing me enter into the cafeteria. I felt like a giant ass.

I didn’t realize that my bitching had hurt those ladies, and that day I walked in the kitchen and said I was sorry to each and every one of them. I told them I was only trying to get the other kids to laugh, and I didn’t realize that I was hurting their feelings. I don’t know if they believed me at the time, but I absolutely meant it. I still do. From that day forward I never made another joke.

Granted, I’ve done jokes about school lunch on stage but that was decades later and in another state. The chances of any of those ladies being at my show would be astronomical. My luck they would be having a convention or reunion in the town I was playing, and I’d infuriate them again.

I often use this very forum to tee off on something or someone that grinds my gonads, and I’m sure I’ve turned people off with that too. I would love to paint a perpetually sunny picture of the world, but from my vantage point I just don’t see it. There are circumstances that befuddle me.

A big one I am painfully reminded of every day is my roommate Sheri. What a horrible hand she has been dealt off the bottom of life’s deck, and it sickens me to see all the pain and suffering she is enduring. She is out of the hospital after her stroke on New Year’s Eve, but her life is hell.

I am delighted that we were able to pull off a benefit comedy show for her, and I see the direct result of it every day. She has a chair lift that takes her up and down some stairs, and our event is what paid for it. Most of us don’t need to think twice about going up or down any single flight of stairs, but Sheri can’t do that by herself anymore. It’s a major deal for her just to get out of bed.

She has nurses that come over on most days and help her do the simplest things, and she has to take all kinds of medication that is very expensive. She’s on disability, and some of her medicine comes out of that. My rent money really helps her, and I do all I can to help her in any way I can.

It’s extremely sad all around, and sometimes I look at her situation and wonder why somebody so nice has to suffer such a cruel fate. Sheri is a kind soul and would never hurt a baby flea. I’ve known her twenty years, and feel an obligation to help. Yet through all this mess I’ve yet to hear Sheri complain even once. I’d bet few of us could take it so well. It’s time to shut my yap. Again.

It's easy to complain about just about anything. That's a habit I need to break.

It’s easy to complain about just about anything. That’s a habit I need to break yesterday.

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Generosity Times Three

June 20, 2014

Thursday June 19th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I haven’t forgotten about my daily focus on kindness, but today kindness happened to focus on me. I can’t say I’m upset, and just when I was about to throw in the towel that anyone else was in the game, in come three shining examples to remind me I’m not alone. I’m giddy beyond words!

It’s no secret that I’ve been going through some rough patches of late. Actually, they have been more than rough. It kind of feels like I have been riding uphill on the long and winding highway of life, and it’s a cobblestone road and I’m on a bicycle with no seat. And I’m not wearing pants.

Although I have a heaping helping of problems in my in box, the majority of them are a result or at least a byproduct of a lack of money. I’ve heard it said that if money can fix your problems you don’t have any problems. Well, I’d like to meet the halfwit that said that. I bet he was rich.

Money is an issue for a lot of us, and many times it’s not our fault. Many times it is as well, but I’m giving myself the benefit of the doubt on this one. I was on track to financial freedom when I had my morning radio job at 97.9 ‘The Loop’ in Chicago in 2004. I keep harping on that, but it’s the truth. It took a lifetime to land that gig, and I was in the right place at the right time for once.

The owner of the station then was Bonneville International – which is basically the Mormon Church. They are very good people to work for, as they treat their employees well. We were part of a long term plan that would have kept me employed to this day, and I’d be making big bank.

Jobs like that don’t grow on trees, and when the company unexpectedly sold out that plan was no longer in effect and we were bounced like a third party check. I’ve spent the last ten years in recovery mode, hoping to catch another break like that. Unfortunately, they are extremely rare.

The sad part is, the snake that fired us has NO clue and couldn’t care less what damage he has done to all of us that were part of the show, but that’s the cold hard business of radio and life in general. Precious few care about anyone else, and in retrospect it is the worst break of my career.

Well, today got at least a little brighter when I went to my post office box and got – count ‘em – THREE completely unsolicited yet extremely generous donation checks from people that know I’m struggling right now and wanted to help. I couldn’t believe it, and it made me weep with joy.

Two of the checks came from friends of mine, but the third – and by far the largest – was from an anonymous donor who reads my daily diary entries and wanted to help. He included his name in an email, but insisted he wanted it to remain anonymous so I will respectfully grant that wish.

This really gives me hope on a lot of levels. First, I will be able to make it through yet another bleak weak summer. That’s always an issue in comedy, and this year is not looking bright at all. I have a few things lined up for the next three months, but nothing earth shattering. It’s sparse.

Second, it takes the lion’s share of the intense pressure off of having to worry about how I am going to cover my rent so I can focus on more important long term goals like finding a job with health insurance, and completing the book I am working on. I can now focus on that for a while.

Thirdly, it restores faith. I have given money to many when I had it, and I didn’t expect it back. It’s the right thing to do sometimes, and this was one. I experienced the joy of giving, and so are those who helped me. It’s hard to match my joy though. I TRULY appreciate this. Thank you all!

Money sure does talk, and today I'm screaming in return. THANK YOU THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

Money does talk, and today I scream at the top of my lungs in return – THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

Gratitude Rules

November 30, 2013

Thursday November 28th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

I tend to be a complainer. A bitcher. A whiner. A pisser. A moaner. Call it whatever you’d like, it can be a formula that goes over like gangbusters with a comedy audience. I can get in a groove and roll with the best of them, and when it happens there are few comedians who can touch me.

It can be a lot of fun to point out what’s not going right on any given topic, and it’s therapeutic as well. The best thing of all is that the supply of things to snivel about never gets low. There are always new targets to attack, and that means I’ll always have something to transform into jokes.

This is all convenient in a comedy context, but in real life gratitude is the magic elixir. I’m off stage a lot more than I’m on, and there’s much more time to think. There’s a mindset that sets in both with those that complain and those that are grateful, and I’m tiptoeing on that very fine line.

Unfortunately, I can’t go on stage as a comedian and brag about how fabulous my life is. Who would want to hear that? If Mr. Lucky always scored with hot babes and knew how to choose the sleeper stocks that would pay off huge returns, what would be funny about that? I’d be obsolete.

On the other hand, if I was a motivational speaker and only talked about how everything in my life was in flames and miserable, how could I get a message of hope across? I have to keep all of my thoughts in their proper order, and know where I am at any given time. Life can be complex.

Today is Thanksgiving and I wasn’t booked anywhere, so gratitude was the main course on my personal menu. It wasn’t a day to think funny, and that’s fine by me. I spend plenty of time every other day looking for faults to turn into comedy, and I’ll do it again soon. Today was for thanks.

I had so many invites to join people for dinner I lost count. That alone is extremely comforting, knowing I have so many people that cared enough to extend an invitation. I have to believe they meant it, or they wouldn’t have made a point to ask. It’s not like I was hinting that I had no place to go, or showing up at people’s houses out of the blue. These people made a point to invite me.

This year’s winner was Bill Gorgo. I love hanging out with Bill for many reasons, but he’s one of the best cooks anywhere and I’ve sampled his amazing work for years. He’s Italian, and that’s the tie breaker in any close call when it comes to food. Stereotypes wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t at least a grain of truth somewhere, and from my experience Italians are the champions of chow.

The Germans do well in the cuisine department as do Chinese and Mexicans, but Italians are in a class by themselves. Good Italian food is hard to beat, as is the company with Bill and his sister Geneva and the friends they invited. There was an Irish couple that had adopted two Guatemalan boys, and they were delightful people. They told fascinating stories of all their extensive travels.

It was relaxing to sit and listen to everyone else, and not have to be the source of entertainment all the time. I enjoyed being the audience for once, and I kept thinking of everything I have to be thankful for starting with health. Yes I had a kidney stone this year, but it’s not hurting now and I can still walk and talk and see – even if it’s with glasses. I have a lot of great friends, and I live a life a lot of people dream about. There’s plenty to go off on tomorrow, but today gratitude rules.

Every day should be Thanksgiving for all of us.

Every day should be Thanksgiving for all of us.

Hidden Comedy Gems

October 5, 2013

Thursday October 3rd, 2013 – Rosemont, IL

Once again Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago have come through when I could use some work the most, and gratitude permeates my entire being. I’ve got several random fill in dates scattered through the rest of the year, and I couldn’t be happier. I can pay some bills but still remain local.

The openings are at all three of their Chicago area clubs and at all positions on the shows. One night I might be the headliner, and the very next I might feature or host. Normally that’s not how a club books an act and it’s a dangerous game to play politically, but Zanies and I have a history.

They know I’m a strong headliner, and I have nothing to prove. They also know I am versatile enough to handle any role on any show, and won’t bitch about not headlining. I’m there to earn a living, and also to work on new material in a productive environment. Being an emcee or feature in good rooms is the ideal place to work out new bits, and I’ll take advantage of this opportunity.

Every comedian wants to be the headliner, but it’s not easy to move up the ranks. I could write several articles about this tricky and delicate process, and I intend to in the not too distant future to benefit up and coming comedians. For now suffice to say I’m thrilled to get the local income.

I have several headline dates coming up soon, but this week I’m hosting three shows at the new Rosemont, IL location. I’m thrilled to be working with Carl LaBove, quite simply one of the best standup comedians in America. In my opinion, he should be a lot more well known than he is.

I’m always bitching and complaining about comedians I think should get more recognition, but I can’t help it. I know how difficult it is just to survive in this insidious business, but then there is a higher level of people with tremendous natural ability who are special. Carl is in that category.

I’m sure it’s the same with actors, musicians, athletes or any other competitive endeavor. There are all kinds of people who want to be stars, but very few have the ability, drive and luck to make it happen as they pictured. The magic formula is a combination of all three – and extremely rare.

I have frequently named all kinds of acts I think should be huge stars, and I mean it. My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is one. That guy hustles his business like nobody else, has a rock solid and hilarious stage character and can work clean. He should be on The Tonight Show, Ferguson, Letterman, Kimmel, Conan or any other show immediately. Find him at http://www.funniestman.com.

Steve ‘Mudflap’ McGrew is another hidden treasure. That guy is world class funny, and I can’t figure out why he hasn’t popped on a big time level. Jimmy Shubert is another gem. Then there’s Dwayne Kennedy, Steve Seagren, Tim Northern, Beth Donahue, Tim Walkoe, Larry Reeb and a whole lot of others who are out there making people laugh week after week. They’re all warriors.

Carl LaBove is right there with all of them. I first met him when I was just starting out. He was best friends with Sam Kinison, and part of the ‘Texas Outlaws’ with Bill Hicks, Ron Shock and a few other guys from the ‘80s. Carl has an amazing life story which I won’t delve into, but it sure is worth checking out as is his hilarious act. He’s at Zanies in Rosemont, IL the rest of this week, and I will be watching every minute of every show he does. He’s a master. http://www.carllabove.com.

Zanies is my 'home club'. They have been good to me for decades and I am very grateful.

Zanies is my ‘home club’. They have been good to me for decades and I am very grateful.

Check out my friend James Gregory 'The Funniest Man In America' www.funniestman.com

Check out my friend James Gregory ‘The Funniest Man In America’ http://www.funniestman.com

The great Carl LaBove - quite simply one of THE best standup comics in America today. What a talent - and a great guy too. www.carllabove.com

The great Carl LaBove – quite simply one of THE best standup comics in America today. What a talent – and a great guy too. http://www.carllabove.com

An Almost Anniversary

March 28, 2013

Thursday March 28th, 2013 – Atlanta, GA

   I can’t let today pass without mentioning it’s almost the anniversary of a very significant day in my life I thought I’d never forget. It turns out I haven’t forgotten, but it’s getting buried deeper in my memory than I ever thought it would when it took place twenty years and a week ago today.

On the night of March 21st, 1993 I was coming home to Milwaukee from performing a show in Antigo, WI when I flipped my Mustang convertible completely upside down and almost lost my life. I still don’t know how I managed to survive, but I did and every day since has been a bonus.

In what was one of the freakiest chains of events I have ever seen, a drunk driver heading west on Capitol Drive in Milwaukee somehow managed to knock an electric power pole out of socket and it caused live electric power lines to be drawn tight across lanes of traffic on Capitol Drive.

The lines were about two feet off the ground – perfect height to hook underneath the bumper of my Mustang and flip the car upside down. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and was in the left hand lane on Capitol Drive headed east at 19th Street. I saw the power lines in front of me but had no way to stop in time and I didn’t even try. Before I knew it I was upside down in pain.

Apparently, the drunk driver had hit the power pole only seconds before I got there. If that isn’t the ultimate Mr. Lucky story I don’t know what is. What are the chances I would be in that exact spot at that exact time? It’s beyond astronomical, but there I was. I heard later had I even been in the right hand lane on Capitol Drive I probably wouldn’t have flipped, but little good that does.

I have often gone over in my mind the details of what caused me to be precisely in that place at that time, and it’s flabbergasting. I had the opportunity to stay in Antigo that night, but I insisted on driving home. I had a girlfriend I really liked then, and we had a lunch date the following day.

We never made our lunch date, and it turns out I ended up never seeing her again. I ended up in St. Michael’s hospital with a twice fractured sternum, a broken jaw and a whole pile of problems I would end up paying for for years. I had six months of recovery time, and it was an ugly mess.

I don’t enjoy going back to that place in my life, and the farther I get from it the better I like it. I can’t believe I survived not only the accident, but all the circumstances that were around me at the time that went along with it. My best friend had robbed a bank he used to work at and I was the only one other than him that knew about it. Then he ended up robbing the same bank again.

There were all kinds of complicated twists and turns, and all kinds of things were going wrong in my life at once. That girlfriend was lucky she bowed out when she did and I wish I could have joined her. It wasn’t fun being me at that time, but who has a choice of the poker hand life deals?

I had more than my hands full, and looking back twenty years later I have no idea how anyone could have done much better under those extreme circumstances. I actually managed to keep my ship above water, at least enough to survive and be able to look back now and assess the damage.

That was an extremely difficult time in my life, and I was still working on recovering from my childhood which wasn’t much smoother. Chaos and disarray have always been main ingredients in my life’s recipe, but I still haven’t acquired a taste for either. I’d like some peace for a change.

There’s no doubt all I’ve gone through has given me a thick callous in some ways. It also helps explain why some people think I’m a bit harsh and rough around the edges. Sure, who wouldn’t have a few scars after going through the worst part of the hurricane? I’m working on it, but I still have a ways to go. I try to be as nice as I can to as many as I can, but I still have a few detractors.

I guess that’s how life works, but I’m not going to change who I am for anybody. I know I’m a good person deep inside, even with my flaws and shortcomings. I can sleep at night knowing I’m trying my best to earn an honest living and not hurt anyone. When I’m wrong I’ll admit it openly and apologize to anyone I need to. If they don’t accept it – and some don’t – what else can I do?

It’s nothing short of a miracle as to how far my life has come in these twenty years and a week since I thought I would be checking out of life as we know it. I was really down and out with not a lot of resources then, and if nothing else I have learned to be grateful for every little thing I get.

I was to the point of eating food from a shelter and having to learn to walk all over again. I had my jaw wired shut for a while and had to suck my supper through a straw. Still, I somehow made it through and here I am twenty years and a week later living a life I’m enjoying and still chasing dreams. There have been a lot of shaky moments in the years since, but all in all I’m doing great.

I’m doing extremely well considering where I’ve come from and what I’ve been through since that fateful night, but as much as I’d like to forget it the more I know I can’t. Who doesn’t have a list of examples of having to overcome obstacles in life? Mine are just more dramatic than most.

I could have easily died in that car accident, and I’m still surprised I didn’t. I clearly recall how people came running out of their houses after hearing the crash and I lay upside down trapped in my Mustang. I couldn’t yell because of my injuries and most of them thought I was dead. In fact I heard some people talking and they said it out loud next to me. “No doubt about it – he’s dead.”

With all my might I tried to holler something out loud to them know I wasn’t dead, but I didn’t have the strength. It’s all so surreal now, but it was very real that day. I knew right then I’d been given some bonus time in life, and from that day forward I would be playing with house money.

I even remember the Milwaukee Police Officer who filled out the accident report coming to my hospital room and telling me how lucky I was to have survived such a horrific crash. He told me he’d been an officer for 15 years and knew a fatality when he saw one. He told me to enjoy life.

I’ll admit that sometimes I still forget to do that, and that’s exactly why I need to remember the almost anniversary of that fateful moment that changed my life forever. It doesn’t matter how my set in Atlanta at Laughing Skull Festival goes tonight. Win or lose, I’m just lucky to be above the dirt still able to draw breath. I’m grateful for each one I have left. NOW I’m in the right mindset.