Posts Tagged ‘Hannibal Burress’

Old Dogs And New Meat

January 25, 2014

Thursday January 23rd, 2014 – St. Charles, IL

There was a fall out tonight at Zanies Comedy Club in St. Charles, IL and once again I was the one called to fill in. I’m always grateful to get those calls, and I gladly said yes. The temperature was way on the wrong side of zero and my car barely started, but it was a pleasant ride to work.

I have always enjoyed working in St. Charles, and have been doing it with regularity since the club opened in 1989. I’ve seen several managers come and go, and like a lifer in prison I’m now part of the fabric of the walls. I’m a fixture, and there are several others in that category as well.

Vince Maranto is another. I have known Vince from the days of the first place I ever worked in the Chicago area called “The Comedy Cottage” in the mid ‘80s. That was a showcase club where an entire generation of extremely talented comedians cut their stage teeth, and I am honored that I was a part of that scene. What a blast. It was like being a musician in Liverpool in the late ‘50s.

I always liked Vince and thought he was a funny comedian, and we’ve worked together far too many times to count. He’s a headliner in his own right, but frequently works as ‘house emcee’ at Zanies to stay off the road. He was married with a son, and chose to be around. I can’t blame him for that, and in fact I commend him. Vince chose to make comedy work for him and that’s smart.

Mike Preston wasn’t a part of the Comedy Cottage scene, but he came around not all that much longer after. He’s another act everyone likes personally, and is also an excellent comedian that is able to close shows when needed. He also opted for the ‘house emcee’ gig because he helps take care of his mother in Crystal Lake, IL where he grew up. Again, who can blame a guy for that?

Vince never chose to make the move to L.A., but Mike did. He lived there for several years but decided to move back like a lot of people do. There’s no shame in doing it but it’s never pleasant to make that long trip home. I’ve done it myself, and so have countless others. It’s a cruel game.

Vince and Mike are two of my favorites to hang out with offstage, and I love their acts too. We have all seen each other’s acts so many times over so many years, we could probably recite them word for word by now. We’re three prime examples of what a working road dog comedian does.

I had no idea who I would be working with when I arrived at Zanies tonight, but was delighted to see Vince and Mike sitting around – and they were happy to see me too. We all knew we could relax and not have to worry about anything as far as the show went. That makes it a total breeze.

I happened to be the headliner tonight, and Mike was the feature. Vince always does a great job as host, but Mike or I could have easily done that role too. Any of us could have effortlessly fit in at any position, and I can’t remember the last time I was on a show like that. What a treat that is.

The audience tonight was mostly a group fundraiser event for a baseball team of some sort that is based in the western suburbs. There were a few others mixed in, but that group was the bulk of the audience. Vince, Mike and I knew exactly how to play it, and it came off without any hitches. The crowd saw a much better show than they realized, as there were decades of sweat equity put in by all three of us, and that just doesn’t happen every day. I’m proud to call those guys friends.

Right before the show started, Vince asked me if I’d heard about Pat McGann. I hadn’t, and he told me that Pat was taping his first David Letterman appearance tonight. I hadn’t heard that and was very happy for him. Pat is a wonderful guy and everyone likes him too – but he’s different.

Pat is not going to be a road dog kicking around for decades like Vince, Mike and me. Pat has big star written all over him, and I predicted that years ago. He’s got all the tools, and has put in his time the right way. There aren’t many that come along that are like him, and he’s on his way.

I’ve only seen it happen a few other times, but I was right each time I saw it. It doesn’t take all that much to see it, as it becomes quite obvious in a hurry. There are some people that show up at the right time with the right equipment, and they shoot up the ranks with little difficulty. It’s rare.

Frank Caliendo was one. He opened for me the first time he ever stepped on stage at a bowling center in Waukesha, WI. He was totally raw, but I could clearly see how that audience loved his impressions. I told him that night if he worked hard and stayed with it he’d take it to the big time.

Hannibal Burress was another. That kid has a load of natural ability, and combines it with one of the hardest work ethics I’ve seen since Frank Caliendo. Frank busted his hump and then some to get his name out, and Hannibal is the same. People with both those traits are extremely rare.

Michael Palascak is another. He’s done all kinds of TV, and is well on his way to a long career making big money doing something in the entertainment business. He might get a sitcom or have a movie career, but standup comedy has launched him to a higher level than most of us ever see.

Pat McGann is on that path as well, and tonight was his official launch date. I was told it won’t air until tomorrow, but unless there’s another 9/11 type story I’d say he’s golden. It might not be a big deal with the public, but he’s cementing his place of credibility within the business itself.

Like with pro sports, there are only a few of thousands that are considered legitimate prospects. Once in a while someone slips through the cracks and overachieves, but for the most part it boils down to a precious few at the top of the crop that are talked about and given chances to succeed.

In Pat’s case, he comes from a solid family that’s well connected on the South Side of Chicago where he’s from. I think his father is a judge, but I could be wrong. Whatever the case, he’s been groomed to be socially adept, and he totally is. Everyone likes Pat, and I see why he’ll be a star.

He’s got a razor sharp wit and is very funny naturally. He took a comedy writing seminar that I taught with Bill Gorgo years ago, and we immediately liked him then. It was obvious he was one of those rare ‘naturals’, but he also put in his time and worked at it. This is no surprise to anyone.

I’m thrilled for Pat’s success, but I also have to keep plugging on my road. I wasn’t given all of the gifts Pat was, and neither were most of the rest of us. There are a lot more Mike Prestons and Vince Marantos than there are Frank Caliendos or Pat McGanns. Dobie Maxwells are even fewer than that. My story is so out there, it stands eerily all by itself like Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. It now becomes up to me to play the hand I was dealt correctly and salvage as much happiness as is humanly possible. If I’m lucky, Pat or Frank or Hannibal or Michael will hire me as a pool boy.

Vince Maranto is one of Chicago's very best standup comics - and has been a friend for many years. He's a rock solid professional. www.vincemaranto.com.

Vince Maranto is one of Chicago’s very best standup comics – and has been a friend for many years. He’s a rock solid pro and I’m a lifelong fan. http://www.vincemaranto.com.

Ditto with Mike Preston. Mike is also the host of a very funny TV show called 'Psycho Babble'. I've been a guest several times, and it's always a blast. www.psychobabbletv.com.

Ditto with Mike Preston. Mike is also the host of an original and funny TV show called ‘Psycho Babble’. I’ve been a guest several times, and it’s always a blast. http://www.psychobabbletv.com.

Pat McGann recorded his first network TV spot tonight. He's on his way to becoming a big star. You heard it here first. I'm thrilled for Pat, he's a true talent and super nice guy. www.patmcganncomedy.com.

Pat McGann recorded his first network TV spot tonight. He’s on his way to becoming a big star. You heard it here first. I’m thrilled for Pat, he’s got talent galore and is a genuinely nice guy. http://www.patmcganncomedy.com.

Frank Caliendo opened for me his first time on stage at a bowling center in Waukesha, WI. I told him that night if he stayed with it and worked hard he could easily take it big time. He did, and it worked. Good for him. www.frankcaliendo.com.

Frank Caliendo opened for me his first time on stage at a bowling center in Waukesha, WI. I told him that night if he stayed with it and worked hard he could easily take it big time. He did, and it worked. Good for him. http://www.frankcaliendo.com.

Hannibal Burress is another rising star loaded with talent and a rock solid work ethic. I'm a big fan, and it's no surprise he's blowing doors off of everywhere he goes. He's a rare talent. www.hannibalburress.com.

Hannibal Burress is another rising star loaded with talent and a big time work ethic. I’m a huge fan, and it’s no surprise he’s blowing doors off of everywhere he goes. He is absolutely the real deal. http://www.hannibalburress.com.

Michael Palascak is another up and comer with star written all over him. He's also talented and has a super work ethic. www.michaelpalascak.com.

Michael Palascak is another up and comer with star written all over him. He’s also talented and has a super work ethic. Coincidence? Absolutely not. Success leaves clues. http://www.michaelpalascak.com.

A Hugh-mongous Heart

October 22, 2013

Monday October 14th, 2013 – Toronto, ON

One of the cruelest aspects of human life is that all too often those that have the most intensely focused desire to attain or achieve something are the ones that are never able to have it. I’ve seen it time and time again – including in my own life. There’s a cruel irony to it I can’t understand.

I wanted to be a professional baseball player from as early as one can comprehend what that is. I was a pitcher – and left handed at that. That is THE most desirable position to be if one intends to realize that dream, yet I still couldn’t manage to pull it off. It disappoints me to this very day.

Most of my childhood was spent throwing a baseball whenever and however I could. I had no preference if it was to another human or against a brick wall, I just wanted to pitch. I read books on pitching, watched live games and even obsessed as far as to keep my left arm out of the cold.

I knew for sure there was going to be a bust of me in Cooperstown at some point, but the only part that came true was ‘bust’. I didn’t make it, even though I did have a tryout for one day with the Kansas City Royals. They used to have a baseball academy, and would travel around to visit the other Major League cities and scout for talent right under the noses of all their competition.

I was 19ish, and cocksure of myself when I went to that tryout. I knew I had put in my years of preparation, and knew how to pitch. Unfortunately, that’s not what the Kansas City Royals were looking for – nor was any other professional team. They were looking for physical specimens to mold into the position they thought was best, and that’s something someone is born with or isn’t.

We all get standard and deluxe equipment with our packages in life, and not everyone likes all they get. Some of us get special talents and attributes included that we never expected, while the rest have to make do with what they get. Many more than don’t ever get what they really want.

I did happen to get a few tools in my box, and throwing with my left hand was one of them. I’d gotten that gift, but I couldn’t throw the ball as fast as a Major Leaguer needs to to stand out in a crowd. 80 miles and hour is not 90, and it sure isn’t 100. That’s what the scouts are looking for.

That’s why those that have it get paid so much, as it’s just plain not that common. Bull Durham is one of my favorite baseball movies because it shows exactly how random things are in life and in baseball. Kevin Costner’s character is intelligent and diligent and by all accounts should be the one with the big career. That’s not how it worked out. Tim Robbins’ character got the big break.

It’s not fair, but that’s the last thing life ever is. There are countless stories in every career field where natural talent or innate ability is required. Standup comedy is surely no exception, and it’s loaded with fiercely loyal aspirants who try as hard as I did in baseball but will never make it out of the low minor leagues if at all. Try as they might, they just don’t have it. It’s not in the cards.

I’ve seen this sad story play out from coast to coast since I started doing comedy, and I see it in my comedy classes regularly as well. It shreds my heart into confetti when I see someone with an unfaltering desire to succeed get out there and slug it out for years and not make progress. I wish I could make things even a little bit fair, but nobody has that ability. That’s not how life works.

One of the saddest examples of this theory was Hugh Neary. As I write this I’ve been teaching comedy classes for eighteen years, and have had more than 2000 students come through my class that has been taught at various locations. That’s a lot of people, and I have studied and observed all of them. Some of them ‘have it’, and others totally don’t. No matter what they do, it’s useless.

It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, and it doesn’t mean they’re failures in life or entertainment or anything else. All it means is that as far as standup comedy goes, they weren’t given that extra scoop of potatoes it takes to put them over the top. Like with baseball, it has to be a natural gift.

Tom Clark is an example of someone that had it. Tom was in the very first class I taught, and it was obvious to both me and the rest of the students that he had that extra scoop. He needed to be seasoned as we all do, but the natural flair was there. Hannibal Burress was another one that was easy to spot. He never took my class, but I saw him shoot up the ranks in Chicago like a rocket.

He’s doing really well for himself now, and I’m not surprised. He’s just like the Tim Robbins character in Bull Durham, except he’s a lot smarter. That kid not only has it, he’s LOADED with it. I don’t know if I have ever seen anyone else with a scoop as big as his. He’s a rare exception.

Unfortunately, Hugh Neary was not. He was just the opposite. He had about as tiny of a scoop of potatoes as I’ve ever seen, and no matter what he did it wasn’t going to change. He was given what he was given, and that was it. No amount of practice or dedication would ever change that.

That small tidbit wasn’t going to stop Hugh though. He must have taken my entire class at least half a dozen times all the way through. He could have taught the damn thing after a while, but he absolutely loved being around comedy and comedians. He loved the creative process, and he had an amazing appreciation for anyone that did have natural ability. He was a student of the game.

Hugh was without question THE most dedicated student I have ever taught. It’s not even close. He would show up early, and sit through everyone’s act and make dead on observations. He had an outstanding eye for what others were doing, but when he got on stage himself it was different. He had a hard time keeping his composure, and no matter what he tried he never put it together.

That didn’t matter to me, because I could see the lion’s heart that beat inside him. Hugh wasn’t going to give up, and after the first couple of times through the class I let him show up for free. It wasn’t hurting anybody by having him there, and he totally added to the class. His passion for all that standup comedy entails dripped off of him like the flop sweat he had when he was on stage.

Hugh Neary was born on October 14th, 1975. He passed away from a blood clot on November 20th, 2005, and I’m still fighting back tears as I think about it. I went to his funeral, and saw him lying in his coffin holding a microphone. His mother and sister were standing next to it and they didn’t know who I was. When I told them, they lit up and said how much Hugh loved my class.

There aren’t many in any field with the passion of a Hugh Neary. I will honor his memory with an award called “The Hughie” for my future students that show the most passion for comedy and all that it involves. They won’t be able to match Hugh though. Nobody can. He is the undisputed champion of all time. His heart was the biggest I’ve ever seen. Wherever he is, I hope life is fair.

NOBODY had more raw passion for standup comedy than Hugh Neary - 10/14/75 - 11/20/05

NOBODY had more raw passion for standup comedy than Hugh Neary – 10/14/75 – 11/20/05