Posts Tagged ‘headliner’

Practing The Craft

December 6, 2013

Wednesday December 4th, 2013 – Rosemont, IL

I had a fantastic opportunity to practice my craft tonight, and I took full advantage of it. I enjoy working whenever I can, but it’s a special treat to be able to have the freedom to experiment a bit and stretch my boundaries. That’s the only way a performer grows, and I never want that to stop.

Once I stop growing, I’m ripe. After that it starts to rot. I could have easily phoned it in tonight but that’s exactly what I was determined not to do. I was the headliner at Zanies in Rosemont, IL and that’s always a fun place to work. It’s one of the nicest comedy club venues in the country.

I was just there last night as the host of their ‘Ten Comics for $10’ show, which is going to be a regular weekly feature apparently. I’ll be getting some opportunities to host many of those I’m sure, and that’s never a bad thing. Any time a comedian can earn money on a Tuesday is a plus.

I’ll take work whenever and however I can get it, and to me that’s what being a professional is all about. I love the process of being a comedian, and quality stage time is the life blood of what we do. The politics and the travel can be cruel and inhuman, but that time on stage is our heroin.

It’s the whole reason we put up with the bad parts, and I’m not about to turn down a helping of it when it comes my way. Zanies gives me a lot of work, and I’m grateful for every bit of it. We are able to help each other, and that’s how I always thought life should work. This time, it does.

When I host shows, I always try to give every act a tremendous introduction and get the crowd ready to laugh and focused on the stage. I calm them down after a good act, and get them back in focus after a weak one. It’s never the same twice in a row, so being a good host requires focus at all times to make sure the show is the best it can possibly be. That’s what keeps me coming back.

Closing a show comes with a completely different dynamic. It’s not just a matter of doing more time and going on last. A true headliner has to take the show up a notch, and that’s not easy to do especially at first. The most difficult leap to make in comedy is from the feature slot to headliner.

The average ‘feature’ or ‘middle’ in a comedy club typically does about 25-30 minutes. That’s a daunting task in itself, and it takes years of hard work to put that much time together. Closing a show is a whole other level, and not everyone can do it. They may think they can, but they can’t.

A headliner has to be able to work around situations like having to follow a feature act that has similar premises. It happens on occasion, and it takes away from the punch if those subjects have already been touched on. It happens to me all the time, but I can work around it. It’s no big deal.

Another pitfall a headliner deals with in comedy clubs is that the cocktails kick in and having to deal with drunks becomes a much tougher issue. This has always been torture at any level of my development, but I’ve learned to deal with it with the best of them. I can defend myself handily.

Still another part of headlining is crafting a show that peaks at the right spot and is a complete performance rather than just 45 minutes of random clutter haphazardly thrown together without a plan. I had a plan tonight, and worked on several facets of my game. It was wise use of my time.

Standup comedy is a LOT harder than most people think. It's not just a matter of getting on stage and acting goofy. It's a craft, and takes a lifetime of dedication to become a solid headliner.

Standup comedy is MUCH harder than most people think. It’s not just a matter of getting on stage and acting goofy. It’s a craft, and it takes a lifetime of dedication to develop into a legitimate headliner.


Headline News

October 26, 2013

Sunday October 20th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

I’m finishing up another week at Zanies in Chicago, and it was very good on many levels. First it was a payday, and I can really use that right about now. Next, I enjoyed working with the other acts on the show. They’re all up and comers, and I always try to be kind to them whenever I can.

I remember when I started that it didn’t take many encouraging words from a headliner to go a long way in making me feel like I was part of the business when in truth I really wasn’t quite yet. It takes years of hard work to get real seasoning, but it sure makes a difference along the way if a headliner offers some words of kindness and encouragement. It’s my turn to do that when I can.

The headliner on a comedy show has a lot of responsibility, and it’s a lot harder than it looks to pull off that position. Everyone who does comedy wants to get there, but not everyone can pull it off. To do it well takes a lot of experience, and the only way to get it is by taking a lot of lumps.

Coming up the ranks in comedy is a brutal process, much like a butterfly working hard to peck its way out of a cocoon. It requires all available energy, and although it can appear to be horrific torture it is in fact what builds the strength required for flight. Mother Nature can be rather cruel, but there’s a plan in place for the bigger picture. The struggle at the front end has a payoff later.

There were three shows last night, and I wish I could have recorded them all to show those on the way up what can be expected. They were as different as different can be, but a real headliner has to be able to adapt to any situation. That’s why we get paid the most – the pressure is on us.

The first show was extremely tight. They had not eaten dinner yet, and were not in a laughing mood for whatever reason. They were stone cold, and the opening acts all had trouble with even getting their attention much less making them laugh. It got to the point where they brought it up and insulted them about it. This is a big mistake, but one I made myself when I was starting out.

I knew exactly what to do, and was able to win them over in a few minutes. I had experience to fall back on, and instinctively knew how to warm them up. By the end of the show they were on my side, and I had a long line of people afterward telling me how much I had “saved the show”.

I thanked them for their words, but I really didn’t save anything. The other comics haven’t had the experience I have yet. If they stay with it as long as I have, they’ll know what to do too. They haven’t paid their dues yet, and it takes a lot to know how to bring around a tight crowd like that.

The middle show was red hot, but that’s to be expected. That’s the money show, and everyone should be able to pull that one off. I brought my A game and “played the hits”. The crowd was in a great mood, and I brought home a rock solid show. That’s what a headliner gets paid for also.

The late show was rowdy. There was a bachelor party full of obnoxious drunken frat boy types, and they were very vocal. It spooked the openers to the point of them bailing early, and I’ve been in that scenario too. I don’t blame them, but again I knew what I had to do and went up there and took charge early. I barely had to deal with the group until the end, but by then I had established myself and it was easy to squelch them. It was a textbook night on how hard standup comedy is.

Standup comedy is hard - being a headliner is harder. Not everyone gets there.

Standup comedy is hard – being a headliner is harder. Not everyone gets there.

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

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.

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'

Check out my friend James Gregory ‘The Funniest Man In America’

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

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

Cruel Irony

May 30, 2013

Tuesday May 28th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   One of the most difficult positions I can think of to attain in all of the entertainment business is becoming a legitimate show closer in comedy clubs. The professional term that usually gets used is a “headliner”, but to me that implies that the act has some kind of marquee appeal or is a draw.

   There are scant few acts that can draw on name alone, and those that can usually opt for bigger venues than a comedy club. That leaves an entire subculture of acts most of the public could not pick out of a police lineup that travel from club to club each week making a living getting laughs from audiences who have no idea who they are before they step on a stage. That’s a tough order.

   I’m one of those acts. It’s taken a lifetime of paying serious dues to get there, but I have pulled it off. Even my worst detractors have to admit that I am a strong act, and when everything else is going wrong there’s a high degree of satisfaction that comes with knowing I’ve earned my status.

   Comedy club headliners are the Navy Seals of show business. The only way to get that status is to EARN it, and those that earn it rarely are paid what they’re worth. I don’t know how much the Navy Seals get paid, but I have to believe for what they do with the risk involved it isn’t enough.

   I think the same is true for comedy club headliners. We’re the ones who bring home the bacon week after week for the comedy club owners who seldom appreciate it. We have to be consistent enough to not only follow an array of questionable opening acts, but maintain a high proficiency level for an extra long period of time. It’s a job not for the squeamish, and not all can handle it.

   The average length of a headlining comedy club set is 45 minutes. Sometimes it can be longer – up to an hour, or even more – but rarely is it shorter. I challenge anyone who thinks they’re the least bit funny to get on a stage and entertain a room full of strangers who have been consuming alcoholic beverages en masse for even five minutes and see how tough that is. It’s no cakewalk.

   Then add on to that quite often the level of opening acts to fill the time before is often bogged down with less than competent wannabes who all think they should have been booked to be the headliner. They’re gunning for the position (and ever so slight extra pay that goes with it) but are rarely respectful of how difficult it is to have to be a level higher and be able to follow everyone.

   Closing one show under those circumstances is a feat in itself. Closing them night after night is downright miraculous – but that’s the job description. A strong headliner should be able to follow most anything, and still bring solid laughs for the entire time they’re on stage. That’s what we do night after night – at least the good ones. It’s hard as hell, but after a while we get into a groove.

   I have been a solid show closer for many years now, and sometimes I forget just how much of a sacrifice it was to get there. It’s an unbelievably rough process, but since I started that’s all I’ve ever wanted to become. Now I’m here, and I realize that nobody cares but me and the others that have paid the enormous price to obtain this elite status. We know how much it cost, but that’s it.

   The public really doesn’t know or care how tough it was. They want to come to a comedy club to laugh – or at least they did. Now the trend seems to be they’re wanting to see someone famous on any level. If someone has a two minute video on You Tube that goes viral, comedy clubs will book them to “headline” hoping they’ll put butts in seats. They might, but they can’t pull off the difficult task of closing a show. I can, but nobody knows who I am. Life can have a cruel irony.