Posts Tagged ‘heckler’

My Legend Lives On

April 6, 2014

Saturday April 5th, 2014 – Chicago, IL

Three shows were scheduled at Zanies in Chicago tonight – at 7, 9 and 11:15pm. There aren’t many venues outside of Las Vegas that do that anymore, and I’m probably one of few remaining hardcore halfwits that still enjoys the challenge. If I’m going to work I want to sweat, and this is equivalent to a marathon. It takes a lot of skill to pull off three solid shows, and total focus too.

The 7pm show is traditionally far more reserved, as most people are just getting out and many have not eaten dinner yet. I have to hit them hard, and often wake them up. The 9pm show is the ‘money show’, and is almost always sold out. That’s the prime spot in the week, and it’s usually the easiest and most fun. If a performer can’t nail the middle show Saturday, something’s wrong.

Then there’s that last one. That can be the killer, as the audience tends to be tired, well fed and often imbibed. Trying to break through all that can be very difficult, not to mention having done two previous shows already and not being able to remember if something was already said – and when. Only someone that has been in that situation can relate to that feeling, and it’s an odd one.

Sometimes doing two shows in a night can be confusing, as it can all tend to run together after a while. I know I’ve accidentally done the same joke twice in the same show, and the audience’s silence is an immediate indicator. I can’t believe this hasn’t happened to every comedian at least a few times, and I even saw George Carlin do it one time. It takes total concentration to avoid it.

I have enough material now where I can do bits only once in a night like this and avoid having to make it a major issue. It’s not always like that, and on the way up the ladder one has a limited amount of material and it can be a nightmare. By the third show, it’s easy to become totally lost.

It can be maddening, but I also think it’s tremendous training for someone that is looking to be a professional comedian. Three show nights weed out the weaklings in a hurry, and it causes one to constantly be on one’s toes the entire evening. Three shows mean three different audiences of three different temperaments, and often they react differently to the very same jokes. It’s tricky.

Call me a kook – and I freely admit that I am – but this has always been intriguing to me. I love to get out there and experiment in front of three audiences in one night, especially knowing there are zero guarantees I’ll be able to figure them all out. Most times I’m able to do it, but sometimes I’ll still have a rough one and that’s true for everyone. Nobody ever figures out every audience.

Tonight circumstances went way past standup comedy and reached a point where I questioned my very existence. I thought I had seen it all, but whenever I think that is when I will experience something that surpasses my boundaries of imagination and makes me realize I’m not in control.

Somewhere, somehow, some force in the universe is operating at a level which I am able to neither comprehend nor identify. Something’s going on over all of our heads, and there’s nothing any of us can do but accept it. I feel both helpless and frustrated, and the more frustrated I get the more helpless feel. If I hadn’t seen tonight unfold with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Things started off on quite the positive as I left home extra early, gassed up my car and found a gas station that was a few cents a gallon cheaper than the rest. That put me in a jaunty mood as it usually does – even though I only saved under a buck at most. I don’t know why that feels like a victory to me, but it does. It’s my personal revenge against OPEC, even though we all still lose.

The weather was finally spring like, and I drove into Chicago with my windows down and my spirits up. There was a run of great tunes on the radio for some reason, and I was ready to attack the stage and deliver three rock solid shows at Zanies. I expected to enjoy my evening of work.

When I arrived, I was delighted to discover the coveted but rarely open royal rock star loading zone parking spot on Wells Street directly in front of the club was indeed unoccupied and at my service for the evening. It’s free for any Zanies employee, and everyone fights to snap it up first.

I assumed I would be in for a stellar evening of laid back fun, but that’s when the fun stopped. The early show was one of the oddest I’ve seen in a long time. There was a group of a dozen or so that sat right in front and wouldn’t stop talking the entire show. They weren’t heckling per se, just commenting on everything any of us said. I didn’t fight them, and it evolved into a Q and A.

I don’t ever remember having to babysit an audience like that for an entire show, but they were not about to be quiet and I played the hand I was dealt. I received a healthy burst of applause as I left the stage, and people lined up to get the ‘I (upside down heart) URANUS’ bookmarks I have been passing out of late. I tried to be as polite as possible, but their bizarre behavior baffled me.

As I was walking back to the green room to wait for the second show, the power went out and left the entire club in the dark. I have been working at Zanies in Chicago since the ‘80s, and have never seen that happen before. It sent the staff into a temporary panic trying to locate flashlights.

We all went outside to discover the entire block on Wells Street was dark, and there was a long line of people waiting outside the club to attend the sold out 9pm show. I laughed inside because I knew there would be no show, even though I don’t know why I knew it. This was a Mr. Lucky story, and about thirty seconds later one of the wait staff said the same thing. My legend lives on.

They offered all the people in line some free tickets to another show another night with another comedian, and they dispersed peacefully. I was disappointed because I wanted to at least have an opportunity to rock the sold out cherry show of the week – but that’s never what Mr. Lucky gets.

We sat in the dark inside the club waiting for the lights to come on, and about 90 minutes later they did – just in time to seat the infamous late show. Tonight’s crowd was the absolute dregs of society, and they were blasted before they sat down. There was a big birthday party for a woman turning 40, and she was obliterated beyond recognition. She and her party babbled incessantly.

The other acts did their best, but by the time I got on stage there was no hope. They were loud and rowdy and nobody cared that any show was going on. Eventually the whole party had to get forcibly removed, and I stood on stage alone wondering why I was ever born. I still don’t know.

'Mr. Lucky' can be a really fun character to play on stage - but it's SO not fun to live in real life.

‘Mr. Lucky’ can be a really fun character to play on stage – but it’s SO not fun to live in real life.

It's kind of a cross between Wile E. Coyote...

It’s kind of a cross between Wile E. Coyote…

...and Job from the Old Testament. It's a combination of pain and frustration that's hilarious - when it's someone ELSE.

…and Job from the Old Testament. It’s a combination of pain and frustration that’s hilarious – when it’s someone ELSE’S.


Heckling Isn’t Helping

February 16, 2014

Saturday February 15th, 2014 – Indianapolis, IN

The good karma boat has been docking at my port quite often of late, and I’m not complaining. Today I received a call to do a last minute fill in gig in Indianapolis at a place called Latitude 39. It’s a huge entertainment complex with a bowling center, video arcade, restaurants and nightclub.

They book bands in the nightclub space, and have comedy shows on weekends. I worked there last summer, and it was a lot more fun than I expected. I was probably about due for a rebooking anyway, but the call came today because someone wasn’t able to get a flight from the east coast.

Fine by me. I had a super show last night that paid well so my week’s nut was already covered. This was found money, and who these days couldn’t use some of that? Indy is an easy drive, and I was able to get Dan Morris as the opener. It happened to be his birthday, and he wasn’t booked.

I really like Dan, onstage and off. He is very intelligent, even for a comedian. Believe it or not, that’s one trait that is virtually universal in comedians. Some of us may play an idiot character on stage, but very few if any successful comedians are dumb in real life. We might do dumb things – and I’ve tiptoed through those tulips many times – but we’re not dumb people. It can’t happen.

To perform comedy successfully, one must not only grasp a given concept or topic but also put a comedic twist at the end to get the laugh. That requires above average intelligence, even though the public would probably think otherwise. Believe it or not, it takes a smart whip to play stupid.

Dan is a college graduate, and reads a lot of books. He has a good relationship with his parents, and has worked in the corporate world for nonprofit organizations for years. He understands how marketing works, and works hard at it. Those just aren’t the ingredients of the typical comedian.

He started a little late, but he’s only in his 30s and has been doing it five years. He’s funny, but like all of us needs steady work to polish his persona. He’s still finding himself on stage, and that can be a painful process at times. Some nights it just doesn’t go well, and there’s no avoiding it.

Tonight wasn’t Dan’s best night, and I felt bad for him. I know he was giving them everything he had, but they just weren’t buying it. They didn’t hate him, but I don’t think they got anything he was trying to do. He struggled through like a trooper, and I’ve been there many times myself.

I’ve got a lot more experience, so I knew what buttons to push with these people. I was able to get them going up front, as I have a much higher energy level than most openers. That’s just how I work, and nights like tonight it really helps. I was able to take them to a higher level in a hurry.

What Dan didn’t have to deal with was a loud heckler who would NOT shut up. Why he had to wait until I got on is a mystery, but he kept yelling one word things like “CHEESEHEAD!” and “PACKERS!” for no discernible reason. After about twelve interruptions, it got to be a bit much.

I sliced him to shreds without being mean, and that shows how much I’ve grown. At one time I would have gone for the throat, but I knew it wasn’t worth it. This was free money, and I took it. And of course the halfwit had to come up afterward to say how much he’d “helped” me. Thanks!

Latitude 39 is a spectacular entertainment complex with locations in several cities. I happened to be in Indianapolis tonight, and it's a gorgeous facility.

Latitude 39 is a spectacular entertainment complex with locations in several cities. I happened to be in Indianapolis tonight, and it’s a gorgeous facility.

Dan Morris is an up and coming Chicago comedian. He does very intelligent humor, and is a super nice guy. Watch for him!

Dan Morris is an up and coming Chicago comedian. He does very intelligent humor, and is a super nice guy. Watch for him!

If you ever go see live standup comedy, no matter what the beers you've consumed tell you - talking back to the comedian is NOT helping. Can it.

If you ever go see live standup comedy, no matter what the beers you’ve consumed tell you – talking back to the comedian is NOT helping. Can it, or suffer the consequences.

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.

Kidney For Sale

June 16, 2013

Saturday June 15th 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’ve said for years that when doing standup comedy is no longer fun it’s time to get out. I think that point is getting close. I love the show part when it goes well – and in most cases when I’m at a legitimate comedy venue, it does. What I don’t love is the total insanity that’s everywhere else.

   That hour of heaven on stage used to make up for the 23 hours of hell it took to get there, but it hasn’t been doing it for me of late. Crowds are getting ruder and stupider at an alarming rate, and opening acts are so horrible – and filthy – I have to dig myself out of a gaping hole before I start.

   I did a show recently – I won’t say when or where because I don’t need backlash from the joint or the person who booked it – that was about as low as I’m going to tolerate it. It was poorly run, and there was absolutely ZERO respect shown for the art of standup comedy. I won’t accept that.

   There was no stage and no stage lighting in the room, and the ‘sound system’ was basically just a ‘Mister Microphone’ with one tiny speaker. The owner came up to me before the show and had a bit of an attitude. “I got the smaller sound system,” he said. “I mean, all you guys do is just talk up there. It’s no big deal. I didn’t think you’d need anything too good so I saved some money.”

   He also had the microphone stand with the elbow in it that’s used for musicians. That’s always a kiss of death for comedy shows, as it screams loudly the person setting things up is completely clueless. The right stands cost $20. No excuses. I usually carry one in my car for just this reason, but I left it with my current group of comedy students because they wanted to use it for practice.

   I was going to walk out right there, but I needed the money so I gritted my teeth and went to sit down and wait for the show to start. There was a sporting event on TV that particular evening, so of course they shut the game off at a crucial moment and that pissed off everybody in the room.

   The ‘host’ was a bartender who went up and literally brought out a book and read a dirty joke – and not even well. She stuttered and stumbled through it, and then brought up the opening act but didn’t even bother to get his name. She just said “Ok, here’s the first guy.” I wanted to throw up.

   She then went back behind the bar, and left one of the TVs on so people at the bar could watch the game while the show was on. It was a tiny room, and impossible not to see the TV’s light all through the rest of the room all through the show. I was praying for a terrorist attack so I’d avoid having to go on stage in this situation. I could tell it was going to be a long night, and it sure was.

   The opener wasn’t horrible at all, but had to work extra hard to get their attention. Thankfully, he brought me up rather than the bartender and I tried to figure out the logistics of the rotten mic situation so I could get my bearings. Of course there was a table of hecklers that started in, and it took all the restraint I could muster to avoid burying that mic stand into the fronts of their skulls.

   I politely asked them to be quiet, and then I had to bring out some artillery. I guess I shouldn’t blame them, as nobody told anyone to be quiet at the beginning of the night. This was not what I signed up for when I started out, and it’s not what I’m going to tolerate now. I have had enough.

   Yes, I love to perform – and I’m pretty good at it – but this kind of humiliation is not my idea of a career in show business. I did it for the money, but I also did it because I love comedy. I did not get to do my show because I was too busy fending off boozed up humanoids all night long.

   Nobody from the venue did anything, and those idiots probably spend a lot of money regularly in that place so there was no chance whatsoever of them getting thrown out. I had to keep telling them to be quiet every few minutes, and it totally took me out of any rhythm I tried to establish.

   My contract said I had to do an hour, and I did it to the second. There would be NO chance for anyone to say I went short and try to weasel out of payment. That would be worse than standing up there for an hour and fighting the circumstances, so I took my lumps and plowed through it.

   After the show, I went up to the opener and shook his hand and thanked him for doing his time. Many times openers bail in those situations, and then it’s on me to go even longer. He had every opportunity to do it but he didn’t, and that was very professional. At least he grasped the concept.

   Then in typical fashion of all bad one nighters, nobody could seem to find the person in charge who was to pay us so we had to wait around at the bar so everyone and anyone could wander up and tell us every worn out, disgusting, filthy, racist, badly told old bar joke there is as we waited.

   I was in the basement of hell as I helplessly stood alone – wishing enemy planes would fly over and drop a big old bomb on the place to euthanize the torture. The only satisfaction I got was that I knew all the jokes they were trying to put over on me so I waited until the very end and hit their punch lines before they could. That’s usually a rude thing to do, but it kept me from flipping out.

   I finally got my money – blood money – and tried to paste on a fake smile and thank the owner for having me. I did need the money, but not under these circumstances. Trying to tell them how to do things correctly is not my place. There’s no way that place should even think about having a standup comedy show, but someone thought it was a good idea so they half assed one together.

   I do put some of the blame on the person who booked the show, but most of them never care in the least either. They’re pimping us out to scarf a buck, and figure we’re ‘artistes’ and can handle anything. I actually like the person who booked this particular show, but it was still an abortion.

   Should I attempt to report what happened, I’ll be quickly jettisoned to the “hard to work with” file and never get a call again. That used to be an issue, but after this I no longer care. I wouldn’t want to do another show like this, as I’ve done literally thousands to this point. I’ve had my fill.

   Not all of them had this many things wrong with it though. I must say, this one hit the hell gig jackpot. I shouldn’t have taken the booking, but in fact I asked for it. It was within a reasonable distance from my home, and with gas on the north end of $4 that becomes a factor too. I thought I’d be able to squeeze out a quick buck and go home. It was a squeeze alright, but on my psyche.

   I’m at the point now I really don’t know what to do. The only thing I truly enjoy is performing, but there aren’t enough quality bookings anymore that make it worth my while. One can’t do this part time and maintain any kind of chops. To do any craft correctly, there has to be a consistency to maintain a level of quality. A weekend warrior won’t cut it – at least not at any big time level.

   I just can’t stomach the thought of having to do something else, but that’s a distinct possibility. Standup comedy has been my ‘stable’ form of income, and just looking at that in print makes me laugh. If that was my stability in life, no wonder I’m living hand to mouth like a lowly sewer rat. I could use a lottery win right about now, but I don’t even have the buck to buy a ticket. Is there any hope? I’ve got some decent work coming up, but nothing special. Maybe I can sell a kidney.

Heidi Ho

June 12, 2013

Monday June 10th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Once, maybe twice a year – if that – I’ll get an especially dark, nasty, venom soaked email from out of the blue. It usually has misspellings of easy words and embarrassingly poor grammar, and without exception gets sent under a made up email address that of course won’t allow responses.

   It usually prattles on about how I’m ‘going to get what’s coming to me’ and ‘how unfunny and lame I am’ blah blah blah. Most of them are pretty disjointed, and difficult to read because of the mangling of the English language. I might not be Shakespeare, but I try to make coherent points.

   I started getting them in 2004 when I was working at 97.9 ‘The Loop’ in Chicago, and I talked about it on the air. I have no problem if someone doesn’t like me personally, but I do find it very cowardly that they won’t sign their real name and give their contact info to allow me to retort.

   If I legitimately wrong someone, nobody feels worse about it than I do. If someone should tell me to my face something I did irritated them, I’ll be the first one to apologize sincerely and try to do whatever I can in my power to make it right. It’s never possible to please everyone, but I have no desire to have issues with anyone. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work as smoothly as I’d prefer.

   There’s always some snaggletooth self appointed crusader with a flaming bug up their keester that feels a need to “put me in my place.” Really? I matter that much to some anonymous scrub that they’d take time and effort to peck me an email hoping I die soon? Now that’s motivation!

    I hadn’t had one in a long time, but a couple of days ago a new one came. I could tell right off the bat because it was a comment on something I wrote and the person making the comment had the user name ‘heidithinksusuck’. It went on to ramble and babble as I’ve come to expect, and of course there were wishes that I ‘get what’s coming to me’ and the usual psycho claptrap. Yawn.

   Who the hell IS this? I can’t think of anyone I know now with that name. I used to work with a war pig named Heidi at a day job years ago, but we never had issues. Even if we had, it was long ago and I can’t believe she or anyone else would just pop up out of nowhere and spew such hate.

   There’s a deeply dented can here, no matter who “Heidi” is. Maybe it’s a ‘touched by an uncle’ situation or she knows someone who hates my guts. Who can say? As far as I’m concerned she’s some hose bag I don’t know personally. Or maybe it’s a poison pen name of someone I do know.

   I must say, in a warped and twisted way her laughingly feeble attempt at cyber scolding me for perceived sins really cheered me up. I’ve been struggling extra hard lately, but knowing that my survival pisses off pinheads I don’t even know makes me feel like I’m finally starting to make it!

  One of my all time favorite obscure bands Was (not Was) has various versions of the same song on a few of their albums. It’s titled “Woodwork Squeaks and Out Come The Freaks”, and I never get sick of hearing any version of it. This world is full of freaks, and now they’re seeking me out and sending caustic emails. How sad and meaningless are their lives if hating me is their hobby?

   My skin is as thick as a watermelon rind when it comes to stuff like this. I have stood toe to toe for decades with boozed up psychotic hecklers – and won, why should a rambling email make me do anything but laugh? Knowing I piss someone off that badly is a great boost to my self esteem. It gives me hope! If I affect idiots like this, I can affect others positively. Take your pill, “Heidi”.