Posts Tagged ‘hell gig’

A Marketing Mark

December 12, 2013

Wednesday December 11th, 2013 – Island Lake, IL

I tried to come up with a rough estimate of the total number of people I’ve performed for in my entire lifetime, but it’s almost impossible to be anywhere close to accurate. If I had to guess on a round number it would have to be right around a cool million. It gets confusing, but let’s explore.

I began performing standup comedy in November of 1983, but that was once a week for maybe 40-50 if I was lucky. It took a while to get going, but by 1985 I was working steadily in comedy clubs six or even seven nights a week. That’s how most clubs ran then, and stage time was easy.

I worked year in and year out, even when I had my various radio jobs around the country. I was always diligent about getting on stage, and even though it was often a five to ten minute guest set I still count that as performing. That steady unfaltering consistency lasted roughly through 2010.

The last three years have been much slower, but it’s been that way for everyone. Few clubs are open six or seven nights a week as was commonplace in the ‘80s, and all too often my work now boils down to a weekend. Sometimes it’s only one night of that weekend. It’s just not like it was.

Some shows I’d perform for 30 and others 300 – sometimes on the same night. If I had to pick a number to average it out, I wouldn’t have a clue. Let’s just throw out 100 as a round number to start with, and multiply that by roughly 250 shows a year. Sometimes it was even higher, but for the most part that’s probably pretty close to how many it was the years between 1985 and 2010.

That’s 25 years of averaging around 250 shows a year for roughly 100 people each show. That adds up to 625,000 people, but who knows if it’s accurate? What if the average was 150? It may or may not be closer to reality, and that would bump it up to 937,500. That doesn’t count the two years it took to get up and rolling or the last three years where I did still work as much as I could.

And I’m not including any of the radio or TV I’ve done. I’m just counting live standup comedy performances, and to the best of my backwoods figuring capabilities I’m somewhere close to the one million mark of those who have seen me perform live. Out of six billion, I’d say that’s low.

Not only is it low, it took a lifetime to achieve it. Granted, I was told that the audience on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” reached about two million viewers. I don’t remember who told me that or even if it’s accurate, but that’s what I heard. I also was told our weekly number of listeners when I was on the morning show on 97.9 ‘The Loop’ in Chicago was around 250,000.

I’ve been on the Bob and Tom radio show six or seven times, and they allegedly have several million listeners in roughly 200 US markets. All these numbers don’t mean much, and I have no way of getting a realistic head count so I won’t even try. I’ll just say I’ve been around the block.

The point I’m trying to make is that my goal is to get $20 from all of these people. That could be a ticket to a live show, a CD, DVD or all three. Maybe it’s a t-shirt, baseball cap, fishing lure, codpiece or any other bauble or trinket in any conceivable combination. Live shows are fine, but merchandise is what shoots income over the top. All the great marketers are documented masters of “back of the room” sales, and I intend to be right up there with the best that have ever lived.

It’s not just a matter of hauling around a bunch of random doo dads though. I think there needs to be some thought put into it, and the products have to have something that sells them. I guess it could be called a gimmick, but I don’t want to rip anyone off. I want to find what sells a product and do just that. I have no idea what that is right now, but I intend to find out sooner than later.

Say my first estimate of 625,000 people was accurate for argument’s sake. What if I had begun selling a lot earlier than I did, and gotten $20 from only 10% of those people? That’s still the tidy sum of $1,250,000. Even after taxes, that would be a nice little chunk of change to have handy.

I started selling CDs in 2003, only because people were asking me for one. I did sell some, but also gave away a whole lot too. I thought it would get my name out there, and it has. I get people sending me emails saying they had a friend loan them my CD and now they’re a fan. That’s nice.

‘Nice’ doesn’t cut it however. Would it be that difficult to get their email address and put them on a mailing list? Not at all. Then they could find out where I’m performing, and maybe it would even be in their area where they’d come out and see me live. If I had other products, they may be so inclined to buy some or all of those as well. I have missed out on literally millions of dollars.

I remember having the idea to record an album back in the late ‘80s. NOBODY back then was selling anything once again with the exception of James Gregory and I have always respected his vision. Comedians used to poke fun at him for doing it, because they were ‘purists’. Right. Those ‘purists’ were too busy guzzling booze, snorting cocaine and chasing waitresses to be marketers.

I was never a partier, but I also never focused on my business either. I had more than my share of other problems to worry about, but had I been smart I would have done that album when I had the idea. Nobody was doing anything like that then, and even though it likely wouldn’t have been very good I bet I could have sold some just because I had it. It would have been worth the effort.

Brad Tassell is from my comedy generation, and he wrote a book called “Hell Gig” about what it was like to live on the road and do comedy. Nobody else had a book then, and I always thought Brad was brilliant for writing it. He sold them after shows, and I bought one out of respect for his effort. He was far ahead of his time, and it’s still available today. Find it at

Heywood Banks is another terrific marketer from the standup world. At last count there were 6 t-shirts, 9 CDs and a book available on his site at Actually, he’s from the music world but crossed over into standup many years ago. Most comedians are poor at sales.

James Gregory is a self admitted ‘salesman who tells jokes’. He’s another all star marketer that used standup comedy as his sales base. His site is, where you can buy his products 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The internet has only made the great marketers greater.

Larry Winget is a master marketer in the speaking world. He’s got a ton of books, and I always see his emails announcing a new one. His site is Dale Irvin is another one who has released a collection of books. I believe his total is 8. Count them at and sign up for his ‘Friday Funnies’ email and/or video. That’s another brilliant hook he’s known for. I have plenty of stellar examples to follow – now I need to make my own mark as a marketer.

It wasn't at first sight, but I'm growing to love marketing - or the 'business' side of my 'show'.

It was far from “at first sight”, but I’m growing to love marketing – aka the ‘business’ side of my ‘show’.

Hopefully, this will be the response I get.

Hopefully, this will be the response I get – figuratively and literally.


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.