Posts Tagged ‘humor’

Exploring Marketing Options

April 21, 2014

Saturday April 19th, 2014 – McHenry, IL/Volo, IL

Improving my marketing skills from the ground up is my mission not only this year but every other year that I am lucky enough to experience from here on out. It’s something all businesses need to succeed, but especially entertainers. We are our own product, and marketing is a must.

I have been lucky enough to have squeaked by for decades, mostly because I was in the correct place at an opportune time. I rode the wave of the comedy club boom of the 1980s, and was able to make enough to at least survive from late 1985 on. Some years were better than others, but my primary source of income other than a few scattered years doing radio has always been comedy.

That’s good and bad, but most people can’t see the bad. “You make your LIVING standing on a stage telling JOKES. How bad can life be?” Well, in a lot of ways that’s true. I always enjoyed the performing part of it, and I was never motivated by money. If I could squeak by, that was ok.

As it turns out, I could have more than squeaked by and it was my fault for not doing it. By all accounts, I should have had at least one recording a full ten years before I did. I actually thought about it, but nobody else I knew had one and I thought it may appear egotistical. What a dummy. Ego shmego. It would have been some financial security I could have used to further my career.

It probably would have been a cassette, but the form doesn’t matter. Maybe it would have been a vinyl record album. Or both. The point is, I would have been able to sell them every week and even at low numbers I could have hauled in a nice chunk of change over a ten year time window.

I was averaging at least 45 weeks of work then, and quite a few years I worked 50-52. It wasn’t always the best work in the best clubs, but say I could have averaged ten units a week sold over a ten year period. That’s 450-500 units per year at what likely would have been a $10 retail price.

On the conservative side, say that’s $45,000 over ten years minus say $2 per unit to make. That still leaves me $36,000 had I not touched any of that money – and knowing me I would not have. I’d have saved it for some kind of stunt nobody else would have done. It may have been a flop of epic stature, but that’s me as well. I’ve never been afraid to go all in. I have tasted defeat often.

What if I had spent that $36,000 on TV commercials somewhere or a full page ad in one of the trade papers? When was the last time you saw a comedian or performer of any kind spend money on self promotion? It just doesn’t happen – at least not without management or a recording deal.

There are obviously taxes in there too, and I realize that. I would report every last penny, as it’s just not worth trying to screw the government. I’d rather have a clear conscience and just pay my fair share. Whatever was left would have still been a nice bit of cash to use on some promo stunt.

I wasn’t forced to think that way then, as work was plentiful and nobody was selling anything other than their comedy act. We were ‘artistes’, and that’s great on paper but most of us are now certified vagrant caliber broke and wish we would have had our marketing chops on the way up.

Too late now, but it’s not too late to change. One thing I have that the newbies don’t is a whole lot of experience in front of audiences coast to coast, and a backlog of polished material that I am able to use whenever I need it. That’s part of what paying dues is about, and I’ve put in my time.

Now I’m looking to sell what I’ve been able to create, but in other ways than just saying it on a stage somewhere. What else can I do to get paid? I suppose I could write columns, and I’ve been doing that for the past few months in a publication called “Scene Magazine” in Fond du Lac, WI. My friend Silk Casper asked me to do it, and he’s been making sure I get a check every month.

It’s not huge, but it’s been steady and I guess I can say I’m a published author. I think. I’m not anywhere close to being a professional, but it’s a solid start and I am grateful for the opportunity. Branching out and creating a new stream of income for being funny comes in very handy now.

But I know there’s more – a LOT more. There’s both a flea market and an antique mall within an easy drive from where I live, and I took a lap in both today just to check out that scene. I have been going to thrift stores, flea markets and rummage sales for decades, but now I’m seeing them all with fresh eyes. I used to go there looking to score treasures. Now I’m looking to be a seller.

The marketing skills of the sellers at flea markets and antique malls are all over the place. Most are very poor from my experience, and have little to no people skills. Just a friendly hello when I walk past their display should be the bare minimum, but I’d guess maybe 10% or less will do it.

I went today just to observe, and I learned a lot. I went to the flea market first, and looked at all the displays to see which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t. Most of the stuff was thrown in an unorganized pile, and was difficult to look at. It took work to sort through all of the clutter to see if there was anything I’d want to buy. They made it hard for people to spend money. Not smart.

Even little things like business cards were missing. What if I was looking to sell something one of the dealers specialized in? Maybe I had a relative pass away that was a big collector, and I was looking for someone to help me appraise the collection. Whatever the case, 99% of these mutants didn’t even say hello and maybe strike up a conversation that could have led to a business deal.

One guy there had some old toys, and his display was a bit sloppy but still interesting. He had a pair of old Schlitz salt and pepper shakers that I bought for $10 and an old pair of Schlitz patches from the ‘60s or ‘70s that their drivers used to wear. I can use all of that for “Schlitz Happened!”

The antique mall was a little better, but not much. Most of the vendors that were there were not very talkative, and I found that appalling. They didn’t have to pester me like the stereotype of an old time used car salesman, but a friendly smile and a hello would have been nice. I didn’t get it.

I ended up buying a collection of 50 old ‘Fate’ magazines from the ‘50s through the ‘70s for $1 each, and that was a steal. They’re a great read, packed with tales of UFOs and the paranormal of all kinds. I’ll scour them for King of Uranus ideas, and keep exercising my marketing muscles to use in the future. I want to go out past Uranus, and find ways to make money when I’m sleeping.

I found some Schlitz salt and pepper shakers at a flea market today. I will use them for my one man show 'Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst" www.schlitzhappened.com.

I found some Schlitz salt and pepper shakers at a flea market today. I will use them for ‘Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst.” http://www.schlitzhappened.com.

The same guy sold me two cloth patches Schlitz drivers used to wear in the '60s and '70s.

The same guy sold me two cloth patches Schlitz drivers used to wear in the ’60s.

I also found some old FATE magazines from the '50s through '70s. The cool cover art alone was worth the $1 each I paid for them all.

I also found some old FATE magazines from the ’50s through ’70s. The cover art alone was worth the $1 each I paid for them all.

Michael Sam’s Club

February 11, 2014

Sunday February 9th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Well, it had to happen sooner or later and it happened today. The first openly gay athlete came out that will be a current member of one of the ‘Big Four’ professional sports leagues in America. To me it’s no big deal on a personal level, and in fact if anything I’m surprised it has taken this long.

Was anyone naïve enough to think there weren’t any until now in the history of sports? Really? Come on. Please get me a list of those imbeciles so I can sell them some swamp land or a bridge – preferably a two for one deal. Better yet, sign me up as the first straight male flight attendant.

From a life standpoint, I could not care any less about this story. I wish Michael Sam well, and quite honestly before today I’d never heard of him. He’s in for a hell of a ride to say the least, but judging from the interview I heard with him he seems like a sharp kid and will be able to hack it.

From a comedic standpoint, this is going to be a nightmare before it starts. Every no talent hack and his or her grandma’s uncle at open mics and on You Tube is going to jump all over this story and mangle it horrifically, all in the name of “humor”. I shudder to think of it, but it’s inevitable.

Every time there’s a huge story like this with any hint of shock value, count on there being lots of backlash in the form of painfully poorly placed “jokes”. I saw it first hand in Milwaukee when Jeffery Dahmer hit the world media stage like a sledge hammer. It spread everywhere overnight.

It only took a couple of days for a barrage of jokes to start flowing, but that was way before the internet. Life in general is at warp speed these days and this story will explode online and already has. He happens to come from a town called “Hitchcock”. Really. Do I need to go any further?

Hack comics and wannabes everywhere are salivating right now. They can’t wait for their shot to get on stage anywhere to display a lisping limp wristed mean spirited “impression” of Michael Sam, thinking it will be there ticket to the top. There’s blood in the water and the sharks are out.

More than a few somebodies somewhere are breaking their necks to make it to their local malls this very minute to have a number “69” Michael Sam jersey custom made to order. You think I’m joking. I wish I was, but I know it’s true. The latest hack comedy premise has been fully hatched.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good sick twisted politically incorrect downright nasty joke. I am all for slicing and dicing any subject imaginable – but NOT on stage. There are just some things that need to be left alone – or at least left to those with experience that know what they’re doing.

I have thirty solid years of hard earned experience, and I have no interest whatsoever in doing any Michael Sam bits or gay jokes in general. It’s not my style, and not what I do. I’m sure there could be some funny stuff there for someone, but for the majority of the herd it’s already passé.

I’ve been accused of being gay for years because I’ve never married. Did it ever occur to them that maybe I’m just an ugly bastard that has been rejected by the entire female species? If I were gay, I’d gladly admit it. I would also be able to dance, cook and my clothes might match at least once in a while. Leave Mr. Sam alone. But if there’s any comedic justice, he’ll be drafted by the Packers.

Michael Sam will be a household name forever because he's the first openly gay athlete to play in a major sport in America.

Michael Sam will be a household name forever because he’s the first openly gay athlete to play in a major sport in America. That’s his business.

That's his business, but unfortunately it will bring along some really bad attempts at humor. I cringe just thinking about it. Ugh.

Unfortunately, it will bring with it some really horrific attempts at ‘humor’. I cringe just thinking of it.

A Comedian No More

December 9, 2013

Sunday December 8th, 2013 – Island Lake, IL

When I started doing comedy in Milwaukee, all I wanted was to be the best comedian in town. I thought if I could achieve that, everything else would take care of itself. I’d eventually achieve my goal after several years of struggle, but it didn’t mean anything. I had been chasing the wind.

Then I moved to Chicago aiming to be one of the top comedians there. I realized it was a much bigger city, and claiming the top spot might not be realistic. Still, I did manage to become one of the top acts in town but it got me even less than it did in Milwaukee. I’d pursued the wrong goal.

I’m very proud of how far I’ve come as a performer, and there is a tremendous personal delight and satisfaction in knowing I have been able to live my original dream. Now I need to establish a new dream and make that one reality. From now on, I aim to be the very best MARKETED act.

Wow, what a difference that will make. I always assumed marketing would take care of itself, and if I was the best comedian around people would just find me. Nothing could be further from the truth, and what a painful realization that was and still is. The good thing is is that it’s fixable.

The first item that needs fixing is my title. ‘Comedian’ is akin to ’witch’, ‘leper’ or ‘pedophile’ when it comes to landing highly paid corporate work. Unfortunately, I clearly see why this is and I get it. The word itself has been forever linked to ‘dirty’ or ‘filthy’, and there’s no going back.

I had nothing to do with this negative association, but it absolutely exists and I need to avoid it like the plague for business purposes. In my heart I’m proud to be a comedian, but that won’t fly with those who hire entertainment. As with ‘gay’, the definition has totally changed over time.

Perception is reality, and I can’t change it. People who have a significant amount of money to spend on comedy related entertainment will gladly hire a ‘humorist’ or ‘humorous speaker’, but shudder at the thought of a ‘comedian’. ‘Comedians’ tell dirty jokes in honky tonks and saloons.

That’s the perception in a business environment, and I’m not going to try to fight it. I’ll let them call me anything they want if it will get me hired, but that’s when I’ll really shine because I have the skills to pull off exactly what they want. I have thirty years experience as a live entertainer.

Whether they know it or not, I’m able to deliver a funny show without swearing once. That’s a daunting task, to which any professional will attest. I was never a ‘dirty act’ in a club setting, but these people don’t know it. From now on, I won’t refer to myself by that term. It’s career-o-cide.

Next on the list of things to fix is finding out who books humorous speakers and getting myself on their radar with a positive association. They don’t know me from Adam but I’m sure there are a lot of mediocre acts in that area just as there are in comedy clubs. Being funny to strangers isn’t easy in any arena, and the supply of quality is always lower than the demand. I have to stand out.

My new ‘pit crew’ Eric Feinendegen is helping me in this area. He’s a speaker himself, and he comes from a corporate environment which will be a huge help. He’s got contacts with people in places I’ve never approached, and that’s exactly what I need. I’m finally chasing the right dream!

"Humorists" and "humorous speakers" get paid on average far more than "comedians".  I am no longer a comedian from this moment forward.

“Humorists” and “humorous speakers” get paid on average far more than “comedians”. I am no longer a comedian from this moment forward.

My NEW Business!

December 7, 2013

Friday December 6th, 2013 – Gurnee, IL

My future boils down to marketing, and I know it. It’s not a secret, and now it comes down to execution. Will I or will I not be able to sell myself to enough people to continue to forge out a living doing what I was born to do? I say I will, but I am going to have to rethink my methods.

The first thing I will need to do is assume I am starting all over – which in a way I am. I’ll need to put together a complete list of everyone I can find who has the possibility of hiring me where I see myself working, and then get my name in front of them in a positive way until they hire me.

A content filled up to date newsletter is going to be a must have for 2014. Building long lasting relationships takes consistent effort, but it’s so worth it when it works correctly. Zanies is a great example, as we’ve been helping each other for twenty years. That relationship has been win/win.

As much as I love them, that’s not nearly enough. I need to forge similar relationships with lots of people all over North America and beyond. Comedy clubs don’t pay nearly what the speaking field pays, and I’ve got enough true life stories and stage chops to make a mark there in a hurry.

There have been quite a few top level speakers that have come directly from the comedy clubs, and I know several of them personally. Dale Irvin, Greg Schwem and Tim Clue are all based out of Chicago, and they smartened up a long time before I did. They’ve all been speaking for years.

Todd Hunt is a friend who was never a comedian, but he does give humorous speeches and he is THE best marketer I’ve ever seen – with the possible exception of James Gregory. Todd and I exchange ideas often, and I’ve helped him make his speech funnier over several years. Now he’s making suggestions how I can market myself better, and I’m listening with wide open ear holes.

There’s a whole lot of work to do, but that’s not the problem. The key is to sort it out into what needs to be done in what order, and sticking with that plan no matter what. I look at it as if I were building a house from the ground up. There needs to be logical progression, or it won’t get built.

I’ll admit that’s been an issue in the past. I’ve intended to build a house, but instead of digging a foundation I might varnish a door or squeegee a window. That’s not the right order, and that’s why I’m in the position I am in now. I’m not beating myself up, I’m just assessing my situation.

A new year is just ahead, and this is a perfect time to be thinking about all of this. I’ve hung in there this long doing it my own haphazardly way, why not switch it up and learn from my many mistakes so I can achieve results I really want? I’m excited knowing I’m doing it right for once.

I met with Eric Feinendegen tonight to plot out 2014. He’ll be my pit crew chief as I transition into speaking and more corporate work. I have the ability, and now I’m putting my team together to finally get my payoff for all my decades of struggle. I know there’s a place for me somewhere.

The most important thing to remember moving forward is that I’m not in the comedy business. I mistakenly thought I was for thirty years, but I’m in the MARKETING business. Humor is my basic product, but comedy clubs aren’t the only outlet. It took a while, but I’m finally wising up.

McDonald's isn't in the fast food business, they're in the real estate business.

McDonald’s is not in the fast food business. They are in the real estate business.

Walmart isn't in the retail business, they're in the trucking and transportation business.

Walmart is not in the retail business. They are in the trucking and transportation business.

Dobie Maxwell is not in the comedy business. He is in the marketing business - and this is the age I should have known it.

Dobie Maxwell is not in the comedy business. He is in the marketing business. This is the age I should have realized that. I know now.

Healing With Humor

November 13, 2013

Monday November 11th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

This has been a rough year health wise for more than a few of my friends. It’s been no polka in the park for me either having to deal with my recent kidney stone, but that’s nothing compared to what some other people I know have had to face. Many are comedians, and it doesn’t seem right.

I would think since comedians provide a service to humankind we’d get some sort of free pass, but we aren’t exempt from the same health horrors everyone else faces. Sometimes it even seems like we get it worse, which I could never understand. There are a lot of people I know suffering.

Jim Wiggins had cancer surgery just a couple of months ago, and he’s having to get used to life with no prostate or bladder. He is now cancer free which is something to celebrate, but that came with one hell of a price. He’s recovering nicely from what I hear, and hopes to work again soon.

Scot Wickmann is another comedian friend who has been dealing with health issues for a long time. He has been on kidney dialysis for quite a while, and recently he had triple bypass surgery. That’s serious enough, but apparently there was an infection and he had to have more surgery.

Bill Gorgo has been getting updates from Scot’s wife Jackie, and she said Scot just had one of two more surgeries he needs and everything went smoothly. He had an abscess on an artery, and that sounds frightening. I don’t have details and the last thing I ever want to do is bother Jackie.

The bottom line is, even if his next surgery goes well he’ll be lucky to be out of the hospital by Christmas. Crikey. I thought the eight or nine days I spent in the hospital for my surgery in 2011 was horrific – and it was. I can’t begin to imagine having to be in a hospital bed for six weeks.

Again, my problems really aren’t problems compared to what Jim and Scot and so many others are going through, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of them. There are a lot of people in a lot worse shape than me, and I want to help comfort them if I can. It’s all about human kindness.

All that actually matters in life is what we are able to give – especially to those that truly are in need. What could I do myself or help to organize that will make someone’s life even a little more pleasant when there’s a long road of recovery ahead? There has to be some way of reaching out.

I was delighted to be able to organize the big benefit comedy show last October for Milwaukee Police Officer Josh Albert after he was almost killed by a drunk driver going the opposite way on a freeway on ramp. His injuries were beyond a nightmare, but we were able to assist financially.

Peter Jest of Shank Hall in Milwaukee donated the hall, and the all comedians donated our time to perform. Drew Olson was a fabulous host that night, and Officer Albert’s work partner and my cousin Katie Anderer and her whole family got the word out to make it a success. We received a blanket of media coverage as well, and it ended up being a successful event that helped someone.

That’s what life is about. Period. I know we all need to pay our bills, but after that it’s what we are able to give that has any lasting meaning. Seeing my personal friends having to endure all of the personal hell they’ve been through makes me want to jump up and take action to help them.

But what could that be? I’d like it to be comedy related somehow, but I don’t think doing a live show is the answer. I would gladly volunteer to do it in a second if that would help, but it doesn’t strike me as the solution. I think there needs to be something that is able to reach more shut ins.

Scot Wickmann is going to be laid up in bed for a while. Even if he wanted to see a live show I doubt if he could make it unless they wheeled his bed right into the performance area. I’d be fine with it, but I can’t see it happening. A room full of beds with people from ICU would be silly.

It’s hard enough to be funny in a traditional comedy setting, but this would be off the charts to try and pry laughs out of hospital patients. That’s not what I had in mind. I would like to create a product that could be used to touch people depending on their condition, and that’s a wide scope.

One idea I had would be to interview comedians who have endured health issues, and try to put a comedic perspective on things that as a rule aren’t funny. When I was in the hospital, I couldn’t help but notice there are a lot of potentially funny events that only someone who has experienced them could relate to. I bet it would be of great comfort to have a video for new patients to watch.

There has to be a way to produce a video of comedians telling their hospital stories, and have it run on a constant loop on one of the hospital TV channels. I’d bet there could be several releases over time, as a lot of comedians have stories. I’m sure some celebrities would jump on board too.

David Letterman went through major heart surgery a while back, and I’m sure that gave him an abundance of stories that are a lot funnier now that he’s fully recovered. Sometimes it seems like the situation is overwhelming while in the hospital, and something to offer comfort would help to put a patient’s mind at ease. I remember how I felt when I was laying there and it was a bad trip.

Another idea I’d love to pursue would be establishing a humor library in all hospitals so people could watch and listen to comedy as they recover. It could be standup comedy CDs and DVDs or funny movies or even written publications like Mad magazine or comic books. It could help pass the time for patients, and even the employees could use it. I’m sure a medical staff has stress too.

I realize that these are all pie in the sky dreams, but I want to put it out there in the universe so hopefully someone else will see it and act on it. Even if it’s bouncing an idea back at me, I’ll take whatever I can get and move forward however I can. This is an idea that has no time restrictions.

We always see photo ops where celebrity athletes go in and meet sick kids in the hospital, and I think that’s a great thing don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see more of it, but what better source of cheering people up who need it is there than comedians. This would be a way to really be of use.

I think this would be a great place to develop the King of Uranus character. It’s so goofy that it can’t help to at least get the attention of somebody in a sick bed and take their mind off their pain for the moment. One way or another, I really want to reach out and make a hurting person laugh.

Hearing of Scot’s current situation and Jim’s recent issues has brought this idea to the forefront of my thoughts. It would be a great opportunity to match comedians with recovering patients and I’m going to keep thinking of what I can do to get this ball rolling. Service is what life is about.

I want to establish a program for comedians to be able to cheer up hospital patients as they recover. Any ideas?

I want to establish a program for comedians to be able to cheer up hospital patients as they recover. Any ideas?

An appearance by The King of Uranus might be in order. It's always FUNNY when it comes from URANUS!

An appearance by The King of Uranus might be in order. It’s always FUNNY when it comes from URANUS!

The Detroit Domino

July 19, 2013

Thursday July 18th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’m ashamed to admit it, but being an active card carrying member of the human race thrills me less and less by the day. It’s supposed to be my job to find the funny in this world, but with every passing day I’m feeling that desire slip away like virginity in the prison shower. Life disturbs me, and I don’t know where to start. Every direction I look there’s a fire burning out of control. Help!

   The Trayvon Martin case is polarizing the nation. I can’t turn on my TV or radio without being subjected to two alleged ‘experts’ on either side of the argument throwing vicious verbal darts at each other, and I’m completely sick of it. There’s going to be a race war sooner than later in this country, and it’s going to get uglier than it already is. The tension level is rising to a fever pitch.

   In most normal scenarios, this is where humor should ride in like the Lone Ranger and save the day. Humor by its very nature eases tension – or at least it’s supposed to. Try slipping in a joke at the water cooler at work or a party of mixed company and see how it flies. You’ll be barbecued.

   I’m not saying this is a comedic situation, but unless some tension gets released there’s trouble on the horizon. Nobody I talk to is without a strong opinion in this case, and ALL of it has to boil down to race. Try as we might, there’s still a giant gap between races and it’s not just whites and blacks. Hispanics are in it too, and we’re going to eventually clash with China sooner than later.

   And if that weren’t enough – even though for me it’s more than plenty – the city of Detroit has declared bankruptcy. It’s been coming for a while, but today was the day. I’m sure there will be a tidal wave of jokes all over the place about it, and I’m sure there will be many that are hilarious.

   I’m all for a well constructed joke, but there’s a lot deeper significance here and I’m concerned too much to laugh. Detroit was once the symbol of the American manufacturing empire, but now it’s been relegated to laughing stock status. That doesn’t bode well for the rest of our fading land.

   You can’t tell me this will be the last major American city where this will occur. Detroit started the trend of severe urban decay in the ‘60s and other cities followed. I remember Detroit as a butt of jokes as a kid along with Cleveland, aka “The mistake on the lake.” Is it funny? Not anymore.

   Sadly, I don’t see a bright future for my home town of Milwaukee either. I sure wish I did, but I don’t. They’re following the same troubling trend most Midwest rust belt cities are, and people with any financial means whatsoever are moving out in droves. The only ones who stay are poor and can’t go anywhere else. Pretty soon, the Detroit domino will start pushing over many more.

   I hate to be such a gloom slinger, but it’s just how I see it. How the hell can I be funny if these intense problems are flaming out of control? I find it hard – especially since a bad economy kills the entertainment business. If people have no money to spend, they can’t come out and see me.

   Never have I claimed to have any, all or some of the answers. Hell, I don’t even have a single one. But what I do have like everyone else is a need to earn a legitimate living. I’m not looking for handouts or special treatment, I just want to be able to practice my craft and earn my keep.

   That has always been a challenge, but now it’s getting to be downright brutal. This is not what I planned on when I started, and it’s not the same country I grew up in. Change? I didn’t want it in ’08, and I don’t want it now. I thought the America I was born into was working rather well.