Posts Tagged ‘improv’

Lights, Camera, ACTING!

April 16, 2014

Tuesday April 15th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

One of the first warnings I heard when I started doing standup comedy was “actor/comedian” = “neither/nor”. I think there’s a lot of truth to that to a certain degree, just as the Confucius saying “He who chases two rabbits, catches none.” The point is to focus on ONE thing and do that well.

I knew I enjoyed standup comedy more than anything, so that’s what I stayed with exclusively and never bothered to look into anything else. I’m not so sure that was the smartest move all this time later as I objectively look back on my life and analyze the decisions I made along the way.

I’m not so sure I’d recommend that to someone starting out now – especially with how life has changed so radically on every level. When I started, I could make a living exclusively in comedy by the time I was in my early 20s. Like minor league baseball, I wasn’t getting rich but I had the opportunity to learn my craft on the job and work my way up the ranks. That’s a lot harder now.

Then there was a time when Hollywood seemed to be passing out development deals to comics like candy at Halloween. Lots of people got off the road and moved to L.A. in hopes of being the next big thing. A few like Jerry Seinfeld and Drew Carey pulled it off, but a lot more struck out.

One of the big things that held a lot of comedians back was that they weren’t good actors. They never made it a point to attempt to learn the craft, and I can totally see why. It takes a lot of effort to be a good comedian, and that’s enough to keep anyone occupied for a lifetime. It sure kept my attention. Still, I don’t think it would hurt any standup to take a few acting classes and vice versa.

They’re very different crafts, and I’ll throw improv in there as well. That’s a whole other thing by itself, but the smart performer in the 21st Century would be wise to at least sample a little taste of all three to get an idea of what’s involved. Even if only for comparison purposes, I’d say do it.

Entertainment doesn’t seem to be so much about craft and skill these days as it is about getting famous. I’m not a fan of that formula, but I can’t fight it. That’s how it is. With the internet now a force that isn’t going anywhere, a lot more unpolished talents are getting exposed far too early.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have talent, I just think it can be a bad thing to be seen too early. It’s like eating green bananas. They haven’t ripened yet, and to eat them will give the one eating them a nasty case of the trots. The same is true with any acquired skill, but everyone is impatient.

I have a friend named Regina Prokop who is a legitimate Hollywood casting agent. She got me a part as an extra in the film “While You Were Sleeping”. Was I an actor? No, I was dressed as a mailman and walked past Sandra Bullock for a few seconds. Was it fun? Sure. Should I have put more effort into pursuing bigger roles? Absolutely. Credits like that can impress when added up.

Regina has put out a very affordable EBook called “Lights, Camera, ACTING!” I recommend it to anyone who wants the real scoop on how to get started correctly. I get nothing from it but to help a friend. It’s a steal at just $2.99. http://store.blurb.com/ebooks/371661-lights-camera-acting

My friend Regina Prokop is a real Hollywood casting agent. Follow her on Twitter @ReginaCast. Here she is on the red carpet at a big event.

My friend Regina Prokop is a real Hollywood casting agent. Follow her on Twitter @ReginaCast. Here she is on the red carpet at some huge event.

Regina got me a part in 'While You Were Sleeping'. If you rent it, I'm in there. Thanks Regina!

Her guidance got me a part in ‘While You Were Sleeping’. If you rent it, I play a mail man – but I didn’t go postal. Thanks Regina!

Regina's new EBook is a great way to get started in on camera work. It's a great bargain and full of useful information.

Regina’s new EBook is a proven way to get started in on camera work. It’s a fantastic bargain and full of useful information.

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Pulling Backup Duty

April 5, 2014

Thursday April 3rd, 2014 – Rosemont, IL

I’m pulling backup duty this week, and I’m glad to get it. I’ve got four nights of work at Zanies in Chicago at two of their locations, but unfortunately it’s where the action isn’t. Jeff Garlin from the shows “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Goldbergs” is in town, and I am backing him up.

Last night and tonight Jeff appears at the Old Town location on Wells Street, and I’m covering at the new Rosemont location. Tomorrow and Saturday it’s exactly the opposite. He’ll sell out all shows in Rosemont, and I’ll be in Old Town. There is an upside and a downside to this situation.

The biggest plus is that I am able to stay home and get paid. It’s not the heaping wad of money Jeff Garlin will be hauling in, but the factor of him being a draw and me not dictates our payday. I was grateful to get the call, as it could have gone to any one of a long list of needy comedians.

Times are tight, and this will put some much needed cabbage in my pocket that I can throw at bills one more month. There’s nothing glamorous about it, but it beats setting up at a flea market trying to sell trinkets I bought at thrift stores for a profit. At least I’m practicing my craft a little.

There were small crowds last night and tonight in Rosemont, but everyone expected it because of Jeff Garlin being in town. That’s where the focus was, and I knew that going in. I don’t know Jeff all that well, but we’ve crossed paths several times over the years and we always got along.

He’s more of an improv guy than a standup, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what he does, and he has taken it far. He was always a good schmoozer and understood the business, and those are the people that find their way on to sitcoms. Kudos to Jeff for understanding that.

I’m still struggling with that equation, and it seems that as I start to get the concept it’s going to likely be too late to do anything about it. I’ve said it before, but only because it’s true. I spent my time working only on my show as I came up the ladder, and paid little to no attention to business.

The Jeff Garlins of the world were smart enough to know that was the wrong recipe for success and wisely built a network on their way up. Now Jeff is consistently selling tickets for top dollar, and I’m mopping up at the other clubs as he does – and I’m thrilled to get it. There’s a cold slap.

If that’s not a valuable lesson for some kid, I don’t know what is. Hopefully someone will read this years after I’m dead and a light will go on in their head early enough where they can salvage a career rather than fall into the trap I did along with so many others. Pay attention to business.

I will say, I went up last night and tonight and gave those two tiny audiences a better show than they ever expected. I had people both nights enthusiastically come up and tell me afterward they could not laugh any harder. That’s as good as it gets – but unless the room is full it’s incomplete.

So here I sit at this point in my life, able to rock a room but the room is almost empty. Putting butts in seats is what constitutes a career, and I’m still feverishly trying to figure out that elusive secret formula. Jeff Garlin sure did, and he’s raking in the cash. I feel like I missed the clue bus.

Last night and tonight, I get to headline a beautiful comedy club - Zanies in Rosemont, IL. www.zanies.com.

Last night and tonight, I get to headline a beautiful comedy club – Zanies in Rosemont, IL. I’m grateful. http://www.zanies.com.

Jeff Garlin will be headlining in Rosemont this weekend. He's at Zanies in Chicago tonight, where I will be this weekend.

Jeff Garlin will be headlining in Rosemont this weekend. He’s at Zanies in Chicago tonight, where I will be this weekend. We switch.

The Queen Of Connections

March 8, 2014

Friday March 7th, 2014 – Libertyville, IL

It’s amazing how connections work. Sometimes people come into our lives from the strangest of places, and end up staying a lot longer than expected. One of the reasons I have loved teaching my comedy classes so much is that it has attracted a steady stream of quality people into my life.

The number of people that I have kept in contact with after having them as students is well into the hundreds, and I value and cherish every last one of them. I don’t always see all of them all of the time, but there are always enough of them coming in and out of my life to keep me occupied.

I’ve been teaching since 1994, and if I had to single out one group that stands out from them all it’s a class I taught last summer at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL. It was a class filled with ‘corporate types’, and they were a Toastmasters group from Lake County, IL. They were friendly enough people at the time, but I had no idea what an impact we would have on each other’s lives.

David Stuart is the owner of Improv Playhouse, and I approached him about teaching classes at his facility because I lived in the area and there was no standup comedy around anywhere since a Zanies location in Vernon Hills, IL had closed. He agreed, and we ended up doing a few classes.

Zanies is the big name in standup in the Chicago area, and I have been teaching there for years. No offense to David, but his facility is not that nor does he claim it to be. He specializes in acting and improv training, and he’s very good at it. My class was just an added bonus to his repertoire.

We’d held a few class sessions, but nothing earth shattering quite honestly. They were just kind of ok, but nothing special. When he told me a group of Toastmasters wanted to take the class as a group I didn’t have any idea what to expect. It was the summer, and any income was appreciated.

Little did I know that we would touch each other’s lives so deeply, and they ended up without a doubt THE best class I ever taught. Period. What made them so great was that they came from an entirely different place than most students that take the class. They were already friends because of their Toastmasters connection, and they were already used to speaking in front of an audience.

They asked me to help them punch up their speeches, and I told them I would do that but I also would not sugarcoat anything. They thought they wanted that, but when I started bringing heat it ended up scaring them. I worked those people harder than I’ve worked anyone, but I knew it was exactly what they needed. It was funny to hear them whine and moan, but they did what I said.

As the class went on, I ended up giving them several more sessions than they ended up paying for. It was my call, and I don’t regret it for a second. They were eager to learn, and I got a chance to practice teaching with people who were hungry and wanted to improve themselves. What else did I have going on in the summer? El-zilcho. The extra sessions we had were very productive.

Finally it came time for their ‘graduation’ show, and they packed the joint at Improv Playhouse for what turned out to be a purely magical evening. They all went up and lit it up in front of their friends, family and fellow Toastmasters, and it was an absolute blast for everyone. I felt like their mother hen, and couldn’t have been prouder of all of them. THAT is why I’ve taught for so long.

The leader of that Toastmasters group was Eric Feinendegen, and now Eric and I have teamed up and are working on corporate speaking angles. He’s helping me with my monthly newsletter, and I’ve been helping him with some speeches he’s been doing. He wants to set up bookings for both of us, and is very familiar with the corporate world. We’re helping each other and it’s a fit.

Another member of that class is Jean MacDonald. Jean prides herself on being one of the most connected people anywhere, and she should. She is up there with anyone I’ve ever seen at being on top of the contact game, and that’s exactly what success in any field is about. She excels at it.

Jean calls herself ‘The Queen of Connections’ and I don’t doubt her for one second. She knows EVERYBODY in Chicago – at least everybody that’s important. She makes it her business to be in contact with anyone that’s doing anything, and her days are spent nurturing her vast network.

Eric and I met up with her a few weeks ago, and she was full of ideas that were very helpful to both of us. She told us to start networking and come up with a newsletter, and that’s exactly what we’ve done. She talked about ‘warm calls’ to lead to business rather than cold calling, and talked about how to get into a field and own it. She also talked about getting multiple bookings at once.

She totally knows her stuff, and I shut my mouth and listened as she spewed nothing but useful information. Then to my surprise, she went on about how much the class meant to her and how it changed her life. I was very flattered to hear that, and I could tell she was sincere. She said it was a highlight of her life to perform at the graduation show, and she’ll always remember the feeling.

Again, that’s exactly what I’m shooting for and I couldn’t be happier to hear she had fun. That whole class was special, and the effort they all put in was remarkable. They got a lot out of it for sure, but they put a lot into it too. From my perspective, it made being their teacher well worth it.

Jean sent me an email and asked to do a follow up coffee meeting at my convenience to check on how progress has been going. Today was the day I could do it, and even though I don’t drink coffee we met up at a place in Libertyville to compare notes. When I got there she was meeting with her web person, and before I sat down three different people walked over and said hello.

I’m telling you, I’ve never seen anyone network like Jean does. It was a treat to watch, and we finally got time to talk. Jean’s passion for what she’s doing just shines, and I could feel it as she explained what she’s looking to do, and how I can be a part of it. She wants to help me connect with corporate sources to both speak and teach speakers, and she wants me to help her as well.

She’s been getting some bookings lately, and wants to polish up her speech and add humor to it. Well, if there’s one thing I can help people with it’s that. Eric and I have been working at that exact same thing, and it’s working tremendously well. There’s no reason I can’t help Jean also.

She also went on to say how this is the hot season for business whereas summer is ice cold for the comedy world. She scolded me – deservedly – about being stuck in ‘comedy mode’. I’m in a new arena now and new rules are in place. I heard all she said, and I’m on board. She’s a winner. I never would have imagined that little class last summer could lead to this, but it has and we’re all better for it. Jean’s website is http://www.networkconnectsucceed.com I think the title says it all.

Jean MacDonald is a speaker, author and trainer. She knows EVERYBODY!

Jean MacDonald is a speaker, author and successful sales trainer. And she knows absolutely EVERYBODY!

Eric Feinendegen and Jean are in Toastmasters, and they took a comedy class I taught at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL last summer.

Eric Feinendegen and Jean are in Toastmasters, and they took a comedy class I taught at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL last summer.

David Stuart owns Improv Playhouse, and it's a wonderful place to learn acting, improv or standup comedy. Tell him I sent you! www.improvplayhouse.com.

David Stuart owns Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL. It’s a terrific place to learn improv, acting or standup comedy. Tell him I sent you! http://www.improvplayhouse.com.

Harold Ramis Respect

February 26, 2014

Monday February 24th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

It was all over the news today that Harold Ramis has passed away. I wasn’t aware he was sick, and I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing. There aren’t many that can hold a candle to his list of accomplishments, and by all accounts I have ever heard he was an extremely nice person.

Where does one start with an industry giant like this? If I could score just ONE of the huge hits he had, I’d be on easy street for the rest of my life. He either wrote, co-wrote, starred, co-starred, directed or acted in several of the biggest and most impactful comedy films of the 20th Century.

The list of his successful projects is staggering, including “Animal House”, “Groundhog Day”, “Caddyshack”, “Ghostbusters”, “Back To School”, “Stripes”, “Meatballs” and quite a few more. Those are all films of my generation, and until I saw the list I had forgotten how impressive it is.

It’s a shame that it takes a person’s passing to get a comprehensive list of all the achievements they managed to attain, but that’s how it works. I knew he was a giant in his field, but until I had heard he passed I never looked at his entire body of work so closely. The man was an all timer.

What I didn’t realize was that he’d moved back to Chicago in 1996. I knew he was from there, but had no idea he came back. I totally should have known that, and I would have loved a chance to meet him even once. I bet he wouldn’t have been difficult to track down, and I wouldn’t have been anything but polite and told him how much I admired his work. I bet we’d have hit it off.

Any time I’ve met someone truly creative, I have always been able to connect instantaneously. That’s who I am too, and it just clicks. Everyone I’ve met from George Carlin to George Clinton to Rodney Dangerfield to any number of others has always been a pleasant experience. I wish I’d had even a few seconds with Harold Ramis, as I bet it would have been a memorable experience.

He might not have remembered it, but I sure would have. I remember meeting Tim Kazurinsky years ago when I opened for his friend Bobcat Goldthwaite. They’d done a couple of the “Police Academy” films together and stayed in touch. Tim was unbelievably nice, and complimentary of my show to boot. Bobcat was great too. I find myself very comfortable around all creative types.

If Harold Ramis was around Chicago all these years, it’s my own fault that I didn’t take it upon myself to cross paths and meet him. It’s not a matter of asking him for anything or pestering him to put me in one of his films, it’s just a matter of professional respect. The man was legendary.

It’s my own fault I didn’t seek him out, and there are all kinds of others that I could have been in contact with as well. Second City is barely a block from Zanies in Chicago, and I’ve worked at Zanies since the late ‘80s. I could have made time to network with those people, but I never did.

I have nothing against improv comedy, but I had all I could handle with doing standup. Still, it would have been smart business to hang out after shows and schmooze with the Second City cast through the years. I was right there, but I blew it. Maybe Harold Ramis would have looked at me as a major schmucko, or maybe we’d have been friends. If nothing else, I would have enjoyed an opportunity to say hello just once. He enjoyed immense success, and I am a huge fan from afar.

There aren't many that can touch the massive success of Harold Ramis.

There aren’t many that can touch the massive success of Harold Ramis. What a run he had!

I Miss Uranus

February 25, 2014

Sunday February 23rd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I’ve really been enjoying life these last couple of months, and much of the reason for that I still have to attribute to the positive energy flow that was started by reconnecting with my siblings. It has improved my life to the core, and everything just feels better because of it. It gives me hope.

We have our meeting set up for March 8th, but don’t have a place just yet. I’ll let them choose, as it really doesn’t matter in the least from my end. I’d be ok with a can of sardines and a glass of water. It’s not about where we meet or what we eat, it’s about having closure. That’s what I have wanted as long as I can remember, and even getting together one time will do that. It’s all I need.

I had one of my super vivid dreams a few nights ago. I have those from time to time, and when I do they’re unbelievably life like. I have had them about being on stage or TV or even playing in the NFL or NBA. When I’m having one, it’s like I am in a completely different world. And I am.

I can’t explain how they differ from regular dreams, but they absolutely do. In this most recent one, I was at the restaurant where we were supposed to meet up, and I sat at the table the hostess told me to go to. The place was crowded, but I could feel eyes on me from all across the room.

The longer I sat, the more uncomfortable I became. I finally left thinking they weren’t coming, and then I got to the parking lot and they were all driving up in one car. I was overwhelmed with emotions, and I started to weep openly. They all did too, and we tried to go back inside but it was closed. I felt pure exhilaration to see them, and the dream was so intense it felt frighteningly real.

When I woke up, it was all I could think about. I know there are a lot of built up emotions from my childhood, but I didn’t think it would affect me as deeply as it has. This is exactly what I feel I’ve needed forever, and I don’t know how I know it but I know everything else is just a bonus.

I am fully prepared in my mind should things go south. I don’t think they will, mainly because all of us have volunteered to be there. Nobody is coming kicking and screaming, but that doesn’t mean someone won’t change their mind before that day. I won’t, but I can’t speak for the rest of them. I know I’m going in with the right mindset, and no matter how it plays out I’ll deal with it.

There’s no denying there was a lot of damage done to all of us. Childhood was an ugly blur of dysfunction, and it will be painful to go back into that mess. We’re not going in there to troll up that old sludge, but I don’t see how at least a little can’t splatter on us during our time together.

We’ve all got raw nerves exposed, and chances of someone hitting one are unfortunately really good. I’m not going to lash out at anyone, and should it get out of hand I’ll politely leave and not initiate any combat. I believe in my heart none of us want that, but if it happens I’ll remain calm.

Even then, I won’t carry any grudges or wish them anything other than peace. That’s what I’ve wanted, and we’re almost there. I have no idea if we’ll stay in contact after that night, and though I’d really like that we’ve all built lives for ourselves and nothing would change much for any of us. We’ve already learned to live without each other, so anything more than that will be an added treat. I’m looking very forward to March 8th, and no matter what happens I’m already a winner.

The change that has come over me is dramatic, and I’ve never felt better. It’s pretty late in life to be starting over, but that’s how I feel. No matter what happens on March 8th, I will hopefully wake up on March 9th with something to aspire to. Without hopes and dreams, life is worthless.

I’d still love to find a good woman and experience what a healthy love relationship is. That’s a goal I’d like far more than comedy. I have been striking out left and right lately, even though I’m trying my best to put myself in a position to make myself available to someone special. It’s been a total blow to my already shaky self esteem, but if I don’t try I’ll never get my chance. It’s hard.

But like with my siblings, I know what it’s like to be alone and not much will change if I don’t hook up with Miss Dreamy Pants. I know several women I’d love to hook up with, but for some reason it’s just not clicking at the moment. Maybe I’m changing too much and too fast for them.

All I can do is be myself, and that’s one thing that I know is absolutely improving by amazing leaps and bounds. My whole inner psyche feels better than I ever remember, and I have to think it will catch up in the rest of my life. Maybe the women I like now aren’t the right ones for me.

I’ll let that happen as it will, or maybe it won’t. If I have to die alone, I’ve always been able to deal with that. I’ve been alone my whole life, so it’s not a big deal. I know I have trust issues, but a big part of getting over that will be this meeting. I feel great about it and am ready for anything.

What I’m not feeling great about is my career – or lack thereof. I am having without a doubt by far my best shows ever, but I’m not making much of a dent anywhere. I can’t seem to crack all of the big comedy club chains like the Improvs or the Funny Bones, and that’s only because of a jag against me by a few people in charge. It has nothing to do with my ability, but that’s how it goes.

Could all that turn around in a second? Absolutely! ONE big break will turn it around, and I’ve always known that. What I don’t know is if I feel like hanging in there much longer and sucking raw sewage fumes. It’s just not thrilling me, and I need a place where I can channel my passion.

In all honesty, what I want more than anything else is to develop the King of Uranus and make it a viable entity rather than a half baked whim I have kicked around with no set direction. There is a goldmine in Uranus, and I feel it with all my heart. It excites me to an inner boil, and it feels like my inner mission despite the fact people have told me I’m nuts. A lot more have laughed.

That’s the whole idea. I live to make people laugh, and it doesn’t have to be just doing standup comedy. I love doing it, but not with the life toll it takes. The King of Uranus is a goofy gimmick by itself, but the creative genius will come from the marketing aspect of how it all gets executed.

I want to be the head of a successful company that sells funny. That could be clothing, trinkets, novelties, live shows – it doesn’t matter. I want to create a brand, and be the personification of it. Much like Vince McMahon personifies the WWE, I want to be associated with Uranus. No joke.

Crazy? Without a doubt. Stupid? That’s debateable. I feel this so strongly I can’t keep it in, and it’s all that trips my trigger right now. Sink or swim, this is where my passion lies. I can see it all as vividly and realistic as one of my intense dreams. This idea has rotted too long. I miss Uranus!

Did you know that this is the official international symbol for Uranus? You do now.

Did you know that this is the official symbol for Uranus? You do now.

Here's my logo. Remember - it's always FUNNY when it comes from URANUS!

Remember – it’s always FUNNY when it comes from URANUS!

See what I mean? Who doesn't think this is funny? I don't want them around me.

See what I mean? Who doesn’t think this is funny? If you don’t, stay away from me please.

She might think it's funny.  Maybe she'd like a date with royalty!

She might think it’s funny. Better yet, maybe she’d like a date with royalty! Uranus is for lovers.

Who doesn't? It's the butt of every nine year old's jokes. Pun intended. This is the level of the public's sense of humor, and I'm going to get a few bucks from each of them. Thumbs up Uranus!

Who doesn’t? It’s the butt of every nine year old’s jokes. Pun intended. THIS is the level of the public’s sense of humor, and I intend to get a few bucks from each of them. Thumbs up Uranus!

Back To Class

January 14, 2014

Monday January 14th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I can feel the tornado of life spinning, but it’s all good. I’ve got everything I enjoy in life going on right now, and I can see my biggest concern will once again be time management. I am trying to be organized, but time just gets away when I get going on a project and I want to avoid getting too far behind in any one realm. That’s going to be a major challenge, but it’s how things are.

One area I haven’t devoted much energy to in a while are my comedy classes. I really enjoy the whole teaching experience, and I know I’ve got something good there. I have lost count of all the people that I have gone on to become long time friends with that have taken the class. That alone is an excellent reason to keep teaching, but I also love it because it keeps me close to the source.

I become a better performer the more I teach, because I’m focusing on the fundamentals of the craft. I’d do it every day if there were enough outlets, and I’ve got a good position with Zanies in Chicago as their chief instructor. That’s a position I’ve earned over time, but I’m ready for more.

Bill Gorgo and I have been working for several years now at developing our lesson plans, and I love it when we can both teach sessions together. We’ve done writing and performing workshops as well as multiple week classes, and we both agree it’s almost as much fun as performing itself.

There are only a scant few other instructors around America that have established credibility in teaching standup comedy, as it’s a difficult endeavor. There are many I’ve seen that are only in it to score a quick buck, and that has always infuriated me. I’m all about entrepreneurial endeavors, but flat out scamming crosses the line in my opinion. I always give more than a student expects.

Some of the names that have been around for years include Judy Carter and Steve North in Los Angeles, Jeff Justice in Atlanta, Neil Leiberman in San Francisco and Steve Roye who has lived in a lot of places. I’ve met everyone but Jeff, but I hear nothing but good things about his classes.

One person I have spoken to on the phone, interviewed on the radio and been interviewed by is Dave Schwensen. He was out of Cleveland, OH until very recently where he taught workshops at the Cleveland Improv. He is very credible as he was the manager of the Improv both there and in Hollywood, and has written multiple very solid books including “How to Be a Working Comic”.

I never have a problem with anyone teaching who is competent, and there are enough students for everyone. Many students like to compare teachers, and that’s fine too. Not every sports coach reaches every player, and comedy is very similar. I know personally that I have my fans and also my detractors. That’s how it is in any creative endeavor, and we all need to seek out what works.

Dave’s wife is a flight attendant, and he’s in the process of moving to Chicago to teach classes at the Improv in Schaumburg. We talked on the phone yesterday, and agreed this could be great for everyone – especially students. We’ll both offer high quality classes and raise the bar higher.

Dave is very credible, and has been around a long time. He’s also an excellent marketer, and I know I’ll learn from him in that department. Competition is good, but we’re really not competing head to head. He has his strengths and I have mine. Students win. http://www.thecomedybook.com.

A new session of standup comedy classes will be starting at the legendary Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago on Sunday February 9th, 2014 at 3pm. For signup information, go to www.zanies.com.

A new session of standup comedy classes will be starting at the legendary Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago on Sunday February 9th, 2014 at 3pm. For signup information, go to http://www.zanies.com.

Bill Gorgo will be teaching that session, and he's both an excellent teacher and wonderful person.

Bill Gorgo will be teaching that session, and he’s both an excellent teacher and wonderful person.

Dave Schwensen has been teaching classes for years at the Cleveland Improv. He's moving to Chicago to teach at the Improv in Schaumburg. Good for him. It will be great for the students, and raise the bar for all of us. Welcome Dave. His books are excellent. www.thecomedybook.com.

Dave Schwensen has been teaching classes for years at the Cleveland Improv. He’s moving to Chicago to teach at the Improv in Schaumburg. Good for him. It will be great for the students, and raise the bar for all of us. Welcome Dave. His books are excellent. http://www.thecomedybook.com.

Comedy Combat

November 16, 2013

Friday November 15th, 2013 – Plainwell, MI

It was another rough night at the office, but again nobody else needed to know. Tonight’s show was at Rhino’s Pub in Plainwell, MI, once again for my friend Phil Anglin. Phil is one of my top favorite people of all time to work for, just because he’s such a big fan of comedy. It’s a pleasure to work for people like that, but unfortunately there are far too few. It’s not like this every week.

If Phil booked the Funny Bone or Improv chains, I’d be sitting pretty. He thinks I am hilarious, and that’s all any comedian needs. If the person that books the shows is on board, life is a breeze. I do have a lot of bookers who love me, but unfortunately they aren’t the ones with the big gigs.

I’m royalty in places like Springfield, IL and Plainwell, MI but can’t find a way to get booked at an Improv to save my life. Radio is painfully similar. I’m at the top of the go to list for ‘Stone and Double T’ in Rockford, IL but ‘Bob and Tom’ who are on in 200 plus markets hate my guts.

This is how it is, and there’s not a damn thing I can do but keep slugging. I am who I am and it tends to polarize people. I’m loved and loathed, but that’s a requirement for any good entertainer. The trick is to get the people to love you be the ones that have the real power. That’s not so easy.

I still love working for Phil though, and he sure does know how to run a bar and grill correctly. It’s always been a fun experience to work for him through the years. I never want to see anybody take it in the shorts financially, but especially Phil. I want us all to make money so I’ll be back.

It was a lot more crowded tonight than last night in Richland, but the sound system was terrible and that was a killer. We were screwed before we started, and there was nothing any of us could do but work through it. It was too late for fixing, and there was a room full of paying customers.

Bad sound is my worst nightmare. I’m not very cute, so bad lighting I can live with. It’s livable if they can’t see me, but if they can’t hear me I’m toast. My style is very verbal, and I use a lot of lists and rely on rhythm to beat an audience into submission. I need to talk over them to succeed.

That wasn’t happening tonight, and it changed my entire rhythm. I have enough experience to know what to do, but it was a major adjustment and I had to be in the moment the whole time up there. As I was doing one piece of material, I was thinking about which one would fit next to get their attention. I needed to get them laughing hard up front so they’d be quiet and let me finish.

Of course when alcohol is involved, that changes the equation dramatically. There were two or three tables that were constantly chattering, and I had to stop the show several times to ask them to please be quiet so I could finish the show. They wouldn’t do it, and I had all I could to do stop myself from walking over there and kicking them in their drunken asses. They ruined the show.

Once again, I strapped on the false face and got through it but it was not fun in the least. I have had to fight this kind of thing for a lifetime, and I’m just done with it. Phil apologized profusely, but it’s not his fault. Drunken idiots are everywhere. He’ll have to improve the sound system if he wants to do more shows, and I’m sure he will. It was never like that before, but tonight it was for whatever reason and I had to fight like hell to do my job. If comedy is combat, I’m a Navy Seal.

Standup comedy without an adequate sound system is like full on combat. It's intense.

Standup comedy without an adequate sound system is like full on combat. It’s intense.

Distinguished Pedigree

October 23, 2013

Wednesday October 16th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

I’m back headlining at Zanies in Chicago this week, and it never gets old. That stage has a long and distinguished pedigree since 1978, and everyone who is anyone in comedy from Jay Leno to Jerry Seinfeld to Richard Lewis to Robert Klein to Sam Kinison and countless others have stood on the very stage I am privileged to stand on eight more times this week. This place is legendary.

It’s like an athlete getting to play in a storied structure like Yankee Stadium or Lambeau Field. One can feel the aura of history just walking in the place, and that’s what I feel whenever I walk into Zanies – even though I’ve done it hundreds of times. There’s still a magic vibe in the place.

The walls are covered with 8×10 signed photos of acts that have performed there over all these years, and it’s a virtual history of the comedy industry. Most every big star one can think of is up there, and they all look unbelievably young with pictures most of the public hasn’t seen before.

Jay Leno’s picture looks like it’s from his high school graduation, as do several others. A lot of the acts are dead now, and there are also a lot of others that most people have never heard of. I’m on the wall too, and it’s one of my earliest promo shots in a tuxedo of all things. I’m embarrassed whenever anyone sees it, but Zanies refuses to take it down. They say they’ll replace it if I try.

Part of the charm of a long running comedy club is to see the pictures of the comedians who’ve been around a while and look at how they’ve progressed. The Punch Line in Atlanta has some of the oldest promo pictures I’ve ever seen, and there are quite a few that I had never seen before.

For reasons of which I am still unsure, I am one of the Zanies family. I sure didn’t plan on that when I started, and I’m sure they didn’t either. It just kind of grew unexpectedly over decades of working together, and now I’m ingrained in the DNA. I wouldn’t think of going anywhere else.

That doesn’t mean I’m bullet proof and I could easily get booted tomorrow, but I’d have to do something pretty bad to make that happen. We’ve got enough history with each other that we’re like an old married couple. We’ve learned to live with one another and there’s a comfort level.

Is it good or bad? It just “is”. There’s an Improv Comedy Club in Schaumburg, IL and I’d love to work there and every other Improv in America. What comedian wouldn’t? They have some of the most gorgeous comedy rooms ever built, and have a nationally recognized name. I might get a chance to work some of the others someday, but not in Chicago. I’m a loyal Zanies act. Period.

I just received word I was bestowed a huge honor by being chosen to be one of three comics on Zanies’ 35th anniversary show November 5th along with Larry Reeb and Tim Walkoe. That made my year, and I’m thrilled to be included in such distinguished company. Those guys are as funny as it gets, and are classic Chicago acts. To be part of that show is like being “made” in the Mafia.

True fans of Chicago standup comedy will get to see a show nobody has ever seen before. I’ve worked with both those guys many times before, but the three of us have never performed on one show on the same night. That’s a rock solid lineup, and I’m looking forward to us all knocking it out of the park for Zanies’ anniversary. I’m SO excited! Get your tickets early. http://www.zanies.com.

Zanies Comedy Club on Wells Street in Old Town Chicago. It's a cathedral of comedy.

Zanies Comedy Club on Wells Street in Old Town Chicago. It’s a cathedral of comedy.

Who's this idiot? I have NO idea.

Who’s this idiot? I have NO idea.

Real Milwaukee

August 3, 2013

Wednesday July 31st, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   What is this elusive mystery experience I hear of called ‘sleep’? I haven’t gotten any in so long I think I’m starting to qualify for zombie status. I had to be up extra early again this morning, but I’m not complaining. It was for good reason, so once again I sucked it up and crawled out of bed.

   I had to be in Milwaukee by 9am to be on a TV show called ‘Real Milwaukee’ to help promote The Milwaukee Comedy Festival which runs this coming weekend. It’s a well run event that was started by a guy named Matt Kemple eight years ago, and has continued to grow with each year.

   It mainly features sketch comedy, but also has improv and standup. Matt asked me to be a part of it years ago, and I’ve been there whenever my schedule allows. He’s an outstanding promoter and a sincere person, so anything I can do to support his and his team’s efforts is my pleasure.

   He could have chosen anyone to be a representative sampling, but of all the acts he singled me out and that’s a huge honor. My body clock wasn’t thrilled about it, but it’s not Matt’s fault I’ve been hitting it extra hard lately. There was no way I would turn down such a flattering gesture.

   It was also nice local exposure for me to be on a show I’d never been on before. In comedy we often have to show forced ‘loyalty’, so if we work at one club we can’t work another in the same town or area. On rare occasions I can see the reasoning, but most times it’s playing petty politics.

   I’ve had several appearances on ‘The Morning Blend’ on WTMJ, and they’ve treated me like a big star every time. The hosts Molly Fay and Tiffany Ogle couldn’t be sweeter, and they’re both really good at what they do. Appearing on Real Milwaukee wasn’t meant to be a slap in the face, and I’m sure they know that. It was just that today I was invited to be on to promote this event.

   Real Milwaukee has four hosts, and the two who interviewed Matt and me were Katrina Cravy and Cassandra McShepard. They were both razor sharp and genuinely nice people, and we had a fun segment that should still be available on the show’s website at www.realmilwaukeenow.com.

   It never hurts to make new connections, but I find it especially satisfying when they’re genuine people. Entertainment can often be plastic and fake, and I understand how it can get like that. I’m not one to play those games, but they do exist and those who master them can move up the ranks.

   I’ve had a few experiences where shows I’ve been on have not had nice hosts, and that can be a chore instead of the fun treat it should be. This was worth my trip. Just as I felt chemistry on The Morning Blend with Molly and Tiffany, I felt the same with Katrina and Cassandra. They get it.

   Matt Kemple gets it as well, and that’s why I’ll go out of my way to help him with anything he should need me to do. He and his team have put together a fabulous event that keeps on growing, and hopefully they will keep having me back. I love to be a part of things like this whenever I am able, as they’re always a win/win proposition. It’s also great to be able to do it in my home town.

   When I started, all that meant anything to me was getting home town exposure but I could not get the time of day from local media. I thought it was just me, but as I started to travel I saw that a lot of other comedians I met have “home town disease” and also felt snubbed. I guess it’s a part of the process, but I get treated really well now by most of the Milwaukee media and couldn’t be more grateful. I’ve paid my dues. It’s time to enjoy membership. www.milwaukeecomedy.com.

A Day Well Spent

June 20, 2013

Wednesday June 19th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI/Libertyville, IL

   The emotional roller coaster ride continues. It was mostly a series of tremendous ups today, but there was one down. I guess without the downs the ups are meaningless, so for today I’ll attempt to keep my focus on those. There were several, and it was a day that will have a lasting impact.

   I drove up to Milwaukee for a series of errands this morning. With gas prices sky high, one has to clump errands together these days. I hadn’t seen my cousin Wendy in a while, so I asked if she wanted to have breakfast. Her daughter Katie is the working partner of Milwaukee Police Officer Josh Albert who was severely injured by a wrong way drunk driver in a car accident in October.

   Wendy reported that Josh is not only up and walking, but he’s back to work. That’s miraculous news, and anyone who saw him being rolled into Shank Hall in a wheel chair would agree. I will never forget the emotional vibe that engulfed the room when he arrived that night. It was electric.

    I was delighted to hear the super news about Officer Albert, but then she followed that up with a horrible story about how the 8 year old daughter of her other daughter has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. That really bothered me, and still does. Life can be so ugly, and I fail to see why.

   Why doesn’t Charles Manson have a brain tumor? That waste of sperm chugs on into old age a stalwart picture of health, but a beautiful little 8 year old girl has a brain tumor. Who is in charge of handing life’s fates out, and where is the complaint department? It all seems SO uncalled for.

   After breakfast I attended a book signing by my long time friend Tyrone Pierre Dumas. Tyrone is in the generation of Milwaukee comedians ahead of me, but we’ve been friends going on thirty years now. He goes back to my earliest days, and has always been a supporter of everything I do.

   He wrote a book titled “Food is my Orgasm”, and today was his big day. Tyrone has also been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and has had some other health issues. His book was written with the premise that some people like food more than sex – or at least would have to think about it.

   James Gregory in Atlanta joked about that same thing when we hung out a few months ago. He said if forced to choose between the best sex of his life or a great meal he’d have to really think it over. Tyrone has been working on this book for years, and he put out a press release to invite me so I had to show up. Even with gas prices soaring, the price of friendship was worth every cent.

   At the end of it all, nobody will remember how much my gas cost today. Seeing Tyrone’s face light up with recognition when I walked in the book store immediately told me I had made a wise investment. He was telling everyone that I had driven up from Chicago, and they all appeared to be impressed that someone would come all that way just to attend a book signing in Milwaukee.

   I would have driven up from Miami to see him have his day. Writing a book or doing anything else creative is never an easy task, and I for one can relate to the process. I bought a book at full price, and was happy to do so to support the effort. There was nothing but positive energy in the room, and that’s what life is supposed to be about in my opinion. I was happy to see his success.

   Tyrone stopped doing comedy years ago, but he’s still a dented can like most of us are. He saw the hard road comedy is, and chose instead to be a husband, father, community activist and make his contribution that way. He’s a top shelf human being, and I’m proud to call Tyrone my friend.

   Tonight was also a big night at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL where a comedy class I’ve been teaching had their graduation show. Those are always fun, but tonight was extra special. Of all the classes I’ve ever taught, I’d have to say this was the one that worked the absolute hardest.

   They were a group of Toastmasters, and unlike most of my classes they had previously known each other before signing up. Most of the other classes are random groups comprised of a totally unfiltered mix of anyone and everyone from anywhere and everywhere. This was a different mix.

   These people wanted to learn to add humor to their speeches, and quite honestly I was a bit of a skeptic when I’d heard about them. Improv Playhouse attracts a different clientele than Zanies in Chicago, and it’s far enough away where they don’t compete. It’s not far from home, so I do it.

   We’ve had a few classes to this point, but honestly nothing special. It’s been a tough sell to get full classes, but standup comedy isn’t their focus like a Zanies or any other comedy club. They’re an improv theatre, and standup is a side bar. That’s fine, and if we can fill a class up I’ll show up.

   This was a totally different scenario. They came to Improv Playhouse specifically requesting a class custom made just for them. I’ve had a couple of requests like that over the years, but these guys came to learn. They were from a corporate background as a whole, so I aimed my lessons at that angle. It was a challenge for me to customize my lesson plan, but I always enjoy challenges.

   The leader of the group is a guy named Eric Feinendegen. He’s in the financial business, and is an award winning speaker in the Toastmasters world. He told me at the beginning of class that he wanted me to “whip the group into shape”, so I tried to oblige. If someone tells me they want the truth, I’ve always been one to give it to them. Come to think of it, I give it when they don’t ask.

   It was funny to me to hear these people grumble and groan throughout the run of the class. I’ve never thought of myself as a taskmaster, but they seemed to view me as a cross between Captain Bly and some ruthless Third World dictator. All I was doing was stressing comedy fundamentals, and not backing down. The process is NOT easy, and I assured them I understood their feelings.

   And I totally do. Nothing about standup comedy is easy, even though the best ones can make it look that way. Looking effortless requires PLENTY of effort, and this class got to see how much that was. It was a lot more than they thought, but to their credit they kept showing up each week.

   They had a splendid work ethic, and even though they moaned and groaned they were a willing bunch and trusted my input – for the most part. Some of them fought it at times, but I never mind that at all. I am there to make suggestions, but in the end it’s the student who gets the final word.

   Tonight was their reward for all their hard work and putting up with what they perceived to be my constant and relentless harassment, and they all came through with flying colors. I love to see these nights happen, and I’ve seen it too many times to count. I never get sick of it though, and it was just as much fun for me to watch them go up and kill it as it was for them. They all nailed it!

   The biggest compliment of all came from Eric when he made it a point to come up afterward to tell me I changed his life. He said taking my class opened his eyes to a whole new world, and it’s comments like that that make me keep teaching all these years. What a flattering thing to hear on many levels, and I was truly humbled by it. This was a fantastic night for the class and a big day for Tyrone Pierre Dumas, but I still can’t help thinking about an 8 year old’s delicate situation.