Posts Tagged ‘James Gregory’

Entrepreneurial Evolution

July 25, 2014

Monday July 21st, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Like it or not, a whole lot of us are going to have to get more entrepreneurial in a hurry. I have been interested in having my own business ever since I can remember, but it always took a back seat to being a comedian. It’s only been recently that I’ve understood that comedy IS a business.

What a dummy I’ve been, but it’s not too late to change. I always use the great James Gregory from Atlanta as the gold standard of comedians that understand the business side best, and I have yet to run into anyone better. The only close horse in the race is Heywood Banks, and then all of the rest of us are sliding around in a giant mud pit hoping to find a couple of straggling nickels.

There are a lot of stellar business people in the comedy field in Los Angeles, but I am thinking of road dogs like me. James figured it out early, and has been consistently at the top of the game for decades. Heywood has done well for himself too, and I respect both those guys enormously.

If they’re not natural entrepreneurs, they sure have worked hard at fooling everyone. They are both extremely hard workers, and it is no accident either one of them has achieved their success. They have handled their business well, and didn’t choose to play the Hollywood roulette game.

These are two shining examples of entrepreneurs in the comedy game, but I’m talking of life in general. Ma and Pa public are broke, and there’s no sign of relief in sight. They can either get out there are start some kind of a business or they can learn to like cat food. Times are excruciating.

My grandfather used to tell me horror stories about The Great Depression, and from all he said it wasn’t that great. He was forced to become an entrepreneur, and he did just about anything he could get involved in to try and feed his family. According to both Grandma and Gramps, it was nothing to joke about. Everyone was tense, and nobody had any clue if it would ever get better.

Well, it looks like history is repeating itself after all. The whole country is broke, and 99.999% of us can use some extra cash right about now. For most of us it’s not extra either – it’s all we’ve got. Prices of food and gas and everything else are rising steadily, and nobody I know is doing at least halfway decently much less kicking ass. Life is rather bleak, but there has to be a solution.

Reading about The Great Depression, there were people that made fortunes for the ages. There are people doing it today as well, but they were rich to start with. The rich truly are getting richer but I don’t see how I can get any poorer. I’m barely hanging on, and it’s not how I want to live.

It’s been a constant struggle to keep the bills paid, and the distraction that is saps my creativity for projects I want to do. I did get a couple of very generous gifts, but I used that money to erase a hefty credit card bill and stop the bleeding of that insane interest rate. Now I am right at zero.

That doesn’t mean some emergency couldn’t wipe me out again, and I am still dangling by the thinnest of threads. I don’t think a job alone will be the long term solution. I will have to earn my own fortune, as there is nobody that’s going to leave me theirs. A lot of others share this scenario and we all have choices to make. The law of the jungle is adapt or die. It’s not “like it was”, and it’s not going to be any time soon. Being an entrepreneur is in my future, so I may as well like it.

Tough times force a lot of people to become entrepreneurs against their will. I am going willingly.

Tough times force a lot of people to become entrepreneurs against their will. I am going along willingly.

My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is the standard bearer for road comic entrepreneurialism. He's the king. www.funniestman.com

My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is the gold standard bearer for road comedian entrepreneurialism. He is the KING. http://www.funniestman.com

Heywood Banks is far from a slouch. He has always had a solid grasp on the business side of things. www.heywoodbanks.com.

Another friend Heywood Banks is far from a slouch. He has always had a solid grasp on the business aspect. http://www.heywoodbanks.com.

Southern Exposure

April 11, 2014

Thursday April 10th, 2014 – Chicago, IL

The next time I say something to bash the South, someone needs to give me a swift kick in the hush puppies to shut my mouth. And while I am not necessarily a fan of the culture as a whole, I do know quite a few truly sweet people that are natives, and I need to keep quiet out of respect.

James Gregory is a proud Southerner for example, and he is anything but an idiot or inbred. He does not dip snuff at the dinner table, and always wears shoes. James could buy and sell me like a can of hominy. He does like pro wrestling – but so do I. That’s one Southern trait I do embrace.

Sammy Marten and John Marks are also comedian friends of mine that happen to be located in Memphis. I think John is from not far away, but Sammy is from New Orleans. I have always had a disdain for that horrific stench ridden city filled with drunkenness and debauchery, and I never liked their putrid cuisine as a rule either. But Sammy is a great guy, so my opinion is softened.

There are two more New Orleans area comedians I’ve worked with over the years named ‘Red Bean’ and ‘Mutzie’ respectively. No joke. There was also a guy that passed away by the name of John Schnauder aka ‘The Silver Fox’ who was as gentle of a human as I have ever encountered.

Out of respect to all these people, I don’t feel comfortable lighting into Southerners like I may have at one time. There are always exceptions to any rule, and I guess I am a shining one myself. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, and I have never had a beer in my life. That’s rare, but true.

A shining example of a Southern gentleman is not only my friend Rick Wey, but his father too. Rick is a hilarious comedian from Nashville, but has a great corporate job that he has stayed with to feed his family. Rick is one of my favorite people, and I can see where he inherited his class.

I met Rick’s dad at a ball game years ago, and could instantly see how on the ball he was. He’s now 80, but I’d think twice about tangling with him mentally or physically. He would likely kick my ass quite thoroughly both in a scuffle and in Scrabble. I can only hope to be that with it at 80.

Rick had to come to Chicago for an annual meeting for his job and brought his dad with him so they could see a baseball game at Wrigley Field. They’re both rabid sports fans like I am, but the thought of being able to see a game like that with my dad is far beyond my realm of imagination.

That kind of treat was never in the cards for me, but seeing Rick and his dad have it put me in a terrific mood. That’s how life is supposed to be, and at least somebody was smart enough to pull it off correctly. Rick showed me the picture of them together and it almost made me shed tears.

Even though he’s a few years older than me, I could still see the kid in Rick’s eyes proud to be hanging out with his dad at a baseball game. I was happy for him, and flattered that his dad asked Rick to ask me to dinner with them. I happened to be off, and drove into the city to hang with the both of them. We had a lot of laughs, and just a spectacular evening of fun. Friends like that have a top spot in my heart no matter where they are from. The Wey family has solved life’s puzzle.

My friend Rick Wey happens to be from The South, but he would be a gentleman no matter where he's from. He learned it from his father.

My friend Rick Wey happens to be from the South, but he would be a gentleman no matter where he’s from. He learned it from his father.

James Gregory is another Southerner that is anything but stupid. He is one of my comedy and marketing heroes. MUCH respect.

James Gregory is another Southerner that is anything but stupid. He is one of my comedy and marketing heroes. MUCH respect. http://www.funniestman.com.

John Marks is another Southern comedian who breaks the stereotype. He's very funny, and a sharp business mind too. www.bigfunnyproductions.com

John Marks is another Southern comedian who breaks the stereotype. He’s very funny, and a sharp business mind too. http://www.bigfunnyproductions.com

John's partner is Sammy Marten from New Orleans. Not only is he a funny comedian, he's a world class chef. www.bigfunnyproductions.com.

John’s partner is Sammy Marten from New Orleans. Not only is he a funny comedian, he’s a world class chef. http://www.bigfunnyproductions.com.

I worked with Mutzie from New Orleans on Carnival Cruise Lines. He was wildly popular with the guests and fun to hang with off stage. www.mutzie.com

I worked with Mutzie from New Orleans on Carnival Cruise Lines. He was wildly popular with the guests and fun to hang with off stage. http://www.mutzie.com

'Red Bean' is another funny guy I worked with from New Orleans. I never liked the town itself, but the people from there have been really great in my experience. www.badboyredbean.com.

‘Red Bean’ is another funny guy I worked with from New Orleans. I never liked the town itself, but the people from there have been really great in my experience. http://www.badboyredbean.com.

Marketing In Motion

March 16, 2014

Saturday March 15th, 2014 – Springfield, IL

Our worst fears came true this weekend, and the turnout has been small at Donnie B’s Comedy Club in Springfield, IL. There’s not a whole lot anyone can do, as Donnie was out there hitting it hard like he usually does. He’s always got a load of posters in his car, and we made the rounds at the local radio stations as is customary when I’m here. For whatever reason, it was a slow week.

It upsets me when promoters lose money, but especially Donnie B. There just aren’t that many club owners that hustle as hard he does to fill his club, but this just isn’t a ripe market. If he had a club in a big city – and I wish he did – I’d be sitting pretty. Still, I enjoy working for him here.

One thing I especially like is that he has his headliners do an hour rather than the customary 45 minutes. It’s a great workout for me, and I enjoy the challenge. He hosts the shows and promotes what he needs to, and then brings up an opener that does maybe twelve minutes tops. I love that.

It’s great practice for me, and the audiences are usually very friendly and receptive here for the most part. Even this weekend when the numbers weren’t big, each one of the four audiences was really into the show and I had a blast. I made up my mind to give them my very best – and I did.

One thing I need to work on is my sales pitch for merchandise. That’s a tricky procedure, but it needs to be done. It can’t be too long and ‘salesy’, but it needs to get the point across that I’ll be available after the show to meet and greet if they want to say hello. I consciously worked on my presentation all four shows, and it worked splendidly. I ended up selling something every show.

I have to credit my friend James Gregory for planting this seed, and he did it years ago. I have been dabbling in it, but I need to jump in with both feet and DO it. There’s a lot that goes into an effective sales campaign, and it all starts with the pitch from the stage. That’s what I worked on.

I also worked on including all things Uranus. I have some funny prototype t-shirts, and there is no reason I shouldn’t start selling them. I’ve had them for a while, but I never tried to push them from the stage. What a yutz I was, as they’re very well made and really funny. This week I threw them out there, and they were a big hit! It made me very excited when I saw them draw interest.

I know this gimmick is a winner. I can feel it. I sold the point that Uranus was discovered this week in 1781, and that I was starting a club called ‘The Uranus Movement’ for Earth inhabitants that were sick of the insanity here and wanted to escape. I didn’t sell the king just yet, but I will.

I have a book mark that says ‘I (heart) URANUS’, with the heart flipped upside down to look like a butt. Those went over like gangbusters, and I gave away a ton. It has my Twitter account listed which is @UranusTweets. Now that I’m giving these out I need to tweet something daily.

This is all part of the marketing game, and I’m making tremendous strides because I’m making it my focus. My shows are already rock solid, and they were again this weekend. I knocked it out of the park, and that’s not bragging. I know what I’m doing on stage. Offstage is the challenge.

That will come in time too, and it will be sooner than later. I will eventually discover where the exact right place in the show is to include my pitch, and it will be seamless. I’ll learn what to say, and when and how to say it to bring in the most sales. I’m already up there, why not sell product?

There’s no crime if someone doesn’t want to buy anything. I’ll still talk to them and be friendly like I always am. People will see that, and it will add to my sales. I need to organize myself as far as my table display goes as well. That’s going to take some work as well, but I’ll get to that too.

I think there should always be something free available for someone to take home with them as both a souvenir and a promo piece to pass out to their friends. The Uranus book marks are great, but I need something for Mr. Lucky and also the “Schlitz Happened!” show. I’ve got work to do.

I also need to come up with a package deal that people can buy that gets the numbers up. I have a one hour DVD shot in HD with three cameras done by my friend film director Mark Gumbinger. I’ve had it for two years now, but haven’t sold it heavily. What am I, an imbecile? In a word – YES.

I’m smartening up in a hurry, mainly because I need money more now than I ever have. I never felt comfortable selling merchandise before, but those days are over by necessity. I’ve got quite a few products to offer, and they’re not junk. The DVD is better than 99% of what I’ve seen others offer, and I shouldn’t feel ashamed to proudly display it after shows. It was hard work to make it.

Dealing with t-shirts is also a learning experience. The Uranus shirts are very well done, so I’m not ashamed to sell those either. They look professional, and the shirts aren’t those super cheapos like I’ve seen that will disintegrate with a single washing. I spent extra to maintain some quality.

I have six different varieties, but I only brought out three this weekend. That was enough, and I had all I could handle with that. I learned a lot, and it was fascinating to watch people’s dynamic as they decided what they wanted to buy. I sat back and shut my mouth so I could observe it all.

Sizes are always a part of shirt sales. I had two moms buy shirts for their teenagers, and wanted mediums. I only have XL, and even though that wasn’t what they wanted they bought because of the Uranus gimmick. Another guy wanted a 2XL, and I didn’t have that either. For the future I’m going to have to figure it out, but I will. Even getting it this far was a victory. I’ll keep working.

Price is another issue that’s going to take work. I charged $15 each for the shirts and DVDs, or both for $25. That’s a lot of money in my book, and I have to get that out of my mind as quickly as possible. I would always sell my CDs for $10, but I’ve seen people sell theirs for $15 and $20.

That extra money adds up, and I forced myself to smile and say the price rather than add “ But I’ll give them to you both for $10”. I have to learn to value myself and my products, and I’m on my way to doing that. In a very short time I can see myself having a system in place that works.

This weekend was a flop attendance wise, but a raging success in the fact that I was able to put a marketing plan into action and still give those that did show up hot shows. Thumbs up Uranus!

The great James Gregory may be trying to look crazy in this picture, but he's hands down THE best comedian marketer I have ever seen.

The great James Gregory may be trying to look crazy in this picture, but he’s hands down THE best comedian marketer I have ever seen.

His fans adore him, and I can see why. He's all about them, and gives them what they want. He's the king. www.funniestman.com.

His fans adore him, and I can see why. He’s all about them, and gives them what they want. He’s the real king. http://www.funniestman.com.

Heywood Banks runs a close second. Despite the cultivated crazy look, there's a razor sharp mind in there.

Heywood Banks runs a close second. Despite the cultivated crazy look, there’s a razor sharp mind in there. He gets it.

His CDs are hilarious, and he's got other stuff too. Check him out at www.heywoodbanks.com.

His CDs are hilarious, and he’s got other stuff too. Find him at http://www.heywoodbanks.com.

I'm modeling my own marketing after the best. I'm working on my cultivated crazy look.

I’m modeling my own marketing after the best. I’m working on my cultivated crazy look, and a varied product line is to follow.

Want a free book mark? Send me a mailing address and I'll send you as many as you like.

Want a free book mark? Send me a mailing address and I’ll send you as many as you can handle. Get BEHIND The Uranus MOVEMENT!

The Popeye Feeling

December 30, 2013

Sunday December 29th, 2013 – Tucson, AZ

This is the best I’ve ever felt on the inside in my entire life. I am finding it difficult to describe other than it feels like Popeye after eating a case of spinach. There’s an unbelievably pure energy that is coming alive within me like someone turned on a power switch and I am now plugged in.

I feel an inner confidence like I’ve never felt before, and my self esteem has risen dramatically. If I could bottle this up and sell it I’d be a millionaire by the time I got back to Chicago, but I am not worried about that. I’m going to be the millionaire I always thought I’d be, even though I am not exactly sure how I’m going to do it just yet. I just know that the ingredients are all in place.

There has been a fire lit in me that I never had lit before. I’ve had some great moments, but this feels like a whole other level. I feel like I’m finally behind the wheel of a giant space ship to take me absolutely anywhere I want to go, and all I have to do is fill in a destination and I’ll get there.

I’m thinking with crystal clarity, and ideas are flying into my head faster than I can write them down. I’ve always been an idea person, but now it feels like I turned the blender up two or three notches to the right and it’s now on ‘puree’. All cylinders are firing, and the feeling is amazing.

Whatever ‘the zone’ is, I’m soaking in it. I’ve been here before, and recognized it then as well. When I’m in it it’s great, but then it goes. Maybe that’s a euphemism for ‘bipolarity’, but I don’t think I’m going to get anywhere close to being as down as I used to get. I’ve addressed my pain.

It took a long, hard and rocky lifetime, but I feel like I’m right where I need to be at exactly the right time. All those difficult roads led me here, and this is the starting line for me to do whatever I’m going to be known for in a positive way. I am already known for a few things I am not proud of, but those will fade away as I get used to this. I feel like “The Jeffersons”. I am movin’ on up.

Last night’s early show at Laffs in Tucson was a perfect example. The crowd was rather snug, and in the past I may have gone off on them or even verbally insulted them. I’ve been known to do that on occasion over the years, and it’s bad business. Some audiences are better than others, and yes once in a while there are flat out bad ones. This wasn’t one of those, but they were slow.

Instead of launching into cocky comedian mode, I took a step back and decided I was going to give them my absolute best performance no matter what. If they didn’t like it it was their choice, but it wouldn’t be for lack of effort. I had to work really hard, and I didn’t get a strong response.

When that happens, my first reaction is to not make myself available afterward like I try to do after most shows, and just assume they were all stupid. I didn’t do that last night, and set myself up at the exit to see what kind of reaction I’d get from them – if any. I was blown away by all of the positive comments I got about how much people enjoyed the show, and I saw they meant it.

I thanked every one of them, and meant that too. I also remembered to offer business cards for anyone that might want one, and I quickly mentioned that I’m starting a newsletter soon and also write this diary of what the life of an entertainer is like. There were a lot of people who took one, and by the end of the second show I was totally out. Little by little, I can feel it coming together.

Whether I do standup comedy or inspirational speaking or any other variation, this will be what I need to do for the rest of my life. Not every audience will enjoy what I do, but I’ve been able to handle that for years. Rejection goes with being a live entertainer, and my skin is elephant thick.

What I haven’t perfected is the business end, but I can feel that falling into place this week. I’m consciously making it a point to talk about it on stage but not overdo it. Right around ten minutes before I’m finished, I make a quick mention that I would like to stay in contact with them if they liked what I did, and promised I wouldn’t sell their names to Amway. It doesn’t feel forced at all.

Maybe subconsciously before I didn’t think I was good enough or that my merchandise wasn’t worth buying, but I’ve always felt uncomfortable trying to push anything. I’ve sold CDs over the last ten years or so, but I never enjoyed it. Now I have a whole new view. I’m offering them their opportunity to take a little souvenir of their evening home. If they don’t want one, that’s fine too.

I guess I have never given myself credit that I entertained them and they might actually WANT to take something home with them or maybe even share with someone else. This is something to change immediately, and I can feel it already has. I know I’ve got a solid show, and I’m going to let people make up their own mind. If they want to take something home, I will have it for them.

The great James Gregory told me this several years ago, but I wasn’t ready to hear it then. My heart and soul wasn’t in it, but it totally is now. I feel it. James is a master marketer, and he told me most sales are made out of impulse right after a show. We have worked hard to put our show together, so why not take advantage of it by making merchandise available when people like it?

I knew he was right when he told it to me, and then he told it to me again earlier this year as I sat in his house in Atlanta. He doesn’t have to tell me a third time. I’m finally there, but what put me there was freeing myself inside and that came from initiating contact with my brother Bruce to initiate contact with my other brother Larry and sister Tammy. That’s what has been the key.

This is totally The Law of Attraction in action, and there are countless books written on how it really works. I’ve read or partially read so many of those books over time I’ve worn off most of my fingerprints turning pages, but it’s only now that I see that it really does work. It took one big event to open my eyes, but now they’re wide open and I’m seeing things with 20/20 clear vision.

I can’t say how long this powerhouse feeling will last, but it doesn’t matter. I know eventually I’ll have some setbacks, slumps and unforeseen hurdles to jump, but life is like that for everyone. What I’m so excited about is that I’ve identified the cause of what was holding me back so long, and realizing just how toxic and unproductive it has been. I’ve lost a lot of golden opportunities.

I also see that I’ve got a whole lot more of them ahead, and I’ll be able to use my mountain of mistakes as building material to construct my own books and programs to help others who might be having the same problem I did. Nobody I’ve ever seen or heard has dug deep into this topic.

Even if they have, there are enough dented cans to go around for us all. This goes way beyond the boundaries of just making people laugh. There’s depth here, and it’s taken a lot of struggling for a lot of years to acquire this ability to see clearly. This is how I always wanted my life to be.

I'm in a life groove that I've never been in before - and it feels fantastic! It's like Popeye after he ate a case of spinach.

I’m in a life groove that I’ve never been in before – and it feels fantastic! It’s like Popeye after he ate a case of spinach.

The Law of Attraction really works. I'm going to use it like never before in 2014.

The Law of Attraction really works. I’m going to use it like never before in 2014.

James Gregory aka "The Funniest Man in America" is my marketing mentor. I am FINALLY ready to listen to what he's been telling me for years. www.funniestman.com.

James Gregory aka “The Funniest Man in America” is my marketing mentor. I am FINALLY ready to listen to what he’s been telling me for years. http://www.funniestman.com.

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 http://www.streetjoke.com.

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 http://www.heywoodbanks.com. 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 http://www.funniestman.com, 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 http://www.larrywinget.com. Dale Irvin is another one who has released a collection of books. I believe his total is 8. Count them at http://www.daleirvin.com 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.

A Whole New Game

December 10, 2013

Monday December 9th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

My pursuit of marketing excellence begins. This is going to be the majority of my focus for the rest of my life, and I want to put it out there so people call me on it. My natural instincts are to be a performer first and focus all my creative energies there, but that route proved to be a dead end.

It takes plenty of creativity to be a marketer too, it’s just focused in a different direction. I need to consciously divide my waking energy between my actual product(s) and getting word to those I need to have be aware of who I am and what I can do so they can hire me . It’s a balancing act.

Before, all I would focus on was the ‘show’. I loved it and still do, but there was far too little of an effort put into the ‘business’. There was enough work for enough time that I didn’t need to put much effort into chasing it, and in fact it found me. I was competent enough to have bookers line up for my services. What I didn’t realize was, they weren’t ever going to get me to the next level.

Now I know much better, and I need to approach those who can help me advance. They would include network television show talent bookers, national and international media outlets, meeting planners for corporate events and venues I have wanted to work but haven’t for whatever reason.

I can even improve dramatically with places I already work. It would take minimal effort to put together a monthly or even quarterly newsletter of what I’m doing so I can get my name in front of them even more. They already hire me, but even one more booking would be worth my while.

This is just simple business maintenance, but I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t done it. There are zero excuses, and I’m going to change my ways immediately. What needs to get drilled deep into my rock hard skull is that these are sales accounts, and they bring in money. They’re cash cows.

It would be easy to beat myself up now, but that won’t do one bit of good. What will do plenty of good is to look ahead and make dramatic changes for 2014. On the good side, I can’t think of anybody who has paid more dues than I have getting a show together. I’m completely fresh meat to a whole new market, and I have to believe I’ll be able to get hired and establish a stellar name.

I’ll also continue to work the places I already do, but market myself a whole lot better. I’ll stay in much better contact, and I’ll put time and effort into a mailing list to keep my name fresh with booking agents, media and fans. Those are all areas that need to have steady contact maintained.

Another cage I’ve thought for a while about rattling is the National Speakers Association. I’ve heard mixed reviews on whether to join or not, and it’s a significant financial investment that has no guarantee of bringing in speaking work. I have had people I respect tell me to join, and others I respect tell me to avoid it. I’m still on the fence, but I’m going to look into it a lot more closely.

The main reason I am considering it at all is that speakers as a rule are light years ahead of any comedian in the marketing department. James Gregory and Heywood Banks are a pair of shining stars at comedy marketing, while there are too many speakers to count. Todd Hunt is outstanding as is Larry Winget – but so are Dale Irvin, Greg Schwem, Mikki Williams and Steve Olsher. I’ve met all of these people personally and will model their methods. I’m playing a whole new game.

I'm thinking about joining the National Speakers Association. I have heard pro and con, but I'm still deciding.

I’m thinking about joining the National Speakers Association. I have heard pro and con, but I’m still deciding.

Disappointment Double Check

November 7, 2013

Wednesday November 6th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

I’m still dusting myself off after last night’s wrecking ball of disappointment, but there are lots of lessons to be learned here – both by me and by new comedians coming up the ranks. This was a frightening example of what happens when a product isn’t marketed properly. It’s sure death.

The problem last night was anything but the product. That was one of THE strongest lineups of Chicago standup comedy I’ve ever seen – and I’ve been around the block more than a few times. It was a magnificent lineup of talent, but unfortunately it wasn’t in front of the proper audience.

Comedians from “the golden era” of the ‘80s – and I’m just as guilty as anybody else – tend to be stuck in those days when it comes to marketing savvy. We didn’t have to do any marketing at all then, as comedy clubs were hip, trendy and it didn’t matter who was on the bill. People came out to laugh, and they usually did. Even if they didn’t remember the acts’ names, they had fun.

That was our first mistake. We wrongly assumed it would go on forever like that, and it would be a gravy train into perpetuity. The clubs were marketing themselves as a destination where the customer would have a good time. Rarely if ever did they market specific comedians. Red flag.

The ads always went something like “Come out to the Wacky Shack Comedy Corral and have a few laughs.” They would advertise drink specials before they’d advertise who’s there, and only then it would be the headlining act. Any of the openers’ names would never see the light of day.

Times were good then, so comedians could make a decent living without much effort and they rode that horse into the ground. They didn’t look at it like a business as a rule, and thought there was some kind of magic dust that would keep the money coming in forever. What idiots we were as a collective, and looking back I was in there myself. I thought I had a clue, but I totally didn’t.

VERY few comedians did, but those are the ones that did well. Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld are the two shining examples from that era who were outstanding business people from day one. The third member of the business holy trilogy I always acknowledge is James Gregory. He’s up there too, and has always had my utmost respect. James marketed himself before he was a headliner.

He sold cassette tapes and t-shirts and baseball caps, and catered to his fans like few others I’ve ever seen. He was a tremendous salesman, and I mean it as a huge compliment. He’s a really funny comic, but as I saw last night that alone won’t cut it. James knew from the start to sell his wares.

Part of the process of selling those wares is doing the unsexy things like having a website with a mailing list and current schedule of dates, and constantly working to keep one’s name out there and get more work. That was unheard of when I started but too bad for me. That’s the game now.

I’m thrilled to be able to call James a friend all these years later, and he calmly – and correctly – pointed out that he checked out the websites of all of us on the show last night and none had the show promoted on our sites. GUILTY. I’ve been working with my web guy Mark Filwett to have a total site redesign, but it’s still not there yet. It’s my fault because I’ve been up to my ass with a lot of other things, but nobody cares about that. I need to do better, and there are ZERO excuses.

Human nature can be one’s own biggest enemy, and it’s easy to fall into old habits – especially the bad ones. We as old timers were used to just showing up and getting paid. We did it for years and years, and stupidly assumed that circumstances would never change. That’s business suicide.

What business can last in today’s shark tank world with a business plan from twenty years ago or worse – no plan at all? What if McDonald’s had not evolved like they did over time and added menu items like salads, latte or a breakfast menu? They’d be with Howard Johnson’s – obsolete.

That’s exactly what’s going to happen to some really talented standup comedians, and I’m on a personal crusade that it won’t be me. There is a fire lit under my ass after last night that is red hot and I’m not going to sit around and feel sorry for myself. I need to get it in gear and move ahead.

This should be a loud clear air raid siren warning blast for all newbies getting or thinking about getting into standup comedy. Yes it’s important to work on your funny, but work on the business side just as much if not more than the comedy side. Without both, you’ll end up in a club nobody wants to be in like the guys at Zanies last night. We all have great acts, but we don’t have a draw.

It takes work to build that draw, and it’s getting more difficult by the day. There are more and more wannabes coming out of the wood work, and it’s harder not only to be seen but to obtain a sufficient amount of quality stage time to develop a sellable act. If nothing else, I did have that.

And part of therein lies the problem. Stage time was easy when I came up, and we all assumed it would be plentiful forever. Other than those few like Jay, Jerry and James, we all farted around when we should have been building our brand. Kudos to those who figured it out early. I didn’t.

Now my biggest fear is that I didn’t figure it out too late. I’ve spent long hard years building an act that can rock a room from coast to coast, but if I don’t have anyone who wants to pay to see it I’m out of business. Zanies has been great to me for many years, but if they cut me loose I would really be in a world of hurt. I need to build MY brand, and team up with venues that can sell it.

I’m on the right track with my “Schlitz Happened!” show about growing up in Milwaukee. It’s a very specialized and regional brand, but those who will like it will really become fans. It would be difficult to sell it anywhere outside of Wisconsin, but there are enough people there where I’ll be able to carve out a very nice chunk of business for myself and claim a territory. I’m ok with it.

This is not the ‘80s anymore. As much as those of us who lived through those times as comics hate to admit that, we all need to wake up and realize we’re in a whole new world. We do have a nice advantage in that we have an actual product to sell whereas the newbies are trying to market the hell out of nothing. We’ve actually got something to sell, but most of us don’t execute it well.

I’m going to model myself after people like James, and even Jay and Jerry. They played their game on the big stage in Hollywood, and that ship may have already sailed for me. James played his hand out of his home town of Atlanta. It’s a great town, and he’s a king there. Is there anything wrong with that? Not in my book. Atlanta money spends just as nicely as Hollywood or Chicago money. He’s built a great business, and continues to work it masterfully. http://www.funniestman.com is where we can all learn from a master. I am grateful for his support, guidance and inspiration.

James Gregory has been ahead of the game for decades. A great comedian, but a world class marketer. He gets it. I need to model his methods. www.funniestman.com

James Gregory has been ahead of the game for decades. A great comedian, but a world class marketer. He gets it. I need to model his methods. http://www.funniestman.com

Breathing Room

November 2, 2013

Friday November 1st, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

I said at the beginning of the year I wanted this to be my best year ever. I don’t know if I made it, but I’m pretty close. Yes there were some disappointments, but for the most part I had a stellar 2013. A lot of exciting things happened this year, some of which have never happened before.

Off the top of my head, I made the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ show a reality and performed it several times in a fantastic venue, appeared on local, regional and cable television, had a speaking role in a legitimate Hollywood movie and got to meet and hang out with one of my heroes Bob Uecker.

Those are all highlights in my book, and I enjoyed every one of them. I also went to Atlanta to participate in the Laughing Skull Festival and got to hang out with the great James Gregory at his home there. James is also a hero of mine for how he has built his career, and getting to hang with him for an afternoon was a privilege. He treated me like a peer, and I’m an even bigger fan now.

Another feather in my cap this year was getting to be ‘The King of Uranus’ on March 13th at the Milwaukee Admirals hockey game. That was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had, and it went over extremely well. I know there’s something there, and I want to keep working on it.

I got to host some talk radio shows at WNTA in Rockford, IL and I really grew as a host in that format. It was a great opportunity to practice. I took full advantage of it as often as I could. I also hosted ‘The Mothership Connection’ paranormal talk show on WLIP in Kenosha, WI for half the year, and at some point I’d love to get that back on the air somewhere though I need to get paid.

Money was tight again this year, but it is for almost everyone. Summer was a complete disaster financially, but I’ve had a nice run of late and at least have a bit of breathing room. I’ve worked a lot of fun places in the last month and November and December look solid. The money I make is spent before I receive it, but at least my rent is paid with a few bucks left over for the other bills.

Living week to week is SO not what I want to be doing anymore. It’s hectic and a huge energy drain I’d rather not have in my life. Robbing Peter is bad enough, but then not paying Paul makes life a constant shell game. I don’t want to be dodging anybody, I just want to pay up what I owe.

For a while there, I was really in a tizzy. I don’t know how I scraped by this summer, but I sure don’t want that to happen in 2014. The key is to plan ahead, but that’s a lot easier said than done when it’s the end of the month and there’s goose eggs in the bank account. Money is the cushion.

If I can find a way to get some legitimate steady income, it won’t take that long to turn my life completely around in a very short time. I’ve put in my time, and I’m ready for a break. I have no idea what that break will be, but I know I’m ready for something. Nobody I know works as hard as I do for as little a payoff, but I can’t give up now. If anything, I’m going to work even harder.

I know the year’s not over yet, but I’m already planning for 2014 and even beyond. That’s just smart business, and I have to make at least some long term plans even though nothing is going to be guaranteed. I have a much better chance of success if I’m planning for it months or even years ahead, and that’s what I need to do. Money gives me some breathing room to look at my options.

2014 will be here sooner than later. Time to plan ahead.

2014 will be here sooner than later. Time to plan ahead.

Hidden Comedy Gems

October 5, 2013

Thursday October 3rd, 2013 – Rosemont, IL

Once again Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago have come through when I could use some work the most, and gratitude permeates my entire being. I’ve got several random fill in dates scattered through the rest of the year, and I couldn’t be happier. I can pay some bills but still remain local.

The openings are at all three of their Chicago area clubs and at all positions on the shows. One night I might be the headliner, and the very next I might feature or host. Normally that’s not how a club books an act and it’s a dangerous game to play politically, but Zanies and I have a history.

They know I’m a strong headliner, and I have nothing to prove. They also know I am versatile enough to handle any role on any show, and won’t bitch about not headlining. I’m there to earn a living, and also to work on new material in a productive environment. Being an emcee or feature in good rooms is the ideal place to work out new bits, and I’ll take advantage of this opportunity.

Every comedian wants to be the headliner, but it’s not easy to move up the ranks. I could write several articles about this tricky and delicate process, and I intend to in the not too distant future to benefit up and coming comedians. For now suffice to say I’m thrilled to get the local income.

I have several headline dates coming up soon, but this week I’m hosting three shows at the new Rosemont, IL location. I’m thrilled to be working with Carl LaBove, quite simply one of the best standup comedians in America. In my opinion, he should be a lot more well known than he is.

I’m always bitching and complaining about comedians I think should get more recognition, but I can’t help it. I know how difficult it is just to survive in this insidious business, but then there is a higher level of people with tremendous natural ability who are special. Carl is in that category.

I’m sure it’s the same with actors, musicians, athletes or any other competitive endeavor. There are all kinds of people who want to be stars, but very few have the ability, drive and luck to make it happen as they pictured. The magic formula is a combination of all three – and extremely rare.

I have frequently named all kinds of acts I think should be huge stars, and I mean it. My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is one. That guy hustles his business like nobody else, has a rock solid and hilarious stage character and can work clean. He should be on The Tonight Show, Ferguson, Letterman, Kimmel, Conan or any other show immediately. Find him at http://www.funniestman.com.

Steve ‘Mudflap’ McGrew is another hidden treasure. That guy is world class funny, and I can’t figure out why he hasn’t popped on a big time level. Jimmy Shubert is another gem. Then there’s Dwayne Kennedy, Steve Seagren, Tim Northern, Beth Donahue, Tim Walkoe, Larry Reeb and a whole lot of others who are out there making people laugh week after week. They’re all warriors.

Carl LaBove is right there with all of them. I first met him when I was just starting out. He was best friends with Sam Kinison, and part of the ‘Texas Outlaws’ with Bill Hicks, Ron Shock and a few other guys from the ‘80s. Carl has an amazing life story which I won’t delve into, but it sure is worth checking out as is his hilarious act. He’s at Zanies in Rosemont, IL the rest of this week, and I will be watching every minute of every show he does. He’s a master. http://www.carllabove.com.

Zanies is my 'home club'. They have been good to me for decades and I am very grateful.

Zanies is my ‘home club’. They have been good to me for decades and I am very grateful.

Check out my friend James Gregory 'The Funniest Man In America' www.funniestman.com

Check out my friend James Gregory ‘The Funniest Man In America’ http://www.funniestman.com

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

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