Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Seinfeld’

Craig Ferguson BLOWS…

May 6, 2014

Sunday May 4th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

A few days ago, I happened to write an entry in this very diary about Craig Ferguson. Not that it matters, but I happen to be a fan and I wrote some nice things. I meant them all, and I really do think he is a talented and funny fellow. Appearing on his show was truly a highlight of my life.

I didn’t think much of it, other than I wished him well in his new endeavors. I was sorry to hear he didn’t get the David Letterman slot, and again not that it matters what I think I do believe he’d be the natural choice. The guy is second to none in my opinion, and would have been ideal for it.

Part of me wanted him to get it for my own agenda. He likes to work off the cuff as do I, and it has always been a fantasy for me to pair up with a talk show host that I can shoot lines back and forth with like Rodney Dangerfield had with Johnny Carson. They were a tremendous TV team.

Rodney appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny a whopping 70 times, and it helped make his career. I vividly remember looking forward to it as a teenager, and they always delivered the laughs. I would love to have a national TV outlet to do the same, and Craig Ferguson would have been a great pairing. He doesn’t know that, but I would have been able to keep up with his wit.

I only got to do my standup when I was on, and it was a frightening experience in many ways. I made a lot of mistakes I totally wouldn’t do again, but everyone needs to have their first slot on national television to get the experience over with. It’s very intimidating, but it didn’t kill me.

I’d be MUCH more relaxed and prepared a second, seventh or seventieth time, and I’d love to do it. In all likelihood, it won’t be on the show as it sits. The talent coordinator that booked me is not there anymore, and I don’t have any in. It’s not like Craig and I were buddies beforehand, I only opened for him at Zanies in Vernon Hills, IL and killed time when his plane was delayed and the CBS liaison saw me and told me I was hilarious. That started the process of me being on the show.

When I finally did it, he left the room before I went on. That must be their policy, and I think it is to give the comedians the floor and let them work. Personally, I hoped he’d be in the room and call me over to the couch like Johnny used to do. Still, we crossed paths as he was leaving and I was about to go on and he shook my hand and wished me well. I sensed a genuine spirit in him.

What really blew me away most is when I wrote my recent diary and saw how many loyal fans he has. Wow! I’ve never seen anything like it, and I was beyond impressed. I wrote entries about Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld the two days prior, because it happened to be their birthdays. I didn’t get even ONE response to either of those entries – but when I wrote about Craig I was deluged.

And a persnickety lot they were. They corrected me on my facts and informed me of all he had coming up. I could only dream of having such dedicated fans, and that’s why I’m writing about it now. I’m assuming they are going to find it as they seem to scout out anything that happens to be written about their hero. I do know his birthday is coming up on May 17th, so don’t correct me.

I would LOVE a fiercely loyal fan base like Craig Ferguson has, and I am totally fine with it if a lot of them happen to overlap. I’ll take second place, as long as I’m on the radar. Check out my appearance on the show. It’s on You Tube, but it’s not my best work. I have a DVD and a CD as well, and if you’d like a copy send me an address and I’ll ship out whatever you like. Hopefully you will become my fans too. Craig Ferguson blows…everyone else’s fan base away. Kudos!

Craig Ferguson has THE most loyal fan base I've ever seen. If I could have half that much support I'd be doing more than well.

Craig Ferguson has THE most loyal fan base I’ve ever seen. If I could have even half that much support I’d be doing more than well. PLEASE…be my fans too!

Jerry Seinfeld

April 30, 2014

Tuesday April 29th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Yesterday I mentioned that it was Jay Leno’s birthday and how he was the king of the comedy club boom of the ‘80s – and he was. Today it’s the birthday of the prince – Jerry Seinfeld. Those two ruled the roost in the glory years, and everybody else was choking on their exhaust fumes.

I find it beyond remarkable the two of them were born only a day apart. I don’t know if there’s anything to astrology or not, but this makes me take notice just as the fact that Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh share the same birthday January 12th. Coincidence? Perhaps, but it sure is odd.

Just because Jay was looked upon as the king of that era, there was no shame whatsoever in all Jerry was doing. He was working most if not all the same top level venues Jay was, and raking in hefty coin himself. I never saw any check stubs, but neither was sleeping in his car. They did ok.

Again, just like with Jay I was informed of Jerry’s greatness through my association with Rick Uchwat who owned Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago. Rick was a father figure to comedians of all eras, and Jay and Jerry were like his oldest sons. Both have spoken highly of Rick just as I do, and Rick gushed in return when it came to both of them. Jerry wasn’t that far behind Jay’s status.

Like Jay, Jerry was a meticulous trooper who was relentless about working constantly. The two saw comedy as a business a lot sooner than most of us do, and kudos to them for doing it. If there was one thing that wasn’t a joke to either it was standup comedy. They had the correct mindset.

Just like I think Jay gets unfairly sniped from people that only judge him by the Tonight Show, Jerry gets lumped in with the countless sea of bad comedians that copied his style. I know quite a few people that don’t care for Jerry’s standup, and I always tell them that they should look again.

It’s fine not to care for someone’s individual style, I’m like that too. There are some comedians I don’t enjoy at all, even though they’re huge names. That’s fine, but it doesn’t mean I don’t look at what they do and study it. Just because I don’t like a certain act doesn’t mean I don’t respect it.

I happen to really like and respect Jerry Seinfeld’s act, and in fact I use one of his routines as a classic example of a quality comedy bit for my classes. Even those that didn’t like him before are usually converted when I break down what he did and how he did it. The man is an all time great and even if he didn’t have his monster sitcom he’d still have lots to be proud of. He’s a megastar.

And like Jay and me – he is also left handed. I don’t have anything in common with those two financially, but as far as creativity goes I have to believe we are cut from the same cloth. Lefties are wired to have careers based on creativity. It doesn’t mean righties can’t have success too, but they’re the exception. We’re the rule. It makes perfect sense that both of these guys are lefties.

I have been fortunate to have a chance to meet and open for both Jay and Jerry and it was a real treat. Neither would remember me now, but I sure remember them. I learned from watching them both, and I give them the big props they deserve. From a performer’s viewpoint, they are royalty.

Never mind his enormously successful sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld is one of the all time greats of standup comedy. Period.

Never mind his enormously successful sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld is one of the all time greats of standup comedy. Period. That’s no small feat.

Carson’s Clout

February 10, 2014

Friday February 7th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Jay Leno’s tenure has ended as host of The Tonight Show, but the only thing that pops into my mind is the amazing run Johnny Carson had. Nobody will ever again come close to the incredible dominance that Johnny achieved, and maintained for thirty years. Today’s world is not the same.

Just as Cy Young’s record of 522 pitching victories will never be threatened much less broken, Johnny’s impact on late night television carries the same enormous presence. Everyone after him will forever be compared, and they’ll lose – especially by those of us who watched him firsthand.

I remember sneaking out of bed as a kid when I was supposed to be sleeping and turning on the TV to see the comedians Johnny would introduce. It was a thrill to be up when I wasn’t supposed to be, and then in the summer when I could stay up I’d watch the whole show almost every night.

This took place over years, as it did with millions of other Americans. He was truly the king of late night TV, mainly because there was no real competition. Today there are not only too many actual shows competing, but that pesky little internet tosses a few ice cubes on the fire as well.

We’re all scattered more than ever, but Johnny came along at a time when the rich got richer to the point of ridiculous, and there was nobody else. Charlie Chaplin had that status in movies, but he was way before my time. Johnny is part of my childhood, and millions of others’ too. He’s the standard bearer, and even though he’s been off the air for 22 years he is still held in high esteem.

Earlier this week I finally picked up the controversial biography aptly titled “Johnny Carson” written by Johnny’s former lawyer and cohort Henry ‘Bombastic’ Bushkin. I remember Johnny talking about him in his monologues, but had no idea until way later it was based on a real guy.

I’d heard a lot about the book for a while, and was looking forward to reading it. I really liked the PBS documentary a while back about Johnny, and I thought they were fair with portraying a no holds barred picture of what he was really like. Johnny had human flaws as we all do, but he also was one of the biggest celebrities of the 20th century. He got to go where few others tread.

The book was an easy read, and I thought it was well written. Like with another book I really liked, “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton, it stepped on toes because it painted a real picture of someone the public viewed as super human. Mickey Mantle was a human just like Johnny was. Period.

I don’t look any less at Johnny Carson because of his shortcomings, and in fact that makes the whole story more fascinating. We all dream of attaining that kind of status, but it doesn’t promise a care free existence for those precious few that get there. Mickey and Johnny were both troubled to a certain degree, and fell short of where they probably could have been. It adds to their legend.

Jay Leno is completely different than Johnny. I have nothing bad to say about him, and he was absolutely ‘the man’ when it came to standup comedy in the ‘80s. He was the top banana for sure and Jerry Seinfeld was second. Then there was everyone else. That was no small feat, and neither was hosting a network talk show for 22 years. Jay has had a fabulous career, and I don’t think he is done yet. He’ll surface somewhere else, you watch. But no matter what, Johnny’s still on top.

Jay Leno hosted a successful network talk show for 22 years. That's no small accomplishment.

Jay Leno hosted a successful network television talk show for 22 years. That’s no small accomplishment.

But no matter what, to a generation of Americans Johnny Carson will always be the king.

But no matter what, to a generation of Americans Johnny Carson will always be the king. Period.

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

Afraid To Pee

November 5, 2013

Sunday November 3rd, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

Still no passing of my kidney stone, and it feels like I’m waiting for the royal baby to be born. I totally thought this would be over with by now. At this point I have heard so many horror stories I’m afraid to pee. Everyone I know who has ever had one has told me in detail how it played out.

I’m hearing horrific accounts of unbearable pain, free flowing blood and passing out, and quite frankly it’s scaring me half to death. I know that little bastard is in there somewhere as I can feel it, but for some reason it’s just refusing to leave. The doctor said it could be up to a week of this.

But what if it doesn’t pass in a week? I can’t afford another surgery, but I also can’t keep living in the pain I’m in. My drugs are running out, and none of the prescriptions have refills. I need the whole thing to be history, but that’s never how life works. I have no say in the matter. It’s nature.

I hadn’t taken any painkillers in a long time, and I’d forgotten how they clamp down on the old bowel plumbing. When I woke up today, I felt a pain on my other side and for a second I thought I had another kidney stone. It turns out I was having a sewage backup, and I needed some relief.

I must have sat on the crapper a good 45 minutes, and it felt like I was trying to pass a football – but not like Aaron Rodgers. Stuff like this is really funny when it’s happening to someone else, but try as I might I wasn’t able to muster one chuckle. I’m sure it will be hilarious when it’s over, but for now it’s a nightmare. I don’t know what hurt more, my kidney or my colon. Who cares?

I tried to read, listen to music, watch TV or anything else that might get my mind off the severe pain I’m having, but nothing worked for very long. I tried to make it through the day without any more drugs, just because I don’t want my bowels to go on strike anymore. One crisis is enough.

I’ll be the first one to admit I’m not very tough in situations like this. Some people are troopers and nothing bothers them. They don’t feel pain, or if they do they’re able to absorb it without any whining. I’m not going to lie, this is rocking my world and I’d do anything if it would go away.

Whoever said “When you have your health, you have everything” really knew what they were talking about. It’s so easy to take it for granted, when in fact all it takes is the tiniest little glitch – like a kidney stone – to throw the entire system off balance and out of whack. I see how it works.

What I don’t see is why everyone seems to want to offer their two cents as to what I need to do to get through this. “Just hang in there” doesn’t really do anything other than give some words to say when there’s nothing useful to say. What am I supposed to do, surrender? Who do I do it to?

The other thing I’m hearing constantly is “I bet you’ll have some new material from this!” I’ve got more than enough material, thank you. If health issues constituted comedy material, all of the new comedians would show up from burn units and trauma centers. There’s more to it than that.

If pain alone was what made up a successful comedy career, I’d be bigger than Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman combined. I’ve taken my lumps with the best of them, but nobody cares about that. Audiences are in their own pain. That’s the reason comedians exist. We heal it.

I've been hearing so many horror stories about passing kidney stones I'm afraid to pee.

I’ve been hearing so many horror stories about passing kidney stones I’m afraid to pee.

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.

Meeting Bob Uecker

September 22, 2013

Saturday September 21st, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

Anyone who knows me well knows how much I have always admired Bob Uecker. I think he’s one of the absolute funniest humans of our time or any other time, and his multi faceted career of long lasting duration is about as impressive as it gets. He has long surpassed entertainment and is now part of American pop culture. Who hasn’t heard of ‘Uecker seats’? It’s part of our lexicon.

For whatever reason, people like to ask comedians who they think is funny. I’ve gotten that for as long as I’ve been a comedian – and that’s a long time. I don’t know why that should matter to anyone, but apparently it does. I’m a fan of the business and a student of the game, so I like a lot of different people for different reasons and many of those people are not known to the masses.

Anyone not in the business wouldn’t care about those reasons, and I totally get it. It’s an inner circle thing, and nothing is more boring than listening to someone prattle on with shop talk when they’re not in the same business. What the masses always want to hear are names of the famous.

I’ve been very lucky in my time to have either worked or crossed paths with some of the most famous comedians of the modern era including Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Jeff Foxworthy, Drew Carey, Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks and that’s not nearly a full list.

I don’t say this to brag, but I’ve been around the block a few times and crossing paths with all kinds of people goes with the territory. I could throw out hundreds of names nobody would care about except me and the people themselves, but that doesn’t capture imagintion like fame does.

Everyone always wants to know “what they’re like”. They’re people, and people are people on all levels. Some are nicer than others, and depending on the day and time you meet them they’re exactly like people are. I’ve rarely been in awe of meeting anyone famous for that exact reason.

As a result, my meetings with celebrities have traditionally gone very smoothly. I’ve treated all of them like people, and that’s how they responded. Only a very few times have I ever been even the slightest bit star struck, and even then in the end it turned out well. Again, they’re just people.

The Holy Trinity of funny people on my personal hero list that I’ve always wanted to meet are (in no particular order) Rodney Dangerfield, George Carlin and Bob Uecker. I did get my chance to meet Rodney and George, and both were not only extremely warm and gracious but I also was able to make them laugh. The thrill of having that happen will stay with me the rest of my life.

Tomorrow, I am finally going to get my chance to meet Bob Uecker thanks to my friend Drew Olson. Drew was the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel for years, and he’s said in the past he’d gladly make it happen. I’ve never liked asking for favors, but this time I did.

The last game of the season is tomorrow, and the Brewers are out of the playoff picture. I don’t like to bother people, but all I want is to shake Bob’s hand and tell him how much I admire what he has accomplished and what a fan I am of his work on so many levels. It would mean a lot, and if I would happen to be able to make him laugh even once it would make my year. Moments like this are what life is all about. I just hope I don’t stumble and stammer and make an ass of myself.

The great Bob Uecker. Thanks to my friend Drew Olson, I get to meet one of my all time heroes tomorrow!

The great Bob Uecker. One of the funniest humans or our time or any other time.

Thanks to my friend Drew Olson of 'The D-List' on ESPN 540 in Milwaukee, I get to meet one of my all time heroes!

Thanks to my friend Drew Olson of ‘The D-List’ on ESPN 540 in Milwaukee, I get to meet one of my all time heroes!

Old Reliable

August 18, 2013

Saturday August 17th, 2013 – St. Charles, IL

   In the constantly evolving world of standup comedy, we as performers get used to the ongoing soap opera drama of venues opening and closing over time. Anybody who lasts even a few years is able to name several places that used to do comedy shows that no longer do. It’s inevitable. It ranges from actual full time comedy clubs to one nighter hell gigs at biker bars in small towns.

   I couldn’t begin to count all the joints I’ve performed in that have not only discontinued doing comedy shows, but permanently closed their doors. I feel like “Fast Eddie” Felson, the character Paul Newman played in “The Color of Money”. Comedians and pool hustlers share the lifestyle of being nomadic transients drifting randomly across the country piecing together an existence.

   Of all the venues I’ve ever worked – and there are many – the one place I’ve probably worked the most is the Zanies Comedy Club at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL. That one room sums up my career – or lack thereof – better than any other place. I’ve worked there for decades.

   It opened in the late ‘80s, but I don’t remember the exact year. Maybe it was ’88. Maybe it was ’89. It was somewhere around there. I was just a punk kid opening act then, and nothing to write home about. For whatever reason, I hooked up with the Zanies chain in Chicago and they would use me a lot. It wasn’t because I was particularly good. I think it was because I would show up.

   Zanies had several locations including Chicago in Old Town, Mt. Prospect, IL and eventually Vernon Hills, IL and I worked them all time and time again. Mt. Prospect and Vernon Hills have since closed, and a gorgeous new location has opened in Rosemont, IL. I’ve been there as well.

   But the stage I’ve worked the most by far through the years is at Pheasant Run. It’s a beautiful setup for comedy, and most performers love working there. The stage is large, and the lights and sound are excellent. It’s a long narrow room, but when it’s jamming the atmosphere is electric.

   I’ve had hundreds of my best shows on that stage, and there have been some clunkers too. I’ve grown exponentially as both a person and a performer since I started, and a lot of that growth – at least on stage – happened right there. It’s been my training ground, and I have learned my craft.

   On the downside, St. Charles, IL is not considered a comedy hotbed. Major motion picture and network TV executives don’t book first class flights to St. Charles to scout for new faces to turn into superstars. It’s not that kind of gig. Every comedian in America wants to play the downtown Zanies in Old Town, as it has history. Everyone from Leno to Seinfeld to Kinison worked there.

   There have been big stars at Pheasant Run, but it’s not the same. No offense to anyone, but it’s just not. I’ve had my share of working in Old Town, and I’m grateful to be counted among those who have played such a legendary venue. I worked my way up from opener to solid headliner.

   But whenever the chips were down and I needed a paycheck, I could always count on getting a booking in St. Charles. When I would lose a radio job or when I was recovering from my horrific car accident in 1993, Pheasant Run was where I got work and I’m still grateful for it to this day.

   Even last week I picked up the opening slot because Bert Haas knew I could use a payday. The late show headline spot tonight opened up, and I got called again. Bert could have called anyone else, but he called me. I can’t be any more grateful, and this is why I’ll always be loyal to Zanies.

My Comedy Training Ground

My Comedy Training Ground

Approaching Anarchy

August 7, 2013

Monday August 5th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   Is anyone able to fully keep up with how quickly the whole world is changing? I gave up years ago, and have all I can do trying to squeak through another day. There used to be at least a bit of order in the way life worked, but now it’s completely out of control. Anarchy is the new reality.

   How does anyone raising kids know what to tell them about their future? The world today isn’t even close to the world of even twenty years ago, and I shudder to think what’s in store in twenty more. My generation is going to be the official last of the old farts, as we remember how it was.

   It’s hard to say what generation is better or worse, but nobody can deny it’s radically different today than it’s ever been. Progress has been happening at an unbelievable pace for what – maybe 150 years? Before that, most of society crapped in the woods and had to shoot their own food.

   Then the wheels of progress started turning, and life got consistently better. It’s a lot like gears in a transmission. We’re now in passing gear and flying down the freeway so fast we’re burying the needle and have no idea how fast we’re going. It may be a thrill ride, but it’s also dangerous.

   I look at standup comedy as an example, as that’s what I know. It’s not the same game as when I started, and those starting out today have a completely different set of obstacles to overcome. In my day, at least it was possible to make a living as one came up the ladder and learned the craft.

   There was plenty of quality work in comedy clubs across North America, and at least there was somewhat of a route to take to rise up the ranks. The rough model was to work up to the position of comedy club headliner, and then hope for a TV spot on a network talk show like Letterman or Carson.  After that it was hopefully an HBO or Showtime special, and then hopefully a sitcom.

   Very few actually attained all those things, but enough did to keep the dream alive for all of us grunts slugging it out in the trenches. Tim Allen was one, as was Roseanne. There was also Paul Reiser, Drew Carey and eventually Jerry Seinfeld. All kinds of road comedians I knew received development deals with networks paying them big money to use as guinea pigs for new shows.

   It’s nothing like that today. That little thing called the internet has revolutionized the planet on every level, and I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I do know it’s not going anywhere, so there has to be a new plan of attack not only for newbies but for seasoned veterans like me still out there.

   Tonight I hosted the Rising Star Showcase at Zanies in Chicago. There was a very solid lineup of young talent trying to break through, but to what? Comedy club work? Good luck with that at $4 a gallon gas prices and ten times as many bad comedians trolling for a shrinking work base.

   The ‘circuit’ that most people who aren’t comedians assume exists keeps getting smaller every year, and it’s harder for even experienced headliners like me to bring in work every week. It used to be somewhat attainable for a lot more than it is now. I don’t know how anyone does it today.

   You Tube is another death knell for the comedy business. Why should anyone come to see live comedy when they can see every standup comic that ever lived on their computer – and not have to pay one cent in cover charges or drink minimums? That’s a serious question, and I haven’t the slightest idea of what the answer is. It’s not ever going to be like it was, so I better adapt with the times or start working in a coal mine. The times, they are a changin’ – but way too fast. It’s scary.

Quality Content

June 4, 2013

Sunday June 2nd, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   It never hurts to pound positive principles into one’s head, even if they have been heard before. I want to do all I can to turn the tables and get myself out of this current funk, so I buried myself in quality content all day long. There’s nothing like learning from the best in a particular field.

   First, I listened to a recording of Woody Allen talking about comedy and comedy writing. It’s part of the extensive research done by author Larry Wilde for his classic book ‘Great Comedians Talk About Comedy’.  He recorded interviews with great comedians of the past and it’s been one of my favorite books for years. I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in standup comedy.

   There’s a website called www.laugh.com that sells the interviews Larry did with comedy icons like George Carlin, Johnny Carson, Jerry Seinfeld and many others including Woody Allen. This was the precursor to the overdose of podcasts we have today. Marc Maron has the one everybody seems to be familiar with, and he gets the best guests of this generation like Larry did years ago.

   I can’t think of anyone bigger in the comedy world than Woody Allen. He is THE most prolific comedy artist of the 20th Century if not all time. His work ethic is unmatched by anyone and he’s still doing it today. Whether anyone happens to be a fan of what he does or not, he cranks it out.

   I happen to be a huge fan of Woody’s, and the sheer amount of product alone he’s generated is awe inspiring. I churned out my two little CDs and a DVD, but those seem like Chihuahua turds compared to Woody’s body of work. He’s written four books of essays, has three comedy album projects that are now condensed onto a two CD set and has done a feature film a year since 1969.

   In a word – WOW! What other artist has come close to that kind of output? Steve Martin has a lot of films to his credit in addition to albums and books, but he’s not in the same solar system as Woody. Nobody is. Like him or not, he’s the standard setter for generations to come. His number of completed projects dwarfs everyone, and even though all of them weren’t big hits many were.

   I listened intently to Woody’s interview, and even though I’ve heard it at least a dozen times or more there is always something that jumps out at me that I hadn’t heard or need to hear again. He is truly the master’s master of the craft of comedy, and I enjoyed listening to him all over again.

   After that, I popped in a five cassette program from an author and mail order guru I’ve listened to for years named E. Joseph Cossman. He made millions marketing products that were given up on by others, and had a number of big hits including the potato gun, ant farm and several others.

   I’ve got a few tape programs from him, and they’re all great even though some of the info may be a bit dated. He died years ago, before the internet. Still, his acumen is rock solid now as it was when it came out and I wanted to refresh my memory and hear it again. It inspired me all over.

   Maybe now I’ll actually DO something rather than bitch about being in a slump. His principles of business are very solid, and he was a world class entrepreneur. What better way to learn about anything than to go to the top of any field and study the masters? E. Joseph Cossman is a master.

   Woody Allen is a master also. So is Larry Wilde. Gene Perret is another. I would love to get on a list like that, but I have a ways to go. Right now I’m hoping to be able pay my rent next month. I doubt if Woody Allen is worried about that. He’s thinking about his work – just as he should be.

Woody Allen - Comedy Master

Woody Allen – Comedy Master

E. Joseph Cossman - Mail Order Master

E. Joseph Cossman – Mail Order Master

A must read for any student of comedy.

A must read for any student of comedy – by Larry Wilde.