Posts Tagged ‘Jim McHugh’

Soul Suckers

April 14, 2014

Saturday April 12th, 2014 – Somewhere in Northwest IN

I have to be careful how I word what I want to say, and I want to say it without sounding like a moron or ingrate. I am growing extremely more dissatisfied by the minute with what I am doing for a living – at least on the level at which I’m doing it. Something has to change, and I know it.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy performing. Far from it. I love to perform on a live stage more than anything I have ever done – but only for audiences that are there specifically to enjoy a show. I’m not interested in having to fight for attention and force myself on anyone. That’s not my desire.

Tonight I had a booking at a country club in Northwest Indiana. Country club audiences tend to be either really terrific or really tough. I did one with Jim McHugh this past Valentine’s Day, and it was a monster show from start to finish. The people loved it, and it was a fantastic experience.

Tonight was not like that. Were the people nice? Yes. Were we treated well? Without question. That’s why I have to be careful with how I word this, as I don’t want to appear ungrateful for the opportunity. There were a lot of comics that could have been called for this show, and I was glad to get it. It pays my rent for May – at least it should if the transmission doesn’t fall off of my car.

The opening act was Bill Gorgo, someone I love to hang with on stage and off. We arranged to ride together, and that’s always convenient. They also fed us a delicious dinner before the show, and that was appreciated as well. Like I said, I don’t want to trash anything or anyone involved.

The contact person we had to deal with all night was an absolutely stunning woman in her 20s that was so good looking it was a distraction. Where was she when I was young and moderately cute? I know, probably not born yet. Still, she was pleasant to look at tonight and very nice also.

Everything around the gig was outstanding, but the show itself was extra difficult. Bill started it off, and had to really push to establish himself. I’ve seen him work hundreds of times, and this was rough. He had to work harder than necessary, and I knew I’d have to also. And I was right.

I wore a sport coat tonight because it was a country club, and by the end of my set I had soaked all the way through it with sweat. We were on a tiny makeshift stage next to hot lights that didn’t illuminate us very well. That made it even harder, and the crowd was a bit older and super snug.

Were they bad people? Of course not. I tried my very best to entertain them to the fullest, but I had several jokes that work like magic 99.9% of the time fall flat tonight. These were people that couldn’t relate to ‘normal’ problems like being broke or driving a rickety car. They were affluent and of a different mindset. I kept hammering and got them with my closer, but it took all I had.

I was paid immediately afterward, and I’m very grateful for that especially. But speaking from an artistic point of view, these kinds of gigs are soul suckers. Nobody knew who we were, and it wouldn’t have mattered if we were there or not. I don’t want to be the faceless idiot that nobody asked to see. I want to have FANS, and please them all night. Being a mercenary is getting old.

I know that sounds cocky and elitist to an outsider, but too bad. I’ve been at this far too long to keep having to fight to establish my credibility every single night. I know what I’m doing at this point, and having to start over again each and every night is not only frustrating, it’s humiliating.

Very few civilians know anything about what it takes to make a standup comedy show operate smoothly, and even fewer ever think to ask. I’ve only got thirty years of hands on experience, so what could I possibly add to the mix? It’s obviously better to ask the janitor how it should work.

There are all kinds of subtle yet extremely crucial ingredients that go into a successful standup comedy show that hardly anyone realizes. Everything from the lights, sound system, placement of the stage in the room, seating arrangements, pre show announcements asking for silence to an emcee that gives an act a proper introduction. Any one of them missing can ruin the experience.

All too often several if not all of these things are not done correctly, and then I’m left to slug it out by myself in less than ideal conditions. People that don’t perform can’t see how this could be an issue, but it totally is. “Just go up there and be funny,” they say. “What’s so hard about that?”

That is SO wrong, I wish I didn’t have to dignify it with a comment. But that’s how a lot of the people that aren’t in the business think about comedians. They think we just go up there without any preparation and act goofy off the cuff, and they often begrudge having to pay us for doing it.

Was tonight’s gig fun? In a word – NO. I’m probably cutting my own throat by saying that, but I refuse to lie. Was it appreciated? Absolutely YES. I needed that money desperately, and I could not be any more grateful from that standpoint – but from someone that has paid the large amount of dues I have it’s like I just dumped my life down a garbage disposal. It wasn’t worth the effort.

I have said it before, but it’s still true – I have held a long time job in show business, but never have been able to forge a career. As crazy as it sounds, I have been too busy working to construct a career, but it’s true. Driving all over civilization to do shows in bars, country clubs or even real comedy clubs isn’t the way to build a career. It’s a way to develop an act, THEN try for a career.

Building a career in show business requires establishing name recognition with as many people as possible in order to build a potential customer base, and that’s much harder than it may sound. Name recognition comes from media exposure, and that becomes an entirely new challenge to be handled by a performer. Building an act is difficult enough. Then it has to be showcased for sale.

That’s where most of us fall short. It’s not easy to get on national TV, and once one gets there it takes regular appearances to become known to a big enough segment of the public to be able to become a legitimate draw. I had my one little shot for five short minutes on national TV and did well – it just wasn’t enough to put me over the top to be recognized. In reality, it did me no good.

It was a fun experience, but fun isn’t cutting it out here in life’s jungle. Having to slug this hard each week for a living is really getting to me. I’m just not into it anymore. I made my nut for this week, but just barely. And it wasn’t easy. Next week, I have no work. This wasn’t in my dream.

Trying to make a living week after week as an entertainer can feel like the weight of the world on one's shoulders. It's NOT easy.

Trying to make a living week after week as an entertainer can feel like the weight of the world on one’s shoulders. It’s NOT easy.

Football Fasting

October 8, 2013

Sunday October 6th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

I love football. I love the action, excitement and drama of a well played game and I’ve loved it since I was a little boy. I loved playing it then, and even after I stopped it has remained an annual staple in my autumn schedule. I especially love the NFL and the Green Bay Packers in particular.

I have written in detail of my inability to stop being a Packer fan, and at this point I consider it a hopeless addiction. It should make no difference whatsoever to me – or anyone else that doesn’t actually play or coach for them – if they win or lose five minutes after a game, but it totally does.

I’ve resigned myself long ago to the embarrassing fact that I will always care somewhere in the deepest part of my existence whether the Packers win or lose even though I know it carries a zero effect or less on how my life turns out. Even though I know it means nothing, I know it still does.

Instead of seeking the years of intense therapy I probably should for this deep rooted condition, I have chosen instead to take a different route and wean myself off of watching games whenever possible. It was damn near impossible at first, but now I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding them.

One thing that helps tremendously is that I live in a place where they aren’t the prominent team on television. They weren’t on this week, so I would have had to drive to Wisconsin to watch the game which I didn’t feel like doing. I did drive to a flea market and walked around all afternoon.

I mainly did it for the exercise, and it felt good to take a brisk walk on a fall day. A few people did have radios playing both the Packers and Bears games, so I caught up with the scores of both whether I wanted to hear them or not. I didn’t mind in small doses, but I didn’t want to waste the afternoon in front of the TV riding that emotional roller coaster one more time. I don’t need that.

What doesn’t help is that I’m in not one but two fantasy football leagues. I should keep a closer grip of what’s happening, but my friend Jim McHugh is my co-owner in both and he does a more thorough job of combing the waiver wires than I ever could. He’s the perfect man for that job.

I am not saying I won’t ever jump back in with both feet, but for the immediate future I choose to participate in what I’m calling a “football fast” and use at least the three hours that the Packers play to do something much more productive. I will hear the final score soon enough, but nothing of my personal doing will have had a thing to do with it. Whether I watch or not doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that I get at least one of my own flailing projects off the ground. The NFL isn’t going to miss one lone nut that chooses to do something else for a while, but I will cease to exist if I don’t figure out a way to get some legitimate steady income flowing in my direction. A three hour chunk of time to work on that comes in handy right now, and I don’t want to waste it.

I didn’t spend all three hours walking through the flea market, but it didn’t take long to realize I’m not going to haul in much money there. My idea of being a picker of collectibles and turning a profit has been a lot less consistent than I imagined. It’s too high of a time outlay for too tiny of a return, but at least I can do it on my own schedule. The smart thing to do is keep working on all my ideas like The King of Uranus, “Schlitz Happened!” and the rest. Football can wait a while.

The NFL is a drug - with 32 varieties.

The NFL is a drug – with 32 varieties.

My personal drug of choice since age 8. Is there a 12 step program for NFL addicts?

My personal drug of choice since age 8. Is there a 12 step program for NFL addicts?

Grass Roots Support

August 26, 2013

Saturday August 24th, 2013 – South Haven, MI

   The only thing more fun for a comedian than having a smoking hot show on a Saturday night is having it while the person who booked it is in the room. That way there’s absolutely nothing lost in translation, and everyone is on the same page. Tonight I rocked the house in South Haven, MI.

   The guy who books it is a comedian named Jerry Donovan. I’ve worked for him a few times in the last year or so and he’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite contacts. He handles business in the most professional way, and is an absolute joy to work with. I wish all bookers were like him.

   It’s extremely rare for anyone to be proficient as both a performer and booking agent, but there is the occasional exception. Jerry is one as is Keith Stubbs in Salt Lake City. Jim McHugh does a superb job in Chicago as does Steve Sabo in Toledo. After them, I have a hard time naming any.

   Jerry is one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen in a long time. He finds classy venues in the concentrated area of western Michigan where he lives, and then goes about doing a thorough job of promoting them correctly. That’s the difference. He’s not just running half assed hell shows in  sleazy bars. He goes out and finds sponsors and makes sure they’re run properly. And they are.

   He makes sure there is adequate lighting and sound – another important detail too many tend to overlook – and hosts the majority of his shows himself. He’s a funny seasoned pro, so it also adds to the quality of the evening. From top to bottom, Jerry pampers the audience, venue and comics.

   What a treat it is to work for a guy like that. His hard work shows through, and every time I’ve been lucky enough to work for him it’s been a fun experience. Tonight was no different, as they had a sold out show and the biggest crowd they’ve had for a comedy night to date. It was a blast.

   To make the evening even more productive, I was able to bring along one of my students from the Zanies comedy class to do a five minute guest set. He asked to tag along and offered to drive, so that sold it right there. Any time I don’t have to drive, count me in. That was yet another treat.

   This is exactly how the comedy business should be on so many levels. The crowds Jerry brings in – get this – WANT to be there. They didn’t win free tickets by the pound by dropping business cards in a fish bowl at the tanning salon. Jerry promotes it all properly, and books top level acts.

   There’s a fair cover charge, and people either pay or they don’t. Those that choose to are there to be entertained. That’s the formula, but there’s nothing secret about it. It’s HARD WORK, and plenty of it. Jerry is out there busting his ass trying to make a living for himself and his family. If he makes a profit – and I sure hope he does – he earns every last penny. www.jerrydonovan.com.

   As I was getting paid after the show, Jerry told me of one of his venues that has dropped him as booker and is going with one of the greasy ones. They thought he was making too much, and got greedy. The other booker immediately cut the pay for the comics, and began using far lower acts to save money. Cutting corners like that is the beginning of the end before they start. Jerry does it right, and he has my loyalty to the death. It costs a little bit more to go first class, and he does it.

Jerry Donovan - a class act onstage and off!

Jerry Donovan – a class act onstage and off!

The Peak Of Ripeness

June 22, 2013

Friday June 21st, 2013 – Niles, IL

   It’s the first day of summer, and once again I find another year slipping away. After today days start to get shorter again, so this is it – the prime day of the year. I’m not booked tonight, and I’m not thrilled about it in the least. I want to be out working as much as I can, and that’s every week.

   Nothing else makes me even close to happy. I’ve resigned myself to the icy fact that I’m never going to have that solid family relationship I have always wanted, but if I can’t have that the only other thing I’d ever want is a chance to be on stage entertaining people who are there to see me.

   I’ve been chasing that tricky rabbit longer than I think I should have, and I don’t feel any closer now than when I started. I have come untold light years as a performer, but nobody knows who I am so what good is it? I know I can go on stage and light up a room, but nobody powerful cares.

   Rodney Dangerfield had a great joke that said he quit show business and when he quit – he was the only one who KNEW he quit. That’s funny to anyone who isn’t living it. I feel like I’m there now myself, and I’m not laughing. I’m not even smiling. I’m panicking, and that’s never good.

   There are too many choices to make, and I have no idea which ones are correct. I’ve made a lot of stupid ones through the years, but even so I still paid my dues and developed my natural talent to the point it’s ripe and ready to pick. I’m at my peak just like today is the peak of the summer.

    I don’t want to waste any more time, as that peak ripeness won’t last forever. It will eventually get soft and rot, and the last thing I want is to be a rotten piece of fruit that fell off the tree. I have come way too far for that, so I decided to do something about it. I am not satisfied with this fate.

   In a perfect world, I’d be working six to seven nights a week in nice venues for audiences filled with my fans. I’d super serve those people, and give them my very best each night. I’d sign every autograph and pose for every picture after the show, and live the rest of my days brightening the days of as many others as humanly possible. I’ve got the ability, now I just need the opportunity.

   How the hell is that going to happen? I wish I knew. I read an interview with Lewis Black and he said he had resigned himself to the fact he’d never make it – and then he made it. I’m right at that point myself, and I don’t like it one bit. There’s no guarantee I’ll hit anything, and that rots.

   I can rattle off a dozen names of absolutely fantastic standup comedians that the public has no idea whatsoever who any of them are. Look these people up in no particular order and tell me if you don’t think they’re hilarious. I know they are, because they’ve paid their dues just like me.

   Here’s a list off the top of my head: Tim Cavanagh, Tim Walkoe, Tim Northern, Dwight York, Don Reese, Jim McHugh, James Wesley Jackson, Beth Donahue, John McClellan, Danny Storts, Ross Bennett, Keith Stubbs, Todd Johnson, Auggie Smith, Bill Gorgo, Rick D’Elia, Wally Wang and now I’m going to get in trouble because I’ll leave someone out unintentionally. Suffice to say not everyone makes it.

   I’ve said it before, and I wish it weren’t true – talent does NOT assure anyone of career success in the entertainment business. In sports it may be different, but this isn’t sports. This is a business based on subjective opinions of many that have never once attempted to do themselves what they are allegedly experts at choosing. This has always been frightening and extremely disturbing, but I don’t see it ending any time soon. There are hoops that are to be jumped through, like it or not.

   I don’t like it and never have, but if I intend to change my current status I need to suck it up for at least a little while and get back out there. There are so many places other than comedy clubs to approach, and that’s where it gets tricky. Where do I go and who do I talk to? I haven’t been able to figure it out until now, so what leads me to believe I’ll do it now? I can’t, so I need some help.

   I had lunch with Marc Schultz today, and in his world he’s in a similar situation. Marc books a variety of entertainment acts and has for years. He inherited an agency from his father, and even though he’s not a comedy booker per se I have gotten a decent amount of work over the years.

   Marc and I are friends, and there aren’t many bookers I’d call a friend first. I genuinely like the guy, and even if he never booked me again I’d still hang out with him. That’s all fine, but we put our heads together today to see what we could come up with. His business isn’t what it was, but what business these days is? We can both use a little freshening up, so we came up with a plan.

   Most of Marc’s clients are corporate types. Most of them would never hire a standup comic but he’s going to approach the ones that might. He’s always been good about trying to include me on any sampler videos he sends, and I totally appreciate it. But I can do the job, and he realizes that.

   We also agreed that Marc is going to go after club work that I haven’t gone after, for a fee. I’m delighted to pay anybody to get me work I don’t have, so this is a no brainer. If he can land some decent work, I’m all over it. I don’t want to work the toilet circuit anymore, so these will be good clubs that will pay decent money. He’s not familiar with the club market, but he’s willing to try.

   This is not a long term fix, but in the short run it could be great for both of us. I won’t be stuck doing what I’ve never liked, and it’s always good to have a third party selling me rather than me stumbling and stammering and asking for work like a vagrant asks for change. I’ve never liked it.

   Steady work is what’s it’s about in any facet of show business. Period. I’d rather work steadily and make livable wage than be a big star one minute and a has been bum the next. I’m all about a steady career with regular income. I’ve come close many times, but I’ve never been able to make it last. There’s always been a radio job to come along and shake things up in a destructive way.

   I’m not foreseeing any radio in my immediate future. That ship has sailed – or sunk. What I am going to do is cross every T and dot every I and go after all the quality standup comedy work I’m able to get. It could be comedy clubs, cruise ships, colleges or corporate. I can handle just about anything at this point, but what I can’t handle is not working at all. That’s totally unacceptable.

   I look at comics from my generation of performers like Louis CK and Jim Gaffigan, and I want to be doing what they’re doing. How did they get it? I don’t know. I’m sure it was a lot of things. Talent is a part, but so is persistence, connections, luck and who knows what else? It’s complex.

   If I don’t get myself in front of someone, I’ll never have any chance to do anything. That’s not what I want to have as my final legacy, so at least Marc is going to be out there trying to mention my name to people who can book me in decent venues. Why haven’t we done this before now?

   Neither one of us has an answer. Marc was doing his thing, and I was doing mine. Now we’ve both run out of ‘things’, and this is a logical fit – at least for now. I’m going to dive into booking myself in as many quality places as I can. No more toilets. If I succeed, my life will change soon. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s just that where I’m doing it hasn’t gotten me seen.

An All Star Experience

March 25, 2013

Saturday March 23rd, 2013 – Spencer, IA

   What a euphoric experience it was in Holland, MI last night. Who’d ever think a show like that could happen in a place like that? There was no real reason for it, other than everyone showed up at the right place at the right time. That doesn’t always happen, but when it does it’s a real treat.

Those are the shows that keep us all out there chasing this goofy dream, but in reality I actually caught it last night. It only lasted for a few minutes, but I did catch it. When I started, shows like last night were exactly what I dreamed of. I wanted to hear eruptions of laughter from audiences. Period. Location of those audiences was never part of my dream. Holland, MI works fine for me as does anywhere else. All that matters is there’s a live audience and they’re enjoying the show.

It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to be king of Las Vegas or Los Angeles or any other place that’s considered the epicenter of the big time, but I think that’s a big mistake. People in Holland, MI or Spencer, IA don’t laugh any differently than the people anywhere else. Laughs are laughs.

There were a lot more of them tonight in Spencer, IA with the Chicago Comedy All Stars. This was another red hot crowd, but it sure was a major effort to get in front of them. It was 530 miles from my house to Spencer, not counting the drive from Holland, MI to my house. I’m delirious.

In reality I should have said no to the Holland show last night. I always hate to turn down work though – especially when it’s as much fun as that whole experience was. Unfortunately, it wasn’t worth the effort on a financial level. By the time I pay for gas and wear and tear on my worn and torn car, I will barely break even. I don’t like to admit that, but facts are facts. It was inefficient.

It would have been a lot smarter to have driven to Spencer with the other acts on the show. Jim McHugh, Tim Walkoe and Mike Preston split a rental car and drove out yesterday. We thought we had a Friday in the Des Moines area, but that fell through last week. I was offered the gig in Holland, so I took it without thinking. That was my problem. I should have thought it through.

A quarter of the rental car and gas cost would have been a lot easier than driving by myself like I did. Also, it would have been a blast riding with three of my favorite comedians and having fun busting balls the whole trip. The camaraderie of hanging with comics is a big part of the fun of it.

We did get to do that at the actual show, and it lived up to the billing and then some. Again, the audience was really into us, and we tore it up one more time. All the acts on the show are veteran performers and it was like a night off only having to do about thirty minutes total. They fed us an incredible dinner before the show, and everyone treated us like stars. Is there an issue with that?

Again, people anywhere else wouldn’t have laughed any more or harder than these people this evening. They loved the show, and we loved performing for them. None of us loved the drive we had to make, but that’s just something that goes with the territory. It’s a tradeoff. To get that rush of live performing, we all have to sacrifice our comfort and find a way to make it to the venue so we can get our fix. It’s an addiction. There’s no way around it, and it comes at a very high price.

Stability? Ha!

March 4, 2013

Saturday March 2nd, 2013 – Oswego, IL

   If one wants stability or anything even remotely resembling it, entertainment is not the business path to pursue. I would personally recommend barber or diesel truck driving school – which I just might have to sign up for myself in the not too distant future to start supplementing my income.

I thought I’d had a solid gig lined up for tonight, but it fell through without notice earlier in the week. Well, that’s not totally true. BOY did I notice. It left a gaping hole in my paycheck for this week. I was to be filling in for someone who thought they had double booked, but it turned out it was for next month and my services weren’t needed. Good solution for them, unfortunate for me.

I truly must have been insane when I chose to be in this business all those years ago. I couldn’t wait to get into it then, but now I’ve had more than my fill of last minute inconvenient situations exactly like this and I need to line up some kind of a financial backup plan before I end up broke.

I’m already hovering over the financial abyss, and so are most of my comedian friends who are in the exact same boat. There used to be plenty of work to go around, and if we hustled we could find a job of some sort every single week. It might not have been Vegas, but it still paid the bills.

That’s no longer the case for several reasons, the sinking economy being a main one. Another big reason is flat out bad comedy. There are a lot of mediocre acts out there who have the desire to be comedians, but not necessarily the ability. They are however willing to make those weekly long drives and stay in flea bag hotels just to be able to claim they are professional entertainers.

It really is a brutal business in many ways – a lot different than most others. Other than maybe musicians in a band, I can’t think of any other industry that requires this kind of skill set. There’s much more to it than being funny, and unfortunately that can weed out those who do have talent. After a while we end up as just glorified truck drivers, hauling our four wheeler loads of jokes.

The constant grind of always having to look for the next job gets very tiring after a short while. I am SO sick of it myself, but it’s a necessary evil to keep working. I’ve managed to reach a level of competence with enough bookers to have them call me, but I’ve also burned bridges years ago that would be nice to be able to reclaim now. All these elements combined make it even harder.

Even harder than that, I’m looking to keep it local or at least regional so that narrows my field of potential gigs as well – at least in the traditional comedy venues. Comedy clubs aren’t the only way to make a living, but that’s where I’ve cut my teeth and I know the game. I need to develop a much broader base of income, and I’m working feverishly at doing just that. It’s for survival.

I don’t like to be off on a Saturday night, so I tagged along with Jim McHugh to a club called ‘Comedy Comedy’ in Oswego, IL booked by Bert Borth. Bert is a good guy, and has been in the game as long as or longer than I have. He’s a comic, but also books rooms and we get along fine. I’d work for him in a second, but he knows I’m a Zanies guy in the Chicago area and that’s how it is. No hard feelings on either side. I did a guest set to stay sharp, but losing that paid gig hurts.

A Smooth Transition

January 2, 2013

Monday December 31st, 2012 – Reno, NV/Rosemont, IL

   Back home for New Year’s Eve. The trip back wasn’t nearly as hectic as I thought it would be, and other than a brief detainment from a pair of TSA chimps it actually went quite smoothly. I’m just not able to hide my disdain for the whole airport ‘security’ process, and I’m sure it shows.

What a scam, and a waste of everyone’s time and money to pay these mookazoids to rummage their way through luggage and clog the toilet of everyone’s day. Have they ever found even ONE life or death situation besides the shoe bomber? That guy looked like a maniac, and that’s exactly my point. Sticking the cattle prod up granny’s poop shoot looking for mortar shells is a complete waste of energy, and that’s exactly what they were doing today. They were bothering everyone.

The two that got to me had Barney Fife attitudes that could be felt across Nevada. I tried to put my smart ass comment urge on hold, and it was all I could do not to let loose on them in front of the entire line of us who just wanted to get where we were going. They were determined to make life miserable for as many weary travelers as they could, and they were being very successful.

My breach of national security was not taking my liquids out of my carryon bag – even though I didn’t do it on the way out. They made a big deal of it and pulled me out of line to go through it so they could find the bazooka I’m sure they thought I was carrying, but all they could find was a bottle of shampoo that was over 3 ounces, or whatever the legal limit is. They took it of course.

Sure they did. I don’t blame them. I guess I forgot about the big rash of terror plots that require four ounces of cheap shampoo to ignite dirty bombs, and of course their training ground is Reno, NV. I know there has to be some kind of monitoring of airports, but the way they do it is stupid.

Stupid or not, that’s how it is after 9/11 and I doubt if it will change any time soon. The whole world is getting more insane by the day, but strangely I am finding myself getting at least a little smarter in my old age. I don’t know how I’ll be able to use it to my advantage, but I’ll surely try.

I spent the flight from Reno to Las Vegas, my two hour layover time and my flight to Chicago making plans for 2013. I don’t know why I haven’t done this my whole life, but for some reason the plans just flowed. I had some kind of cosmic vision that flowed out of me, and I knew what I needed to do. Maybe I always knew it, but I didn’t execute the plan. This time I think I’ll do it.

I made a list of things I should do daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly. I’ve had all kinds of to do lists before, but this one flowed out of me through the pen and it felt like it was coming from a source other than me. I knew it was right as I was doing it, and I feel like I have a crystal clear vision of exactly what I need to do this coming year. If I do it, I feel it will be my best year ever.

My friend Russ Martin was kind enough to pick me up at Midway Airport and take me over to Jim McHugh’s house to get my car. I made it to Zanies in Rosemont, IL to host the two shows as a fallout replacement. I’ll gratefully take the money, and it was a fun night working with Fortune Feimster and Russ Williamson. Another year gone, but I have a positive vibe about 2013. Really.

Closer To The Dream

November 13, 2012

Saturday November 10th, 2012 – Ottumwa, IA

   The vision of what I always pictured being a comedian to be like is getting closer and closer to becoming reality, and I couldn’t be more delighted. It’s not every night unfortunately, and it took a whole lot longer to achieve it than I ever thought – but it is happening and that’s all that counts.

Tonight was as close to perfect as it gets, and I loved every second of it. Jim McHugh booked a Chicago Comedy All Stars show in Ottumwa, IA at a gorgeous venue called Bridge View Center through a contact he’s known for years named Larry Gawronski and it was a big time home run.

Larry is Executive Director of the venue, and is about as on the ball as anyone I have ever met when it comes to putting an event together. He and Jim have worked together for years as Larry has moved around the country in his career, and fate happened to relocate him to Ottumwa, IA.

His last stop was Vicksburg, MS and I got to be on a show with Jim there years ago. I had a lot of fun then, but it didn’t come close to tonight. This one rocked on every level, and it was all due to the hard work and vision of Larry and Jim. They put their heads together and made it happen.

All I had to do was show up and be funny – which is all I ever wanted to do in the first place. It all worked according to plan, and everyone was in a great mood. The venue is brand new and it’s absolutely spectacular. The sound and lights were world class, but more importantly it was full.

Larry and Jim worked for months to make this happen, and there were local sponsors involved as well. Without all of their hard work, the event couldn’t have happened and I knew that as soon as I walked in the door. There were banners with our pictures on it throughout the venue, and our names and pictures were on a marquee outside of the venue. It felt like I was finally in showbiz.

Besides Jim and me on the show, Tim Walkoe and Patti Vasquez rounded out the lineup. It was like a night off, as we all were asked to do was a total of about 25 minutes each. That makes for a lot of creative freedom to be able to go with only the very best material, and that’s what we did.

The audience was really into it, and we all fed off of their energy. I could tell it was going to be a killer show about thirty seconds into it, and when that happens it’s pure electricity. We all have a lot of experience, and that makes it even easier. We’d all worked with each other before, and at the end of the show we were all on stage together like The Rat Pack to close it out with a bang.

After the show, Larry invited us over to his house where his wife put out an amazing spread of food that blew us all away. The sponsors and some local VIPs were there, and they couldn’t have been nicer. They all said how much they enjoyed the show, and it was just first class all the way.

Larry put us in the Americinn Ottumwa, the nicest hotel in town. They treated us like stars too, and everything about this event was stellar. This is how I always pictured it, and just because it’s in Ottumwa rather than Las Vegas doesn’t take a thing away from it. Fun is fun, and this was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been a part of. Larry and Jim put together a night I won’t forget.

One Night Standing

November 8, 2012

Wednesday November 7th, 2012 – Clinton, WI

   With all the boring details that have to be looked after constantly and all the fires and potential fires that need to be put out, it can be all too easy to forget just how much fun comedy should be. Nights like tonight are a sweet reminder of why I have continued to stay in the game for so long.

I had a fantastic time in Clinton, WI of all places, and I wish every single one nighter could be even half this well run. Everything about this gig was on the money, and it all has to do with the people running it. I wish I could clone them to make every gig run as smoothly as this one does.

The place is called ‘Boxcar Pub & Grub’ and I worked here once before. I’m not exactly sure when, but it was maybe a little over a year ago. I was impressed with the entire operation then as I recall, but I was even more impressed tonight. This is a well run establishment and I love that.

I’ve been around so many mismanaged hell holes in my life that when something runs like it’s supposed to it screams out at me. There was a warm feeling of welcome from everyone from the time I walked in the door to the time I left, and I felt it last time as well. It’s not always that way.

The owner’s name is Tim Pogorelski and he’s a former musician that loves live entertainment of all kinds. He’s been a performer himself, so he knows how important promotion is. I thought he did a spectacular job last time, and it was even better tonight. He had a full house that paid a $10 cover on a Wednesday night in a bad economy in Clinton, WI – a town of probably 2500.

To his extreme credit, he knows his market and plays to them very well. He has done comedy shows on the first Wednesday of the month for a couple of years now, and has built an audience who looks forward to it and supports it. It would be all too easy to get greedy and try to stretch it to weekly shows, but that would burn it out in a hurry. Tim knows exactly what his market bears.

He maintains the perfect mix of promotion, frequency and quality of shows and that’s why he’s been able to last as long as he has. He pays a very fair wage – especially for a middle of the week show – but that allows him to get some very good acts which in turn keeps people coming back.

To make it even better all around, the opening act had to bail out at the last minute and I found out Jim McHugh was off and was willing to drive up and join me. That gave the audience a huge bonus as it was a double headliner kick ass show and then some. They got their money’s worth.

Tim was smart enough to know it was a break for him, but it was a break for Jim too. He pulled in a payday on a Wednesday, and I had a great opening act who got the crowd red hot for me and made my job easier. It was win/win/win, and Jim and I talked all the way home about how much fun it was and how we wished every one nighter could be run this well. It was a treat for us all.

Jeremy Danley is the booker of this gig, and he’s also a comedian. He knows what it’s like also so between him and Tim and Jim and me there were people in charge who had a clue as to how a show should be run correctly. I’d work with and for any of these guys at anytime and anywhere.

California Dreaming

October 14, 2012

Friday October 12th, 2012 – California, PA

   As Jerry Reed said years ago – “When you’re hot, you’re hot.”  I’ve seen it work the other way too, and I sure wish I knew what causes hot and cold streaks but I have no idea. I’ve experienced both, and hot is definitely better. I wish I could control the flow, but I haven’t found out how yet.

Jim McHugh called about a month ago to ask if I was available for a booking in California, PA tonight with his Chicago Comedy All Stars group. Any time Jim calls with work, it’s a cut above the comedy club grind and I gladly say yes. Even though I’d never even heard of California, PA in all my years of being a road warrior, I said yes immediately. Work is at a premium these days.

Jim was asked to put together a standup comedy show at California University by a connection he has in Iowa who knew someone at the school who wanted to do a show for their homecoming weekend. That’s how it works, and there’s no rhyme or reason for it. Jim was in the right place at the right time, and he got the call. He called me, and I was in the right place at the right time too.

How this all breaks down on a large scale in the universe I can’t begin to wrap my marble sized intellect around, but I know it’s cosmic and beyond my control. I was thrilled Jim thought to give me a call at all, as it turned out to be one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in recent memory.

Also on the show besides Jim and myself were Sonya White and Dwayne Kennedy. That’s one of the most rock solid and diverse lineups I can imagine, and we proceeded to tear the roof off of the gorgeous new facility where we were booked. It was built earlier this year, and it’s beautiful.

They treated us like rock stars from the second we got there, and we had a dressing room with a deli tray and everything. The people in charge couldn’t have been nicer, and Jim couldn’t have chosen any nicer comedians to work with. Sonya and Dwayne are both sweethearts to work with, and their acts are solid as well. Jim knows what he’s doing, and we all knew this would be great.

The audience was mostly locals, and they came out to laugh. Jim hosted the show, and the rest of us could see it was a red hot crowd in about thirty seconds. We were each told to do about 25 minutes, which is a night off for all of us who are headliners and used to doing 45 minute sets.

One by one, we lit that audience up and we all knew what a special night this was and enjoyed every second of it. It doesn’t always work this way, and when it does it’s pure ecstasy. We really knocked it out of the park, and at the end of the show we were all on stage together and received a standing ovation. It was the right people on the right night, and everyone walked out happy.

After the show, people lined up to get our autographs and we stood around signing the backs of people’s tickets for probably twenty minutes. It was just like the stereotypical dream that most of us have about how show business is before we get brought back to earth with a sickening thud.

This was one night when we lived that dream, and it couldn’t have been with nicer people. We all have paid our dues and were able to appreciate every bit of it. This is what keeps us all going.