Posts Tagged ‘Joe Nuccio’

A Missed Connection

November 6, 2013

Tuesday November 5th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

Imagine the feeling of going on a lifelong journey that took all your energy, dedication and free time for close to thirty long years, but right at the end you realized you were on the wrong vessel. You were supposed to catch a connecting ship years ago, but for whatever reason you missed it.

The reason itself isn’t important, but you arrive at what you thought was your final destination and there isn’t anyone at the dock to ask for directions, and there are NO refunds for the trip. It’s over, and there you are alone with a suitcase full of dirty underwear and empty shampoo bottles.

It’s a devastating combination of both total shock and extreme disappointment, and an ice cold slap in the face sending you into a deep panic mode. There are only a precious few stray bills left in your wallet, and all your credit cards are maxed to the hilt. You assumed there would be a big welcoming party at the dock and you’d get a significant expense check, but that never happened.

What to do now? There you are all alone at the dock exhausted from what you thought was the triumphant journey of a lifetime, but instead you find yourself back where you started. It’s thirty years later, and everything has changed. Nobody cares about your story – you’re just in the way.

That’s exactly how I felt after my show tonight at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago. I thought it was going to be a shining highlight of my professional life, but instead it was a bitter reminder of how cruel life and especially show business can be. Only a few ever get to taste the real big time.

Zanies is celebrating their 35th anniversary month, and bringing in some really tremendous acts as they’ve done for 35 years. Tonight it was the “Chicago Killers” which included “Uncle” Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe and me. I was thrilled to be included on such a lineup of classic Chicago acts.

The three of us have been regular Zanies acts for decades, and are what booker Bert Haas likes to refer to as “bangers”. We go up and consistently bang out rock solid shows no matter what the crowd conditions are, and he knows he can count on us getting laughs and pleasing the audience.

Tonight was the first time the three of us had ever been booked to be on one show, and that’s a big deal – or at least I thought it was. It would be like three popular rock bands putting together a special one night only show. One would think it would be an event and be able to create a buzz.

To top it off, hosting the show tonight was another long standing club headliner Jimmy Shubert out of Philadelphia. Jimmy has been out there as long as I have, and at one time toured with Sam Kinison in the heyday along with the whole Texas Outlaw crew. He’s another big time “banger”.

Between the four of us, there was more than 100 years of comedy experience on that stage, and I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of an all star cast like that. From top to bottom, that’s about the strongest lineup of club comedians I could ever picture. If anything, I would be the weakest link.

I would think that show should be sold out for months, or at least have a line that winds around the block tonight trying to score tickets. In a city of millions, there aren’t 100 fans of the standup comedy variety that would come out to see a first ever once in a lifetime all star monster lineup?

Apparently not. The show was not even close to being a sellout, and Zanies isn’t all that big of a venue. I think the capacity is maybe around 110, but I’m not exactly sure. Still, I was surprised it wasn’t jam packed – even with newbies coming up the ranks. Every new comedian in Chicago should have been there, if for no other reason than to see what a dead end club comedy really is.

Here you’ve got an all star lineup of heavy hitters on the comedy club scene, and nobody came out to see us. Not fans. Not the media. Not even other comedians that think that’s what they want to aspire to be. Tuesdays at Zanies are traditionally “Good Neighbor Night” where they let in the people who live in the zip codes near the club for a very low cover charge. That’s who came out.

There could have been anything on the bill, and they wouldn’t have known the difference. That totally stomps on any remaining shred of ego or self esteem any one of us may have come to the club with tonight, but it was painfully evident that there was nothing at all special about the show to these people. We all had to work like hell to even keep their attention, but we’re used to that.

All of us have been doing shows like that since we started, so it was no big deal. We all did our time, and did it extremely well. I watched the whole show, and all three of the other guys had me laughing out loud – and that’s nearly impossible after spending my life seeing standup comedy.

Those guys are world class performers, and master craftsmen all. I marveled at the smoothness of their acts, and they were all very complimentary to me as well. It was a treat to watch them all work, but the audience sure didn’t act like it. They were pretty stiff actually, and it was a chore.

Martin Balion has been the manager of the Chicago Zanies for decades, and he’s seen it all just like we have. Everybody loves Martin, and with good reason. He’s as laid back as they come and treats us like royalty. He knows more about comedy than most comedians, and immediately after I got off stage he took me aside and told me how far I’ve come and how hilarious he thinks I am.

Martin has seen all of us literally HUNDREDS of times, but to hear that from him put a pep in my step and made me feel like my life wasn’t a total waste after all. It sure felt like it on stage as I was working myself into a lather trying to loosen up a stiff crowd that wasn’t there to see me.

Nobody was there to see any of us, and that’s a crushing blow. There was a lady named Susan Bruno who used to work at a club called Who’s On First years ago, and she was there for Larry and Tim. My friend Joe Nuccio showed up, as he knows Tim and me. Other than that, there were ZERO fans of any of us and that totally rocked my world. What the hell did I do with my life?

I rode to the club with Tim Walkoe, and after I dropped him off at his house I openly wept all the way home. What an idiot I’ve been all these years thinking there was going to be some kind of payoff at the end of this long brutal journey I started all those years ago. I only fooled myself.

It’s not Zanies or any other club’s job to make anyone famous. It’s the act’s job to find the way to parlay his or her skills into something that can in turn become a draw where people will pay to see them years later in those same clubs where they started. For me I thought that draw would be radio, but I’ve got a whole other horror story on that subject. It never happened, and now here we all are with really great acts and nobody knows who we are. New comics should learn from this.

'Uncle Lar' Larry Reeb - a Chicago classic and one of the funniest comedians in America. www.unclelarryreeb.com.

‘Uncle Lar’ Larry Reeb – a Chicago classic and one of the funniest comedians in America. http://www.unclelarryreeb.com.

Ditto Tim Walkoe. A master at his craft, and also a talented musician. www.timwalkoe.com

Ditto Tim Walkoe. A master at the standup comedy craft, and also a very talented musician. http://www.timwalkoe.com

Jimmy Shubert used to tour with Sam Kinison and the Texas Outlaws. Go see him whenever you can. www.jimmyshubert.com

Jimmy Shubert used to tour with Sam Kinison and the Texas Outlaws. Go see him whenever you can. http://www.jimmyshubert.com

Weak End Weekend

September 2, 2013

Saturday August 31st, 2013 – Homewood, IL

   This is not a great weekend for comedy, so I arranged a couple of door deal shows to hopefully make the most of the situation. Everyone has to be more entrepreneurial these days, but that’s no guarantee even one paid customer will show up. Making a living performing is harder than ever.

   Not only does one have to have an act worth booking, part of the game is now running events at least from time to time. I’ve never enjoyed that part of it, but there’s little choice if one wants to stay in the game. There are 52 weeks to fill every year, and that’s getting harder all the time.

   It’s a combination of everything from gas prices soaring to too many bad acts bastardizing the business and clogging the toilet, but the entertainer of today needs to develop a whole new set of skills to survive in the ever changing economic jungle. Things just aren’t what they used to be.  

   It’s not just for comedians either. My friend Dave Rudolf is a musician and he’s facing exactly the same situation. He’s always been one to stay working regularly, traditional or nontraditional venues included. Whatever it takes to pay the bills, he does. I respect that, and can totally relate.

   Tonight Dave booked me in Homewood, IL at a venue called ‘The Twisted Q’. It was formerly a bakery, but is now a barbecue joint that has a stage with live music of all kinds. Dave asked if I would like to try a comedy night, and I said I would. It was a roll of the dice, and everyone lost.

   This was just not the right week to be trying indoor live shows. Last night in Libertyville was a sparse turnout and tonight’s was even sparser. The people who did show up had a great time both nights, but there weren’t enough of them to make it financially viable. All our wallets took a hit.

   I was really disappointed, because everyone involved all weekend are people I like and respect. This was the cream of the crop as far as nice people go, and I hate to see nice people take it in the shorts. Unfortunately, those are the ones that seem to do it most. We took a risk, and got burned.

   Dave and I had an agreement that this was a door deal, and we knew from the start this wasn’t a stellar weekend. Still, when it actually happens that there’s a small house it’s a kick in the balls of the heart and hard not to take it personally. It’s even harder to get up for performing for such a small audience, but that was part of the agreement too. My whole time on stage, I felt like crying.

   James Wesley Jackson was there too, and he did a splendid job as he always does. He is one of the nicest human beings walking the planet, and always has a positive attitude about everything. If there was ever a night I needed that, it was tonight. James and Dave are two favorites onstage and off, and if nothing else I wanted the joint full to support them. But it wasn’t. What a letdown.

   Also on the show was former student Joe Nuccio and eleven year old Trevor Burke whose dad Joe took my class many years ago. Again, these are all high quality individuals who came out to support. I felt really bad there was such a small house, but that’s how it is in this fickle business. It all boils down to the ability to put butts in seats, and that’s a puzzle I am still trying to solve.

Turning Some Pages

June 19, 2013

Monday June 17th, 2013 – Wheeling, IL

   As REO Speedwagon so eloquently sang, “So if you’re tired of the same old story – turn some pages.” That’s exactly what I’m going to do, as in roll with the changes. I am by far not the only one in that position, and people everywhere are having to reinvent themselves on a daily basis.

   My friends Bill Gorgo and Joe Nuccio are at a crossroads in their lives too, and today we had a three way powwow to see how we can help each other. We all think we can, but there has to be a solid plan in place. That’s never been one of my strong points, so I went in with a humble spirit.

   Bill and I have taught a series of comedy classes together for several years at various locations. We have a well formed synergy, and he’s not only a very accomplished and funny comedian – he has been an actual high school teacher for decades at several Catholic high schools in Chicago.

   He decided to opt for a retirement, and wants to focus more on comedy as both a performer and a teacher. We mesh well both on stage and in class, and have the option of giving a client a class, seminar, show or any combination thereof. We both have holes in our calendars, so today was an excellent opportunity to start exploring options. There are many, but will take work to go after.

   That’s where our mutual friend Joe comes in. He just ended a job as a computer programmer at a place he worked for years, and is also on the hunt for new opportunities. Joe is a former student of both Bill’s and mine and is also a professional musician. He is extremely organized, and that’s exactly what Bill and I both need. He brings things to the table we don’t have, plus we like him.

   Joe comes from both a corporate and entertainment background, and is a valuable consultant in what Bill and I would like to do. We met at Joe’s house and spent several hours talking back and forth about what could and couldn’t or should and shouldn’t be done. It was long, but productive.

   One thing we agreed on was that Bill and I need to come up with a book of our lessons on how to write and perform comedy. We’ve both got a ton of experience, and have strong opinions on a variety of subjects pertaining to the craft of comedy. We’ve both written some articles and came up with some worksheets, but we don’t have a well defined product. Joe told us that right away.

   Even though we’ve got vast experience in what we’re doing, now we’ve got to market that to a whole new customer base. This isn’t for comedy club audiences, but a business crowd. We are at the beginning of a huge task, but a necessary one if we’re going to survive in the business jungle.

   After our all day marathon meeting, I drove to Vernon Hills, IL where I oversaw a group of my current students who are going up for a graduation show on Wednesday. They’re a Toastmasters group, and mostly made up of professional types. They’re very nice people, but standup comedy is just not something they’re used to and they’re finding it difficult to put their routines together.

   It’s an especially challenging position as a teacher and mentor, because I know I’m not making their lives difficult on purpose even though they look at me as a vicious taskmaster. They want to improve, and I respect that. I’m only telling them what they need to hear in order to move ahead.

   Still, they’re all really nice people, and I see how badly they want to improve. I can really help people like this – and there have to be a LOT more of them who have money to hire a coach than the upstart punk in comedy clubs that I was. There’s a lot more upside here than comedy clubs.

Golden Rule Enforcement

February 24, 2013

Thursday February 21st, 2013 – Sault Ste. Marie, MI

   If I can ever help someone else out of a bind, I always make a sincere effort to do it. I know the feeling all too well of needing help myself, so I’m extra sensitive to pitching in when or however I can. It’s never a matter of getting anything back for myself – I just feel it’s the right thing to do.

I know it sounds corny and sappy, but I really mean it. The Golden Rule is a wonderful base on which to build a successful life and I am a big proponent of trying my best to live by it every day of my existence. Today I had a chance to help two people with one action, so I had to get it done.

Joe Nuccio is one of my comedy students who is taking it farther than most and is getting some actual bookings. He’s been a successful professional musician for years, but always wanted to try comedy and is doing quite well despite his short time in the business. He understands the game.

Joe was booked this week on a run of casino shows that started in Sault Ste. Marie, MI tonight and includes Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee on Saturday and the Island Casino in Harris, MI on Sunday. I’ve done that run many times myself, and am familiar with all the driving it entails.

Joe’s brother-in-law passed away unexpectedly earlier this week, and Joe found himself having to participate in the funeral which turned out to be today. He was extremely frazzled, and knew it wouldn’t be a popular decision to cancel on the booker the day before the gig – and it wouldn’t.

I happen to also know the booker, Joe San Felippo from Bonkerz Comedy Clubs. Joe now lives in Orlando, FL but is originally from Milwaukee and I’ve known him for twenty-five years. He’s very down to earth, and we’ve always gotten along very well. He has a human side and has never been unreasonable, unlike a lot of bookers who can really hold grudges. Joe is easy to work with.

I was in the unique position of knowing all sides of this situation, and I knew the consequences should Joe Nuccio back out would not be good. Joe San Felippo doesn’t know Joe Nuccio, so it’s not a matter of calling in a favor. If a professional entertainer books a gig, it’s his or her job to be there as agreed upon. Deaths in any family are unfortunate but inevitable, and work comes first.

Joe Nuccio knows that from being a professional musician, and he was in a real bind. I’ve been in similar situations myself and it’s never fun. I happened to be off this particular week and knew the only solution that would allow everyone to walk away happy would be for me to fill in on the run and make the brutal 500 mile drive to Sault Ste. Marie. I told both Joes I’d volunteer to do it.

I wasn’t thrilled about having to make that drive, but if that was the worst part of it the benefits far outweighed any inconvenience. The Kewadin Casino always treats comics well, and I would be doing the opening slot so that’s like a night off. I wasn’t doing anything, so why not help out?

Everyone involved was delighted I was willing to do this on short notice, and the drive turned out to be a breeze – especially for February. There was no bad weather, and I got there in plenty of time to get my complementary dinner. It felt good to be able to help two people in one pinch.