Posts Tagged ‘Joe San Felippo’

Art Appreciation

October 30, 2013

Sunday October 27th, 2013 – Springfield, IL/Madison, WI

I took a detour home from Springfield, IL today and drove up to Madison, WI to hang out with my friend Art Hinty. Art is a seasoned sportswriter by trade, and has an extremely creative mind. He has done standup comedy for years, and was part of Doug Stanhope’s inner circle for a while.

Like me, Art is originally from Milwaukee. He moved to the suburb of Sussex as a kid, but it’s not all that far from the city so he is very familiar with all things local. He totally gets where I am trying to go with my “Schlitz Happened!” show, and I wanted to pick his brain for my next run.

He’s already been very helpful with input, and I give him total credit. He’s the one that thought of the tag line “An Old Milwaukee Blatz from the Pabst” after I told him what my title was. He’s the perfect sounding board to bounce ideas off of, because he gets both comedy and local flavor.

Art came out to see the show when I was at Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino last April, and took the time to write out a detailed three page critique and make suggestions of how I could grow it into a local hit. He was dead on with his observations, and I appreciate his interest.

I never thought I was smart enough to pull this project off by myself. I knew going in I’d need plenty of help and support, and I’ve gotten it from a lot of talented people. Vicki Quade of “Late Night Catechism” and many other successful plays has been very supportive, and she drove up in April from Chicago to not only see the show but bring a friend with clout who could help sell it.

Bob Rech and the entire staff at Northern Lights Theatre have been unbelievably supportive, as has Joe San Felippo from Bonkerz Comedy Clubs. He books the comedy shows in the theatre on Saturday nights, and gave me the thumbs up for the trial run in April. I’m grateful to everybody.

I’m going to need a lot more help and support, but I feel supremely confident that it will come. I have another run set to go in December, and I’m gearing up to make major improvements. I am still in the very beginning stages, and smart decisions need to be made as the show gets rolling.

Eventually I want to have local corporate sponsorship and a line of merchandise to sell, but for now I need to keep fleshing out the show and making it solid. I experimented a lot in April, and I also learned a lot. The audiences were there, and they got what I was talking about. That’s great, but now I need to take it to the next level and craft an actual set show that I can polish for years.

Art is the perfect choice to consult for this, and I bought him dinner at Longhorn Steak House as appreciation not only for his time and ideas, but for a really nice thing he did for me years ago when I was going to do my appearance on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS TV. He passed the hat and asked local comedians to donate for my trip to LA. What a sweet gesture.

Getting money out of comedians for anything is nothing short of miraculous, and I never forgot how kind it was for him to do that. Art is a wonderful and talented person, and that alone made it worth my trip to thank him for doing that. As an added bonus, we watched the Packers stomp the purple out of the nefarious Minnesota Vikings and that was the perfect way to end the day. Steak and football can never go wrong, nor can comedy and friendship. http://www.schlitzhappened.com.

Art Hinty - sports writer, comedian, creative sounding board

Art Hinty – sports writer, comedian and creative sounding board

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Roll The Credits

April 29, 2013

Saturday April 27th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   It’s been four weeks, eight shows and one fantastic experience, but “Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz from the Pabst” is coming to an end – at least for this run. I had a fantastic time with every aspect of the experience, but now all I can see is a big empty summer calendar to fill.

   Before I delicately tiptoe in that unpleasant direction, I have a very long list of super people to thank for helping make this month run so smoothly. By all accounts, it was a big success and will be back again for another run. That’s all I could hope for going in, and it happened. I’m thrilled!

   Everyone at Potawatomi was an absolute pleasure to work with, and I do mean EVERYONE. I felt welcomed from the start, and I felt like I was part of a team rather than an outsider booked to do my job and then leave. It’s common to be treated that way in comedy clubs, and this is better.

   From the top, Entertainment Director Bob Rech actually came out to see the show and talked to me like a human being rather than boss to employee. He gets the concept, and sees it as a product that can be developed over time to everyone’s benefit. This is the perfect location for this show.

   Kim Mitschke was also on top of it. She’s the media contact person, and set up the sneak peek preview show that went extremely well. Everything was handled in a professional manner, and it was a joy to see it unfold. I never doubted for a second this would be a big hit, and I was correct.

   There’s no way I could have pulled this off myself, and I know it. There was a video billboard on the freeway for Potawatomi that had me in rotation for the month, and I got all kinds of email and calls from Milwaukee friends telling me they saw it. I never could have afforded that myself.

   Then there was the actual staff at the Northern Lights Theatre. Steve in charge has always been a fan and supporter, and he had nothing but nice things to say about the show. Another Steve is a security person and he’s also seen me before. I feel at home in that facility whenever I show up.

   Mark Filwett did an outstanding job on the website www.schlitzhappened.com. He put together a collage of old Milwaukee stuff on the homepage that flat out kicks ass. It’s perfect for what the show is, and I know we’ll build the site as the show itself builds. I need to keep creating content.

   Jewel Olson was beyond helpful as my right hand person the whole time. She really was a help on many levels, and I’d equate her to a pit crew for a NASCAR driver. She had my back the four weeks, and made my life much easier. Every penny she cost was worth it, as was Jeff Lampton’s time to video record the final six shows. He and his brother Chris were also easy to work with.

   Mark Heleniak was also a huge help by putting together the recording of old media jingles that were played before the shows. Seeing heads snap back with recognition as something played was exactly the result I was looking for and I got it. The right people all came together for this project to succeed and it absolutely did. It went better than many expected, but everyone seems satisfied.

   Then there were all the people who showed up from family to friends from all areas of my past to strangers who showed up to see a show. I had overwhelmingly positive reaction from all of the above, and if someone didn’t enjoy it they surely didn’t tell me. I felt nothing but positive energy the entire eight shows, and even though I know I have a long way to go I’d still call this run a big success. I also thank Joe San Felippo of Bonkerz Comedy Club, and anyone else I failed to list.

The War Inside

April 15, 2013

Sunday April 14th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   My business sense has been growing remarkably stronger of late, but I think I still have a long way to go before I can get too excited about anything. There’s a big war going on with that and my inner ‘artiste’, and I can’t claim any victories just yet. This is a time I must tread very lightly.

   By all accounts, ‘Schlitz Happened!’ has the potential to be a big hit – probably the biggest and best project I’ve ever done. I don’t know how much that’s saying, as I haven’t pulled off as many big projects as I’d have liked. I attempted more than a few, but they didn’t turn out as I’d hoped.

   For various reasons, I’ve never had a major hit with anything I’ve ever done. There hasn’t been that signature piece of work I’m known for that all artistic people seek. I was close with the radio job I had in Chicago at 97.9 ‘The Loop’, but the station got sold just as we were starting to gel. It was none of our faults, but we took the hit anyway. For whatever reason, that timing was wrong.

   This project feels completely different. It feels like my timing is dead on perfect, as Milwaukee people have a desire to go back to a safer time in their past and seek refuge from the insanity of a crazy world in which we live. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but I can sense I have hit a nerve.

   That being said, I wasn’t thrilled about my performance in either show last night. I wasn’t able to knock either one out of the park like I know I can, but that’s just not realistic. I’m just starting, and nobody starts anything from zilch without at least a few growing pains. I need to be careful.

   I know what I am capable of as a live performer, and quite honestly when it’s going well few if any others can match my energy level. When I’m hot, I’m hot. Last night I was not. It wasn’t my best performance, even though I did hear plenty of sincere compliments from many who came.

   It didn’t help that Joe San Felippo and Bob Rech were there, and they watched both shows. I’m not worried about them firing me or anything, but they’re the ones who gave me this shot and my inner artiste wants to knock them both flat on their asses to prove they made the correct decision.

   This is a feeling deeply rooted in all dented cans. We’ve been mocked and ridiculed most if not all of our lives – usually by someone extremely close to us. More often than not it’s a father issue and the pain runs so deep we’d do anything to hear him say even the slightest words of approval.

   I know I’m not alone in this, but few ever talk about it out loud. Once in a while I’ll manage to get a fellow performer to ‘fess up about having daddy issues, and it’s always the reason he or she got into the business in the first place. Why so many fathers are cold hearted ogres is beyond me.

   Once in a while it’s someone else. Johnny Carson’s mother was the source of his approval need and he admitted it. No matter how big of a star he became, she never would give him the support he craved from her. All of us have that need to be loved and accepted, but in performers it’s even stronger. Look at all of the brutal sacrifices we make in our lives to get even a little. It’s amazing.

   Those deep inner scars are very slow to heal, and old habits die painfully hard. We’re so used to needing acceptance to the point of desperation, we’ll knee jerk react to situations where things don’t go as we planned in our mind’s eye. That’s something most of us fight, and I’m fighting it after two shows I wasn’t thrilled with last night. Nobody but me felt that way, and even Joe and Bob said it’s a work in progress and we’re just getting started. I need to shut up and know it’s ok.

Schlitz Hits!

April 8, 2013

Saturday April 6th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   I did it! I officially turned an intangible dream into a rock solid reality, and it’s beyond exciting to know that not only did it go extremely well – it’s only just beginning. I’ve finally got myself a legitimate hit on my hands, and after more than my share of flops it feels so good I can’t sit still.

   “Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz from the Pabst” made its official debut tonight at The Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee for two shows, and I could not be any happier with how everything turned out. It went about as well as anyone could hope for.

   I knew going in I didn’t have a finished product, so my expectations were low. My main worry was if anyone would come out to see it, but that went away quickly as I watched a line of people waiting to get in the theatre at 7:50. I could barely refrain from jumping and screaming with glee.

   All I need is for people to latch on to this concept, and I’m going to be able to do this for years to come should I choose to and why wouldn’t I? I have all this local knowledge deep inside, and where else could I ever use it? There are enough people who know what I’m talking about to put it to use for everyone’s benefit. It’s going to take a lot more polishing, but the raw spark is there.

   The shows tonight were at 7 and 9, and there were more people at the first show then they have ever had for Bonkerz Comedy Club shows. BINGO! That’s all that matters right there. The show doesn’t have to be good unfortunately; it just has to get people in the door. I’m learning that’s the key ingredient in show business – even though it goes against all of my instincts as a performer.

   I’m not saying I don’t want it to be a good show, I totally do. But it doesn’t matter how good it may be if nobody comes out to see it. Tonight they did, and it was wonderful. The second show’s crowd was a bit less than the first, but together for both shows it was their biggest attendance for comedy shows ever. That’s not a bad way to start, but I’ve got a long road of hard work ahead.

   I’m not taking any credit for any of what happened tonight. Potawatomi has a high visibility in town with media, and they were the ones who got the word out. Bob Rech is the one who gave it the green light after hearing about it from booker Joe San Felippo. I sold Joe, Joe told Bob, and it grew from there. Bob gave it a shot, and Kim Mitschke and the P.R. department went from there.

   The word was put out, and then we had our dry run last Tuesday. Every opportunity was given to me to have the best chance of performing for a full house, and that’s how it came about. I had a few people I know show up to support, but the majority of who came out were total strangers.

   THEY are the ones who have to like this show, and judging from the response they totally did. I encourage audience participation at a certain point, and both shows had a lot of it – and exactly the way I wanted it. Nobody was yelling up drunken gibberish. They added to the show’s flavor.

   The first show was a challenge to maintain an hour and twenty minutes, but I did. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but being up there for that long isn’t easy. I threw in some standup bits to assure I wouldn’t totally bore them, and it worked. I did my time, and had plenty of material left.

   The second show felt a lot more relaxed. I felt a major improvement in only one show, and the crowd was really into it. I ad libbed all kinds of stuff, and they got it all. I’m not cocky, but I just know this is a big hit. It will take a lot more work, but I’m totally up for it. Schlitz is happening!

A Loyal Soldier

March 27, 2013

Tuesday March 26th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   My busy week continues as I had to be in Milwaukee today to promote the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ shows coming up sooner than later and also help judge the final round of a karaoke contest being held at the Potawatomi Casino Fire Keepers sports bar. I was flattered they asked, and I said yes.

I have an overwhelming feeling of confidence about how this project is going, and I can feel it becoming a big hit. I’ve been involved with more than my share of flops in my time, and this just doesn’t share the same characteristics. I can feel a positive buzz building, and it feels euphoric.

I’m really excited to be working at the Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino. I cannot say enough good things about that venue, and it’s just a perfect fit from all angles. The customers for my show are the exact same group the casino is going for, and this should be a perfect match.

Once word gets out there’s a funny local show that isn’t dirty, I know I’ll be able to stretch this out for years to come should I choose to do so. My biggest issue was getting the word out, but no more. Potawatomi has a very strong media presence, and they are getting behind me all the way.

Today I recorded a radio interview for WTMJ that will air this Sunday. There’s no way WTMJ would put me on the air as some Joe Shmoe local comic who came up with a half baked show in his basement, but with the Northern Lights Theatre behind it I have total and needed credibility.

It also didn’t hurt that the interview was hosted by my friend Jim Peck. Jim is a talented radio and TV host originally from Milwaukee who went on to be a big success hosting game shows on network TV. I have always been a fan of Jim’s, and am a bigger one now that I know him in real life. He’s got a razor sharp wit and is truly hilarious. He’s a pro’s pro and he made me look great.

Also with me in the interview was Bob Rech, the Entertainment Director for Potawatomi. He’s another guy I like and respect, and he totally knows what he’s doing. He’s not just giving me this run because he has nothing better to do though. He sees the potential this has for everyone in it.

Joe San Felippo of Bonkers Comedy Clubs is also someone in the mix. Joe has booked all the standup comedy shows at the theatre for years, and that’s how I got in. Joe and Bob put together solid shows, and have always been fans of mine and in my corner. I couldn’t be more grateful to both of them, and that’s why my first choice is to have the show have a home base here forever.

I’m a loyal soldier, even in a business where that’s not always common. Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago and I have worked together more than twenty years without a hiccup, and I’d love to establish a longstanding relationship with Potawatomi too. I’m not looking to start any turf wars.

All I want is a place to call performing home. I want to make a fair living, and I want the venue to make a fair profit too. This is a team effort, and I’m happy to have Bob and Joe and everybody at Potawatomi on the same team. Judging the karaoke show was a lot of fun, and there were quite a few talented performers on the bill. Now it’s off to Atlanta to be in the Laughing Skull Festival.

What Did I Expect?

February 24, 2013

Friday February 22nd 2013 – Sault Ste. Marie, MI/Fox Lake, IL

   Well, I asked for it. Anyone who dares to drive to Sault Ste. Marie, MI in February is tempting the fates. I have no idea how or why anything of or close to having human DNA would consider living that far north, but they do. Massive snow is part of their lives so they better get used to it.

I knew I had lucked out big time on the drive yesterday, as there was not one flake of snow on the roads the entire 500 mile trip. Today I paid for it and then some with white out conditions the whole way through the Upper Peninsula, but I didn’t complain as I knew what I was getting into.

I volunteered for this run, and this kind of hazard goes with the territory. It’s not like it’s a new thing, I’ve been a road warrior for decades. On the way up the ladder newbies get their bookings when and where they can and that often means doing Duluth in December and Austin in August.

I’m fine with all of it, as it’s part of paying one’s dues. All most of us ask for as comedians is a fair chance to eventually move up the ladder but too often it never comes. I can think of a booker who used to rule the Midwest for years who was notorious for making people drive though brutal conditions – often on extremely short notice – but never ever returning any favors down the road.

Countless aspiring comedians over those years risked life and limb taking treacherous trips like I took today hoping for a chance for advancement that never came. Then that wank wonders why most comedians view him as a slave driver and bad guy, but this is nothing like that. I feel great.

I’m a short timer on this list. I’ve paid dues upon dues upon interest on those dues. I’ve learned my craft and am rapidly improving my business skills too. I sense a payoff around the corner and it’s very exciting. I’m going to enjoy every minute and focus on all the good I can do for others.

I was able to save the day for two people I like and respect, and if driving through the snow for an afternoon will accomplish that I’d do it 1000 times out of 1000. Nobody died, and I’m back to civilization to continue working on fun stuff. Yes it cost me a day, but I’m so far behind as it is it doesn’t really matter. I am making lots of progress, and after further review this was still correct.

Joe San Felippo of Bonkerz Comedy Clubs has thrown me work over the years and I’m sure he will do it again. He helped me get the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ show booked into the Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino for April, so this was not an issue. There’s reciprocation involved.

The headliner for this run is a comedy magician from Las Vegas named Kyle Marlett. I picked him up in Milwaukee and we drove up and back. He’s only 21, but has appeared on ‘The Tonight Show’ and has his own show in Las Vegas. He’s very talented, but I don’t think he was ready for the brutal conditions of what being a road act is all about. He has dues to pay like everyone else.

I’m glad I agreed to do this, as now it’s over and I can move on. I did my good deed, and hope it might put a few coins in my karma bank so when I need a favor there will be someone who can step in on my behalf and save the day. There are no guarantees of that, but it sure would be nice.

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.