Posts Tagged ‘Kansas City Royals’

A Hugh-mongous Heart

October 22, 2013

Monday October 14th, 2013 – Toronto, ON

One of the cruelest aspects of human life is that all too often those that have the most intensely focused desire to attain or achieve something are the ones that are never able to have it. I’ve seen it time and time again – including in my own life. There’s a cruel irony to it I can’t understand.

I wanted to be a professional baseball player from as early as one can comprehend what that is. I was a pitcher – and left handed at that. That is THE most desirable position to be if one intends to realize that dream, yet I still couldn’t manage to pull it off. It disappoints me to this very day.

Most of my childhood was spent throwing a baseball whenever and however I could. I had no preference if it was to another human or against a brick wall, I just wanted to pitch. I read books on pitching, watched live games and even obsessed as far as to keep my left arm out of the cold.

I knew for sure there was going to be a bust of me in Cooperstown at some point, but the only part that came true was ‘bust’. I didn’t make it, even though I did have a tryout for one day with the Kansas City Royals. They used to have a baseball academy, and would travel around to visit the other Major League cities and scout for talent right under the noses of all their competition.

I was 19ish, and cocksure of myself when I went to that tryout. I knew I had put in my years of preparation, and knew how to pitch. Unfortunately, that’s not what the Kansas City Royals were looking for – nor was any other professional team. They were looking for physical specimens to mold into the position they thought was best, and that’s something someone is born with or isn’t.

We all get standard and deluxe equipment with our packages in life, and not everyone likes all they get. Some of us get special talents and attributes included that we never expected, while the rest have to make do with what they get. Many more than don’t ever get what they really want.

I did happen to get a few tools in my box, and throwing with my left hand was one of them. I’d gotten that gift, but I couldn’t throw the ball as fast as a Major Leaguer needs to to stand out in a crowd. 80 miles and hour is not 90, and it sure isn’t 100. That’s what the scouts are looking for.

That’s why those that have it get paid so much, as it’s just plain not that common. Bull Durham is one of my favorite baseball movies because it shows exactly how random things are in life and in baseball. Kevin Costner’s character is intelligent and diligent and by all accounts should be the one with the big career. That’s not how it worked out. Tim Robbins’ character got the big break.

It’s not fair, but that’s the last thing life ever is. There are countless stories in every career field where natural talent or innate ability is required. Standup comedy is surely no exception, and it’s loaded with fiercely loyal aspirants who try as hard as I did in baseball but will never make it out of the low minor leagues if at all. Try as they might, they just don’t have it. It’s not in the cards.

I’ve seen this sad story play out from coast to coast since I started doing comedy, and I see it in my comedy classes regularly as well. It shreds my heart into confetti when I see someone with an unfaltering desire to succeed get out there and slug it out for years and not make progress. I wish I could make things even a little bit fair, but nobody has that ability. That’s not how life works.

One of the saddest examples of this theory was Hugh Neary. As I write this I’ve been teaching comedy classes for eighteen years, and have had more than 2000 students come through my class that has been taught at various locations. That’s a lot of people, and I have studied and observed all of them. Some of them ‘have it’, and others totally don’t. No matter what they do, it’s useless.

It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, and it doesn’t mean they’re failures in life or entertainment or anything else. All it means is that as far as standup comedy goes, they weren’t given that extra scoop of potatoes it takes to put them over the top. Like with baseball, it has to be a natural gift.

Tom Clark is an example of someone that had it. Tom was in the very first class I taught, and it was obvious to both me and the rest of the students that he had that extra scoop. He needed to be seasoned as we all do, but the natural flair was there. Hannibal Burress was another one that was easy to spot. He never took my class, but I saw him shoot up the ranks in Chicago like a rocket.

He’s doing really well for himself now, and I’m not surprised. He’s just like the Tim Robbins character in Bull Durham, except he’s a lot smarter. That kid not only has it, he’s LOADED with it. I don’t know if I have ever seen anyone else with a scoop as big as his. He’s a rare exception.

Unfortunately, Hugh Neary was not. He was just the opposite. He had about as tiny of a scoop of potatoes as I’ve ever seen, and no matter what he did it wasn’t going to change. He was given what he was given, and that was it. No amount of practice or dedication would ever change that.

That small tidbit wasn’t going to stop Hugh though. He must have taken my entire class at least half a dozen times all the way through. He could have taught the damn thing after a while, but he absolutely loved being around comedy and comedians. He loved the creative process, and he had an amazing appreciation for anyone that did have natural ability. He was a student of the game.

Hugh was without question THE most dedicated student I have ever taught. It’s not even close. He would show up early, and sit through everyone’s act and make dead on observations. He had an outstanding eye for what others were doing, but when he got on stage himself it was different. He had a hard time keeping his composure, and no matter what he tried he never put it together.

That didn’t matter to me, because I could see the lion’s heart that beat inside him. Hugh wasn’t going to give up, and after the first couple of times through the class I let him show up for free. It wasn’t hurting anybody by having him there, and he totally added to the class. His passion for all that standup comedy entails dripped off of him like the flop sweat he had when he was on stage.

Hugh Neary was born on October 14th, 1975. He passed away from a blood clot on November 20th, 2005, and I’m still fighting back tears as I think about it. I went to his funeral, and saw him lying in his coffin holding a microphone. His mother and sister were standing next to it and they didn’t know who I was. When I told them, they lit up and said how much Hugh loved my class.

There aren’t many in any field with the passion of a Hugh Neary. I will honor his memory with an award called “The Hughie” for my future students that show the most passion for comedy and all that it involves. They won’t be able to match Hugh though. Nobody can. He is the undisputed champion of all time. His heart was the biggest I’ve ever seen. Wherever he is, I hope life is fair.

NOBODY had more raw passion for standup comedy than Hugh Neary - 10/14/75 - 11/20/05

NOBODY had more raw passion for standup comedy than Hugh Neary – 10/14/75 – 11/20/05

Sports Munsters

June 14, 2013

Thursday June 13th, 2013 – Geneva, IL

   I attended a Kane County Cougars baseball game tonight with my friend Mark Fenske. Mark is a fellow comedian, and like a lot of comedians he’s a huge sports fan. There’s usually no middle ground with comedians when it comes to being a sports fan. Either we’re rabid or not interested.

   I have been consumed by sports since early childhood, but nobody in my family other than my grandfather followed it even casually. Gramps liked sports, but he didn’t live and die with it like I did other than with his beloved Green Bay Packers. The other sports weren’t on that same level.

   My father, uncle, grandmother and siblings all couldn’t stand sports and would laugh at me for the way I’d follow my teams so closely. My step mother thought it was funny to taunt me when a team I followed lost, and that was another reason I couldn’t stand her on top of the ones I’d had.

   It was a lonely existence growing up the only sports fan in a family of ‘Sports Munsters’ but as I grew up I met a lot of friends who were into it as much as I was. There’s a bond between sports fans, as we’ve all gone through the same emotions with our teams. There’s also an entire field of knowledge we share that takes a lifetime to acquire that can’t be faked. One knows it or doesn’t.

   It becomes especially personal when we happen to have played any particular sport in question. I wanted to play any sport I could, but was always discouraged by my grandparents because they thought I would get hurt. I don’t think it was so much about me, but the affect on their insurance.

   I wanted to be a baseball pitcher more than living life itself. It was all I trained for as a kid, and being left handed was finally an advantage. I still picture my grandmother and stepmother saying to me one day “You don’t think you can be a baseball player and make a real LIVING, do you?”

   Golly jeepers, NO! What was I thinking? A left handed pitcher would never be in any demand in baseball. Why don’t I just mop floors like the rest of the monkeys who live in our family tree? I couldn’t squeak by on several million dollars a year. I’ll be a total loser like the rest of our clan.

   I never listened to the deluded wisdom of the family, but Gramps was already gone so I had no encouragement in my corner. I played in city leagues in Milwaukee, and eventually had a tryout with the Kansas City Royals. They came to all the Major League cities looking for talent and my coach at the time suggested I give it a shot so I did. It was in Milwaukee, not far from my home.

   I got a second look from the scouting crew, but I didn’t get signed. They told me I could come try out again at one of their other camps in the state, but by that time I was 18 and on my own. It would have been impossible to make it to the camp because I had a job. It wasn’t in the cards.

   Not long after that, I got started on the comedy trail. I wish the rest were history. It’s personal history, but that’s about it. Nobody else cares, and that’s fine. Everyone has broken dreams, but the only time anyone else wants to hear about them is when another comes true. Then it’s legend.

   Mark Fenske talked about how his father never supported him either. He wanted to be an actor, and actually had some success in LA in the 70s. He was on Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley and he said his dad told everyone about it then – but never supported him getting there. That’s so typical of an entertainer and we talked about it as we watched the game. How many of those kids will make the big leagues? Not many. Years from now they’ll look at this as their life’s pinnacle.