Posts Tagged ‘Larry Reeb’

It Takes A Champion

June 26, 2014

Tuesday June 24th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

If I have learned nothing else from my life’s long twisted journey, it’s that making one’s living exclusively as an entertainer for any significant amount of time is nothing less than a big old, icy cold, rock hard, unforgiving, unrelenting, cruel, nasty, fire breathing seven days a week BITCH.

Anyone that has lasted more than ten years has my undying respect, and then there are the lifer types like me that have gone past any and all ‘normal’ boundaries, and find ourselves desperately hanging on for dear life from week to week despite having sacrificed our lives to polish our craft.

My particular scope of view has been standup comedy, radio and professional wrestling. I have friends in each of those areas that have been at it for decades and are either struggling to hang on even a little bit longer or feverishly looking for something else so they can continue to survive.

And I know there are other fields like actors, dancers, musicians, magicians, film makers and a few more categories I’m sure I missed that are in this same (sinking) boat. We’ve devoted our all to our crafts, but never “made it big”. That term is so unfair, and it’s never about who is the best.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until someone hears me – there are all kinds of talented people at any given craft that are virtual unknowns, and quite often those with minimal talent manage to claw and scratch their way to the top by having razor sharp focus and wanting the spotlight more.

It takes almost a psychotic obsession to hit the big time in any creative endeavor, or a once in a lifetime streak of amazing luck. Or both. That’s rare enough, but now find a way to keep yourself around for more than a few months or even a year. Trust me, it’s NOT easy and most people fail.

In the comedy field, I can easily name dozens of really solid acts that just never found a way to get that break we all need. There are all kinds of reasons for it, but that doesn’t mean they are not talented – and solid citizens as well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter in this vicious death race.

Names that pop into my mind off the bat include Dwight York, Don Reese, Dwayne Kennedy, Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe, Jimmy McHugh, Beth Donahue, James R. Zingelman, Tim Northern, Danny Storts and Ron Ferguson. For every one of those names there are a dozen more, and I will stop naming because I know I’m excluding a friend that I like and respect. But you get the idea.

This all started when I got a phone call today from Rick D’Elia – another highly respected road warrior I love onstage and off. What a classy chap he is, and funny too. He is originally from the Boston area, but has been living on the west coast for years. We met in 2003 at the San Francisco Comedy Competition and have stayed in touch. He’s out there still slugging it out just like me.

He’s driving across the country, and working a week in Oklahoma this week to earn money to get himself home. He’s getting thrown out of his apartment for subletting while he was out trying to make a living in the crumbling comedy business, and he needs to find a place when he returns. I love Rick like a brother, and could totally empathize with his situation. This is why I have zero patience for cocky know-it-alls that have paid zero dues. The show business meat grinder is not for everyone. My heart goes out to Rick and everyone else still in the game. It takes a champion.

Rick D'Elia is a super funny comedian onstage and a classier person off stage does not exist. Look him up along with every other name I posted in this entry. They're ALL great, and deserve a break. www.rickdelia.com.

Rick D’Elia is a super funny comedian onstage and a classier person off stage does not exist. Look him up along with every other name I posted in this entry. They’re ALL great, and deserve a break. They’ve paid big dues. http://www.rickdelia.com.

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It’s All A Game

May 9, 2014

Tuesday May 6th, 2014 – Niles, IL

One concept I wish I would have grasped a lot sooner in show business – and life itself – is that it’s all a game. As wise as my grandfather was and as many lasting lessons as he taught, I don’t recall that one ever being on his list. If he said it I didn’t hear it, and I know I would have remembered.

Truth and fairness are not the determining factors for most of us, even though we’re taught that if we work hard and keep our noses clean spectacular things will happen. After a lot of lost years hoping that was the case, I am rapidly losing faith. I’m sorry, but this world is run by imbeciles.

Every once in a while someone with legitimate talent, morals and a giving heart slips through a crack somewhere and gets a nice run in the sun – but I have to think even that person knows it’s a fluke and against the odds. It just is. I wish this world were run fairly for all, but it never was.

My grandfather was a perfect example. There was not a more straight up spirit that ever walked this planet. Gramps cared about others and fought hard for what he thought was right. He treated people how he wanted to be treated, and worked hard at a job he really wasn’t fond of but it was what he had to do to support his family like he imagined an ideal husband and father would do.

He toiled and slaved at his job for the City of Milwaukee, and it came time to hand out a major promotion from within to supervisor. Gramps was totally qualified to do that job, but he lost out to another guy in his office that was a better ass kisser. I remember it crushed him at the time.

The reason this came up today is that my friend Marc Schultz organized one of his semiannual entertainer lunches. Everyone from magicians to circus acts to musicians to comedians shows up, and they’re always a lot of fun. Marc is a great guy, and I don’t know of anyone that doesn’t like him. He’s very laid back, and again treats entertainers like people and not farm animals. It’s rare.

The big lunch is held in November, but he’s been having a smaller one in spring of late. It’s at a Chinese restaurant with a private room, and we all hang out and tell war stories. This particular installment was well represented by a stellar lineup of Chicago’s finest comedy talent including Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe, Bill Gorgo, Skip Griparis and me. That’s quite the local all star team.

Other than Bill, the rest of us have worked at Zanies regularly for decades. Skip does musical comedy vignettes, impressions and original songs and is one of the most talented human beings I have ever met. He is world class great at what he does, as are Larry, Tim and Bill at the craft of standup. And I would like to think I’ve got a few marshmallows to bring to the camp fire too.

Between all of us, NOBODY is lighting the world on fire. We’re all getting by at best, but that is as far as it goes. I have huge respect for all those guys, but like Gramps none of them – or me – chose to play the game correctly. We thought just being good at what we do would handle it.

HA! There’s the killer mistake we all made. None of us chose to move to Los Angeles and stay there, and right or wrong that’s where “big time showbiz” happens. Eventually, anybody that hits pay dirt in show business on a big time will have business to do in Los Angeles. That’s how it is.

The fact is, Larry and Tim and Bill and Skip and I happen to like living where we do. It doesn’t appeal to us to play any stupid games, and that’s why we’re where we are. Talent doesn’t matter and rarely does. It’s nice if one has it, but not necessary. All that counts is how to play the game.

This is where it gets dangerous, because unfortunately this is the truth. Nobody wants to hear the truth – especially those in charge. They know everything I just said is on the money, but it’s the 2000 pound elephant in the room. It needs to be ignored, and I have never been good at that.

It’s also easy to get in a mental rut and let bitterness take over. That’s not good either, and it’s easy to do. I have seen quite a few people on a lot of levels rant and rave, and I admit I’ve been known to do it myself. I’m doing it now, but I’m trying to separate bitterness from actual facts.

Here’s an actual fact that needs to be digested by everyone that gets into the entertainment biz on any level: only a precious few ever really “make it” on a big time level, and luck is definitely one of the main ingredients. Hard work is another. Talent does have a place in the mix but there are a lot of talented people so it ends up being a given. Very very rarely is talent that important.

The whole “right place, right time” factor really does exist. It’s huge actually, and very few get themselves in that position either. Bill Gorgo is an example. He is a naturally funny person with an exceptional talent for not only writing jokes but punching up existing ones. He’s also a funny act, and probably could have acted had he chosen that route. He’s very likeable and looks good.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get started in standup comedy until he was 40 years old. He operated a trucking company his father started, and he was the only son so when his father passed it was the thing he felt he had to do. Was he “wrong”? Of course not – in life anyway. But in show business he didn’t play the game. Could he have worked at it part time? That’s hard to say, but I doubt it.

Also, he had a wife and daughter to support and he happens to be Italian and being close to his family is important to him. He helped care for his mother for years, and I respect him greatly for all of that. He did a commendable job in his life choices, but for show business he hurt himself.

He came up the comedy ranks in Chicago at a great time, but had a glass ceiling and was never going to move to L.A. like his and my generation of comedians did. Many of those people are on as solid of footing as there can be in the entertainment jungle. People like Mark Roberts and John Riggi may not be household names, but they have both played the game correctly and won big.

One would think they would automatically reach back and grab all the talented ones they could from their past, but it rarely works that way. Once in a while it may, but it’s not the rule. Chicago might as well be Uranus, and out of sight truly is out of mind. They have their own community.

This is just how the game works, and even though a few exceptions slip through once in a blue moon it’s pretty much a standard blueprint. If one wants to truly hit the big time, one has to get connected with those that make the decisions – and that’s traditionally where the trouble starts.

Who’s to really say what’s “good” in entertainment? Sports is easy to judge. If somebody can perform physically, they’re hired – even if they’re a detestable human being. Acting and comedy and music have a lot more grey area, and a lot of it is who gets the push from the source of power.

Another sad reality is that one is either really big or really small – no in between. I think all of us at the lunch today assumed we could be local stars in Chicago and live with that. Even that did not happen, and here we all are not getting any younger and left to fend for ourselves to eke out a living WAY out of the spotlight. We play the game or don’t, and each choice comes with a price. Is it too late to choose again? Maybe, and likely. The trick is to have a plan in place and work it.

Just like Monopoly, show business - and life itself - is a game. There are rules involved, and the winners learn them early.

Just like Monopoly, show business – and life itself – is a game. There are rules involved, and the winners learn to master them early.

3000 Idiots

March 13, 2014

Wednesday March 12th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I seem to have gotten out of the gargantuan groove I was in for a few months, but I’m going to do an about face and go right back in that direction. I was riding a major wave there for a while – probably the best one I’ve ever ridden. It was bound to end at some point, but it’s not permanent.

I am going to consciously take my surf board back out in the water and find the next one. I will not let a couple of off days take me out of the ocean. There are a lot more waves to ride, and I am on a limited time schedule. The clock is ticking, and wallowing in mud takes away from the fun.

There was a change in schedule today that I was delighted to hear about. I had recently booked a show outside of Fort Wayne, IN for tonight, but the gig called this morning and said they were going to have to cancel due to bad weather. That made my entire day, as I had no desire to drive.

I ended up being able to get some work done, and also have some time to think. I wore myself out working on the Sharing For Sheri benefit show last night and the weeks leading up to it, but I still feel it was the right decision from a karma standpoint. I don’t regret helping anyone in need.

What I did regret was making a post on Facebook pointing out that every single wannabe in the city should have been lining up to see that show last night. It was a chance to watch SIX full time professional comedians practice their craft, and also donate to a worthy charity. Every one of the acts on last night’s show would have been glad to take time and answer questions from a newbie.

In fact, that would have been the ideal time. Comedians love to talk about comedy – especially in a room full of other comedians. We were all in a good mood last night, and had anyone shown up with even the least interest in being a professional he or she would have had all the time they wanted within reason to fire questions at any of us. What a magnificent opportunity they missed.

When I attempted to point that out logically, I was rewarded with a full smorgasbord of snide remarks aimed at my profanity ridden diatribe. I felt I needed to use strong language, because it was painfully obvious few if any were going to get anything subtle. There were roughly 3000 in the two Chicago Facebook group lists, and you mean to tell me not ONE comprehends this?

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a poor turnout like this. None of the Milwaukee locals would show up when I did the benefit show for Officer Josh Albert whenever that was. It baffles me to the ends of the Earth why someone that claims to want to be a professional in any field wouldn’t go out of his or her way to network with people that have already done it. Why wouldn’t they?

We laughed about it last night. I was sitting with Larry Reeb and John DaCosse who blew the roof off the joint in less than ideal conditions. That wasn’t a comedy room per se, but when they took the stage it became one in a hurry. Their years of experience were immediately evident, and so were those of Sonya White and Patti Vasquez. Mike Preston had the flu, yet he lit it up also.

Even 12 year old Trevor Burke did a more than journeyman’s job. That wasn’t his audience but he went up and didn’t flinch all the way through his set. He stayed poised, and I was really proud of the way he hung in there and finished his set. It didn’t throw him a bit, and that’s a major feat.

The people who saw that show got their money’s worth and more, and there was a nice chunk of change raised for Sheri. The comedians were superb as a whole, and I felt great about booking the show myself. I put it together, because after thirty years I finally have a clue what I’m doing.

Why out of 3000 alleged wannabe comedians in town, not ONE would take advantage of such a rare opportunity is beyond my comprehension. But I’m not going to dwell on it and will focus on something positive. Those are 3000 of the dumbest apezoids I’ve run across in all my days.

The world is getting stupider and ruder by the minute, but I don’t have to put up with it. I have been above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to helping people and setting up shows to benefit those in need, and I’ll keep my eyes fixed on things like that. Those monkeys are in their own cage and it’s not my job to worry about their laughable lack of sense. I’ve got my own life.

I am thoroughly convinced that what one chooses to focus one’s thoughts on is a direct conduit to the quality of life that person gets to enjoy. Thoughts truly are things, and we are in control of a lot more than we think. I have been wasting my time bellyaching about a few sleazoids of late.

Why am I thinking about them? I don’t know, but it needs to stop. It’s dragging me right down to their level, and I refuse to accept that. I’ve come too far to let something that petty take me out of my groove. I had a little detour glitch these last couple of days, but now I’m back on the road.

I have been seriously contemplating whether or not to continue this daily cyber purge, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to receive several calls and emails in the past 48 hours from people that I haven’t spoken with or seen in years that have been extremely kind to ask me to keep doing it.

I’ve always done it for me since I started, but knowing I have regular readers really blows wind into my sail. It gives me purpose. I know there are a lot of other dented cans out there, and I want to connect with them and give them hope that they’re not alone either on this insane little planet.

Kirk Noland is a guy I heard from today. He’s originally from Michigan, but now lives in L.A. He started as a comedian, and we worked together quite a few times over the years. We’ve never been close friends, but we always got along fine. I remember him as funny and highly creative.

Kirk made a point to call me today not only to say some very complimentary things about my writing, but to also inform me that he too is a dented can and struggles through many of the exact same things I do. I had no idea he was even following, and it was good to hear from him. He has evolved nicely, and now makes videos. See what he does at http://www.theminutewithkirknoland.com.

Tom Mabe is another creative person that I hadn’t heard from in a while. He’s out of Louisville and had some success with his ‘Revenge of the Telemarketers’ idea among other things. Tom has also been following, and I had no idea. He’s a brilliant marketer, and is at http://www.tommabe.com.

I also know that other quality people I like and respect have either consistently shared or given me the ‘like’ thumbs up including Don Reese, Donna Carter, C.J. Vincent, Billy Elmer, ‘Rusty Z’ and many more. I’m grateful for every last one of them, and I will continue writing even if they’re the only ones that ever read it while I’m alive. The 3000 idiots aren’t worth my time, but these people are.

Kirk Noland is a creative man of man talents. I'm flattered to have him as a reader. Check out his videos at www.themintewithkirknoland.com.

Kirk Noland is a creative man of many talents. I’m flattered to have him as a reader. Check out his videos at http://www.themintewithkirknoland.com.

Tom Mabe is another guy I've always respected. What a brilliant marketer he is. Super creative. www.tommabe.com.

Tom Mabe is another guy I’ve always respected. What a brilliant marketer he is – super creative and always thinking. http://www.tommabe.com.

Comedian Don Reese is one of the sweetest human beings I've ever met - and one of the funniest. He shaved his head before it was cool. LOVE that guy. www.donreese.com.

Comedian Don Reese is one of the sweetest human beings I’ve ever met – and one of the funniest. He shaved his head before it was cool. LOVE that guy, and you will too. http://www.donreese.com.

OOPS, forgot one. James R. Zingelman - aka 'Rusty Z' is a comedian and hypnotist. SUPER funny, and a great guy. www.zingproductions.com

James R. Zingelman – aka ‘Rusty Z’ is a comedian and hypnotist. SUPER funny is he, and a super guy too. http://www.zingproductions.com

Sharing For Sheri

March 12, 2014

Tuesday March 11th, 2014 – Hawthorn Woods, IL

Long before I reconnected with my birth family, I was part of the Zanies Comedy Club family. I have worked more than my share of jobs, but have never seen a group of closer knit people than I have at Zanies. There are several Zanies locations in the Chicago area, and the one that recently closed in Vernon Hills, IL had a particularly sweet staff. Those people have always been super.

I worked at that club frequently from the day it opened until the day it closed. Coincidentally, I was the first comedian to ever step on that stage and the last one to close the last show. That club was my home both in comedy and in life, and I even developed my comedy classes in that space.

The last three places I have lived have all been with former Zanies employees, including where I am now. That’s why when the opportunity arose to have a fundraiser for Sheri Johnson, I knew it was my duty to set the wheels in motion. I had no doubt the others would follow, and they did.

A tremendous turnout of both former Zanies staff and Chicago comedians came out tonight to make a successful event at Hawthorn Hills Country Club – who generously donated their facility for the evening. It was comforting to see all those friendly faces again, and we pulled off a gem.

Liz Long really helped, as she was the manager of Zanies for years. Actually, Sheri was too at one point so it was totally in house. Many of the wait staff showed up early to help set things up, and a few with teenage kids brought them out to help with the heavy lifting. It was a team effort.

The comedians came out as well, and I’m very grateful to Patti Vasquez, Mike Preston, Trevor Burke, John DaCosse, Sonya White and ‘Uncle Lar’ Larry Reeb. They put on a killer evening of comedy, and nobody got paid a cent. All except Trevor knew Sheri, and it was nice of them to be willing to come out and support. The people in attendance got a huge bang for their charity buck.

I didn’t get a final count numbers wise of attendance, but the main area where the actual show was held was standing room only. There were side areas to the left and right of the stage as well, and they had people too. The room looked full, and that’s all that mattered. It wasn’t a flop at all.

Even better, the final total of donations including a 50/50 raffle and quite a bit of donated swag was almost double what I was estimating. It was a raging success, and I couldn’t be happier but I also am not surprised. Those people are givers, and they came together tonight and did it right.

I have to say I’m extremely disappointed in the rest of the Chicago comedy scene. I posted the event on a couple of Facebook groups of younger comedians and got ZERO response. That made my bung hole pucker, as it didn’t shine well for the younger generation. Here national headliners came out and generously donated their time and talent, but open mic piss ants couldn’t show up.

I thought there was NO excuse for that whatsoever, not just from a comedy standpoint but from a humanity standpoint. A vibrant young woman has been struck down in the prime of life with an absolutely horrific health crisis, and not ONE of several HUNDRED aspiring comedians had one ounce of human compassion to come out and support? Even for selfish reasons they should have come out to network with comedians and bookers. They missed out, because it was a great night. If you missed it and still want to donate, here is the link:

http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/sharing-for-sheri/140736

The 'Sharing For Sheri' benefit comedy show was a smash, thanks to the efforts of a family of wonderful people. I am proud of them all.

The ‘Sharing For Sheri’ benefit comedy show was a smash, thanks to the efforts of a family of wonderful people. I am proud of them all.

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

Distinguished Pedigree

October 23, 2013

Wednesday October 16th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

I’m back headlining at Zanies in Chicago this week, and it never gets old. That stage has a long and distinguished pedigree since 1978, and everyone who is anyone in comedy from Jay Leno to Jerry Seinfeld to Richard Lewis to Robert Klein to Sam Kinison and countless others have stood on the very stage I am privileged to stand on eight more times this week. This place is legendary.

It’s like an athlete getting to play in a storied structure like Yankee Stadium or Lambeau Field. One can feel the aura of history just walking in the place, and that’s what I feel whenever I walk into Zanies – even though I’ve done it hundreds of times. There’s still a magic vibe in the place.

The walls are covered with 8×10 signed photos of acts that have performed there over all these years, and it’s a virtual history of the comedy industry. Most every big star one can think of is up there, and they all look unbelievably young with pictures most of the public hasn’t seen before.

Jay Leno’s picture looks like it’s from his high school graduation, as do several others. A lot of the acts are dead now, and there are also a lot of others that most people have never heard of. I’m on the wall too, and it’s one of my earliest promo shots in a tuxedo of all things. I’m embarrassed whenever anyone sees it, but Zanies refuses to take it down. They say they’ll replace it if I try.

Part of the charm of a long running comedy club is to see the pictures of the comedians who’ve been around a while and look at how they’ve progressed. The Punch Line in Atlanta has some of the oldest promo pictures I’ve ever seen, and there are quite a few that I had never seen before.

For reasons of which I am still unsure, I am one of the Zanies family. I sure didn’t plan on that when I started, and I’m sure they didn’t either. It just kind of grew unexpectedly over decades of working together, and now I’m ingrained in the DNA. I wouldn’t think of going anywhere else.

That doesn’t mean I’m bullet proof and I could easily get booted tomorrow, but I’d have to do something pretty bad to make that happen. We’ve got enough history with each other that we’re like an old married couple. We’ve learned to live with one another and there’s a comfort level.

Is it good or bad? It just “is”. There’s an Improv Comedy Club in Schaumburg, IL and I’d love to work there and every other Improv in America. What comedian wouldn’t? They have some of the most gorgeous comedy rooms ever built, and have a nationally recognized name. I might get a chance to work some of the others someday, but not in Chicago. I’m a loyal Zanies act. Period.

I just received word I was bestowed a huge honor by being chosen to be one of three comics on Zanies’ 35th anniversary show November 5th along with Larry Reeb and Tim Walkoe. That made my year, and I’m thrilled to be included in such distinguished company. Those guys are as funny as it gets, and are classic Chicago acts. To be part of that show is like being “made” in the Mafia.

True fans of Chicago standup comedy will get to see a show nobody has ever seen before. I’ve worked with both those guys many times before, but the three of us have never performed on one show on the same night. That’s a rock solid lineup, and I’m looking forward to us all knocking it out of the park for Zanies’ anniversary. I’m SO excited! Get your tickets early. http://www.zanies.com.

Zanies Comedy Club on Wells Street in Old Town Chicago. It's a cathedral of comedy.

Zanies Comedy Club on Wells Street in Old Town Chicago. It’s a cathedral of comedy.

Who's this idiot? I have NO idea.

Who’s this idiot? I have NO idea.

Hidden Comedy Gems

October 5, 2013

Thursday October 3rd, 2013 – Rosemont, IL

Once again Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago have come through when I could use some work the most, and gratitude permeates my entire being. I’ve got several random fill in dates scattered through the rest of the year, and I couldn’t be happier. I can pay some bills but still remain local.

The openings are at all three of their Chicago area clubs and at all positions on the shows. One night I might be the headliner, and the very next I might feature or host. Normally that’s not how a club books an act and it’s a dangerous game to play politically, but Zanies and I have a history.

They know I’m a strong headliner, and I have nothing to prove. They also know I am versatile enough to handle any role on any show, and won’t bitch about not headlining. I’m there to earn a living, and also to work on new material in a productive environment. Being an emcee or feature in good rooms is the ideal place to work out new bits, and I’ll take advantage of this opportunity.

Every comedian wants to be the headliner, but it’s not easy to move up the ranks. I could write several articles about this tricky and delicate process, and I intend to in the not too distant future to benefit up and coming comedians. For now suffice to say I’m thrilled to get the local income.

I have several headline dates coming up soon, but this week I’m hosting three shows at the new Rosemont, IL location. I’m thrilled to be working with Carl LaBove, quite simply one of the best standup comedians in America. In my opinion, he should be a lot more well known than he is.

I’m always bitching and complaining about comedians I think should get more recognition, but I can’t help it. I know how difficult it is just to survive in this insidious business, but then there is a higher level of people with tremendous natural ability who are special. Carl is in that category.

I’m sure it’s the same with actors, musicians, athletes or any other competitive endeavor. There are all kinds of people who want to be stars, but very few have the ability, drive and luck to make it happen as they pictured. The magic formula is a combination of all three – and extremely rare.

I have frequently named all kinds of acts I think should be huge stars, and I mean it. My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is one. That guy hustles his business like nobody else, has a rock solid and hilarious stage character and can work clean. He should be on The Tonight Show, Ferguson, Letterman, Kimmel, Conan or any other show immediately. Find him at http://www.funniestman.com.

Steve ‘Mudflap’ McGrew is another hidden treasure. That guy is world class funny, and I can’t figure out why he hasn’t popped on a big time level. Jimmy Shubert is another gem. Then there’s Dwayne Kennedy, Steve Seagren, Tim Northern, Beth Donahue, Tim Walkoe, Larry Reeb and a whole lot of others who are out there making people laugh week after week. They’re all warriors.

Carl LaBove is right there with all of them. I first met him when I was just starting out. He was best friends with Sam Kinison, and part of the ‘Texas Outlaws’ with Bill Hicks, Ron Shock and a few other guys from the ‘80s. Carl has an amazing life story which I won’t delve into, but it sure is worth checking out as is his hilarious act. He’s at Zanies in Rosemont, IL the rest of this week, and I will be watching every minute of every show he does. He’s a master. http://www.carllabove.com.

Zanies is my 'home club'. They have been good to me for decades and I am very grateful.

Zanies is my ‘home club’. They have been good to me for decades and I am very grateful.

Check out my friend James Gregory 'The Funniest Man In America' www.funniestman.com

Check out my friend James Gregory ‘The Funniest Man In America’ http://www.funniestman.com

The great Carl LaBove - quite simply one of THE best standup comics in America today. What a talent - and a great guy too. www.carllabove.com

The great Carl LaBove – quite simply one of THE best standup comics in America today. What a talent – and a great guy too. http://www.carllabove.com

Thank You Rick Uchwat

March 20, 2013

Tuesday March 19th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

     I’ve got a jam packed performing schedule coming up in the next couple of weeks, and I plan on loving every last minute of it. I’ll be all over the place, and in a good way. The money will be appreciated of course, but it’s never been about that. It’s the fun and thrill of being on the stage.

After a lifetime of chasing this elusive dream, I still haven’t gotten tired of the live performing part of the process. I’ve become extremely sick of most of everything else, but that time on stage is still golden – especially when it goes well. There are still times when it doesn’t, but that’s rare.

Far more often than not, I am able to go up there in front of a room full (or not that full) of total strangers and win them over with laughter. I clearly see their defiant stares of “you’d better make me laugh, mister” whether they know it or not. Then when I do, they line up to tell me how much they enjoyed it and I see an entirely different look in their eye. It’s one of admiration and respect.

Once in a while it’s a look of horror or disgust, and occasionally they won’t even look at me at all. Tonight was one of the good nights when they looked at me like a superstar. I’m at Zanies in Chicago yet again, and that’s the place I feel as comfortable as anywhere I’ve ever worked. I am officially one of their boys, and that’s not a bad place to be. Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld are too.

Leno and Seinfeld and Richard Lewis and Larry Reeb and Tim Walkoe have all been staples of Zanies for decades. Obviously Leno and Seinfeld have gone on to much greener pastures, but both are looked at with reverence as having been people to put Zanies on the map. They’re legends.

The one everyone attributes a huge part of their success to – including me – is Rick Uchwat. He was the owner and founder of Zanies in 1978, and was an unbelievably charismatic personality at a time when comedy was just getting hot. He had a way about him that made everyone develop a fierce loyalty, but it wasn’t fear based like a lot of club owners tend to be. Rick earned a respect.

Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld still have a fondness for Rick to this day, as do a lot of others in an insane business built on self worship. Not everyone cared for Rick, as he could tend to polarize a percentage of the people he dealt with but that’s what I loved most about him. He was straight up and didn’t mince words. You knew where you stood with him, and I was always in good stead.

Rick passed away in 2011, and I miss him terribly. He was a great friend, even though we were not in constant contact. He made sure I always had bookings at Zanies, and he told me no matter how many people I pissed off I’d always have a comedy home on his stages. I never forgot that.

When I had my near fatal car accident in 1993, Rick had a check in my hospital room the very next day for $1500 to cover my immediate needs. I had to pay it back, but I worked it off on his stages at the various Zanies clubs and I’m forever grateful to him and Zanies for that kindness.

Today would have been Rick’s 66th birthday. I had a rock solid show at his club tonight, and I dedicated it to him from the stage. If not for Zanies, I wouldn’t be a comedian. Thank you Rick!

Rick and Jerry

Jerry Seinfeld and Rick Uchwat

Zanies in Chicago - my home club

Zanies in Chicago – my home club

Still Not Over It

December 18, 2012

Saturday December 15th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL/Glenview, IL

   Comedians as a collective group can be some of the most insensitive people on the planet when it comes to showing tact when discussing controversial topics. It’s our job to rattle the cages of a mostly thick headed public, and we quickly develop a thick skin and aren’t afraid to push limits.

Even the most taboo of subjects can be hilariously funny between comedians, and we often tell each other wildly offensive jokes none of us would ever dare try on any stage. I will admit, I’m a big fan of these kinds of jokes only because I know they’re jokes. I don’t take the words literally.

The reason comedians are so seemingly callous is that our point of being surprised by anything has been pushed so far back over time we have to go a lot farther than anyone else to get any sort of reaction. It’s like an addict or alcoholic needing more to attain their buzz. A tolerance is built.

There are all kinds of dark and severely twisted jokes that are extremely funny about all kinds of delicate and unfunny subjects from spousal abuse to Hitler to the Kennedy assassination. They show up out of nowhere and spread like wildfire, and this has taken place since the dawn of man.

I don’t claim to be a psychologist, but I’m sure it helps the human psyche deal with things that are shocking and painful. Laughter is a defense mechanism, and comes in our human tool box at birth. Comedians didn’t put it there, but we definitely learn to operate it better than anyone else.

A good example is my friend Larry Reeb. “Uncle Lar” is a hilarious comedian out of Chicago, and one of the best club comics to ever step on a stage. His tag line is “It’s a sick world, and I’m a happy guy.” He has some of the most shocking jokes I’ve ever heard, but audiences love him.

Part of the fact is that he’s a wonderful guy. Off stage, he’s laid back and mellow and actually a very well read articulate person. I’ve been friends with Larry for years, and we’ve gotten along extremely well. Quite often we engage in conversation that has nothing to do with being funny.

Then there are times we make each other laugh uproariously. If someone were to record any of those verbal exchanges, we’d probably both be charged with felonies but we both know what we are saying is only in the context of being funny. It’s between us only, so nobody gets offended.

All that being said, I’m still unable to find a single thing even remotely funny about the horrific events of the Connecticut school shootings. It disgusts me to the core, and as difficult as it was to do I tried to avoid it all day. It took over television, radio and internet but I couldn’t stand it after about five minutes and had to turn it off. Normally my brain would search for where the funny is.

With this particular series of events, I just don’t think it’s there. It takes a lot to shock me about anything, but this comes about as close as I’d ever like to get. What could cause anyone to go off the deepest part of the deep end like this is beyond my ability to comprehend, and when I attempt to figure it out I get nothing but a sick feeling of emptiness in the pit of my stomach and a feeling of deep sadness for what all of the families must be going through. There’s nothing funny there.

Just How I Like It

September 20, 2012

Wednesday September 19th, 2012 – Rosemont, IL

   To a hungry man, a cold can of beans can taste like filet mignon. To someone full, the thought of even one more bite of anything is thoroughly disgusting. Situations have a way of providing a unique perspective depending on the individual circumstances. Tonight I had some filet mignon.

I picked up a night filling in as the headliner at the new Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont, IL. I love working for Zanies, as these kinds of randomly scattered bookings come up often, and I’m one of their main go to guys. It’s a position every comedian in Chicago would like, and I’m very grateful to be in it. Local acts like Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe and I are known as Zanies regulars.

Are there others who could do the job? Of course, but we’re in the mix at Zanies and that’s the way it is. I’m sure quite a few comedians in town are less than thrilled with that arrangement, but there is little alternative other than to keep showing up anywhere there’s comedy and carve out a spot of their own somewhere. Every club has their set of favorites, and nobody works them all.

This can be a very random and illogical process to the point of becoming maddening. Bookings rarely have much to do with ability, as there are plenty of acts to go around to fill any open spots. It’s a total buyer’s market, and everyone knows it. I couldn’t be more grateful for my status with Zanies, and quite honestly I wish I had it a lot more clubs. I’m still at the mercy of most of them.

Then it becomes a matter of networking, hanging out and also a certain percentage of plain old luck of the draw. I happened to be at the right place at the right time years ago, and Zanies chose me as one of their regulars. We’ve maintained that relationship for decades, and it’s still working out well for both sides. It’s that way at other clubs with other comics, and it works how it works.

When I lived in Milwaukee, there were often two clubs at war with each other and I was never able to get hooked up with the one that everyone wanted to work. That’s just the way it happened to play out, and I’ve often tried to figure out why but came up blank. I’ve given up trying to put a logical meaning to anything in the entertainment business. After decades in it, I am still clueless.

I may be clueless offstage, but when I get in front of a live audience I know exactly what to do. Tonight was no exception, and I had a fantastic time with an audience that was there to have fun. Mike Preston and Ralphie Roberts were also on the bill, and they are both competent comics and people I like personally. When everything lines up like that, there isn’t too much that bothers me.

To make it even better, my friend Jerry Agar happened to be in town with his radio station and bought me a delicious dinner at the new Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, IL. It was short notice, but we were able to work it out and managed to hook up for a meal and then headed over to Zanies.

Jerry and I have been friends since the Zanies in St. Charles opened in 1989. We’ve both come an amazingly long way since then, and I’m glad we’re still in contact even though we once again aren’t living in the same town anymore. He watched the show and I drove him back to the city to his hotel. On the way home, all I could think of is this was all I ever wanted to do. And I still am.