Posts Tagged ‘Las Vegas’

My Favorite Venue

July 23, 2014

Saturday July 19th, 2014 – Milwaukee, WI

Ahhh…nothing is as thoroughly refreshing as an oasis in the desert. Tonight I was booked for a pair of shows at my all time favorite performance venue which is The Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. I love everything about the place, and I’d work there anytime.

The stage is enormous, the sound and lights are always perfect, and the hometown audience is primed. I can talk to them like nowhere else, because I grew up in Milwaukee and know exactly what buttons to push. I can use references I can’t use anywhere else, and it is total creative bliss.

Another reason I like working there is the friendly staff. Bob Rech is in charge, and everybody from him on down treats me like a big star. I treat them well too, but I do that everywhere. That’s how I think everyone should be, but it doesn’t always go down that way. I feel totally at home.

Tonight I wasn’t hired to do my “Schlitz Happened!” show about growing up in Milwaukee, so I kept it separate and just did my regular standup comedy show. I have enough material to divide it up, and I have always been one to switch things around depending on the individual audience.

I’m rarely if ever nervous before any show, but tonight I admit there was a knot in my stomach because my sister Tammy and her husband Jake came out to see the early show. I had a difficult time coming up with the last time Tammy saw me, and it has to be more than 25 years. Jake had never seen me perform ever, and I wanted to have a good show just so they’d have a good time.

We went out for dinner before the show, and met up with my cousin Wendy and her childhood friend Mary Jo. Tammy and Wendy had never met, and I was a nervous host there too because I wanted it to go well. The last thing I needed would be any family tension, but there wasn’t a bit.

Wendy is a super sweetheart, and has supported me for years. She and Tammy were fine, and we had a relaxing meal before they went to gamble for a while before the show. Caryn Ruby was the opening act, and she joined us for dinner. I didn’t expect any problems from her, and didn’t have any. All of us got along, and it went exactly how it was supposed to go. I was SO relieved.

The early show audience wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. Summer shows are always light, and the 7pm starting time can be a factor too. I was still able to get them going, but I have had much better audiences. Tammy and Jake thought it was great, and so did Wendy. That’s the main concern I had, and I’m always ultra hard on myself and set high standards. I want to please.

Of course the second show was a whole lot better, but that’s how it usually goes. When there’s anybody that need to be impressed, the show rarely delivers – at least in my mind. When it’s just another show with nobody I know in the crowd, that’s when it rocks. Those people were laughers and we all had a blast. When that room is rocking, there isn’t any place like it. I adore that space.

If it were up to me, I would work there 52 weeks a year. I would perform “Schlitz Happened!” and build my legend like Danny Gans did at his theatre in The Mirage in Las Vegas. It doesn’t even have to be in the Northern Lights Theatre, even though I fit perfectly there. A smaller room would be fine, as long as the hot audiences keep showing up. I was born to work there. Literally.

I can't think of a more ideal venue for standup comedy than Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. It's my favorite stage of all time.

I can’t think of a more ideal venue for standup comedy than Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. It’s my favorite venue. http://www.paysbig.com

The Golden Circle

February 22, 2014

Friday February 21st, 2014 – Ottawa, IL

Any time I can find a way to get paid and stay within a 100 mile radius of home, I consider it a personal victory. That’s the golden circle and anything farther than that becomes a road gig and a chore. I didn’t always feel that way, and in fact it was the exact opposite. I used to love to roam.

I used to look for bookings as far from home as possible in places I’d never been, and the only thing I cared about was if I could at least break even to pay for my trip. It was the experience that interested me, not the money. I wanted to explore new places and have adventures coast to coast.

Those days are long over. If I had my way now, I’d find a place where I could work whenever I want, and it would hopefully have an apartment upstairs so I’d never have to leave. I’d live out my days in one place, and not complain a bit. At this point, I wouldn’t really care where that is.

It would be a bonus to have nice weather, but it’s not a requirement. I stay in the Chicago area because I have a lot of friends here. I can squeak out a living because I’ve been around for years, and most of the bookers use me regularly. It’s not a career move to live here, so I’d gladly move anywhere an opportunity came up. But where would that be? I’ll think I have to create my own.

I really enjoyed living in Los Angeles, but that’s the last place to be able to squeak out a living doing comedy. It’s not near anything, and the gigs that are there don’t pay. It’s a showcase town. Everyone and their grandma thinks they’re going to be the next big star, and it’s not about work.

New York has never interested me in the least. It’s filthy, crowded, expensive and the weather is just like here. I wouldn’t be in the top 2000 of New York acts, so why move there and start at the bottom when I’m one of the top acts in Chicago? I see no reason to ever move to New York.

I love Las Vegas, but again there’s nothing near it. Would living in town give me enough work to be able to survive? Perhaps. If I worked at it, I bet I could come up with some sort of deal that lets me stay in town at least a big chunk of the year. That might be a possibility sooner than later.

I like the Chicago area because there’s a significant chunk of population within 100 miles in all directions except east. But I can drive around Lake Michigan, and work in places like St. Joseph, MI and Michigan City, IN and all kinds of other little towns that keep me busy most of the year.

If I really focused on that 100 mile radius, I think I could do fine and still sleep in my own bed every night. Would that be a career? Not really. It would be steady work, and a job. That’s what I’ve been doing all these years, and it’s been all I could handle to squeak out a living that long.

Tonight I did a show in Ottawa, IL that was less than thrilling quite honestly. I was heckled by the sound guy of all people, and he had a mic and could talk back. People were walking back and forth in front of me during the show, and there wasn’t any stage. I had to stand on a dance floor.

The pay wasn’t great, but I was off on a Friday and it was exactly 86 miles from my front door. I gave them my best, got my check, and drove home. It wasn’t fulfilling, but it wasn’t an all day drive either. It will pay a bill or two while I keep working on my transition to being a humorist.

What I did tonight was a comedian gig. The people weren’t mean, and in fact the lady who was in charge was very friendly. But there wasn’t a lot of respect there whether they realized it or not, and it made my job far more difficult than it needed to be. For any money, it just wasn’t worth it.

I realize I could have turned this down, but I like to perform and since it was within the golden circle I said I’d do it. My policy has always been I would much rather work for low pay than not have a gig at all. I think I have to reassess that policy, and start to turn things down on occasion.

I’ve always been told the most powerful word in show business (and in life) is “no”. The more one can afford to say no, the more opportunities one is likely to get. When it’s possible to choose when and where one works, a whole new (and infinitely better) world emerges. That’s my goal.

I can’t picture a humorist having to do a gig like tonight. For one, a humorist would have been paid a lot more. When a buyer has to pay more, there’s immediately more respect before a show even starts. The performer has an opportunity to have a say over conditions, and it all runs well.

A comedian gets thrown into the fire, but nobody cares because it didn’t cost a lot of money. It never occurs to the buyer that seemingly little things like lights and sound really do matter, as do others like a proper introduction and getting the audience focused and attentive before the show.

Tonight everything was wrong. The audience was standing around in groups talking when I got there, and someone went on the microphone and started reading an introduction before they were seated. Nobody was listening, and I had to start out in a hole while they found their seats. Brutal.

There was no stage or stage lighting, and there was a DJ sitting at a table right behind me who talked to me through most of the show. At one point – right in the middle of a bit that needed the audience’s full attention – a song started playing for no reason. He had hit a button and started it by mistake. It totally ruined a very delicate moment, and when I glared at him he just laughed.

I did get some laughs out of the audience, but it was a whole lot harder than it needed to be. It took all of my years of experience to pull this one off, and halfway through I realized that it was a mistake to have said yes to this. For the few bucks I made, it was anything but ‘easy money’.

It was fast money in that I got paid tonight, but it took thirty years to be able to manage what I did under such unprofessional conditions. Would a top entertainer in any field perform like this? No. I did because I wanted to get paid. In the long run, I cheated myself. I’m far better than this.

No offense to anyone in the group tonight. They weren’t bad people, and in fact I received a lot of nice compliments after the show. But this isn’t what I need to be doing this late into the game. I am very good at what I do, and underselling my product like this is beneath what I have earned.

I picture myself performing at the top venues in the world, with full houses there to enjoy what I do. I can give world class shows, but not under the circumstances I had to face tonight. It was a wake up call, and I get the message loud and clear. From now on, I have to be careful when I say yes and shouldn’t accept a blind booking just anywhere. I’ve worked too hard for too long to get thrown scraps. If I don’t say no, they’ll keep coming. Close to home or not, this was a mistake.

Any time I can stay within 100 miles of Chicago and get paid, I consider it a victory. That's the 'Golden Circle'.

Any time I can stay within 100 miles of Chicago and get paid, I consider it a victory. That’s the ‘Golden Circle’.

Close For Comfort

January 12, 2014

Saturday January 11th, 2014 – Wauconda, IL/Island Lake, IL

One of the sweetest treats any long time entertainer can experience is having a booking close to home. The longer the time in the business, the more the closeness to home is greatly appreciated. The road gets old and unforgiving after time, and the excitement of seeing new scenery expires.

There comes a point when we’ve been everywhere, seen everything and all we want is to have a “normal” life – whatever that may be. What it isn’t is being constantly in transit trying to arrive on time for the next show. It is constantly looming over one’s head, and I for one am SO over it.

Tonight – for one of just a handful of times I can ever remember – I had a show literally down the road from where I live. Wow! I was ecstatic beyond words. I’ve worked this place before, but I lived in a different place then. It was still close, but not like this. This one was a stone’s throw.

The venue is a place called The Energee Center in Wauconda, IL. Sally Edwards is a comedian that started booking shows there because she and her husband moved there and saw there was no comedy anywhere close by. It’s a small room, but audiences are friendly and it’s very laid back.

The pay to close the show is comparable with most one nighters on the road, so they can get an excellent quality of acts to work there. It’s in the Chicago area, and like me there are a lot of acts that are less than thrilled with going on the road to make basically the same money. Actually, it’s less after gas and food are subtracted from the total. Working in Wauconda does have its upside.

It has a huge upside for me, as I’m staying in Island Lake which is the next town over. It was a two minute drive to get to work tonight, and I had a smile on my face the whole time. I would be thrilled if I could do that more often, and I totally see the appeal of a Las Vegas or Branson, MO for that exact reason. If an entertainer can get the audiences to come to them, life is but a dream.

The show tonight was a lot of fun, but I wouldn’t have been upset even if it wasn’t. As long as I didn’t have to drive far, a room full of screaming drunken hecklers wouldn’t have caused me to flinch one bit. I was paid immediately upon getting off stage, and that’s the cherry on the sundae.

Trevor Burke’s dad Joe brought Trevor out to do a set, and then they’re going to fly out to Los Angeles tomorrow to talk to a production company about a reality show for Trevor. Good for the both of them. Whether they get it or not doesn’t matter. The fact they’ve got a meeting is terrific.

The feature act tonight was Mike Maxwell – obviously no relation. Mike is an up and comer on the Chicago scene, and I like the guy a lot. Having two guys named Maxwell on a show is a good gimmick I guess, but I’d work with him anytime. He brought a lot of his family out, and that was a large percentage of the crowd tonight. It was a slow night for many reasons and we needed it.

Things are just really going well right now, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. The situation with my roommate Sheri is still very sad, but that’s getting better too. They’ve moved her to one of the best treatment facilities in the country, and she’s beginning a long process of recovery that may take up to a year. Her friend Debra told me they want to try and keep the house, and it might entail having me and another person stay here to pay expenses. If that would help Sheri, I’m in.

Wauconda, IL - comedy hotbed? No, but there's a fun one nighter once a month at The Energee Center. www.energeecenter.com.

Wauconda, IL – comedy hotbed? No, but there’s a fun one nighter once a month at The Energee Center. http://www.energeecenter.com.

I worked with 12 year old comedian Trevor Burke for the second time this week. The kid is getting more work than I am - and he deserves it. Funny kid. www.trevorburke.com.

I worked with 12 year old comedian Trevor Burke for the second time this week. The kid is getting more work than I am – and he deserves it. Funny kid. http://www.trevorburke.com.

Mike Maxwell (no relation) was also on the show. It was "an evening with a couple of Maxwells". As always, it was a lot of fun. www.mikemaxwell.org

Mike Maxwell (no relation) was also on the show. It was “an evening with a couple of Maxwells”. As always, it was a lot of fun. http://www.mikemaxwell.org

The Branson Theory

August 17, 2013

Friday August 16th, 2013 – Crystal Lake, IL

   It’s easy to make fun of Branson, MO, and many people do. They talk about it being full of old people and their parents, and I guess to some degree that might be true. The acts there are geared for an older audience, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Those people need entertainment too.

   As I rapidly approach geezerhood, I like the idea of how Branson operates more and more. It’s exactly the opposite formula most entertainers are used to, but I could get used to it in a big time hurry. We’re used to constantly being on the road bringing entertainment directly to the people.

   Branson’s theory is to put the entertainment in one place and let the people come get it. That’s a brilliant plan, and I’m all for it. Las Vegas has done a similar formula for much longer, but it’s based around entertainment being the lure for people to gamble. In Branson, it’s the main event.

   I’ve been through Branson a few times in my travels, but I haven’t worked there as of yet. I’m hoping to put it off at least a little while, so I don’t feel like I’ve been farmed out to the oatmeal circuit just yet. It’s like an AARP card. Everyone knows it’s coming, but nobody wants to get it.

   The good thing about standup comedy is that it can be done a lot longer than most other forms of entertainment. Athletes are done for sure by 40, and often a lot earlier than that. Leading men and women in movies are done rather quickly too. Rock bands have been hanging around longer in recent years, but that’s too much work in my opinion. Comedy is the best long term scenario.

   The worst part is the constant grind of the road. I’m feeling it now, and it’s a major issue. I still love doing the shows, but getting there is a major hassle. If I had a Branson situation where I was in a centralized location where audiences came to me that would be as close to heaven as it gets.

   I was close with the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ shows at the Northern Lights Theatre in Milwaukee in April. That was a fun experience, and I got to stay home for the entire month. I also put together a few other gigs on the side and had a very productive month. I wish I could do that all year long.

   This month has been another close to home bonanza. Last week I picked up the hosting spot at Zanies Comedy Club at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL. That’s about an hour drive from where I live, and I’m very much at home there. I made solid money to stay local, and I loved it.

   Tonight I had another local show at The Raue Center in Crystal Lake, IL. I’ve worked there for years, and it’s always a glitch free positive experience. They book quality acts there and charge a substantial price, which results in audiences that pay attention because they made a commitment.

   I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad show there, and the crowds are fantastic. They’re a bit older as a rule, but not walkers and blue hair old. There are people in their twenties sprinkled in, but most of the people range from about 35 to 65. I’m right in their wheel house, and I do well every time.

   What’s even better is that it’s maybe 25 minutes from home. I was off stage by 10:15 and after stopping for something to eat I still made it home before midnight. I could get used to this really fast – like today. How many times have I had a red hot show like this but had to drive the whole night and get home after sunrise? TOO many. I’m sold on keeping it close to home. I have more than enough road stories to last me six more lifetimes. It would be a much bigger treat to be able to enjoy my life in one place for a change. It doesn’t have to be Branson. I’m fine where I am.

Shoot Me Now

June 9, 2013

Saturday June 8th, 2013 – Rosemont, IL

   Shoot me now. Please. Anyone who has a few spare bullets lying around, could you please go find your gun and pump a few rounds in the back of my head while I’m sleeping? Sell whatever organs you can on Ebay, and keep the money. I’m on the wrong planet, and I want to go home.

   My every fear and more about comedy contests came true tonight, and I’m feeling about as low and useless as a poodle’s pecker in a kennel full of pit bulls. Tonight was the finals of the World Series of Comedy at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont, IL, and it couldn’t have gone any worse.

   It feels like I got hit in the cup with a blazing fastball – only I wasn’t wearing a cup. This stings to the bone, and makes me question my entire existence. Just yesterday I was in the winner’s seat and feeling fantastic. Less than 24 hours later, I’m on the toilet seat and the bowl is overflowing.

   Absolutely everything went wrong tonight. First, the Chicago Blackhawks game was televised and the whole town is going nuts over it. This reminds me of how it was when the Bulls were on top in the Michael Jordan era. When the playoffs came around, nobody came to comedy clubs or theatres or restaurants or anywhere not a sports bar. It was great for the city, bad for businesses.

   Tonight’s crowd was about a dozen away from being sparse. On top of that, there was a big old bachelorette party in the house – the death knell of comedy shows. They’re usually drunk beyond belief, and rarely shut up during the show. Also there were some twenty somethings right in front that had their arms crossed and were bound and determined not to laugh at anything anyone said.

   We all had eleven minutes tonight vs. seven minutes last night. There were six of us on the bill, and I drew number two. That’s about what it felt like, as they were completely dead. The emcee had a rough time getting them going, and he brought up the first act to piercing silence. He got a bit of response, but his style didn’t prepare them for what I do. I tried to adjust, but I was done.

   These people were flat out DUMB. That happens in a country of more than 350 million people. Once in a while a clump of dimwits gets together, and tonight was it. I pulled out every trick that I could think of, and I finally started to get them about nine minutes in. I had to get off at eleven, so all that did was set them up for the next guy. In a headline set I could have got them over time.

   But this wasn’t a headline set. It was a contest, and all that matters is if someone can get laughs for the time allotted. It doesn’t matter that that’s all the time they have, and past performance has nothing to do with the current situation. That’s what’s so brutal and cruel about contests, and I’ve never liked them. How many times have I ‘lost’ to someone who can’t even do a 30 minute set?

   The truth is, nobody gives half an aardvark’s ass, or the ants he ate for lunch. None of the dolts in this crowd tonight saw the years of hard labor it took to get the chance to try and impress a panel of judges for ten minutes. Had I made the final three, I’d have gone on to the late show and had a 25 minute set with two other finalists. I like my chances a lot in that scenario – but I won’t get it.

   Am I pissed off? Royally beyond belief, but not at Joe Lowers or The World Series of Comedy or Cyndi from Zanies who suggested I sign up. I’m more pissed at myself for making the choices I made that put me in a position to even sign up for this contest in the first place. I should be out there headlining all these clubs, and working any time I want. I know I have the ability, but those people tonight just weren’t my audience. I don’t want them as my audience, but I had no choice.

   This is all part of the cruel randomness of the entertainment grind. Everyone dreams of being a famous singer or actor or comedian, but that dream can turn on and off with ease and it’s located safely inside one’s imagination where the real world doesn’t operate. In life, it’s much harder.

   When it goes like it went tonight, there’s no turning it off. All the way home in my car burning $4.50 a gallon gas, all I could think of were the years of struggle and paying dues that placed me in the position to go up in front of less than half a room full of people who stared blankly at me.

   I felt like a goldfish who was somehow taken out of the bowl and all I could do was look up at the people staring at me, hoping someone would have the presence of mind to throw me back in so I could breathe. Nobody did, and that was it. The feeling of crushing disappointment is about as bad as I’ve ever felt it, and I truly wish I’d never been born. What the hell am I doing here?

   Nobody came over to tell me I did a good job or encourage me like I did last night to every one of the other contestants. I’m not blaming those guys, they were all very funny. The lineup was as solid as I’ve ever seen one for a comedy contest, and the fact that I have more experience than all the rest of them means absolutely nothing. That’s not what was being judged. It was just tonight.

   It was total luck of the draw, and I drew a rotten poker hand tonight. I did the best I could with what I had to work with, but it wasn’t enough to crack the top three I needed to move to the next level for the late show and do 25 minutes. I would have had a huge advantage in that situation, as 25 minutes is like a night off for me. I can do three times that amount of time, and be consistent.

   I doubt if any of those other guys could have matched me over a longer period of time, but that won’t be an issue. It’s over, and only because of dumb luck. It’s like a sports team that wins by a last second fluke play of some sort in a championship game. Nine times out of ten the other team would have won, but in the one time out of ten it was the big game so the underdogs are champs.

   I wish all the winners nothing but the best, and I’m not holding any grudges against anybody or anything like that. I entered the contest of my own free will, and I knew full well anything could happen both good and bad. I took a chance, rolled the dice and got wet mud kicked in my face.

   I don’t know if I can put into words how rotten I feel right now. This one really hurt, but unless one has been a performer and experienced this pain firsthand I’m just wasting keystrokes on my computer. It would be like a woman trying to tell me about childbirth. I will never feel that pain.

   If there is someone reading this that has experienced what I’m talking about, he or she can feel every bit of what I went through tonight. It’s a deep bitter disappointment that takes one’s whole spirit away. It’s like finding out that there’s not only no Santa, but that I owe the fat bastard who has been wearing the suit all these years back pay, suit rental and interest on the toys he brought.

   I’m really beginning to lose faith in just about everything. I wish I could have some optimism, but I just don’t see it. Is that a normal part of growing older, or did something just snap inside of me after taking all these years of all these direct hits? After a while even the nicest puppy bites if someone keeps poking him with a broom stick. I feel like I have been getting poked since birth.

   I wish I had an upbeat thought to end on, but I totally don’t. Not only did I lose out on my shot to get a paid trip to Las Vegas, I also didn’t get paid this week. I spent money on gas getting to a contest I got my ass handed to in. This is not what I pictured life to be. Shoot me now. Please.

Las Vegas Lowdown

September 23, 2010

Wednesday September 22nd, 2010 – Las Vegas, NV

I love Las Vegas. In a perfect world, I’d have lived here at least for a while by now and laid down some kind of networking base to return to often. I wish I had more connections out here, but I totally don’t. Other than a few showcases over the years, I’ve never had an opportunity to work out here and that’s too bad. I think Mr. Lucky would be a perfect fit.

Whatever comedy boom there was out here appears to be over. I heard the club scene is brutal, and apparently the Riviera is closing their comedy club that’s been open for years. I did a showcase there years ago for Steve Schirripa, who later went on to an acting career in The Sopranos. He used to run the club and I got in through my friend George Miller.

I passed my audition but I thought Steve Schirripa was a maniac and never called to get any bookings. He’s a huge guy and can be intimidating, and I didn’t want to deal with any of that at the time. In hindsight, I should have gotten hired and taken my chances. I didn’t need the work then, and was getting hired all I wanted. Those days are gone for everyone.

I still get hired in enough places to keep me alive, but it wouldn’t have hurt to lay down a few comedy roots here, as it’s an entertainment town. No – it’s THE entertainment town in all the world. Why would I want to know people here? I doubt if that could help any.

This is yet another in my laundry list of stupid mistakes, but it’s too late now. I did what I did, and that’s it. I have connections in places like Salt Lake City and Pittsburgh. I don’t mind working in those places, but it would be a lot sexier to have yearly stops in Vegas to flesh out my booking schedule. I never thought to develop that until it was way too late.

Still, I enjoy coming out here and hope to hook on somewhere at some point so I’d have a reason to come out more often. I could totally see a billboard with ‘Mr. Lucky at Wynn’ next to Cher or Wayne Newton. George Wallace seems to be the new king of comedy out here, and good for him for claiming the title. He’s charismatic, funny and can pull it off.

I really think I could fit in well too though. I’d love a situation where I could set up my own space and stay out here for a while. I heard George Wallace has a deal to keep him in town for multiple years, and that’s great. That would be the ultimate super dream gig in a perfect world, and maybe the ship gigs are training me for it. Those audiences are similar.

I’m just going to enjoy my time here this week and not worry about anything else. I had a fantastic dinner with my friend Dan O’Bryan, a former comedy student who now lives a few miles north of town. He’s also a former radio guy with a set of deep booming pipes to prove it. Like me and everyone else, he got sick of the insanity of radio and left the game.

Dan is one of the reasons I keep teaching comedy classes. People like him and so many others have crossed my path in life and made it a lot richer. He’s always been supportive and still is, and it was great to sit back and hang out for a while. He totally gets the plight of any entertainer, as he’s one too. I’m grateful for good friends and time to enjoy them.