Posts Tagged ‘Lewis Black’

Blah Blah Blah

March 25, 2014

Monday March 24th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I know I’m supposed to be showing inner grit and mental toughness right about now, but one’s lowest point is the hardest time to do that. All the Hallmark cards in the world can’t disguise the fact that I’m in a major funk right now, and all the “hang in theres” there are aren’t helping any.

I’m trying hard to objectively examine what set me off and when, and I’m tracing it back to my birthday weekend in Springfield, IL at Donnie B’s Comedy Club. I love working with Donnie B, but it was a slow weekend in a grubby town and that started it. I knew it was the last little run of a spurt of decent work, and I hoped it would be a busy week of jam packed hot shows. It wasn’t.

I know it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend and all that. Blah blah blah. I’ve heard excuses for an entire lifetime, and it just gets old. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere on a hot weekend. It’s either the off season, a holiday or the weather screws us, blah blah blah. I’m sick of hearing it all.

This is the time to exhibit mental toughness, but it’s exactly the most difficult time to remain in a positive mindset. There are times when I feel bullet proof and can walk through walls no matter what obstacles I may be facing. Then there are times when I can be knocked over with a feather.

I’m in one of the feather times right now, and that always scares me. No matter who tries to tell me I have even the slightest hint of self worth, I am not able to see it for the life of me. I just feel pain. The scariest thing of all is I thought I found where the source of the pain was coming from.

I guess it was only a part of it. I’m thrilled I was able to get back in touch with my siblings, but there are still a few other holes to fill apparently. That was beyond huge, but now I’ve got to sort out what I’m going to do to survive physically. It boils down to money, and I’m not making any.

My DNA is wired for me to be a creative entity. Period. Working at a ‘real job’ would send me over the edge in two weeks or less. It always has. I hated every job I ever had in high school, and my father, grandmother and even my beloved Gramps used to get on me about being a lazy bum.

Ha! Far from it. I just never wanted to waste my time counting mufflers at Sears (which I really did for several torturous weeks in high school) or working at a fast food greasery or anything but being an entertainer. I love the process of being on stage or on the air – and that’s what I do best.

If someone would just leave me alone to create, I’ll be fine. Every radio job I’ve had has come to an end because some pinhead in management decides to tweak something that doesn’t need to be tweaked, and I’m out. Comedy is the same way. I’m banned from places by people that never took time to know me personally. They only heard about something I did second and third hand, but that was enough to vaporize me from their venues into perpetuity. Stability is only a dream.

Wait, I take that back. Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago have been one of the very few places that have backed off and let me do my thing. The results? ZERO problems! Gee, who’d a thunk it? I show up, do my job – very well – and go home. No issues. No politics. No hassles. I love it.

The rest of life doesn’t seem to be able to figure that out, and I’m getting sicker of trying by the day. I’ve never thought I was better than anyone, and I still don’t. I realize I’m one of those artsy fartsy creative types, but it’s who I am and I can’t help it. I wasn’t made to manage a Walmart.

I regularly have self righteous pompous crusaders telling me to “stop being so negative in your blog.” Sorry, but I don’t think it’s their business or anyone else’s. I write about what I feel inside, and sometimes that can be all over the place. I’m human with feelings, and I refuse to sugarcoat.

I know not everyone can relate to being a dented can and what kind of pain that brings, but I’m not writing for everyone. I started just writing for me, but over time I have pleasantly discovered I have a loyal audience that do relate to what I’m going through – and it’s exactly why I persist.

I’m not looking for sympathy or a handout. All I want is to find a way to apply the gifts I have been given to do good and bring happiness to people. That may sound corny, but I mean it from the deepest part of my soul. I want to be known for what I gave, but if I can’t manage to hack out a respectable living how can I do anything worth anyone’s while? All I’m asking for is a chance.

Lewis Black reached a point where he thought he would never make it, but then he got a break on Comedy Central and it launched him. I’m to the point he was, and I’m sure he wasn’t feeling any different than I am right now. From where will my break come? If I knew that, I’d be there.

It used to be that going to New York or L.A. was the answer. I’m not up for that right now. It’s a bit late in the game to go to either one of those places and sleep in a car. I’m almost there here. I’ve been beaten up by life so much, I think it’s affecting my judgment. What to do? I just don’t know. People tell me all the time “Hang in there pal, it WILL happen for you.” But it never does.

All I can feel is the pain and loneliness of a lifetime of wandering – hoping to find my place in a world I never asked to be born. I have always been the outsider since my earliest memory, and that role gets old in a big hurry. Sometimes I think I may finally be hitting stride, and then it’s all an illusion and I’m back at where I started. I’m feeling a lot like Wile E. Coyote right about now.

And don’t get me started on dating. I have gone out with several women in the last few months but nothing has clicked and I feel that’s never going to happen either. The women I like most are either married or not interested in me, and the ones that like me don’t happen to float my boat. It would be terrific to find someone special, but I’m having a hard time just trying to survive life.

It’s all intertwined, and right now everything is a mess. Three months ago I felt like a new man ready to slay all dragons. Now I feel like a piece of crusty dragon poo. These extremes are killing me, but I think I picked the wrong profession to expect stability. What do I do now? I am totally at a loss, and have no idea who to ask. Mental toughness sounds great in theory. I can use some.

What else is there to do but keep slugging? I could swallow a bullet, but I’m not looking to do that. I just want to find my audience and work steadily in top level venues I can sell out with fans that are there to see me. A quality woman in my life would sure be helpful too. Blah blah blah.

Mental toughness sounds great in theory, but at one's lowest point is the hardest time to have it.

Mental toughness sounds great in theory, but at one’s lowest point is the hardest time to have it.

Nobody wants to hear about someone else in a slump. Blah blah blah.

Nobody wants to hear about someone else in a slump. Blah blah blah.

I had a blast appearing on the Craig Ferguson Show. I'd love to do it again.

I had a blast appearing on the Craig Ferguson Show. I’d love to do it again.

Here's a potential slump buster. Can someone clone her please?

Here’s a potential slump buster. Can someone clone her please?

Can’t Stop Now

October 2, 2013

Tuesday October 1st, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

October 1st? Already? I haven’t mailed my Valentine’s Day cards yet, but we’re already in the 4th quarter of 2013. I try to stay current, but I’m only fooling myself. This feels like one big April Fool’s prank, but I know it’s real. Time is sliding away like a runaway toboggan, and I feel like it bucked me off a while ago. All I can do is watch it get smaller as it races down the hill. Bye bye.

This has been a very eventful year so far. I’ve done a lot of fun things, but financially it’s been a major bust. I’ve got less money now than I can ever remember, and that is causing major stress on a daily basis. I need to plug into a steady source of income, and I’m looking for it every day.

Emotionally, I’ve become a human yo-yo. One day I’m bullet proof and ready to take on every challenge there is, and the next I’m ready to donate my organs and turn in my keys. Some people might call that bipolar. I call it the life of a dented can entertainer. There are big ups and downs.

I feel like I’m out at sea in a dinghy during a typhoon. I’m at the mercy of the sea – frightening as that may be. I’m bobbing around with no real direction, and whenever I try to find one a force far stronger than me sends me wherever it wants. After a while, it all becomes so overwhelming.

If there were hatches to batten down, I would. But a dinghy doesn’t have hatches. It’s exposed, and the waves come blasting up over the sides. I could read all the books I want on how to steer, but when those winds start blowing none of it matters. There’s nothing to do but wait things out.

The fact is, I really need a break. I have paid decades of dues and even those who think I’m The Antichrist will admit I have ability. Why it’s been this difficult to land somewhere and stay put is far out of my realm of comprehension. All I want is the opportunity to work in a field where I’ve been given gifts, and earn a decent living. It’s either feast or famine – and right now it’s famine.

All it would take is ONE little break to turn my whole life around, but where is it? In my mind, I should be working as a comedian every week – or at least every weekend – to full houses with people there to see me. I’d also love a steady radio gig and to continue teaching comedy classes.

Charity functions would also be a priority, and I would be the nicest guy anyone has ever seen. I would sign every autograph and pose for every picture, and make people feel special like we all want. It would be The Golden Rule in action, and we would all be better as humanity. Why isn’t it happening? I was ready for it years ago, but I seem to be going farther away rather than closer.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it feels like I’m never going to make it. I work harder than any other comedian I know personally, but it doesn’t pay off. It feels like I’m trying to get a new roll of toilet paper started, but I can’t find the first square to get things going. It’s frustrating me to no end, and I’m trying everything in my power to make something happen. What else is there to do?

The only consoling fact I can think of is that there have been a lot of people that have gotten to the point I am – and that’s when something popped. Lewis Black tells how he’d resigned himself to the fact he wasn’t going to make it, and that’s when he got a break with Comedy Central. I am way past the point of no return, so there’s nothing for me to do but keep on working even harder.

Life can be an emotional yo-yo.

Life can be an emotional yo-yo.

The 4th quarter of 2013 is here.

The 4th quarter of 2013 is here.

Business School

September 15, 2013

Saturday September 14th, 2013 – Burlington, WI

I’ve been putting more time and energy in on improving my business skills all of this year than I have in the past ten years. I haven’t seen much as far as tangible results, but that’s only a matter of time. I’m finally doing a lot of things correctly I should have been doing years ago, but didn’t.

I still have an extremely long way to go, but at least I’m making the sincere effort to get better at something that has never interested me. It would be like a classic car collector that loves doing body work but neglects what’s under the hood. Without a functional drive train, it’s of little use.

It might look good sitting in a museum, but that doesn’t do much good. If it doesn’t run, who’s ever going to want to buy it? Some sap might take a chance, but it wouldn’t be at top dollar. I am in a similar situation with my career. If I don’t get significantly better at my business, my show is absolutely meaningless. It will have been the world’s longest and most unproductive hobby ever.

Eventually I’m going to have to hire someone to help handle my business. I’ve never wanted to do that in the past, but now I’m looking at it differently. I wasn’t sure I had a product to sell, so it made me gun shy to approach anyone in the big time. I really think there was a subconscious fear of not being good enough, and I successfully steered myself away from anything big for decades.

Now I totally feel I’m ready, and in fact I think I waited too long. Circumstances have gotten in the way, but that happens to everyone. I stayed the course and paid my dues – and the dues of six or seven other people also. I didn’t take any shortcuts, and I can hang on stage with most anyone.

Acts like Louis CK, Lewis Black, Jim Gaffigan and several others in that category are my peer group. Larry The Cable Guy worked the same hell holes I did (and still do). Nothing against any of them, but they somehow made the jump to reaching a wider audience. They’re not any funnier because they’re selling out big venues, but they’re sure being perceived that way by the public.

Unfortunately, I haven’t put out an energy that would make anyone perceive that about me. I’m seen as a club act by most bookers – even ones that I happen to like. It’s not their job to promote me to larger venues, and I can’t wait for it to happen by itself. I need to believe it in my head first (and mean it), and then project it outward until it becomes a reality. I finally believe I can do this.

My act is rock solid, and has been for years. Not everybody loves what I do, but that rings true for all acts – even the most popular ones. I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt all kinds of regular people all over the English speaking world would love what I do if they ever get to see it.

It’s up to me to make it happen. I’m a race car driver and I need a pit crew. Tonight I hung out with my magician friend Dennis DeBondt. Dennis is as highly skilled at handling his business as I’ve ever seen. He does comedy magic, but it’s mostly comedy. He’s a funny guy first even if he is billed as a magician. He sells himself extremely well, and is always working at getting booked.

Entertainers like Dennis and my speaker friend Todd Hunt have a harder road in that there isn’t a ‘circuit’ or even regular places for them to work like I can in comedy clubs. They charge more, but I see why. They really earn it. I learned a lot from Dennis tonight, and I intend to continue.

He comes from an entirely different breed of entertainers than comedians who work in comedy clubs exclusively. That’s a boil on the ass of show business, and has been since the comedy club boom hit in the early ‘80s. The real money has always been in snagging the corporate bookings.

The actual circumstances for those can often be horrendous, but the pay is good enough where the temporary inconvenience becomes worth it. As an ‘artiste’, doing those never appealed to me on any level. I was always in it for the love of the craft, and would rather take a low paying show in front of a quality audience than a high paying one that isn’t. I’m starting to change my ideals.

In the old proverbial perfect world – which it never is or has ever been – I’d work great gigs in big venues for audiences who are there to see me. Is that always a pleasant experience? Ask guys like Steve Martin or Dice Clay. They both had amazing runs, but neither paints a perfect picture.

There are hassles with everything, but I’d much rather deal with the hassle of working the three thousand seat theatre in a town than trying to stand on a beer case in some snake pit biker dive in the worst part of the same town that’s not all that great in the first place. I’d like to have choices.

Dennis booked a show tonight at a summer camp near Burlington, WI. It was for dads and their daughters between age 5 and up to maybe 12. There were probably 75 girls and 60 dads sitting in rustic surroundings that had a microphone but no stage lights. They left all the house lights on for the show, but it wasn’t a problem. Dennis is a pro, and handled it fine. I could have done it also.

What I couldn’t have done was pull off a 50 minute magic show that kept the attention of both the dads and the daughters. Dennis is masterful at grabbing attention and holding it, and he did a spectacular job. I found myself laughing out loud several times, and that’s unheard of for comics because we’ve seen and heard everything countless times. Funny is funny though and Dennis is.

In the car on the way up and back, I got a crash course in phone negotiation skills – something that’s as appealing to me as getting a do it yourself Ronco Home Colonoscopy kit for Christmas. I absolutely abhor being on the phone with a potential client, but that’s probably due to the fact I haven’t made the effort to master the skill. I’m not saying I’ll ever love it, but I do need to try it.

Dennis is in a bit of a different boat as to what he needs to sell, but not all that much. He does a significant amount of kids birthday parties, and that’s something a comedian doesn’t get asked to do. Standup comedy isn’t aimed at kids, and not just because it’s dirty. It takes maturity to get it.

Negotiation tactics are the same in most any genre, and that’s what I learned about. Dennis has perfected his pitch system over decades, and I appreciate him sharing some tips. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be an expert negotiator any time soon, but it’s a very positive start. I need to learn.

The fee Dennis got tonight was very impressive. It was well above what I usually get to close a typical one nighter comedy show, but he earned every penny. His experience showed, but I have a similar amount in the standup comedy world. I’ve done much harder gigs than this for far less.

I’ve got work coming up in October and beyond, but as of now zilch for the rest of September. That rots. It’s my own fault, but I’m doing something about it and that’s all I can do. I’ll be ok.

The Peak Of Ripeness

June 22, 2013

Friday June 21st, 2013 – Niles, IL

   It’s the first day of summer, and once again I find another year slipping away. After today days start to get shorter again, so this is it – the prime day of the year. I’m not booked tonight, and I’m not thrilled about it in the least. I want to be out working as much as I can, and that’s every week.

   Nothing else makes me even close to happy. I’ve resigned myself to the icy fact that I’m never going to have that solid family relationship I have always wanted, but if I can’t have that the only other thing I’d ever want is a chance to be on stage entertaining people who are there to see me.

   I’ve been chasing that tricky rabbit longer than I think I should have, and I don’t feel any closer now than when I started. I have come untold light years as a performer, but nobody knows who I am so what good is it? I know I can go on stage and light up a room, but nobody powerful cares.

   Rodney Dangerfield had a great joke that said he quit show business and when he quit – he was the only one who KNEW he quit. That’s funny to anyone who isn’t living it. I feel like I’m there now myself, and I’m not laughing. I’m not even smiling. I’m panicking, and that’s never good.

   There are too many choices to make, and I have no idea which ones are correct. I’ve made a lot of stupid ones through the years, but even so I still paid my dues and developed my natural talent to the point it’s ripe and ready to pick. I’m at my peak just like today is the peak of the summer.

    I don’t want to waste any more time, as that peak ripeness won’t last forever. It will eventually get soft and rot, and the last thing I want is to be a rotten piece of fruit that fell off the tree. I have come way too far for that, so I decided to do something about it. I am not satisfied with this fate.

   In a perfect world, I’d be working six to seven nights a week in nice venues for audiences filled with my fans. I’d super serve those people, and give them my very best each night. I’d sign every autograph and pose for every picture after the show, and live the rest of my days brightening the days of as many others as humanly possible. I’ve got the ability, now I just need the opportunity.

   How the hell is that going to happen? I wish I knew. I read an interview with Lewis Black and he said he had resigned himself to the fact he’d never make it – and then he made it. I’m right at that point myself, and I don’t like it one bit. There’s no guarantee I’ll hit anything, and that rots.

   I can rattle off a dozen names of absolutely fantastic standup comedians that the public has no idea whatsoever who any of them are. Look these people up in no particular order and tell me if you don’t think they’re hilarious. I know they are, because they’ve paid their dues just like me.

   Here’s a list off the top of my head: Tim Cavanagh, Tim Walkoe, Tim Northern, Dwight York, Don Reese, Jim McHugh, James Wesley Jackson, Beth Donahue, John McClellan, Danny Storts, Ross Bennett, Keith Stubbs, Todd Johnson, Auggie Smith, Bill Gorgo, Rick D’Elia, Wally Wang and now I’m going to get in trouble because I’ll leave someone out unintentionally. Suffice to say not everyone makes it.

   I’ve said it before, and I wish it weren’t true – talent does NOT assure anyone of career success in the entertainment business. In sports it may be different, but this isn’t sports. This is a business based on subjective opinions of many that have never once attempted to do themselves what they are allegedly experts at choosing. This has always been frightening and extremely disturbing, but I don’t see it ending any time soon. There are hoops that are to be jumped through, like it or not.

   I don’t like it and never have, but if I intend to change my current status I need to suck it up for at least a little while and get back out there. There are so many places other than comedy clubs to approach, and that’s where it gets tricky. Where do I go and who do I talk to? I haven’t been able to figure it out until now, so what leads me to believe I’ll do it now? I can’t, so I need some help.

   I had lunch with Marc Schultz today, and in his world he’s in a similar situation. Marc books a variety of entertainment acts and has for years. He inherited an agency from his father, and even though he’s not a comedy booker per se I have gotten a decent amount of work over the years.

   Marc and I are friends, and there aren’t many bookers I’d call a friend first. I genuinely like the guy, and even if he never booked me again I’d still hang out with him. That’s all fine, but we put our heads together today to see what we could come up with. His business isn’t what it was, but what business these days is? We can both use a little freshening up, so we came up with a plan.

   Most of Marc’s clients are corporate types. Most of them would never hire a standup comic but he’s going to approach the ones that might. He’s always been good about trying to include me on any sampler videos he sends, and I totally appreciate it. But I can do the job, and he realizes that.

   We also agreed that Marc is going to go after club work that I haven’t gone after, for a fee. I’m delighted to pay anybody to get me work I don’t have, so this is a no brainer. If he can land some decent work, I’m all over it. I don’t want to work the toilet circuit anymore, so these will be good clubs that will pay decent money. He’s not familiar with the club market, but he’s willing to try.

   This is not a long term fix, but in the short run it could be great for both of us. I won’t be stuck doing what I’ve never liked, and it’s always good to have a third party selling me rather than me stumbling and stammering and asking for work like a vagrant asks for change. I’ve never liked it.

   Steady work is what’s it’s about in any facet of show business. Period. I’d rather work steadily and make livable wage than be a big star one minute and a has been bum the next. I’m all about a steady career with regular income. I’ve come close many times, but I’ve never been able to make it last. There’s always been a radio job to come along and shake things up in a destructive way.

   I’m not foreseeing any radio in my immediate future. That ship has sailed – or sunk. What I am going to do is cross every T and dot every I and go after all the quality standup comedy work I’m able to get. It could be comedy clubs, cruise ships, colleges or corporate. I can handle just about anything at this point, but what I can’t handle is not working at all. That’s totally unacceptable.

   I look at comics from my generation of performers like Louis CK and Jim Gaffigan, and I want to be doing what they’re doing. How did they get it? I don’t know. I’m sure it was a lot of things. Talent is a part, but so is persistence, connections, luck and who knows what else? It’s complex.

   If I don’t get myself in front of someone, I’ll never have any chance to do anything. That’s not what I want to have as my final legacy, so at least Marc is going to be out there trying to mention my name to people who can book me in decent venues. Why haven’t we done this before now?

   Neither one of us has an answer. Marc was doing his thing, and I was doing mine. Now we’ve both run out of ‘things’, and this is a logical fit – at least for now. I’m going to dive into booking myself in as many quality places as I can. No more toilets. If I succeed, my life will change soon. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s just that where I’m doing it hasn’t gotten me seen.