Posts Tagged ‘Louis CK’

An Unusual Mix

October 27, 2013

Wednesday October 23rd, 2013 – Vernon Hills, IL/Great Lakes, IL

Today was a long day with an unusual mix of activities, but everything was fun. First up was a career fair of all things at Vernon Hills High School in Vernon Hills, IL. I’ve never been part of one of those before, so I went in with an open mind. I looked at it as an opportunity for learning.

Rick Young is Jimmy McHugh’s partner in The Chicago Comedy All Stars group, and they’ve booked me many times to be on their fundraiser shows. Rick is a master salesman by trade, and was asked to be part of the career fair by some contact he made. He asked if I would come along and talk to the kids that had questions about getting into the entertainment business. I said yes.

Part of me was curious as to how many would be interested, and what they thought was funny at that age. It was a good demographics test, plus I enjoy hanging out with Rick. The event went from 9am to 2pm, but it included lunch so I was there. I’m glad I went, as it was very revealing.

The kids were very smart, and asked a lot of intelligent questions. When I asked who they liked as a comedian names I heard frequently were Louis CK and Gabriel Iglesias. I didn’t know what to expect, but those were by far the most frequent answers. I enjoyed talking to them, and the day flew by. I’m glad Rick asked me to tag along and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was productive.

This evening I had a booking at Great Lakes Naval Base in Lake County, IL. I’ve worked there before, and have always had fun. They treat performers extremely well, and the audiences are up there with the best anywhere. They’re very supportive of live entertainment, and that makes it all worth going. It’s close to home too, which is a huge perk. I’ll work there any time they call me.

John Prue and Lisa Weaver were my direct contacts, and they couldn’t have been easier to deal with. There’s a lot of government red tape to go through for security purposes after 9/11, but we worked it out and there were no problems. I brought my picture ID and all of the paperwork they sent and everything came off without a hitch. It was a small price to pay for such a fun booking.

I hosted the show tonight, and it was a breeze. They had some giveaways they asked me to do before the show started, and I’ve had plenty of experience doing things like that. There were all kinds of nice prizes, and I had to make ad libs as people came up to collect them. It was easy.

Then they asked me to do 5-10 minutes to warm the audience up before I brought up the other acts Beth Stelling and then Myq Kaplan. Beth is originally from Ohio but lived in Chicago for a couple of years, and I hadn’t met Myq before. He’s from New York, and has a lot of TV credits.

Both of them were really funny, and good people too. Beth has always been a sweetheart, and now she’s made the big move to LA. She’s razor sharp in her business acumen, as is Myq. I can learn a lot from them both, and good for them for understanding the important part of the game.

The audience loved us all, and it was fun to watch Beth and Myq work as I hadn’t seen either of their entire sets before. We had a lot of fun hanging out backstage before the show, and they treated us like big stars the whole night. We had a deli tray and drinks on ice, and it felt like we were really in showbiz. If there’s a better way to spend a Wednesday night, I can’t think of it.

Great Lakes Naval Base is always a great gig.

Great Lakes Naval Base is always a great gig.


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.

Summer Survival

August 9, 2013

Thursday August 8th, 2013 – St. Charles, IL

   Christmas came early this week, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I picked up some last minute work in St. Charles, IL at Zanies Comedy Club in Pheasant Run Resort and that will allow me to squeak by and pay yet another month’s bills. That and another last minute add at the Raue Center in Crystal Lake, IL next Friday will get me by. I have survived another summer – but just barely.

   This absolutely needs to stop, even though I have no idea as to how. Comedy in the summer in the North is death, and always has been. This is nothing new, but I should have figured out a way to hedge that bet by now. It’s like a school teacher knowing summer is coming every year. There needs to be a plan in place, but I’ve been too busy surviving all of the other months to make one.

   All I’m asking for is ONE major run somewhere at some point. North America would be great, but I’d settle for anywhere up to and including Helsinki, Hong Kong or the Island of Gibraltar. A successful six month tour of 1000-2000 seat venues anywhere would put me in a far better space financially, but try as I might I haven’t been able to make that happen and it’s frustrating as hell.

   I read where Jim Gaffigan just played a larger venue in Milwaukee tonight, and I have to say it bummed me out. I have nothing against Jim Gaffigan, but he’s of my comic generation and I feel strongly that the people that like him or Louis CK would like me too. But how do I get to them?

   I did a show tonight with Ken Sevara and Vince Maranto at Zanies for maybe 50 people. It was a very solid show and I was glad to get the work on short notice, but it would have been so much nicer to play the venue Jim Gaffigan played. Talent isn’t the issue. This is a matter of marketing.

   Vince and Ken have been doing comedy even longer than me, and we talked about exactly that before our show. They were delighted to get the summer work too, and nobody was complaining about that. We just wanted to know what it takes to get over that hump and be a legitimate draw.

   Jim Gaffigan and Louis CK are big draws, and I take nothing away from either of them. I know what it took performance wise to get where they are, but business wise I don’t know where to get started looking. What do I do, call up managers and ask if they want to handle a potential star?

   I might even be willing to try that if indeed I knew who to call, but alas I don’t have a hint of a clue who that might be. What I do know how to do is give good shows, and I did it again tonight. We all did. I’m hosting this week, and that’s a splendid opportunity to break in some new ideas.

   In reality, I never have to come up with another joke or bit as long as I live. I’ve done that for a lifetime, and can thoroughly entertain most comedy audiences anywhere without a hitch. The rub has been trying to get my name out so at least a percentage of the population will want to see me.

   Jim Gaffigan and Louis CK have their chunk of fans, and it’s enough for them to sell out 2500-3000 seat venues all across North America. I would settle for smaller ones, but that’s still plenty of fan base to provide financial security and artistic satisfaction. How do I make that happen?

   It won’t happen this week, but at least I’m working somewhere and glad to get it. I’ll use every second of stage time at Zanies to improve my act, so if and when my shot at bigger venues does come I’ll be even more ready than I am now – and I am. I may be the only one that knows it, but I definitely am. All I need is just ONE person with power that will take a chance. Who will it be?

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.

Knuckling Down

October 25, 2012

Wednesday October 24th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   Another day of hard work, and I feel like I’m on the right track. I made a point to get organized for next year’s tax return so I don’t have to go through the torture I’m going through now. I don’t ever want this to be a problem again, and even though I’ve said it before this time feels different.

All of my receipts to date are not only in one place, they’re in order separated into individually marked envelopes. My friend Todd Hunt is a business speaker who bills himself as a ‘recovering anal retentive’. I think I’m getting onset type 2 anal retentiveness, but I’m not going to complain.

Getting this part of my life straightened out will help free my mind up for more creative things. I’ve still got a ton of ideas rolling around in my head like lotto balls, and I know in my heart one of them will have the winning combination. Before I die I’d like to experience at least ONE hit.

In a perfect world it would be great to have a string of them. Everything I’m doing is great fun, but I have to believe it would be more fun if it were making a profit. One healthy run of comedy work for six months would change my life around completely. It’s not like I can’t handle the job.

Working in nice venues for decent money on ONE tour would make my life dramatically better in a hurry. 100 cities with say 1000 people at $20 a head would be what, $2 million? I’d think I’d have to sell some merchandise too, so conservatively that would be another cool million. I’m in!

And those are conservative numbers. I look at guys like Louis CK or Jim Gaffigan and wonder how they did it. I don’t begrudge those guys in the least, but they’re of my generation of comics and I know I could do very well with their fans. How do I cultivate my own group of loyal fans?

It’s not a matter of talent or ability. I can do the job on stage, it’s off stage that I stink out loud. I need help with my business, and I’m not too proud to admit it. Who could put me in front of an audience that would like Louis CK or Jim Gaffigan or Brian Regan or any one of a group of guys that is doing what I want to do? I don’t have a clue how to do that, but I’m sure going to find out.

I want to work in Las Vegas and Reno and Atlantic City. Why am I not doing that? I should’ve been a regular in all those places years ago. Mr. Lucky is a perfect persona for casino gigs, and if I could get a few steady gigs in those places it would help immensely. I’d pay my debt in a jiffy.

Cruise ships are another possibility. I’d go back out in a second, and a few months at sea would turn my whole world around for the better. There’s a new booker at Carnival Cruise Lines, and if I can catch a break and connect with her I know I’d prove myself all over again. I’d be a lot more prepared than I was the last time when I had no idea what to expect. This time I’d be a lot better.

These are my prime years, and they’re fading quickly. If I’m going to make my mark in a good way it’s going to be in the next little while or it won’t happen at all. Lighting this fire under me is the best thing that could have happened, and I’m not going to let the opportunity pass without an all out effort on my part. I’ve come this far, why stop chasing dreams? I want to WIN this game!