Posts Tagged ‘Mafia’

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.

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.



August 5, 2013

Saturday August 3rd, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

    Respect. R-e-s-p-e-c-t. Aretha Franklin sang a hit song about it. Rodney Dangerfield didn’t get any, and made a career of letting everyone know why not. Mafia members and rappers had better show some to their fellow brethren or they could get a head full of lead. It’s a valued commodity.

   Who doesn’t want to be respected? It’s right up there with oxygen on the importance meter and people will go to great lengths to get it. Some will go as far as to resort to bully tactics, but that’s no way to guarantee getting it. It might gain fear, but that’s not respect. There’s a big difference.

   When I started in standup comedy, all I ever wanted was respect in my home town. I wanted it from my family, audiences, fellow comedians and club owners. I was a punk in my twenties then and hadn’t found my stride in life. I knew I had some ability, but had no clue what to do with it.

   That led to some ugly clashes with all of the exact parties from whom I was looking for respect in the first place, and it left me bitter and disillusioned. Why was I getting exactly the opposite of what I wanted? It felt like my inner magnet was inserted backwards, and I only attracted trouble.

   It still feels that way in some places, but not in my home town of Milwaukee. I’ve been able to slay most all of my local dragons, and it feels really good to know I’ve come full circle. Tonight I did a set at the Milwaukee Comedy Festival at the Act Two Theatre and I totally felt respected.

   I’m no longer the young buck trying to prove myself, and I’ve grown quite comfortable in my own skin. I’ve managed to accomplish a lot of the dreams I had starting out, and the main reason is that I stayed with it for so long. I was too stupid to quit, and a few good things came my way.

   I’ve managed to take standup comedy farther than just about anyone else from Milwaukee, and I’m feeling the respect from the twenty somethings who are coming up the same ladder that I did all those years ago. I had nobody to use as a role model, and they’re using me as one now. Great!

   As I walked back stage at the festival, I had one person after the other walk over and shake my hand and tell me something nice. One saw me on Craig Ferguson, and another reads my diary on a regular basis. Some told me hello from friends of mine they’d seen recently, and it really felt as if I was someone of importance. I haven’t been used to that treatment – especially in Milwaukee.

   It felt absolutely wonderful, and I know they were all sincere. I have zero power over anybody in this group, and not one of them had to even look at me. To them, I’m an old fart who showed up because the festival founder Matt Kemple asked me to. And there’s another perk. That guy is really on the ball, and he’s built a fantastic event with this festival. He’s earned my total respect.

   I always thought this was the way life should work, and I can’t put into words how wonderful it feels to see it come to fruition in real life. I’ve paid a LOT of dues in both life and the business, and to have that recognized by a generation of performers that could be my kids is a major high.

   I’ve felt respected in Chicago for a while now. I have always tried to be kind to comics starting out, and it has paid off repeatedly. I’ll meet some kid for the first time and see their countenance change completely when I tell them my name. That’s respect, and I can’t think of a feeling more rewarding. I am extremely grateful to be thought of so highly by SOMEONE, as I know there are still some who think I’m Satan’s son. We can’t please everyone, so why try? I will be who I am.

Three Painful Lessons

January 4, 2013


Thursday January 3rd, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   The newness of 2013 is rubbing off already, but that’s ok. If anyone has put in more work than me improving themselves and planning for future success in the last three days, I would sure like to meet them and hear what they’ve been doing. As for me, I have been putting in 18 hour days.

There’s only been three of them this year, but I’ve managed to squeeze every bit of whatever I can out of all of them. I know I won’t be able to keep up a pace like this forever, but at least I’m starting out strong. That’s how momentum starts, and I can use all I can get – the positive that is.

I’ve had negative momentum too, and I don’t want to go anywhere near that. It’s easy to revert back to old habits, that’s why I’m attempting to change as much as I can for good. I’ve been on a very encouraging roll for three days, and hope to maintain it as I head to Nashville this weekend.

The hard part is fitting everything I want to do into my waking hours. I’ve had that problem for years, and it’s coming home to roost again. I’ve got a full phone inbox and hundreds of emails to answer, and people are starting to ask “Hey, are you angry at me?” No, sorry. I’m just one guy.

There are a few people I am angry with, and I’m not sure how to handle it. Vince Skolny owes me $2400 for the comedy show/class I was scheduled to do last March in West Virginia, and that really infuriates me. Tom Sobel and I negotiated a deal with him in good faith, and he has treated us as if we don’t exist. A deal is a deal – or at least I thought so. I could really use that cash now.

Another one is Chicago comedian Paul Kelly. I sold him a car for his son on good faith several years ago now, and he still owes me $500. If I owed him $500 he’d have the National Guard out looking for me, and rightfully so. Again, a deal is a deal. I gave him the car, where’s my money?

Still another one is Will Clifton. I trusted him with another car I had years ago that he wanted for his son who turned 16 at the time. He didn’t have money to buy the kid a car, and I sold him a sweet little Mercury Cougar I had for what I paid for it just because I wanted the kid to have a car and to let Will be the hero and a good dad. I didn’t need the money then, but I totally do now.

That was $1500, and he never paid me one cent. I was more than lenient and tried to be nice in all three of these cases, but all three bit me in the ass and it’s festering. That money would go far in paying off my IRS debt, and technically it’s mine but how am I ever going to get it back? The damage is done, and all three of those oil cans are probably laughing that they stuck it to me.

This really makes me lose faith in humanity, and I’m sorry I was so stupid it took not just once but THREE separate incidents to drive this lesson into my cement like skull. I don’t make a habit of treating people like that – especially when they went out of their way to do me a solid favor.

This is why the Mafia wacks people. Who wouldn’t be upset if they were disrespected like this for years? I’ll probably not see my money again, and that’s bad enough. I so should have gotten paid up front in all three instances, and this is a painful lesson I won’t soon forget. It still hurts.