Posts Tagged ‘marketing’

Entrepreneurial Evolution

July 25, 2014

Monday July 21st, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Like it or not, a whole lot of us are going to have to get more entrepreneurial in a hurry. I have been interested in having my own business ever since I can remember, but it always took a back seat to being a comedian. It’s only been recently that I’ve understood that comedy IS a business.

What a dummy I’ve been, but it’s not too late to change. I always use the great James Gregory from Atlanta as the gold standard of comedians that understand the business side best, and I have yet to run into anyone better. The only close horse in the race is Heywood Banks, and then all of the rest of us are sliding around in a giant mud pit hoping to find a couple of straggling nickels.

There are a lot of stellar business people in the comedy field in Los Angeles, but I am thinking of road dogs like me. James figured it out early, and has been consistently at the top of the game for decades. Heywood has done well for himself too, and I respect both those guys enormously.

If they’re not natural entrepreneurs, they sure have worked hard at fooling everyone. They are both extremely hard workers, and it is no accident either one of them has achieved their success. They have handled their business well, and didn’t choose to play the Hollywood roulette game.

These are two shining examples of entrepreneurs in the comedy game, but I’m talking of life in general. Ma and Pa public are broke, and there’s no sign of relief in sight. They can either get out there are start some kind of a business or they can learn to like cat food. Times are excruciating.

My grandfather used to tell me horror stories about The Great Depression, and from all he said it wasn’t that great. He was forced to become an entrepreneur, and he did just about anything he could get involved in to try and feed his family. According to both Grandma and Gramps, it was nothing to joke about. Everyone was tense, and nobody had any clue if it would ever get better.

Well, it looks like history is repeating itself after all. The whole country is broke, and 99.999% of us can use some extra cash right about now. For most of us it’s not extra either – it’s all we’ve got. Prices of food and gas and everything else are rising steadily, and nobody I know is doing at least halfway decently much less kicking ass. Life is rather bleak, but there has to be a solution.

Reading about The Great Depression, there were people that made fortunes for the ages. There are people doing it today as well, but they were rich to start with. The rich truly are getting richer but I don’t see how I can get any poorer. I’m barely hanging on, and it’s not how I want to live.

It’s been a constant struggle to keep the bills paid, and the distraction that is saps my creativity for projects I want to do. I did get a couple of very generous gifts, but I used that money to erase a hefty credit card bill and stop the bleeding of that insane interest rate. Now I am right at zero.

That doesn’t mean some emergency couldn’t wipe me out again, and I am still dangling by the thinnest of threads. I don’t think a job alone will be the long term solution. I will have to earn my own fortune, as there is nobody that’s going to leave me theirs. A lot of others share this scenario and we all have choices to make. The law of the jungle is adapt or die. It’s not “like it was”, and it’s not going to be any time soon. Being an entrepreneur is in my future, so I may as well like it.

Tough times force a lot of people to become entrepreneurs against their will. I am going willingly.

Tough times force a lot of people to become entrepreneurs against their will. I am going along willingly.

My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is the standard bearer for road comic entrepreneurialism. He's the king. www.funniestman.com

My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is the gold standard bearer for road comedian entrepreneurialism. He is the KING. http://www.funniestman.com

Heywood Banks is far from a slouch. He has always had a solid grasp on the business side of things. www.heywoodbanks.com.

Another friend Heywood Banks is far from a slouch. He has always had a solid grasp on the business aspect. http://www.heywoodbanks.com.

Flea-ing The Scene

July 25, 2014

Sunday July 20th, 2014 – Wilmot, WI

There’s a flea market that’s now a lot farther than it used to be from where I lived, but if I have time on a Sunday I’ll still make the drive. It’s a ski hill in Wilmot, WI which is really close to the Illinois state line, and having a flea market in summer is a great way to make use of their space.

I discovered it last year, and even though it’s not that great I still go at least a couple of times a month to if nothing else get in an exercise walk. It’s always an enlightening education to soak in the human freak show at any flea market, and I look at my $1 admission as really cheap tuition.

My main goal is to scope out a product I think I can sell myself. I realize nothing is easy, but I sure don’t want to be doing what 99% of the vendors are doing. Most of them pack up some kind of truck or trailer with a random collection of useless crap I wouldn’t take for free. Why do that?

The grunt work alone of setting up and tearing down couldn’t begin to come close to any profit that may possibly be brought in. I can’t believe some of the flat out junk some people put out for sale. What are the chances someone will come along and need a left front fender for a ’67 Buick Wildcat or a pool table with a ripped felt? Wouldn’t it be a lot smarter to bring pictures instead?

If I would happen to be looking for a used pool table, I wouldn’t think to look at a flea market in Wilmot, WI – or anywhere else. But I see people week after week with displays that make my eyes tired just to look. It reminds me of my Grandfather and father, and I want to set it all ablaze.

My grandparents, father and uncle were all borderline hoarders. They had issues with throwing anything away. When they eventually died, everyone else had to clean up their messes. I vowed I never wanted to be like that, and I intend to keep my word. I am not going to put anyone through that kind of hell when I croak. I want all my possessions to fit into the back seat of a small car.

The reason I go to flea markets is not to buy something for .95 and hope I can sell it for $1.50. I want to see how and what the public buys – if anything. Times are getting tighter by the minute and not many of us have a pocket full of disposable income. I’ll bet all those vendors are hurting.

Collectibles as a whole are going through the floor. I’ve been wheeling and dealing sports stuff for years, mainly to give me something to do. That business is occupying the bottom of the toilet, along with stamps, coins and especially Beanie Babies. What a waste of time that stupid fad was.

Come to think of it, they’re all pretty stupid. Sports cards are basically pictures of sweaty men. That may be popular at a bath house somewhere, but as far as contributing to society it really has no lasting value. It’s kind of fun to collect, but when life gets hard who has time for any hobbies?

My only ‘hobby’ at the moment is trying to pay bills for another month and keep my aging car on the road. Trying to track down a three legged albino porcupine Beanie Baby is a luxury I just can’t indulge myself with right now. And if I could, I’d hunt for it on Ebay without the sweating.

Still, I enjoy walking in the fresh air and taking in the sights which are many. I have no idea of what I would ever sell, but maybe I’ll find a product. Whatever it is, it won’t be old pool tables.

Flea markets can be both entertaining and educational - but finding a real bargain is pretty rare. It's mostly junk.

Flea markets can be both entertaining and educational – but finding a real bargain is rare.

My Drug Of Choice

July 5, 2014

Thursday July 3rd, 2014 – Rosemont, IL

Whenever I’m stupid enough to think I have anything figured out is exactly the time I find out I don’t. I’ve been harping on and on of late about how dead 4th of July week is in comedy clubs, and then I show up at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont, IL tonight to a fully jam packed house.

Sometimes clubs give out free tickets to help drum up business on slower weeks, and that can make for less than stellar audiences. Usually the degree of respect and attention somebody gives an event they attend is in direct proportion to how much they paid to get in. That’s human nature.

I don’t care how the audience got in tonight, I wanted to take every one of them home after the show. Wow, what a molten lava hot crowd it was, and it got better as the night went on. There is absolutely no way to predict when an audience this good will show up, but when one does it’s an absolute treat to be alive. This is why old dogs like me stay in the business so long. It’s our drug.

I wish everyone could experience the intensity of the high that occurs when a room full of total strangers is riveted on your every word and laugh at all the right places. It’s the most intoxicating feeling I have ever experienced, and one of the reasons I never felt a need to try drugs or alcohol.

I don’t see how anything else can feel that good – and I get paid for it on top of that! I already know I will be hooked for life on the performance part. The problem lies in getting myself in the position to be on that stage again. That’s always the hard part, and why bookers treat us like dirt.

They know full well we’ll do just about anything to get that stage time, and they don’t mind if they exploit it to the fullest. Make a 1000 mile drive for $100? Be right there! The allure of stage is that powerful – especially on nights like tonight. It was pure, uncut heroin of the highest grade.

I was host tonight, and there were a dozen other acts on the show doing about six minutes each. It was a best of Chicago area showcase night, and the acts were all solid. But they don’t have the experience I do, and I knew right where to hit this audience from the start – and I never stopped.

There’s something very comforting about having that extra ‘passing gear’, and it gives one the ultimate stage confidence without getting cocky. Only years of hard earned experience can truly provide that feeling, and it can never be faked though many try. It’s intangible, but really shows.

In a situation like this, I can make the entire show better. I lead things off with a blistering set, and then bring every other act on with an introduction that makes them sound like they are giants in their field. That becomes contagious, and the audience wants to believe it. It all feeds on itself.

Everyone was still abuzz after the show, and people were lining up to shake my hand and thank me from audience members to comedians to wait staff for telling the crowd to tip. I did my job to the fullest, and everybody went home happy. This is how I think it should be every single night.

Unfortunately, nobody of consequence saw this show. The manager of Zanies had the evening off, and there were no talent scouts in the room. I was a star for little bit, now I’m back to being a nameless schmuck again. None of those people remember my name, but I sure made them laugh.

The intoxicating feeling of being on a stage performing standup comedy when it's going well is like no other feeling. It's the BEST! I never get sick of it.

The intoxicating feeling of being on a stage performing standup comedy when it’s going well is like no other feeling. It’s the BEST!

Butts In Seats

July 4, 2014

Monday June 30th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

It’s Half Year’s Eve, and if I owned a bar or comedy club I’d make a big deal out of it and milk it for all I could. Too bad I don’t want to own a bar or a comedy club, but if I did this would be a big night – at least on paper. The trick is always getting butts in seats. It’s damn near impossible.

I’ve said it before, but only because it’s true. I challenge absolutely anybody to create any kind of event whatsoever from scratch, and get at least 100 people to show up. I’m not even worrying about paying customers, I’m just talking about attracting 100 pairs of butt cheeks into one room.

The butt cheeks don’t even have to be attached to a head. 100 seats filled with 200 butt cheeks. That’s the challenge, and a monumental one it is at that. I’ve been trying to do it for decades, and I haven’t succeeded on my own more than a fist full of times. I have total respect for promoters.

There are too many variables to count as far as what can go wrong to spoil any live event. Bad weather can keep customers away, but so can good weather. If there’s a storm, people don’t want to leave the house. If it’s a beautiful night they might feel like doing something outside instead.

Time of the month can be a factor as well, in more ways than one. People get paid at different times of the month, but usually it’s around the first and the middle. If there’s an event later in the month, customers may have full intentions of attending but there’s just no more money to spend.

Sometimes with couples, “time of the month” can absolutely be a factor. That may seem gross, but it’s a fact. P.M.S. can mean S.O.L. as far as getting someone to come out and attend any live event. Nobody ever thinks about any of this unless they have tried to promote events themselves.

I’ve lost my ass so many times trying to promote my own various live events I have to sleep on my stomach. It’s uncanny how many times I have happened to be competing the same night with a major sporting event – or worse yet a minor sporting event that was only important in the town where my event was. I’ve been bankrupted by high school football games, bake sales and bingo.

Promoting one’s own events is an unforgiving mother – giving with one hand and taking with the other. Just because something works one way one time is no guarantee it’s going to work all the time. I’ve had weekends where one event goes well and I make a halfway decent profit, but lose it all and then some on the very next night when some fluke power outage closes the doors.

Bigger businesses have problems like this too, but they have much more of a cushion to be able to absorb the punishment of one night gone badly. If I take it in the shorts, those shorts may well be soiled by the following morning. It’s a risk to be a promoter of any kind, but there are rewards as well. If one is willing to roll the dice and roll up his or her sleeves, good things can be in store.

I’m going to start promoting my own shows in the very near future. I am willing to take a risk and lose if it’s for me, but driving hundreds of miles for someone else without a guarantee that’s worth my while is not what I need to be doing ever again. I did it far too long, and it never paid off. If I’m going to work for any clueless imbeciles, that imbecile is going to be ME. Nobody is going to watch over my career like me, so it’s plain old smart business. I’m ready to get started.

No matter the size of either, butts in seats is what the entertainment business is about.

No matter the size of either, butts in seats is what the entertainment business is about.

100 People

May 5, 2014

Friday May 2nd, Caledonia, MI

Day two of the renegade comedy tour, and it’s going really well. Last night in Grandville, MI was a blast, and that’s a suburb of Grand Rapids. Tonight I was in Caledonia, which is just a bit farther out but still in the Grand Rapids radar. The show was at a place called “Family Tavern”.

That seems like an oxymoron, but I’d work places like this every night of the year and be able to survive quite nicely. It’s a bar and restaurant owned by a very nice lady named Jodi that is a former college basketball player. Her place is not huge, but there is a basement that is equipped with a separate bar, stage and sound that can seat about 100. It’s a perfect fit for comedy shows.

100 people or thereabouts is a totally livable number believe it or not. Yes, we all fantasize of performing in front of a gigantic theatre packed with 3,000 fans, but unless one is a big name it’s just not going to happen. That doesn’t mean we have to quit the business, as very few ever get to that point. There’s the dream world of show business, and there’s making a living every month.

I’ve had all I can handle to be able to scrape up that living month after month and haven’t been able to spend a lot of time working on filling those big arenas. That might be part of the problem, but the truth is it really isn’t necessary to survive. If I could get 100 people a night to pay a cover charge of $5-$10 to see me on a consistent basis I’d be living in a higher tax bracket. Bring it on!

That’s a lot harder than it sounds though, and in all honesty it’s probably a better pursuit to try for the big venues in the long run. Tonight was an example of how it can really work well for all parties involved though, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Start to finish, this was a total success.

First off, Jodi was behind Jerry Donovan and they worked as a team. Jerry said she was not up for it at first when he initially approached her, but he convinced her to try one night and it was an off the charts grand slam home run. Then she was on board, and they have done eight hot shows.

Jodi’s customers love it, and pack the place on comedy night. She is also drawing new ones in that have now been exposed to what she does. She has an outstanding food menu, and I wouldn’t expect that for such an out of the way small place. That food is up there with the best restaurants.

It is a restaurant technically, but I would never have thought to go there had I been out looking for a place to eat. I would have assumed it was a shot and a beer joint, and gone elsewhere. Now Jodi is bringing in customers for comedy that will try her delicious food and turn into regulars.

Unfortunately, Jodi and Jerry are a lot smarter than the average bar owner/booker combination and that’s why there aren’t more of these hidden little gems. They only do shows once a month, but that’s enough in a town and venue this size. It’s just the right amount, and everybody wins.

Another advantage Jerry has is that he hosts many of his own shows. He’s a solid headliner as well, but having an experienced host in situations like this helps train the audiences to know how to behave. It was a treat for me to have a solid host, and together we blew the roof off the joint.

Ed Bartko was the feature, a very nice guy out of Toledo who is 52 and started comedy later in life. He’s very enthusiastic, and funny too. It was a super night, and everyone was happy. What’s not to like about nights like this? Give me 350 a year, and I’ll shut my mouth. They’re out there.

100 people paying a reasonable cover charge every night would make a tremendous living for any performer.

100 people paying a reasonable cover charge every night would make a tremendous living for any performer – but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

That's about how many there were tonight in Caledonia, MI at The Family Tavern. Fun show, GREAT food! www.thefamilytavern.com.

That’s about how many there were tonight in Caledonia, MI at The Family Tavern. It was a red hot fun show – and GREAT food! http://www.thefamilytavern.com.

Jedi Jokers

May 5, 2014

Thursday May 1st, 2014 – Grandville, MI

Tonight was the start of my three night run in western Michigan working for Jerry Donovan. In a perfect world he wouldn’t have to exist, but there has never been a danger of this world coming close to perfection so here I am. I’m grateful for these bookings and will do my best for Jerry.

I do my best for every booker I ever work for, but Jerry is one of the few that appreciates it. He does standup comedy himself – and does it very well I might add. He is originally from St. Louis, but somehow managed to end up in the Grand Rapids, MI area. I never asked why, but that’s not the issue. He’s here now, and is making a name for himself in the area. That’s all I need to know.

Jerry handles his business extremely well, and he told me it’s because he worked in sales for a long time before he ever got into comedy. Sales is winning an audience over one on one, and the same principles are used in a group setting with comedy. He’s taken to it like a duck to water and I absolutely love working with and for him. He treats comedians like people, and that’s SO rare.

The reason he’s in the booking end of the business at all is a certain agency that has been based out of Grand Rapids for decades has taken it upon themselves to become pompous and think they own comedy just because they’ve been around so long. The fact is, they COULD have owned the entire Midwest had they been just a little bit nice rather than imperialistic tyrants with attitudes.

They could have had their pick of all the best acts in the area, and for years they did. Then one by one they alienated most of them, and everybody lost out. Their venues are getting a lesser and watered down supply on a weekly basis, and a lot of good comedians are now scraping for work.

Had they handled things differently, Jerry wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. He wouldn’t be able to get the high quality of acts he does, because we’d all be loyal to the agency. Jerry would likely be working for them too, and everyone would be making a decent living. But that isn’t how it is.

The main problem is that the business has been turned over to the sons of the guy that was the original snake everyone worked for for years. None of us particularly liked him as a person, but comedians are stage whores and would work for the Beelzebub Booking Agency if they had the work to offer. I think the old man let the power go to his head and thought we actually liked him.

We TOLERATED him, and there’s a big difference. That’s not the way to build loyalty, and it sure isn’t the way to make friends. Not that business associates need to be friends to the point of coming over for Thanksgiving, but we were the ones that made him a healthy living. Treating us with at least a little respect would have lined his own pockets in the long run. He didn’t see that.

Now there are a significant number of scorned former acts that would go out of their way to get some payback for being dropped from the roster without as much as even an insincere thank you. He could have faked it like a stripper does to keep the money rolling in. It still is to a degree, but not like it used to. Jerry is taking over a nice little chunk, and I for one am behind him 1000%. It feels like I’m in Star Wars. The agency is the Death Star, and Jerry is leader of the Jedi Jokers.

Jerry Donovan is a funny comedian but also books comedy shows in the Michigan area. I'm delighted to work for him because he gets it. www.jerrydonovan.com.

Jerry Donovan is a funny comedian but also books comedy shows in the Michigan area. I’m delighted to work for him because he gets it. http://www.jerrydonovan.com.

Jedi Jokers, we are.

Jedi Jokers, we both are.

Numbers Don’t Lie

April 27, 2014

Friday April 25th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

After all of the painstaking effort I have put in over a lifetime feverishly attempting to create an identity that is moderately recognizable to the largest amount of people possible, it’s laughable at how tiny a number that turns out to be. It isn’t even close to 1/1000th of 1% of people on Earth.

It’s not anywhere near 1/100th of 1% of the United States, nor does it approach 1/10th of 1% of the population of the Chicago metropolitan area where I have been based for the majority of my adult life. How’s that for taking some humble pies to the face? It’s like I’ve never even existed.

I tried to figure out as close to a number of people I have performed live for over my entire life, and the closest number I could come up with is somewhere between around 750,000 and an even million. And that took thirty years of hard work. How many of those would remember my name, even if there were cash and prizes involved? Even at 1% – which it isn’t – I am still an unknown.

Even at a million I am still an unknown, but that’s more than enough to make a fantastic living – provided that million is reachable and relatively in a maintainable service area. If they were all over the globe at random, that would make it difficult to serve them by doing live performances.

The people I have performed for are scattered randomly all over North America, and that’s my biggest problem. Other than the Chicago/Milwaukee corridor, nobody has a clue as to who I am – and it’s not all that much there. I can draw a few dozen, but nothing that will define a career.

Most of my work has been done to groups of about 100-200 on average, and often it’s been far lower than average. How many times have I worked some road house honky-tonk hell hole in an obscure town 1000 miles or more from home in front of 50 or far less? I couldn’t begin to count.

And even if they liked me – which often they did – was I smart enough to ask for an address of any kind to stay in touch so maybe they might come back next time I was in town? Even before email I guess I could have sent post cards, but it would have taken time and money I didn’t have.

The truth is, obtaining top of mind awareness with a large group of people is one of the hardest things imaginable. Even McDonald’s has to keep their name pounded into the public’s head, and who hasn’t heard of McDonald’s? They have worldwide presence and a huge advertising budget. I wander all over the country to entertain random people in comedy clubs. I’m a faceless drifter.

I could live with that if the money was there, but right now it just isn’t. It doesn’t matter what I happen to do on stage unfortunately. I used to think that’s all that meant anything, but that’s just plain wrong. All that matters is if one can put butts in seats, and that’s something I have not ever figured out how to do. Mike Tyson is selling out his one man show. I don’t draw flies to manure.

What any of this means I really can’t say, other than I need to have more people become aware of who I am as quickly as possible. I started a newsletter this year, but that only has around 2000 on the list. And how many of those actually read it? I sure won’t be getting cocky any time soon.

Gaining the attention of just 1% of the American public is a lot harder than it sounds. I've been trying for 30 years, and I'm not even close.

Gaining the attention of just 1% of the American public is a lot harder than it sounds. I’ve been trying for 30 years.

Flea Flicking

April 21, 2014

Sunday April 20th, 2014 – Wilmot, WI/Caledonia, WI

I was up early this morning, but not to look for Easter eggs. The weather was perfect and this is the unofficial start of flea market season. The one I went through yesterday was a small one close to where I live. It was indoors and not that great. Today I ventured farther north to Wisconsin for a run through an outdoor one in Wilmot and then north to Milwaukee for an indoor/outdoor mix.

I have to say, I was sadly disappointed with both but I did learn a lot. I shut my mouth and tried to observe as much as I could on every level. I watched the sellers and the buyers to see how the interaction took place, and I also made a point to see everything that was for sale and how it was presented. Most of it was displayed poorly, and that alone was an important lesson immediately.

I showed up dressed in a pair of jeans and a short sleeve button down shirt with a pocket full of ‘I (heart) Uranus’ book marks to give to anyone who may have noticed my ‘King of Uranus’ ball cap. I’ve worn one in public before, and throughout the day a few people usually laugh and make a comment like “Hey, I love your hat!” I figured this would be a good place to practice my pitch.

Sure enough, I wasn’t in the place more than thirty seconds and one of the vendors laughed out loud and pointed it out to everyone around her. I smiled and gave her a book mark, and I saw her face light up as if she’d just won the lottery. She made a big deal of it, I could tell she meant it.

That made me feel like my day wasn’t wasted, and I kept on walking. It happened a few times more, but not more than ten. Still, I’ll count that as a big win and I’m glad I was prepared with a giveaway item. I don’t have a website up yet, but I did tell everyone about my @UranusTweets Twitter account which is also printed on the book mark. It was a great way to spread the word.

Other than that, I just wanted to see who the winners were that looked like they were actually making a buck. There was a Middle Eastern guy with a turban that had a big display of colognes and perfumes. He looked like a pro, and had a tent set up with sturdy tables holding all his wares.

There was also some family selling produce, and I’d seen them last year. They looked like they were moving some merchandise also. Unfortunately, I don’t want to push produce or perfume if I have anything to say about it. I want to develop a display of Uranus items to sell in character.

It would obviously have to be the right flea market in the right area, but I could see myself with a professional looking display of merchandise doing a well presented slick and funny pitch every half hour to an hour as a crowd gathered. Adding showmanship to the mix would blow the doors off of anyone I saw today. Most of those I saw were desperate looking sorts hawking pure junk.

A few people had some interesting setups, and there were some specialty booths that I thought were well presented as a whole. Other than that, it was a bunch of toothless mooks wasting their time with a mish mash of mostly garbage I couldn’t see anyone paying for. Maybe they do a lot better than I think, but if they do they sure don’t spend their profits on clothing, soap or a dental plan. None of them would be my competitors in the least. I don’t want to do what they’re doing.

I want to SELL, but be entertaining doing it. I didn’t see much entertainment going on at all in Wilmot, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth my trip. I also saw how poorly most booth people treated potential customers, and that blew my mind. Didn’t anybody want to make any money?

One guy had some old slot car racing sets from the ‘70s. I used to love those when I was a kid, and he had some still in the original box. The box was a bit tattered, but it was the original. I was patient far longer than I should have been, but I wanted to find out what he was asking for them.

I had no intention of buying, but I wanted to strike up a conversation and see how much he was able to tell me about what he had. For all he knew, I could have just won the lottery and wanted a price on everything he had. Instead, he kept on blabbing with some other goof, and he never even acknowledged my presence. I hate to say it, but no wonder he’s making a living at a flea market.

Maybe he’s not making a living at all. I should talk, as I’m looking into setting up myself. I am not going to be one of the people I saw today though. If I do it, it’s going to be a SHOW, and it’s going to turn some heads. None of what I saw go on today would happen in what I was doing.

Milwaukee was a lot different than Wilmot. Seven Mile Fair is the largest flea market in all of Wisconsin, or at least that’s what their advertising says. I have been going there most of my life, but it’s really changed over the years. It’s a lot slicker now, and there isn’t as much older stuff.

One thing that really turned me off was a $2 admission charge. Wilmot was $1, as are most of the admissions I’ve ever seen. $2 is a potential deal breaker, and it will be for me because I don’t see myself going back there any time soon. It just wasn’t the place that would fit what I’m doing.

For one thing, very few of either the vendors or shoppers spoke English. That’s fine, but it isn’t the audience that would buy what I would be selling. I’d sell funny Uranus t-shirts at first, along with anything else I could think of that was related. How could I make a sales pitch if they didn’t know what I was talking about? That would be a major problem, but again I just went to observe.

I did see the typical guy selling kitchen knives and wearing the headset microphone, but he was between presentations so I didn’t get to watch him work. He had a pleasing display, and was elevated to make sure he could be seen by a larger crowd. Eventually, I could see myself doing exactly that.

I’m not kidding myself though. Putting together a presentation like that would cost BIG money to get started. I’d need display tables, banners to say who I am, a supply of merchandise ready to be sold, and probably a sound system of some sort eventually. I am not looking to put on the suit and stand in the sun to sell the typical flea market fare. I would want to take it a whole lot higher.

If nothing else, I can’t believe any other comedian is thinking of this. If they are, I doubt if they could pull it off. I think I’ve got it all to myself, but in the right scenario I could see merchandise selling like crazy. Maybe it wouldn’t be a flea market but rather an art fair or something like that. I’m going to keep tweaking this idea, and come up with a line of products to test out sooner than later somewhere. It won’t be where I went today, but it wasn’t a waste. I learned by showing up.

I went to some flea markets today to look for ideas on how and what to market. www.7milefair.com.

I went to some flea markets today to look for ideas on how and what to market. http://www.7milefair.com.

Would you buy a funny bauble or trinket from this man?

Would you purchase a funny bauble, trinket or doodad from this man?

Exploring Marketing Options

April 21, 2014

Saturday April 19th, 2014 – McHenry, IL/Volo, IL

Improving my marketing skills from the ground up is my mission not only this year but every other year that I am lucky enough to experience from here on out. It’s something all businesses need to succeed, but especially entertainers. We are our own product, and marketing is a must.

I have been lucky enough to have squeaked by for decades, mostly because I was in the correct place at an opportune time. I rode the wave of the comedy club boom of the 1980s, and was able to make enough to at least survive from late 1985 on. Some years were better than others, but my primary source of income other than a few scattered years doing radio has always been comedy.

That’s good and bad, but most people can’t see the bad. “You make your LIVING standing on a stage telling JOKES. How bad can life be?” Well, in a lot of ways that’s true. I always enjoyed the performing part of it, and I was never motivated by money. If I could squeak by, that was ok.

As it turns out, I could have more than squeaked by and it was my fault for not doing it. By all accounts, I should have had at least one recording a full ten years before I did. I actually thought about it, but nobody else I knew had one and I thought it may appear egotistical. What a dummy. Ego shmego. It would have been some financial security I could have used to further my career.

It probably would have been a cassette, but the form doesn’t matter. Maybe it would have been a vinyl record album. Or both. The point is, I would have been able to sell them every week and even at low numbers I could have hauled in a nice chunk of change over a ten year time window.

I was averaging at least 45 weeks of work then, and quite a few years I worked 50-52. It wasn’t always the best work in the best clubs, but say I could have averaged ten units a week sold over a ten year period. That’s 450-500 units per year at what likely would have been a $10 retail price.

On the conservative side, say that’s $45,000 over ten years minus say $2 per unit to make. That still leaves me $36,000 had I not touched any of that money – and knowing me I would not have. I’d have saved it for some kind of stunt nobody else would have done. It may have been a flop of epic stature, but that’s me as well. I’ve never been afraid to go all in. I have tasted defeat often.

What if I had spent that $36,000 on TV commercials somewhere or a full page ad in one of the trade papers? When was the last time you saw a comedian or performer of any kind spend money on self promotion? It just doesn’t happen – at least not without management or a recording deal.

There are obviously taxes in there too, and I realize that. I would report every last penny, as it’s just not worth trying to screw the government. I’d rather have a clear conscience and just pay my fair share. Whatever was left would have still been a nice bit of cash to use on some promo stunt.

I wasn’t forced to think that way then, as work was plentiful and nobody was selling anything other than their comedy act. We were ‘artistes’, and that’s great on paper but most of us are now certified vagrant caliber broke and wish we would have had our marketing chops on the way up.

Too late now, but it’s not too late to change. One thing I have that the newbies don’t is a whole lot of experience in front of audiences coast to coast, and a backlog of polished material that I am able to use whenever I need it. That’s part of what paying dues is about, and I’ve put in my time.

Now I’m looking to sell what I’ve been able to create, but in other ways than just saying it on a stage somewhere. What else can I do to get paid? I suppose I could write columns, and I’ve been doing that for the past few months in a publication called “Scene Magazine” in Fond du Lac, WI. My friend Silk Casper asked me to do it, and he’s been making sure I get a check every month.

It’s not huge, but it’s been steady and I guess I can say I’m a published author. I think. I’m not anywhere close to being a professional, but it’s a solid start and I am grateful for the opportunity. Branching out and creating a new stream of income for being funny comes in very handy now.

But I know there’s more – a LOT more. There’s both a flea market and an antique mall within an easy drive from where I live, and I took a lap in both today just to check out that scene. I have been going to thrift stores, flea markets and rummage sales for decades, but now I’m seeing them all with fresh eyes. I used to go there looking to score treasures. Now I’m looking to be a seller.

The marketing skills of the sellers at flea markets and antique malls are all over the place. Most are very poor from my experience, and have little to no people skills. Just a friendly hello when I walk past their display should be the bare minimum, but I’d guess maybe 10% or less will do it.

I went today just to observe, and I learned a lot. I went to the flea market first, and looked at all the displays to see which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t. Most of the stuff was thrown in an unorganized pile, and was difficult to look at. It took work to sort through all of the clutter to see if there was anything I’d want to buy. They made it hard for people to spend money. Not smart.

Even little things like business cards were missing. What if I was looking to sell something one of the dealers specialized in? Maybe I had a relative pass away that was a big collector, and I was looking for someone to help me appraise the collection. Whatever the case, 99% of these mutants didn’t even say hello and maybe strike up a conversation that could have led to a business deal.

One guy there had some old toys, and his display was a bit sloppy but still interesting. He had a pair of old Schlitz salt and pepper shakers that I bought for $10 and an old pair of Schlitz patches from the ‘60s or ‘70s that their drivers used to wear. I can use all of that for “Schlitz Happened!”

The antique mall was a little better, but not much. Most of the vendors that were there were not very talkative, and I found that appalling. They didn’t have to pester me like the stereotype of an old time used car salesman, but a friendly smile and a hello would have been nice. I didn’t get it.

I ended up buying a collection of 50 old ‘Fate’ magazines from the ‘50s through the ‘70s for $1 each, and that was a steal. They’re a great read, packed with tales of UFOs and the paranormal of all kinds. I’ll scour them for King of Uranus ideas, and keep exercising my marketing muscles to use in the future. I want to go out past Uranus, and find ways to make money when I’m sleeping.

I found some Schlitz salt and pepper shakers at a flea market today. I will use them for my one man show 'Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst" www.schlitzhappened.com.

I found some Schlitz salt and pepper shakers at a flea market today. I will use them for ‘Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst.” http://www.schlitzhappened.com.

The same guy sold me two cloth patches Schlitz drivers used to wear in the '60s and '70s.

The same guy sold me two cloth patches Schlitz drivers used to wear in the ’60s.

I also found some old FATE magazines from the '50s through '70s. The cool cover art alone was worth the $1 each I paid for them all.

I also found some old FATE magazines from the ’50s through ’70s. The cover art alone was worth the $1 each I paid for them all.

Fantastic Friends

April 9, 2014

Tuesday April 8th, 2014 – Milwaukee, WI

It was back home to Milwaukee today to attend a seminar held especially for me by my friend Lynn Miner. Lynn is a magician among many other things, and we met when he was a student in one of my first comedy classes back in the mid ‘90s. Since then I’ve learned a lot more from him than he ever did from me, and it’s people like him that make me continue to teach to this day.

Among Lynn’s “other things” is holding successful workshops for universities along with his son Jeremy on how to procure funds through grants. They’ve done it all over the world, and are on the road more than I am. They are great at what they do, and are at the very top of their field.

Once in a while Lynn will ask me to punch up something he’s doing with a funny line. I never mind, and gladly throw him any ideas I can. He never abuses my time, and has always been very supportive of anything I do. If I had more people like Lynn in my life, I would be a big time star.

I have always had a difficult time asking for favors from anyone, and I’m sure that goes back to my dented can childhood. I need to get over it fast, because sometimes people really want to help. I know I do, and it feels great when I can. Why am I robbing someone else of their joy?

Lynn is nothing short of amazing when it comes to simplifying complicated business concepts. He has a formula that he uses in his workshops, and he broke down a version of it for me today over lunch as he went over my King of Uranus idea. He pointed out – painfully correctly – that I have not come up with an acceptable business plan to date, and that would be an absolute must.

I don’t dispute that at all, and I sat and listened as he laid out what I needed to do. He wants me to make a list of everything I envision the business to be, and then he’s going to sort it into what needs to be done in what order. He didn’t have to do that, but he graciously offered to help and I will gratefully accept his kind offer. I know I can’t do it myself, and this is a super opportunity.

This concept is SO going to be a success. I feel it to the depths of my being. People like Lynn are in my corner, and although he’s really great he’s not the only one. I have a very deep bench, and most if not everybody on it will gladly help me however they can. I’ve cultivated them for a lifetime, and have not exploited them as resources. I am picking my time to ask, and it is now.

I have 100% confidence that Lynn will be one of many that will point me in the right direction. Even though there are still a few that think I’m the devil, a whole lot more don’t and couldn’t be any more supportive. Those few who don’t like me barely know me, if at all. It’s their loss by not giving me a chance, but that’s the situation now. Hopefully I’ll change their minds in the future.

Another great supporter of mine for decades has been Drew Olson. He’s another ace in the hole and is as well connected in Milwaukee as anyone I know. He is on AM 540 ESPN Radio with his partner Dan Needles on ‘The D List’ from 10am to 1pm weekdays, and since I was in town I had to check in with him as well. He is also a supporter of the Uranus idea, and has some connections he thinks may help as far as making products, etc. I’m thrilled to have an all star list of friends.

Lynn Miner is a man of many talents. He's a world class magician, and also one of the top in his field at grants workshops for universities. He is helping me with my business plan, and I am unbelievably grateful.

Lynn Miner is a man of many talents. He’s a world class magician, and also one of the top in his field at grants workshops for universities. He is helping me with my business plan, and I am unbelievably grateful. http://www.minerandassociates.com

Drew Olson is also one of the most generous people I have ever met - and we have been friends so long I don't even remember when we met. It was the '80s. Catch him on 'The D List' on ESPN Radio in Milwaukee. www.espnmilwaukee.com.

Drew Olson is also one of the most generous people I have ever met – and we have been friends so long I don’t even remember when that was. It was the ’80s. Catch him on ‘The D List’ on ESPN Radio in Milwaukee. http://www.espnmilwaukee.com.