Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jordan’

Random Reflections

February 18, 2014

Monday February 17th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

For as long as I’ll be around, February 17th will have personal significance. It’s not because of the fact it’s both Michael Jordan and Larry The Cable Guy’s birthdays, but that’s also in the mix. They were both born the same year as me, and they’ve achieved levels of success few ever reach.

Nobody doubts Michael Jordan’s esteemed position, but “Larry” is a topic of debate. For one, that’s not the name I know him as but I have nothing but respect for what he has done. He’s the same age as me, and worked many of the same gigs I did on his long way up the comedy ladder.

He found what the public likes, and cashed in. Good for him! I don’t begrudge him in the least. He earned it, and by all accounts is a very nice guy. I haven’t seen him in quite a while and we were never close buddies, but we did cross paths a few times and always got along splendidly.

I’m long past caring in the least what any entertainer does in their act. Michael Jordan played sports, and that’s an unforgiving force. The nicest person in the world will get cut if they aren’t able to meet the physical requirements. That’s all it is. There is no gray area whatsoever there.

Entertainment is a whole other scenario. It’s completely subjective, and what is great to one is garbage to another. Is “Larry” funny? Millions of paying customers think so, and that’s the only thing that matters. Comedians like to say “I’m WAY funnier than THAT” while driving to their gig in a town nobody ever heard of that pays $200 flat while ‘hacks’ sell out arenas nationwide.

I admit, I used to be one of those elitist comedy snobs that thought I knew what funny is. Who gives me or anyone else that right to think we have authority and/or control on what’s funny or not funny? It doesn’t matter in the least. All that matters is who can sell tickets. That’s the key.

Does Dane Cook make me laugh? He hasn’t yet, and I doubt if he will in the future. Most of my comedian friends share the same opinion, yet he’s performing for more people in one night than most of us do in six months. Who’s ‘funny’ now? I’m changing my ways in my old age.

Do I think Larry The Cable Guy is funny? I really don’t care. I’m not his target audience, so what’s the difference? If we cross paths again – and I hope we do, I like the guy – we won’t be talking about either of our acts anyway. We’ll share pleasantries, and that’s all that I care about.

I’ve got enough to worry about doing what I think is funny, and finding enough people that are in agreement and will pay to come see me perform. I have a pretty good grasp on who my crowd is, but I need to get in front of a lot more of them in a hurry so I can sock away some cash soon.

Michael Jordan and Larry The Cable Guy are just a month older than me on a calendar, but as far as finances go they’re eons ahead. They could live like kings for six lifetimes, but I still have to worry about paying my bills every month. I thought I’d have that figured out by now, but no.

Every time I see Michael Jordan have another birthday, part of me feels like I never came close to where I could have. He’s got a gorgeous new wife and twin babies, and I’m trolling back into my past hoping women I had a crush on years ago might toss me a mercy date. I’m embarrassed.

But that’s not why this date has personal significance. Today was my grandmother’s birth date in 1911, and coincidentally the date her son (and my father) died. I don’t know if that carries any meaning in the cosmos, but it always causes me to reflect on this date whether I want to or not.

I almost let the day get by without thinking of it, but then I signed online and the first picture I saw was a photo I’d never seen before of my father and step mother when they were very young. My brother Bruce posted it, and it caused me to do a double take when I saw it. That’s not how I remember either one of them, and it cast a whole new light on things. Everybody’s life changes.

Bruce and I have only recently become Facebook friends, and I’m thrilled we are. I commented on the picture and how I had never seen it before, and it started us on a positive exchange about a lot of things that gives me confidence that our reunion in March will be nothing but spectacular.

I’m seeing a side of him as an adult that I never saw as a kid, and it’s amazing. He’s extremely intelligent and very sharp witted and funny. My other brother Larry and sister Tammy are funny in their own way too, so if nothing else I think we’ll have some big laughs – and also some tears.

I couldn’t help but stare at that picture for a bit. I don’t have any pictures of my father. Not just none with me – none period. He was such an evil ogre in my memory that I wanted to block him out of my life force from an early age. We never posed for any pictures together, and that’s sad.

The image of my step mother Ann was anything but what was in the picture. She was younger than I’d ever known her, and I have to say quite attractive actually. She was the polar opposite of that in my childhood, and I remember praying for her slow and painful death. The saddest part of that is that I got it. She died at only 59 from the horrific complications of diabetes of all things.

It was only when I heard she died that I was able to forgive her. She was Bruce’s mother and it was very apparent that we were the step children. It was torture to live through as a kid, but now I can see why it was. Blood IS thicker than water, and she didn’t have to be nice to us. My father made her life pure hell, and it was all a big gaping wound that is just now starting to heal over.

My grandmother was no June Cleaver mother figure either. She came with her own bag of ugly and that was passed down to my father, who passed it on to Ann and us. Grandma was a cold one for sure, and Bruce hated her just as much as I couldn’t stand Ann. But now they are ALL dead.

And soon enough, Bruce and Tammy and Larry and I will join them. We have limited time and opportunities to patch things up, and live the rest of our days in peace. I have wanted this to take place since childhood, and I can feel it will be good for all of us. Our exchange today was a treat.

People can and do change, or at least let their guards down. I built a terrific relationship with Grandma before she died, and that’s how I’ll remember her. Ann and Russ (I just can’t come to call him ‘Dad’) were a different story. They and I never hit it off, and that’s a painful memory.

Bruce idolizes Ann, and I’m glad. I will never say anything bad about her again, and I’m very sorry and ashamed for what I’ve said in the past. But that was a lifetime ago, and I can see how much we’ve all grown. Bruce and Tammy and Larry and I have a real chance at a happy ending!

Michael Jordan and I were born less than a month apart in the same year. That's about all we have in common unfortunately.

Michael Jordan and I were born less than a month apart in the same year. That’s about all we have in common unfortunately.

Larry The Cable Guy has the same birthday as Michael, but we have crossed paths a few times. Nice guy, and I respect what he has accomplished. Like Michael, he's had a great ride.

Larry The Cable Guy has the same birthday as Michael, and we’ve have crossed paths a few times. Nice guy, and I respect what he has accomplished. Like Michael, he’s had a great run of success.

Today is also the anniversary of my father's death. This is a picture I hadn't seen before today, and it's nothing like how I remember him. I want to be nothing like he was - or at least that awful memory.

Today is also the anniversary of my father’s death. This is a picture I hadn’t seen before today, and it’s nothing like how I remember him. I aspire to be nothing like he ever was – or at least that awful memory.

It's also the birth date of my grandmother in 1911. Here's a dorky picture of me, and her in some sort of Loyal Order of Water Buffalo attire. Not sure where she got that, but PITA wasn't happy.

It’s also the birth date of my grandmother in 1911. Here’s a dorky picture of me, and her in some sort of ‘Loyal Order of Water Buffalo’ attire. I’m not sure where she got that getup, but I’m sure PETA wasn’t happy.

Woody Allen And Richard Pryor

December 3, 2013

Sunday December 1st, 2013 – Island Lake, IL

Today is significant in the annals of standup comedy, as it is the birth date of a pair of certified legends of the field in Woody Allen (1935) and Richard Pryor (1940). They’re about as opposite as opposites get, but their contribution and influence have transcended generations of comedians.

I can’t think of two more influential names in 20th Century standup comedy and both graduated to successful movie careers. That’s about where the parallels end though. They had very different life and career paths, but both should be studied by anyone who is serious about standup comedy.

Woody Allen is quite simply the most prolific comedic artist of our time. Period. Who else can even come close? He started writing jokes in high school, and has kept cranking out product on a regular basis without ceasing. Between four books of humorous essays, three standup recordings, several successful plays and virtually a movie a year since the 1960s, he has had an epic output.

I know how much hard work was required to put out the two comedy CDs and DVD that I did. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to amass the body of work Woody did. He has kept it up for decades, and continues to do it today. The discipline and talent required for that is huge.

There are people who don’t care for his work, and that’s fine. Any art is subjective, and it goes with the territory that not everyone will appreciate anyone’s work. Still, the sheer volume of how much he was able to accomplish over one lifetime is absolutely staggering. He won’t be equaled, at least not in our lifetime. Whoever does do it will have to set out early and labor for a lifetime.

I personally am a huge fan of Woody’s work, especially his standup comedy. His writing is as good as it gets, and I play his classic ‘The Moose’ routine in my comedy classes even now. He’s a mega talent, and his work ethic is incredible. That combination is the recipe for major success.

Michael Jordan had it in sports. He was naturally gifted, but his work ethic was the key to what made him a legend. One without the other won’t cut it. It’s rare to have both, and that’s why the ones that do are considered superstars. In the comedy universe, Woody Allen is Michael Jordan.

Richard Pryor was no slouch, and he was loaded with natural talent. He came along a few years after Woody Allen, but they crossed paths in New York in the 1960s. I have never found Pryor to be on my list of favorites, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect him as I totally do. He influenced countless comedians, and continues to do so to this day as does Woody. They’re both superstars.

I don’t think Pryor had nearly the work ethic Woody Allen does, but very few artists of any ilk do. I know he struggled with drug abuse for years, and I don’t think Woody ever has. He put all of his energy into his work, and continues to. Good, bad or indifferent, Woody stayed the course. Pryor was all over the place, but he still managed to capture the pulse of a large part of society.

My hat is off to both of them, and it’s odd that they would both be born on the same day. Who knows if that has any significance? I share a birthday with Albert Einstein, and there aren’t very many similarities there at all. He was dead before I was born, but I still think it’s pretty neat we have that in common. Woody Allen and Richard Pryor both left their marks, and I respect them.

Woody Allen is THE most prolific comedy artist of our time. Period. Nobody will touch him, at least not in our lifetime.

Woody Allen is THE most prolific comedy artist of our time. Period. Nobody will touch him, at least not in our lifetime.

Richard Pryor had a huge influence on both the public and comedians of his generation. He was never one of my personal favorites, but that doesn't mean I don't respect him. He was a giant.

Richard Pryor had a huge influence on both the public and comedians of his generation. He was never one of my personal favorites, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect him. He was a giant.

Tuesday Tradition

November 1, 2013

Tuesday October 29th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

It’s Tuesday, and that means I make my weekly appearance with “Stone and Double T” on the “Low Budget Morning Show” on 104.9 “The X” in Rockford, IL. I’ve been a regular with them for a few years now, going back to when they used to be on in the afternoon. They’re great guys, and totally get it on many levels. The only negative about being on with them is where they are.

No offense to Rockford or anyone who lives there, but it’s never going to be an entertainment Mecca, or a Mecca for anything else. It’s a depressed town that most people 500 miles or farther from it have probably never even heard of. It’s just one town, and that’s not how to get famous.

On the upside, it’s cheap to live there and if someone wanted to be in Chicago or Milwaukee to experience city life it’s a little over an hour away and easy to get to both places. It wouldn’t be a horrible place to live I suppose. They have some nice suburbs, but the city itself is rather seedy.

A lot of places are like that these days. The city of Milwaukee is getting pretty funky, whereas when I grew up there it was always very clean and well kept. Maybe it was the German influence of freakish neatness that made it that way then, but it’s not there now. Most cities are in disarray, but there are always at least a few nicer areas for those who are fortunate enough to have a job.

My first radio job was in Lansing, MI which is an absolute toilet. I lived right on the border of Lansing and East Lansing, and it wasn’t bad at all. I had about a ten minute drive to work if that, and I got used to living there. I was making money, so the stench of the town wasn’t as pungent.

I’m sure the same is true with Stone and Double T. They are both employed, but neither one is originally from there. They’re paid mercenaries, but they have grown to be a part of local fabric over time and now I’m sure they both call Rockford home. That’s the tradeoff of being in radio.

Very few ever get to become media stars in their home town, just as most pro athletes don’t get to play for their hometown teams very often. Michael Jordan was not born in Chicago and Aaron Rodgers surely wasn’t born in Green Bay. Fate, destiny or whatever one wants to call it is where people end up settling and becoming local fixtures. That’s what Stone and Double T have done.

Radio is full of those stories. Steve Dahl is not from Chicago but that’s where his success was. Bob and Tom are not from Indianapolis, but they’ve worked there for more than 30 years. I have always wanted to find a town where I could do that, but try as I might it just hasn’t happened yet.

I’ve got a little bit of a name in Chicago, and my hometown of Milwaukee too. I would hope I also have at least some recognition in Rockford with all the times I’ve been on the air both with Stone and Double T and also filling in at the news/talk station WNTA. I hope someone listens.

Even if they don’t, I am still flattered Stone and Double T have me on the air every week. They are both as real and friendly as it gets in radio or anywhere else, and their personalities could not fit that town any better. It’s a perfect match, and hopefully they can make a solid living for years. The only problem for me is that they’re not on in more markets. I’ve said it before, but it’s a fact – if Stone and Double T were Bob and Tom, we’d all be millionaires by now. http://www.wxrx.com.

You can catch me every Tuesday morning on the 'Stone and Double T' show on WXRX 'The X' in Rockford, IL www.wxrx.com

You can catch me every Tuesday morning on the ‘Stone and Double T’ show on WXRX ‘The X’ in Rockford, IL http://www.wxrx.com

Fame? No Thanks

August 19, 2013

Sunday August 18th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Should I ever be given a choice as to what torture to inflict upon my worst enemy, I’d seriously have to consider the curse of massive fame. I can’t imagine how anyone could live in peace with having to bear that burden. Some are better suited than others, but it still has to be a constant hell.

   I have a difficult enough time dealing with it on a part time basis. I’m always friendly to people who approach me, and 99% of the time there’s never a problem. They’ll usually say they enjoyed my show, and then maybe ask for an autograph or to have a picture with them. That’s totally ok.

   It happens more often than not at the venue where I’m performing, but once in a while I’ll have someone approach me in public. It’s mostly in small towns, but not always. One time I was with some friends who weren’t comedians when I was in the San Francisco Comedy Competition. We were hanging out in downtown San Francisco and out of the blue someone yelled out my name.

   “Hey, it’s Mr. Lucky! That guy is HILARIOUS!” It made everyone stop and stare, and the guy who yelled it came over and shook my hand and told me he had seen my show the previous night and loved it. That impressed the hell out of my friends, even though I knew it was a lucky fluke.

   A situation like that is an ego stroke more than anything. It was fun, but then it was over. What must it be like to be Michael Jordan or David Letterman or Oprah or anyone that has been known to the public for decades? They couldn’t walk down any street in peace. That’s not what I want.

   There’s a Chinese buffet not far from where I live that I really enjoy. They have a wide variety of good food, and it’s very reasonably priced. Most Chinese buffets tend to serve low grade dog food, but these guys are a definite cut above. I find myself going there often and I went today.

   It’s a giant place, and I’ll bet it seats several hundred. It was a lot fuller today than I’m used to, as I tend to go at off times as a rule. I was led to my seat by my hostess, and then I went up to the buffet to fill my plate. There were a lot of people milling around and I didn’t think anything of it.

   Out of the blue, some guy I didn’t know shouted out loud across the egg drop soup vat “HEY! You’re a COMEDIAN! I’ve seen you. You’re FUNNY!” It stopped traffic, and everyone around the soup vats turned to stare at me. I turned around to pretend I was looking for somebody else.

   The guy wasn’t buying it and pointed his soup ladle at me. “No…YOU! I saw you years ago.” I smiled and said thank you, and then complimented him on his memory. He remembered me from years ago while I barely remember what I had for breakfast. I thought our contact was finished.

    I thought wrong. He came around the soup vats and saddled right up next to me and informed me he’d been heckling the night he saw me and that I’d ripped him apart in front of everyone he knew. Apparently it was a big gathering of some sort, and all his friends and family were there.

   Of course I didn’t remember it in the least, but I played along like I did. After a full ten minute monologue, I knew I was in trouble. There was obviously some mental illness here, and he didn’t get the fact that he’d outstayed his courtesy time and was now in the red zone. I couldn’t escape.

   Finally I told him my soup was getting cold, and thanked him for saying hello. On his way out, he brought his wife to my table and started in again. This was ten more minutes I won’t get back, but I was polite and took it. Dreams of fame and fortune are misinformed. I’ll settle for fortune.

Saluting The Spurs

June 22, 2013

Thursday June 20th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Although I’ve only been through San Antonio, TX maybe two or three times at most in all my travels, I consider myself a loyal fan of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. I absolutely love their way of doing business, and in this era of showboating maniacs they’re a breath of fresh air.

  They have been perennial winners since they entered the NBA for the 1976-77 season, and have only failed to qualify for the playoffs four times. That’s beyond remarkable, and they do it with a matter of fact business like air that’s the ultimate in professionalism. They do things correctly, at least in my opinion. They don’t gloat or waste time making foolish statements – they just WIN.

   The organization is razor sharp from the top on down, and they make it a point to acquire great players who are also solid people. David Robinson was a quality player, but also not your typical off the court hoodlum. He came from the Naval Academy, and how many NBA teams search for talent there? Is there another basketball player that has ever come from there? Not that I know of.

   Tim Duncan is also a thoroughbred. They realized the center position is crucial for any team to win a championship, and they were able to get two outstanding ones back to back. It’s extremely rare, but the Spurs are an extremely rare organization. They know what they’re doing, and all the other teams know it. They have quietly built themselves if not a dynasty, a reasonable facsimile.

   Their coach Greg Popovich is one of my favorites as well. He took over in 1996, and won four NBA Championships. He’s now the longest tenured coach in not only the NBA but the ‘big four’ major sports. He’s looked at as a guru and one of the all time greats, but he does it very low key.

   His style of coaching is drenched in fundamentals, and Spurs teams are known for showing up ready to play. They don’t rely on flashy playground antics, they play and execute precision team basketball that almost looks like it’s from another era. I love watching them, and I cheer loudly.

   My hometown Milwaukee Bucks used to be a lot like the Spurs. When I was a kid they always made the playoffs, and at one stretch they won seven straight division championships.  But then they’d always run into a monster team in the playoffs and never be able to get over the big hump. It was frustrating at the time, but looking back the Bucks were a great franchise for many years.

   That’s no longer the case, and the Bucks have been mired in mediocrity for so long I lost track. I live in the Chicago area now, and I admit I follow the Bulls. I don’t dislike them, and they have a rich history as well. The ‘90s were amazing with Michael Jordan, but after that they fell off the face of the planet for many years and it’s only lately they’re starting to become winners again.

   The Spurs have done it year in and year out, and I can’t help but cheer for them. Excellence has a formula, and not everyone can achieve it much less maintain it. That goes for anything, not just sports teams. I have always aimed for excellence, but have not come within reach. It’s frustrating on one hand, but on the other it makes me have even greater respect for the few who do attain it.

   I was sad to see the Spurs lose to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals tonight. I’m not even that big of a basketball fan anymore, and a lot has to do with the way the Heat put their team together by buying it. Sure, why shouldn’t they win it all? They did it the easy way. The Spurs played the hand they were dealt, and have shown consistency for a long time. The Heat have now won back to back titles, but let’s see how their legacy matches up with the Spurs. They’re still my favorite.

Shoot Me Now

June 9, 2013

Saturday June 8th, 2013 – Rosemont, IL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More About Fame

April 25, 2013

Tuesday April 23rd, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’d like to spout off a little more on the concept of being famous and all that goes with it. It’s a complex subject, and I’m not even sure if I fully understand it. What I do know is there is a huge difference between having name recognition and being an actual draw. I want to become a draw.

   There aren’t many who can say that, but those who can have the world by the ‘nads. Being able to fill seats brings power, even though actual talent isn’t a requirement to do it. What is needed is an easily identifiable product that a significant amount of people are willing to pay money to see.

   I’ve been trying feverishly to become a legitimate draw for decades, and have failed miserably no matter what I’ve tried. The closest I have come by far are the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ shows I am doing this month in Milwaukee, and I’m hopeful I can continue to build on that. It feels like a hit.

   But even if it is, I’ll only be a draw in the Milwaukee area and maybe Wisconsin. Sure, I might work my way up to having a loyal following and that following could number into the thousands or even hundreds of thousands – but that won’t make me famous. True fame is an extreme rarity.

   Only a very very VERY few in any category manage to generate instant name recognition with the masses, and with the internet generation getting more and more fragmented by the minute it’s becoming even more difficult. The days of worldwide fame are coming to a close, but the era of selective stardom is just getting started. More and more people are becoming partially famous.

   This seems like an ideal plan, and the chance at having the best of both worlds. Not being able to leave my hotel room isn’t my idea of fun, but that’s what being truly famous entails. Michael Jordan talked about that in an interview I saw, and it made me not want to ever reach that level.

   It was bad enough when I worked on cruise ships. I challenge anyone that thinks being famous is desirable to work one week on a cruise ship and see if they still feel that way. I was tired of the random but constant recognition after only a week, and I did it for the better part of eight months. 

   There was no place to hide beside my room to avoid it, but who wants to be cooped up inside a tiny room without a window on a cruise for a whole week? After a while, I felt like I was inside a fish bowl and everywhere I went I was being watched. No place on the ship was safe from attack from anybody at any time. I could be eating a meal or even in the bathroom and it would happen.

   I’d say 95% of those who approached were extremely nice. They’d say something to the effect of how they enjoyed the show, and then went on their way. It’s their right, and I respect it. Then there was the 5% who made it hell by telling bad dirty jokes or trying to get me to buy Amway.

   It’s all a big numbers game. There are what – seven billion people on the planet now? Who gets to be famous to the highest number of that total? The Pope? The U.S. President?  What comedian is known to the most people worldwide? I wouldn’t have a clue. It’s probably a Muslim mime or a Chinese ventriloquist. I do know it isn’t me, and I don’t think I’d know what to do if it was.

   I was trying to crunch some numbers and I’d guess after all these years I’ve performed live for probably 750,000 to one million people not counting radio and TV appearances. That may sound like a lot, but out of a total tally of seven billion it doesn’t even make a tiny dent. Even if I got on network TV daily, people overseas wouldn’t know me. I won’t seek fame, but I will try for rich.

The Funniest Man In America

April 2, 2013

Saturday March 30th, 2013 – Atlanta, GA

   Sometimes words with big meanings get thrown around carelessly, and that ruins the power of those particular words. Two that come to mind immediately are “genius” and “legend”. There are only a scant few who truly qualify as one of those, and far less that qualify as both. Today I got a chance to spend time with someone who is both, and I will be better for it for the rest of my life.

To me, a legend is a person or thing that comes along that completely changes whatever might be the perceived standard. Better yet, if there’s no perceived standard there is one set and kept up by said legend and it becomes used as the measuring stick for everything that comes along after.

Examples I think of immediately are McDonald’s, Michael Jordan and Zig Ziglar. They’ve all established their brand, and been able to maintain it even when competition has come from a lot of sources. They’re still looked upon as the leader in their field, and everyone else chases them.

In standup comedy, there aren’t many who have been able to change the game. Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld have traditionally been recognized as the top two acts of the comedy club era, but a name that never comes up and should is James Gregory aka “The Funniest Man In America.”

James is from Atlanta, and has been performing sold out shows to adoring fans for thirty years. That alone is impressive, but what makes him legendary is the way he markets himself and stays on top of the mountain in a business where backstabbing and throat cutting are par for the course.

I’ve always been a huge fan of James from afar, as I’ve known of him for decades. His name is familiar with anyone who works the road as a comedian, if for no other reason that he’s handled his business so much better than everyone else. He understands the game better than anyone else, but he also executes his plan to perfection. He has a system like McDonald’s does, and it works.

James’ manager is Lenny Sisselman, someone I’ve known for many years. He used to manage the Zanies Comedy Club in Nashville, and I always liked him personally and respected his rock solid integrity. Lenny is as honest and trustworthy as they come, and that’s rare in this business.

I’ve always told Lenny how much I admire James, and always wanted to meet him personally. I got my chance a few years ago when we were both on a comedy TV show taping for Comcast that happened to be shot at Zanies in Nashville. All the comedians went out for dinner after the show, and I got to sit at James’ table as he held court telling great stories that made us all laugh.

James has a larger than life charisma, onstage and off. He’s a true character, and one can’t help but be mesmerized by his magnetic personality. He reminds me of how wrestler Dusty Rhodes is able to grab an audience during interviews. There’s a southern rhythm that hypnotizes listeners.

Dusty is known as a microphone master, and it’s no surprise he and James are personal friends. James loves pro wrestling, and that’s another reason I’m a fan. He understands the way wrestlers create personas to establish their rapport with their audience, and that’s exactly what he’s done.

I happened to be attending the Laughing Skull Festival in Atlanta this week and I received an email from Lenny saying James would like to invite me to visit him at his house while I was in Atlanta “if I had some time.” If I had some time? Let’s cancel the festival and I’ll just hang out with James for a while. That alone would have made my trip worthwhile. Of course I had time.

   We talked on the phone, and James said he was an early riser and I should plan on coming over as soon as I got up. Fine with me. I was a bit nervous in the car because I didn’t want to look like a total goober. Even though we’d met once, we’re not that close. I didn’t want to offend the man.

I arrived at his house, and I immediately knew why James has achieved legendary status. It’s a kind of place a person drives past in stunned awe and asks “I wonder who lives THERE?” It’s an awesome sight, as is the six car garage attached to it. I knew I was in for an amazing experience.   

   James welcomed me like I was an old friend, and led me to his living room to sit down. If ever the Atlanta Falcons need a place to practice in a pinch, there would be plenty of room inside this house. It was immaculately kept, and I was afraid to touch anything but James was a great host.

He made me feel right at home, and then proceeded to tell me some stories of how he started in the business and about his family. He’s incredibly humble, and more than once he apologized for ‘talking about himself’ when in fact that’s exactly why I was there. I wanted to hear all about his life and what he did to be able to stay on top of the game for as long as he has. This was a treat.

He told me about how he’s been working since he was 12 years old, and how his amazing work ethic he learned in sales has transferred over into comedy. He was the first comedian that offered merchandise after his shows – and that includes Leno and Seinfeld. James had cassettes and hats and t-shirts for sale after shows when he was still a feature act, and it’s done him more than well.

Marketing has always fascinated me, and I listened intently as James explained how he worked his way up from being an opening act sleeping on a couch to one of the biggest comedy club acts that ever stepped on a stage in the modern era. He didn’t start until he was in his 30s, and most of the rest of us start in our late teens or early twenties. James made up for lost time and then some.

What I got for my effort was basically a one day one on one seminar from one of the friendliest comics I’ve ever met. I really feel like we hit it off, and I couldn’t get enough of his stories of the way he built his business and career. He’s known as a ‘southern act’, but he really isn’t. Yes he’s from Georgia, but he doesn’t do any typical North/South stuff or anything like that. He’s careful not to go in that direction, and his act is hilarious and clean. That’s why he’s able to sell tickets.

James also has a fantastic hook. He’s billed as “The funniest man in America”, something he’d had written about him by a newspaper reporter years ago. His website is www.funniestman.com, and you can judge for yourself. What a treat it was to spend the day with someone I’ve been such a fan of for so long, only to find out he’s a truly nice person to go along with his legendary status he’s earned in the business. I can’t wait to start implementing the things I’ve learned this week.

Michael Jordan’s Birthday

February 20, 2013

Sunday February 17th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   Michael Jordan turned 50 today, but that’s only one of several reasons February 17th has gotten to be a date of uncomfortable significance on my yearly calendar. Today was also the birthday of my grandmother who was born in 1911 and the day my father died in 2007. That’s a lot to digest.

There are so many emotions mixed in with all of that I’m not sure where to start. I have always been a fan of Michael Jordan, partially because I knew he was my age. He was born in 1963 just as I was, but how much more different could any two lives be? Birth year is about all we share.

Can anybody name a person in any walk of life much less an athlete more famous than Michael Jordan? I can’t. That guy is one in a million million, just like Muhammad Ali or Babe Ruth. He’s the singular standard by which an entire sport is measured for generations. How amazing is that?

Other famous athletes were born in 1963 like Bo Jackson and Charles Barkley, but Michael has gone beyond athletics and is pop culture – and worldwide pop culture at that. He’s reached about as high a level as one can get and still qualify as human. After that one becomes a cartoon image.

I heard all kinds of tributes on the radio today about him turning 50, and they made him sound SO old. I used to think 50 was old too, but now I’m there and it feels like I’m just getting started. I was too busy making mistakes until now, but I finally feel like I’m in a position to hit pay dirt.

Then I look at a Michael Jordan and he’s been on top of the top for thirty years. It’s like it was included in his DNA, and it would be difficult for him NOT to be successful. He may not be the red hot icon he once was, but he’s had a super run right up there with Elvis or Michael Jackson.

It’s hard to comprehend someone of that magnitude being born just a few weeks ahead of me, but it’s true. That doesn’t guarantee happiness though. Whitney Houston was also born in 1963 and it didn’t end well for her even though she also attained heights most humans never reach.

Then there’s my father. He was an overwhelming underachiever and waste of sperm no matter when he was born. Nobody celebrated his 50th or any other birthday on radio or anywhere else. It still baffles me why he was so mean spirited and nasty to just about everyone, but now he’s dead and nobody misses him. I surely don’t, but I do wish I could find out what made him that upset.

Michael Jordan at 50 is looked at as a lion hearted champion of a generation and has the rest of his days to do as much or as little as he pleases. He has millions of dollars and a new model wife. If he’s unhappy – and he very well could be – it sure isn’t due to lack of resources. He’s loaded.

My father at 50 hadn’t ventured off the back porch to attempt anything. He was proud that he’d been able to pull down a disability for his bum heart, and he pissed the rest of his life away doing absolutely nothing of significance. As I sneak up on 50 – or as it sneaks up on me – I find myself betwixt the magnificence of Michael and the folly of my father. I have no idea where I’ll end up on the big picture chart of life. I have all I can handle keeping my bills paid. I can’t dwell on this.

Dinner Bell Mel – RIP

July 10, 2010

Friday July 9th, 2010 – Lake Villa, IL

I heard on the radio today Mel Turpin committed suicide. He was 49. He was probably best known for his infamous nicknames of ‘Dinner Bell Mel’ and ‘The Mealman’ among others, but he was a basketball player for the University of Kentucky who was drafted the same year as Michael Jordan. He’s considered one of the biggest NBA busts of all time.

He was about 6’10” and always seemed to struggle with his weight, hence his array of colorful monikers, but I remember meeting him not long after he was drafted. I was just getting started on the road and was working in Lexington, KY, probably for the first time.

I don’t remember exactly where or when, but it was in some sports bar complex where the comedy show was. I was in my early twenties and after the show I was hanging at the sports bar with some comics and club people and there was Mel Turpin hanging out too.

It was hard to miss a 6’10” black guy in a crowd of twenty something Caucasian college kids, but what stuck out more than that was his very calm demeanor. He was just a guy at a sports bar, minding his own business. He wasn’t bothering anyone or trying to scam free drinks or anything other than being a customer. Nobody bothered him and he blended in.

At first I didn’t know who it was, so I asked one of the comedy club workers. I’ve been a huge sports fan all my life and knew since we were in Lexington, KY which is a college basketball haven and a large black man sitting in a sports bar is allowed to stay there with no hassle it had to be a basketball player of note, not just the security guard. I was right.

Mel Turpin was a celebrity name back then. Like I said, I don’t know the exact date, but it was right around when he was drafted, and his future was very bright. He could’ve been  an arrogant  prima donna and I bet he could have gotten away with it, especially in a place like Lexington where basketball is a religious experience. The world was his oyster then.

As the night went on, we were shooting pool and hanging out and as fate would have it, Mel was sitting at a table near the pool tables. I was standing next to where he was sitting and he was still taller than me, but we struck up a conversation for a few minutes. I don’t even remember what it was about, but I know it wasn’t about basketball. We just talked.

He was a very decent, laid back down to earth guy. We had our exchange and at the end of the night as we left I caught his eye and waved and he waved back and that was it. But  after that I was always a big Mel Turpin fan and was very sorry to see how his life played out. I’ve met a ton of full of themselves divas in my day, but not Mel Turpin in the least.

At the time, I had a brush with a celebrity. He was a hot name and life looked to be rosy for his infinite future. Not long after that he flamed out in the NBA and it spiraled all the way down to the point where he shot himself in the head before he was 50. That’s not the way any of us expect life to be, but all too often it is. I sure hope he’s in a peaceful place, being able to be the Mel Turpin I met way back when – a friendly easygoing nice person.