Posts Tagged ‘Milwaukee’

The Detroit Domino

July 19, 2013

Thursday July 18th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’m ashamed to admit it, but being an active card carrying member of the human race thrills me less and less by the day. It’s supposed to be my job to find the funny in this world, but with every passing day I’m feeling that desire slip away like virginity in the prison shower. Life disturbs me, and I don’t know where to start. Every direction I look there’s a fire burning out of control. Help!

   The Trayvon Martin case is polarizing the nation. I can’t turn on my TV or radio without being subjected to two alleged ‘experts’ on either side of the argument throwing vicious verbal darts at each other, and I’m completely sick of it. There’s going to be a race war sooner than later in this country, and it’s going to get uglier than it already is. The tension level is rising to a fever pitch.

   In most normal scenarios, this is where humor should ride in like the Lone Ranger and save the day. Humor by its very nature eases tension – or at least it’s supposed to. Try slipping in a joke at the water cooler at work or a party of mixed company and see how it flies. You’ll be barbecued.

   I’m not saying this is a comedic situation, but unless some tension gets released there’s trouble on the horizon. Nobody I talk to is without a strong opinion in this case, and ALL of it has to boil down to race. Try as we might, there’s still a giant gap between races and it’s not just whites and blacks. Hispanics are in it too, and we’re going to eventually clash with China sooner than later.

   And if that weren’t enough – even though for me it’s more than plenty – the city of Detroit has declared bankruptcy. It’s been coming for a while, but today was the day. I’m sure there will be a tidal wave of jokes all over the place about it, and I’m sure there will be many that are hilarious.

   I’m all for a well constructed joke, but there’s a lot deeper significance here and I’m concerned too much to laugh. Detroit was once the symbol of the American manufacturing empire, but now it’s been relegated to laughing stock status. That doesn’t bode well for the rest of our fading land.

   You can’t tell me this will be the last major American city where this will occur. Detroit started the trend of severe urban decay in the ‘60s and other cities followed. I remember Detroit as a butt of jokes as a kid along with Cleveland, aka “The mistake on the lake.” Is it funny? Not anymore.

   Sadly, I don’t see a bright future for my home town of Milwaukee either. I sure wish I did, but I don’t. They’re following the same troubling trend most Midwest rust belt cities are, and people with any financial means whatsoever are moving out in droves. The only ones who stay are poor and can’t go anywhere else. Pretty soon, the Detroit domino will start pushing over many more.

   I hate to be such a gloom slinger, but it’s just how I see it. How the hell can I be funny if these intense problems are flaming out of control? I find it hard – especially since a bad economy kills the entertainment business. If people have no money to spend, they can’t come out and see me.

   Never have I claimed to have any, all or some of the answers. Hell, I don’t even have a single one. But what I do have like everyone else is a need to earn a legitimate living. I’m not looking for handouts or special treatment, I just want to be able to practice my craft and earn my keep.

   That has always been a challenge, but now it’s getting to be downright brutal. This is not what I planned on when I started, and it’s not the same country I grew up in. Change? I didn’t want it in ’08, and I don’t want it now. I thought the America I was born into was working rather well.

Happy Birthday Crusher

July 13, 2013

Thursday July 11th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Some people just have ‘it’ – an abstract and intangible quality that can be extremely difficult to describe by itself, but is instantly recognizable by a possessor. There aren’t many considering the bulk of the population is up over seven billion, but when one comes along they make their mark.

   ‘It’ is a magnetic charisma that emanates from within, and can be a powerful force when taken advantage of properly. Most of the major entertainers have this quality to some degree, and that’s a big reason why they attain success. They have something desirable that not everyone else gets.

   One of those people that happened to be a major influence throughout my entire childhood was one Reggie Lisowski – aka “The Crusher”. He was a professional wrestler who happened to hail from my home town of Milwaukee, and had a legion of loyal fans who followed his every move.

   The Crusher was Milwaukee’s Elvis, and everyone loved him. He was built like a mailbox with a gravelly voice, bleach blonde hair and big eyes that would bug out when telling what he had on the agenda for his next opponent who he would often refer to as a ‘bum’, ‘turkeyneck’ or both.

   Despite the fact that Crusher was in his 50s at the time, his local legend was strong and he was able to jam pack the Milwaukee Arena whenever he wrestled. I was fortunate enough to see him live many times throughout my childhood and teen years, and when he walked down the aisle to make his grand entrance into the ring it was like nothing else I have ever seen before or since.

   He was loaded with ‘it’, and had the entire crowd in the palm of his hand from before he would even step into the ring. There was a feeling of pure electricity before he came out of the dressing room, and by the time he stepped into the ring it was full blown pandemonium. He was a legend.    

   The Crusher was born on this date in 1926, and died on October 22nd, 2005. I remember when I heard he’d passed, and how it seemed so surreal that such a powerful figure that was built up as such an indestructible hero for so many years could now be gone. He was Milwaukee’s favorite.   

   I was performing on New Year’s Eve at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Milwaukee one year, and they have giant glass elevators that can fit a large number of people. I was coming back from my gig and the elevator I was in was full. I could distinctly hear a gravelly voice in the rear of the elevator, and I wondered who had the audacity to do a bad impression of The Crusher.  

   When we got to the lobby, I saw it was the man himself. We were both in tuxedos, and I had to go up and say hello. He was very nice, and thanked me for saying nice things. I meant every one of them, and I’ll never forget the feeling of shaking his hand that felt like rough grade sandpaper.

   The Crusher never made the huge money wrestlers or athletes in general make today, but he’s a  legitimate superstar to more than one generation of not only Milwaukeeans but everywhere that he wrestled. He had that magic charisma that few ever get, and he used it as much as he could.

   According to numerology, those born on the 11th and 22nd tend to be special and influence a lot of people. After I heard this, I noticed how many celebrities happen to have birthdays on an ‘11’ or ‘22’ and think there may be something to it. Rodney Dangerfield has a ‘22′ for a birthday and so does George Clinton – two of my favorites also loaded with ‘it’. My personal supply of ‘it’ is questionable, but I do the best I can. The Crusher was loaded, and I still love him today.

One of my most prized possessions to this day.

One of my most prized possessions to this day!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

A Tall Order

June 12, 2013

Tuesday June 11th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   I got a call from my friend Dennis DeBondt a few days ago asking if I felt like riding along to a show he had in Milwaukee this afternoon. Dennis is a talented comedy magician, and I happened to have today free so I said yes for a number of reasons. One, I enjoy his company. Two, he has a very good act. Three, he’s an outstanding businessman and I always learn something from him.

   I met Dennis through our mutual booking agent friend Marc Schultz a few years ago. Hooking up with Marc has also been an education in that it taught me there are all kinds of people who are professional entertainers and aren’t on any ‘circuit’ per se. They make their own work, and that’s even harder than what I’ve done all these years. I didn’t think that was possible, but it totally is.

   At least in the comedy club world, there are gigs that can be rebooked indefinitely. I’ve worked for Zanies in Chicago every year for the past twenty plus years. They’ve opened and closed clubs along the way, but whatever work they have I’ve gotten usually several times a year and it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship. I’ve honed my skills there, and they have a reliable solid act.

   Guys like Dennis get work where they can. He’s billed as a comedy magician, but he’s really a comedian who does magic. He’s truly a funny guy with a likeable razor sharp wit, and at 6’7” he casts a tall shadow on stage. He’s a very good magician too, but the comedy is his strong point.

   He works corporate events and private parties, and after 26 years in the business most referrals are from word of mouth from satisfied customers. Bookers like Marc use him regularly when the need for a magician comes up, but rarely does he get booked more than once. It’s got nothing to do with his talent, it’s just that that’s the nature of that end of the business. I’m not used to that.

   I’ve gotten some shows like that in my time, but the majority of my work for decades has been in comedy clubs. It’s time to branch out, and Dennis has been very helpful in throwing out ideas. He markets himself very well, and his website is www.veryfunnymagic.com. If you ever need to hire a magician for any reason, Dennis is your man. He’s funny, and can adapt to any situation.

   I’ve always been very adaptable myself, and as an entertainer in the trenches that serves as the most valuable tool of all. Having the lightning fast presence of mind to be able to adjust to most any scenario without having a full blown panic attack is a skill not everyone possesses. We do.

   Today’s assignment for Dennis was a magic show for 90 fifth graders at Donges Bay School in Mequon, WI. That’s a tall order to say the least, but Dennis is a tall guy and he pulled it off with flair and panache. He did almost a full hour, and I can’t think of many entertainers that could pull that off but also entertain their parents just as well. He has a gift, and I enjoyed the whole show.

   I’m pretty good with kids myself, but standup comedy is not the right outlet. I can tell stories to keep them entertained and there can be funny parts in them, but standup itself is generally not the right fit. Magic tricks are a perfect fit, and Dennis had them from his first ten seconds on stage.

   I respect the hell out of guys like Dennis who are not only fantastic entertainers, they also have rock solid business skills to go with it. How does a person get booked at a school to perform for fifth graders? Dennis performed for the parents of one of the mothers, and they in turn told her to book Dennis for the kids show. That’s how it’s supposed to work. I closed my mouth and opened my ears all day today, and I was treated to an entertaining show and some lessons to go with it.

Try entertaining kids for a solid hour. NOT easy.

Try entertaining kids for a solid hour. NOT easy.

My friend Dennis DeBondt entertains EVERYBODY! Hire him.

My friend Dennis DeBondt entertains EVERYBODY! Hire him.

Giving And Taking

June 4, 2013

Monday June 3rd, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   Today was a trip down a two way street. I dealt out a few doses of constructive criticism while teaching my comedy class, but I had taken some of my own before I got there. It was all meant to uplift and improve, and that’s how it was taken by everyone involved. There was growth today.

   Criticism of anyone’s work – constructive or not – is an extremely delicate process. To achieve maximum benefit, it has to be given in exactly the right dose. Too much and it turns into nothing more than a personal attack. Too little and the message doesn’t get across. It has to be done right.

   My father was a perfect example of how not to do it. He had an uncanny knack for deciphering someone’s biggest weakness or shortcoming – then pointing it out in a mean spirited way right in front of everyone. He could be wickedly funny – if it wasn’t YOU. He was the original ‘Simon’.

   His words of criticism were anything but constructive, and lo all these years later I still flinch a little when I remember some of the nasty things he said – especially to those who were supposed to be the closest to him. They still sting years after he’s dead, so that’s why I try to be a lot nicer.

   There is no need for personal attacks, and there is an art to getting the message across so that a person receiving it can reap the benefits and not just sit with clenched jaw and hurt feelings. I’ve seen it happen countless times, and try to avoid it like the plague. Today everything worked fine.

   Before comedy class I met with my friend Todd Hunt. Todd volunteered to listen to the DVDs of my ‘Schlitz Happened!’ shows from April and offer his input. I have ultimate respect for Todd and his input, as we’ve developed a working relationship over years. I’ve helped him by adding a few punch line suggestions to his business speech, and then he decides if he will use them or not.

   Many times he has, and it’s been a constant work in progress as long as I have known him. Our roles have been reversed, and now he’s the one making the suggestions. There was no need for a buffer, as we understood the process. I wanted him to make suggestions and not only did he offer input, he got it from someone else who had never seen the show. I got twice what I had expected.

   Todd happens to know someone who is originally from the Milwaukee area and has experience in the entertainment field. He played my show for her to see what she’d think, and she in turn did it one better and threw in some very helpful suggestions. I knew immediately this would be a big help. Todd offered some solid input as well, and I’m excited to add it all to the mix immediately.

   Todd and his friend were ‘fresh eyes’, and they both had the right demeanor. They were trying to make improvements, rather than just throw out half baked opinions based on half thought out ideas. There was a plan there, and I totally appreciate both of them taking time to make the notes they did. Todd is very good at what he does, and always has been. His effort will not be wasted.

   There were no hurt feelings, or ignorant comments as can happen all too often. How often have I had to sit across the table from some halfwit who starts his or her dimwitted diatribe with a line like “Here’s what’s wrong with what you’re doing…” After that, nothing else has any meaning.

   Saying something like “Here’s a point you might consider” opens the door without insulting or belittling, and is much more professional. That’s what Todd did with me, and that’s how I make a point to do it in my classes. At the end of the day, it all worked out exactly how it should have.

My friend Todd Hunt is a great business speaker. www.toddhuntspeaker.com

My friend Todd Hunt is a great business speaker. http://www.toddhuntspeaker.com

Jason Collins

May 1, 2013

Monday April 29th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   As a comedian, making fun of anything and everything that passes in front of my nose is what I do for a living. Whenever I happen to notice anything unique or of interest pop up in the news or anywhere else, my thinking has been trained over a lifetime to search for the jokes immediately. 

   That’s how the comedy mind works, even in the most delicate of situations. No matter how sad or horrifying any tragedy may be, there are usually jokes about it within hours. This is especially true since the dawn of the internet, but even before that people with a warped side were still at it.

   I remember hearing Jeffrey Dahmer jokes in Milwaukee about three days after it happened, and couldn’t believe they could get out there so fast. Now it’s even faster than that. I love a good line even if it’s in the poorest of taste, but that’s how comedians are. We’re trained to look for humor in all situations, and that in turn dulls our sensitivity to certain topics the public may find taboo.

   All that being said, a major story all over the news today was an NBA basketball player named Jason Collins becoming the first active player in any major professional sport to come out of the closet and declare he was gay. I’m a big listener of sports talk radio, and it attracted a lot of calls.

   Again, as a comedian my first instinct is to go right for the jokes but this made me pull the plug on that part of my brain and think it through. First off, I can’t believe anyone still has issues with someone being gay. I know I don’t, and never did. Even though I am not gay myself and admit I don’t understand it, I don’t feel it’s my position to judge anyone else. I have my own problems.

   Where I sit, that’s how it should be with everyone. I might have a complaint if I find myself in prison and am approached for a midnight date from my 6’10” frisky cell mate named Snake, but there I go with the joke angle again. This is a subject that’s going to be top of mind for a while.

   I can’t believe it took this long for someone to be ‘the one’. I’m sure there are all kinds of jocks through the years who were gay and had to live a secret life, but it took Jason Collins to push the envelope and assume the role. I bet he didn’t know what he’s gotten himself into, and I’m sure it will come with both good and bad. Like Jackie Robinson, he will be seen in history as a pioneer.

   Personally, I don’t think it’s that big a deal but it was according to the callers on the radio. Let the guy live his life. I thought I was a big sports fan, but I’d never heard of the guy before today. He’s a marginal player at best, even though making it to the NBA at all is a major achievement.

   It won’t be his play that he’ll be remembered for now, and I already sense controversy brewing by the way callers reacted to the whole subject. Once again, it seemed like the religious goofballs who took the low road and started condemning him to hell. That put me even more in his corner.

   I don’t think a person can help how he or she is born. If you’re gay you’re gay, and it’s nothing new. It’s been around as long as humanity, so if there is a God He or She must have programmed it into the DNA makeup somewhere along the line. Who are any of us to point fingers at anyone?

   I’m not trying to be a do good liberal crusader or anything else but a human being. After trying to look at this issue from all angles intelligently, it occurs to me that anybody’s sexual preference is their own business and none of mine. Or yours. Period. On a happier note, more gay men leave more single women so why should heterosexual men complain? Stop whining and go find a date.

So what's the fuss??

So what’s the fuss?

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.

Round Two

April 15, 2013

Saturday April 13th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   Ding ding. Round two of the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ experiment, and I’m still standing. It’s going to take a while before it starts to take a real shape, but for where the process is now I’m feeling a lot of positives in all directions. It’s worth my time investment, but I’ve got a lot of work to do.

   On the good side, both shows tonight were well attended once again. That alone will allow me to keep doing it, and that’s about the best I can hope for right now. This isn’t something that’s an all or nothing onetime event like a big boxing match, this is a project that will take years to build.

   I had a couple of glitches to work through tonight, and that’s going to be part of it for however long this project should happen to run. It’s a constant process of adjustment and adaptation to the circumstances at hand, and sometimes that’s not pleasant but it’s the only way to build anything.

   The first show tonight was again the best attended. It surprises me that a 7pm show would be a bigger draw on a Saturday night than a 9pm show, but that’s how it’s working out so far. Maybe it will evolve, but for now that’s how it is. I definitely sensed a different energy from both shows both weeks so far. The later shows had more people that wanted to participate and be a part of it.

   The glitch in the first show tonight was that there was a group of about 25 who weren’t born in Milwaukee and lost some of my references. They were transplants who moved here years ago for work purposes, but they weren’t able to hang with me on the material that went back any farther.

   I talked to quite a few of them after the show, and they said they had a good time even though I was not hitting them on all cylinders. That’s an issue, and I have to be prepared because this isn’t the only time that will happen. I have to be prepared with a ‘Plan B’, but I’m still working on my ‘Plan A’ for those the show is intended to target. I wasn’t expecting this, and it did throw me off.

   What threw me off in the late show was a crowd much younger than I was expecting. That put me in a different trick bag, and again I wasn’t prepared. I knew early that this wasn’t going to be my crowd so I fell back on my standup bits and luckily I was able to do that as it bailed me out.

   That’s another situation I need to be prepared for in the future. I will make a note of it and have a plan for when it happens again – and it will. Situations always repeat themselves, and that’s the one thing any performer can count on. If one is in the business long enough, it all happens again.

   Another situation I dealt with tonight was incorporating audio into the mix. I had nothing at all last week and it went fine, but I knew I wanted to add sound to take it to a higher level. I did get a fantastic pre and post show montage done with Mark Heleniak, and that blew the room away as the people sat and listened to their life in Milwaukee unfold before their ears. That was a big hit.

   What wasn’t a big hit was a closing bit I came up with that plays some audio I thought for sure would bring the house down, but it didn’t. I’m not saying it won’t in the future, but it will need a few tweaks and right now I’m not certain what those are. This is all part of starting from scratch.

   All in all, there was progress made from last week to this one. I tried several new things, some worked and some didn’t. I’m already embarrassed at how little there was last week, but that’s the way I want to feel every time because it means I’m improving by leaps and bounds. I’m not at all cocky or think ‘I’ve arrived’. I don’t ever want to think that way. I’m just barely getting started.    

Schlitz Hits!

April 8, 2013

Saturday April 6th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   I did it! I officially turned an intangible dream into a rock solid reality, and it’s beyond exciting to know that not only did it go extremely well – it’s only just beginning. I’ve finally got myself a legitimate hit on my hands, and after more than my share of flops it feels so good I can’t sit still.

   “Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz from the Pabst” made its official debut tonight at The Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee for two shows, and I could not be any happier with how everything turned out. It went about as well as anyone could hope for.

   I knew going in I didn’t have a finished product, so my expectations were low. My main worry was if anyone would come out to see it, but that went away quickly as I watched a line of people waiting to get in the theatre at 7:50. I could barely refrain from jumping and screaming with glee.

   All I need is for people to latch on to this concept, and I’m going to be able to do this for years to come should I choose to and why wouldn’t I? I have all this local knowledge deep inside, and where else could I ever use it? There are enough people who know what I’m talking about to put it to use for everyone’s benefit. It’s going to take a lot more polishing, but the raw spark is there.

   The shows tonight were at 7 and 9, and there were more people at the first show then they have ever had for Bonkerz Comedy Club shows. BINGO! That’s all that matters right there. The show doesn’t have to be good unfortunately; it just has to get people in the door. I’m learning that’s the key ingredient in show business – even though it goes against all of my instincts as a performer.

   I’m not saying I don’t want it to be a good show, I totally do. But it doesn’t matter how good it may be if nobody comes out to see it. Tonight they did, and it was wonderful. The second show’s crowd was a bit less than the first, but together for both shows it was their biggest attendance for comedy shows ever. That’s not a bad way to start, but I’ve got a long road of hard work ahead.

   I’m not taking any credit for any of what happened tonight. Potawatomi has a high visibility in town with media, and they were the ones who got the word out. Bob Rech is the one who gave it the green light after hearing about it from booker Joe San Felippo. I sold Joe, Joe told Bob, and it grew from there. Bob gave it a shot, and Kim Mitschke and the P.R. department went from there.

   The word was put out, and then we had our dry run last Tuesday. Every opportunity was given to me to have the best chance of performing for a full house, and that’s how it came about. I had a few people I know show up to support, but the majority of who came out were total strangers.

   THEY are the ones who have to like this show, and judging from the response they totally did. I encourage audience participation at a certain point, and both shows had a lot of it – and exactly the way I wanted it. Nobody was yelling up drunken gibberish. They added to the show’s flavor.

   The first show was a challenge to maintain an hour and twenty minutes, but I did. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but being up there for that long isn’t easy. I threw in some standup bits to assure I wouldn’t totally bore them, and it worked. I did my time, and had plenty of material left.

   The second show felt a lot more relaxed. I felt a major improvement in only one show, and the crowd was really into it. I ad libbed all kinds of stuff, and they got it all. I’m not cocky, but I just know this is a big hit. It will take a lot more work, but I’m totally up for it. Schlitz is happening!

An Almost Anniversary

March 28, 2013

Thursday March 28th, 2013 – Atlanta, GA

   I can’t let today pass without mentioning it’s almost the anniversary of a very significant day in my life I thought I’d never forget. It turns out I haven’t forgotten, but it’s getting buried deeper in my memory than I ever thought it would when it took place twenty years and a week ago today.

On the night of March 21st, 1993 I was coming home to Milwaukee from performing a show in Antigo, WI when I flipped my Mustang convertible completely upside down and almost lost my life. I still don’t know how I managed to survive, but I did and every day since has been a bonus.

In what was one of the freakiest chains of events I have ever seen, a drunk driver heading west on Capitol Drive in Milwaukee somehow managed to knock an electric power pole out of socket and it caused live electric power lines to be drawn tight across lanes of traffic on Capitol Drive.

The lines were about two feet off the ground – perfect height to hook underneath the bumper of my Mustang and flip the car upside down. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and was in the left hand lane on Capitol Drive headed east at 19th Street. I saw the power lines in front of me but had no way to stop in time and I didn’t even try. Before I knew it I was upside down in pain.

Apparently, the drunk driver had hit the power pole only seconds before I got there. If that isn’t the ultimate Mr. Lucky story I don’t know what is. What are the chances I would be in that exact spot at that exact time? It’s beyond astronomical, but there I was. I heard later had I even been in the right hand lane on Capitol Drive I probably wouldn’t have flipped, but little good that does.

I have often gone over in my mind the details of what caused me to be precisely in that place at that time, and it’s flabbergasting. I had the opportunity to stay in Antigo that night, but I insisted on driving home. I had a girlfriend I really liked then, and we had a lunch date the following day.

We never made our lunch date, and it turns out I ended up never seeing her again. I ended up in St. Michael’s hospital with a twice fractured sternum, a broken jaw and a whole pile of problems I would end up paying for for years. I had six months of recovery time, and it was an ugly mess.

I don’t enjoy going back to that place in my life, and the farther I get from it the better I like it. I can’t believe I survived not only the accident, but all the circumstances that were around me at the time that went along with it. My best friend had robbed a bank he used to work at and I was the only one other than him that knew about it. Then he ended up robbing the same bank again.

There were all kinds of complicated twists and turns, and all kinds of things were going wrong in my life at once. That girlfriend was lucky she bowed out when she did and I wish I could have joined her. It wasn’t fun being me at that time, but who has a choice of the poker hand life deals?

I had more than my hands full, and looking back twenty years later I have no idea how anyone could have done much better under those extreme circumstances. I actually managed to keep my ship above water, at least enough to survive and be able to look back now and assess the damage.

That was an extremely difficult time in my life, and I was still working on recovering from my childhood which wasn’t much smoother. Chaos and disarray have always been main ingredients in my life’s recipe, but I still haven’t acquired a taste for either. I’d like some peace for a change.

There’s no doubt all I’ve gone through has given me a thick callous in some ways. It also helps explain why some people think I’m a bit harsh and rough around the edges. Sure, who wouldn’t have a few scars after going through the worst part of the hurricane? I’m working on it, but I still have a ways to go. I try to be as nice as I can to as many as I can, but I still have a few detractors.

I guess that’s how life works, but I’m not going to change who I am for anybody. I know I’m a good person deep inside, even with my flaws and shortcomings. I can sleep at night knowing I’m trying my best to earn an honest living and not hurt anyone. When I’m wrong I’ll admit it openly and apologize to anyone I need to. If they don’t accept it – and some don’t – what else can I do?

It’s nothing short of a miracle as to how far my life has come in these twenty years and a week since I thought I would be checking out of life as we know it. I was really down and out with not a lot of resources then, and if nothing else I have learned to be grateful for every little thing I get.

I was to the point of eating food from a shelter and having to learn to walk all over again. I had my jaw wired shut for a while and had to suck my supper through a straw. Still, I somehow made it through and here I am twenty years and a week later living a life I’m enjoying and still chasing dreams. There have been a lot of shaky moments in the years since, but all in all I’m doing great.

I’m doing extremely well considering where I’ve come from and what I’ve been through since that fateful night, but as much as I’d like to forget it the more I know I can’t. Who doesn’t have a list of examples of having to overcome obstacles in life? Mine are just more dramatic than most.

I could have easily died in that car accident, and I’m still surprised I didn’t. I clearly recall how people came running out of their houses after hearing the crash and I lay upside down trapped in my Mustang. I couldn’t yell because of my injuries and most of them thought I was dead. In fact I heard some people talking and they said it out loud next to me. “No doubt about it – he’s dead.”

With all my might I tried to holler something out loud to them know I wasn’t dead, but I didn’t have the strength. It’s all so surreal now, but it was very real that day. I knew right then I’d been given some bonus time in life, and from that day forward I would be playing with house money.

I even remember the Milwaukee Police Officer who filled out the accident report coming to my hospital room and telling me how lucky I was to have survived such a horrific crash. He told me he’d been an officer for 15 years and knew a fatality when he saw one. He told me to enjoy life.

I’ll admit that sometimes I still forget to do that, and that’s exactly why I need to remember the almost anniversary of that fateful moment that changed my life forever. It doesn’t matter how my set in Atlanta at Laughing Skull Festival goes tonight. Win or lose, I’m just lucky to be above the dirt still able to draw breath. I’m grateful for each one I have left. NOW I’m in the right mindset.

Ready To Rumble

March 8, 2013

Thursday March 7th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’m really starting to look forward to the run of ‘Schlitz Happened!’ shows at Northern Lights Theater at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. I am SO ready for this, and I think for once I’m on to a project in the right place at the right time. I’m not fighting the current, but swimming with it.

The timing just seems to be right all around. My generation is getting older as we all are, and is the last generation to remember not having the internet – THE single biggest advancement in the way we communicate as a species since the printing press. We’re the last official link to the past.

None of us had any idea as we were growing up just how much the world was going to change in such a short time, and that can be hard to deal with. Traditions become traditions because of a need somewhere inside us for comfort and security. Passing things down to generations has been part of the human experience since time began. This is the first time we’re changing the standard.

Video games and cell phones weren’t part of our lives as children, but our children not only are comfortable with it all – they have to teach us how to use it. I remember laughing at how out of it my grandparents were when I was growing up, but I’m way farther from hip than they ever were.

This show gives me a chance not only to deal with those issues, but also embrace the city I was so eager to leave for so long. There was a time I wouldn’t admit I was from Milwaukee because I was ashamed of everything about it. Part of that was everything I dealt with growing up, but I’ve matured light years since then and am in the best mental place I’ve ever been and it feels great!

I’m going to rock these shows. I can feel it. I’m not bragging or talking out of school, I am just absolutely positive I’m going to knock it out of the park. I’ve performed on that very stage often, and feel as comfortable on it as anywhere I’ve ever performed. I know the subject matter like the back of my hand, and most if not all the people attending the shows will be on the same page too.

I was going over my material today clearly visualizing myself on that spacious stage in front of a full house talking into that fantastic sound system and feeling a wave of positive energy radiate back at me. I could hear the laughs and see the smiling faces looking back at me the whole time.

Doing the actual shows is not going to be the hard part. I’ll nail those. That work has been done over the entire lifetime I spent learning my craft. The people who come to these shows are going to get FAR more than they expected, and I’m counting on word of mouth to establish a groove.

This will be a work in progress for years, but an interesting one. I will become an authority on all things Milwaukee, and hopefully an ambassador for the city. I want to be active in fundraising for charities, and make this much more than a comedy show. I want to establish a positive brand.

Of course the possibility always exists that this could be a flaming flop, and I will not be asked back after my run in April. I don’t foresee that happening, but it totally could. If it does, I am not going to quit. I really believe in this show, and Milwaukeeans everywhere are going to LOVE it!