Posts Tagged ‘New York’

The Golden Circle

February 22, 2014

Friday February 21st, 2014 – Ottawa, IL

Any time I can find a way to get paid and stay within a 100 mile radius of home, I consider it a personal victory. That’s the golden circle and anything farther than that becomes a road gig and a chore. I didn’t always feel that way, and in fact it was the exact opposite. I used to love to roam.

I used to look for bookings as far from home as possible in places I’d never been, and the only thing I cared about was if I could at least break even to pay for my trip. It was the experience that interested me, not the money. I wanted to explore new places and have adventures coast to coast.

Those days are long over. If I had my way now, I’d find a place where I could work whenever I want, and it would hopefully have an apartment upstairs so I’d never have to leave. I’d live out my days in one place, and not complain a bit. At this point, I wouldn’t really care where that is.

It would be a bonus to have nice weather, but it’s not a requirement. I stay in the Chicago area because I have a lot of friends here. I can squeak out a living because I’ve been around for years, and most of the bookers use me regularly. It’s not a career move to live here, so I’d gladly move anywhere an opportunity came up. But where would that be? I’ll think I have to create my own.

I really enjoyed living in Los Angeles, but that’s the last place to be able to squeak out a living doing comedy. It’s not near anything, and the gigs that are there don’t pay. It’s a showcase town. Everyone and their grandma thinks they’re going to be the next big star, and it’s not about work.

New York has never interested me in the least. It’s filthy, crowded, expensive and the weather is just like here. I wouldn’t be in the top 2000 of New York acts, so why move there and start at the bottom when I’m one of the top acts in Chicago? I see no reason to ever move to New York.

I love Las Vegas, but again there’s nothing near it. Would living in town give me enough work to be able to survive? Perhaps. If I worked at it, I bet I could come up with some sort of deal that lets me stay in town at least a big chunk of the year. That might be a possibility sooner than later.

I like the Chicago area because there’s a significant chunk of population within 100 miles in all directions except east. But I can drive around Lake Michigan, and work in places like St. Joseph, MI and Michigan City, IN and all kinds of other little towns that keep me busy most of the year.

If I really focused on that 100 mile radius, I think I could do fine and still sleep in my own bed every night. Would that be a career? Not really. It would be steady work, and a job. That’s what I’ve been doing all these years, and it’s been all I could handle to squeak out a living that long.

Tonight I did a show in Ottawa, IL that was less than thrilling quite honestly. I was heckled by the sound guy of all people, and he had a mic and could talk back. People were walking back and forth in front of me during the show, and there wasn’t any stage. I had to stand on a dance floor.

The pay wasn’t great, but I was off on a Friday and it was exactly 86 miles from my front door. I gave them my best, got my check, and drove home. It wasn’t fulfilling, but it wasn’t an all day drive either. It will pay a bill or two while I keep working on my transition to being a humorist.

What I did tonight was a comedian gig. The people weren’t mean, and in fact the lady who was in charge was very friendly. But there wasn’t a lot of respect there whether they realized it or not, and it made my job far more difficult than it needed to be. For any money, it just wasn’t worth it.

I realize I could have turned this down, but I like to perform and since it was within the golden circle I said I’d do it. My policy has always been I would much rather work for low pay than not have a gig at all. I think I have to reassess that policy, and start to turn things down on occasion.

I’ve always been told the most powerful word in show business (and in life) is “no”. The more one can afford to say no, the more opportunities one is likely to get. When it’s possible to choose when and where one works, a whole new (and infinitely better) world emerges. That’s my goal.

I can’t picture a humorist having to do a gig like tonight. For one, a humorist would have been paid a lot more. When a buyer has to pay more, there’s immediately more respect before a show even starts. The performer has an opportunity to have a say over conditions, and it all runs well.

A comedian gets thrown into the fire, but nobody cares because it didn’t cost a lot of money. It never occurs to the buyer that seemingly little things like lights and sound really do matter, as do others like a proper introduction and getting the audience focused and attentive before the show.

Tonight everything was wrong. The audience was standing around in groups talking when I got there, and someone went on the microphone and started reading an introduction before they were seated. Nobody was listening, and I had to start out in a hole while they found their seats. Brutal.

There was no stage or stage lighting, and there was a DJ sitting at a table right behind me who talked to me through most of the show. At one point – right in the middle of a bit that needed the audience’s full attention – a song started playing for no reason. He had hit a button and started it by mistake. It totally ruined a very delicate moment, and when I glared at him he just laughed.

I did get some laughs out of the audience, but it was a whole lot harder than it needed to be. It took all of my years of experience to pull this one off, and halfway through I realized that it was a mistake to have said yes to this. For the few bucks I made, it was anything but ‘easy money’.

It was fast money in that I got paid tonight, but it took thirty years to be able to manage what I did under such unprofessional conditions. Would a top entertainer in any field perform like this? No. I did because I wanted to get paid. In the long run, I cheated myself. I’m far better than this.

No offense to anyone in the group tonight. They weren’t bad people, and in fact I received a lot of nice compliments after the show. But this isn’t what I need to be doing this late into the game. I am very good at what I do, and underselling my product like this is beneath what I have earned.

I picture myself performing at the top venues in the world, with full houses there to enjoy what I do. I can give world class shows, but not under the circumstances I had to face tonight. It was a wake up call, and I get the message loud and clear. From now on, I have to be careful when I say yes and shouldn’t accept a blind booking just anywhere. I’ve worked too hard for too long to get thrown scraps. If I don’t say no, they’ll keep coming. Close to home or not, this was a mistake.

Any time I can stay within 100 miles of Chicago and get paid, I consider it a victory. That's the 'Golden Circle'.

Any time I can stay within 100 miles of Chicago and get paid, I consider it a victory. That’s the ‘Golden Circle’.

Ross Bennett’s Revenge

April 5, 2013

Thursday April 4th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’ve been keeping a happy secret to myself for the last couple of weeks, and I’m delighted to be able to finally let it out. My long time friend and comedy mentor Ross Bennett got a chance to be on the David Letterman show tonight, and he knocked it out of the park. I am SO happy for him!

Ross is just the best on so many levels, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this killer opportunity. It gives me tangible hope that at least a little fairness exists in this insane world, and a little goes a long way. I was on pins and needles all day waiting to hear from him, and when he texted me saying he killed it I felt like my Packers won another Super Bowl. It was pure ecstasy.

I first met Ross in the ‘80s when he worked at the Funny Bone in Milwaukee. We hit it off then and have stayed friends through a lot of ups and downs in both of our lives. Ross has not lived an easy life either, but like me he still keeps slugging and tries to play the hand he was dealt in life.

We’re kindred spirits and I’ve always gotten along with him from day one. He’s been like a big brother in many ways, and I’ll never forget his kindness. When I was living in Los Angeles, he’d lived there before I did and helped me get settled in. He didn’t have to do that, but I so appreciate the time he took to show me the ropes. L.A. can be very intimidating to a newbie, at least at first.

Then Ross moved to New York where he lives now, and he helped show me around that scene when I visited a couple of times. He helped me get sets at some of the clubs there, and again was like a big brother at a time when I really needed it. We went to a Yankees game, and saw a lot of amazing places all over Manhattan that I will never forget. Ross has always been a stellar friend.

I’ve tried to be one in return, and many years ago I was able to help Ross get involved in sports cards of all things. He set up at card shows for a few years as he was out on the road doing shows as a comedian, and at the time it gave him focus and structure he needed in his life. He’s thanked me for it numerous times, but it was my pleasure to help a friend who has always had my back.

Ross has really been through some rough stretches in his life. His first wife passed away and he was left to raise his son Nash with the help of his mother. That’s no easy task in a ‘normal’ world but trying to be an entertainer and raise a child is damn near impossible. Still, Ross pulled it off.

He has also had his share of run ins with certain people just as I have. He was kicked off of the Bob and Tom radio show for years, and then managed to get back in their good graces – the very same day I was kicked off of the show. We sat there together for a few minutes, then I was gone.

We laugh about it now, but I was really bummed out when it happened. I still don’t know what I did to make them that upset, and Ross talked me off the cliff that day – again when I needed his help the most. He’s always been there for me, and I can’t say that about most of my own family.

To hear he got a shot on Letterman made me leap with joy. He’s been slugging it out all over in the New York area for years, and has worked like a mule to get this chance. I’m glad he nailed it, but I’m surely not surprised. He’s a world class comic talent, and always was. This is his destiny.

The show will air on Friday April 5th, but I’ll be on my way back from a gig in Indiana. I don’t know how I’ll get to see it, but I’ll make sure I do at some point. This is a special occasion of the highest order, and I hope it launches him into other amazing opportunities. Ross got his revenge!

Comedian Ross Bennett will be on David Letterman Friday April 5th, 2013

Comedian Ross Bennett will be on David Letterman Friday April 5th, 2013! Check him out, he’s very funny and deserves to be there.

Cranberry Stomping

March 7, 2010

Saturday March 6th, 2010 – Cranberry, PA

Totally different vibe onstage tonight. Wow! THIS is the reason I started doing comedy, only dreaming someday I’d be having shows like this. Now I am, and I’m going to take it all in and enjoy every last tiny morsel. No matter what else happens, I’ve lived my dream.

Maybe that initial dream was a little fuzzy, and maybe I was more than a little naïve. Or both. I guess I just assumed that having great shows would lead to wealth and fame, but it totally doesn’t. There are so many other things involved besides talent that nobody knows or thinks about at the beginning, and it’s probably good because everyone would just quit.

From the very start, I knew that comedy was a craft. I also knew I wanted to be a master craftsman, and that it would take years to attain that status. I don’t know why I knew that, but I absolutely did. Now I can look back and be extremely proud of myself for not giving up like I’ve seen countless others do along the way. I could have too, but I stayed with it.

Tonight’s show at the Funny Bone was about as hot as a standup comedy show gets. It’s the best feeling in the world when audience and performer are on the same page, and I felt it from the first ten seconds on stage. I knew this was going to be fun, so I dug in and let it rip. I was in perfect time, and prowled the stage knowing I’d be able to make it all work.

Shows like this don’t come along every night, but when they do I’m seasoned enough to be able to recognize it right away and make the most of it. I wasn’t feeling good at all off stage, but the audience doesn’t care about that. They paid their money and a percentage of them didn’t feel that great themselves. They wanted to see a show. I didn’t blame them.

I don’t know how I did it, but I hurt my left knee and it’s excruciating. I must have done something, but I have no idea what. Maybe I twisted it in my sleep or something but I had a hell of a time walking on it all day and it was hell getting in and out of my car. Plus, I’m trying to get over a horrific sore throat and my voice was strained and squeaking all night.

I really didn’t feel like doing a show at all, but there was a full house tonight and among the people there was the owner Jeff Schneider’s wife Laurie. She lived in Milwaukee way back in the beginning when I was just starting, and I ate many a meal at their house at that time. One Thanksgiving I was there with Bill Engvall, as he was at the club that week.

I hadn’t seen Laurie in many years, and she sells real estate now. She brought a group of her friends out specifically to see me, and that made me feel really good. I thanked her for her cooking and generosity all those years ago, and apologized for all the horrific sets she sat through at the beginning when I was beyond horrible. She smiled and gave me a hug.

“Everyone has to start out somewhere, but we ALWAYS knew that you were funny. It’s no surprise you’re doing well, and I wanted to bring my friends to see you.” I almost cried when she said that, and it really meant a lot. She did see me when I started, and she didn’t have to come back all these years later, but she did. And then I went up and kicked ASS.

It was one of those nights when everything went right, and when that happens it’s like a spiritual experience. It almost feels out of body. I read once where great athletes get in the zone where not only do they know where the ball is, they know where it’s GOING to be.

The same feeling applies to this. I not only know what’s working now, I can sense what bits I should do following the one I’m currently doing. I’m in the moment and performing the bit I’m doing, but another part of my mind is sorting through my rolodex of other bits.

It’s odd, but not unpleasurable. I love having the complete control of the whole show at my fingertips and choosing where to take them next. Tonight was one of those nights that they were going to let me, and I could feel their intense silence as they soaked in the show because I’d earned their trust. There are two kinds of silence, and this was the good one.

The opening act this weekend was a very funny 27 year old kid out of New York named Joe Pontillo. I thought he had some very well written funny material and wasn’t a pain off stage either. It was a well  booked show where all the acts blended together. It’s frightening how many bookers don’t ever grasp that idea, but Jeff is one of the few who totally does.

I was watching Joe’s set when I saw two people get up and walk out. I know Joe saw it too, but when that happens there aren’t many choices. Talking to them would have drawn attention to it, and there was a possibility of it getting uglier than it already was. The rest of the audience liked him fine, and they didn’t really care if a random couple didn’t agree.

This is a tough situation, and every comedian has to face it at some point. It’s a blow to the ego to have anyone get up and walk out during a performance, and I’ve had it happen to me many times. Anyone who says they haven’t is lying. It just goes with the territory.

I talked to Joe about it after the show and he said it did rattle him at first, and I told him that’s perfectly normal. I also told him he reacted 100% correctly by not saying any nasty comments on the way out and just letting them go. I also told him the reason people leave isn’t always that they didn’t like the show. I have my own personal horror story with that.

I was in New York City a few years ago visiting my friend Ross Bennett. We were club hopping and he had a set to do at another club and gave me the high sign we needed to get going. The bad thing was, I was watching Dave Chappelle at the time and the only way to exit the club was to walk through the audience and it couldn’t be done inconspicuously.

I tried to be as invisible as I could, but Dave immediately drew attention to it and it was very uncomfortable for everybody. I knew it bothered him, and I wanted to explain why it was happening, but I just lowered my head and kept going. It had nothing to do with him.

Joe is a funny kid and he’ll be fine, and as I watched him throw out his lines it sure did remind me of myself twenty years ago when I was trying to find my way in the business. I guess I still am in some ways, but onstage I’ve really come a long way. Dave Chappelle is a lot richer than I am, but as far as sheer satisfaction goes – nobody can touch me tonight.