Posts Tagged ‘Otto Petersen’

Comedian Steve Baird

May 9, 2014

Thursday May 8th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

More sad news of a comedian passing away came today, and I have had about enough already. This has been one of if not the worst years I can ever remember for losing comedians, and today it was another funny nice guy named Steve Baird – yet one more I had worked with in my day.

It’s one thing to hear someone from one’s same city or state dies. It happens every day and that is sad enough, but rare is the case where it’s somebody one knows personally. I can look through the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel obituaries – and I occasionally do – but it’s hardly ever anybody I actually knew. Even when comedians die, it’s not always someone I had ever met one on one.

This year it has been one after another, and I’ve crossed paths with them all. First it was David Brenner, then John Pinette. Then it was ventriloquist Otto Petersen of “Otto and George”, now Steve Baird. I know everyone’s number comes up eventually, but this has been way too many.

The camaraderie between comedians runs shallow and deep at the same time. We often pair up randomly when we are hired to work the same venue anywhere from a night to a weekend to the entire week. Many times we’re thrown together to share an apartment for a week, and that’s how our bonds either form or they don’t. I have always gotten along great with most other comedians.

There are a few turds in the litter box, but that percentage is amazingly low. Most road warriors have a respect for one another because we know how hard it is to hack out a living how we do it, and more often than not a mutual respect develops in a very short time. If someone happens to be the real deal, it shows almost immediately. There’s a vibe there, and a kindred soul recognizes it.

Steve Baird and I weren’t as tight as I am with a lot of comics, but I had nothing but respect for him, and thought he was a funny act. He was from Indianapolis originally, but moved to Florida in recent years and I hadn’t talked to him other than when he’d asked me about teaching his own comedy classes. I had no problem with that as he was more than competent, so I helped him out.

I’d never begrudge someone from making extra money hustling legitimately. He wasn’t taking business from me in Florida when I’m in Chicago so I sent him my lesson plans to look over and wished him well. He thanked me profusely, and I was glad to do it. I respected him as somebody who had paid dues and I liked him as a person as well. He had a dry wit and he made me laugh.

There’s a human side to comedians that the public rarely if ever sees, and I’m not sure if they’d want to. We’re painfully human like everyone else, and our lives are not a constant laugh festival where the party never ends. Quite often our lives are loaded with more problems than anybody.

Jim Bouton wrote about that human side of athletes in his book “Ball Four”, and got himself in a flaming heap of trouble for it. Mickey Mantle was moody and drank a bit. So? He was a human being, but the public wants to see their heroes as being infallible and perfect. It may be different in the internet generation, but it used to be taboo. Comedians were in that off limits category too.

Every Major League ball player isn’t famous for a lifetime, and in fact most aren’t remembered at all outside the towns they played in. Comedy is the same. There are hundreds if not thousands of comedians I’ve crossed paths with that will never be famous to the public but I think the world of as people. They chose a hard profession, and that alone earns my respect. Steve Baird was one in that group, and I am crushed to hear this news. He was funny, friendly and he’s gone too soon.

Another funny comedian has passed away far too soon. Steve Baird and I worked together on several occasions. I'm very saddened to hear of his passing.

Another funny comedian has passed away far too soon. Steve Baird and I worked together on several occasions. I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing.

Otto And George

April 25, 2014

Wednesday April 23rd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I heard more sad news today that another outstanding comedian has died. The year is not even half over yet, and there have already been too many of these kinds of stories to report. This time it happens to be another tremendous talent that I personally crossed paths with, and it’s painful.

Otto Petersen was without question THE funniest ventriloquist I have ever seen. Not only that, if I had to narrow it down to the top two or three laugh out loud funny acts period of all time, his name would be included in the conversation right up there with Rodney, Carlin or anyone else.

I worked with Otto and his figure George at Zanies Comedy Club in Vernon Hills several years ago. “Otto and George” was a huge act on the east coast, and I had heard of them (him) for years. Otto had a reputation of being a monster act, and comedians would speak of him with reverence.

Very rarely does something so trumped up beforehand live up to the hype, but Otto and George not only did that – they surpassed it by far. I hosted four weekend shows, so I got to watch the act four straight times. Laugh for laugh, it was right up there with the absolute best I have ever seen.

There are always exceptions to every rule, and Otto was a shining example. His act was off the charts as far as comparing it to anyone else’s anywhere. For one thing, he was beyond just being “off color” or “dirty” to the point of almost being a felony. His act was a mix of raw, rude, vile, vulgar, coarse, disgusting, racist, sexist, lowbrow, shocking – and absolutely 100% brilliance.

It takes a LOT to make most comedians flinch, as we’ve seen it all. I saw a lot before I ever got into comedy, but the first time I saw Otto and George live it made me cringe in utter horror – and also convulse in laughter. That guy took NO prisoners, and subtlety wasn’t part of his repertoire.

A lot of times an act will attempt to work ‘the edge’ – that imaginary line that separates what is considered to be in good taste and what is considered inappropriate subject matter. Sometimes an entertainer ventures slightly across the line whether calculated or not, and it can be controversial. It creates comedic tension, and when done well can be very effective. Working the edge is an art.

What I loved about Otto was that there was no tension involved whatsoever. He would venture out WAY past the line, and not worry about straddling it. He got away with it because he wasn’t the perceived bad guy – George was. That’s why it worked so well, and he took full advantage.

I have a ventriloquist friend that went to see Otto and George, and he said “It was ok, but Otto is a terrible ventriloquist. His lips move all the time.” He was the ONLY one that would happen to notice that, because the rest of the audience was too busy laughing. He destroyed for the entire weekend, and I am fortunate to have been able to work with him. He was in a class by himself.

We talked a bit between shows, and he was very reserved and down to earth. We hit it off, and I liked him a lot. He was also a dented can as most great performers are, and that’s probably why we bonded. I felt his pain. He passed way too young, and the world is less funny because of it.

Otto (Petersen) and George was THE funniest ventriloquist act I've ever seen and one of the funniest live acts period. What a talent, and he passed far too young.

Otto (Petersen) and George was THE funniest ventriloquist act I’ve ever seen and one of the funniest live acts period. What a terrific talent, and nice person too. He passed far too young.