Posts Tagged ‘performing’

Soul Suckers

April 14, 2014

Saturday April 12th, 2014 – Somewhere in Northwest IN

I have to be careful how I word what I want to say, and I want to say it without sounding like a moron or ingrate. I am growing extremely more dissatisfied by the minute with what I am doing for a living – at least on the level at which I’m doing it. Something has to change, and I know it.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy performing. Far from it. I love to perform on a live stage more than anything I have ever done – but only for audiences that are there specifically to enjoy a show. I’m not interested in having to fight for attention and force myself on anyone. That’s not my desire.

Tonight I had a booking at a country club in Northwest Indiana. Country club audiences tend to be either really terrific or really tough. I did one with Jim McHugh this past Valentine’s Day, and it was a monster show from start to finish. The people loved it, and it was a fantastic experience.

Tonight was not like that. Were the people nice? Yes. Were we treated well? Without question. That’s why I have to be careful with how I word this, as I don’t want to appear ungrateful for the opportunity. There were a lot of comics that could have been called for this show, and I was glad to get it. It pays my rent for May – at least it should if the transmission doesn’t fall off of my car.

The opening act was Bill Gorgo, someone I love to hang with on stage and off. We arranged to ride together, and that’s always convenient. They also fed us a delicious dinner before the show, and that was appreciated as well. Like I said, I don’t want to trash anything or anyone involved.

The contact person we had to deal with all night was an absolutely stunning woman in her 20s that was so good looking it was a distraction. Where was she when I was young and moderately cute? I know, probably not born yet. Still, she was pleasant to look at tonight and very nice also.

Everything around the gig was outstanding, but the show itself was extra difficult. Bill started it off, and had to really push to establish himself. I’ve seen him work hundreds of times, and this was rough. He had to work harder than necessary, and I knew I’d have to also. And I was right.

I wore a sport coat tonight because it was a country club, and by the end of my set I had soaked all the way through it with sweat. We were on a tiny makeshift stage next to hot lights that didn’t illuminate us very well. That made it even harder, and the crowd was a bit older and super snug.

Were they bad people? Of course not. I tried my very best to entertain them to the fullest, but I had several jokes that work like magic 99.9% of the time fall flat tonight. These were people that couldn’t relate to ‘normal’ problems like being broke or driving a rickety car. They were affluent and of a different mindset. I kept hammering and got them with my closer, but it took all I had.

I was paid immediately afterward, and I’m very grateful for that especially. But speaking from an artistic point of view, these kinds of gigs are soul suckers. Nobody knew who we were, and it wouldn’t have mattered if we were there or not. I don’t want to be the faceless idiot that nobody asked to see. I want to have FANS, and please them all night. Being a mercenary is getting old.

I know that sounds cocky and elitist to an outsider, but too bad. I’ve been at this far too long to keep having to fight to establish my credibility every single night. I know what I’m doing at this point, and having to start over again each and every night is not only frustrating, it’s humiliating.

Very few civilians know anything about what it takes to make a standup comedy show operate smoothly, and even fewer ever think to ask. I’ve only got thirty years of hands on experience, so what could I possibly add to the mix? It’s obviously better to ask the janitor how it should work.

There are all kinds of subtle yet extremely crucial ingredients that go into a successful standup comedy show that hardly anyone realizes. Everything from the lights, sound system, placement of the stage in the room, seating arrangements, pre show announcements asking for silence to an emcee that gives an act a proper introduction. Any one of them missing can ruin the experience.

All too often several if not all of these things are not done correctly, and then I’m left to slug it out by myself in less than ideal conditions. People that don’t perform can’t see how this could be an issue, but it totally is. “Just go up there and be funny,” they say. “What’s so hard about that?”

That is SO wrong, I wish I didn’t have to dignify it with a comment. But that’s how a lot of the people that aren’t in the business think about comedians. They think we just go up there without any preparation and act goofy off the cuff, and they often begrudge having to pay us for doing it.

Was tonight’s gig fun? In a word – NO. I’m probably cutting my own throat by saying that, but I refuse to lie. Was it appreciated? Absolutely YES. I needed that money desperately, and I could not be any more grateful from that standpoint – but from someone that has paid the large amount of dues I have it’s like I just dumped my life down a garbage disposal. It wasn’t worth the effort.

I have said it before, but it’s still true – I have held a long time job in show business, but never have been able to forge a career. As crazy as it sounds, I have been too busy working to construct a career, but it’s true. Driving all over civilization to do shows in bars, country clubs or even real comedy clubs isn’t the way to build a career. It’s a way to develop an act, THEN try for a career.

Building a career in show business requires establishing name recognition with as many people as possible in order to build a potential customer base, and that’s much harder than it may sound. Name recognition comes from media exposure, and that becomes an entirely new challenge to be handled by a performer. Building an act is difficult enough. Then it has to be showcased for sale.

That’s where most of us fall short. It’s not easy to get on national TV, and once one gets there it takes regular appearances to become known to a big enough segment of the public to be able to become a legitimate draw. I had my one little shot for five short minutes on national TV and did well – it just wasn’t enough to put me over the top to be recognized. In reality, it did me no good.

It was a fun experience, but fun isn’t cutting it out here in life’s jungle. Having to slug this hard each week for a living is really getting to me. I’m just not into it anymore. I made my nut for this week, but just barely. And it wasn’t easy. Next week, I have no work. This wasn’t in my dream.

Trying to make a living week after week as an entertainer can feel like the weight of the world on one's shoulders. It's NOT easy.

Trying to make a living week after week as an entertainer can feel like the weight of the world on one’s shoulders. It’s NOT easy.

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Wilde About Larry

January 27, 2010

Wednesday January 27th, 2010 – St. Charles, IL

Most people, including many comedians, don’t realize how much devotion it requires to keep improving the onstage part of our business. There’s so much to do off stage it’s hard to keep growing as a performer, and that’s exactly why it’s so important to keep doing it.

The ‘act’ is the product we sell. Part of that includes jokes, but it’s also a mixture of all kinds of other intangibles from confidence to experience to presentation. It’s a developed persona wrapped up in a total package, and if it’s done correctly it should always evolve.

George Carlin is a perfect example. He had a 40 year career but was constantly evolving to the point of where it even changed his physical appearance. He started out with the suit and tie look and short hair, and evolved into the counterculture hippie wearing jeans and a t-shirt with long hair and a beard. His comedy evolved along with him. He kept growing.

I’m very much at that point myself, and I relish the challenge. I have more material than most comedians already, only because I made a point to keep working on it over the years while everything else in my life exploded around me. Focusing on comedy kept the bullet out of my mouth in some ways, but it also gave me something to do that I really enjoyed.

Comedy is FUN to me. It always has been. I can’t stand dealing with the club owners or the bookers or the brutal travel schedule or the sleazy motels, but the time onstage is what I live for. It makes up for all the other stuff, and if I’m going to sacrifice a ’normal’ life to get it I’m going to go about it correctly. Comedy is a craft, and it needs to be developed.

There are many aspects to that craft, onstage and off. Both are difficult. I’ve spent years which grew into decades learning the ropes onstage, and it didn’t come easy. Many nights I’d wonder if I made the right choice as I stood on the stage of some honky-tonk hell hole hundreds of miles from home hoping to hypnotize a handful of hooched up hillbillies.

Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but I did learn from it and now I’ve attained a level of expertise as a performer very few ever achieve. Why? Because I stayed with it a lot longer than most others would. Part of that is because of my love of the craft, the other is probably part stupidity. By all accounts I probably should have given this up years ago.

That being said, this is exactly why I need to keep growing. It would be easy to phone in my shows and focus on other things like I’ve seen a lot of other comics do. Unfortunately, some of those things they focused on were bitterness, booze or something else on the ugly list and it ended up destroying the act it took so many years of hard work to put in place.

I don’t think it has to be that way, and I’m going to do something about it. I never drank or did drugs, so that’s a huge minefield I avoided right there. Bitterness on the other hand has been a problem. It’s hard not to be bitter about things that are unfair in life, but who’s going to change that? The only thing any of us can do is become the best US, and let what happens after that happen. That’s where I’m sitting right now. I still can improve greatly.

A major part of that will be reworking my entire onstage act from top to bottom. Every single aspect of everything I do is up for review. It’s like totally remodeling a house that’s been lived in for 25 years. Over that time things wear out or break down and there’s a list of things to fix or improve to bring it back up to speed again. Plus, it’s good to refresh.

My act can use a total rework, and that’s not going to be easy. It’s a matter of busting up a lot of things that have been there for years, but also keeping some of the pillars in place to start rebuilding with a strong foundation. There has to be a well planned blueprint first.

My first 25 years in comedy were very unorganized. I didn’t have much of a battle plan at all other than to just get better on stage and stick it in the ass of everyone who bothered me. That was pretty stupid, especially the last part. Now, I’m not worried about what any other people think. I know where I want to go, and I hope I’m not too late to get there.

The first smart thing I’ve done is knowing what I want to do. I’ve never had that before. The second one will be doing my homework before I start. I’m going to go back in history and study guys before me and see what they did, both right and wrong. I’ve always been a student of the game, but now it’s time to dig even deeper and see what I can find to use.

Larry Wilde is a guy who published over fifty books about comedy from joke books to a classic called “Great Comedians Talk About Comedy”, which interviews a bunch of the biggest names of the 20th century from Bob Hope to Woody Allen to Johnny Carson and a lot more. Larry asks pointed questions and gets some amazing insights from the masters.

There are recordings of his interviews sold on a website called http://www.laugh.com. I have all of them and enjoyed every one. It’s fascinating for me to hear what the guys before me have to say about the craft, and it’s amazing to hear how much of it is timeless, even now.

Larry has his own website at http://www.larrywilde.com and years ago we came into contact, even though I don’t remember exactly how. He’s always been very friendly and I do hear from him on occasion asking me about something comedy related. He’s what I consider a super student of the game, and that’s what I aspire to as well. He’s on top of his business.

He’s also a great entrepreneur, something I really need to learn. I contacted Larry about buying some of the recordings he made with more obscure but equally brilliantly talented comedians like Dick Gregory, Ed Wynn, George Jessel and Joey Bishop. I told him I was interested in buying out all he had and they came in the mail today. I can’t wait to listen.

The complete list besides the people I mentioned are Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller, Shelley Berman, Jimmy Durante, Danny Thomas, Maurice Chevalier, Jack Benny, George Burns and Jerry Seinfeld. Those are some heavy hitters and I’m sure I’ll learn from every one.

This is the kind of stuff most performers won’t do. One, it was an investment of money. Larry cut me a deal, but it still will cost a chunk of change not to mention the time it takes to listen, make notes and implement what I learned. But, it’s worth it. I‘ll really improve.