Posts Tagged ‘Pheasant Run Resort’

The Sweetest Music

July 5, 2014

Tuesday July 1st, 2014 – Rosemont, IL

The sweetest music any comedian can hear the week of the 4th of July is a phone ringing. This is traditionally the deadest week of the year along with Christmas week, and that’s just how it is. It was like that even during the peak years, but it’s really true now. It’s not easy to get a booking.

Cruise ships can be decent on Christmas week because Jewish people tend to fill the ships, but comedy clubs on land tend to be ghost towns. Most clubs do a local ‘best of’ show with acts that live in town and don’t cost much. It’s something a club plans for every year, and they squeak by.

4th of July week is similar, but Jewish people celebrate too – at least if they’re Americans. I’ve never seen a rush of communist sympathizers or terrorists in comedy clubs or cruise ships on the week of 4th of July. It’s slow for everyone, and there’s always the variable of what day it falls on.

Saturday is always the money night in any week, and when Christmas Eve, Christmas night or the 4th happen to fall on one that makes it even harder for a venue to turn a profit that week. I’ve seen a lot of places in recent years just bite the bullet and close for those weeks. I can see why.

Zanies Comedy Clubs in the Chicago area will be open this week, but will close on Friday the actual 4th. They’re piecing ‘best of’ local shows together, and Chicago is a big city with a lot of options. It’s a chance for comedians to get their feet wet working at a Zanies location, and that’s a big deal in Chicago. It’s a chance for the clubs to be able to stay open as well, so it’s win/win.

I couldn’t have been more delighted to receive a text from the manager of the Rosemont Zanies asking if I would mind hosting the shows tonight and Thursday. Would I mind? Are you kidding me? I would be willing to host the show, vacuum the showroom after and take out the garbage at the end of the night. Being able to bring in even $1 on 4th of July week is a victory in these times.

As if that wasn’t enough, I received an email shortly thereafter from Bert Haas asking if I’d be willing to close the shows at the St. Charles location in Pheasant Run Resort on Saturday. Again, I was barely able to conceal my joy as I pretended to look for my calendar to see if I was open.

This couldn’t have come at a better time, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I hate to be in such a pickle to need money this badly, but it’s a big barrel and I’m not alone. Every comic I know that hasn’t gotten a day job by now is also sniffing around for anything they can get. Times are tight.

I’m really going to have to be better prepared from now on, but at least for another year I’ll get through another 4th of July week and another summer. I’ve picked up a couple of straggler shows for July and August, and there could be a few more in the mix when I rattle some cages I haven’t rattled in a while but need to. This particular week was wide open, and now it’s not. I’m thrilled.

The show tonight was excellent. The Rosemont location is part of a beautiful new complex that has a lot of bars and restaurants, and there is a significant amount of walk up business. That’s the exact type of location the most successful comedy clubs in the country are. Hopefully this club is set up for a long successful run. There was a nice house tonight, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I’ll enjoy Thursday and Saturday too. Thank you Zanies, you saved me again. http://www.zanies.com.

Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont, IL is one of the most beautiful comedy clubs in America. www.zanies.com

Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont, IL is one of the most beautiful comedy clubs in America. See it for yourself! http://www.zanies.com

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Viva Ritch Shydner

March 12, 2014

Sunday March 9th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I’m still on a high from the big meet up with my siblings yesterday, but I’m not going to make the mistake of assuming “it’s all better now”. It’s never going to be “all better”, but what we did yesterday was an enormous leap forward and I couldn’t be any more delighted. It was an event I won’t forget, and I hope it can be built on. I really did feel a positive vibe from every one of us.

All I can do is keep my end open, and the rest can decide if they want to continue. They all said they’d like to do it again, but who knows? Putting pressure on anyone is the last thing we need so I’m going to enjoy the moment we had, and let the healing vibes flow. There’s a whole lot to do.

After dinner last night it was early enough that I could still make it to the Zanies Comedy Club at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL to see the great Ritch Shydner perform. I wasn’t aware he was in town until late this week, and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see him.

Ritch is a major favorite of mine on stage and off. He’s from the generation just before me, and was one of the first true headliners I saw when I was just starting. I watched him work a bunch of times, and he was always unbelievably gracious to sit around and talk after the show. He’s one of the nicest and funniest guys I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know anyone in comedy that won’t agree.

I didn’t expect Ritch to remember me from those very early days, but we crossed paths later on a book he co-authored with another great comedian named Mark Schiff called “I Killed”. It’s the compilation of road stories submitted by comedians of all levels from the Seinfelds and Lenos to road warriors like me. I’ve got a story in the book, and it’s actually quite a popular one at that.

I had always been big fans of both Mark and Ritch, and I got to know them both through being part of their book so it was a double score in my world. They’ve both been very supportive of me and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to hang out with one of my comedy heroes. I was still in a great mood from my meeting, and I made it to the club in plenty of time to catch his late show.

As I’ve come to expect, Ritch couldn’t have been any genuinely nicer or more supportive. He’s in the highest class of standup comedy royalty, and here he was treating me like a peer. That took my mood even higher, and I didn’t think that was possible. Days like this make life worth living.

We talked at length about how flat out difficult it is to be a comedian in general, and how as we age our needs sometimes change. Ritch has three kids, and agrees the road doesn’t come with the spirit of adventure it once did. He doesn’t have the same desire just as I don’t, and it was great to have someone to talk about it with that understood. He is one of few with the same perspective.

I really enjoyed watching him work, as his act has continued to evolve just as he has. He jokes about getting older and technology, and that’s the sign of a true comic and true artist. He keeps it fresh and growing. I laughed out loud several times, and it was a real treat to hang with a master.

He co-wrote and narrated a tremendous documentary called “I Am Comic” that is an absolute must see in my opinion. Ritch is one of the greats of the modern era, and I am delighted to have been able to meet him in person. Be sure and see him live if you can. http://www.ritchshydner.com.

Ritch Shydner is one of my all time favorite comedians, and also happens to be a very nice person off stage.

Ritch Shydner is one of my all time favorite comedians, and happens to also be a very nice person off stage.

He has appeared on Letterman and The Tonight Show with both Johnny AND Jay. Very impressive. www.ritchshydner.com

He has appeared on Letterman and The Tonight Show with both Johnny AND Jay. How impressive – and very well deserved. http://www.ritchshydner.com

He also co-wrote 'I Killed' - a book of comedians' road stories of which I have one.

He also co-wrote ‘I Killed’ – a book of comedians’ road stories of which I have one. People still ask me to sign their copy to this day.

He is also co-write and narrator of the documentary "I Am Comic" - a must see for fans and comics alike. I'm telling you, the man is impressive. I've been a fan for years.

He is also co-writer and narrator of the brilliant documentary “I Am Comic” – a must see for fans and comics alike. I’m telling you, the man is a Hall of Famer. I’ve been a fan for years, and I highly recommend you check him out.

Old Reliable

August 18, 2013

Saturday August 17th, 2013 – St. Charles, IL

   In the constantly evolving world of standup comedy, we as performers get used to the ongoing soap opera drama of venues opening and closing over time. Anybody who lasts even a few years is able to name several places that used to do comedy shows that no longer do. It’s inevitable. It ranges from actual full time comedy clubs to one nighter hell gigs at biker bars in small towns.

   I couldn’t begin to count all the joints I’ve performed in that have not only discontinued doing comedy shows, but permanently closed their doors. I feel like “Fast Eddie” Felson, the character Paul Newman played in “The Color of Money”. Comedians and pool hustlers share the lifestyle of being nomadic transients drifting randomly across the country piecing together an existence.

   Of all the venues I’ve ever worked – and there are many – the one place I’ve probably worked the most is the Zanies Comedy Club at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL. That one room sums up my career – or lack thereof – better than any other place. I’ve worked there for decades.

   It opened in the late ‘80s, but I don’t remember the exact year. Maybe it was ’88. Maybe it was ’89. It was somewhere around there. I was just a punk kid opening act then, and nothing to write home about. For whatever reason, I hooked up with the Zanies chain in Chicago and they would use me a lot. It wasn’t because I was particularly good. I think it was because I would show up.

   Zanies had several locations including Chicago in Old Town, Mt. Prospect, IL and eventually Vernon Hills, IL and I worked them all time and time again. Mt. Prospect and Vernon Hills have since closed, and a gorgeous new location has opened in Rosemont, IL. I’ve been there as well.

   But the stage I’ve worked the most by far through the years is at Pheasant Run. It’s a beautiful setup for comedy, and most performers love working there. The stage is large, and the lights and sound are excellent. It’s a long narrow room, but when it’s jamming the atmosphere is electric.

   I’ve had hundreds of my best shows on that stage, and there have been some clunkers too. I’ve grown exponentially as both a person and a performer since I started, and a lot of that growth – at least on stage – happened right there. It’s been my training ground, and I have learned my craft.

   On the downside, St. Charles, IL is not considered a comedy hotbed. Major motion picture and network TV executives don’t book first class flights to St. Charles to scout for new faces to turn into superstars. It’s not that kind of gig. Every comedian in America wants to play the downtown Zanies in Old Town, as it has history. Everyone from Leno to Seinfeld to Kinison worked there.

   There have been big stars at Pheasant Run, but it’s not the same. No offense to anyone, but it’s just not. I’ve had my share of working in Old Town, and I’m grateful to be counted among those who have played such a legendary venue. I worked my way up from opener to solid headliner.

   But whenever the chips were down and I needed a paycheck, I could always count on getting a booking in St. Charles. When I would lose a radio job or when I was recovering from my horrific car accident in 1993, Pheasant Run was where I got work and I’m still grateful for it to this day.

   Even last week I picked up the opening slot because Bert Haas knew I could use a payday. The late show headline spot tonight opened up, and I got called again. Bert could have called anyone else, but he called me. I can’t be any more grateful, and this is why I’ll always be loyal to Zanies.

My Comedy Training Ground

My Comedy Training Ground

The Branson Theory

August 17, 2013

Friday August 16th, 2013 – Crystal Lake, IL

   It’s easy to make fun of Branson, MO, and many people do. They talk about it being full of old people and their parents, and I guess to some degree that might be true. The acts there are geared for an older audience, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Those people need entertainment too.

   As I rapidly approach geezerhood, I like the idea of how Branson operates more and more. It’s exactly the opposite formula most entertainers are used to, but I could get used to it in a big time hurry. We’re used to constantly being on the road bringing entertainment directly to the people.

   Branson’s theory is to put the entertainment in one place and let the people come get it. That’s a brilliant plan, and I’m all for it. Las Vegas has done a similar formula for much longer, but it’s based around entertainment being the lure for people to gamble. In Branson, it’s the main event.

   I’ve been through Branson a few times in my travels, but I haven’t worked there as of yet. I’m hoping to put it off at least a little while, so I don’t feel like I’ve been farmed out to the oatmeal circuit just yet. It’s like an AARP card. Everyone knows it’s coming, but nobody wants to get it.

   The good thing about standup comedy is that it can be done a lot longer than most other forms of entertainment. Athletes are done for sure by 40, and often a lot earlier than that. Leading men and women in movies are done rather quickly too. Rock bands have been hanging around longer in recent years, but that’s too much work in my opinion. Comedy is the best long term scenario.

   The worst part is the constant grind of the road. I’m feeling it now, and it’s a major issue. I still love doing the shows, but getting there is a major hassle. If I had a Branson situation where I was in a centralized location where audiences came to me that would be as close to heaven as it gets.

   I was close with the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ shows at the Northern Lights Theatre in Milwaukee in April. That was a fun experience, and I got to stay home for the entire month. I also put together a few other gigs on the side and had a very productive month. I wish I could do that all year long.

   This month has been another close to home bonanza. Last week I picked up the hosting spot at Zanies Comedy Club at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL. That’s about an hour drive from where I live, and I’m very much at home there. I made solid money to stay local, and I loved it.

   Tonight I had another local show at The Raue Center in Crystal Lake, IL. I’ve worked there for years, and it’s always a glitch free positive experience. They book quality acts there and charge a substantial price, which results in audiences that pay attention because they made a commitment.

   I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad show there, and the crowds are fantastic. They’re a bit older as a rule, but not walkers and blue hair old. There are people in their twenties sprinkled in, but most of the people range from about 35 to 65. I’m right in their wheel house, and I do well every time.

   What’s even better is that it’s maybe 25 minutes from home. I was off stage by 10:15 and after stopping for something to eat I still made it home before midnight. I could get used to this really fast – like today. How many times have I had a red hot show like this but had to drive the whole night and get home after sunrise? TOO many. I’m sold on keeping it close to home. I have more than enough road stories to last me six more lifetimes. It would be a much bigger treat to be able to enjoy my life in one place for a change. It doesn’t have to be Branson. I’m fine where I am.

Summer Survival

August 9, 2013

Thursday August 8th, 2013 – St. Charles, IL

   Christmas came early this week, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I picked up some last minute work in St. Charles, IL at Zanies Comedy Club in Pheasant Run Resort and that will allow me to squeak by and pay yet another month’s bills. That and another last minute add at the Raue Center in Crystal Lake, IL next Friday will get me by. I have survived another summer – but just barely.

   This absolutely needs to stop, even though I have no idea as to how. Comedy in the summer in the North is death, and always has been. This is nothing new, but I should have figured out a way to hedge that bet by now. It’s like a school teacher knowing summer is coming every year. There needs to be a plan in place, but I’ve been too busy surviving all of the other months to make one.

   All I’m asking for is ONE major run somewhere at some point. North America would be great, but I’d settle for anywhere up to and including Helsinki, Hong Kong or the Island of Gibraltar. A successful six month tour of 1000-2000 seat venues anywhere would put me in a far better space financially, but try as I might I haven’t been able to make that happen and it’s frustrating as hell.

   I read where Jim Gaffigan just played a larger venue in Milwaukee tonight, and I have to say it bummed me out. I have nothing against Jim Gaffigan, but he’s of my comic generation and I feel strongly that the people that like him or Louis CK would like me too. But how do I get to them?

   I did a show tonight with Ken Sevara and Vince Maranto at Zanies for maybe 50 people. It was a very solid show and I was glad to get the work on short notice, but it would have been so much nicer to play the venue Jim Gaffigan played. Talent isn’t the issue. This is a matter of marketing.

   Vince and Ken have been doing comedy even longer than me, and we talked about exactly that before our show. They were delighted to get the summer work too, and nobody was complaining about that. We just wanted to know what it takes to get over that hump and be a legitimate draw.

   Jim Gaffigan and Louis CK are big draws, and I take nothing away from either of them. I know what it took performance wise to get where they are, but business wise I don’t know where to get started looking. What do I do, call up managers and ask if they want to handle a potential star?

   I might even be willing to try that if indeed I knew who to call, but alas I don’t have a hint of a clue who that might be. What I do know how to do is give good shows, and I did it again tonight. We all did. I’m hosting this week, and that’s a splendid opportunity to break in some new ideas.

   In reality, I never have to come up with another joke or bit as long as I live. I’ve done that for a lifetime, and can thoroughly entertain most comedy audiences anywhere without a hitch. The rub has been trying to get my name out so at least a percentage of the population will want to see me.

   Jim Gaffigan and Louis CK have their chunk of fans, and it’s enough for them to sell out 2500-3000 seat venues all across North America. I would settle for smaller ones, but that’s still plenty of fan base to provide financial security and artistic satisfaction. How do I make that happen?

   It won’t happen this week, but at least I’m working somewhere and glad to get it. I’ll use every second of stage time at Zanies to improve my act, so if and when my shot at bigger venues does come I’ll be even more ready than I am now – and I am. I may be the only one that knows it, but I definitely am. All I need is just ONE person with power that will take a chance. Who will it be?

War Scarred Testicles

June 27, 2013

Wednesday June 26th, 2013 – Kenosha, WI

   My friend Jerry Agar rolled through town today on a cross country motorcycle trip, and we had a chance to sit down and catch up over a delicious lunch at The Brat Stop in Kenosha, WI. We’d originally hoped to have all the members of ‘Jerry’s Kidders’ from WLS and WGN reunite for a party, but we couldn’t hook up everyone’s schedules. People were out of town, so it was just us.

   Jerry and I have been through a lot together, and even more separately. We met in the late ‘80s when he was working at a tiny AM station in St. Charles, IL and I was working for the new club Zanies was starting in the Pheasant Run Resort at the time. It started as a one shot interview, but we kept in touch from that day forward. Today we looked back on all of our tangled adventures.

   Both of us ended up moving all over the country to pursue the radio dream, and that came with a heaping helping of hurt. Rarely have we lived in the same town or even same time zone, but we still managed to stay in touch by phone and email. We’d help each other with various projects or radio bits, and when one of us got fired – again – the first call we’d make would be to the other.

   Jerry had the additional pressure of a family to support, and his wife Ann should easily qualify for first ballot sainthood for all she’s had to endure with this mine field of a business. They have three fantastic kids who I consider to be surrogate nephews and a niece, and every time they had to pack up everything and move one more time Ann would hang in there and keep it all together.

   That’s the kind of family relationship I’ve always wanted – at least the together part. It’s not in the cards, and when I really needed it it was never there. I was always of the mindset it was cruel and unusual punishment to drag a wife much less kids through the treacherous jungle of radio.

   Comedy is no clam bake either, but at least it’s a predictable instability. As a comedian, I know I will be somewhere else each week. In radio, one never knows when the next time bomb will go off – only that it will. Stations get sold, GMs and Program Directors move on, so who can say if a job will be there tomorrow? It’s always been that way from my experience, but now it’s worse.

   Jerry is currently working in Toronto, and he has really made an impact on the market. He does talk radio, and does it extremely well. He’s found his niche, and few can do what he does with as much skill as he does it. One would think that would go hand in hand with total job security – but one could not be more mistaken. The planets could align against him and he’d be out on his arse.

   Jerry told me his station is in the process of getting sold, and my bung hole puckered. That puts everyone at the station on edge, and I’ve gone through it more than once myself.  Two other pals in radio “Stone and Double T” in Rockford, IL are going through the same hell. Their station just got sold as well, and the standard company line is always “We expect there to be NO changes.”

   My war scarred testicles. I wish I had a free lunch for every time I heard that splattering pile of verbal manure emanate from behind the desk of some greasy radio snake – only to get shown the door a short time later. Then to make it worse, they themselves are blown out a short while after that and it was like none of us ever existed in the first place. It’s a vicious never ending cycle.

   It was great to hang out with Jerry, but I can’t help feeling for him and his family. He’s settling in nicely in Toronto, but he was doing the same thing in Chicago before he got axed for reasons I still haven’t been able to figure out. If there is a hell, there’s a whole wing for radio management.

Showing Off Uranus

June 24, 2013

Sunday June 23rd, 2013 – St. Charles, IL

   A phone call from Mike Preston usually means some kind of adventure is close behind, and it’s almost always fun. He called yesterday to ask if I’d be available for an impromptu appearance as The King of Uranus for his TV show ‘Psychobabble’. I told him I would help any way I could.

   The assignment today was to cover a comic book show at the Mega Center at Pheasant Run in St. Charles, IL. I was to dress in character, and Mike would follow me with a camera find people to interview for his show. I had nothing else going on, so I hauled out the garb and played along.

   It’s amazing what a strong reaction something as simple as dressing up in a goofy costume gets – even at a comic book show. I felt all eyes on me as I walked, but I’ve done it several times now so I’m starting to get used to it. It was uncomfortable at first, but now I’m starting to play with it.

   Nobody knows what to say, and I just carry on like there’s nothing odd or unusual. Sometimes someone will say a line, and I try to snap off a funny answer if I can. The most common remark people say is “Nice hat!” referring to my Jiffy Pop style “crown”. I don’t know why they would pick that out of the whole wacky ensemble, but that’s the comment I’ve heard the most to date.

   The standard line I now shoot back is “Who’d have believed it was margarine and not butter?” – which almost always gets a solid laugh. I’m getting a whole lot more comfortable in my skin as the character, and even though it’s not all the way there yet it’s getting closer every time I do it.

   Any time there’s a chance to practice, I’ll do it. This was an excellent opportunity to do it with zero risk. What was the worst thing that could happen, I get thrown out of a comic book show for dressing funny? That would be pretty hard to do from comic book shows I have seen in the past.

   One thing that made me feel better was that I dressed in a room with other characters that were walking around as well. I recognized Batman, and there were a few others I didn’t know. It was a funny scene as we all got into our costumes with no fanfare. Nobody made fun of each other, but we all looked pretty crazy walking out one by one in full regalia ready to walk around the show.

   There were plenty of interesting characters to interview, and I’ll bet we did a dozen interviews in an hour’s time. I didn’t so much stress the fact that I was the King of Uranus, but let them talk about what they were there for. I am pretty quick with a joke and have had practice interviewing people, so most of them came off a lot better than I’m sure anyone expected. It was a lot of fun.

    It was a special treat to get rejected for interviews by all the paid autograph celebrities there to sign for fans. The look of fright in their eyes as we walked over with a camera was priceless, and I had a hard time keeping a straight face as they ran in the other direction to avoid talking to us.

   Priscilla Barnes was first, and I wish we could have gotten a picture of her look of disgust. She recovered quickly, and after shrieking “NO!” when asked for an interview she said “But I thank you for asking” to save face with the people around her. I took it in stride and kept on walking.

   Pro wrestlers Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine and Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake were next. The funny thing is, I’d have been able to do great interviews with them with my immense knowledge of wrestling but neither one wanted any part of it. It’s their loss. I know I’m on to something big to get such negative reaction – but I got positive reaction too. We laughed the whole way home.

All hail The King of Uranus!

All hail The King of Uranus!

It's ALWAYS funny when it comes from Uranus!

It’s ALWAYS funny when it comes from Uranus!

Check out Mike Preston's 'Psycho Babble TV' www.psychobabbletv.com

Check out Mike Preston’s ‘Psycho Babble TV’ http://www.psychobabbletv.com

What A Week!

February 11, 2013

Saturday February 9th, 2013 – St. Charles, IL

   This week at Zanies in St. Charles, IL at the Pheasant Run Resort is comedy heaven for several reasons. After spending a lifetime experiencing anything and everything that can go wrong with standup comedy, it was a delicious treat to have everything work out correctly without a glitch.

First, it’s close to home. What a wonderful treat not to have to worry about travel for a change. Anytime I can work a week of comedy shows and sleep in my own bed is a humongous positive. If I never have to stay in a hotel ever again, my life would not miss a beat. I’ve done it too much.

Second, it’s a quality venue. The sound and lights are always great, and since it’s been open for so long there is at least a fighting chance most if not all of the audience at least knows the reason they are there. There is visible security in place to escort the morons who don’t get it out the door but that doesn’t happen often. When it does, Lenny Creagh handles it beautifully. He’s a real pro.

Third, it’s managed well and has been for years. Cyndi Nelson is one of the most respected and beloved comedy club managers anywhere, and she recently moved on to manage the new Zanies in Rosemont, IL. Tracey Whitmer is now in her place and like Cyndi she actually enjoys comedy and treats the comedians with respect. It’s refreshing to show up at a club and feel wanted there.

All of these things are the foundation of an outstanding work environment, but what really sent this week into orbit was the solid lineup of comedians. I was extremely fortunate to share the bill with a pair of my all time favorites both onstage and off in Vince Maranto and Jimmy McHugh.

Zanies has used house emcees for years, and I am a big proponent of that concept. It makes the shows far better as a whole, as someone with experience starts the night and maintains an energy that can’t be achieved by putting up a rank amateur like most comedy clubs have done to death.

Vince is one of the Zanies regular hosts, and does a fantastic job. We’ve known each other for at least twenty five years, and he’s a solid headliner in his own right as is Jimmy McHugh. They have both been through the wars just like I have, and it’s a breeze working with guys like that as nothing can rattle any of us at any time. We’ve all seen it before, and our calmness level is high.

The three of us are comedy mercenaries at this point, but that’s not a bad thing. We still love to perform and all do it well, but none of us are big stars and may never be. We’ve all paid our dues and are big leaguers as far as being professional comedians, and we all respect each other’s acts.

I watched Vince and Jimmy this whole week and they still make me laugh out loud even if I’ve seen their bits literally hundreds of times. They’re both well written and well performed, and I’m a fan of them both as people and as comics. Getting to be on a show with them was fun but rare.

Comedy clubs as a rule just don’t book that much talent on one show like a Zanies does. For at least four nights, I had a dream working environment and I enjoyed every second of it as I know how uncommon it truly is. Next week I’m back to the grind, and I will appreciate this even more.

Familiar Territory

February 9, 2013

Friday February 8th, 2013 – St. Charles, IL

   I’m headlining this week at Zanies Comedy Club in St. Charles, IL at the Pheasant Run Resort. If there has been one comedy club that has captured my entire tenure in standup comedy, it’s that one. I’ve worked there since it opened in 1989, and have climbed up the ranks on that very stage.

I was strictly an opening act when I started (and a weak one at that) but was young and willing to make the drive to St. Charles from Chicago which was then and remains a big hassle. There is just no easy way to get there, and at some point the journey requires travel on Illinois Route 64.

Route 64 is also known as North Avenue, and there has been continuous construction going on at various points of that road since 1989. I have spent countless hours on that road over the years on my way to shows at Zanies, and more than once I’ve cut it too close for comfort and squeaked by with mere seconds to spare until show time. My stress level on that street alone has been ugly.

I’ve survived managers of every personality type, and ownership changes at the resort. I’ve had some of my very best shows ever on that stage, and have driven home in disgust wondering if I’d made the right career choice. Every emotion that can possibly be experienced, I have felt it here.

Part of me wishes I would have recorded at least one set a year since 1989 so I could document my enormous growth. I don’t think I’ve missed even one year in all that time – even though I’ve had radio jobs all over and didn’t always live in the area. If there was one place I could count on to get a booking, it was Zanies in Pheasant Run. I’m grateful for all the times it has paid my bills.

I am no longer that punk kid looking to come up the ranks, and now doing shows here is about as easy as it gets. I’m so used to the surroundings by now I could do shows in my sleep. There is a nice high stage with a strong sound system, and I know exactly what to do to have hot shows.

I’ve been a regular headliner for years now, and I do actually get fans coming back to see me at this location more than all the others. One nice lady named Harriett Leo is a major fan, and never brings less than half a dozen new people to see me whenever I appear. I was just here a couple of months ago, and she showed up with about ten people who loved the show. I really appreciate it.

This was a fallout week on short notice, and she came back with eight more new people tonight who hadn’t seen me before. I need about 100,000 more Harriett Leos in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful for not only her support but for that from Zanies over the years. They have allowed me to go from punk kid wannabe to legitimate comedy headliner, and I will always be grateful.

Those early years were pretty painful. I was beyond horrible as all new comedians are, but they stayed with me and let me work it out until I got better. The Zanies in Chicago is the place that’s touted by Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, but St. Charles is not without its own charms – especially for me since I’ve worked there so often. That place will always have a special place in my heart, and I hope I’m able to keep working on that stage as long as I’m drawing breath. This week was unexpected but appreciated, and I’m going to waste the money on dumb stuff like rent and food.

Circle Of Friends

September 8, 2012

Thursday September 6th, 2012 – Rockford, IL/Oak Park, IL/St. Charles, IL

   All kinds of surprises today but each one was wonderfully pleasant. First, I got the call to fill in on the morning show on WNTA in Rockford, IL. Jim Stone often calls on short notice, but that’s not a problem. I always try to do it if I can, as it both helps Jim and gives me on air practice time.

It’s kind of like the bat signal. I never know when I’ll get the call, but when it comes I’m ready to drop what I’m doing and show up at a moment’s notice. Hopefully it builds good karma in the long run, and it really is worthwhile as far as building talk host chops. I am steadily improving.

Today was a perfect example. I was on from 6-10am and I didn’t have a guest in the 6 o’clock hour on purpose. One, I wouldn’t call my friends on short notice to be on that early, and two – it forced me to learn the craft of filling the time by myself. With commercials and news, the hours consist of four segments of about 9 minutes each. That’s a lot of time to babble alone in a room.

The first time I did it, I was really intimidated. I didn’t expect to be by myself, as I’ve become used to being the smart ass sidekick that reacts to everything. Being the source is not the same at all, and I had to make a big adjustment the first time I did it. Now, it’s no sweat. I can handle it.

I made it through that first hour with no problems at all, and even had stuff left over I could’ve talked about if I needed to. It may not have been riveting radio, but it wasn’t some halfwit off the street embarrassing himself and the radio station either. There has been significant improvement.

In the 7 o’clock hour I had Jeff Schneider on as my telephone sidekick. We’re used to riffing at length from doing ‘The Unshow’ podcasts, and he really is an interesting guy with a much better grasp of current events than I have. I’m pretty out there with the stuff I like, but he’s into subject matter more palatable to the public. Talking about George Clinton and Uranus wouldn’t be a fit.

I also had comedian Tim Walkoe on to talk about the Democratic National Convention. Tim is very passionate to say the least, and really knows his stuff politically and can voice his viewpoint in an entertaining way. It fit perfectly with what should have been on the radio on a day like this.

Dale Irvin came on the next hour, and he’s great too. Dale is a ‘professional summarizer’ and is in the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame. He’s always entertaining on the air and did it on short notice which I totally appreciate. Dale is an amazing marketer too. He’s got books and a free weekly humor video service called ‘The Friday Funnies’.  Find Dale at www.daleirvin.com.

After the radio show I received a call from Jim McHugh. Jim and I have been on WNTA many times together as a team, but the budget only allows for one these days and splitting the pay isn’t good for anyone. It’s not that much to begin with, but I don’t do it strictly for the cash. I enjoy it.

I haven’t seen Jim in a while, and we hung out at his house for a couple of hours to catch up on a lot of things. Jim is trying to promote comedy show fundraiser events with a group he’s calling ‘The Chicago Comedy All Stars’, and I totally think there’s a market for what he’s trying to do.

The website is www.chicagocomedyallstars.com and is done by Mark Huelskamp who is doing my King of Uranus website. Jim has been really great in pushing me to get the site up, but trying to make time for everything just isn’t easy. I’ve dropped the ball, but only because I’ve had to do what I can to just stay afloat. There’s no excuse for either of us, and we know it. We need action.

It was good to hang out and talk about both of these projects. I’m helping him with what he is doing and he’s helping me. Together, we’re both struggling to survive but at least we’ve got each other’s back. Jim has two kids in college, so his problems are different than mine but both have a need to make a living and that was our focus. It was a productive session but we also had a blast.

After that it was on to Oak Park, IL to visit Cara Carriveau, my former co-worker at The Loop. Cara did the midday shift when I was on the morning show, and we got along very well. ALL of us did, and that’s why it’s so frustrating we’re still not there. What an outstanding staff that was assembled by Greg Solk including Cara, Seaver, Byrd, Mark Zander and Jimmy Novack. Wow.

All of those people were easy to get along with and very good on the air as well. I loved being a part of that team, and most of us still stay in touch at least once in a while. I hadn’t seen Cara in way too long, and she invited me over for dinner with her and her kids who I also enjoy seeing.

Cara is a total pro, and I can learn from how thorough she is. She’s been doing a podcast a long time before it was cool, and I was her first guest. She interviews rock stars mainly, but she asked if I wouldn’t mind being her first interview to work the bugs out and of course I had to say yes.

It’s called ‘Cara’s Basement’, and it really is recorded in her basement in a studio she had built. She said the interview we did still gets hits, and that along with all the others can be heard at her website www.carasbasement.com. She does a fantastic job with it, and has had some big names.

I can learn from Cara’s way of handling her business. She’s extremely sharp, and really keeps her focus not only on her career but on her family too. Being a single mom is brutal enough, but add working in major market radio to that and it’s about as rough as rough gets. But she nails it.

Cara does the midday shift at 101.9 WTMX ‘The Mix’ in Chicago and does it extremely well. I always thought she sounded great at The Loop, and still does on The Mix. She’s major market all the way, and one of my very favorite people. This was a day I got to spend hanging with the best.

My final stop was Zanies in St. Charles at the Pheasant Run Resort. I don’t know why I had an urge to go there, but that little voice inside told me to go and am I glad I did. I didn’t have a clue who was there this week, but to my pleasant surprise it was Eddie Brill. Eddie was the booker of the David Letterman show for years, and still is the regular audience warm up act. What a peach.

Eddie is just a flat out nice man. He knows what it’s like to be a comedian, and is very kind to everyone who wants to be on the Letterman show – who is everyone on Earth. Rick Gieser is the P.R. person for Zanies and he was there too, and we ended up hanging out for an hour afterward exchanging stories and talking sports. I wish every day was like this. I have some super friends.