Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh’

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.

Needy For A CD

March 6, 2010

Friday March 5th, 2010 – Cranberry, PA

Boy, am I out of road shape. I’m embarrassed. I used to be able to get up at 3 or 4 in the morning and drive for twelve hours or more, then go on stage without a nap. After that I’d still be able to stay up and hang with the comics afterward. I’m afraid those days are over.

I accepted a last minute fallout this weekend in the Pittsburgh area at the Funny Bone in Cranberry. I’ve been here before and it’s an easy gig – one show a night, great hotel. It’s a few bucks in the pocket for a relatively low risk. The worst part is the length of the drive.

It was 623 miles from where I live to the hotel, but I went down through Indianapolis so I could hook up with my friend Greg Phelps. He’s going to be handling the duplication on my LONG overdue CD project, and I needed to work out some details. It was easier to get it done face to face than send endless emails back and forth. It‘s already been far too long.

He’s a former comedian so he knows the game, and he’s been very helpful so far. I trust Greg’s judgment, but it’s time to get something OUT. I finally have all the parts finished, it’s time to make a product already. I finished the liner notes yesterday and I’ve made this packaging a lot less elaborate than the first one. My needs are completely different now.

I wanted to make the first one something I could be proud of. I wanted it to look like I’d signed a recording deal, and I think I pulled that off. I still get airplay on XM/Sirius and it was attractive enough in content to sell to Laughing Hyena Records to put in truck stops.

That’s not bad for a debut, but I know I can do way better. This new one has some solid bits on it, and I remember really liking the vibe I had when I came off stage. It won’t suck or take a step down, so that’s a positive. In a perfect world I’d love to have a dozen CDs.

Comics have different opinions on this. Jay Leno for example, has NEVER put out any recordings of his act to my knowledge. He chooses to sell his exclusively in a live setting, and he’s done quite well for himself by doing that. It makes sense and I respect his policy.

For me, I’d like to get my material out there. I’ve got a lot that hasn’t been recorded yet, and I find that most people who see me live have never seen me at all anyway, so it really doesn’t matter what material I choose to use then. The recordings are for different people. I happen to enjoy comedy recordings myself, but there’s no doubt comedy is better live.

Either way, I need a CD I can sell after shows. People constantly ask, and I’m losing out on potential income every day I don’t have one. That should change in a week or so and it was worth it to stop and see Greg. There’s nobody to blame but me, but it’s getting fixed.

The rest of the drive was pretty brutal. I’ve got a horrible sore throat and there was a big accident in downtown Columbus, OH that backed up I-70 traffic for over an hour. I ended up making it to Cranberry two minutes before show time. This is stress I don’t need, and I felt out of sync the entire show. I’m not the young road buck anymore, but I‘m ok with it.

Getting My Schlitz Together

March 5, 2010

Thursday March 4th, 2010 – Milwaukee, WI/Ft. Atkinson, WI

It seems like I’m in Milwaukee more now than when I lived there, but that’s where a lot of my business is leading right now. The “Schlitz Happened!” one man show is starting to take shape, but now is when I’m going to have to make some difficult decisions. I need to hash out details and percentages of those I’m working with so there are no ugly surprises.

I’m the first one to admit I have trust issues, and I’m also a pigheaded control freak in a situation where creative control is involved. This is MY baby, and I’m very protective of it – especially right now in it’s infancy. I have a vision of how I see it developing and I’m not going to settle for anything less. I’m not so sure the people on my team see that now.

I had a lunch with Ron Lee, the guy who produced comedy shows in the ‘80s at Teddy’s on Farwell, which is now Shank Hall. I like Ron and we’ve worked together over time on some fun and interesting projects, including a cable TV show and also at 93QFM in 1991.

Ron has booked bands and likes to promote things and we have a history of working on many things together. I wanted to meet face to face and discuss what he saw as his role in this project and if I could meet his expectations. He’s been making some calls and setting up meetings without my approval, and quite honestly it bothers me a little. I’m concerned.

It’s not his fault that I got cleaned out by my last business partner, but that whole fiasco is still a fresh welt on my fanny and that’s just fact. I know everyone needs to get paid for their time, and I’m fine with it – but I’m not so sure I really need any partners right now in a project that hasn’t even gotten off the ground yet. It’s promising, but still only an idea.

I’m going to have final say in this particular project. Period. Meeting with sponsors and potential sponsors is something I’ve never really done before, but I need to get experience sometime and that time is coming soon. I’m a little concerned that things are going ahead with potential sponsors without me having met anyone yet. There’s a fine line to toe here.

I don’t care if it’s Ron Lee or Richard Halasz or Colonel Tom Parker, I’m just a bit wary of people negotiating anything ‘on my behalf’. I just am. Maybe that’s the dented can side of me that will always be there, but it’s there and now is the time to set parameters for the duration of this project. If I establish rules now, I’ll either keep or lose everyone involved.

Now is the time to do that, rather than a year from now when money is involved. I like Ron Lee and I like Richard Halasz too, and both of them are working on promoting some upcoming shows. I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page as to what all of our roles are so nobody is taken aback. Better to talk it out now than have lawyers do it later.

Right now I want to do a few smaller shows and work out the bugs. I have an extremely full cupboard of actual material, now I want to shape it into a dynamite SHOW. It will be a work in progress as long as I do it, but I want to hit the ground running when I begin the bigger shows later in the year. I’ve got a plan of exactly how I see the show developing.

The offstage part is where I’m a little shaky, and I fully admit I’ve never enjoyed doing this part of the business. That’s why I’ve worked with the Ron Lees and the other guy for so long. I let them handle as many unpleasant or uninteresting things as I could so I could focus on what I do best – create things. I think I’m going to have to restructure my M.O.

To their credit, those guys worked with me for free on many occasions. None of us had money, and I’ve never hit any huge jackpots, but I have been able to squeak out a meager living for a quarter of a century. I’ve paid people when I could and what I could, and I’ve always tried to be fair and err on the generous side whenever I could. I’m a softie at heart.

When I got cleaned out it really rocked my world. It still hurts, and it didn’t need to take place at all. If the guy would have asked me, I would have given him the money until he’d be able to pay me back. Now we’re not friends anymore and I’m still out a chunk of cash.

Ron has never stolen money from me, but there really hasn’t been much to steal. After a lot of years of working with me for little or no money, I’d like to see him get a payday for his effort. Maybe I’m too soft, but I want to see all the people around me get their reward.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to give away a percentage of the show though. As much as I like both Ron and Richard, neither of those guys wrote one word of the show or had one ounce of creative input in how it all came together. They can promote shows all they want in as many places as they want, and they should be paid for that. But they’re not owners.

I’M the owner of this concept for now. If I decide to sell it, someone will have to put up cash money on the barrelhead to buy it. Sponsors would be great, but let’s get a hot show set and running first. I also need a synopsis of the concept so those sponsors know what it is so they can either sponsor it or not. I need a few chances to run through to polish it up.

This was a great eye opener today, and I’m glad I drove up. I’m going to go with my gut and my gut tells me to hold this close to my chest and do as much of it myself as possible until I really need to cut anyone else in as far as ownership goes. That’s ringing out loudly in my head and I hear it clearly. No offense to anyone else, but I’ve earned this by now.

I’m in the driver’s seat, and I’m sure it will work how it works. I’m not going to worry about it, and let it sit for a couple of days while I go to Pittsburgh to work in Cranberry at the Funny Bone this weekend. I’ll have plenty of time to think all this through in the car.

Tonight I had a show in Ft. Atkinson, WI at a biker bar that I’ve actually worked before for a comic friend of mine name Dan Still. Steve Sabo books it now, and I didn’t know it was the same place until I got there. They expanded and made it bigger, but it’s still a bar in Ft. Atkinson, WI. I did it for the money, but the people were actually pretty friendly.

Still, these are getting very old. The smoke was thick and my clothes smelled in the car like a non filter Pall Mall cigarette that my grandpa used to smoke. I appreciate the money but I’m hoping to weed these out of my schedule. Soon. I want to work the nicer theaters.