Posts Tagged ‘Rick Uchwat’

Jerry Seinfeld

April 30, 2014

Tuesday April 29th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Yesterday I mentioned that it was Jay Leno’s birthday and how he was the king of the comedy club boom of the ‘80s – and he was. Today it’s the birthday of the prince – Jerry Seinfeld. Those two ruled the roost in the glory years, and everybody else was choking on their exhaust fumes.

I find it beyond remarkable the two of them were born only a day apart. I don’t know if there’s anything to astrology or not, but this makes me take notice just as the fact that Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh share the same birthday January 12th. Coincidence? Perhaps, but it sure is odd.

Just because Jay was looked upon as the king of that era, there was no shame whatsoever in all Jerry was doing. He was working most if not all the same top level venues Jay was, and raking in hefty coin himself. I never saw any check stubs, but neither was sleeping in his car. They did ok.

Again, just like with Jay I was informed of Jerry’s greatness through my association with Rick Uchwat who owned Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago. Rick was a father figure to comedians of all eras, and Jay and Jerry were like his oldest sons. Both have spoken highly of Rick just as I do, and Rick gushed in return when it came to both of them. Jerry wasn’t that far behind Jay’s status.

Like Jay, Jerry was a meticulous trooper who was relentless about working constantly. The two saw comedy as a business a lot sooner than most of us do, and kudos to them for doing it. If there was one thing that wasn’t a joke to either it was standup comedy. They had the correct mindset.

Just like I think Jay gets unfairly sniped from people that only judge him by the Tonight Show, Jerry gets lumped in with the countless sea of bad comedians that copied his style. I know quite a few people that don’t care for Jerry’s standup, and I always tell them that they should look again.

It’s fine not to care for someone’s individual style, I’m like that too. There are some comedians I don’t enjoy at all, even though they’re huge names. That’s fine, but it doesn’t mean I don’t look at what they do and study it. Just because I don’t like a certain act doesn’t mean I don’t respect it.

I happen to really like and respect Jerry Seinfeld’s act, and in fact I use one of his routines as a classic example of a quality comedy bit for my classes. Even those that didn’t like him before are usually converted when I break down what he did and how he did it. The man is an all time great and even if he didn’t have his monster sitcom he’d still have lots to be proud of. He’s a megastar.

And like Jay and me – he is also left handed. I don’t have anything in common with those two financially, but as far as creativity goes I have to believe we are cut from the same cloth. Lefties are wired to have careers based on creativity. It doesn’t mean righties can’t have success too, but they’re the exception. We’re the rule. It makes perfect sense that both of these guys are lefties.

I have been fortunate to have a chance to meet and open for both Jay and Jerry and it was a real treat. Neither would remember me now, but I sure remember them. I learned from watching them both, and I give them the big props they deserve. From a performer’s viewpoint, they are royalty.

Never mind his enormously successful sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld is one of the all time greats of standup comedy. Period.

Never mind his enormously successful sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld is one of the all time greats of standup comedy. Period. That’s no small feat.

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Jay Leno

April 30, 2014

Monday April 28th, 2014 – Lake Villa, IL

Today is Jay Leno’s birthday, and I think it’s important to acknowledge exactly how huge of a career he has had. There have been controversial events surrounding him at times, but that’s not what I want to discuss. I don’t have enough information to claim to be able to speak intelligently on the subject. I heard what everyone else heard, but quite frankly none of that is my business.

What is my business is standup comedy, and Jay Leno was the absolute undisputed king of it at the peak of the comedy club glory years. He was in the right place at the right time, and everyone I came up the ranks with spoke his name in revered tones. He was the one everyone aspired to be – or at least his status. He worked the top venues for top dollar, and he worked CONSTANTLY.

I think the majority of the public has no clue what a work ethic Jay Leno has always had. I was privy to it through working with Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago and knowing the owner Rick Uchwat. Rick and Jay were very close, and Rick would always tell the rest of us how far we had to go to even get close to Jay’s work ethic. He figured it out early, and rode the wave to the top.

A lot of people choose to only look at his Tonight Show years, and base their opinion solely on that. That’s not the whole picture, just as people often judge Woody Allen on how he treated Mia Farrow and that whole situation. Again, none of that is my business and I have no right to judge.

Jay Leno was a huge success long before he ever got The Tonight Show, and had he not gotten it he would definitely not have starved to death. Money is one thing he mastered early, and I’m a fan for that alone. He found a way to get paid top dollar, yet he never coasted. He had two jobs at all times since he was young – one that he lived off of and one that he saved. That’s SO unusual.

I read several times where he said he saved every penny he made from The Tonight Show, and lived off the money he made in comedy. I did the exact same thing when I had my radio jobs, but unfortunately none of them lasted long enough to make a difference. I was always able to squeak out a living in comedy while I was doing radio, and I banked the radio cash. I see how he did it.

What’s so fantastic is that he did it for so long. At one point a lot earlier than most, he was at a place where he didn’t have to work if he didn’t want to – but he totally wanted to. He was out on the road constantly either opening for music acts or headlining from coast to coast. He worked it, onstage and off. I saw him live in the ‘80s and it was like nothing I’d ever seen. He was amazing.

I think he did somewhere around two hours, and it was rapid fire JOKES with zero fat. He had the crowd in his pocket the entire way through, and I was in awe. He brought the goods, and did it night after night after night. Young comics coming up the ladder today and those that may not have enjoyed him on The Tonight Show need to realize how great a standup he is and respect it.

What I found odd is that Jay is left handed. Many entertainers are, but he is so mechanical that I was surprised to hear of it. He’s also dyslexic and overcame that quite nicely. I have respect for Jay Leno’s tremendous accomplishments, and I wanted to make it public. He earned his success.

Everyone has their opinion, but the fact is that Jay Leno was THE KING of standup comedy during the boom years of the 1980s. Period.

Jay Leno was the undisputed KING of standup comedy during the boom years of the 1980s. Period. He earned it.

John Pinette

April 7, 2014

Sunday April 6th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

As if I wasn’t feeling low enough already, I got a phone call from a friend asking if I had heard John Pinette was found dead in his hotel room today. I hadn’t, and it struck a painful nerve in my heart. I have known, liked and respected John for many years, and while I won’t lie and try to claim we were close friends he was a comedy peer and we shared a stage on many occasions.

What freaked me out deeply was that I had just thought of him yesterday. I was between shows in the green room at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago last night, and happened to run across one of John’s DVDs laying around. John was a regular at Zanies, and that’s how we hooked up years ago. The owner of Zanies Rick Uchwat acted as John’s manager, and they were extremely close.

I’m not sure exactly what their professional relationship was, but John and Rick were a hell of a team. Both were loaded with natural charisma, and they could always be seen together when he worked at Zanies – which was often. I loved them both, and always looked forward to when they would both be around. John was a world class comedian, and I never met a kinder human being.

John had a March birthday like I do, and I tried to at least contact him on his birthday if I’d not seen him in a while. Rick had a March birthday too. I’d accidentally overlooked John’s birthday this year, and seeing that DVD last night jarred my memory. I made a mental note to get in touch.

Unfortunately, now I’ve missed my chance forever and I feel horrible. John was a super gentle soul, but did have some vicious demons. I could see he was in pain, and we talked about it often. It was hard not to like the guy, and I felt very sad for him when he’d tell me about his life story.

He was from Boston originally, and totally a dented can. Like me, he was a big time giver and those are the people that get screwed over the hardest. He told me of many instances where he’d gotten the shaft, and I know it hurt him. It should have, because he had a mammoth heart of gold.

Whenever he would play a Zanies, he was famous for buying food for everyone from comics to staff and even fans. One time I saw him spend $100 at Taco Bell, and that’s not easy to do. There was a lot of pain inside him, but he always tried to make others happy instead of wallowing in it.

I hadn’t seen John a lot in the last few years, but the last time we did cross paths I thought he’d looked as good as I’d ever seen him. He had an operation to keep his weight down and it worked. He was in great spirits, and we had a lot of laughs. I always felt relaxed and at home around him.

He possessed an off the charts level of likeability onstage and off that few if any ever begin to approach. He had ‘it’, and then some. He even opened for Frank Sinatra for a while, and that’s a powerhouse credit all by itself. He was an amazing talent, and I am lucky to have crossed paths.

His main credit was being the guy that was car jacked on the final episode of “Seinfeld”, but he was so much more than that. I salute his life and accomplishments, and I hope he is finally at peace. If anyone deserves it, it’s him. He had a heart bigger than he was, and everyone that ever met him adored him. I know I did – and still do.

There has never been a funnier - or kinder - comedian than John Pinette. He was beloved by all who knew him. I am one. SO sad to hear of his passing today.

There has never been a funnier – or kinder – comedian than John Pinette. He was beloved by all who knew him, and I am one. He was a giant talent with an even bigger heart.

Thank You Rick Uchwat

March 20, 2013

Tuesday March 19th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

     I’ve got a jam packed performing schedule coming up in the next couple of weeks, and I plan on loving every last minute of it. I’ll be all over the place, and in a good way. The money will be appreciated of course, but it’s never been about that. It’s the fun and thrill of being on the stage.

After a lifetime of chasing this elusive dream, I still haven’t gotten tired of the live performing part of the process. I’ve become extremely sick of most of everything else, but that time on stage is still golden – especially when it goes well. There are still times when it doesn’t, but that’s rare.

Far more often than not, I am able to go up there in front of a room full (or not that full) of total strangers and win them over with laughter. I clearly see their defiant stares of “you’d better make me laugh, mister” whether they know it or not. Then when I do, they line up to tell me how much they enjoyed it and I see an entirely different look in their eye. It’s one of admiration and respect.

Once in a while it’s a look of horror or disgust, and occasionally they won’t even look at me at all. Tonight was one of the good nights when they looked at me like a superstar. I’m at Zanies in Chicago yet again, and that’s the place I feel as comfortable as anywhere I’ve ever worked. I am officially one of their boys, and that’s not a bad place to be. Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld are too.

Leno and Seinfeld and Richard Lewis and Larry Reeb and Tim Walkoe have all been staples of Zanies for decades. Obviously Leno and Seinfeld have gone on to much greener pastures, but both are looked at with reverence as having been people to put Zanies on the map. They’re legends.

The one everyone attributes a huge part of their success to – including me – is Rick Uchwat. He was the owner and founder of Zanies in 1978, and was an unbelievably charismatic personality at a time when comedy was just getting hot. He had a way about him that made everyone develop a fierce loyalty, but it wasn’t fear based like a lot of club owners tend to be. Rick earned a respect.

Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld still have a fondness for Rick to this day, as do a lot of others in an insane business built on self worship. Not everyone cared for Rick, as he could tend to polarize a percentage of the people he dealt with but that’s what I loved most about him. He was straight up and didn’t mince words. You knew where you stood with him, and I was always in good stead.

Rick passed away in 2011, and I miss him terribly. He was a great friend, even though we were not in constant contact. He made sure I always had bookings at Zanies, and he told me no matter how many people I pissed off I’d always have a comedy home on his stages. I never forgot that.

When I had my near fatal car accident in 1993, Rick had a check in my hospital room the very next day for $1500 to cover my immediate needs. I had to pay it back, but I worked it off on his stages at the various Zanies clubs and I’m forever grateful to him and Zanies for that kindness.

Today would have been Rick’s 66th birthday. I had a rock solid show at his club tonight, and I dedicated it to him from the stage. If not for Zanies, I wouldn’t be a comedian. Thank you Rick!

Rick and Jerry

Jerry Seinfeld and Rick Uchwat

Zanies in Chicago - my home club

Zanies in Chicago – my home club

Near Death Experience?

November 6, 2012

Sunday November 4th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   I had another one of ‘those dreams’ again. I don’t have them often, but when I do they are very vivid and it feels like it’s actually happening. The last one I remember was last year after getting out of the hospital with my diabetes diagnosis. The owner of Zanies Comedy Club Rick Uchwat had recently passed away, and I had a vivid dream where he assured me my health would be fine.

I had never had a dream about Rick before, and I haven’t had one since. Was it him? I have no idea, but it sure felt like his essence. Rick was a strong influence in my life, and I always had an enormous amount of respect for him. He took care of me at the exact the times I needed it most, and nobody I can think of besides my grandfather told it like it was as candidly or without sugar.

In my dream, I could absolutely tell it was Rick before he spoke. It looked like him, and he was exactly as I remembered him in his prime. I felt a strong bond with him in life, even though we’d maybe see each other once a year on average if that. There was just something about his vibe that was magnetic. Jay Leno was friends with him for years, as was Jerry Seinfeld and many others.

I have read in more than once source that if souls indeed do come back from the other side for a contact visit it happens in a dream. I’m not saying I totally believe that but I’m also not saying I discount it either. The truth is, I just don’t know. I don’t think anybody does, but who can say?

The dream I had last night was completely different. Rick wasn’t in it, nor was anyone else I’d ever met. I was led into a room by a couple of big old knuckle scraping goon types who appeared to be mobster thugs. They told me to sit down at a table, and then they sat down on each side so I couldn’t go anywhere. There were more of them at the table, and none of them looked to be glib.

One of them directly across the table pulled out a deck of cards of all things, and started to deal hands of blackjack to everyone including me. One of the ones at the table told me this was going to be my “last chance”, and if I didn’t get dealt exactly the right cards I would be dead very soon.

They were all very serious, and I could feel a very real tension as the cards were dealt. I tried to take a quick peek at my cards but I couldn’t make out what they were. I’ve never been much of a card player anyway, so it was very strange to be in this situation at all. I felt totally out of place.

After a few hands, apparently I lost and the game was over. Everyone left except the two goons who’d first brought me into the room, and they said in ominously somber tones my life would be coming to an end very soon and there was nothing they or I could do about it. Then I woke up.

I don’t ever remember having a dream anywhere close to this, both in subject matter and how it felt. The situation was uncomfortably tense, and in such vivid detail it really seemed like I was in a real life situation. Most dreams are forgotten immediately upon awakening, but this stayed with me all day. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Did it mean anything? Was it real? Do I need to stop eating before going to bed? It sure did get me to think. I wanted to bring it up on The Mothership Connection radio show tonight, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to ruin the mood. It wouldn’t have fit.

I didn’t want to bring anyone down, but at some point we’ll talk freely about it on the air. It’s a subject we all have to deal with at some point, but I don’t think it has to be negative. I’ve had all kinds of close calls with death, and by now I’m not afraid of it. I don’t want to feel pain before it happens, but who does? The actual process itself not only doesn’t scare me, I find it fascinating.

There are only a few experiences that everyone on the planet is guaranteed to share, and death is one of them. Birth is another, but none of us can remember that far back. We can’t really share the experience, even though we have all gone through it. Death is something only the person that goes through it can experience, but it can affect those around that person in very different ways.

Some of us prepare for it, and others don’t. Very few of us know exactly when it will be, and it can come as a big and rarely pleasant surprise. Look at all the random shootings that happen on a much too regular basis these days. It’s impossible to predict when or where life will cease to be.

Then there are those who have a long illness and know how it will eventually end. I just had an uncle die of cancer on January 1st of this year, and he had been dealing with it for years. He had a lot of time to prepare, yet he went out a defiant ass right to the end. He became stubborn as it got close to the end, and instead of making peace with his kids and family he chose to alienate us all.

My father was the same way. He never made the effort even when he knew his time to live was short, and now it’s too late. He also left behind a trail of useless heartache, and that just seems to be such a waste in my opinion. All of us have limited time here, and when the end becomes near wouldn’t it make sense to at least end on a high note? I guess everyone doesn’t share my view.

I can’t live for anyone else. I can only do what I can do, but I want to do it right. If indeed I am not long for this world, I’m totally fine with it. It really doesn’t bother me at all. I just hope there isn’t a lot of suffering and pain involved. Going to sleep and not waking up would be my choice, but I don’t know if anyone gets to make that call. We’re all on red alert, and it could be any time.

The important thing is to make the most of our time alive, and I have been doing that very well as of late. Pulling off that benefit for Officer Albert in Milwaukee was a perfect example. It took a lot of effort to make it happen, but as it was taking place I sat back and watched it unfold and it was a no brainer that it was the right thing to do. If I do have a death bed, that will be a highlight.

I look at my father and uncle’s lives, and neither one of them had many highlights to look back on. They both mishandled their relationships with their kids, and didn’t build any good will for a lifetime that they could look back on with pride and know they made a difference. They didn’t.

I may not have made close to the difference I think I can, but I did at least make an attempt and at times even had a bit of success. That benefit show really spread some good vibes, and I would love to keep building on it in the future – however long that might be. It could all end tomorrow.

Who can say if this dream I had was a ‘warning message from beyond’ or just a goofy reaction to what I ate for lunch? Whatever it was, I got the message. Life is short, and I want to live it all.