Posts Tagged ‘Rising Star Showcase’

The Uphill Journey

November 20, 2013

Tuesday November 19th, 2013 – Rosemont, IL

I have a full week of quality work this week, and I couldn’t be happier. This is how every week used to be, and it was like that for so long I got used to it and assumed it would never end. That’s pretty stupid, but I wasn’t the only one. There are a lot of road comics in the same sinking boat.

It’s getting harder and harder to stay booked every week, and less and less comedians are doing it. I personally know comedians who have been at it longer than I have and have more TV credits and they’re working less than I am. It’s getting rough out there, and having a steady run is sweet.

November has been pleasantly busy, and I have some better paying work lined up in December with a run of “Schlitz Happened!” at the Northern Lights Theatre in Milwaukee along with a few holiday parties that have come up lately. Hopefully a few more will pop up, and they just might.

People book their parties late, and some companies even postpone until January. My January is looking ok, but after that it’s a snow white calendar. That’s never good, but something will come up as it always does. I just wish I could snag a stretch of high paid work that would last a while.

A radio gig would be great, and I’ve been pushing that of late. Art Bell has quit his new show on XM Sirius apparently, and word has it they are looking for a replacement. I know I could hit a home run with a gig like that, but I have to convince someone at Sirius. My old radio ally Kipper McGee happens to know a few people over there, and said he’d at least find out what he could.

The point is that the process of looking for work and keeping income flowing inward is never ending. The last several weeks have been good, as is this week. Next week isn’t so hot, and so it goes. Months are like that and so are years. After it’s all added up, self employment is unstable.

Tonight’s assignment was hosting the ’10 Comedians for $10’ show at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont, IL. It’s a lot like the Rising Star Showcase at the Chicago Zanies in that there are a lot of acts trying to work their way up the ranks and make it to that elusive ‘next level’. Not all do it.

It’s not always a matter of talent either. It’s a giant numbers game, and there are only so many spots available. The supply greatly outnumbers the demand, and it becomes a log jam. I’ve been lucky to have been on the right end of this particular version of it, but it’s a game I play as well.

A lot of rejection is involved in this game, so I always try to go out of my way to be friendly to the people showcasing. I give them a larger than life stellar introduction, and get the audience to focus on the stage as much as possible. Not every host does that, and it makes the acts feel good.

It’s really not all that difficult to treat people with respect, and I always find it worth the effort. It’s exactly how I’d like to be treated, but too often am not. It’s the old Golden Rule in action and living proof being nice can make a tangible difference. I find it important to set a good example.

It’s funny how the showcasers look at me like I have some kind of power because I’m ‘in’ with Zanies. I’m out there struggling week to week just like them, just on a different level. I hope they aren’t thinking it gets any easier, as it never does. An entertainer’s journey always travels uphill.

The entertainer's road always travels uphill.

The entertainer’s road always travels uphill.

The Big Crap Shoot

August 14, 2013

Monday August 12th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

    Tonight I hosted the ‘Rising Star Showcase’ at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago as I have been doing frequently for several years. They’re held the first two Mondays of every month, and it’s a chance for up and coming comedians from all over to get a five minute audition for a booking.

   Nights like this used to be much more common in comedy clubs around the country, and I have myself driven anywhere from long to downright insane distances countless times for five minute chances to sell myself to a booker. It’s not the most economical way to do business, but it works.

   It boils down to one gambling on one’s own performing abilities with hope that the investment up front of driving time, gas, food and lodging will pay off on the back side with years of getting paid work. In theory, it’s always better to do a live set for a booker than to send a video. It’s easy for the booker to get distracted or not even watch a video. A live audition increases one’s odds.

   Still, there’s no guarantee of success. More than once I’ve driven across multiple states only to find out the booker that swore on two bibles he or she would be there had “something come up” and then leak out at the last minute. It’s maddening, but it goes with the territory. It’s a gamble.

   If I had to guess, I’d say in all the times I’ve driven somewhere to audition for work I’ve gotten hired about 90-95% of the time. If I didn’t get actual work, at least I was able to make enough of a favorable impression on a booker to be considered for future work. I only went when I thought I was ready, and it has paid off handsomely. Unfortunately, times have changed significantly.

   There was a very solid lineup of talent on the bill this evening, and as always I gave each one a stellar introduction and made sure the audience was paying attention. How many times has some bumbling emcee or worse yet drunken radio goof brought me up with a lousy intro? Too many.

   I go out of my way to respect the effort these people made to take their shot, as I’ve been there myself. Not all of them are ready, but that’s on them. From my standpoint everyone gets the star treatment with their intro so at least they’ll have a fair shot to prove themselves if they’re ready.

   Tonight’s lineup was absolutely ready. The audience was red hot as well. I’ve seen it line up in every combination from bad audience and good acts, good audience and bad acts to bad audience and bad acts. Tonight was good on all fronts, and when that happens it’s a pleasure to participate.

   I cheer for these comics to have solid sets, as I can so relate to what they’ve done to get there. I give Bert Haas at Zanies credit for coming out on a night off to not only watch new talents but to give them feedback as well. It takes time out of his already busy schedule, and I wish there were more bookers that did it. It’s an extreme courtesy to the comedians whether they know it or not.

   Back when I was starting, having a solid set in front of a booker would almost guarantee work at some point – even if it was a couple of years down the road. Now, it means nothing. There are just too many acts for the amount of available work, and most acts tonight won’t get a booking.

   Does it mean they weren’t funny? Not at all. A few were a little green, but they still had a lot of potential. Will they be ready in six months or a year? Maybe, but if they’re not getting paid work on a regular basis somewhere, it makes it tougher to hang in there and keep getting the stage time it takes to get better. How does anyone get seen and ‘make it’? I wish I knew. It’s all a crapshoot.

Approaching Anarchy

August 7, 2013

Monday August 5th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   Is anyone able to fully keep up with how quickly the whole world is changing? I gave up years ago, and have all I can do trying to squeak through another day. There used to be at least a bit of order in the way life worked, but now it’s completely out of control. Anarchy is the new reality.

   How does anyone raising kids know what to tell them about their future? The world today isn’t even close to the world of even twenty years ago, and I shudder to think what’s in store in twenty more. My generation is going to be the official last of the old farts, as we remember how it was.

   It’s hard to say what generation is better or worse, but nobody can deny it’s radically different today than it’s ever been. Progress has been happening at an unbelievable pace for what – maybe 150 years? Before that, most of society crapped in the woods and had to shoot their own food.

   Then the wheels of progress started turning, and life got consistently better. It’s a lot like gears in a transmission. We’re now in passing gear and flying down the freeway so fast we’re burying the needle and have no idea how fast we’re going. It may be a thrill ride, but it’s also dangerous.

   I look at standup comedy as an example, as that’s what I know. It’s not the same game as when I started, and those starting out today have a completely different set of obstacles to overcome. In my day, at least it was possible to make a living as one came up the ladder and learned the craft.

   There was plenty of quality work in comedy clubs across North America, and at least there was somewhat of a route to take to rise up the ranks. The rough model was to work up to the position of comedy club headliner, and then hope for a TV spot on a network talk show like Letterman or Carson.  After that it was hopefully an HBO or Showtime special, and then hopefully a sitcom.

   Very few actually attained all those things, but enough did to keep the dream alive for all of us grunts slugging it out in the trenches. Tim Allen was one, as was Roseanne. There was also Paul Reiser, Drew Carey and eventually Jerry Seinfeld. All kinds of road comedians I knew received development deals with networks paying them big money to use as guinea pigs for new shows.

   It’s nothing like that today. That little thing called the internet has revolutionized the planet on every level, and I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I do know it’s not going anywhere, so there has to be a new plan of attack not only for newbies but for seasoned veterans like me still out there.

   Tonight I hosted the Rising Star Showcase at Zanies in Chicago. There was a very solid lineup of young talent trying to break through, but to what? Comedy club work? Good luck with that at $4 a gallon gas prices and ten times as many bad comedians trolling for a shrinking work base.

   The ‘circuit’ that most people who aren’t comedians assume exists keeps getting smaller every year, and it’s harder for even experienced headliners like me to bring in work every week. It used to be somewhat attainable for a lot more than it is now. I don’t know how anyone does it today.

   You Tube is another death knell for the comedy business. Why should anyone come to see live comedy when they can see every standup comic that ever lived on their computer – and not have to pay one cent in cover charges or drink minimums? That’s a serious question, and I haven’t the slightest idea of what the answer is. It’s not ever going to be like it was, so I better adapt with the times or start working in a coal mine. The times, they are a changin’ – but way too fast. It’s scary.

Summer Synergy

July 10, 2013

Monday July 8th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   The dreaded slowness of summer isn’t turning out to be as bad as I thought. I’ve been getting a lot of calls for shows, classes and even some inquiries for corporate speaking engagements. I was getting a bit stressed there for a bit, but it seems to be much better now. It always goes in cycles.

   With the crazy way the business not to mention the whole world is changing, it’s even more of a challenge to stay on top of things than it ever has been – and it wasn’t easy before. There are so many details to keep track of, it’s easy to lose hold of them all and become totally overwhelmed. 

   I thankfully got a call from Bert Haas at Zanies in Chicago to host both Rising Star Showcases this month. They’re traditionally the first two Mondays of each month, and the call couldn’t have come at a better time. It will help me get through the summer drought, plus I enjoy doing them.  

   Since I was going into Chicago anyway, I arranged a long overdue meeting with James Wesley Jackson to discuss the DVD project that’s been sitting for far too long. This is what I’m referring to when I talk about things falling through the cracks, and it’s time to get this project in motion.

   James deserves this and more, and I feel horrible it’s been on the shelf for so long. Life tends to have too many distractions, and it was totally unintentional. James has had the patience of a saint about it and then some, but now it’s getting to the point of being ridiculous. It’s time for action.

   I’ve said it before and I meant every word – James Wesley Jackson is one of the absolute most delightful human beings I have ever met both in comedy and out. Any comedian who has had the pleasure of working with him feels the same way. I’ve never heard a bad word about him EVER.

   He’s just a peaceful soul and a kind hearted human being – not to mention a really funny comic who happens to have a very unique style. James transcends boundaries much like Bill Cosby has for fifty years, and when you see him perform in person it’s virtually impossible not to like him.    

   We were fortunate to catch a red hot show on video, and I’m really proud of the product we’ve been able to put together. Mike Preston brought two cameras that particular evening, and it looks and sounds excellent.  Pedro Bell’s cover artwork is also very well done, and it’s ready for sale.

    I had money at the time we recorded it, but that’s all gone now. James wanted to do his part so he gave me some seed money to get things started. I am totally grateful and it came at the perfect time, but I was bound and determined to get it going anyway. I think we can sell some product.

    I plan to focus on getting James some positive attention within fans of Parliament/Funkadelic – and I’ve been one of those myself since the ‘70s. There are all kinds of them all over the world and I bet with my own money that more than a few will remember James and want to buy one.

    I could be completely wrong and have it blow up in my face, but even if that happens it’s a lot better than doing nothing. There’s a lot more to do including getting a press release written up to be included with inquiries to media outlets, and then we can see if I was correct with my guess.

   I really hope this project does well not only for James, but financially for us both. We have survived this long, so a little longer might not be convenient but we at least are finally “standing on the verge of getting it on.” That’s a P-Funk reference by the way. That’s where the most paying customers will come from, at least I think so. I think we can book some live shows as well.  

Once upon a time called NOW...the 21st Century Enviromedian is back!

Once upon a time called NOW…the 21st Century Enviromedian is back!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

A Trip To Chicago

July 4, 2013

Tuesday July 2nd, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   With gas prices through the roof, I have to really plan my trips of late. I was asked to perform a few minutes at a comedy showcase in downtown Chicago, and even though I really wasn’t up for it I said yes. I’ve been very lax at keeping an eye on the local Chicago scene, and that’s not good.

   There is a whole generation of comedians that I’ve never met, and to them I’m a total dinosaur. I do get to meet a few of them when I host the Rising Star Showcase nights at Zanies, but that’s a tip of the iceberg of all those that out there. There’s a sea of newbies swimming around blindly.

   Most of them think they already know everything and want no part of my generation, and they are making a big mistake. When I was coming up the ranks, I would live to pick the brains of any and all veteran comedians I could hoping to learn the craft of standup comedy. I respected them, and couldn’t wait to hear what they had to say. I don’t sense that hunger from most of this group.

   That being said, there are still some bright ones coming up and I should know who they are and what they’re doing. Comedy has trends just like music or any other form of entertainment, and it behooves anyone who claims to be in the business to know what those are. I should be familiar.

   There are all kinds of clubs and stages in Chicago that have opened in recent years that I’ve not even set foot in. Part of that is because I’ve been working, and part of it is lack of desire. The last thing I want to do on a night off is hang out at a comedy club – or worse yet an open mic – but to stay current that’s exactly what needs to be done. I’ve been bad at this, so tonight I ventured out.

   There were maybe a dozen people tops at the place I was at, and I won’t embarrass anybody by naming names. It’s not easy to get people in a room for anything, much less a free comedy show on a Tuesday night. The room itself was not bad, but it was empty. I feel bad for the people who produced the show. They’re comics starting out, and I have been in their shoes countless times.

   It cost me $16 to park my car, and that’s another hassle of big city life. I have a train that goes to the city from where I live, but that’s about a $15 round trip so I don’t really save much. It’s an expense either way, and without a payoff it’s not one I can afford to make regularly at this time.

   I was flattered to be asked, and I went with the attitude of trying to show support for the young comics coming up the ranks. I know how much it meant when I heard a kind word from someone who was working professionally as I was starting out, so I wanted to return the favor if I could.

   I’m not sure if it was productive or not. I was out the $16 to park not to mention the gas I used, and I ended up doing about ten minutes to a dozen people who stared at me like I was a narc. I’m all for supporting the cause, but this felt like a waste of time and money. Still, I made the effort.

    I did get to hang out with my radio friend Byrd who I hadn’t seen in a while. We were at ‘The Loop’ together in 2004, and he’s now at ‘The Drive’. The guy is a big time talent and has a voice people dream of, but he also works his ass off and I respect him greatly. He doesn’t phone it in.

   The guy eats, sleeps and breathes radio, and that’s what it takes these days to stay in it. There’s a big change in that whole business, and I don’t love it that much quite frankly. I was a comedian on the radio more than a ‘radio guy’, and there’s a difference. Byrd is a radio guy, and that’s not an insult. We had a delicious meal and talked about radio, and that’s what made my trip worth it.

No Free Rides

December 5, 2012

Monday December 3rd, 2012 – Chicago, IL

   I’m starting to get a few comedy shows and classes lined up for the next couple of months, and that’s encouraging. I’ve never enjoyed that whole process, but at least I’m making a better effort to get it done even if it is out of necessity. I have to find a way to pay off my taxes and move on.

I’ve got shows lined up at least every weekend for the next six weeks, and that gives me a little breathing room to work even harder at filling the rest of 2013. I’m at my absolute peak right now as far as levels of performance and teaching go, but there’s no guarantee how long that will last.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to stay hungry forever. Eventually, one either starves to death or is full and no longer needs to hunt. I find myself in an odd position that’s right in between. I have experienced the fringes of success, but haven’t had enough to fill me up for a lifetime quite yet.

My goals when I started in comedy were to become a headliner in major comedy clubs all over North America and appear on national television as well. I’ve done that, but it hasn’t been nearly what I had imagined. I assumed that when it happened my life would just work out all by itself.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and now that I’m here I realize that every stage of life comes with its own individual set of difficult challenges and there are no free rides whatsoever at any time. I used to look at the headliners when I started in comedy and thought they lived golden lives completely free of turmoil. I would hear them complain, and could not comprehend why.

Now I’m in their position, and I totally see why they felt like they did. There are hidden things nobody sees until they venture down that path, but by then it’s too late. It’s like a kid wanting to be an adult more than anything, and not being able to understand why adults aren’t totally happy.

A kid sees the benefits they crave at the time but can’t have like being able to stay up as late as they want or the freedom to eat as much McDonald’s or candy as they can hold, but other things like the high pressure responsibility of making a living or dealing with in laws goes unnoticed.

Kids can’t fathom in the least why adults seem to be so boring most of the time and constantly complaining, but eventually they find out soon enough and then it’s too late. There’s no return to childhood, and the next generation of kids are coming up the ladder and the cycle begins again.

I noticed that at Zanies in Chicago tonight as I hosted the Rising Star Showcase as I’ve done on and off for several years now. I hadn’t done it in a while, so it was a nice change of pace. I enjoy seeing the new comics coming up the ladder, and I see that same hunger in their eyes that I had.

Those kids look at me exactly the way I used to look at the headliners as I was clawing my way up the ranks, but they fail to see the advantages of youth just like I did when I had it. I try to give sincere words of encouragement to as many of them as I can, as I know how much that meant to me when I was in their position. I still remember kind words I heard 20 years ago, and those who said them rank high in my book even now. But where did that time go? It seems like last week.

One Of Those Nights

November 7, 2012

Monday November 5th, 2012 – Chicago, IL

   One of the unavoidable pitfalls of standup comedy is that once in a while an audience just plain stinks. There’s no way to escape it, and the only alternative is to plow through it and get yourself to the next one. It happens to us all, and there’s no way to predict when or where it will pop up.

It happened tonight at Zanies in Chicago as I hosted the Rising Star Showcase. I enjoy hosting those, as it lets me stay in touch with who’s coming up the ranks these days. The quality of those shows have been quite high as a whole, and tonight was no exception. I felt for their situation.

The Rising Star Showcases are basically an audition for work in front of Bert Haas who books the three Zanies clubs in the Chicago area. To his credit, he actually comes out and watches all of the acts in person and offers face to face feedback afterwards. That’s unfortunately not common.

I can’t count the times I’ve made a several hundred mile trip at my own expense to audition for some booker only to find out he or she ‘won’t be coming in tonight’ for whatever reason. Seldom if ever does anyone ever give an actual reason, and it turns out to be a complete waste of energy.

Bert shows up every time, and even gives the lineup a speech beforehand about what he would be looking for in a potential act if they passed the audition. Whether the acts know it or not, he is doing them a favor and a courtesy by letting them know what the deal is and I respect him for it.

I try to go out of my way to give every one of those who go up a stellar introduction and allow them the best chance to succeed. I’ve had to go up to horrible intros from incompetent hosts for a lifetime, and that can make an already difficult and potentially intimidating situation even worse.

People in the audience don’t realize how hard it is to break in with a booking agent, and I guess it’s not their job. They’re there to be entertained, but often there’s a lot more at stake going on at any given time. Their role in all of it is a lot more important than they realize. They have impact.

Tonight’s lineup was loaded with young comics who I thought were filled with potential. One of them was a kid from Iowa named Jack Lewis. He took a bus to Chicago to do a ten minute set, and that’s very refreshing to see. I did stuff like that when I started, and I know what it feels like.

There were other acts on the bill like Andrew Burcastro, Anne Root, Peter Kim, John Thomas and Dan Ronan who all have a spark of real potential, and I enjoyed watching them work. What I didn’t enjoy was watching how hard they had to work to try to squeeze laughs from a dud crowd.

They just weren’t into it, and it wasn’t the acts’ fault. Sometimes it can be easy for a comedian or any other performer to blame an audience when indeed it’s not their fault at all. Tonight was a different story. These people never gelled the entire night. It wasn’t in the cards, and it happens.

I wish all these up and comers the best, and I tried to tell them all that all anyone can do is keep showing up and doing what they do. It’s never easy or fun to have to plow through a dead crowd, but it’s something every performer has to face and it helps build a thick skin we all need to have.

The Maven Of Mondays

October 9, 2012

Monday October 8th, 2012 – Chicago, IL

   When things go like they did today, Monday is probably my favorite day of the week. I haven’t had one like this in a while, and it reminded me how much I’ve been missing. I used to have stuff to do lined up on a consistent weekly basis from early morning until midnight, and I loved it all.

I still do some of those things, but the schedule is not as rigid as it once was. Getting home late after The Mothership Connection radio show on WLIP in Kenosha, WI can make it a bit stressful especially if I had a busy weekend doing shows before that. By the time I get home and unwind a little it’s already Monday morning and after only a few short hours of sleep I’m back at it again.

What usually wakes me around 7:30 on Monday mornings is a phone call from the ‘Stone and Double T’ radio show on WXRX ‘The X’ in Rockford, IL. We’ve done a weekly bit for a while, and it’s always fun. They let me do what I want, and it’s refreshing to have someone trust me to know what I’m doing and deliver a weekly bit. I appreciate that. Find them at www.wxrx.com.

After that, I sit down at my computer and Skype Jeff Schneider in Pittsburgh and we record our podcast ‘The Unshow’. We’ve got more than 100 thirty minute episodes in the can, even though we haven’t figured out a way to carve out an audience much less monetize it. Jeff used to be a lot more excited about trying to promote it, but now I think he’s finding out how hard this game is.

Still, they’re fun to do, and we usually try to crank out at least two episodes if we can. Once in a while if we’re on a roll, we’ll do three. Some are better than others, but they all have a least one riff that I would think is worth listening to. Jeff is a very interesting and well read guy, and we’re both so familiar with each other it’s like two jazz musicians exploring new turf. We have a vibe.

I’m not sure exactly where we’re going with this, but since it’s only an hour a week and all that needs to be invested is sitting at the computer and talking I feel I want to keep going. Who listens to it now, who knows? It’s part of the cosmic foot print I’m leaving to prove I was on this planet.

After the podcast, I got out and took a nice long walk on a beautiful autumn day. I worked up a full sweat, and then had a healthy breakfast at a diner in town. It’s filled with odd characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the continuous freak show as I ate my poached eggs and oatmeal.

After that, I cranked out two articles for my www.maxwellmethodcomedy.wordpress.com blog and it made me feel like I accomplished something worthwhile. One would have been great, but I was on a roll so I kept going. I’ve been very productive with those of late, and I’m not done yet.

To top it off, I received a call late this afternoon from Pat McGann asking if I could fill in as the host of the Rising Star Showcase at Zanies in Chicago. That was unexpected but appreciated, so I scrubbed up and headed to Chicago. I needed a haircut so I squeezed that in too. It all fell in line.

I wish I’d be able to control this vibe like a thermostat, as that’s where I’d set my life and leave it for good. I’m exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to do. I’d call that success.

Rising Star Return

September 12, 2012

Monday September 10th, 2012 – Chicago, IL

   After a few months of being away, I hosted the ‘Rising Star Showcase’ at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago this evening. There are routinely two each month, usually the first two Mondays. I’ve not done them in a while because it’s an issue getting back and forth since I moved to the sticks.

From where I live now, it’s about 50 miles one way from my driveway to Zanies. When I lived in Chicago it was less than 5 miles, and that’s a significant difference. I used to be able to hop on a city bus a block from home, and it dropped me off two blocks from Zanies – a bargain for $2.

Driving presents a whole other issue. In any big city it’s a pesky hassle at best, but the Chicago streets are Thunder Dome. Between potholes, maniac cab drivers and red light cameras that snap pictures of license plates in intersections, it’s a constant sensory overload to maneuver anywhere.

Finding legal and affordable parking spots is another nightmare. Bloodthirsty ticket writers are out en masse, always looking for their next victim. They prowl the street just waiting for a meter to expire, and no matter how much anyone complains they’ll finish the ticket anyway. Bastards.

There’s a valet parking option, but that gets expensive too. There’s a parking lot just two doors from Zanies that costs $12. When I first started out it was $6, and stayed that way for years. Then it kept going up and up and now it’s double the cost in just a few years. It reminds me of postage rates, and that’s maddening too. Prices are doubling everywhere, but what I get paid is the same.

Still, I love to work so I showed up anyway. There was a hole in the schedule tonight so I filled it. It never hurts to get on the Zanies stage, as every comedian in Chicago would love to be doing exactly what I’m doing. I don’t take it for granted, nor do I disrespect any of the acts performing.

All of the acts on the show are there to be seen by Bert Haas, who is the booker. He’s very rare in the fact that he actually watches the performers and gives them a belly to belly critique. That’s not at all how most other bookers do it, and I respect Bert greatly for putting in the effort. He has been giving up free Mondays for years to do this, and I can’t think of many others who’d do that.

I’ve had to do auditions for years, and know what it feels like to get treated poorly. I’ve had to drive hundreds of miles, and then show up and go onstage without a shower or chance to prepare or relax before the show. I’ve had bookers fail to show up, or be in the other room when I was on and miss my set. That’s unbelievably frustrating, especially after driving several hundred miles.

It’s all part of the process, and anyone who has lasted as long as I have has similar stories and a lot of them. It can be such an icy cold business, and I see no real reason for it other than the ones doing it know they can get away with it. Bert making a point to watch the acts is quite refreshing.

I feel I owe it to the acts to give them a stellar introduction, and I do my best to do exactly that. I know what it’s like to have my name mispronounced, or be announced as being from anywhere but where I’m really from. It was a solid show tonight, and I enjoyed getting back in the groove.

A Lesson In Showbiz

September 1, 2010

Monday August 30th, 2010 – Chicago, IL

I’ve got two days back on dry land to pack in about a week’s worth of errands, then it’s  back on the ship for a full week run. Then I return to Chicago late on Tuesday September 7th to pick up my car and start driving to Michigan for a two night casino run in the U.P.  starting on the 8th. My schedule feels like a blender with the farthest right button pushed.

I’m glad to get the gigs, but sooner or later I won’t be able to keep up this pace. At least on the ship my travel is taken care of for me. Airline tickets purchased in my name and all I have to do is make it to the airport on time to sit in the seat. That’s not always been easy either, but at least the hard part is done by someone else. Now I need someone to drive.

That’s one thing that has really lost it’s luster in a big way. I don’t care if I ever have to drive an automobile again. I still need to get places, but someone else can drive. I’ll relax and enjoy the ride as a passenger, or maybe just nod out and sleep. Whatever the case, it’s not my goal to keep making marathon cross country drives to do gigs in remote locations.

The pay will be decent for the week though, and on Saturday I’ll be back in Milwaukee at the Potawatomi Casino. Normally I’d be in the Northern Lights Theatre, but apparently they’re remodeling it and the comedy will be somewhere else. That’s ok, they are always on top of it there and I’ve never had any problems. I’ll work wherever they tell me to go.

Tonight I was back at Zanies in Chicago hosting the Rising Star Showcase. I probably should have taken the night off, but I really do enjoy doing it – especially when the shows are how it was tonight. The audience was razor sharp and the lineup of talent was dead on and it was a joy to watch it all come together. I keep the flow going and it’s a fun night.

It doesn’t hurt that I get paid either, and I stand by my old school axiom that it’s always a good bet to accept the gig as not many comedians anywhere on any level are able to turn a buck on a Monday night. Any money is found money, and the gig itself is pretty easy.

A flaming example happened tonight of what NOT to do in a showcase situation. Some goofy wannabe bastard had his ’manager’ contact Bert Haas to arrange the showcase date, as is the protocol. Bert really does try to squeeze as many people on as he can, some that I probably wouldn’t if I were in charge. That’s his option, and I don’t tell him what to do.

He gave the ok for this ham and egger to get his tryout, and the guy brings about fifty or more people into the club to see him. There was a line out the door. Well, Bert insists the showcasers show up by 7:30pm SHARP. 7:31 and it’s a done deal. That’s his rule, and he enforces it fairly to all people. I’ve seen him throw a lot of experienced people off shows.

Well, the ’manager’ flips out and decides he’s going to pull every one of those people in the audience out to ’stick it to Zanies’. Bert didn’t panic a bit, and in fact helped clear out the room so the waitresses could clean the tables and get them ready for the next group of people who would take them, which is exactly what happened. That guy screwed himself.

This is a VERY important lesson for all performers to learn, even though it’s not at all a pleasant one. Unfortunately, life will go on with or without YOU, no matter who ‘you’ is. I know exactly what that feels like, as I’ve had my share of scuffles with clubs myself.

The sad thing is, it doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right. It just doesn’t. I’m sure both of those guys thought they’d made their point and sent Zanies scrambling because Bert has a rule he won’t budge for anyone. Not true. They were all totally forgotten about before the show even started. Other people came in, filled those seats and it was a spectacular show.

This is a very humbling fact to swallow, but a fact nonetheless. I remember my own tiff with the ape who used to own the Comedy Café in Milwaukee. I ended up not only being stiffed out of $400 for shows I did, I’ve never been back since. This happened in 1994.

It doesn’t matter that I was right, it burned a bridge. There were plenty of others to take my place, and over the years it became like I never existed, at least not there. They didn’t close without Dobie Maxwell, and I didn’t starve because I didn’t work their grease trap.

Was that smart business? No, it really wasn’t. That place was by all accounts a haven of all kinds of debauchery and skullduggery, and I’m glad I never had to work for that puke, but burning that bridge took me out of the mix there forever. I gave them the power, and that’s my mistake. It would have been much better to be the one to decide if I work there.

The Zanies example is going to be very similar. I didn’t catch the guy’s name or see his manager, but I know Bert knows it, and you can bet it will be a dark day on the sun when they get a chance to audition again. That’s just how it is, but none of this needed to be.

It always baffles me why the greenest newbies with the least amount of promise always think it’s a good idea to pack the house on an audition night with their buddies. That’s not EVER going to get anyone booked, at least by anyone who’s been around the block. They can see through it, and know the only real way to be a comic is to make strangers laugh.

Hopefully, that kid will learn his lesson. He needs to gas the ‘manager‘ dork, unless he plans on going into the pro wrestling business, and start over again. He needs to find him and only him in charge of making contact calls, and he needs to patch it up with Bert.

If that guy really wants to work at Zanies, he’ll apologize to Bert and start over again at ground zero, minus Mr. Manager. Bert is very fair, and I believe he’d be open to throwing the kid another shot, but not under current circumstances. Rules are rules, follow them.

After the show, Bert and I talked about the incident in the office as I was waiting for my check. He was reminded of something he once heard when a club owner brought out a big bucket of water and told a comic to stick his hand in up to the elbow. Then he told him to take the arm out and asked him “Notice any difference in the water?” Of course there was none. The place where the arm was filled in in less than a second, and now it’s a plain old bucket of water again. Any one person can be replaced. Fast. This is a lesson for all of us.