Posts Tagged ‘Ross Bennett’

The Peak Of Ripeness

June 22, 2013

Friday June 21st, 2013 – Niles, IL

   It’s the first day of summer, and once again I find another year slipping away. After today days start to get shorter again, so this is it – the prime day of the year. I’m not booked tonight, and I’m not thrilled about it in the least. I want to be out working as much as I can, and that’s every week.

   Nothing else makes me even close to happy. I’ve resigned myself to the icy fact that I’m never going to have that solid family relationship I have always wanted, but if I can’t have that the only other thing I’d ever want is a chance to be on stage entertaining people who are there to see me.

   I’ve been chasing that tricky rabbit longer than I think I should have, and I don’t feel any closer now than when I started. I have come untold light years as a performer, but nobody knows who I am so what good is it? I know I can go on stage and light up a room, but nobody powerful cares.

   Rodney Dangerfield had a great joke that said he quit show business and when he quit – he was the only one who KNEW he quit. That’s funny to anyone who isn’t living it. I feel like I’m there now myself, and I’m not laughing. I’m not even smiling. I’m panicking, and that’s never good.

   There are too many choices to make, and I have no idea which ones are correct. I’ve made a lot of stupid ones through the years, but even so I still paid my dues and developed my natural talent to the point it’s ripe and ready to pick. I’m at my peak just like today is the peak of the summer.

    I don’t want to waste any more time, as that peak ripeness won’t last forever. It will eventually get soft and rot, and the last thing I want is to be a rotten piece of fruit that fell off the tree. I have come way too far for that, so I decided to do something about it. I am not satisfied with this fate.

   In a perfect world, I’d be working six to seven nights a week in nice venues for audiences filled with my fans. I’d super serve those people, and give them my very best each night. I’d sign every autograph and pose for every picture after the show, and live the rest of my days brightening the days of as many others as humanly possible. I’ve got the ability, now I just need the opportunity.

   How the hell is that going to happen? I wish I knew. I read an interview with Lewis Black and he said he had resigned himself to the fact he’d never make it – and then he made it. I’m right at that point myself, and I don’t like it one bit. There’s no guarantee I’ll hit anything, and that rots.

   I can rattle off a dozen names of absolutely fantastic standup comedians that the public has no idea whatsoever who any of them are. Look these people up in no particular order and tell me if you don’t think they’re hilarious. I know they are, because they’ve paid their dues just like me.

   Here’s a list off the top of my head: Tim Cavanagh, Tim Walkoe, Tim Northern, Dwight York, Don Reese, Jim McHugh, James Wesley Jackson, Beth Donahue, John McClellan, Danny Storts, Ross Bennett, Keith Stubbs, Todd Johnson, Auggie Smith, Bill Gorgo, Rick D’Elia, Wally Wang and now I’m going to get in trouble because I’ll leave someone out unintentionally. Suffice to say not everyone makes it.

   I’ve said it before, and I wish it weren’t true – talent does NOT assure anyone of career success in the entertainment business. In sports it may be different, but this isn’t sports. This is a business based on subjective opinions of many that have never once attempted to do themselves what they are allegedly experts at choosing. This has always been frightening and extremely disturbing, but I don’t see it ending any time soon. There are hoops that are to be jumped through, like it or not.

   I don’t like it and never have, but if I intend to change my current status I need to suck it up for at least a little while and get back out there. There are so many places other than comedy clubs to approach, and that’s where it gets tricky. Where do I go and who do I talk to? I haven’t been able to figure it out until now, so what leads me to believe I’ll do it now? I can’t, so I need some help.

   I had lunch with Marc Schultz today, and in his world he’s in a similar situation. Marc books a variety of entertainment acts and has for years. He inherited an agency from his father, and even though he’s not a comedy booker per se I have gotten a decent amount of work over the years.

   Marc and I are friends, and there aren’t many bookers I’d call a friend first. I genuinely like the guy, and even if he never booked me again I’d still hang out with him. That’s all fine, but we put our heads together today to see what we could come up with. His business isn’t what it was, but what business these days is? We can both use a little freshening up, so we came up with a plan.

   Most of Marc’s clients are corporate types. Most of them would never hire a standup comic but he’s going to approach the ones that might. He’s always been good about trying to include me on any sampler videos he sends, and I totally appreciate it. But I can do the job, and he realizes that.

   We also agreed that Marc is going to go after club work that I haven’t gone after, for a fee. I’m delighted to pay anybody to get me work I don’t have, so this is a no brainer. If he can land some decent work, I’m all over it. I don’t want to work the toilet circuit anymore, so these will be good clubs that will pay decent money. He’s not familiar with the club market, but he’s willing to try.

   This is not a long term fix, but in the short run it could be great for both of us. I won’t be stuck doing what I’ve never liked, and it’s always good to have a third party selling me rather than me stumbling and stammering and asking for work like a vagrant asks for change. I’ve never liked it.

   Steady work is what’s it’s about in any facet of show business. Period. I’d rather work steadily and make livable wage than be a big star one minute and a has been bum the next. I’m all about a steady career with regular income. I’ve come close many times, but I’ve never been able to make it last. There’s always been a radio job to come along and shake things up in a destructive way.

   I’m not foreseeing any radio in my immediate future. That ship has sailed – or sunk. What I am going to do is cross every T and dot every I and go after all the quality standup comedy work I’m able to get. It could be comedy clubs, cruise ships, colleges or corporate. I can handle just about anything at this point, but what I can’t handle is not working at all. That’s totally unacceptable.

   I look at comics from my generation of performers like Louis CK and Jim Gaffigan, and I want to be doing what they’re doing. How did they get it? I don’t know. I’m sure it was a lot of things. Talent is a part, but so is persistence, connections, luck and who knows what else? It’s complex.

   If I don’t get myself in front of someone, I’ll never have any chance to do anything. That’s not what I want to have as my final legacy, so at least Marc is going to be out there trying to mention my name to people who can book me in decent venues. Why haven’t we done this before now?

   Neither one of us has an answer. Marc was doing his thing, and I was doing mine. Now we’ve both run out of ‘things’, and this is a logical fit – at least for now. I’m going to dive into booking myself in as many quality places as I can. No more toilets. If I succeed, my life will change soon. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s just that where I’m doing it hasn’t gotten me seen.

A Friend On Letterman

May 25, 2013

Thursday May 23rd, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   My friend Ross Bennett is in town this week headlining at Zanies in Chicago, and we hung out all afternoon dissecting his recent appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. Ross has been slugging it out in the trenches even longer than me, and getting this break is well deserved.

   I couldn’t be any happier for someone who has been such a good friend and supporter of mine for decades, and we had a lot to talk about. Comedians can be geeks when it comes to the craft of comedy, and we spent the whole afternoon discussing everything that went into the whole event.

   When I was on the Craig Ferguson show, Ross called me and wanted to know everything about that experience and I happily told him. It’s a monumental victory to get one’s national TV debut, but unfortunately the only one who can truly understand what it’s like would be another comic.

   So much goes into such a short appearance, and the only thing an audience sees is five minutes of what looks like effortless comedy. They have no idea of the agony that has gone into honing it over years on the road, and then packaging it into a set that needs to be approved by the network.

   There’s always a talent coordinator to deal with, and he or she dictates what gets to stay in and what gets axed. I had to deal with three or four different ones on the Craig Ferguson show, and in the end it was the first person I ended up dealing with who had quit and come back. Her name is Celia Joseph, and she was a total sweetheart. She approved my set, but it took a while to develop.

   Ross told me how he would record sets on DVD, and then the talent coordinator would look at it and tell him what to keep, change or cut. He kept working at it, and eventually what came out was a killer set. I was so proud when I watched it, as I knew his back story of years of struggle.

   Ross is also a dented can, and his road has been far from paved with gold. He is from a military family, and at one time he considered a career in the military. I’m glad he didn’t go that direction because he’s a fantastic comedian and always has been. He has pissed some important people off through the years just as I have, but he’s never given up and that’s why this is such a major deal.

   We talked of how this validates all the years of extreme effort that’s required to hone this craft, and how nobody can ever take it away – especially those who rejected or never supported him in the first place. It’s a top accomplishment, and reason to celebrate – which is exactly what we did.

   Some people may celebrate by having a drink or going out to an expensive dinner, but we were delightfully satisfied to sit in the McDonald’s across from Zanies as Ross drank a Diet Coke and I drank a bottled water and go over everything about the set from beginning to end. It was a treat for me to hear it, and Ross was ecstatic to relive every moment in detail. I was so happy for him.

   It was also extremely educational, and I wish I’d had a recorder to turn our conversation into a podcast for future comedians making their network TV debut. We went over our experiences and compared notes, and someone could have definitely gotten something out of the whole exchange.

   Ross said they told him he could come back, and they’ll be running his episode again at the end of May apparently. Not only is it great exposure, he gets paid again. I’m not sure if they ever ran a second showing of my Craig Ferguson shot, but I know I never got paid again. Ross deserves it and I’m thrilled for his good fortune. See him live or see the set at http://youtu.be/3fUyhibih7M.

Comedian Ross Bennett

Comedian Ross Bennett

Ross Bennett’s Revenge

April 5, 2013

Thursday April 4th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’ve been keeping a happy secret to myself for the last couple of weeks, and I’m delighted to be able to finally let it out. My long time friend and comedy mentor Ross Bennett got a chance to be on the David Letterman show tonight, and he knocked it out of the park. I am SO happy for him!

Ross is just the best on so many levels, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this killer opportunity. It gives me tangible hope that at least a little fairness exists in this insane world, and a little goes a long way. I was on pins and needles all day waiting to hear from him, and when he texted me saying he killed it I felt like my Packers won another Super Bowl. It was pure ecstasy.

I first met Ross in the ‘80s when he worked at the Funny Bone in Milwaukee. We hit it off then and have stayed friends through a lot of ups and downs in both of our lives. Ross has not lived an easy life either, but like me he still keeps slugging and tries to play the hand he was dealt in life.

We’re kindred spirits and I’ve always gotten along with him from day one. He’s been like a big brother in many ways, and I’ll never forget his kindness. When I was living in Los Angeles, he’d lived there before I did and helped me get settled in. He didn’t have to do that, but I so appreciate the time he took to show me the ropes. L.A. can be very intimidating to a newbie, at least at first.

Then Ross moved to New York where he lives now, and he helped show me around that scene when I visited a couple of times. He helped me get sets at some of the clubs there, and again was like a big brother at a time when I really needed it. We went to a Yankees game, and saw a lot of amazing places all over Manhattan that I will never forget. Ross has always been a stellar friend.

I’ve tried to be one in return, and many years ago I was able to help Ross get involved in sports cards of all things. He set up at card shows for a few years as he was out on the road doing shows as a comedian, and at the time it gave him focus and structure he needed in his life. He’s thanked me for it numerous times, but it was my pleasure to help a friend who has always had my back.

Ross has really been through some rough stretches in his life. His first wife passed away and he was left to raise his son Nash with the help of his mother. That’s no easy task in a ‘normal’ world but trying to be an entertainer and raise a child is damn near impossible. Still, Ross pulled it off.

He has also had his share of run ins with certain people just as I have. He was kicked off of the Bob and Tom radio show for years, and then managed to get back in their good graces – the very same day I was kicked off of the show. We sat there together for a few minutes, then I was gone.

We laugh about it now, but I was really bummed out when it happened. I still don’t know what I did to make them that upset, and Ross talked me off the cliff that day – again when I needed his help the most. He’s always been there for me, and I can’t say that about most of my own family.

To hear he got a shot on Letterman made me leap with joy. He’s been slugging it out all over in the New York area for years, and has worked like a mule to get this chance. I’m glad he nailed it, but I’m surely not surprised. He’s a world class comic talent, and always was. This is his destiny.

The show will air on Friday April 5th, but I’ll be on my way back from a gig in Indiana. I don’t know how I’ll get to see it, but I’ll make sure I do at some point. This is a special occasion of the highest order, and I hope it launches him into other amazing opportunities. Ross got his revenge!

Comedian Ross Bennett will be on David Letterman Friday April 5th, 2013

Comedian Ross Bennett will be on David Letterman Friday April 5th, 2013! Check him out, he’s very funny and deserves to be there.

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.