Posts Tagged ‘self employment’

The Bipolar Express

July 3, 2014

Saturday June 28th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Welcome to the wild ride on the Bipolar Express. Less than 24 hours ago, life was in a peachy groove. I was laid back, relaxed, and everything was going swimmingly. Today, the only things in the water are a school of hungry sharks, and couple of piranhas – and an enormous whale turd.

I had a show booked for tonight in Cadillac, MI. I didn’t have my heart set on going to Cadillac on this night or any other, but apparently there is a car lot there loaded with classic cars. I happen to enjoy old cars, and was told about it by my friend Mark Gumbinger. He said if I could manage to get booked in Cadillac, he’d ride along and we’d scope out the tin. That’s why I took the gig.

When I told him I got the booking of course he couldn’t make it, so now I’m stuck with having to make the drive myself to do a bar gig I never wanted in the first place. I need money, but after expenses this wouldn’t be much as I rented a car to prevent piling up needless miles on my own.

There wasn’t a big profit margin anywhere, but I’ve always been one to work when I can rather than sit home and do nothing. There is always the possibility of selling a few CDs or DVDs, and smaller towns tend to be better buyers. I decided to just suck it up and try to enjoy the weekend.

That came to an abrupt end just as I’d finished fighting a nasty rain storm all the way through Chicago traffic and was passing into Indiana. I received a text telling me the show was cancelled due to the owners of the bar being on vacation and not promoting it properly. Apparently they’d forgotten there was a comedy show and the opening act had gotten to the hotel and had no room.

I’ve been around a long time, and I honestly can’t remember ever having a show cancel while I was on the way there. On one hand I was glad I didn’t have to drive to Cadillac, but on the other I knew I wasn’t going to be paid. I also knew I’d have to eat the expense of my rental car as well.

There’s absolutely no winning in this situation, and in these times one can’t afford to squabble with any bookers. I happen to like the guy who booked this gig, as he’s also a comedian. This is his side income, and he makes no claims of any of his gigs being career builders. They’re quick cash for everyone, and we all know that going in. It’s nice to have the option to take it if I want.

In all honesty, I really think I deserve to be paid in full for my trouble. It’s not my fault an idiot ‘forgot’ there was a comedy show, and I rented a car to make sure I got there. The club could not care less about that, or probably comedy in general. It’s a side income for them once in a while.

I’ve booked shows in the past, and I always made sure the comedians were paid in full, even if there was no show. That’s not the comedian’s fault, and I get that. I wanted to bring that point up with this booker but I could tell on the phone I wasn’t going to be paid. It took him by surprise as well, and I could tell he was stewed about it too – mainly because he’d be losing his commission.

He said “I’ll take care of you in the future”, which I knew was all I was going to get. I could’ve gone off on a big rant – and I would have been 100% in the right – but I also would have burned a bridge yet again. I have enough experience by now to realize exactly the right thing to do, and I did it. I got off the phone without starting any wars, and I was proud of myself for keeping cool.

The lesson that took me far too long to learn is that none of this was personal – even though the patsy stooge that ends up holding the flaming bag of pig poo happens to be me. I used to flip out royally when things like this happened – and they did a lot. But again, in theory I had that right.

I was always one to stand up for what I thought was mine, but I didn’t always do it in the most delicate of ways. I have a big mouth and I admit it, and when I don’t like someone or something I have had a long history of not hiding it from anyone. This has gotten me into a heap of trouble.

All it takes is a tiny spark to burn a bridge, and in the long run it’s just not smart. I went off on several people through the years that completely deserved it – but that didn’t mean that I was the one to do it. They were unscrupulous before I ever showed up, and remained so long after I left.

I’m not saying this situation was unscrupulous. I really do like the guy that books this gig and I know he didn’t have anything to do with the show cancelling at the last minute. It was the owner of the bar in Cadillac’s fault, and technically he (or she) is the one that should be paying us out.

It’s not my fault that someone ‘forgot’ there was a comedy show, but in the real world nobody cares. We had a deal, and I was prepared to live up to my end. There were no signed contracts to prove it, and that’s another aspect of the comedy business that people outside of it don’t believe.

We’ve all been stupid enough to operate on handshake agreements for decades, and we deserve what we get in all reality. There really isn’t time to send out contracts for every little one nighter, and it’s basically an honor system that we’ve all been on. Times like this are when honor is gone.

Had this been my gig, I would have immediately called the comedians and apologized for their inconvenience and assured them they would be getting their full payment. Period. If I booked the gig, the comedians are technically working for me and not the venue. It’s on me to get them paid.

Unfortunately, most bookers only care about the venues and couldn’t care less if we got paid or not. We’re just the necessary evil, but to them we’re expendable. I’ve said it before and it’s sadly true – they’re the pimps and we’re the whores. And they can always find a fresh crop of whores.

I’m disgusted with the whole business, but it’s never going to change so why flip out? I should never have taken this gig in the first place, and I am going to place the blame squarely in my lap. I’m WAY past doing hell hole bar gigs in Cadillac, MI or anywhere else. I should have said no.

They were lucky to get someone with as much experience as me whether they know it or not – and they totally don’t. I put an entire lifetime of blood and sweat and sacrifice on the line for an embarrassingly low price, and they still rejected it. That’s about as low as my self esteem needs to dip. I got in the business for all the right reasons, but this is not my idea of a retirement plan.

Any up and coming entertainer needs this one valuable lesson: IT’S NOT PERSONAL. Don’t make the same mistake I did for so many years. This stuff will happen as long as the Earth spins. Expect it. I for one have had my fill. To have such a fun and smooth running show as last night in Rockford followed by this pig fart less than a day later is not what I want in my life right now. I want stability after all these years, and Cadillac, MI is not where to find it – old car lot or not.

Being an entertainer can be a ride on The Bipolar Express. One night everything goes perfectly, and the next it couldn't be any worse.

Being an entertainer can be a ride on The Bipolar Express. One night everything goes perfectly, and the next it couldn’t be any worse.

Nothing Sexy

August 21, 2013

Tuesday August 20th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   There’s nothing sexy whatsoever about the daily grind of self employment. I suppose mopping floors at Walmart is no barn dance either, but at least there’s a steady paycheck involved. It’s not a wealth maker, but it’s there. My grandfather always made me promise I’d opt for the safe life.

   As much as I wanted to please him, that just wasn’t in my psychological makeup then. He kept his mouth shut and plowed through thirty years of a civil service job he totally hated dispatching garbage trucks and snow plows for the city of Milwaukee. He was miserable, but he got a check.

   The only time I saw him happy was after he retired. He was in his mid 60s, and he got involved with the senior center circuit and started his short lived entertainment career. He would take roles in their various plays and musical productions, and he was like a kid with the keys to a toy store.

   I never saw anyone love the entertainer’s life more than Gramps. He would take any kind of an instructional class he could sign up for if it had to do with anything close to entertainment or the arts. He took a creative writing course once and would pay me ten cents a page to type what he’d written in longhand. I don’t recall his stories being all that memorable, but I was teenager then.

   I wish I could read those stories now, and get more of an insight as to what was in his head. He forced himself to squelch his creative urges for decades to opt for the safe path of having a job to feed his family, and I don’t know how he did it. I know why, but not how. It must have been hell.

   It was especially disappointing for him, as nobody really thanked him for it. My grandmother’s personality and his were like oil and water, and she hated anything to do with show business. She never went to see any of his shows, and in fact made fun of his desire to be the life of the party.

   My father and uncle both took the civil service route and they hated their lives as well. Gramps and my father never saw eye to eye, nor did he and my uncle. I was the only one that he thought had a clue to what he was doing, and I went to see his shows all the time. It was torture for me to sit through senior citizen revues as a teenager, but I knew it made Gramps happy so I showed up.

   He LOVED it when I showed up, and would show me off to anyone who would listen. He was definitely the kid in that scenario, and I let him have his moment in the sun. He sacrificed almost an entire lifetime of doing what he despised just to get that chance on stage. That was his reward.

   Today I got up extra early, and started answering my huge mountain of emails. At 7:40 I had to do my weekly radio bit with ‘Stone and Double T’ on 104 The X in Rockford, IL and then I took the rest of the morning to rework my comedy class outline in order to record my lessons on video for an online course. Nothing sexy there, but it had to be done. Then I returned some phone calls.

   Most of those calls were concerning shows I’ve got coming up – many of them door deals with no guarantee whatsoever that even one person will show up. I’m hoping to scrape some kind of a living together out of all of it, and after a lifetime of slugging I’m still surviving week to week.

   Sometimes that struggle gets me so down I don’t feel like getting out of bed. I gave everything I had to be an entertainer, and have no wife and kids or retirement plan to fall back on when life gets hard – and it totally is right now. I’m out there dangling by myself, wondering if I made the right decision. For me, it was the only decision. There’s nothing sexy, but I’m still in the game.

The Self Employment Blues

September 13, 2012

Wednesday September 12th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   Oh, the many joys and pains of self employment. The pains seem to outnumber the joys. I’m so frustrated right now I want to kick something, but I know it won’t fix anything. I feel like Charlie Brown after Lucy pulled the football away yet again. It’s a familiar scenario, but it’s still painful.

Here I lay, flat on my ass, staring skyward hoping to get some kind of message from whomever or whatever is out there running this mess called a universe. My little corner of it is out of whack and getting worse, and the harder I try to fix it the wackier it gets. Steady work sure would help.

I thought I had it too, but that house of cards came crashing down today when I got word that a gig for November 3rd I thought was solid got changed to the 10th. I can’t do the 10th, because I’m already booked with the Chicago Comedy All Stars in Iowa that weekend. I’ve had it booked for months, and I’m not about to back out now. Both dates pay well, and losing one is a total killer.

They’re both private shows, and those are the biggest risk. Comedy clubs switch dates as well, but at least there’s that faint glimmer of hope the gig can be made up later. In a private situation, they might just decide not to go with comedy at all. They have no idea we depend on this for our livelihood and it makes a huge difference in our lives. If the boss says switch the date – too bad.

This was a handshake deal, like most shows are. It’s not a huge paying corporate date, but it’s a nice chunk of money for a Saturday night about three hours from home. It’s less than two months out, so replacing it will be next to impossible. This really stings, but what can I do about it now?

This is the downside of self employment, and I’m really getting sick of it. This year has been at the top of my list of all time years of getting stiffed, screwed and bamboozled out of what should have been solid bookings without sufficient notice to be able to replace them, and I’m running on financial fumes because of it. I’m down what would be an entire year’s rent, and it really stinks.

I’m finding that making handshake deals doesn’t mean a lot anymore. It used to be that once an engagement was agreed upon, it was set in stone. Higher paying corporate type work might have a contract to sign, but way more often than not we’re out there on a wing and a prayer hoping we get paid. It used to be a lot more dependable, but not recently. This pisses on my wallet big time.

I have vowed to make Wednesdays my consistent weekly ‘booking day’, and this was a hell of a way to get it started. I’m sure the person who booked me didn’t do it on purpose, but it sure has rocked my world. Anyone wanting to be a full time entertainer better prepare for bombs like this.

Then people wonder why performers cop an attitude. Dates pulled at the last minute, bouncing checks, clubs closing and any number of unforeseen pitfalls is enough to drive anyone to drink, smoke, shoot, snort or whatever else will let them escape this meat grinder of insanity. It’s ugly.

This is really getting old after a lifetime of placing my trust in people who have no reason at all to watch my back. I mean nothing to them, and it shows. I should have learned to drive a forklift.