Posts Tagged ‘Shank Hall’

Healing With Humor

November 13, 2013

Monday November 11th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

This has been a rough year health wise for more than a few of my friends. It’s been no polka in the park for me either having to deal with my recent kidney stone, but that’s nothing compared to what some other people I know have had to face. Many are comedians, and it doesn’t seem right.

I would think since comedians provide a service to humankind we’d get some sort of free pass, but we aren’t exempt from the same health horrors everyone else faces. Sometimes it even seems like we get it worse, which I could never understand. There are a lot of people I know suffering.

Jim Wiggins had cancer surgery just a couple of months ago, and he’s having to get used to life with no prostate or bladder. He is now cancer free which is something to celebrate, but that came with one hell of a price. He’s recovering nicely from what I hear, and hopes to work again soon.

Scot Wickmann is another comedian friend who has been dealing with health issues for a long time. He has been on kidney dialysis for quite a while, and recently he had triple bypass surgery. That’s serious enough, but apparently there was an infection and he had to have more surgery.

Bill Gorgo has been getting updates from Scot’s wife Jackie, and she said Scot just had one of two more surgeries he needs and everything went smoothly. He had an abscess on an artery, and that sounds frightening. I don’t have details and the last thing I ever want to do is bother Jackie.

The bottom line is, even if his next surgery goes well he’ll be lucky to be out of the hospital by Christmas. Crikey. I thought the eight or nine days I spent in the hospital for my surgery in 2011 was horrific – and it was. I can’t begin to imagine having to be in a hospital bed for six weeks.

Again, my problems really aren’t problems compared to what Jim and Scot and so many others are going through, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of them. There are a lot of people in a lot worse shape than me, and I want to help comfort them if I can. It’s all about human kindness.

All that actually matters in life is what we are able to give – especially to those that truly are in need. What could I do myself or help to organize that will make someone’s life even a little more pleasant when there’s a long road of recovery ahead? There has to be some way of reaching out.

I was delighted to be able to organize the big benefit comedy show last October for Milwaukee Police Officer Josh Albert after he was almost killed by a drunk driver going the opposite way on a freeway on ramp. His injuries were beyond a nightmare, but we were able to assist financially.

Peter Jest of Shank Hall in Milwaukee donated the hall, and the all comedians donated our time to perform. Drew Olson was a fabulous host that night, and Officer Albert’s work partner and my cousin Katie Anderer and her whole family got the word out to make it a success. We received a blanket of media coverage as well, and it ended up being a successful event that helped someone.

That’s what life is about. Period. I know we all need to pay our bills, but after that it’s what we are able to give that has any lasting meaning. Seeing my personal friends having to endure all of the personal hell they’ve been through makes me want to jump up and take action to help them.

But what could that be? I’d like it to be comedy related somehow, but I don’t think doing a live show is the answer. I would gladly volunteer to do it in a second if that would help, but it doesn’t strike me as the solution. I think there needs to be something that is able to reach more shut ins.

Scot Wickmann is going to be laid up in bed for a while. Even if he wanted to see a live show I doubt if he could make it unless they wheeled his bed right into the performance area. I’d be fine with it, but I can’t see it happening. A room full of beds with people from ICU would be silly.

It’s hard enough to be funny in a traditional comedy setting, but this would be off the charts to try and pry laughs out of hospital patients. That’s not what I had in mind. I would like to create a product that could be used to touch people depending on their condition, and that’s a wide scope.

One idea I had would be to interview comedians who have endured health issues, and try to put a comedic perspective on things that as a rule aren’t funny. When I was in the hospital, I couldn’t help but notice there are a lot of potentially funny events that only someone who has experienced them could relate to. I bet it would be of great comfort to have a video for new patients to watch.

There has to be a way to produce a video of comedians telling their hospital stories, and have it run on a constant loop on one of the hospital TV channels. I’d bet there could be several releases over time, as a lot of comedians have stories. I’m sure some celebrities would jump on board too.

David Letterman went through major heart surgery a while back, and I’m sure that gave him an abundance of stories that are a lot funnier now that he’s fully recovered. Sometimes it seems like the situation is overwhelming while in the hospital, and something to offer comfort would help to put a patient’s mind at ease. I remember how I felt when I was laying there and it was a bad trip.

Another idea I’d love to pursue would be establishing a humor library in all hospitals so people could watch and listen to comedy as they recover. It could be standup comedy CDs and DVDs or funny movies or even written publications like Mad magazine or comic books. It could help pass the time for patients, and even the employees could use it. I’m sure a medical staff has stress too.

I realize that these are all pie in the sky dreams, but I want to put it out there in the universe so hopefully someone else will see it and act on it. Even if it’s bouncing an idea back at me, I’ll take whatever I can get and move forward however I can. This is an idea that has no time restrictions.

We always see photo ops where celebrity athletes go in and meet sick kids in the hospital, and I think that’s a great thing don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see more of it, but what better source of cheering people up who need it is there than comedians. This would be a way to really be of use.

I think this would be a great place to develop the King of Uranus character. It’s so goofy that it can’t help to at least get the attention of somebody in a sick bed and take their mind off their pain for the moment. One way or another, I really want to reach out and make a hurting person laugh.

Hearing of Scot’s current situation and Jim’s recent issues has brought this idea to the forefront of my thoughts. It would be a great opportunity to match comedians with recovering patients and I’m going to keep thinking of what I can do to get this ball rolling. Service is what life is about.

I want to establish a program for comedians to be able to cheer up hospital patients as they recover. Any ideas?

I want to establish a program for comedians to be able to cheer up hospital patients as they recover. Any ideas?

An appearance by The King of Uranus might be in order. It's always FUNNY when it comes from URANUS!

An appearance by The King of Uranus might be in order. It’s always FUNNY when it comes from URANUS!

A Day Well Spent

June 20, 2013

Wednesday June 19th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI/Libertyville, IL

   The emotional roller coaster ride continues. It was mostly a series of tremendous ups today, but there was one down. I guess without the downs the ups are meaningless, so for today I’ll attempt to keep my focus on those. There were several, and it was a day that will have a lasting impact.

   I drove up to Milwaukee for a series of errands this morning. With gas prices sky high, one has to clump errands together these days. I hadn’t seen my cousin Wendy in a while, so I asked if she wanted to have breakfast. Her daughter Katie is the working partner of Milwaukee Police Officer Josh Albert who was severely injured by a wrong way drunk driver in a car accident in October.

   Wendy reported that Josh is not only up and walking, but he’s back to work. That’s miraculous news, and anyone who saw him being rolled into Shank Hall in a wheel chair would agree. I will never forget the emotional vibe that engulfed the room when he arrived that night. It was electric.

    I was delighted to hear the super news about Officer Albert, but then she followed that up with a horrible story about how the 8 year old daughter of her other daughter has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. That really bothered me, and still does. Life can be so ugly, and I fail to see why.

   Why doesn’t Charles Manson have a brain tumor? That waste of sperm chugs on into old age a stalwart picture of health, but a beautiful little 8 year old girl has a brain tumor. Who is in charge of handing life’s fates out, and where is the complaint department? It all seems SO uncalled for.

   After breakfast I attended a book signing by my long time friend Tyrone Pierre Dumas. Tyrone is in the generation of Milwaukee comedians ahead of me, but we’ve been friends going on thirty years now. He goes back to my earliest days, and has always been a supporter of everything I do.

   He wrote a book titled “Food is my Orgasm”, and today was his big day. Tyrone has also been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and has had some other health issues. His book was written with the premise that some people like food more than sex – or at least would have to think about it.

   James Gregory in Atlanta joked about that same thing when we hung out a few months ago. He said if forced to choose between the best sex of his life or a great meal he’d have to really think it over. Tyrone has been working on this book for years, and he put out a press release to invite me so I had to show up. Even with gas prices soaring, the price of friendship was worth every cent.

   At the end of it all, nobody will remember how much my gas cost today. Seeing Tyrone’s face light up with recognition when I walked in the book store immediately told me I had made a wise investment. He was telling everyone that I had driven up from Chicago, and they all appeared to be impressed that someone would come all that way just to attend a book signing in Milwaukee.

   I would have driven up from Miami to see him have his day. Writing a book or doing anything else creative is never an easy task, and I for one can relate to the process. I bought a book at full price, and was happy to do so to support the effort. There was nothing but positive energy in the room, and that’s what life is supposed to be about in my opinion. I was happy to see his success.

   Tyrone stopped doing comedy years ago, but he’s still a dented can like most of us are. He saw the hard road comedy is, and chose instead to be a husband, father, community activist and make his contribution that way. He’s a top shelf human being, and I’m proud to call Tyrone my friend.

   Tonight was also a big night at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL where a comedy class I’ve been teaching had their graduation show. Those are always fun, but tonight was extra special. Of all the classes I’ve ever taught, I’d have to say this was the one that worked the absolute hardest.

   They were a group of Toastmasters, and unlike most of my classes they had previously known each other before signing up. Most of the other classes are random groups comprised of a totally unfiltered mix of anyone and everyone from anywhere and everywhere. This was a different mix.

   These people wanted to learn to add humor to their speeches, and quite honestly I was a bit of a skeptic when I’d heard about them. Improv Playhouse attracts a different clientele than Zanies in Chicago, and it’s far enough away where they don’t compete. It’s not far from home, so I do it.

   We’ve had a few classes to this point, but honestly nothing special. It’s been a tough sell to get full classes, but standup comedy isn’t their focus like a Zanies or any other comedy club. They’re an improv theatre, and standup is a side bar. That’s fine, and if we can fill a class up I’ll show up.

   This was a totally different scenario. They came to Improv Playhouse specifically requesting a class custom made just for them. I’ve had a couple of requests like that over the years, but these guys came to learn. They were from a corporate background as a whole, so I aimed my lessons at that angle. It was a challenge for me to customize my lesson plan, but I always enjoy challenges.

   The leader of the group is a guy named Eric Feinendegen. He’s in the financial business, and is an award winning speaker in the Toastmasters world. He told me at the beginning of class that he wanted me to “whip the group into shape”, so I tried to oblige. If someone tells me they want the truth, I’ve always been one to give it to them. Come to think of it, I give it when they don’t ask.

   It was funny to me to hear these people grumble and groan throughout the run of the class. I’ve never thought of myself as a taskmaster, but they seemed to view me as a cross between Captain Bly and some ruthless Third World dictator. All I was doing was stressing comedy fundamentals, and not backing down. The process is NOT easy, and I assured them I understood their feelings.

   And I totally do. Nothing about standup comedy is easy, even though the best ones can make it look that way. Looking effortless requires PLENTY of effort, and this class got to see how much that was. It was a lot more than they thought, but to their credit they kept showing up each week.

   They had a splendid work ethic, and even though they moaned and groaned they were a willing bunch and trusted my input – for the most part. Some of them fought it at times, but I never mind that at all. I am there to make suggestions, but in the end it’s the student who gets the final word.

   Tonight was their reward for all their hard work and putting up with what they perceived to be my constant and relentless harassment, and they all came through with flying colors. I love to see these nights happen, and I’ve seen it too many times to count. I never get sick of it though, and it was just as much fun for me to watch them go up and kill it as it was for them. They all nailed it!

   The biggest compliment of all came from Eric when he made it a point to come up afterward to tell me I changed his life. He said taking my class opened his eyes to a whole new world, and it’s comments like that that make me keep teaching all these years. What a flattering thing to hear on many levels, and I was truly humbled by it. This was a fantastic night for the class and a big day for Tyrone Pierre Dumas, but I still can’t help thinking about an 8 year old’s delicate situation.

The Best Revenge!

October 19, 2012

October 17th, 2012 – Milwaukee, WI

   “The best revenge is massive success.” That’s one of my very favorite quotes of all time, and it comes from Frank Sinatra. If there was ever anyone who got his revenge, it was him. Who else is even close when it comes to showbiz legends? Elvis? Michael Jackson? Okay, but that’s about it.

By all accounts, the Josh Albert fundraiser at Shank Hall in Milwaukee this evening turned out to be a massive success on many levels. I couldn’t be more thrilled and honored to be a part of it, and I was proud beyond words of everyone who came together to pull off such a fantastic event.

There was definite electricity in that room I don’t think I’ve ever felt before, and when Officer Albert entered the room in his wheelchair it was like the Pope showed up. A hush throughout the club was immediate as cameras from every television station in town captured a magic moment.

It was very emotional, and I knew right then we didn’t even have to do a show for this to be an overwhelming home run. This alone would have been enough, but there was a lot more positivity in store for everyone as Mayor Tom Barrett and Chief of Police Edward Flynn presented Officer Albert with a mayoral proclamation declaring it ‘Joshua Albert Day’ in the city of Milwaukee.

The audience gave Officer Albert a well deserved standing ovation, and emotions were running high as people were wiping away tears as he spoke from his heart. I totally lost it, and was crying like a baby. Knowing that I had even the slightest pinky of a hand involved in helping make this happen gave me a feeling of accomplishment like I’ve never had. This was the right thing to do.

But I don’t take credit for anything other than bringing together an all star cast of giving people to do what they do. Everyone did their part to perfection, and watching it all come together lit my fuse of hope that good people actually can make a difference on this planet infested with morons.

So many amazing people stepped up I don’t even know where to start. Drew Olson was simply magnificent as the host of the event as I totally knew he would be. He held the evening together, and knew how to keep things moving and put a balance between the serious and funny. Honestly, I don’t think I could have done as good a job myself and I’ve got experience. He really nailed it.

Peter Jest really came through as well. He’s the owner of Shank Hall, and we’ve always had an excellent working relationship. He’s a very funny guy, and also good friends with Drew. It was a perfect fit all around, and we all knew it. Peter generously donated the space, and I appreciate it.

Chris ‘C.P.’ Peppas is another pillar of generosity who has supported everything I’ve done for at least twenty years. He’s a talented writer, and wrote a great piece for The Examiner which was greatly appreciated, as was his bride Mary Lynn’s donation of her signed Cecil Cooper baseball.

I can’t forget Ted Perry of Fox 6 either. He’s another one who has done more than expected on several occasions, and I couldn’t be more grateful for his support not only tonight but through all my trials and tribulations of many years. He’s got a giant heart, and I owe him about fifty favors.

The comedians on the bill showed up to support the cause as well, and I appreciate every single one of them. Russ Martin was a former Deputy Sheriff, and went to all the police stations and put up posters. Jason Evans is the creator of www.mkefunny.com and also helped spread the word.

Phil ‘Ziggy’ Dunham schlepped in all the way from Detroit at his own expense to be part of the evening, and he didn’t have to do that. All these guys are rock solid and golden in my book and I was proud to have them participate in a big event like this that spread so much uplifting energy.

I wish I could bottle the vibe from tonight and pass it out in the world where it’s needed. I’d do it for free, as the results produced would be worth far more than anything money could buy. I put the word out to my best connections, and they came through and made this a night to remember.

My friend Mike Staral came out with his wife and we’ve known each other since kindergarten. He saw the event mentioned on TV and the company he works for is going to make a donation to the cause. I hadn’t seen Mike in years, but he’s always been yet another good hearted kind soul.

There are far too many people to list who pitched in to contribute to this night, but images keep popping into my mind and I don’t want to exclude anyone. John O’Brien drove all the way from Wilmette, IL as he has done so many times before to support anything I’ve done, success or flop. There were more than a few flops in there, and I’m delighted he got to see one that worked well.

Marilynn Mee from WKLH showed up unexpectedly, and auctioned off an hour on the air as a guest DJ. That was very nice of her to do that, and it brought in $750 which was more than all of us expected. I’ve always liked and respected Marilynn, and I think she is very talented on the air.

My cousin Katie and her brother Andy and her mom Wendy were all a big part of it too. I said I’d take care of the comedy part, but they did their share from a police angle. I don’t know about that world, and they came through and we were a very effective team. Katie thinks the world and more of her partner, and anyone would be lucky to have a work relationship that runs so deeply.

It was a huge thrill to finally meet Josh Albert as well. I’d heard nothing but great things about how good of both a person and police officer he is. He had people around him all night, but I did get a chance to say hello and when I did his eyes lit up and he thanked me profusely. He gripped my hand with a tight squeeze, and I could feel his gratitude. I hope this will inspire him to heal.

I would do this all over again and then some in a heartbeat. This is the kind of vibe that makes life worth living. It’s pure, vibrant and completely untouchable by anyone who continues to be a detractor of mine despite my attempts to make peace whenever possible. I’m sorry that everyone can’t get along, but after one or sometimes a dozen apologies all one can do is just let things go.

This wasn’t about anything other than doing something that I think anyone should do who has the opportunity. This time it was my turn to pitch in, and I did the best I could. Anyone who isn’t a fan of me personally has that right, but nobody can say this evening wasn’t about helping out a fellow human being. I got my revenge by spreading good energy, and that’s the best kind of all.

Crunch Time

October 17, 2012

Monday October 15th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   It’s down to crunch time for the Joshua Albert benefit fundraiser this Wednesday at Shank Hall in Milwaukee and I’m feverishly working to check and recheck every last detail hoping I haven’t forgotten anything major. There’s too much to do in too little time, and I can’t help but be a little gun shy after all the disastrous flops I’ve been part of in the past. I don’t want this to be another.

I want this event to be a major success for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s just the right thing to do. Period. Someone is hurting badly due to the carelessness of some drunken idiot, and can use some help. Human to human, this is the correct way to respond – at least I think so.

I wish I couldn’t relate to Officer Albert’s plight, but in many ways I absolutely can. I was in a similar situation in 1993, and a drunk driver was the cause of that as well. I was extremely lucky to survive a crash where my Mustang convertible flipped completely upside down, and I can see it in my mind’s eye like it was yesterday. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life.

Everything changed in a split second, and there were months of painful rehab before I could go back on the road and earn my living. I was getting food sent to me from a shelter, and times were about as low as I had ever seen them – and I have seen some pretty rough times. Or so I thought.

Then I see this situation and it makes mine look like a stubbed toe. Officer Albert has injuries I don’t even want to think about. I also think of Officer Brian Murphy in Oak Creek, WI who took a double digit amount of bullets in the Sikh Temple shooting a few months ago. I may have had a few bad days at work in my time, but no heckler anywhere could top what these people endured.

No matter how hard I think my life gets, I’m not even close to being at the bottom of the barrel. I want to help however I can, and if doing a comedy show will make that happen then sign me up immediately. I’d do one of these every week if I thought it would do some good for somebody.

Another reason I want this event to be a success is because my extended family is involved. I’d be happy to do anything I could to help anyone who might need it, but family makes it a lot more meaningful. It’s been such a sore spot with me my whole life, I couldn’t turn down this request.

Quite honestly, I don’t know Officer Katie all that well. We only met a few times actually, and we were never close growing up or anything like that. Her mom and I go way back, and she’s the one who made this happen. She asked on Katie’s behalf if I would do this benefit, and I said yes.

I know there are termites in every family tree, but not like ours. We come from a freakish crew of particularly nasty parasites, and precious few have tried to break that chain. The odds haven’t been with us, but we try anyway. Katie’s mom Wendy has always been a sweetheart, and she did her best passing that down to her children. Katie is the result of that, and I’m proud of them both.

It’s important to me to show solidarity to that whole side of the family, who have taken it upon themselves like I have to not follow in the footsteps of the rest of the people who share our DNA.

Another major leap I had hoped to make with this event was to patch up some old wounds that have been festering for decades. One of them was with a local comedy club that I had a big blow out with when I had my car accident in 1993. They held a ‘benefit’ allegedly in my honor, but it was a major fiasco and the owner back then ended up keeping the cover charge fees for himself.

He said there were ‘expenses’, and they ended up passing the hat at the end of the night and got $23 and some change. I was insulted and embarrassed to receive that in my hospital room, and it started off a chain of events I’m not proud of that eventually amputated our working relationship.

I haven’t darkened the door of that place in twenty years, and quite honestly I didn’t miss it and they didn’t miss me. But Milwaukee will always be my hometown, and I like to work there when I can. I would have killed at that place and been one of their top acts. We both lost out from this.

That owner is thankfully out of the business now, and I went through the proper channels to try to hold this event at the club to hopefully mend some fences and move on. It was about the event first, and I didn’t want to bring anything personal back into it after twenty years. They apparently don’t see it that way, and I was rejected in less than thirty minutes. At least I know where I stand.

I’m sorry they feel that way, but look at all the publicity they’ll miss by saying no. We’ve been getting all kinds of interest by most of the media in town, so I guess Shank Hall will get the press instead. I tried my best, and it didn’t work. But at least I tried. I can’t force anybody to like me.

The other comedy club in town could have had this event too, but the manager and I have some heat from when he bounced a check on me a couple of years ago when he owned another club. It was a huge mess, and then he ‘banned’ me from the new club he manages. Well, his loss as well.

I never claimed to be perfect, and I freely admit when I’m wrong. My goal is to always make a sincere effort to be above board and make things right, but sometimes people just clash. I always heard that a man is nobody unless he has a list of people that hate him, but that’s not my desire.

It’s ok if people don’t like me – and there are a vocal few – but I don’t want to perpetuate it if I don’t have to. I’d rather make peace or at least agree to disagree and end any hostilities. Looking at the situation Officer Albert or Officer Murphy and so many others are in, what really matters?

Another fence I had hoped to mend was with some radio people in Milwaukee. Bob and Brian and Dave Luczak were my competitors when I was on 93QFM years ago. I used to go on the air and bash them openly, much like pro wrestlers do. In fact, that’s where I got the idea so I did it.

Apparently, they didn’t like it and took it personally which it never was meant. I’ve been blown off by those guys for years, and I’m sorry that happened. I meant no harm, but it’s apparently not how it was taken. The fact is, they have had successful careers for twenty years, and I salute their success. Again, I’m sorry we weren’t able to work together, and it’s not my intention to hold any grudges against them or anyone else. If they are still angry at me, I can’t help it. I don’t consider myself important enough for that. I want to focus on good energy for the event and from now on.

Event Planning

October 7, 2012

Friday October 5th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   The love is starting to pour in for the big benefit fundraiser show on October 17th at Shank Hall and I couldn’t be more grateful. I’ve tried to do benefits and fundraisers my whole life, and have usually lost my ass not to mention my dignity and self respect. It’s just plain hard to get anybody to come out for any reason these days, worthy cause or not. Still, I’m optimistic about this one.

This is the right cause at the right time, and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that. I put a ton of work into the C. Cardell Willis tribute show in April, and ended up losing money out of my pocket. Cardell was a great man and a kind soul, but for whatever reason the public wasn’t as touched by his contributions as I was. I put my heart and soul into that event, and it was just ok.

This event will be in the exact same venue roughly six months later but I already feel far more of a buzz about it just under two weeks out. Granted, it’s a completely different situation but I’ve never felt such a positive rumble beforehand for any kind of event I have ever been involved in.

Everything just seems to be falling into place. I’m very grateful for that, but I can’t say that I’m used to it. I’ve had to struggle so hard for so long to get any kind of attention about anything, but this is something all people I talk to just immediately plug into and support. I’m not complaining.

I’m not doing any of this for me. I’m doing it for Officer Albert of course, but mainly I said I’d do it because my cousin Wendy asked me to. I had originally approached her about trying to do a similar event for Officer Brian Murphy who was shot in the Sikh Temple shooting a while back.

I’d seen an article in the news about how he was recovering from multiple gunshot wounds and I wanted to show some support just from fellow human being to human being. I asked about how to set something like that up, and then this horrible accident happened with Officer Albert and an entirely different direction was taken. For whatever reason, it all fell together and is ready to go.

Does it mean I feel any less badly for Officer Murphy? Of course not. I’ve never even met him, nor have I met Officer Albert as of yet. My heart goes out to both of them, as well as everyone in a similar situation – police officer or not. This is about showing human kindness to those in pain.

I can’t help everyone, and unfortunately I can’t even help myself. My own life needs work on several levels, but whenever I think I have insurmountable problems I think of Officer Albert or Officer Murphy or some of our wounded military who are in their 20s with lost limbs and I feel like a whining pampered schmuck who needs to shut up and go help someone who can use it.

I’m really encouraged by how well everything is coming together. My friend Bill Mihalic sent Jay Leno’s secretary a request for a signed picture for the auction and it arrived today along with a Tonight Show t-shirt. Hopefully that will fetch a nice buck, and 100% of it will go to the cause. I’m also receiving a generous supply of comedy CDs and DVDs sent in from all over the country from my comedy friends who want to pitch in and help. I appreciate every last one of them and it makes me feel good to know not everyone in the world is heartless. I’m feeling good about this.

Your Life Is Now

October 7, 2012

Thursday October 4th, 2012 – Milwaukee, WI

   What are the three most difficult words for anyone to have to say? Are they “I love you?” or “I don’t know?” (Well, that could be considered four words if one counts the contraction.) Maybe it could be “The Bears win.” How about “Pass the liver?” I would cast my vote for “I was wrong.”

I think that one can be the bitterest pill of all to swallow. Nobody likes to admit it, but I think it needs to be said when the situation calls for it. I’ve been saying those words frequently in the last few years and it actually gets easier the more I say them. I wish I didn’t have to, but it’s the truth.

Some people just can’t seem to find it in their heart to say those words. Ever. I don’t ever recall my father saying those words to anyone. Everything was someone else’s fault, and he was on the receiving end pointing it out to anyone who would listen. After years of hearing it, it grows old.

Then my father himself grew old, and he died. There weren’t enough people who cared enough for there to be a need for a funeral, and now it’s all over. What of all he ever did matters now? Is anything living on today because of him? The only things that live on with me are bad memories.

I never got to have a father/son relationship with him, and there’s not even a single photograph of us together at any time in our lives. Not ONE. For whatever reason we never bonded, and now he’s dead and it’s too late. It all seems like such a waste, and I don’t want to carry on his legacy.

I want to be the polar opposite of who he was and what he did, and leave pleasant and precious memories for both myself and those who were around me. I truly believe that’s all that matters in the end, and the end is coming for us all. I don’t want to waste any more time chasing the wind.

There’s a touching song by John Cougar Mellencamp Fawcett Majors Rodham Clinton Abdul Jabbar or whatever his current name is called “Your Life Is Now”. I don’t consider myself a big fan of his, but that song really hits home in a major way. There’s a lyric that massages my heart and calls me. “Your father’s days are lost to you. This is your time here to do what you will do.”

How true this is for all of us, and it inspires me to “do what I will do”. That’s why I am so glad to be able to do the upcoming benefit fundraiser for Officer Albert in Milwaukee on October 17th at Shank Hall. It’s going to bring people together with a spirit of goodness and human kindness. I can’t help his injuries heal any faster, but hopefully I can make his recovery time more pleasant.

I don’t claim to know everything or be right all the time, but this is the right thing to do. It’s an opportunity to spread – dare I say it – love. I never felt love from my father, and maybe he never felt it himself. Whatever the case, he’s gone now, and it’s “my time here, to do what I will do.”

All that matters is showing kindness. That’s it. Everything else is meaningless. I have a ways to go as far as having everything figured out, but I know I’m on the correct path. I feel it. This is the kind of event that touches hearts and souls and that’s why we’re here. I’m not afraid to be wrong, and I’m not too proud to admit it whenever I am. This is not one of those times. My life is now.

Tom Dreesen = Class Act

October 4, 2012

Wednesday October 3rd, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   Talk about your pleasant surprises! I received an email last night from Tom Dreesen asking me to call him this morning, which I did. He had heard about the Joshua Albert fundraiser show I am putting together and wanted to offer his help. Anyone who knows Tom would not be surprised.

If there is a classier human being not only in standup comedy but in the entertainment business in general than Tom Dreesen, I have yet to meet or even hear of that person. Tom personifies the term ‘consummate professional’, and he sets the standard when it comes to conducting business.

I remember first seeing Tom on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He is originally from Harvey, IL and always talked about it in his act. Growing up in Milwaukee, I had no clue where comedians came from and assumed none would come from anywhere near me. He inspired me.

As I got into the business myself and ended up moving to Chicago, Tom’s name was spoken of with reverence and his reputation of helping younger and especially Chicago area comedians was legendary. It was many years before I met him myself, but when I did he lived up to his billing.

One of the most fun things I’ve ever gotten to do was share the air on WGN radio with Tom as he sat in with ‘Jerry’s Kidders’ a couple of years ago. Ken Sevara knows him well, and Tom was gracious to sit in with us. Not only that, he treated us to lunch at the Billy Goat Tavern afterward.

Watching how Tom carries himself is a clinic in how to be in show business. He’s never off his game, and always has a positive attitude. He just has the demeanor for it, and not everyone does. I know I don’t. I’m a kooky bastard, and I freely admit it. I’m one of those offbeat ‘artiste’ types. I’m trying to get better, but my nature is to follow my creative urges. Tom is smarter than that.

Tom played the business game of show business, and played to win. Win he did, and that gives him the freedom to do what he wants creatively. Smart formula! Why didn’t I think of that? I did think of it I guess, I just didn’t execute it. Tom Dreesen did, and that’s why he has my admiration and respect. Having him contact me about helping not only this time but in the future was huge.

Tom has some unbelievable credits to his name. He was part of the first (and only) black/white comedy team of all time with Tim Reid who played Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati. That alone is a remarkable accomplishment, but he’s probably most well known for being the opening act for Frank Sinatra for 14 years. He’s also been a tireless charity worker for numerous causes.

This is the kind of person I aspire to be myself. If I can build half the reputation Tom did for all the charity work alone he’s done, then I’ll have been a huge success. He’s known for showing up and pitching in, and that’s how I want to be known also. Hearing from him was an absolute thrill.

Tom has a one man show he wrote called ‘An Evening of Laughter and Stories of Sinatra’ he is now doing around the country. He said if I can secure a venue in Milwaukee he’d gladly come in and help the cause. I’ll do this event first, but what a kind offer that is. www.tomdreesen.com.

Fundraiser Focus

October 3, 2012

Tuesday October 2nd, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   My main project for the next two weeks is going to be attending to the details pertaining to the comedy benefit fundraiser show for Officer Josh Albert at Shank Hall in Milwaukee on October 17th. The lineup of comedians is set, but that was the least of my concerns. There’s a lot more to do, and seeing how I’ve managed to lose money on most benefits I’ve ever done I’m a bit wary.

First and foremost, I need to get the media behind it to get the word out. There was significant media coverage when the accident first occurred, and hopefully this can help put as happy of an ending to it as possible. Obviously it would be best if it never happened, but that’s not how it is.

I’ve received several responses from various media outlets in Milwaukee, and I’m encouraged. I don’t care who gets interviewed, I just want word to get out the event is taking place at all. My cousin Katie will be able to tell the story far better than me because she was there, and hopefully that puts butts in seats to show support. The comedians and I will handle everything from there.

But beyond that, I’m hoping to do even more good if I can. I’m attempting to reach as many of my comedian friends who have CDs or DVDs or books and have them donate two copies of each – one for Officer Albert to listen to while he’s recovering and another to be used for an auction.

I know Officer Albert isn’t the only person recovering from horrific injuries, and I wish I could find a way to spread some comedy around to them. I thought of this last year when I was dealing with my own medical issues, and the idea still appeals to me. But first things first, I’ll make sure this event comes off successfully before worrying about saving the world. I can’t do everything.

So far, we’re looking good. My friend Drew Olson from 540 ESPN Milwaukee agreed to host the evening. He is very well liked in town, and hopefully those in the media that may not be my biggest fans will help support the cause despite my involvement. I don’t want personal politics.

My other focus is rounding up items for a silent auction. What will sell, I have no idea. I have had several donations already though, and I’m thrilled beyond words. My comedy writer friend Bill Mihalic put a word out to Jay Leno, and Jay’s assistant said a signed picture is on the way.

I asked Eddie Brill the best way to get a David Letterman signed picture, and I have no doubt if it’s at all possible Eddie will help make it happen. If not, I’m sure he will have some suggestions as to what else I can do or who else I can approach. I do have an extensive list of quality people.

Another friend Steve Olsher really came through with an amazing combination package of self help materials including a videotaped seminar weekend I was a part of this past summer and two of his bestselling books. The retail value of the package is $593.79, and I’m grateful to accept it.

Pat McCurdy’s manager Brian Murphy will donate some of Pat’s merchandise, and he’s one of my all time faves. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writer Tom Haudricourt wrote a book that I really love about the ’82 Brewers and is donating a signed copy. This is a start, but there’s more to do.

Getting My Schlitz Together

March 5, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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