Posts Tagged ‘show business’

Still Flying High

July 5, 2014

Friday July 4th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I’m still on a high from the show last night at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont, IL. No matter how many problems I have or how low I may feel on a given day, having shows like that is what keeps me above ground. I don’t see why I can’t experience that more regularly, like every week.

If I had my way – but I rarely do – I would be on stage every night of my life that I was able to stand even halfway erect and talk into a microphone – but only if I have the circumstances I had last night. It was a stellar venue with world class lights and sound, and people were there to see a show. When those criteria are met, I can almost always exceed their expectations and then some.

The misery comes when it’s some low rent hell hole blood and guts roadhouse dive that has no idea of how to run a show, but tries to anyway. It’s a chore to get anyone to shut up and listen for more than thirty seconds, and at the end of the night it makes me question why I was ever born.

Those aren’t the places to do real comedy, they’re just a chance for everyone to make a couple of relatively quick bucks. Notice I didn’t say easy – just relatively quick. The pain only lasts for about an hour onstage in situations like that, but can leave residual damage on the soul forever.

As much as I want to do shows like last night every night until I can no longer stand by myself, I don’t ever want to work the toilets again. I’ve long past my time of doing them, but sometimes I have to suck it up and do it for the money. Does that make me a whore? Unfortunately, it does.

It’s well and good to stand firm and be an ‘artiste’, but for most of us it’s not realistic – at least not these days. Absolutely ANY paying gig has to be considered by most of us working the road, and the quality is getting lower by the week. So is the pay. Nights like last night are a rare treat.

The one and only way to make things change for the better is to become a draw that enough of the public is familiar with and will buy tickets to see me. It doesn’t have to be anywhere close to the whole public, but it does have to be enough to sell tickets every week. That’s super difficult.

This has nothing to do with ego, although it is a blow to anybody’s that they aren’t able to fill a 50 seat room more than once a year. This is strictly business, and business often has very little or nothing to do with the show. But without a show, someone’s business won’t endure for the ages.

I’m in the same pickle barrel I’ve been in for years. I have a rock solid act, but nobody knows who I am so I can’t get a chance to prove it on a consistent basis. I’ve been too busy out making a living to get in front of the right people, and those people I have gotten in front of didn’t think I was what they were looking for – even though most people have no idea what they’re looking at.

A show like last night would have been a perfect example of one to have had when somebody with power was in the audience. I was up and down a dozen times, and kept the show rolling on many levels. Somebody with smart eyes would have seen that and plugged me in to something.

Too bad for me, they weren’t there. They’re never there when I rip it up, and that’s what makes me so frustrated. I KNOW I can do this, and so do a lot of others – especially all my detractors.

I'm learning as I get older to savor the good times. The tide will turn soon enough. When life goes well, it needs to be savored for all it's worth.

I’m learning as I get older to savor the good times. The tide will turn soon enough. When life goes well, it needs to be appreciated.

The Unenviable Fraternity

July 3, 2014

Sunday June 29th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Since I was already on the far south side of the Chicago area yesterday without a gig, I decided to call some of my friends to see if I could find anybody home. I don’t get that far south as much as I probably should, and I have a lot of people I haven’t seen in a while. Why waste the chance?

Tim Slagle was the first to call back, so we got together at his house in Dyer, IN. Tim and I are a lot alike in that we tend to polarize people, and then make it worse by not caring what anybody thinks. We have both burned a few bridges in our time, but that happens with a lot of performers no matter the genre. People with strong opinions who don’t have power tend to become pariahs.

If and when these people happen to catch a break, their past sins are often forgiven because of their newfound success. Everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon then, and that’s just how the game works. Tim and I are two examples of many who made a living, but never hit our jackpot.

Personally, I really like Tim both onstage and off. He is brilliantly funny, and even though his style is completely different than my own I am a huge fan of his work. He’s not afraid to ruffle a few feathers, and sometimes more than a few. That takes gargantuan testicles, and I respect him.

We are part of the unenviable fraternity of comedians that came through the boom years of the ‘80s but never got a sitcom. It seemed like everyone did – and there were quite a few – but there were a lot more of us that didn’t find our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and are now in our 50s and 60s wondering how we’re going to pay our bills next month. That’s not the place to be.

At least former athletes have a pension plan if they played long enough. I’ve been around three other genres of the entertainment business in standup comedy, pro wrestling and radio, and none of those three have any kind of financial security. One either makes it big or they starve. Period.

I was trying to figure out the actual number of long time road dog comedians that are now in a similar position, and I would guess it to be maybe three to five thousand. I am not talking about part time weekend warriors, as there are thousands more of those scattered across the continent.

I’m talking about people like Tim and me and all the others that came up during the boom and are now struggling to stay booked every week. That was never a problem before, but times have changed drastically in the last few years and that includes a new generation of wannabe comics.

The newbies of today don’t have the opportunity we did to get out on the road and earn a living at a young age. The work isn’t there for them either, and the whole business is changing. It’s the law of supply and demand in full effect, and unfortunately the demand has gone down while the supply has exploded. There isn’t enough quality work for everybody and there needs to be a cull.

I’m sure this process has happened in other businesses too, but I can’t think of any because this is the one that I have chosen. I was a ring announcer and promoter in wrestling and I’ve seen that business go through changes too. It takes a very specialized set of skills to succeed in that racket. Radio is another business on the slide for many reasons. I guess I just don’t know how to choose a career very well. I’ve had a long run in comedy, but I see the future and know I need a change.

Tim Slagle is a comedian that does comedy for smart people. He's one of my favorites. Check out his hilarious CD 'Europa'. www.timslagle.com.

Tim Slagle does comedy for smart people. He’s one of my all time favorites. Check out his hilarious CD ‘Europa’. It’s a classic! http://www.timslagle.com.

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.

The People Business

May 9, 2014

Wednesday May 7th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I want to talk more about the whole “game” aspect of show business. It’s easy to come off as a crusty old bastard brimming with bitterness – and I’m sure some think I am. Maybe they’re right to a certain degree, but I want to go into the reasons why. It’s not just something I felt like doing.

Most entertainers that last even a little while I find to be of above average intelligence as a rule. This is often where their problems originate, as the public as a rule are a pretty sorry lot. I wish it were different, but it is what it is. Alexander Hamilton’s quote “The masses are asses” rings just as true in 2014 as it did in 1790 when he said it. The bar for greatness has been set painfully low.

Quite often the great artists are on a completely different plane than the public, and that causes great pain because there is no outlet for their artistic output. A lot larger audience wants to see an Adam Sandler movie than wants to see Woody Allen’s next release. Aiming low is a wise target.

This is not to say nobody smart or talented ever makes it, or only idiots do. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I am pointing out is that show business is a people business, and if one has no insight on one’s customers, it’s easy to come crashing down in a hurry. There are rules involved.

There are also dues to be paid like tolls on a highway. The next booth is going to charge you an individual amount for that particular stretch of road, not caring that the last dozen all took a piece of your bank roll. If you want to ride, you have to pay. Period. That’s how it is in showbiz also.

Where the difference lies is that most highways have very detailed maps and it’s easy to find a manageable route. If one doesn’t have a GPS device, there are usually maps of the area put up in rest areas for any and all to freely use to their advantage. Show business’s route is more hidden.

There aren’t any pubic maps posed, and more often than not others on the same highway either don’t know where they’re going or are deliberately on a path to self implosion. That can be part of the DNA makeup of a dented can, and it can cause that person to make unhealthy decisions.

I have made more than my share of unhealthy decisions along my turbulent life trail, but I also made a few solid ones. Probably the most solid has been that I have STAYED WITH IT. I could have put a bullet in my head or the heads of several others by now, but I haven’t. That’s my only advantage at the moment. I’ve been around the block plenty of times, and I have seen the game.

If I do manage to win in the end, I will end up being one of the exceptions people talk about. It isn’t easy for anyone, but my circumstances have been especially difficult. And who would care about that? Uh, NOBODY but me. Where someone comes from is unimportant. All that matters is where one ends up. And if I am going to end up a winner in life the game has got to be played.

A big part of the problem is that I no longer have the hunger to do it – at least at a comedy club level. Been there, done that, burned bridges and learned a lot. That doesn’t mean I can’t enter an entirely different league, and that’s what I intend to do. Corporate humor would qualify, and I’m going to handle myself a lot differently than I did in comedy clubs. I know the rules better now.

The Uranus project is another arena altogether, but there’s still a game involved. I know it now, and I didn’t when I started in comedy. I see things more clearly, and that’s the direct result of all those crippling mistakes. I may have hurt myself, but I’m not dead yet so there is still a chance.

Show business - like EVERY business - is a people business.

Show business – like EVERY business – is a people business. Too bad a lot of people are idiots.

It’s All A Game

May 9, 2014

Tuesday May 6th, 2014 – Niles, IL

One concept I wish I would have grasped a lot sooner in show business – and life itself – is that it’s all a game. As wise as my grandfather was and as many lasting lessons as he taught, I don’t recall that one ever being on his list. If he said it I didn’t hear it, and I know I would have remembered.

Truth and fairness are not the determining factors for most of us, even though we’re taught that if we work hard and keep our noses clean spectacular things will happen. After a lot of lost years hoping that was the case, I am rapidly losing faith. I’m sorry, but this world is run by imbeciles.

Every once in a while someone with legitimate talent, morals and a giving heart slips through a crack somewhere and gets a nice run in the sun – but I have to think even that person knows it’s a fluke and against the odds. It just is. I wish this world were run fairly for all, but it never was.

My grandfather was a perfect example. There was not a more straight up spirit that ever walked this planet. Gramps cared about others and fought hard for what he thought was right. He treated people how he wanted to be treated, and worked hard at a job he really wasn’t fond of but it was what he had to do to support his family like he imagined an ideal husband and father would do.

He toiled and slaved at his job for the City of Milwaukee, and it came time to hand out a major promotion from within to supervisor. Gramps was totally qualified to do that job, but he lost out to another guy in his office that was a better ass kisser. I remember it crushed him at the time.

The reason this came up today is that my friend Marc Schultz organized one of his semiannual entertainer lunches. Everyone from magicians to circus acts to musicians to comedians shows up, and they’re always a lot of fun. Marc is a great guy, and I don’t know of anyone that doesn’t like him. He’s very laid back, and again treats entertainers like people and not farm animals. It’s rare.

The big lunch is held in November, but he’s been having a smaller one in spring of late. It’s at a Chinese restaurant with a private room, and we all hang out and tell war stories. This particular installment was well represented by a stellar lineup of Chicago’s finest comedy talent including Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe, Bill Gorgo, Skip Griparis and me. That’s quite the local all star team.

Other than Bill, the rest of us have worked at Zanies regularly for decades. Skip does musical comedy vignettes, impressions and original songs and is one of the most talented human beings I have ever met. He is world class great at what he does, as are Larry, Tim and Bill at the craft of standup. And I would like to think I’ve got a few marshmallows to bring to the camp fire too.

Between all of us, NOBODY is lighting the world on fire. We’re all getting by at best, but that is as far as it goes. I have huge respect for all those guys, but like Gramps none of them – or me – chose to play the game correctly. We thought just being good at what we do would handle it.

HA! There’s the killer mistake we all made. None of us chose to move to Los Angeles and stay there, and right or wrong that’s where “big time showbiz” happens. Eventually, anybody that hits pay dirt in show business on a big time will have business to do in Los Angeles. That’s how it is.

The fact is, Larry and Tim and Bill and Skip and I happen to like living where we do. It doesn’t appeal to us to play any stupid games, and that’s why we’re where we are. Talent doesn’t matter and rarely does. It’s nice if one has it, but not necessary. All that counts is how to play the game.

This is where it gets dangerous, because unfortunately this is the truth. Nobody wants to hear the truth – especially those in charge. They know everything I just said is on the money, but it’s the 2000 pound elephant in the room. It needs to be ignored, and I have never been good at that.

It’s also easy to get in a mental rut and let bitterness take over. That’s not good either, and it’s easy to do. I have seen quite a few people on a lot of levels rant and rave, and I admit I’ve been known to do it myself. I’m doing it now, but I’m trying to separate bitterness from actual facts.

Here’s an actual fact that needs to be digested by everyone that gets into the entertainment biz on any level: only a precious few ever really “make it” on a big time level, and luck is definitely one of the main ingredients. Hard work is another. Talent does have a place in the mix but there are a lot of talented people so it ends up being a given. Very very rarely is talent that important.

The whole “right place, right time” factor really does exist. It’s huge actually, and very few get themselves in that position either. Bill Gorgo is an example. He is a naturally funny person with an exceptional talent for not only writing jokes but punching up existing ones. He’s also a funny act, and probably could have acted had he chosen that route. He’s very likeable and looks good.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get started in standup comedy until he was 40 years old. He operated a trucking company his father started, and he was the only son so when his father passed it was the thing he felt he had to do. Was he “wrong”? Of course not – in life anyway. But in show business he didn’t play the game. Could he have worked at it part time? That’s hard to say, but I doubt it.

Also, he had a wife and daughter to support and he happens to be Italian and being close to his family is important to him. He helped care for his mother for years, and I respect him greatly for all of that. He did a commendable job in his life choices, but for show business he hurt himself.

He came up the comedy ranks in Chicago at a great time, but had a glass ceiling and was never going to move to L.A. like his and my generation of comedians did. Many of those people are on as solid of footing as there can be in the entertainment jungle. People like Mark Roberts and John Riggi may not be household names, but they have both played the game correctly and won big.

One would think they would automatically reach back and grab all the talented ones they could from their past, but it rarely works that way. Once in a while it may, but it’s not the rule. Chicago might as well be Uranus, and out of sight truly is out of mind. They have their own community.

This is just how the game works, and even though a few exceptions slip through once in a blue moon it’s pretty much a standard blueprint. If one wants to truly hit the big time, one has to get connected with those that make the decisions – and that’s traditionally where the trouble starts.

Who’s to really say what’s “good” in entertainment? Sports is easy to judge. If somebody can perform physically, they’re hired – even if they’re a detestable human being. Acting and comedy and music have a lot more grey area, and a lot of it is who gets the push from the source of power.

Another sad reality is that one is either really big or really small – no in between. I think all of us at the lunch today assumed we could be local stars in Chicago and live with that. Even that did not happen, and here we all are not getting any younger and left to fend for ourselves to eke out a living WAY out of the spotlight. We play the game or don’t, and each choice comes with a price. Is it too late to choose again? Maybe, and likely. The trick is to have a plan in place and work it.

Just like Monopoly, show business - and life itself - is a game. There are rules involved, and the winners learn them early.

Just like Monopoly, show business – and life itself – is a game. There are rules involved, and the winners learn to master them early.

Jay Leno

April 30, 2014

Monday April 28th, 2014 – Lake Villa, IL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You David Letterman

April 5, 2014

Friday April 4th, 2014 – Chicago, IL

Just as it is in life in general, breaks in show business can come from anywhere at any time. If I could know where to be and when to be there, I would obviously show up. But it’s not that easy, and that’s why this business can be so maddening. Some catch their break early, others never do.

An example of a break I caught years ago was getting a call out of the blue to open for George Miller in Cincinnati. George was a really nice guy, and we became friends. He was also friends with David Letterman, as they had come up the ranks together in L.A. George was in my corner.

The booker that week stressed that I needed to work clean, which was not a problem. George’s act was also clean, and I was a perfect opener for him at the time. He thanked me for doing what I was hired to do, as often comics have no clue where the line is and aren’t able to change styles.

That one crossing of paths led to years of friendship, and I really liked George. He passed away a few years ago, and he was very sick at the end. I was sorry to hear it, but he ended up including me in his will. I was able to get him a New Year’s Eve gig one year when he needed money, and the amount he earned that week was what he left me in his will. I had no idea he would do that.

George had some severe health problems at the end, and David Letterman ended up paying his medical bills. I’m sure Dave didn’t want that to get out, but he’s about to retire now so what does he care? It was an act of kindness and loyalty to his longtime friend, and I think that’s wonderful.

I think it’s even more wonderful because had he not stepped in, there would have been nothing left in George’s will to go to the people he left money to – including me. So indirectly, I owe an extremely big debt of gratitude to Mr. Letterman even though I’ve never met him. Thank you sir!

Unfortunately, I had to spend that money on living expenses when I had my diabetes diagnosis in 2011, but thanks to him and George, I was able to survive. I’ll be eternally grateful to both of them, and it all came about because I happened to get paired up with George all those years ago.

I sure could use another break like that somehow. This week I had a call to go to Nashville and open for Damon Wayans. I had to turn it down because I was already booked in Chicago backing up Jeff Garlin at the locations he wasn’t working. Is that a career move? Nope. It’s just money.

Would Damon Wayans be able to help me? I bet he probably could if he wanted, but there’s no guarantee if I had gone that we’d even cross paths. It would have been a total crap shoot, and I’m not saying I missed out on anything other than a chance to maybe get seen and maybe get a break if we hit it off like George Miller and I did. Again, nothing is a formula. It just kind of happens.

In theory, I should be trying to get as many dates opening for big stars as I can. In reality, that’s not always easy for one but it’s also not a great way to showcase one’s talents. The audience sure doesn’t care about the opening act, and often the star is so worried about everything else that we never get to cross paths more than a quick hello. Where is my break? It’s impossible to predict.

George Miller and I were friends for many years. It all started when I opened for him for a week in Cincinnati.

George Miller and I were friends for many years. It all started when I opened for him for a week in Cincinnati.

George was also friends with David Letterman. At the end of George's life, Dave paid his medical expenses which allowed money George left for me in his will to come to me. Thank you both!

George was also friends with David Letterman. At the end of George’s life, Dave paid his medical bills which allowed me to receive money George left me in his will. Thank you both!

The Daily Grind

March 29, 2014

Thursday March 27th, 2014 – Mystery Location

Here is a perfect example of why I can’t stand the booking aspect of being an entertainer. I will keep names and locations out of it, only because if word got out with who I am talking about the fallout shrapnel could be devastating. It’s not worth the risk, but I do want to get the point across.

I received a call on Monday asking if I’d be open for a booking tonight in a town roughly three hours from where I live. I won’t say the name of the town or even what state it’s in, but location isn’t the issue at hand. I just want to point out how maddening this business can be – and often is.

I was open and told the person booking the show that I was. I know and like this person, who until now has always been exclusively a performer. Like many of us, this person is branching out to attempt to make more money, and I never fault anyone for that. There are no issues from me.

The booker had sold me to a group for a private function in a hotel – or that’s how it appeared. I got about six emails telling me it was off, then it was on, then it was off again. Then it maybe was going to happen. Then when I wrote it off that it wouldn’t happen. Then I got confirmation.

That’s frustrating enough, but then I was told I was to call the person in charge to get specific instructions of what they wanted me to do and what I couldn’t do. That’s never pleasant, but it’s often a part of the deal in private situations like this. I tried calling four times, but of course was not able to reach him. I left word with his secretary, and also sent an email. What else can I do?

The guy met me when I got to the hotel, and told me they were eating dinner and he’d get me when they were ready. I sat in the lobby checking my emails for half an hour, and then he came and got me and walked me to the meeting room. He didn’t tell me he was going to introduce me right away, but that’s what he did. And of course he forgot my name and that was embarrassing.

I didn’t get to see the layout beforehand, and I had a very difficult scenario. The microphone’s cord was about six feet, and attached to a podium. The podium was off center, and not even near where the lighting was. I was trapped like a Doberman on a short leash, and had to make it work.

What made it even harder was that they were a tight audience. They weren’t mean or dumb or anything negative – but they were very tight. Whatever went on before me obviously wasn’t any comedy, and I had to start from scratch and get them not only to pay attention but then to laugh.

I challenge anyone of any skill level to try and pull laughs out of a group like that. Most were older than me, but a few younger ones were sprinkled in. There were probably 200 more or less, and they had just eaten a big sloppy meal of red meat with gravy and a heavy dessert. That made my job even harder, and I had all I could do to pull off 45 minutes. Oh, and it had to be clean too.

There was no check so I had to wait as the treasurer wrote one. Did I happen to mention the TV was on the entire time? I almost wish they had said no – but I so need the money. This is just one night. Try doing it for a living. I never signed up for any of this. Want easy money? It isn’t here.

Just like a dung beetle, I get out there every day and push my wet sloppy ball across the desert.

Just like a dung beetle, I get out there every day and push my wet sloppy ball across the treacherous desert. It’s anything but easy.

Want Easy Money? You won't find it as an entertainer - at least not at first. Most never do.

Want Easy Money? You won’t find it as an entertainer – at least not at first. Most never do. It’s a daily grind.

Note how hard work and easy money are two different directions?

Note how hard work and easy money are two different directions. That’s 100% accurate.

John Ridley Kudos

March 4, 2014

Sunday March 2nd, 2014 – Kenosha, WI

Just when I thought I had seen everything, along comes a fresh twist or wrinkle to remind me I am not in control of anything nor have I ever been. I am just a tourist. To directly quote Gomer Pyle from the storage shed area of my memory bank – “SURPRISE! SURPRISE! SURPRISE!”

While watching the Academy Awards tonight – something I rarely if ever do – from out of the deepest part of left field popped a complete shocker that literally made my jaw drop. One of the winners was a gentleman named John Ridley, and we had crossed paths several times years ago.

I was and still am delighted for his outstanding achievement, but I had no idea he was even up for an award. They announced his name which I recognized immediately, but there could be a lot of people by that name. There are infinitely more possible John Ridleys than there are ‘Dobies’.

Then I saw his face and realized it was indeed the same person I remembered. How impressive. And I thought Facebook was a good way to keep up with people from the past. This is far better – especially for anyone that might have the least bit of desire to break it off in anyone’s fanny.

Everyone has someone they’d like to get back at from the past, and this is the absolute ultimate way to do it. Ah, what sweet revenge! To the ex girlfriend that left a heart in shambles or former boss that made life miserable, here you go. Feel free to kiss any part of my ass that you can find.

John Ridley got to live that fantasy, and I’m thrilled for him. He got his revenge with anybody he needed to worldwide, but I highly doubt that was his motivation. He worked hard – and smart – and he figured out the combination to the safe. Not many ever do that in any field, but he did.

Major kudos to Mr. Ridley. I obviously haven’t taken that route, and those results are painfully obvious. I’m not even up for a third place bowling trophy anywhere, and this guy is standing on the stage making an acceptance speech for his Oscar. It’s proof all men are NOT created equal.

Some of us are born achievers, and others are not. Some have long term vision, others live life from minute to minute. We’re all individuals with different qualities, and it produces individual results. It makes life interesting in one way, but in another it’s frustrating to the point of torture.

John is originally from the Milwaukee area, and did standup comedy for years. We’ve shared a stage quite a few times, and always got along very well. He’s a super bright guy, and I never had a cross word with him. But I can say that about literally hundreds of people. Nothing would have caused me to predict he would eventually win an Academy Award. How often does that happen?

As we sat backstage between shows like comedians do, nothing would have indicated that he’d climb the showbiz ladder to the pinnacle – but he did. Part of me is jazzed for him, but another is embarrassed to have gone so far off course on my own journey. If there was a map, I missed it.

Unfortunately, I probably won’t be crossing paths with John again anytime soon after this. If I do, I’ll say hello and congratulate him for his achievements. He did his home town proud, and he deserves it. But I’ll likely end up saying it from the front seat of his limo. And I’ll be driving it.

It's not often one turns on the Academy Awards and says "I know that guy!" I worked with John Ridley several times in comedy clubs, and was delighted to see him win. Congrats!

It’s not often one turns on the Academy Awards and says “I know that guy!” I worked with John Ridley several times in comedy clubs, and was delighted to see him win. Congrats!

The Unforgiving Wheel

February 24, 2014

Saturday February 22nd, 2014 – Mattoon, IL

Here’s how the unforgiving wheel of show business fortune spins. I’ve been slugging it out for decades in beer halls, road houses and snake pits hoping to find a break somewhere to get me out of the trenches. I’ve honed my craft about as well as anyone in that time, yet I’m still struggling.

Trevor Burke is a twelve year old comedy super sensation, and opportunities are falling out of the sky. He’s got more movie credits than most adults ever get in a lifetime, and today he was in New York recording an appearance on ‘America’s Got Talent’. Is life fair? What do you think?

It’s not that I begrudge Trevor anything. Far from it. I’m thrilled for his opportunity, and hope it goes well. Even if it doesn’t, he’s still got a heavy hitting credit to use for anything else he ever does for the next twenty years. That’s what the business of show business is about – credibility.

Trevor has as much or more credibility with people that don’t know him as I do, and I’ve been doing it more than twice as long as he’s drawn breath on this planet. There’s a major flaw there, and it’s not Trevor. I have caught some bad breaks, but I also made some bad choices. I’m where I am as a result of all of it, and this is just a not so subtle reminder that I’ve misplayed my hand.

While Trevor was being flown – probably first class – to New York City to appear on national television before he’s even old enough to drive a car by himself, I drove 257 miles one way in a 1995 Toyota Camry to do a show at a Days Inn banquet room in Mattoon, IL for their Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner. What I was paid was probably less than Trevor’s airplane ticket.

Don’t get me wrong. I had a rip roaring show in Mattoon, and the people were very friendly all night. These were the movers and shakers of the community and certainly weren’t rubes or hicks. They were down to earth friendly people, and they loved the show. I have no complaints there.

What’s gnawing at me to the inner core of my soul is how much of this entire business is based on anything but logic, and there’s nothing I can do about it. With all of my hopes, dreams, talent and execution, all I could manage after all these years is a banquet at a Day’s Inn in Mattoon, IL for mediocre pay. Was it fun? Yes, but it’s far from a career move. It’s more like a steady hobby.

I was blessed with above average raw ability, but below average raw people skills. I tend to be way too open with my disdain toward idiots, bullies and especially incompetence, but this racket is full of all of that even more than civilian life. It’s taken all this time to figure out the hierarchy.

I’ve been improving tremendously, and I notice a definite uptick in my business and life itself. I’ve been surrounding myself with solid people on purpose, and weeding out weenies whenever I can. The formula has proven to be effective and I see dynamic results – but it has taken decades.

I sure didn’t have anything figured out when I was 12. I would have been thrilled with this kind of a break after I’d been in the business for 12 years, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Trevor’s hand is loaded, and I’m happy for him and his family. He is a special kid, and I know he will make the best of all this. He’s well grounded by his parents. I just think it would be nice if I get some kind of break too sooner than later. Nothing against Mattoon, IL, but it’s not where my rainbow ends.

I did a show in Mattoon, IL tonight for a room full of very nice people.

I did a show in Mattoon, IL tonight for a room full of very nice people.

Trevor Burke is 12 years old, and he was taping an appearance on 'America's Got Talent'. Good for him,  but it makes me wonder what I've been doing these last 25 years. I hope Trevor lets me drive his limo.

Trevor Burke is 12 years old, and he was taping an appearance on ‘America’s Got Talent’. Good for him, but it makes me wonder what I’ve been doing these last 25 years. I hope Trevor lets me drive his limo someday soon. http://www.trevorburke.com.