Posts Tagged ‘Showtime’

Good Deed, Good Day

October 27, 2013

Tuesday October 22nd, 2013 – Wilmette, IL

Any day I’m able to do a good deed is a good day. I know it sounds corny, but I mean it. That’s the only thing that has any lasting meaning, and I love it whenever I’m able to make a difference. Today I had a chance to help someone, and it worked out better than expected. It feels fantastic.

Mark Schiff is a very funny comedian, and I’ve been a fan for years. I first saw him in the early ‘80s, and I loved his style. He has had both an HBO and Showtime special, and he and comedian Ritch Shydner compiled a book of comedy road stories called “I Killed” in which I have a story.

If there’s one resource in which I am rich it’s comedy road stories. I’ve been around the block many times, and the story they chose to use was a time I was in Tuscaloosa, AL and challenged an audience that included some University of Alabama football players. I treaded on holy ground by insulting their dead football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and had to be escorted out of town.

That story is what indirectly got me kicked off of the Bob and Tom radio show in Indianapolis. I had a copy of the book with me, and Tom asked me what it was. I told him it was a compilation of comedy road stories and he asked if I was in it. When I said yes, he asked me to tell the story. I did exactly what he asked, and then everyone became furious and threw me out of the studio.

I still can’t figure out why they got so angry, but that put them over the edge. I have never been treated so poorly by anyone in radio or TV, and apparently I’m still in their doghouse to this day. I’ve tried to apologize several times, but they won’t hear of it. I think the whole thing is insane.

I was fortunate enough to cross paths with both Mark and Ritch when they were in the process of compiling the book, and it was a thrill to meet them both. Both of those guys were part of the generation right before me, and I knew both of their work extremely well. To have them treat me as a peer made me feel great, and both couldn’t have been nicer – the opposite of Bob and Tom.

Mark is the co-author of a funny new play called “Marriage Is A Bout”, which delves into two couples that are friends and all that goes on with their marriages. One couple is Jewish while the other is Gentile. They had a run through with the actors at the Wilmette Theatre in Wilmette, IL tonight, and Mark invited me to be part of it and asked if I knew anyone else that I could invite.

I happen to know some very talented and creative people, and I got the word out for him. One of those who showed up was Vicki Quade. She’s got several successful productions going on in Chicago and all over including “Late Night Catechism” and “Put The Nuns In Charge”. I was in Vicki’s “You’re On The Air” play with Jerry Agar, Tim Slagle and Ken Sevara and it was fun.

Teme Ring is a gifted comedy writer, and she and her husband Jeff were able to attend along with Rick Young who is an actor in the area. They all enjoyed the show as did I, and afterward Mark and the crew sat around and took input from anyone who wanted to give their opinions.

I know it helped Mark, and I’m delighted I was able to get such a creative bunch to come out and support. It was a fun experience all around, and Mark thanked me profusely. It was no big deal, and I was glad to do it. I learned a lot myself of how the process goes. This was a win/win.

Comedian Mark Schiff - one of the all time greats. www.markschiff.com

Comedian Mark Schiff – one of the all time greats. http://www.markschiff.com

Approaching Anarchy

August 7, 2013

Monday August 5th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Game Has Changed

March 18, 2010

Wednesday March 17th, 2010 – Chicago, IL

There aren’t very many events that could cheer me up more than an all you can eat sushi dinner paid for by someone else, and that’s exactly what I received this evening from Bill Gorgo and Nick Gaza. What a night! The food was outstanding and so was the company.

There we sat, three old school comedy road dogs talking about what we need to do in a completely different world than when we started back in the boom years. Comedy used to be a lot more regimented than it is now, but I guess the same could be said for life itself.

More and more, rules and guidelines are becoming a thing of the past and everything is headed toward anarchy. In many ways, the internet is the greatest thing that’s happened to human communication since the printing press. In others, it’s the downfall of civilization.

Things are changing at such an alarming rate, nobody really knows what to do next. It’s a constant state of flux, and I for one am struggling to keep up. It’s funny, Bill Gorgo is a computer whiz, and he’s the oldest of the three of us. Nick and I struggle just do to email. We talked about how the former way of doing everything has become obsolete forever.

In comedy, it used to be somewhat of a common path. A comedian started at his or her hometown comedy club, and became good enough to go on the road. Then, he or she put in enough years to move up from opener to feature to headliner in the clubs. Then, it was time for a national television debut, usually with Johnny Carson. Letterman was fine too.

After that, it was an HBO or Showtime special and then a sitcom for a few years. After that, maybe a movie deal. As crazy as it sounds, most of us thought we would eventually have all of those things happen to us. It was just a matter of time. How naive we all were.

The three of us all went in different directions. Bill chose to stay in Chicago and teach high school, at which he excels. He raised a daughter and did comedy as much as he had time for, which was a lot. He worked the Midwest mostly, but went other places as well.

I chose to try radio, but never stopped doing comedy no matter where I was. I did move to L.A. in the mid ‘90s, but I only lasted about a year out there before money ran out. It’s a common story for many, but nobody cares. They only want to hear the tales of success.

Nick Gaza lived in L.A. for about fifteen years. He survived, but never got his big break we all dream of. He decided to move back home and start over, which is THE most brutal decision to have to make because deep down it feels like the dream is over. It really hurts.

He’s not the only one that moved back. I did too, and so do actors, singers, models, ball players, radio and advertising people and every other competitive field that requires talent and people dream about doing. Only a precious few ever hit real pay dirt, and the rest of a long obscure line end up dispersing and trying to salvage a life doing whatever we can do. It takes guts to even try, and I respect all those who do. The only failure is not to attempt.

The only question now is, what to attempt? Anyone and their uncle’s grandmother has a website these days, and the structure of what used to make comedians good has fallen out of repair. There used to be a circuit that we could work and polish our craft. Now, there is no real circuit and it’s everyone for his or herself. The whole world seems to be that way.

In some ways, failure and rejection is a good thing. Failure forces a person to retool and rethink the reasons for the failure and make improvements to try and succeed. A rejection is often an excellent motivation tool that also causes the jilted one to upgrade their effort.

There are legendary stories of The Beatles getting turned down by several record labels and Elvis being rejected at The Grand Old Opry among many others. They overcame their failures and ended up becoming more than just show business successes. They were icons of pop culture, but they also were loaded with talent. They deserved to be superstar acts.

Now, any halfwit with a camera can take a picture of just about anything from a farting baby to a giraffe taking a dump and it gets six million hits from other halfwits with no life and nothing better to do than forward emails with farting babies or pooping zoo animals.

Believe me, I have nothing against farting and pooping email attachments per se, but if it takes bread out of my mouth it sure is a concern. Comedy clubs used to thrive because in the ‘80s the economy wasn’t great, but there wasn’t a computer in every home that had zillions of everything that ever farted, pooped, screwed or fell down cataloged in order.

How the hell is any form of entertainment supposed to compete with the internet and all that is available for absolutely ZERO money? None of us at dinner could come up with a solid answer. Yes, we know that live entertainment is better, but how can we sell that to a big enough group of people that will come out every week to see us at some local club?

The whole playing field has changed, and no matter who likes it that’s what all of us are dealing with right now. Idiots with no experience or direction can call themselves comics and undercut the hell out of real ones and make life a living hell for those earning a living by practicing a craft that’s taken years to learn. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

My friend Marc Schultz is a booker as was his father before him. Marc has stayed in the business for thirty years, and the reason for that is he knows his customers and their needs and fills those needs for a reasonable price. His reputation is stellar, and he doesn’t have a website and says he never will. I used to tease him about it but now I can see his reasons.

Bill Gorgo, Nick Gaza and I have been around the block more than once. All three of us see what’s happening, even though we’re not exactly sure about how to counteract it right yet. We’re either going to end up figuring that out, or join the bread lines with the masses.

This is a very challenging time for everyone. Those who don’t enjoy change are in for a rough time. Old dog or new pup, things aren’t like they were just a few years ago. We are all going to have to adjust to survive. I’m not sure if I like it, but this is how life is today.

Gout And About

March 11, 2010

Wednesday March 10th, 2010 –

Chicago, IL

Apparently I have gout. Perfect! That’s exactly the kind of disease Mr. Lucky would get and actually I couldn’t be happier to hear it. For someone with zero health insurance, gout is sweet music to my ears compared to full blown major knee surgery and all that torture.

I talked to the doctor and after reviewing my x-rays she said after hearing a description of how the pain started and looking at the x-rays she came to the conclusion it’s probably an attack of gout and that’s what we’d address. An MRI is expensive and it cut me a huge break by not having to pay for it myself, because I can’t right now. This was great news.

Gout is a buildup of uric acid in the joints, and usually manifests itself in the big toe or even in the fingers. Sometimes it goes to the knees, and when it does it’s only one. This is going to be a lot easier to fix than ripped knee tendons, and I’m already feeling way better than I did even yesterday. I’ve known for a while my diet has been horrible. I deserved it.

Red meat is one of my favorite things on earth, especially bloody rare steak. I love steak and eggs for breakfast, and I’ve been known to have a steak for lunch too. Or dinner. Or a late night snack at a truck stop on the way home from a gig. Red, rare meat is delicious to me and always was. I’m surprised I didn’t get this before, and it’s probably not over yet.

There’s probably enough beef packed in my intestines to start my own cattle ranch. I’ve had small spurts of exercise and health in the last couple of years, but as a whole meat is a way of life in my world. I just love it and always have. Now I’m starting to pay the price.

This is a total wake up call. I’ve been hitting the snooze button for a few years now but I really need to get it in gear IMMEDIATELY. This is a warning signal for a lot of other things that could go wrong in a New York minute. My heart could pop like a zit walking up a flight of stairs, and unless I really start watching myself, I’m going to be a statistic.

The pain I felt was nothing less than excruciating with this. The doctor said that crystals form from the uric acid and cause pressure on whatever joint is near and I learned kidney stones are also a buildup of uric acid and those are also painful. Either way, I need to take the hint and cut WAY back on red meat and I totally will. I don’t want to feel this again.

Apparently, drinking alcohol can make gout flare up too. At least I don’t have to worry about that, and whatever red meat problems I’ll have later in life won’t be compounded a few more times with the havoc alcohol takes on a system. I made that choice correctly to not drink, and that’s one I’ve never regretted. At least I wasn’t a complete and total idiot.

I went to the Old Country Buffet today with Marc Schultz, comedian Tim Walkoe and a comedy magician named Dennis DeBondt who are all great guys. It was very enjoyable to sit and hear great showbiz stories and it didn’t bother me at all to stay away from red meat and eat plates of vegetables. I’ve had a lifetime of eating whatever I want, and it’s time to watch myself. I heard the warning. Gout is a funny word, but the pain it brought wasn’t.

This whole experience really lit a fire under me though. It’s all part of a collective good because that’s how I’m going to choose to accept it. I am going to take full responsibility for getting myself to this point and also full responsibility for getting myself out. If I don’t and my heart does explode, hopefully I‘ll still be able to inspire others to chase the dream.

What a difference a single year makes. Exactly one year ago today I was in Los Angeles filming my first national television spt on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. It’s a memory I’ll never forget, and in many ways it seems like six lifetimes ago. In other ways I feel like it was last week and I want to get out there and do a lot more of them. And I do.

What’s it going to take to make that happen? I wish I knew. The rules of show business have never been cut and dried, but they’re getting even harder to figure out as time passes and technology advances. What was standard procedure just a few years ago is obsolete.

Methods of contacting bookers have changed, as have the outlets for content. Cable TV used to be the goal for standups, like an HBO or Showtime special, but now the internet’s giant presence dwarfs all of that. Youtube is huge, but how can anyone turn a buck with it if it’s always free? These are all legitimate concerns that puzzle me on a consistent basis.

I loved the whole experience of being on The Late Late Show, and if I never get back to do it again, it was still a huge highlight of my life. Celia Joseph the talent coordinator was one of the sweetest people to work with I’ve ever met, as were the whole staff at the show including Craig Ferguson. I’m a big fan and respect his talent immensely. He’s a winner.

But I totally believe that I’m a winner too. I’m happy for Craig Ferguson and I hope I’ll get a lot more chances to interact with him as time goes on, but I have to take my chances and put myself in a position to do that. I haven’t been as good about that as I could have.

Another major mistake I’m making is not following up with Jeff Foxworthy’s help with his management company. I know I pissed off the lady I was supposed to contact, and that really scared me off but it was unintentional. I need to get in there and use that contact.

Jeff is a straight up great guy, and I know he was sincere by doing this favor for me. I’m not going to let a little faux pas keep me from the big time, and I need to go and reconnect with them immediately. I’m SO ready for this right now. I wasn’t sure if I was before, and it turns out I wasn’t, so I’m glad I waited. Now, I’m sure I am and it’s time to go grab it.

My birthday is coming up on Sunday, and I can’t stop it. I’ve had a lot more of them to ponder than I ever thought I would, and after all I’ve been through I really am lucky to be alive and somewhat coherent. A case of gout doesn’t scare me at all, especially after those horrible knee pains have gone away. There was a solution to the problem, and I found it.

Now it’s time to pull out all the stops and keep chasing whatever I’ve been doing for all these years. I can do lots of TV spots, but someone has to say yes, which means I have to keep asking. So I will. Gout won’t take me out of the game. In fact, it’ll bring me back.