Posts Tagged ‘speaking’

Afternoon Delight And Three Dog Night

March 31, 2014

Friday March 28th, 2014 – Arlington Heights, IL/St. Charles, IL

Today was yet another jam packed super busy day, but all of it was good. In the early afternoon I was asked to give a speech to a team of website telephone consultants that constantly face a lot of rejection in their job. Lucky them, as I can’t think of anyone with as much experience to speak on that subject as me. If there was ever a match made in heaven for me to be an expert, this is it.

There were about thirty people, and it was their quarterly meeting. Most were probably in their 20s or early 30s, and I’d guess there were a few more females than males. I had several weeks to prepare, and I worked very hard on coming up with things to talk about that would be of interest.

For some reason, ‘regular people’ seem to be fascinated with what it’s like to be an entertainer. I guess I don’t think about it that way because I have done it so long, but it has been pointed out to me over and over recently that I have a unique perspective that business clients want to hear.

I’m delighted to share my stories, and I have plenty to go around. I have had interaction with a lot of celebrities through the years, and that never hurts. People love hearing storied about them, and on top of that mine have points. And if it’s rejection they want to know about, I can speak on that subject with just about anyone still able to walk the planet. I’ve earned my master’s degree.

I spoke for about twenty minutes, and I put everything I had into it. I’m still learning how to be a speaker rather than a comedian, and there is a different pace involved. There are also important message points that need to be included, and I’m working on smoothing it all out into a package I can sell over and over just like my act. It will take more work, but today was a very solid effort.

The person that asked me to speak is my friend Vince Carone. He took my comedy class years ago when he was still a teenager, and has really done well. He now closes shows all over and has an unbelievably sharp business head to go along with a tremendous work ethic. I’m proud of him as a student, but he’s an even better person. People like him are why I keep teaching the classes.

Vince knows the owner of the company, and thought I’d be able to add to the mix while having a chance to practice my speech for a live audience. That’s exactly what happened, and it worked out splendidly. It was win/win, and I could tell it was a hit. This was totally worth all our whiles.

Immediately after finishing there, I drove to Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL to meet up with Mike Preston. He was scheduled to have an interview with Jimmy Greenspoon, keyboardist for the band Three Dog Night. Mike frequently calls when he does interviews like this as comics know how to act around celebrity types. Jimmy McHugh and I are usually his first two choices.

Jimmy and I were both available today, and we each ran a camera as Mike interviewed Jimmy Greenspoon – who happens to be a fascinating character. He grew up in Beverly Hills, and he is the son of a silent film star. He told us some fascinating stories, and then we got to see the show at the Arcada Theatre just down the street. I have always wanted to see them live, and it was one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Those guys are total pros – the band and Mike and Jimmy.

Vince Carone got me a speaking gig this afternoon. Thanks Vince! He's also a very accomplished comedian in his own right and just recorded a brand new CD. www.vincecarone.com.

Vince Carone got me a corporate speaking gig this afternoon. Thanks Vince! He’s also a very accomplished comedian in his own right and just recorded a brand new comedy CD. http://www.vincecarone.com.

It was a thrill to meet Jimmy Greenspoon of Three Dog Night, and see their show as well. www.threedognight.com.

It was a thrill to meet Jimmy Greenspoon of Three Dog Night, and see their show as well. http://www.threedognight.com.

Show Biz Is A Slow Biz

March 7, 2014

Thursday March 6th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

It has only taken three solid decades of traipsing back and forth across North America, but I am finally starting to get strangers seeking me out to perform at their venue. Word is getting out – or at least it’s starting to. I have been trying to get to this point since I started, so what took so long?

Unfortunately, everything takes time. It just does. Showbiz is slow biz, but so are most others. It takes years to build loyal clientele in any business, and I’ve been around long enough that I am starting to get name recognition. It’s not with everyone – at least not yet. But regionally, I feel it.

It took years for me to put an act together, and it’s taking even longer for people to notice that I can blow a room away with the best of them, and am far undervalued for services performed. My rate is a bargain considering all the experience I have, but it will take media exposure to raise it.

If I can find a way to get regular mass media exposure somewhere, it will raise my income by a significant amount in a short time. I can easily see hauling in ten times what I make now or more for doing pretty much the same thing I’ve been doing since 1985. It has taken that long to build.

Of course there are always exceptions to everything. My friend Trevor Burke is just twelve, but he is far from the norm. And when it’s all done, I predict he’ll be known for being an actor rather than standup comedy. It seems to be a stepping stone for him, and there’s nothing wrong with it.

I started as a comedian, and just when I’m trying to evolve into being a speaker that’s when the comedy gigs start coming to me. In the last couple of days I have been approached by four places to perform in the next couple of months, and I have no idea where they might have heard of me.

They’re the kinds of places booking agents used to approach about starting a comedy night, but for the first time in my long tenure I see the places approaching individual comics on their own. I can’t say if I like it or not as I haven’t seen the venues yet, but I’m glad to see work come to me.

It’s not huge paying work, but it will help tide me over while I work on the corporate bookings. I haven’t forgotten about that, and marketing is still my number one priority. But that takes time as everything else does, and it’s far too slow for my tastes. Too bad. It’s not going to speed up.

One smart thing I did today was make a phone call to a comedian named Roger Radley who is based in Central Wisconsin. We’ve heard of each other for years, and I even did a holiday party he couldn’t do this past December. We’ve had some email exchanges over time, but that’s all.

I’d been meaning to call him for months – probably actually years now that I think about it. He was online today, so I instant messaged him and gave him a call. We talked for about a half hour or so, and we laughed about how long it had taken for us to finally hook up. But now we did it.

It’s smart business for both of us to know what each other does, so we can send each other gigs when we can. If a customer uses one of us, they’ll likely want another act in the future. I sent out a full length DVD in today’s mail, and Roger said he’s sending me one too. It only took this long to hook up, but today was the day. Everything takes a lot longer than people think. It just does.

Building a name in show business or any career takes time. It just does.

Building a name in show business or any career takes time. It just does.

Trevor Burke is a comedian at 12. He's a rare exception.

Trevor Burke is a comedian at 12. He’s a rare exception. http://www.trevorburke.com

After many years of talking about it, I finally picked up the phone and called comedian Roger Radley today. www.rogerradley.com.

After many years of talking about it, I finally picked up the phone and called comedian Roger Radley today. I’m glad I did. http://www.rogerradley.com.

The Golden Circle

February 22, 2014

Friday February 21st, 2014 – Ottawa, IL

Any time I can find a way to get paid and stay within a 100 mile radius of home, I consider it a personal victory. That’s the golden circle and anything farther than that becomes a road gig and a chore. I didn’t always feel that way, and in fact it was the exact opposite. I used to love to roam.

I used to look for bookings as far from home as possible in places I’d never been, and the only thing I cared about was if I could at least break even to pay for my trip. It was the experience that interested me, not the money. I wanted to explore new places and have adventures coast to coast.

Those days are long over. If I had my way now, I’d find a place where I could work whenever I want, and it would hopefully have an apartment upstairs so I’d never have to leave. I’d live out my days in one place, and not complain a bit. At this point, I wouldn’t really care where that is.

It would be a bonus to have nice weather, but it’s not a requirement. I stay in the Chicago area because I have a lot of friends here. I can squeak out a living because I’ve been around for years, and most of the bookers use me regularly. It’s not a career move to live here, so I’d gladly move anywhere an opportunity came up. But where would that be? I’ll think I have to create my own.

I really enjoyed living in Los Angeles, but that’s the last place to be able to squeak out a living doing comedy. It’s not near anything, and the gigs that are there don’t pay. It’s a showcase town. Everyone and their grandma thinks they’re going to be the next big star, and it’s not about work.

New York has never interested me in the least. It’s filthy, crowded, expensive and the weather is just like here. I wouldn’t be in the top 2000 of New York acts, so why move there and start at the bottom when I’m one of the top acts in Chicago? I see no reason to ever move to New York.

I love Las Vegas, but again there’s nothing near it. Would living in town give me enough work to be able to survive? Perhaps. If I worked at it, I bet I could come up with some sort of deal that lets me stay in town at least a big chunk of the year. That might be a possibility sooner than later.

I like the Chicago area because there’s a significant chunk of population within 100 miles in all directions except east. But I can drive around Lake Michigan, and work in places like St. Joseph, MI and Michigan City, IN and all kinds of other little towns that keep me busy most of the year.

If I really focused on that 100 mile radius, I think I could do fine and still sleep in my own bed every night. Would that be a career? Not really. It would be steady work, and a job. That’s what I’ve been doing all these years, and it’s been all I could handle to squeak out a living that long.

Tonight I did a show in Ottawa, IL that was less than thrilling quite honestly. I was heckled by the sound guy of all people, and he had a mic and could talk back. People were walking back and forth in front of me during the show, and there wasn’t any stage. I had to stand on a dance floor.

The pay wasn’t great, but I was off on a Friday and it was exactly 86 miles from my front door. I gave them my best, got my check, and drove home. It wasn’t fulfilling, but it wasn’t an all day drive either. It will pay a bill or two while I keep working on my transition to being a humorist.

What I did tonight was a comedian gig. The people weren’t mean, and in fact the lady who was in charge was very friendly. But there wasn’t a lot of respect there whether they realized it or not, and it made my job far more difficult than it needed to be. For any money, it just wasn’t worth it.

I realize I could have turned this down, but I like to perform and since it was within the golden circle I said I’d do it. My policy has always been I would much rather work for low pay than not have a gig at all. I think I have to reassess that policy, and start to turn things down on occasion.

I’ve always been told the most powerful word in show business (and in life) is “no”. The more one can afford to say no, the more opportunities one is likely to get. When it’s possible to choose when and where one works, a whole new (and infinitely better) world emerges. That’s my goal.

I can’t picture a humorist having to do a gig like tonight. For one, a humorist would have been paid a lot more. When a buyer has to pay more, there’s immediately more respect before a show even starts. The performer has an opportunity to have a say over conditions, and it all runs well.

A comedian gets thrown into the fire, but nobody cares because it didn’t cost a lot of money. It never occurs to the buyer that seemingly little things like lights and sound really do matter, as do others like a proper introduction and getting the audience focused and attentive before the show.

Tonight everything was wrong. The audience was standing around in groups talking when I got there, and someone went on the microphone and started reading an introduction before they were seated. Nobody was listening, and I had to start out in a hole while they found their seats. Brutal.

There was no stage or stage lighting, and there was a DJ sitting at a table right behind me who talked to me through most of the show. At one point – right in the middle of a bit that needed the audience’s full attention – a song started playing for no reason. He had hit a button and started it by mistake. It totally ruined a very delicate moment, and when I glared at him he just laughed.

I did get some laughs out of the audience, but it was a whole lot harder than it needed to be. It took all of my years of experience to pull this one off, and halfway through I realized that it was a mistake to have said yes to this. For the few bucks I made, it was anything but ‘easy money’.

It was fast money in that I got paid tonight, but it took thirty years to be able to manage what I did under such unprofessional conditions. Would a top entertainer in any field perform like this? No. I did because I wanted to get paid. In the long run, I cheated myself. I’m far better than this.

No offense to anyone in the group tonight. They weren’t bad people, and in fact I received a lot of nice compliments after the show. But this isn’t what I need to be doing this late into the game. I am very good at what I do, and underselling my product like this is beneath what I have earned.

I picture myself performing at the top venues in the world, with full houses there to enjoy what I do. I can give world class shows, but not under the circumstances I had to face tonight. It was a wake up call, and I get the message loud and clear. From now on, I have to be careful when I say yes and shouldn’t accept a blind booking just anywhere. I’ve worked too hard for too long to get thrown scraps. If I don’t say no, they’ll keep coming. Close to home or not, this was a mistake.

Any time I can stay within 100 miles of Chicago and get paid, I consider it a victory. That's the 'Golden Circle'.

Any time I can stay within 100 miles of Chicago and get paid, I consider it a victory. That’s the ‘Golden Circle’.

Summer Strategy

January 21, 2014

Monday January 20th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

2014 is going on three weeks old, and I really like the direction it’s going. I’m working all over the place, yet staying close to home. Bookings are lining up exactly how they’re supposed to, but smart eyes need to be looking forward to the summer months. They are always the hardest to fill.

In the North, people don’t want to be inside when the weather is nice. Period. I can’t say that I blame them, as I feel the same way. There aren’t that many friendly weather months around here, so when they’re here the last thing I want is to be missing any fun. This is of significant concern, as I don’t want to be missing any paychecks either. I can’t have it both ways so I need a solution.

The time to think about coming up with a strategy is now – not on the Sunday before Memorial Day like I usually do. By then it’s too late, and all that’s left are scraps. 2013 was beyond terrible and I don’t intend to give an encore performance. June, July and August need my attention now.

One satisfactory solution would be another run on cruise ships. I shudder to think of doing that longer than three months, but I could stand twelve weeks if I had to – especially if I could have it booked soon. Knowing I had my summer nut covered would add confidence to everything else.

Another satisfactory solution would be – gasp – a radio job. I haven’t thought about doing that for a while, but the timing would be perfect. I swore I’d never bark up that tree again, but to say never just isn’t realistic. My needs are changing, and this might be the perfect time to rethink it.

I did manage to book a speaking engagement for the end of the month that will allow me to get some video that I can hopefully use to get more. I will at least have more avenues to scour to line up future work, and that brings hope for the summer as well. Depending on comedy alone for the summer months is a major mistake – at least in these times. I’d feel much better with a backup.

One thing that is going to eventually help immensely is a consistently sent monthly newsletter. Even though I’ve yet to send out the first one, it will get my name in front of as many bookers of paying work as I can find, and by sheer volume alone I’m sure some work will end up my way.

I should have been doing that all along, but I haven’t. There are reasons, but none qualify as an acceptable excuse. I was ‘busy’. Really? Busy doing what – not working? Again, I’m focused on marketing this year and this is one of the first things that need fixing. I’ve been bad far too long.

Having a newsletter start out now will give me at least a couple of chances to grab the attention of somebody who can hire me for the summer months. It will take at least six months before I am able to establish any consistency, and I know that going in. I’m expecting a payoff in December.

I’m looking to cultivate names of bookers, fans and media, and get them to hopefully think of me when an opportunity arises. That doesn’t happen overnight, so I’m starting to work on it now. My pit crew chief Eric had to switch carriers, as he didn’t like the software system of the first.

We knew there would be glitches getting started, and this was a big one. It’s a week after we’d hoped to get it sent, but nobody but us cares so we’re golden. We’ll keep plugging until it’s out.

It may be in the single digits outside, but I'm thinking about summer in my head.

It may be in the single digits outside, but I’m thinking about summer inside my head.

Another run on cruise ships may be a way to survive this summer.

Another extensive run on cruise ships may be a way to successfully survive the summer slow season.

A radio job wouldn't be bad either.

A radio job wouldn’t be bad either.

This doesn't appeal to me, even though the sign is pretty funny.

This option doesn’t appeal to me in the least, even though the guy’s sign is pretty funny.

A Marketing Mark

December 12, 2013

Wednesday December 11th, 2013 – Island Lake, IL

I tried to come up with a rough estimate of the total number of people I’ve performed for in my entire lifetime, but it’s almost impossible to be anywhere close to accurate. If I had to guess on a round number it would have to be right around a cool million. It gets confusing, but let’s explore.

I began performing standup comedy in November of 1983, but that was once a week for maybe 40-50 if I was lucky. It took a while to get going, but by 1985 I was working steadily in comedy clubs six or even seven nights a week. That’s how most clubs ran then, and stage time was easy.

I worked year in and year out, even when I had my various radio jobs around the country. I was always diligent about getting on stage, and even though it was often a five to ten minute guest set I still count that as performing. That steady unfaltering consistency lasted roughly through 2010.

The last three years have been much slower, but it’s been that way for everyone. Few clubs are open six or seven nights a week as was commonplace in the ‘80s, and all too often my work now boils down to a weekend. Sometimes it’s only one night of that weekend. It’s just not like it was.

Some shows I’d perform for 30 and others 300 – sometimes on the same night. If I had to pick a number to average it out, I wouldn’t have a clue. Let’s just throw out 100 as a round number to start with, and multiply that by roughly 250 shows a year. Sometimes it was even higher, but for the most part that’s probably pretty close to how many it was the years between 1985 and 2010.

That’s 25 years of averaging around 250 shows a year for roughly 100 people each show. That adds up to 625,000 people, but who knows if it’s accurate? What if the average was 150? It may or may not be closer to reality, and that would bump it up to 937,500. That doesn’t count the two years it took to get up and rolling or the last three years where I did still work as much as I could.

And I’m not including any of the radio or TV I’ve done. I’m just counting live standup comedy performances, and to the best of my backwoods figuring capabilities I’m somewhere close to the one million mark of those who have seen me perform live. Out of six billion, I’d say that’s low.

Not only is it low, it took a lifetime to achieve it. Granted, I was told that the audience on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” reached about two million viewers. I don’t remember who told me that or even if it’s accurate, but that’s what I heard. I also was told our weekly number of listeners when I was on the morning show on 97.9 ‘The Loop’ in Chicago was around 250,000.

I’ve been on the Bob and Tom radio show six or seven times, and they allegedly have several million listeners in roughly 200 US markets. All these numbers don’t mean much, and I have no way of getting a realistic head count so I won’t even try. I’ll just say I’ve been around the block.

The point I’m trying to make is that my goal is to get $20 from all of these people. That could be a ticket to a live show, a CD, DVD or all three. Maybe it’s a t-shirt, baseball cap, fishing lure, codpiece or any other bauble or trinket in any conceivable combination. Live shows are fine, but merchandise is what shoots income over the top. All the great marketers are documented masters of “back of the room” sales, and I intend to be right up there with the best that have ever lived.

It’s not just a matter of hauling around a bunch of random doo dads though. I think there needs to be some thought put into it, and the products have to have something that sells them. I guess it could be called a gimmick, but I don’t want to rip anyone off. I want to find what sells a product and do just that. I have no idea what that is right now, but I intend to find out sooner than later.

Say my first estimate of 625,000 people was accurate for argument’s sake. What if I had begun selling a lot earlier than I did, and gotten $20 from only 10% of those people? That’s still the tidy sum of $1,250,000. Even after taxes, that would be a nice little chunk of change to have handy.

I started selling CDs in 2003, only because people were asking me for one. I did sell some, but also gave away a whole lot too. I thought it would get my name out there, and it has. I get people sending me emails saying they had a friend loan them my CD and now they’re a fan. That’s nice.

‘Nice’ doesn’t cut it however. Would it be that difficult to get their email address and put them on a mailing list? Not at all. Then they could find out where I’m performing, and maybe it would even be in their area where they’d come out and see me live. If I had other products, they may be so inclined to buy some or all of those as well. I have missed out on literally millions of dollars.

I remember having the idea to record an album back in the late ‘80s. NOBODY back then was selling anything once again with the exception of James Gregory and I have always respected his vision. Comedians used to poke fun at him for doing it, because they were ‘purists’. Right. Those ‘purists’ were too busy guzzling booze, snorting cocaine and chasing waitresses to be marketers.

I was never a partier, but I also never focused on my business either. I had more than my share of other problems to worry about, but had I been smart I would have done that album when I had the idea. Nobody was doing anything like that then, and even though it likely wouldn’t have been very good I bet I could have sold some just because I had it. It would have been worth the effort.

Brad Tassell is from my comedy generation, and he wrote a book called “Hell Gig” about what it was like to live on the road and do comedy. Nobody else had a book then, and I always thought Brad was brilliant for writing it. He sold them after shows, and I bought one out of respect for his effort. He was far ahead of his time, and it’s still available today. Find it at http://www.streetjoke.com.

Heywood Banks is another terrific marketer from the standup world. At last count there were 6 t-shirts, 9 CDs and a book available on his site at http://www.heywoodbanks.com. Actually, he’s from the music world but crossed over into standup many years ago. Most comedians are poor at sales.

James Gregory is a self admitted ‘salesman who tells jokes’. He’s another all star marketer that used standup comedy as his sales base. His site is http://www.funniestman.com, where you can buy his products 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The internet has only made the great marketers greater.

Larry Winget is a master marketer in the speaking world. He’s got a ton of books, and I always see his emails announcing a new one. His site is http://www.larrywinget.com. Dale Irvin is another one who has released a collection of books. I believe his total is 8. Count them at http://www.daleirvin.com and sign up for his ‘Friday Funnies’ email and/or video. That’s another brilliant hook he’s known for. I have plenty of stellar examples to follow – now I need to make my own mark as a marketer.

It wasn't at first sight, but I'm growing to love marketing - or the 'business' side of my 'show'.

It was far from “at first sight”, but I’m growing to love marketing – aka the ‘business’ side of my ‘show’.

Hopefully, this will be the response I get.

Hopefully, this will be the response I get – figuratively and literally.

A Prices Crisis

May 11, 2013

Wednesday May 8th, 2013 – Libertyville, IL

   Boy, am I embarrassed. I’m teaching a Wednesday night comedy class at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL, and my students are telling me I’m not getting paid enough. I know they mean it in a complimentary way, but it’s still embarrassing to know someone thinks I deserve more pay.

   This current class is a Toastmasters group, and they approached Improv Playhouse about doing a private class just for them so they could improve their speeches. They don’t necessarily want to become comedians, but they do want to punch up their speeches with humor. They’ve been a fun group, and it’s been a challenge for me to come up with lessons each week that meet their needs.

   I’m trying to learn and grow along with them, but after class tonight a couple of students asked if I did corporate training and how much I charged. I’ve done some corporate training in the past, and it’s always gone very well. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been me that has set the prices as a rule.

   One time I was asked to speak for a friend of mine who worked as a realtor. His father was the owner of the company and wanted someone to speak at a luncheon about “hanging in there when times get tough”. I do know about that. My friend recommended me and then asked for my price.

   I had no idea what to ask, so I asked how big the attending group would be. It was about 300 as I recall, so I asked for $500 for a 45 minute presentation. That’s more than the going rate of what most road dog comics get for a one nighter, and I thought I was asking a fair price for the event.

   As it turns out, it was a red flag to my friend’s father because it was WAY below what anyone else with credibility was charging and it made me look like a used car with flood or hail damage. I ended up getting the gig, and it went very well. I was able to pull off exactly what they wanted.

   Therein lies my problem. I know I know what I’m doing. It’s taken decades of hard work to get the knowledge I have, and I can present it effectively because I’ve done it time and time again to diverse audiences. What I don’t know is how to sell myself at the right price. I don’t want it to be too high and scare people off, but I also don’t want it to be too low to make me look amateurish.

   I really need to solve this problem, or I’ll never get myself to that ‘next level’ everyone dreams of. There’s a psychology of pricing, and people that are willing to pay top dollar assume they are getting the best product available when that’s not always necessarily true. It boils down to sales.

   There is absolutely nobody on this entire planet who can teach standup comedy techniques and procedures better than me, and I’m not bragging when I say that. Nobody has put in the time and paid their dues like me, and I’d be able to hang with anybody when it comes to “talking shop”.

   I know it in my heart, but getting someone else to pay for that knowledge is a different story. It doesn’t always go hand in hand, and I’m going to have to either learn to get paid what I’m worth or spend the rest of my life being looked at as having a glorified lemonade stand for a business.

   It stung that my students brought it up that I was underselling myself, but they were right and it needs to get fixed. Doing the class with them is fun, but it’s not going to get me out of my money hole so basically it’s not making the best use of my time. Fun is fun, but there are bills to be paid. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be paying them with ease AND having fun doing it. I have the fun part down, but the money is a different story. I need to step it up soon or I’ll be out of business.