Posts Tagged ‘stability’

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.

A Wasted Weekend

May 18, 2013

Friday May 17th, 2013 – Sparta, WI/Fox Lake, IL

   Here we go again. Three hideous words I’ve never wanted any part of have showed up to party with me this weekend – ‘worst case scenario’. I’m all too familiar with them, and they’re like the weirdo group of relatives we all have that make us cringe every time they come over for a visit.

   In a nutshell, I cancelled two solid dates of work this weekend to instead work with my friends Bill Gorgo and Jim Wiggins in what was supposed to be a two night booking near Minneapolis. I adore both of those guys, and we were all looking forward to a stellar weekend onstage and off.

   As it happened, the booker of the shows we were allegedly scheduled for didn’t have any hotel rooms for us and was counting on us staying in some sort of one room frat shack or something. If there’s one thing comedians are used to, it’s being put up in a hotel. It may not be the Hilton and it usually isn’t, but we don’t as a rule have to bunk up like cowboys on the range. We get a room.

   One thing apparently led to another, and Jim ended up pulling the plug on the whole thing. I do see why he did it, but it also left a gaping hole in all of our schedules – mine not only for a week but for the month. I was counting on money this weekend, and now not only won’t I make a cent – it cost out of pocket to split gas with Bill. No gig means no chance to sell DVDs or CDs either.

   I’m not so much angry as frustrated and just plain tired of dealing with small time flea bookers where this is even an issue. The three of us combined probably have close to 100 years of service and to have this kind of stuff go on this late into the game is not right. It’s disrespectful to us all.

  That guy would have gotten three solid headliners – two with national TV credits. Jim has done two ‘Tonight Show’ spots and I’ve been on Craig Ferguson. Bill is a solid act, and can headline a club with the best of them. We only took the gig because we wanted to spend time with our good friend Jim who happens to be going through extremely painful chemotherapy for the third time.    

   This whole situation stinks, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. I could have blown up at the booker or even Jim, but what would that prove? I’ve tried that angle more than once, and it’s not the way to handle things. I found that out the hard way, and ended up badly burning bridges.  

   This is no time to be burning bridges with anyone. What it is is time to smarten up and improve my way of doing business. In retrospect, I had gigs booked for this weekend and when Jim asked if I was open I should have politely said no. I love him like few other comedian friends, but I am really in a pickle because of this. We could have come for a visit any one of too many off days.

   We did have some quality face time together as Jim bought us a delicious lunch at a local joint near his house in Sparta WI, but that was the most expensive free lunch I’ve had in years. We all lost out, and no matter how much fun we had hanging out the fact remains our wallets are empty.

   Part of the problem is we as comedians often get used to being treated like whipped puppies by bully club owners, and we choose to accept it rather than make waves and possibly lose work for any reason. Another part is we don’t enjoy the booking part of the business. We’re performers.

   Unfortunately, we’re going to have to change in a hurry or insanity like this will keep popping up out of the blue and making life very unpleasant. I love Bill and Jim, but from now on I’ll have to love them under more stable circumstances. I’m disappointed – and my creditors will be also.

Stability? Ha!

March 4, 2013

Saturday March 2nd, 2013 – Oswego, IL

   If one wants stability or anything even remotely resembling it, entertainment is not the business path to pursue. I would personally recommend barber or diesel truck driving school – which I just might have to sign up for myself in the not too distant future to start supplementing my income.

I thought I’d had a solid gig lined up for tonight, but it fell through without notice earlier in the week. Well, that’s not totally true. BOY did I notice. It left a gaping hole in my paycheck for this week. I was to be filling in for someone who thought they had double booked, but it turned out it was for next month and my services weren’t needed. Good solution for them, unfortunate for me.

I truly must have been insane when I chose to be in this business all those years ago. I couldn’t wait to get into it then, but now I’ve had more than my fill of last minute inconvenient situations exactly like this and I need to line up some kind of a financial backup plan before I end up broke.

I’m already hovering over the financial abyss, and so are most of my comedian friends who are in the exact same boat. There used to be plenty of work to go around, and if we hustled we could find a job of some sort every single week. It might not have been Vegas, but it still paid the bills.

That’s no longer the case for several reasons, the sinking economy being a main one. Another big reason is flat out bad comedy. There are a lot of mediocre acts out there who have the desire to be comedians, but not necessarily the ability. They are however willing to make those weekly long drives and stay in flea bag hotels just to be able to claim they are professional entertainers.

It really is a brutal business in many ways – a lot different than most others. Other than maybe musicians in a band, I can’t think of any other industry that requires this kind of skill set. There’s much more to it than being funny, and unfortunately that can weed out those who do have talent. After a while we end up as just glorified truck drivers, hauling our four wheeler loads of jokes.

The constant grind of always having to look for the next job gets very tiring after a short while. I am SO sick of it myself, but it’s a necessary evil to keep working. I’ve managed to reach a level of competence with enough bookers to have them call me, but I’ve also burned bridges years ago that would be nice to be able to reclaim now. All these elements combined make it even harder.

Even harder than that, I’m looking to keep it local or at least regional so that narrows my field of potential gigs as well – at least in the traditional comedy venues. Comedy clubs aren’t the only way to make a living, but that’s where I’ve cut my teeth and I know the game. I need to develop a much broader base of income, and I’m working feverishly at doing just that. It’s for survival.

I don’t like to be off on a Saturday night, so I tagged along with Jim McHugh to a club called ‘Comedy Comedy’ in Oswego, IL booked by Bert Borth. Bert is a good guy, and has been in the game as long as or longer than I have. He’s a comic, but also books rooms and we get along fine. I’d work for him in a second, but he knows I’m a Zanies guy in the Chicago area and that’s how it is. No hard feelings on either side. I did a guest set to stay sharp, but losing that paid gig hurts.

Too Much Travel

January 9, 2013

Tuesday January 8th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’m only home for a couple of days before having to head out again, and I’m realizing just how much effort is involved in living the road life. I did it for decades without giving it a first thought much less a second, but now I see just how much energy it takes to travel week in and week out.

I used to do it for the adventure, and there was plenty to be had. It was exciting to experience a constant variety of new places and faces, not to mention learning the craft that consumed most if not all of my entire being. I was so immersed in it all I failed to notice how difficult traveling is.

Now I’m doing it mostly for the money, and I see it from a completely different angle. It would be much more economical not to mention a whole lot less stressful to be located in one particular city or at least region rather than flitting around like a moth visiting scattered flames on a whim.

That’s how it’s been lately, and I’m less than thrilled. My routing is all over the place, but so is the available work. Two weeks ago it was Reno, and then last week it was Nashville. Thursday I have to be in Eau Claire, WI and then Minneapolis for the weekend. That’s way too many miles.

It’s also impossible to be efficient with all activities off the stage. Any kind of regular schedule for anything from eating to sleeping to exercising gets ruined, and one can only absorb that for so long before it starts taking an expensive toll. I’m sure I’ll have to pay mine far sooner than later.

Finding some kind of stability has got to be a priority. The benefits of what I’m getting out of it aren’t even close to the price I’m paying to keep pounding it out on the road. When I was starting I needed stage experience, plus it was fun to travel for the first time. Now it’s the total opposite.

I now have a heaping helping of experience, and it’s not fun living the gypsy lifestyle. Staying in hotels gets stale very quickly, as does having to drive 500 miles in a day or spend hours sitting in the middle seat of an airplane between the unwashed and the morbidly obese. It’s a hard life.

I see why places like Las Vegas and Branson exist, and for an entertainer that would be heaven on Earth. The audiences do the traveling, but for them it’s a vacation and they have the feeling of adventure I used to have when I started on the road. Having a ‘normal’ life appeals to me now.

That’s why I chased radio so long – even though it kept stomping on my soul with the force of a landlord stomping on a cockroach. I thought in theory if I landed the right gig I could have had the best of both worlds and experience stability along with being able to still perform regularly.

The performance part never gets old, and I still love it even now. Being on that stage when it is going well is a feeling I can’t see myself or anyone else tiring of any time soon. It’s nothing short of intoxicating, but the audience benefits also. If there was ever a true win/win scenario, this is it.

I want to perform every single time I can, but I want to do it as close to home as possible. After crisscrossing the continent for as long as I have, steady time in one place would be a treat beyond words. I never thought I’d feel this way, but I totally do. Either I’m maturing or just wearing out.