Posts Tagged ‘standup comedy’

The Funniest Human

July 9, 2014

Monday July 7th, 2014 – Milwaukee, WI

A shocking revelation for those that aren’t in the business is that many professional comedians are not funny people in the least off stage. It is mistakenly assumed that since we make our living on stage getting audiences to laugh, it carries over into our personal lives and we’re always ‘on’.

Nothing could be more ridiculous, but that’s what far too many think. Dennis Miller referred to standup comedy as a “chimp trick”, and I see his point. I’ve always referred to it as a craft, and a craft can only be acquired through painstaking years of learning skills and putting them to use.

There are countless comedians that have a natural flair for being funny going in, but it still has to be polished and refined to a professional standard. Quite often that painful process tends to be what drives a lot of the funny out of those people, but if someone truly ‘has it’, it’s there for life.

There are also countless others that ‘have it’ – but never even once stand on a stage. My cousin Brett is one of those people. I would rank him up there with any of the top comedians I have ever met or seen, and had he wanted to he could have easily made his living doing what I have done.

Instead, he chose to be a union carpenter. He’s very good at what he does, but he faces many of the same issues I do with playing the politics game. Like me he’s terrible at it and knows it – and he also tends to shoot off his big mouth a lot like I do. We are definitely cut from the same cloth.

That’s likely what makes him so funny. He’s sick, twisted, vicious and unrelenting – and that’s a sincere compliment. Funny just flows through his veins, and no matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other we can pick it up from where we left off and get each other going again.

There is no human nor animal on this planet that can make me laugh out loud harder than Brett. Nobody. He knows my buttons, and when he hits one he will not stop. He often makes me laugh so hard I think I’m going to suffocate from a lack of oxygen – but afterward I feel SO cleansed.

That’s what happened tonight as I drove to Milwaukee to have dinner with Brett. We try to get together once a month if we can, but sometimes we’ll miss. We both happened to be off tonight, so we enjoyed a rack of ribs at Famous Dave’s which is one of our favorite spots and caught up.

Brett and his father had about the same relationship me and mine did, and we have all kinds of similar issues about it. We were around each other growing up a lot more than I ever was with all of my siblings, so Brett is basically the younger brother I never had. I can’t call him little, as he’s about 6’4” with size 14 shoes. He could twist my head of like a bottle cap, but he never would.

Like my brother Larry, Brett is one of the kindest souls I have ever met. He’s constantly giving of himself – and constantly getting taken advantage of. I think it goes with the territory, but it’s a part of who he is just like it is with Larry and me. We’re givers, and that’s what we do. Period.

I get to enjoy Brett’s dark and warped sense of humor all to myself, and it’s more precious than gold to me. I hope I have had that effect on others, onstage and off. It feels SO good to laugh that hard, and he’s the only one I can think of that can make me do it consistently. Now that’s a gift.

Who is the funniest person you know personally? It may not be a professional comedian.

Who is the funniest person you can think of? It may – or may not – be a comedian. For me it’s my cousin Brett. He cracks me up.

Butts In Seats

July 4, 2014

Monday June 30th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

It’s Half Year’s Eve, and if I owned a bar or comedy club I’d make a big deal out of it and milk it for all I could. Too bad I don’t want to own a bar or a comedy club, but if I did this would be a big night – at least on paper. The trick is always getting butts in seats. It’s damn near impossible.

I’ve said it before, but only because it’s true. I challenge absolutely anybody to create any kind of event whatsoever from scratch, and get at least 100 people to show up. I’m not even worrying about paying customers, I’m just talking about attracting 100 pairs of butt cheeks into one room.

The butt cheeks don’t even have to be attached to a head. 100 seats filled with 200 butt cheeks. That’s the challenge, and a monumental one it is at that. I’ve been trying to do it for decades, and I haven’t succeeded on my own more than a fist full of times. I have total respect for promoters.

There are too many variables to count as far as what can go wrong to spoil any live event. Bad weather can keep customers away, but so can good weather. If there’s a storm, people don’t want to leave the house. If it’s a beautiful night they might feel like doing something outside instead.

Time of the month can be a factor as well, in more ways than one. People get paid at different times of the month, but usually it’s around the first and the middle. If there’s an event later in the month, customers may have full intentions of attending but there’s just no more money to spend.

Sometimes with couples, “time of the month” can absolutely be a factor. That may seem gross, but it’s a fact. P.M.S. can mean S.O.L. as far as getting someone to come out and attend any live event. Nobody ever thinks about any of this unless they have tried to promote events themselves.

I’ve lost my ass so many times trying to promote my own various live events I have to sleep on my stomach. It’s uncanny how many times I have happened to be competing the same night with a major sporting event – or worse yet a minor sporting event that was only important in the town where my event was. I’ve been bankrupted by high school football games, bake sales and bingo.

Promoting one’s own events is an unforgiving mother – giving with one hand and taking with the other. Just because something works one way one time is no guarantee it’s going to work all the time. I’ve had weekends where one event goes well and I make a halfway decent profit, but lose it all and then some on the very next night when some fluke power outage closes the doors.

Bigger businesses have problems like this too, but they have much more of a cushion to be able to absorb the punishment of one night gone badly. If I take it in the shorts, those shorts may well be soiled by the following morning. It’s a risk to be a promoter of any kind, but there are rewards as well. If one is willing to roll the dice and roll up his or her sleeves, good things can be in store.

I’m going to start promoting my own shows in the very near future. I am willing to take a risk and lose if it’s for me, but driving hundreds of miles for someone else without a guarantee that’s worth my while is not what I need to be doing ever again. I did it far too long, and it never paid off. If I’m going to work for any clueless imbeciles, that imbecile is going to be ME. Nobody is going to watch over my career like me, so it’s plain old smart business. I’m ready to get started.

No matter the size of either, butts in seats is what the entertainment business is about.

No matter the size of either, butts in seats is what the entertainment business is about.

Idiots On The Internet

June 26, 2014

Monday June 23rd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Two things I have never suffered well throughout my life are (in no particular order) idiots and bullies. Occasionally they show up in the same person, and that makes it extra hard to dummy up and let it pass. I have been getting better at keeping my big mouth shut, but I still suffer relapses.

I always make the disclaimer that I don’t think I know everything and never have. I am wrong a whole lot, and when it happens I readily admit it. When I’m right I will often defend it, and that is where much of my trouble lies. It doesn’t matter if one is right. All that matters is perception.

Today I got into a war of words with somebody on Facebook of all things. I thought I’d learned to stay out of those high school skirmishes, but something caught my eye and I commented on it. The next thing I knew I was in the middle of a knock down drag out verbal clash…with an idiot.

A comedian and former student of mine commented on how he was putting together a chunk of new material, and that he didn’t like most of it. Harmless enough. Someone else that claims to be a comedian chimed in with “Adding five minutes of material a month is a new hour every year.”

I probably should have let it go, but I find that statement to be flat out ridiculous and I thought it was necessary to point that out to younger comedians. NOBODY “adds five minutes a month” of quality comedy material. It’s not that easy. It’s like adding five pounds of muscle. It’s HARD, and it takes a lot of sweat and effort to achieve it. If it were that easy nobody would ever be paid.

Standup comedy is a craft – and an extremely difficult one at that. If one really wants to master it, that person needs to know the rules and have some respect for how much sacrifice goes into it. I’ve spent a lifetime paying dues, and when some imbecile fires off the stupid gun I get incensed.

What set me off was some pompous female – I refuse to call her a lady – that got on some trip about how “positive thinking could make it happen” and blah blah blah and how I was ‘negative’ and more blah blah blah. Sorry, there’s nothing negative about it when it happens to be the truth.

She just copped an attitude on the wrong day in the wrong way, and I admit I let her have it for not only agreeing with an incorrect statement, but doing it so smugly. She has NEVER been on a comedy stage in her life, and to think she knows her ass from asparagus twisted my left nipple.

She wrote back trying to insult me, and I just laughed and unfriended her. Unfortunately, she is a “fan” of comedy to the point of stalker, and now my name will be dragged through the mud yet again. I have a knack for pissing people off, but only idiots. Smart people and I get along great.

Another feud with anyone is just not what I need right now. I’ve had enough for six lifetimes, but I felt I had to defend the craft of comedy so any newbie with a clue wouldn’t see that and get the wrong idea. It’s not easy to add new material – especially when an act is just getting started.

More accurately, five quality minutes a YEAR is more realistic. Whether she hates me or not, truth is truth. I just have to learn to shut my mouth and not start fights with idiots. Nobody wins. On the up side, hopefully she’ll spread my name to other idiots so they’ll all stay away from me.

This about sums it up in regards to Facebook.

This about sums it up in regards to Facebook.

Just because we've come a long way technologically, it doesn't mean we've been able to weed out idiots.

Just because we’ve come a long way with our technology, it doesn’t mean we’ve been able to weed out idiots. Stupid transcends everything.

Famous For A Night

April 29, 2014

Sunday April 27th, 2014 – Milwaukee, WI

Tonight I had the delightful opportunity to both donate to charity and enjoy a world class meal at the same time. It doesn’t get much better than that, and I’m glad I did it. The event was held in downtown Milwaukee at a restaurant called The Capital Grille, and it was a classy experience.

I had heard of that restaurant, but one always has to experience something firsthand to really be able to form an opinion. And even then, it might be a little off. I always like to give something at least two or three chances so I can make up my mind, but there isn’t always time in life for that.

Tonight was my first time, and if I never get back it was a grand slam so that’s acceptable. I’d find it very hard to believe they could top this experience, but it was a special night and everyone on staff was on their best behavior. I’m sure they always are, but tonight they were off the charts.

My film director friend Mark Gumbinger invited me to this event, as he thought I’d be one of a very few possibilities on his contact list that he could invite that would both appreciate the event and be willing to invest more than a few bucks for the experience. This was not a $9.99 fish fry.

I am certainly not swimming with the biggest financial fish right now, but I do make a point to donate to charities whenever and however I am able and tonight was a chance to do that. A good friend of Mark’s was the person putting on the event, and this was the fifth year it has been held.

He and his wife tragically lost their son to cancer at only 27. I can’t begin to imagine the horror that would be, and once again they were wonderful people who handled it with dignity and class. Mark introduced us and they couldn’t have been any friendlier and grateful that I could be there.

There were some high powered movers and shakers in attendance, as Mark’s friend owns a few businesses and his brother is a former mayor of Kenosha. Everybody was friendly, and I’d guess about 75 was the final tally. It’s been growing every year apparently, and I’m glad I was invited.

Mark and I were seated at a table with people from the cancer charity, and he brought it up that I was a comedian. I really can’t stand that as that’s not why I was there, but Mark wouldn’t let up one bit. I know he meant well, but I was really embarrassed. I’ve never been one to flaunt that in front of strangers, but they couldn’t get enough of it. They treated me as if I was a big time star.

Word got around the room that a “famous comedian” was in attendance, and I felt eyes looking at me as I went to use the bathroom. I know some people live for the attention, but that has never been my thing. I’m fine with doing my show and then escaping back into my obscure existence.

Just as we were about to leave, a lawyer made his way over to our table and asked if I wouldn’t mind answering a few questions he had about standup comedy. He wasn’t at all the typical slimy lawyer stereotype, and I tried to answer him as honestly as I could. I didn’t want to take away the focus of the event, but they raised some good money and I was honored to be a part of it. I think I may be asked to perform next year, and if it helps the cause I surely will. These are fine people.

I attended a charity event tonight in Milwaukee at a place called 'The Capital Grille'. Wow!

I attended a charity event tonight in Milwaukee at a place called ‘The Capital Grille’. Wow!

There are locations all over, but this one was outstanding. www.thecapitalgrille.com.

There are locations all over, but this one was outstanding. http://www.thecapitalgrille.com.

I was invited by my film director friend Mark Gumbinger. Here he is with singer Gordon Lightfoot.

I was invited by my film director friend Mark Gumbinger. Here he is with singer Gordon Lightfoot. http://www.edmundfitzgerald.com.

A Personal Insult

April 23, 2014

Tuesday April 22nd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I’m not all that great at a lot of things in life, and that can be a downer sometimes. Everybody has individual strengths and weaknesses, and it’s human nature to gravitate toward what we are naturally good at. I have never been good at typical ‘manly things’ like building stuff or hunting and fishing. Had I been born back in pioneer days, my family and I likely would have starved.

One subject I know quite a bit about is standup comedy. I happen to be pretty good at not only doing it, but teaching others how to do it and/or how to improve what they already do. I’ve done it my entire adult life, and I was a fan of it before that. I’ve been teaching since 1994, and have a long list of people that have taken my class that have nothing but flattering things to say about it.

I greatly appreciate the nice things those former students say, and many of them have grown to become personal friends. I love to be around standup comedy from a technical standpoint, as I’m constantly learning myself so I can be a better teacher. I put in a lot of time and effort to study it.

As far as charging goes, my classes have always been an unbeatable bargain because I make it a mission to give all my students ten times whatever they happen to pay for the class at whatever venue they happen to be available. I’ve taught them at comedy clubs, colleges and in a corporate setting. I personally tailor each class to those particular students’ needs, and I work super hard.

When I started teaching classes in 1994 there wasn’t a standup comedy class within 1000 miles of Chicago. Actually, I started teaching in Milwaukee but moved them to Chicago for Zanies not long after. The Zanies classes were a lot of fun, and we had a steady stream of students lined up.

Other classes started popping up in time, and that’s going to happen in any business. What still infuriates me is that those ‘teachers’ have never done what they’re teaching. I’m out there in the trenches week after week slaying the dragons, and that qualifies me to be a teacher. I earned it.

Some wannabe looks at what I do and thinks it’s a source of free money so they start their own “class” and people take it because they don’t know any better. I’ve seen them come and go, and I get more frustrated by the day because those people are stealing money from students, and telling them things that are completely wrong. It’s the equivalent of a man teaching a pregnancy course.

I have no problem if another competent comedian teaches a class, and in fact I’d recommend it if I knew the person. Bill Gorgo is a perfect example, and he’s terrific. Our teaching styles are as polarly opposite as our acts, but that’s ok. Both of us have the same goals and that’s teaching our students the craft of standup comedy. Bill and I teach together often, and it’s good for everyone.

Lately I’ve been getting some former students asking me if they should take some of the classes available. What am I supposed to say? “Sure, give your money to someone that hasn’t done what they’re teaching while I’m busting my hump to stay afloat with gas at $4 a gallon.” It’s an insult, and I can’t believe how many people don’t get that. What, am I holding out some magic secret of success I’m not telling you but some other genius will? I just don’t get how some people think.

Would you pay top dollar to take a course on pregnancy taught by a man?

Would you pay top dollar to take a course on pregnancy taught by a man? You deserve what you get.

Soul Suckers

April 14, 2014

Saturday April 12th, 2014 – Somewhere in Northwest IN

I have to be careful how I word what I want to say, and I want to say it without sounding like a moron or ingrate. I am growing extremely more dissatisfied by the minute with what I am doing for a living – at least on the level at which I’m doing it. Something has to change, and I know it.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy performing. Far from it. I love to perform on a live stage more than anything I have ever done – but only for audiences that are there specifically to enjoy a show. I’m not interested in having to fight for attention and force myself on anyone. That’s not my desire.

Tonight I had a booking at a country club in Northwest Indiana. Country club audiences tend to be either really terrific or really tough. I did one with Jim McHugh this past Valentine’s Day, and it was a monster show from start to finish. The people loved it, and it was a fantastic experience.

Tonight was not like that. Were the people nice? Yes. Were we treated well? Without question. That’s why I have to be careful with how I word this, as I don’t want to appear ungrateful for the opportunity. There were a lot of comics that could have been called for this show, and I was glad to get it. It pays my rent for May – at least it should if the transmission doesn’t fall off of my car.

The opening act was Bill Gorgo, someone I love to hang with on stage and off. We arranged to ride together, and that’s always convenient. They also fed us a delicious dinner before the show, and that was appreciated as well. Like I said, I don’t want to trash anything or anyone involved.

The contact person we had to deal with all night was an absolutely stunning woman in her 20s that was so good looking it was a distraction. Where was she when I was young and moderately cute? I know, probably not born yet. Still, she was pleasant to look at tonight and very nice also.

Everything around the gig was outstanding, but the show itself was extra difficult. Bill started it off, and had to really push to establish himself. I’ve seen him work hundreds of times, and this was rough. He had to work harder than necessary, and I knew I’d have to also. And I was right.

I wore a sport coat tonight because it was a country club, and by the end of my set I had soaked all the way through it with sweat. We were on a tiny makeshift stage next to hot lights that didn’t illuminate us very well. That made it even harder, and the crowd was a bit older and super snug.

Were they bad people? Of course not. I tried my very best to entertain them to the fullest, but I had several jokes that work like magic 99.9% of the time fall flat tonight. These were people that couldn’t relate to ‘normal’ problems like being broke or driving a rickety car. They were affluent and of a different mindset. I kept hammering and got them with my closer, but it took all I had.

I was paid immediately afterward, and I’m very grateful for that especially. But speaking from an artistic point of view, these kinds of gigs are soul suckers. Nobody knew who we were, and it wouldn’t have mattered if we were there or not. I don’t want to be the faceless idiot that nobody asked to see. I want to have FANS, and please them all night. Being a mercenary is getting old.

I know that sounds cocky and elitist to an outsider, but too bad. I’ve been at this far too long to keep having to fight to establish my credibility every single night. I know what I’m doing at this point, and having to start over again each and every night is not only frustrating, it’s humiliating.

Very few civilians know anything about what it takes to make a standup comedy show operate smoothly, and even fewer ever think to ask. I’ve only got thirty years of hands on experience, so what could I possibly add to the mix? It’s obviously better to ask the janitor how it should work.

There are all kinds of subtle yet extremely crucial ingredients that go into a successful standup comedy show that hardly anyone realizes. Everything from the lights, sound system, placement of the stage in the room, seating arrangements, pre show announcements asking for silence to an emcee that gives an act a proper introduction. Any one of them missing can ruin the experience.

All too often several if not all of these things are not done correctly, and then I’m left to slug it out by myself in less than ideal conditions. People that don’t perform can’t see how this could be an issue, but it totally is. “Just go up there and be funny,” they say. “What’s so hard about that?”

That is SO wrong, I wish I didn’t have to dignify it with a comment. But that’s how a lot of the people that aren’t in the business think about comedians. They think we just go up there without any preparation and act goofy off the cuff, and they often begrudge having to pay us for doing it.

Was tonight’s gig fun? In a word – NO. I’m probably cutting my own throat by saying that, but I refuse to lie. Was it appreciated? Absolutely YES. I needed that money desperately, and I could not be any more grateful from that standpoint – but from someone that has paid the large amount of dues I have it’s like I just dumped my life down a garbage disposal. It wasn’t worth the effort.

I have said it before, but it’s still true – I have held a long time job in show business, but never have been able to forge a career. As crazy as it sounds, I have been too busy working to construct a career, but it’s true. Driving all over civilization to do shows in bars, country clubs or even real comedy clubs isn’t the way to build a career. It’s a way to develop an act, THEN try for a career.

Building a career in show business requires establishing name recognition with as many people as possible in order to build a potential customer base, and that’s much harder than it may sound. Name recognition comes from media exposure, and that becomes an entirely new challenge to be handled by a performer. Building an act is difficult enough. Then it has to be showcased for sale.

That’s where most of us fall short. It’s not easy to get on national TV, and once one gets there it takes regular appearances to become known to a big enough segment of the public to be able to become a legitimate draw. I had my one little shot for five short minutes on national TV and did well – it just wasn’t enough to put me over the top to be recognized. In reality, it did me no good.

It was a fun experience, but fun isn’t cutting it out here in life’s jungle. Having to slug this hard each week for a living is really getting to me. I’m just not into it anymore. I made my nut for this week, but just barely. And it wasn’t easy. Next week, I have no work. This wasn’t in my dream.

Trying to make a living week after week as an entertainer can feel like the weight of the world on one's shoulders. It's NOT easy.

Trying to make a living week after week as an entertainer can feel like the weight of the world on one’s shoulders. It’s NOT easy.

Something Smart

March 1, 2014

Wednesday February 26th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

The older I get, the more I realize just how poorly I’ve managed my life in so many ways. I did manage to have a generous helping of fun and adventure along the way, but I sure did screw a lot of things up too. When I hear people say “I have no regrets in life,” I can’t relate. I have a bunch.

What’s even worse is that I have to keep living, and try to steer myself in a good direction even though I’m coming from a place I really didn’t want to be. That makes where I am even more of a challenge, and I feel time catching up. I wish I could reboot and start over, but that’s no option.

We all have to play the hands we’re dealt, and we get ONE shot. That seems rather unfair, does it not? Most of us are clueless on our own, and unless we have razor sharp guidance from parents or some sort of mentor figure our lives drift off course like I feel mine did. Now I’m trying to get my bearings in order to make a run to the finish line. I hope I can salvage at least some of a life.

I truly think my first major boo boo was staying with radio after my first job came to an end in Lansing, MI in 1990. It would have been early enough where I could have gone back to standup comedy, and eventually moved to New York or Los Angeles and stayed until something popped.

I did eventually make it to L.A., but totally not how I’d planned it. I had been blown out of yet another radio gig in Reno, NV and it was closer to drive to L.A. than it was to Chicago so I went there. I had a few bucks of severance pay, but not a lot. I lived like a cockroach for about a year, and then started doing road gigs to pay bills. That’s not the smart way to be based in Hollywood.

In retrospect, I should have taken a break from standup and just found a way to do whatever it took to settle in out there. I knew a lot of people, and had some connections. A lot of people that are doing very well now were just arriving, and I could have come up the ranks along with them.

Billy Gardell was there, and he’s doing well now on ‘Mike and Molly’. He’s a super guy, and I remember seeing him at a Sunday football watching get together with comedians. “Are you here now?” he asked. I said that I was, and he said “Cool. I know you’ll do well.” And he meant it.

My friend Keith Leslie was writing for “Grace Under Fire” then, and I hung out regularly with him and the writing staff. In fact, some of my lines ended up making it on the show. Those guys were very fun, and I had no problem fitting in. I just didn’t stay long enough to grow any roots.

Mark Roberts is an amazing talent, and he’s now doing extremely well. He’s got his fingers in a lot of pies, one of which is “Two And A Half Men”. I think he’s in charge of that show, and he could have easily hired me to be a writer. A lot of Chicago comedians moved to California right around that same time, and several are still there. In a perfect world, I’d be out there with them.

Maybe in a parallel universe I’m living that dream with all the trimmings, but I think that ship has sailed for this one. I moved back to Chicago to regroup, with full intentions of going back to California when I was ready. I never made it, and now I’m starting to have some regrets. I was in a super position then and didn’t realize just how good it was. I chose the safe route, and it turned out to be more dangerous than if I’d stayed and delivered pizzas for a while until I got settled in.

One year is not long enough to do much of anything well enough to make a lasting impact. One year is barely a radar blip, and that’s generous. There are a lot of of athletes that had one big year and that’s it. Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych and ‘Super Joe’ Charbonneau are two lingering examples from my youth. Both were poised for stardom, but now they’re taking up residence in oblivion.

The same holds true with any skill based endeavor. How many one hit wonder music acts have come and gone? Debby Boone comes to mind. She was hot for about a year – if that – and then it was over. Did she have a ‘career’? How anyone can in that short of a time? It’s just not enough.

Had I stayed out there, who knows what would have come along? I loved everything about the whole idea of living there, and deep in my heart I still do. If I had a reason to be out there I’d get in my car and drive there tomorrow. Again, I think that ship has sailed from a realistic viewpoint. I was living in the right place, but it wasn’t at the right time – yet. I wish I would have waited.

The last thing that will do any good is beating myself up about it. I had reasons for what I did, and that’s how it turned out. There was no way to see the big picture then, but I’m writing about it now in hopes I’ll be able to help someone else with their own personal struggle. I hope what I screwed up will encourage someone else to stay and wait it out. Go where the magic happens.

Not a whole lot of magic has happened anywhere else I’ve been. I thought Salt Lake City was going to be my home, and that blew up in my face worse than anywhere. I chased that radio bug, and it wouldn’t stop biting. Then I came back to Chicago, and it bit me again. When will I learn?

It’s getting a little late in the game now. If something happens, it’s going to have to happen in a hurry. There are a few stories of people who have made it late, but they are always the exception and never the rule. My path has been anything but ‘normal’, so I need to really focus on strategy.

Is what I’m doing now the smartest thing I could be doing? I say yes, but that’s what I thought years ago when I was being so unknowingly stupid. I truly believed I was going to land that huge radio gig and it would set me up for the rest of my life. It didn’t happen, and now I’m struggling.

One thing I do have is a boat load of hands on experience, but who really cares enough to give me a job? I could go on any radio station on the dial and fit in somewhere, but try as I might I’ve not been able to keep a job more than a year and a month. It was always something else but me.

Not many people I know are still out there slugging like I am this far into the game, and I have no idea if it’s the right choice or not. The idea of quitting doesn’t thrill me, but doing it like I’ve been doing it thrills me even less. What can I do to scratch the creative itch, and still be solvent?

Living hand to mouth just isn’t cutting it, but I’m by far not alone. I don’t want to end up at the home for wayward road comedians, and that means I’ll have to figure out something a lot sooner than later that provides an income. Until then, I’m going to work on improving my business skill.

Today I spent three hours sifting through computer and paper files looking for anyone that has ever hired me. I need to come up with a current list of potential hirers, and work them like a sales rep works a client list. For life right now, that’s my smartest move. I could use something smart.

Getting into the radio meat grinder was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. I regret it now, but it's too late.

Getting into the radio meat grinder was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. I regret it now, but it’s too late. It’s a cruel game.

I lived in Los Angeles for a year in the mid '90s. I loved it there, and wish I would have stayed.

I lived in Los Angeles for a year in the mid ’90s. I loved it there, and wish I would have stayed. Mistakes are clearer in retrospect.

Billy Gardell got there around then, and played the game correctly. Good for him, he's a great guy and everyone loves him - including me.

Billy Gardell got there around then, and played the game correctly. Good for him, he’s a great guy and everyone loves him – including me. Go Billy!

Harold Ramis Respect

February 26, 2014

Monday February 24th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

It was all over the news today that Harold Ramis has passed away. I wasn’t aware he was sick, and I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing. There aren’t many that can hold a candle to his list of accomplishments, and by all accounts I have ever heard he was an extremely nice person.

Where does one start with an industry giant like this? If I could score just ONE of the huge hits he had, I’d be on easy street for the rest of my life. He either wrote, co-wrote, starred, co-starred, directed or acted in several of the biggest and most impactful comedy films of the 20th Century.

The list of his successful projects is staggering, including “Animal House”, “Groundhog Day”, “Caddyshack”, “Ghostbusters”, “Back To School”, “Stripes”, “Meatballs” and quite a few more. Those are all films of my generation, and until I saw the list I had forgotten how impressive it is.

It’s a shame that it takes a person’s passing to get a comprehensive list of all the achievements they managed to attain, but that’s how it works. I knew he was a giant in his field, but until I had heard he passed I never looked at his entire body of work so closely. The man was an all timer.

What I didn’t realize was that he’d moved back to Chicago in 1996. I knew he was from there, but had no idea he came back. I totally should have known that, and I would have loved a chance to meet him even once. I bet he wouldn’t have been difficult to track down, and I wouldn’t have been anything but polite and told him how much I admired his work. I bet we’d have hit it off.

Any time I’ve met someone truly creative, I have always been able to connect instantaneously. That’s who I am too, and it just clicks. Everyone I’ve met from George Carlin to George Clinton to Rodney Dangerfield to any number of others has always been a pleasant experience. I wish I’d had even a few seconds with Harold Ramis, as I bet it would have been a memorable experience.

He might not have remembered it, but I sure would have. I remember meeting Tim Kazurinsky years ago when I opened for his friend Bobcat Goldthwaite. They’d done a couple of the “Police Academy” films together and stayed in touch. Tim was unbelievably nice, and complimentary of my show to boot. Bobcat was great too. I find myself very comfortable around all creative types.

If Harold Ramis was around Chicago all these years, it’s my own fault that I didn’t take it upon myself to cross paths and meet him. It’s not a matter of asking him for anything or pestering him to put me in one of his films, it’s just a matter of professional respect. The man was legendary.

It’s my own fault I didn’t seek him out, and there are all kinds of others that I could have been in contact with as well. Second City is barely a block from Zanies in Chicago, and I’ve worked at Zanies since the late ‘80s. I could have made time to network with those people, but I never did.

I have nothing against improv comedy, but I had all I could handle with doing standup. Still, it would have been smart business to hang out after shows and schmooze with the Second City cast through the years. I was right there, but I blew it. Maybe Harold Ramis would have looked at me as a major schmucko, or maybe we’d have been friends. If nothing else, I would have enjoyed an opportunity to say hello just once. He enjoyed immense success, and I am a huge fan from afar.

There aren't many that can touch the massive success of Harold Ramis.

There aren’t many that can touch the massive success of Harold Ramis. What a run he had!

Effective Evolution

February 15, 2014

Wednesday February 12th, 2014 – Gurnee, IL

I feel another tidal wave of overwhelm coming, and there’s not a lot I can do about it. I have all kinds of projects in various stages of completion, and no matter how hard I work or at what there are always a number of other things that get left unattended. There’s just too much on my plate.

My problem is, I don’t know what to clear off. I enjoy everything I’m doing, but there just isn’t time to devote to it all as I’d like. Something has to go, and it’s like deciding which one of one’s children to send packing. I’m having a terrible time deciding what to cut, but it needs to happen.

Here it is six weeks into the new year, and it’s not a new year anymore. I’ve been working hard every single day to the point of exhaustion yet I feel like I’m falling behind more than ever. How can that be? I’m making a solid effort, but more things are piling up than ever. I need to press on.

I know I’m giving it all I’ve got, and if I keep doing that with a plan I know good things are on the way. They already are. I’ve been working a lot lately, and in very nice venues. I am bringing in steady income, and feeling very good about life in general. More of this needs to happen daily.

Despite all that, I know I’m still painfully behind of where I need to be. The only thing that has a chance of changing that is delegating as much as I can to as many as I can. Each one of my pet projects needs to have a solid team in place – even if that team consists of only one other person.

Trust issues or not, this has to take place or I’m never going to get anywhere. My personality is one that has trouble focusing on just one thing, even though that would be a lot smarter than how I’ve been trying to do things all these years. I’m open to change, as if I’m not I’ll never advance.

McDonald’s is a perfect example of effective evolution. They used to sell hamburgers, French fries and Cokes. Period. They came up with a system that worked, and sold billions of customers a limited product line. Eventually as times changed, they ended up adding many more products.

I kind of did the same thing, but not nearly as efficiently as McDonald’s. I started as a standup comic exclusively, and then I drifted into radio – by fluke. Eventually teaching classes came into the picture, and that wasn’t planned for either. It just happened. Before I knew it I was doing too many things at once, but all of them were working relatively well. Now, I’ve got too much to do.

There was no long range plan going in for any of this, and now all of the haphazard results I’ve gotten are painfully exposing that. I’m all over the place, and there needs to be a total reboot with a plan in place if I ever intend to achieve any kind of stability. Living like a gypsy is getting old.

This is the most challenging time in my life, even though it’s also the most exciting. I feel I am giving my all every day, but one glitch or delay takes me out of my plan and puts me in the trick bag again. If I have someone else to consult and delegate tasks to, it will provide me a safety net.

Eric Feinendegen and I have been working well together on several things in including my new monthly newsletter, but he’s got a family and a life too. We need a few more people to recruit for the team, but not until we get our own schedule hashed out. This life thing is harder than it looks.

Survival in business - and in life - requires constant evolution.

Survival in business – and in life – requires constant evolution.

McDonald's is a business that has evolved dramatically. They don't look like this anymore.

McDonald’s is a business that has evolved dramatically. They don’t look like this anymore.

Ninja Status

February 8, 2014

Tuesday February 4th, 2014 – Rosemont, IL

The brutal winter continues, with little relief in sight. Tonight we got blasted with several more inches of snow, and then it’s supposed to go right back into the deep freeze yet again. This is the kind of winter that makes a person move south, and I’m about ready to hop the next freight train.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have to travel so much. I already spend far more time than the average Joe getting to and from work, but in bad weather it’s unbearable. People drive like idiots in good conditions. Add even a little snow, ice or freezing rain and it becomes a giant nut house.

Tonight I had a gig hosting the “Ten Comedians For $10” showcase at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont, IL. The weather was a big issue, and the crowd was rather sparse. There were actually more than I expected, but it was nowhere near full and that makes it very hard for the comedians.

These shows exist so newer acts can get a chance to audition for paid work at Zanies, but most of them aren’t ready even though they think they are. It’s hard enough to impress a jaded booker who has seen it all in a full house, but on a snowy week night with a small crowd it’s impossible.

Standup comedy can be very awkward on slow nights in front of small audiences, and I’ve had to face that scenario literally thousands of times. Some acts handle it differently than others but it isn’t ever fun to have to jump start a cold crowd. It’s my job as a host to set the acts up properly.

I always try to get the audience to focus their attention on the acts, and on a night like tonight it becomes a huge challenge to maintain it through the entire show. Ten acts are a lot, and trying to squeeze any kind of energy whatsoever out of the crowd can be a tall order. It takes experience.

I’m one of very few that can do it, only because I’ve hosted so many shows in my time. I’ll bet I am in the top .001% of living humans that has had the most experience hosting standup comedy shows since 1985. I don’t have a lot of skills in life, but this is an area where I claim ninja status.

Unfortunately, I think I’ve about maxed out on the pay scale even though I enjoy hosting these shows very much. There’s a definite art to properly hosting any kind of a live show, even though most newbies look upon it as a chore. I’ve never looked at it that way and still don’t. It’s a craft.

Standup comedy is a craft as well, but it’s not at all the same as being a good emcee. There are all kinds of subtle nuances involved, and a good emcee pays close attention throughout the show so as to keep the energy flowing as consistently as possible. When there is a strong act, he or she must bring the audience back down. When there’s a weak one, it’s the opposite. It can be tricky.

Then to make it more difficult, most comedy clubs give the job of emcee to the weakest act on the show with the least amount of experience. It’s the lowest paying position, and it starts a show off terribly in my opinion but that’s become the tradition over time. It weakens the whole show.

Zanies is one of the few clubs anywhere that places a premium on a quality emcee. It’s smart to do that, and doesn’t cost all that much more. The audience tonight got a much better show for the $10 they paid because I knew what I was doing even if they didn’t know it. I took charge tonight.

When it comes to hosting standup comedy shows, I have achieved ninja status.

When it comes to hosting standup comedy shows, I have achieved ninja status.