Posts Tagged ‘standup comedy’

Reference Checks

January 30, 2014

Monday January 27th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

When I first started performing standup comedy, I would go out of my way to study any and all other acts I could find at every level of development. I would watch all the others on any shows I happened to be on, but also seek out TV shows, live performances or anywhere else I could find.

I couldn’t get enough not only of standup comedy, but pop culture as well. I knew that I should familiarize myself with what was happening in the world so if I didn’t do jokes about it myself at least if someone else did I’d know what they were talking about. It took a lot of work but I did it.

Once in a while I’d see an older comedian use some reference that was painfully outdated, and it left a sour impression. It felt like ordering a sandwich in a restaurant and having it be served on really stale bread. It leaves a bad first impression, but it’s too late by then. The damage is done.

An example that still sticks in my mind decades later is a friend of mine from Pittsburgh named John Knight who told me about going to see Shecky Greene. John is of my comic generation and a very funny guy. He’s also a student of the game, and I’ve known him since I started in the ‘80s.

The same brothers that owned the Funny Bone Comedy Club in Pittsburgh where John started opened one in Milwaukee a few years later, and it started an exchange program between the two cities. We were like comedy cousins, and grew to know each other’s towns and each other well.

Shecky Greene is an old school act, but John was one of the few smart enough to know that it’s possible to learn from anyone so he went to see him. Had I been offered the opportunity, I would have joined him. I still would. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who has braved the wars.

I remember John telling me he enjoyed the show, but then told me of a bit Shecky did that used “The Bay City Rollers” and a song they did called “Saturday Night”. That’s a band that had their very short heyday in the mid ‘70s, and even though John and I both were familiar with them they were long out of the public’s eye by then and it made Shecky look like a big idiot – at least to us.

Cut ahead decades later, and now the performers of John’s and my generation are in exactly the same position. We’re probably close to the age Shecky Greene was John saw him, and the acts of today look at us the same way. John still performs and is a pretty hip guy, but it’s still a concern.

Neither of us have acts directly based on using many current references, and we’ve been smart enough to craft relatively timeless material that can hopefully continue to earn us our livings for the foreseeable future. Those who don’t develop this skill will get burned now more than ever.

For veteran performers it gets easy to ride a reference too long, and I’ve been guilty of it many times. I’ve been around the block quite a bit, and have all kinds of references that used to be hot but are now as laughable as Shecky using The Bay City Rollers. I have to constantly keep track.

Sometimes it’s fixable. I used to do a joke about a “Walkman Radio”. How dated is that? I’ve since changed it to “iPod” and I can milk it a while longer. I hope. Eventually it will be obsolete, but then again so will standup comedy. Some robot will be built to take my place. “Robocomic”.

I can make jokes about it, but I’m only fooling myself. This really is a major issue that needs to be addressed now more than ever. There are just too many things to keep track of, and with all of us going in so many directions on the internet it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with life.

It used to be if someone liked sports for example, there was a relatively limited amount of info available about it to the general public. They could read the same newspapers and magazines and all share basically the same information. It wasn’t in depth, but it was enough to stay informed.

Now there are websites and blogs and a whole new level of scrutiny that has never been around before. If someone likes sports now, it can easily become a full time obsession. Then stories like Alex Rodriguez on steroids or Dennis Rodman in North Korea become actual hard news stories.

Every subject that people used to be able to get away with just a passing knowledge of now has an entire subculture attached to it, and there aren’t enough hours in a day to keep current with all of them. For an up and coming standup comic, it’s harder than ever to have broad based material.

I’ve hosted a lot of showcases in the last few years that feature younger acts, and I admit that I watch a lot of them and have no clue as to what they’re talking about. They’ll go off on a movie I haven’t seen or band I’ve never heard of, and I’m totally lost. They might as well speak Chinese.

It becomes very easy to let this get out of hand, and I totally have. Part of the reason is that I’m just not interested in pop culture of today. I find it extremely boring, and not intended for me. All that I see coming out I’ve seen before, and I wasn’t necessarily all that fond of it then. It stinks.

Other than a very VERY few songs, I find the music of today absolutely horrific. Lady Gaga is a warmed over version of Madonna – and I never liked Madonna with her hairy armpits and gap teeth. I found her derivative, but she was able to carve out a career. Good for her, but I’m over it.

Even sports don’t come close to holding my interest like they once did. I used to easily be able to name every coach or manager of every team in most of the major sports if not current starting lineups. I could also go back at least ten years and name all the teams that won a championship.

Now I bet I couldn’t name who won the last championship – and I don’t really care. Unless the Packers win the Super Bowl, I’m pretty much over that too. And even when that happened just a couple of years ago life went on shortly thereafter. I’m just not into what’s going on in the world as a whole. I have enough to worry about with my own life, and that’s about all I can deal with.

Still, as a professional entertainer I can do better than I have been doing. One of the many wise things my grandfather taught me was to look through the entire Sunday paper. He would open all the sections and look at all the articles from cover to cover. He wouldn’t read all of them, but if a headline grabbed his attention he’d at least skim over some of the article to broaden his life base.

I used to do that for years, but I just lost interest somewhere. That’s just plain not acceptable if I still intend to grow as any kind of creative entity. There has to be more fuel added if I intend to keep the fire burning, and I don’t want to look like Shecky Greene to young audiences. I can still throw some heat, but it’s smart business to have a clue as to what’s current in pop culture today.

Shecky Greene had a tremendous run as one of the top nightclub comics in Las Vegas. Much respect.

Shecky Greene had a tremendous run as one of the top nightclub comics in Las Vegas. That is SO not easy to do. Much respect.

The Bay City Rollers had a short run of hit records in the mid '70s. I bet they thought they were SO cool when this picture was taken. Times change.

The Bay City Rollers had a short run of hit records in the mid ’70s. I bet they thought they were SO cool when this picture was taken. Times change.

Despite his deadpan look, my friend John Knight from Pittsburgh is one of the funniest comedians working today. I've known him since the '80s. www.comedyknight.com.

Despite his deadpan look, my friend John Knight from Pittsburgh is one of the funniest comedians working today. I’ve known him since the ’80s. He’s hilarious. http://www.comedyknight.com.

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.

Close For Comfort

January 12, 2014

Saturday January 11th, 2014 – Wauconda, IL/Island Lake, IL

One of the sweetest treats any long time entertainer can experience is having a booking close to home. The longer the time in the business, the more the closeness to home is greatly appreciated. The road gets old and unforgiving after time, and the excitement of seeing new scenery expires.

There comes a point when we’ve been everywhere, seen everything and all we want is to have a “normal” life – whatever that may be. What it isn’t is being constantly in transit trying to arrive on time for the next show. It is constantly looming over one’s head, and I for one am SO over it.

Tonight – for one of just a handful of times I can ever remember – I had a show literally down the road from where I live. Wow! I was ecstatic beyond words. I’ve worked this place before, but I lived in a different place then. It was still close, but not like this. This one was a stone’s throw.

The venue is a place called The Energee Center in Wauconda, IL. Sally Edwards is a comedian that started booking shows there because she and her husband moved there and saw there was no comedy anywhere close by. It’s a small room, but audiences are friendly and it’s very laid back.

The pay to close the show is comparable with most one nighters on the road, so they can get an excellent quality of acts to work there. It’s in the Chicago area, and like me there are a lot of acts that are less than thrilled with going on the road to make basically the same money. Actually, it’s less after gas and food are subtracted from the total. Working in Wauconda does have its upside.

It has a huge upside for me, as I’m staying in Island Lake which is the next town over. It was a two minute drive to get to work tonight, and I had a smile on my face the whole time. I would be thrilled if I could do that more often, and I totally see the appeal of a Las Vegas or Branson, MO for that exact reason. If an entertainer can get the audiences to come to them, life is but a dream.

The show tonight was a lot of fun, but I wouldn’t have been upset even if it wasn’t. As long as I didn’t have to drive far, a room full of screaming drunken hecklers wouldn’t have caused me to flinch one bit. I was paid immediately upon getting off stage, and that’s the cherry on the sundae.

Trevor Burke’s dad Joe brought Trevor out to do a set, and then they’re going to fly out to Los Angeles tomorrow to talk to a production company about a reality show for Trevor. Good for the both of them. Whether they get it or not doesn’t matter. The fact they’ve got a meeting is terrific.

The feature act tonight was Mike Maxwell – obviously no relation. Mike is an up and comer on the Chicago scene, and I like the guy a lot. Having two guys named Maxwell on a show is a good gimmick I guess, but I’d work with him anytime. He brought a lot of his family out, and that was a large percentage of the crowd tonight. It was a slow night for many reasons and we needed it.

Things are just really going well right now, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. The situation with my roommate Sheri is still very sad, but that’s getting better too. They’ve moved her to one of the best treatment facilities in the country, and she’s beginning a long process of recovery that may take up to a year. Her friend Debra told me they want to try and keep the house, and it might entail having me and another person stay here to pay expenses. If that would help Sheri, I’m in.

Wauconda, IL - comedy hotbed? No, but there's a fun one nighter once a month at The Energee Center. www.energeecenter.com.

Wauconda, IL – comedy hotbed? No, but there’s a fun one nighter once a month at The Energee Center. http://www.energeecenter.com.

I worked with 12 year old comedian Trevor Burke for the second time this week. The kid is getting more work than I am - and he deserves it. Funny kid. www.trevorburke.com.

I worked with 12 year old comedian Trevor Burke for the second time this week. The kid is getting more work than I am – and he deserves it. Funny kid. http://www.trevorburke.com.

Mike Maxwell (no relation) was also on the show. It was "an evening with a couple of Maxwells". As always, it was a lot of fun. www.mikemaxwell.org

Mike Maxwell (no relation) was also on the show. It was “an evening with a couple of Maxwells”. As always, it was a lot of fun. http://www.mikemaxwell.org

Another Planet

January 1, 2014

Monday December 30th, 2013 – Tucson, AZ

Life is just full of pleasant surprises these days, and I’m not complaining. Today I had another one come out of nowhere, and again it absolutely blew me away. Whatever cosmic slot machine I have been playing of late is paying off handsomely, and the jackpot is the biggest I’ve ever hit.

Today I had the privilege of reconnecting with some people I have to admit were never friends. I hadn’t had any issues with them, but frankly we just were not close. We were acquaintances on the comedy trail twenty years ago, and through the magic of Facebook have gotten back in touch.

C.J. Vincent was a comedian based out of the Chicago area, and worked some of the same gigs I did in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. We crossed paths on several occasions, and like with a lot of comedians we interacted on a professional level. Like me, C.J. had a tendency to be a polarizer.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a problem in the entertainment business. Word gets out one way or another, and it can be extremely difficult to shake a reputation once it settles. I had heard about C.J. before we ever crossed paths, but we never had a problem. I liked the guy.

One of the reasons he took some heat was because he had a business manager when nobody in the Chicago area was using one. Nobody says it can’t be done, and I never had a problem with it. His manager’s name was Mary Ellen Landen, and they successfully teamed up for several years.

Then, as happens often in standup comedy, for whatever reason they decided to move on. That has been the case of countless people I’ve worked with through the years, and there are all kinds of reasons for it. Some people can’t take the grind, and others decide to try something different.

One thing that stood out about C.J. from my recollection was his intellect. The guy functions at a level far higher than almost anyone I’ve ever met. He’s one of the most intelligent people I can ever remember meeting, and that’s probably why he clashed with people in the comedy industry.

I’m nowhere near C.J.’s level, and I’ve had my own scrapes. He’s a very smart person, but also a moral one and most of the beefs he had were about ethics. Unfortunately, there are quite a few in the entertainment game that are less than Gandhi level when it comes to treating people fairly.

I hadn’t had contact with C.J. or Mary Ellen in decades, but somehow we reconnected through the magic of Facebook like so many others. It really is a terrific way to go back through life and get caught up, and I don’t remember if he found me or I found him. Either way, we’re in touch.

C.J. noticed I was booked at Laffs in Tucson this week, and he and Mary Ellen now live on the outskirts of town. He invited me out to see their setup, and said it would be a relaxing retreat into nature. They run a nonprofit organization that specializes in education and wildlife preservation.

It’s called ‘WOW Arizona!’ aka Wild Outdoor World. Their website is http://www.wowaz.com and they’re doing some of the most amazing work I’ve ever seen. I had no idea they were doing this, and it was one of the most memorable and pleasant experiences I can ever remember having. It’s as far removed from standup comedy as there could ever be, but there’s still showbiz involved.

C.J. and Mary Ellen have people come to their home and they act as tour guides to see the great wonders of the desert. They’re both walking encyclopedias of fascinating knowledge of the local terrain and terrific hosts who understand showmanship. They’ve put together a unique endeavor, and it was extremely kind of them to invite me out to see it. It far exceeded all my expectations.

Quite honestly, when C.J. said “come out and take a tour”, I assumed it would be a few minute walk around their yard and then we’d have lunch and talk about comedy. HA! Was I wrong, but that’s not a bad thing. I ended up getting treated to one of the most amazing tours I’ve ever had.

I arrived at their compound around 11am, and it’s at the end of a dirt road located on the north end of town. They are not far from Coronado National Forest, which is almost two million acres of untouched desert beauty. Tucson has a lot going for it, and I see why they chose to move here.

Mary Ellen greeted me and C.J. showed up a few minutes later in biking gear to begin a desert ride with one of their clients. It was a married couple from Germany who live in Quebec, Canada named Peter and Patricia, and Patricia was celebrating her 50th birthday. She and Mary Ellen had a hike planned, and they invited me to come along. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I said yes.

Mary Ellen loaded me up with a backpack that had ice cubes and a rubber tube that was used to drink water during the hike. I hadn’t planned on hiking that long, but this was a serious endeavor. We left around 11:30, and walked for HOURS. Yikes. About halfway through my legs were like noodles, but it was too late to turn back. I was in for a penny, in for a pound. I was lost in nature.

And what a spectacular place to get lost it is. We crossed into the Coronado National Forest for much of the way, and I can see why people fall in love with Arizona. There is one particular spot where we stood smack dab in the middle of hundreds of saguaro cacti, and it was like no feeling I have ever experienced. There was a distinct vibe and energy present, and it was awe inspiring.

Patricia has psychic abilities, and she said she could feel all kinds of energy going on there, and called it a ‘vortex’. I know I felt it too, and we stood there for several minutes to soak as much as we could. The stunning degree of absolute silence was deafening, but also majestic and soothing.

I don’t know exactly how far we walked, but it was several miles for sure. When we got deeper into the trip we went up and down some rather treacherous hills and my tongue was hanging out. I was using muscles I hadn’t used in a long time, and I felt every bit of it – but it was fantastic!

We met up with C.J. and Peter who were mountain biking another route, and we sat for a while and listened to C.J. tell us about the desert. The guy knows his stuff, as does Mary Ellen. She had been filling Patricia and me in on a list fascinating facts as we’d been walking, and the entire day was an educational jaunt. I hadn’t expected anything close to this, but I soaked in every minute.

After we got back, I thought I was going to drop over. Four hour hikes aren’t what I’m used to, but this was great fun. C.J. made us some delicious tortilla soup, and he’s a fabulous cook as well as just a warm nice person as is Mary Ellen. This is a day I won’t soon forget, and we graduated from acquaintances to friends. We had a super time, and I highly recommend anyone come out to experience this spectacular place. It’s like another planet, but one I would definitely call home.

I spent the day hiking through the Coronado National Forest in Tucson, AZ courtesy of WOW Arizona! www.wowaz.com

I spent the day hiking through the Coronado National Forest in Tucson, AZ courtesy of WOW Arizona! http://www.wowaz.com

It was a day filled with spectacular desert beauty. I felt like I was in a live action Roadrunner cartoon.

It was a day filled with spectacular desert beauty. I felt like I was in a live action Roadrunner cartoon.

Mary Ellen Landen (left) and C.J. Vincent (center) were acquaintances I knew from standup comedy twenty years go. Today, we became friends. Thanks for the wonderful experience!

Mary Ellen Landen (left) and C.J. Vincent (center) were acquaintances I knew from standup comedy twenty years go. Today, we became friends. Thanks for the wonderful experience! It was like visiting another planet.

The Popeye Feeling

December 30, 2013

Sunday December 29th, 2013 – Tucson, AZ

This is the best I’ve ever felt on the inside in my entire life. I am finding it difficult to describe other than it feels like Popeye after eating a case of spinach. There’s an unbelievably pure energy that is coming alive within me like someone turned on a power switch and I am now plugged in.

I feel an inner confidence like I’ve never felt before, and my self esteem has risen dramatically. If I could bottle this up and sell it I’d be a millionaire by the time I got back to Chicago, but I am not worried about that. I’m going to be the millionaire I always thought I’d be, even though I am not exactly sure how I’m going to do it just yet. I just know that the ingredients are all in place.

There has been a fire lit in me that I never had lit before. I’ve had some great moments, but this feels like a whole other level. I feel like I’m finally behind the wheel of a giant space ship to take me absolutely anywhere I want to go, and all I have to do is fill in a destination and I’ll get there.

I’m thinking with crystal clarity, and ideas are flying into my head faster than I can write them down. I’ve always been an idea person, but now it feels like I turned the blender up two or three notches to the right and it’s now on ‘puree’. All cylinders are firing, and the feeling is amazing.

Whatever ‘the zone’ is, I’m soaking in it. I’ve been here before, and recognized it then as well. When I’m in it it’s great, but then it goes. Maybe that’s a euphemism for ‘bipolarity’, but I don’t think I’m going to get anywhere close to being as down as I used to get. I’ve addressed my pain.

It took a long, hard and rocky lifetime, but I feel like I’m right where I need to be at exactly the right time. All those difficult roads led me here, and this is the starting line for me to do whatever I’m going to be known for in a positive way. I am already known for a few things I am not proud of, but those will fade away as I get used to this. I feel like “The Jeffersons”. I am movin’ on up.

Last night’s early show at Laffs in Tucson was a perfect example. The crowd was rather snug, and in the past I may have gone off on them or even verbally insulted them. I’ve been known to do that on occasion over the years, and it’s bad business. Some audiences are better than others, and yes once in a while there are flat out bad ones. This wasn’t one of those, but they were slow.

Instead of launching into cocky comedian mode, I took a step back and decided I was going to give them my absolute best performance no matter what. If they didn’t like it it was their choice, but it wouldn’t be for lack of effort. I had to work really hard, and I didn’t get a strong response.

When that happens, my first reaction is to not make myself available afterward like I try to do after most shows, and just assume they were all stupid. I didn’t do that last night, and set myself up at the exit to see what kind of reaction I’d get from them – if any. I was blown away by all of the positive comments I got about how much people enjoyed the show, and I saw they meant it.

I thanked every one of them, and meant that too. I also remembered to offer business cards for anyone that might want one, and I quickly mentioned that I’m starting a newsletter soon and also write this diary of what the life of an entertainer is like. There were a lot of people who took one, and by the end of the second show I was totally out. Little by little, I can feel it coming together.

Whether I do standup comedy or inspirational speaking or any other variation, this will be what I need to do for the rest of my life. Not every audience will enjoy what I do, but I’ve been able to handle that for years. Rejection goes with being a live entertainer, and my skin is elephant thick.

What I haven’t perfected is the business end, but I can feel that falling into place this week. I’m consciously making it a point to talk about it on stage but not overdo it. Right around ten minutes before I’m finished, I make a quick mention that I would like to stay in contact with them if they liked what I did, and promised I wouldn’t sell their names to Amway. It doesn’t feel forced at all.

Maybe subconsciously before I didn’t think I was good enough or that my merchandise wasn’t worth buying, but I’ve always felt uncomfortable trying to push anything. I’ve sold CDs over the last ten years or so, but I never enjoyed it. Now I have a whole new view. I’m offering them their opportunity to take a little souvenir of their evening home. If they don’t want one, that’s fine too.

I guess I have never given myself credit that I entertained them and they might actually WANT to take something home with them or maybe even share with someone else. This is something to change immediately, and I can feel it already has. I know I’ve got a solid show, and I’m going to let people make up their own mind. If they want to take something home, I will have it for them.

The great James Gregory told me this several years ago, but I wasn’t ready to hear it then. My heart and soul wasn’t in it, but it totally is now. I feel it. James is a master marketer, and he told me most sales are made out of impulse right after a show. We have worked hard to put our show together, so why not take advantage of it by making merchandise available when people like it?

I knew he was right when he told it to me, and then he told it to me again earlier this year as I sat in his house in Atlanta. He doesn’t have to tell me a third time. I’m finally there, but what put me there was freeing myself inside and that came from initiating contact with my brother Bruce to initiate contact with my other brother Larry and sister Tammy. That’s what has been the key.

This is totally The Law of Attraction in action, and there are countless books written on how it really works. I’ve read or partially read so many of those books over time I’ve worn off most of my fingerprints turning pages, but it’s only now that I see that it really does work. It took one big event to open my eyes, but now they’re wide open and I’m seeing things with 20/20 clear vision.

I can’t say how long this powerhouse feeling will last, but it doesn’t matter. I know eventually I’ll have some setbacks, slumps and unforeseen hurdles to jump, but life is like that for everyone. What I’m so excited about is that I’ve identified the cause of what was holding me back so long, and realizing just how toxic and unproductive it has been. I’ve lost a lot of golden opportunities.

I also see that I’ve got a whole lot more of them ahead, and I’ll be able to use my mountain of mistakes as building material to construct my own books and programs to help others who might be having the same problem I did. Nobody I’ve ever seen or heard has dug deep into this topic.

Even if they have, there are enough dented cans to go around for us all. This goes way beyond the boundaries of just making people laugh. There’s depth here, and it’s taken a lot of struggling for a lot of years to acquire this ability to see clearly. This is how I always wanted my life to be.

I'm in a life groove that I've never been in before - and it feels fantastic! It's like Popeye after he ate a case of spinach.

I’m in a life groove that I’ve never been in before – and it feels fantastic! It’s like Popeye after he ate a case of spinach.

The Law of Attraction really works. I'm going to use it like never before in 2014.

The Law of Attraction really works. I’m going to use it like never before in 2014.

James Gregory aka "The Funniest Man in America" is my marketing mentor. I am FINALLY ready to listen to what he's been telling me for years. www.funniestman.com.

James Gregory aka “The Funniest Man in America” is my marketing mentor. I am FINALLY ready to listen to what he’s been telling me for years. http://www.funniestman.com.

Gramps’s Watch

December 24, 2013

Sunday December 22nd, 2013 – Harris, MI

For whatever reason, I have always been pretty good at remembering dates. I don’t claim to be perfect, but I am better than the average male in keeping up with birthdays, anniversaries and the like. It’s just something I have always thought about, and why that is I have no clue. I just do.

Today happens to be the date my grandfather died in 1981. I know that 32 years is not a ‘round number’, but it was still cause to bring up memories we had together. He’s been gone a whole lot longer than I had him in my life, and to have had the kind of impact he still has really says a lot.

When my uncle died in January of 2012, my cousin Leah and her husband Rob cleaned out his possessions and came across a watch Gramps received when he retired from his job as dispatcher of garbage trucks and snow plows for the City of Milwaukee in 1972. They weren’t sure what it was, but they knew I was close to him and would probably want it. I recognized it immediately.

There was a retirement party for Gramps, and he received the watch as a gift. He rarely wore it, but I remember it meant a lot to him when he got it. It was also the symbol of his freedom to do what he wanted, which was get into show business. He’d put in his time at work, now it was fun.

For the few years left in his life, Gramps was a wild man when it came to chasing his dream of being an entertainer. He would sign up to be in any kind of show he could – most being put on by the Washington Park Senior Center in Milwaukee. He became a whale in a tiny pond, but he was as happy as I’d ever seen him. Being on stage was what he lived for, and he savored each second.

When Gramps was in hospice care, he told me he wanted me to have that watch. I wanted it as a memory of him, but when he died it got lost in the shuffle. I never knew what had happened to it, and whenever I’d ask I’d never get a straight answer. After a few years I just stopped asking.

I was thrilled when my cousin Brett told me Leah and Rob wanted me to have it, and I brought it to a jeweler to see if it could be gotten into running order again. It’s a Bulova Accutron, and is apparently a collector’s item according to the jeweler. He said the parts were rather expensive to replace, and it could cost up to several hundred dollars to fix should I decide to go that direction.

I told him it had more sentimental value to me than anything, and it wasn’t important to me if it ran at all. I was just curious to find out what it was and how much it might cost to fix. I had put it in a drawer, but recently rediscovered it as I was moving. To my surprise it was actually running.

Having the jeweler look at it must have gotten the parts moving again, but sure enough there it was working again. I set it to the right time, and it’s been running since. It loses a few minutes on a regular basis, but that’s ok. Just having it is a great memory of someone who meant a lot to me.

Tonight I had a show in Harris, MI at the Island Casino. I decided I’d wear the watch on stage as a tribute to Gramps, and it made me feel bullet proof. I knew it was there, and knew that I had a little bit of Gramps on stage with me all these years later. He would have LOVED to be able to do standup comedy, and this is a small symbolic way I can honor his memory. I plan on wearing that watch from now on every time I perform for the rest of my life. Nobody else has to know.

This is the watch my grandfather got when he retired from the City of Milwaukee in 1972.

This is the watch my grandfather got when he retired from the City of Milwaukee in 1972.

The inscription looks like he was in the Mafia, but in fact he was only a dispatcher of garbage trucks and snow plows.

The inscription looks like he was in the Mafia, but in fact he was only a dispatcher of garbage trucks and snow plows.

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 Comedian No More

December 9, 2013

Sunday December 8th, 2013 – Island Lake, IL

When I started doing comedy in Milwaukee, all I wanted was to be the best comedian in town. I thought if I could achieve that, everything else would take care of itself. I’d eventually achieve my goal after several years of struggle, but it didn’t mean anything. I had been chasing the wind.

Then I moved to Chicago aiming to be one of the top comedians there. I realized it was a much bigger city, and claiming the top spot might not be realistic. Still, I did manage to become one of the top acts in town but it got me even less than it did in Milwaukee. I’d pursued the wrong goal.

I’m very proud of how far I’ve come as a performer, and there is a tremendous personal delight and satisfaction in knowing I have been able to live my original dream. Now I need to establish a new dream and make that one reality. From now on, I aim to be the very best MARKETED act.

Wow, what a difference that will make. I always assumed marketing would take care of itself, and if I was the best comedian around people would just find me. Nothing could be further from the truth, and what a painful realization that was and still is. The good thing is is that it’s fixable.

The first item that needs fixing is my title. ‘Comedian’ is akin to ’witch’, ‘leper’ or ‘pedophile’ when it comes to landing highly paid corporate work. Unfortunately, I clearly see why this is and I get it. The word itself has been forever linked to ‘dirty’ or ‘filthy’, and there’s no going back.

I had nothing to do with this negative association, but it absolutely exists and I need to avoid it like the plague for business purposes. In my heart I’m proud to be a comedian, but that won’t fly with those who hire entertainment. As with ‘gay’, the definition has totally changed over time.

Perception is reality, and I can’t change it. People who have a significant amount of money to spend on comedy related entertainment will gladly hire a ‘humorist’ or ‘humorous speaker’, but shudder at the thought of a ‘comedian’. ‘Comedians’ tell dirty jokes in honky tonks and saloons.

That’s the perception in a business environment, and I’m not going to try to fight it. I’ll let them call me anything they want if it will get me hired, but that’s when I’ll really shine because I have the skills to pull off exactly what they want. I have thirty years experience as a live entertainer.

Whether they know it or not, I’m able to deliver a funny show without swearing once. That’s a daunting task, to which any professional will attest. I was never a ‘dirty act’ in a club setting, but these people don’t know it. From now on, I won’t refer to myself by that term. It’s career-o-cide.

Next on the list of things to fix is finding out who books humorous speakers and getting myself on their radar with a positive association. They don’t know me from Adam but I’m sure there are a lot of mediocre acts in that area just as there are in comedy clubs. Being funny to strangers isn’t easy in any arena, and the supply of quality is always lower than the demand. I have to stand out.

My new ‘pit crew’ Eric Feinendegen is helping me in this area. He’s a speaker himself, and he comes from a corporate environment which will be a huge help. He’s got contacts with people in places I’ve never approached, and that’s exactly what I need. I’m finally chasing the right dream!

"Humorists" and "humorous speakers" get paid on average far more than "comedians".  I am no longer a comedian from this moment forward.

“Humorists” and “humorous speakers” get paid on average far more than “comedians”. I am no longer a comedian from this moment forward.

My NEW Business!

December 7, 2013

Friday December 6th, 2013 – Gurnee, IL

My future boils down to marketing, and I know it. It’s not a secret, and now it comes down to execution. Will I or will I not be able to sell myself to enough people to continue to forge out a living doing what I was born to do? I say I will, but I am going to have to rethink my methods.

The first thing I will need to do is assume I am starting all over – which in a way I am. I’ll need to put together a complete list of everyone I can find who has the possibility of hiring me where I see myself working, and then get my name in front of them in a positive way until they hire me.

A content filled up to date newsletter is going to be a must have for 2014. Building long lasting relationships takes consistent effort, but it’s so worth it when it works correctly. Zanies is a great example, as we’ve been helping each other for twenty years. That relationship has been win/win.

As much as I love them, that’s not nearly enough. I need to forge similar relationships with lots of people all over North America and beyond. Comedy clubs don’t pay nearly what the speaking field pays, and I’ve got enough true life stories and stage chops to make a mark there in a hurry.

There have been quite a few top level speakers that have come directly from the comedy clubs, and I know several of them personally. Dale Irvin, Greg Schwem and Tim Clue are all based out of Chicago, and they smartened up a long time before I did. They’ve all been speaking for years.

Todd Hunt is a friend who was never a comedian, but he does give humorous speeches and he is THE best marketer I’ve ever seen – with the possible exception of James Gregory. Todd and I exchange ideas often, and I’ve helped him make his speech funnier over several years. Now he’s making suggestions how I can market myself better, and I’m listening with wide open ear holes.

There’s a whole lot of work to do, but that’s not the problem. The key is to sort it out into what needs to be done in what order, and sticking with that plan no matter what. I look at it as if I were building a house from the ground up. There needs to be logical progression, or it won’t get built.

I’ll admit that’s been an issue in the past. I’ve intended to build a house, but instead of digging a foundation I might varnish a door or squeegee a window. That’s not the right order, and that’s why I’m in the position I am in now. I’m not beating myself up, I’m just assessing my situation.

A new year is just ahead, and this is a perfect time to be thinking about all of this. I’ve hung in there this long doing it my own haphazardly way, why not switch it up and learn from my many mistakes so I can achieve results I really want? I’m excited knowing I’m doing it right for once.

I met with Eric Feinendegen tonight to plot out 2014. He’ll be my pit crew chief as I transition into speaking and more corporate work. I have the ability, and now I’m putting my team together to finally get my payoff for all my decades of struggle. I know there’s a place for me somewhere.

The most important thing to remember moving forward is that I’m not in the comedy business. I mistakenly thought I was for thirty years, but I’m in the MARKETING business. Humor is my basic product, but comedy clubs aren’t the only outlet. It took a while, but I’m finally wising up.

McDonald's isn't in the fast food business, they're in the real estate business.

McDonald’s is not in the fast food business. They are in the real estate business.

Walmart isn't in the retail business, they're in the trucking and transportation business.

Walmart is not in the retail business. They are in the trucking and transportation business.

Dobie Maxwell is not in the comedy business. He is in the marketing business - and this is the age I should have known it.

Dobie Maxwell is not in the comedy business. He is in the marketing business. This is the age I should have realized that. I know now.

No More Toilets

December 7, 2013

Thursday December 5th, 2013 – Island Lake, IL

I’ve been in a pretty good mindset the last few days, and I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about the future. I tend to get very down this time of year, but what helps me get through is being booked a lot and performing regularly. I’ve been doing exactly that, and it has kept my spirits up.

I love to be on stage performing standup comedy. There used to be a period after that statement but I’ve amended it over the years. I love to be on stage in a quality venue, performing for people who are there to see me – or at the very least there to see standup comedy. Trying to fight drunks in saloons that have a poor imitation of a comedy night is not nor ever has been my idea of fun.

As I get older, I realize I have spent WAY more time than I should have in places I should not have been working. That’s the only game I knew, but I was too busy scraping together a living to try other avenues. I now realize in this moment of clarity that I have to evolve, and do it quickly.

I have intended to do this before, but I haven’t executed it even close to where I need to. I have made minimal progress, but I see it has fallen far short. I need to completely revamp my method of doing business, and get in front of an almost entirely different audience. I can’t continue as is.

This isn’t good or bad, it’s just a fact. Driving 600 miles for $200 was something I needed to do at one time because I needed experience. Now I have a surplus of that, it’s money where I have a shortage. I have plowed the field and cultivated a time tested product. I have a fully grown crop.

The last place I’m going to get top dollar for it is where I’ve been farming all these years. The comedy club business might make some club owners rich, but comedians – at least those like me that aren’t a legitimate draw – have to struggle to stay booked every week and that’s not right.

It’s also not going to change any time soon, so the one doing all the changing is going to have to be me. I’m fine with it, but unless I throw myself totally into the pool I won’t make enough of a splash to achieve the results I’m looking to get. There won’t be a future without total evolution.

I won’t be able to do it overnight, so I’ll still need to supplement my income with at least a few club dates in 2014. Zanies in Chicago has always been great to me, but they can’t book me every week. The key is to cherry pick the places I really want to work, and not just take any honky tonk hell hole gig that comes along. It goes against my nature to say no to work, but I’ll need to start.

The days of working the toilets need to be OVER, no matter how much I need the money. It’s a big drain on the psyche, and those gigs have never been what I aspire to. I want to build myself a career, and that requires a completely different strategy. I have the necessary skills, now it comes down to how well I can market myself. If I can get in the door, I know I can shine with the best.

My problem has been I have not been knocking on the correct doors. The solution is to change my mindset and go where I need to go to make what I want happen. That may involve moving to another city, and at this juncture I’d be fine with it. I’m not being held in Chicago, and although I really like it here I know I could survive just fine in any number of other places. The number one place I need to survive is in my own head. Once I’m at home there, my base city doesn’t matter.

The Chicago area is a great place to live, but maybe it's time to shake things up and move somewhere else.

The Chicago area is a great place to live, but maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit and move somewhere else for a fresh start.

I've always loved Atlanta. The climate is mild, and the women are gorgeous. It's a fantastic city.

I’ve always loved Atlanta. The climate is mild, and the women are gorgeous. It’s a fantastic city, and I have some great friends there.

Los Angeles has always been a favorite place of mine as well. A lot of people hate it, but that's them. I'd live there in a second if I had even half a reason.

Los Angeles has always been a favorite place of mine as well. A lot of comedians hate it, but that’s them. I would live there again in two seconds if I had even half a reason.

The best choice of all might be Las Vegas. It's close to Los Angeles, and it's an entertainment town. I've always liked it there too - except in the summer. Yikes. "Dry heat" my barbecued buttocks.

The best choice of all might be Las Vegas. It’s very close to Los Angeles, and it’s an entertainment town. I’ve always liked it there too – except in the summer. “A dry heat” my barbecued buttocks. But I’d still move there.