Posts Tagged ‘The Safe House’

Mentor Magic

July 29, 2014

Friday July 25th, 2014 – Milwaukee, WI

I love being a mentor. It’s got a lot of the same rewards of fatherhood without having to change any diapers. I have had some tremendous mentees along the way of all ages, and it’s funny when they have been physically older than me. It doesn’t matter, as they are still in the role of student.

I am a student myself of many things, but in comedy I am the mentor. It’s one of the few topics I’m able to speak on with relative authority, even though the entire time I am teaching I remain a dedicated learner. I just happen to be farther along than most, so I can reach back and nurture.

The challenge of figuring out how to bring out the best in each individual is something I never get tired of. Everybody is different, and mentoring is not something that is started and finished in one session. It’s long term, and requires dedication and input from both parties. I really enjoy it.

One of my current favorites is twelve year old Trevor Burke along with his father Joe. Joe took one of my classes at Zanies in Chicago many years ago, and now Trevor is doing comedy. He’s a super kid and I have grown to really like him – even though I would highly recommend that kids don’t do standup comedy for more than fun. There are several reasons for that, and all are legit.

First off, kids don’t have the life experience to be able to draw upon for material. They are in a tough spot, and I don’t think it’s fair to the average kid to put them in a position to be on stage in front of total strangers – especially adults. Too many things can go wrong, and it’s intimidating.

Second, bombing on stage can be an absolutely horrific experience. I wouldn’t want to throw a kid – especially one I like – into such a precarious position with any sort of regularity. If the kid is doing a talent show at school or something for other kids, fine. But as a career path? No way.

Of course there are exceptions to almost every rule, and Trevor is it. Joe has a background with entertainment, as his brother had a band. Joe is fully aware of the pitfalls, and is very good in the way he keeps Trevor grounded. He and his wife Pam are excellent parents, and it all just works.

People frequently ask me, “Is the kid funny?” He’s a KID. He’s still developing as a person, so it’s unfair to put adult expectations on him or any other child. He’s funny enough, and should he decide to stay with standup as he matures, I think he’s got an extremely bright future. What he is loaded with is likeability and experience. He’s been acting for years, and is at home on the stage.

He enjoys performing, and that’s a huge part of it. He’s a novelty right now, and everyone gets that. He’s getting a lot of attention because Joe knows how to play the entertainment game. He is Trevor’s manager, and it’s a chance for them to bond as father and son but still develop a career.

Tonight I rode to Milwaukee with them both and watched Trevor compete in a talent contest at a street fair. It wasn’t the greatest of circumstances, but he went up and did his set anyway. There was a girl about his age that was a singer, and she had a bunch of her family come out so she was the winner because it was based on audience response. Trevor wasn’t disappointed, and we went to dinner at The Safe House afterward. It was fun to hang out, and no matter what happens I will still be his mentor and friend. Comedy is a nasty racket. I want to see him enjoy his childhood.

Trevor Burke has done more in show business at age 12 than most people do in a lifetime. Plus, he's a really nice kid too. I'm a big fan. www.trevorburke.com

Trevor Burke has done more in show business at age 12 than most people do in a lifetime. Plus, he’s a really nice kid too. I’m a big fan. http://www.trevorburke.com

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Acting Class And Storytelling

April 15, 2010

Tuesday April 13th, 2010 – Oak Park, IL/Milwaukee, WI

I’ve often heard comedians can easily transform themselves into actors as a rule, but for whatever reason I never chose to take that path. It never interested me. I was content with being a comedian, and I still am. The thrill is in that live performance. It never gets old.

Looking back, I wish I would have taken some acting and improv classes along the way. It would have added more texture to what I do on stage, and not hurt me at all. I probably won’t get a sitcom at this point, but it still would have been nice to have at least a couple of acting roles under my belt to round out my resume. I’m just now starting to get into it.

There was a one day seminar today designed to make speakers improve stage presence. It was sponsored by The National Speaker’s Association (NSA) and I heard about it from Steve Olsher, my new friend I met who taught his seminar on reinvention. He invited me to go along with him and I did. It was a chance to network and learn from a professional.

The meeting was at the studios of Ted Sarantos in Oak Park, IL. He’s been teaching for forty years, and I really liked the guy. He gave us techniques and exercises and there were about 40 people there, most of them speakers. My friend Deb DiSandro was there, and we hadn’t seen each other in a while. Like me, Deb is always trying to improve everything.

After the seminar, many of us went out to lunch and visited some more. I got to sit next to Ted and pick his brain about acting and teaching, and he did the same about comedy. It opened me up to a whole new world, even though I really don’t have any desire to go full time into acting. I’d be interested in taking Ted’s class to learn some basic fundamentals.

The main thing about going to seminars is the contacts that can be made. I met Steve at his seminar, then he asked me to go to this one and now I met Ted Sarantos. I see there’s a whole world of people I need to know, not just comedy people. I am behind on all of it.

Maybe I wasn’t ready until now, but I totally feel that I am. I love teaching and I know what I’m doing, but it doesn’t hurt to attend other seminars and watch how others deliver their material. I’ll pick things up here and there and it will make my classes even better.

Tonight I drove up to Milwaukee to participate in a storyteller’s club started by my old friend David Lee Hendrickson. He was a comedian for years, now he’s doing this. People get up and tell stories about their life. Some are sad, others funny. Everyone has a story.

I’m not sure where he’s going with it, and I don’t think he knows yet either. Still, it was fun to watch the people work, and I even got up and told a couple myself. If I have plenty of anything it’s interesting life stories – all of them true. I hope David succeeds with this.

The venue for the storytellers is The Safe House in Milwaukee. That’s a legendary joint everyone should experience. I hadn’t been there in years and forgot how unique and fun it is. Acting lessons by day, storytelling by night. It’s a wonder I have any free time at all.