Posts Tagged ‘Tim Walkoe’

It Takes A Champion

June 26, 2014

Tuesday June 24th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

If I have learned nothing else from my life’s long twisted journey, it’s that making one’s living exclusively as an entertainer for any significant amount of time is nothing less than a big old, icy cold, rock hard, unforgiving, unrelenting, cruel, nasty, fire breathing seven days a week BITCH.

Anyone that has lasted more than ten years has my undying respect, and then there are the lifer types like me that have gone past any and all ‘normal’ boundaries, and find ourselves desperately hanging on for dear life from week to week despite having sacrificed our lives to polish our craft.

My particular scope of view has been standup comedy, radio and professional wrestling. I have friends in each of those areas that have been at it for decades and are either struggling to hang on even a little bit longer or feverishly looking for something else so they can continue to survive.

And I know there are other fields like actors, dancers, musicians, magicians, film makers and a few more categories I’m sure I missed that are in this same (sinking) boat. We’ve devoted our all to our crafts, but never “made it big”. That term is so unfair, and it’s never about who is the best.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until someone hears me – there are all kinds of talented people at any given craft that are virtual unknowns, and quite often those with minimal talent manage to claw and scratch their way to the top by having razor sharp focus and wanting the spotlight more.

It takes almost a psychotic obsession to hit the big time in any creative endeavor, or a once in a lifetime streak of amazing luck. Or both. That’s rare enough, but now find a way to keep yourself around for more than a few months or even a year. Trust me, it’s NOT easy and most people fail.

In the comedy field, I can easily name dozens of really solid acts that just never found a way to get that break we all need. There are all kinds of reasons for it, but that doesn’t mean they are not talented – and solid citizens as well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter in this vicious death race.

Names that pop into my mind off the bat include Dwight York, Don Reese, Dwayne Kennedy, Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe, Jimmy McHugh, Beth Donahue, James R. Zingelman, Tim Northern, Danny Storts and Ron Ferguson. For every one of those names there are a dozen more, and I will stop naming because I know I’m excluding a friend that I like and respect. But you get the idea.

This all started when I got a phone call today from Rick D’Elia – another highly respected road warrior I love onstage and off. What a classy chap he is, and funny too. He is originally from the Boston area, but has been living on the west coast for years. We met in 2003 at the San Francisco Comedy Competition and have stayed in touch. He’s out there still slugging it out just like me.

He’s driving across the country, and working a week in Oklahoma this week to earn money to get himself home. He’s getting thrown out of his apartment for subletting while he was out trying to make a living in the crumbling comedy business, and he needs to find a place when he returns. I love Rick like a brother, and could totally empathize with his situation. This is why I have zero patience for cocky know-it-alls that have paid zero dues. The show business meat grinder is not for everyone. My heart goes out to Rick and everyone else still in the game. It takes a champion.

Rick D'Elia is a super funny comedian onstage and a classier person off stage does not exist. Look him up along with every other name I posted in this entry. They're ALL great, and deserve a break. www.rickdelia.com.

Rick D’Elia is a super funny comedian onstage and a classier person off stage does not exist. Look him up along with every other name I posted in this entry. They’re ALL great, and deserve a break. They’ve paid big dues. http://www.rickdelia.com.

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It’s All A Game

May 9, 2014

Tuesday May 6th, 2014 – Niles, IL

One concept I wish I would have grasped a lot sooner in show business – and life itself – is that it’s all a game. As wise as my grandfather was and as many lasting lessons as he taught, I don’t recall that one ever being on his list. If he said it I didn’t hear it, and I know I would have remembered.

Truth and fairness are not the determining factors for most of us, even though we’re taught that if we work hard and keep our noses clean spectacular things will happen. After a lot of lost years hoping that was the case, I am rapidly losing faith. I’m sorry, but this world is run by imbeciles.

Every once in a while someone with legitimate talent, morals and a giving heart slips through a crack somewhere and gets a nice run in the sun – but I have to think even that person knows it’s a fluke and against the odds. It just is. I wish this world were run fairly for all, but it never was.

My grandfather was a perfect example. There was not a more straight up spirit that ever walked this planet. Gramps cared about others and fought hard for what he thought was right. He treated people how he wanted to be treated, and worked hard at a job he really wasn’t fond of but it was what he had to do to support his family like he imagined an ideal husband and father would do.

He toiled and slaved at his job for the City of Milwaukee, and it came time to hand out a major promotion from within to supervisor. Gramps was totally qualified to do that job, but he lost out to another guy in his office that was a better ass kisser. I remember it crushed him at the time.

The reason this came up today is that my friend Marc Schultz organized one of his semiannual entertainer lunches. Everyone from magicians to circus acts to musicians to comedians shows up, and they’re always a lot of fun. Marc is a great guy, and I don’t know of anyone that doesn’t like him. He’s very laid back, and again treats entertainers like people and not farm animals. It’s rare.

The big lunch is held in November, but he’s been having a smaller one in spring of late. It’s at a Chinese restaurant with a private room, and we all hang out and tell war stories. This particular installment was well represented by a stellar lineup of Chicago’s finest comedy talent including Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe, Bill Gorgo, Skip Griparis and me. That’s quite the local all star team.

Other than Bill, the rest of us have worked at Zanies regularly for decades. Skip does musical comedy vignettes, impressions and original songs and is one of the most talented human beings I have ever met. He is world class great at what he does, as are Larry, Tim and Bill at the craft of standup. And I would like to think I’ve got a few marshmallows to bring to the camp fire too.

Between all of us, NOBODY is lighting the world on fire. We’re all getting by at best, but that is as far as it goes. I have huge respect for all those guys, but like Gramps none of them – or me – chose to play the game correctly. We thought just being good at what we do would handle it.

HA! There’s the killer mistake we all made. None of us chose to move to Los Angeles and stay there, and right or wrong that’s where “big time showbiz” happens. Eventually, anybody that hits pay dirt in show business on a big time will have business to do in Los Angeles. That’s how it is.

The fact is, Larry and Tim and Bill and Skip and I happen to like living where we do. It doesn’t appeal to us to play any stupid games, and that’s why we’re where we are. Talent doesn’t matter and rarely does. It’s nice if one has it, but not necessary. All that counts is how to play the game.

This is where it gets dangerous, because unfortunately this is the truth. Nobody wants to hear the truth – especially those in charge. They know everything I just said is on the money, but it’s the 2000 pound elephant in the room. It needs to be ignored, and I have never been good at that.

It’s also easy to get in a mental rut and let bitterness take over. That’s not good either, and it’s easy to do. I have seen quite a few people on a lot of levels rant and rave, and I admit I’ve been known to do it myself. I’m doing it now, but I’m trying to separate bitterness from actual facts.

Here’s an actual fact that needs to be digested by everyone that gets into the entertainment biz on any level: only a precious few ever really “make it” on a big time level, and luck is definitely one of the main ingredients. Hard work is another. Talent does have a place in the mix but there are a lot of talented people so it ends up being a given. Very very rarely is talent that important.

The whole “right place, right time” factor really does exist. It’s huge actually, and very few get themselves in that position either. Bill Gorgo is an example. He is a naturally funny person with an exceptional talent for not only writing jokes but punching up existing ones. He’s also a funny act, and probably could have acted had he chosen that route. He’s very likeable and looks good.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get started in standup comedy until he was 40 years old. He operated a trucking company his father started, and he was the only son so when his father passed it was the thing he felt he had to do. Was he “wrong”? Of course not – in life anyway. But in show business he didn’t play the game. Could he have worked at it part time? That’s hard to say, but I doubt it.

Also, he had a wife and daughter to support and he happens to be Italian and being close to his family is important to him. He helped care for his mother for years, and I respect him greatly for all of that. He did a commendable job in his life choices, but for show business he hurt himself.

He came up the comedy ranks in Chicago at a great time, but had a glass ceiling and was never going to move to L.A. like his and my generation of comedians did. Many of those people are on as solid of footing as there can be in the entertainment jungle. People like Mark Roberts and John Riggi may not be household names, but they have both played the game correctly and won big.

One would think they would automatically reach back and grab all the talented ones they could from their past, but it rarely works that way. Once in a while it may, but it’s not the rule. Chicago might as well be Uranus, and out of sight truly is out of mind. They have their own community.

This is just how the game works, and even though a few exceptions slip through once in a blue moon it’s pretty much a standard blueprint. If one wants to truly hit the big time, one has to get connected with those that make the decisions – and that’s traditionally where the trouble starts.

Who’s to really say what’s “good” in entertainment? Sports is easy to judge. If somebody can perform physically, they’re hired – even if they’re a detestable human being. Acting and comedy and music have a lot more grey area, and a lot of it is who gets the push from the source of power.

Another sad reality is that one is either really big or really small – no in between. I think all of us at the lunch today assumed we could be local stars in Chicago and live with that. Even that did not happen, and here we all are not getting any younger and left to fend for ourselves to eke out a living WAY out of the spotlight. We play the game or don’t, and each choice comes with a price. Is it too late to choose again? Maybe, and likely. The trick is to have a plan in place and work it.

Just like Monopoly, show business - and life itself - is a game. There are rules involved, and the winners learn them early.

Just like Monopoly, show business – and life itself – is a game. There are rules involved, and the winners learn to master them early.

A Lion’s Share

February 6, 2014

Saturday February 1st, 2014 – Kalida, OH

Last week I was in Woodburn, IN. Tonight it was Kalida, OH. Three weeks ago I’d never even heard of either of those towns, and I was pretty good in geography class in my day. These are not places I ever intended to go, but after being there I’m glad I went. The laughter made it worth it.

It didn’t hurt that there was a paycheck involved either. Both these shows were fundraisers for worthy causes, and at the end of each night everyone was a winner. I’d do shows like these every single night of the year if they’d let me, but it’s not that easy. There’s a lot behind the scenes that needs to get done before any show can happen, and the last two weeks it was all done correctly.

Tonight we did a fundraiser for the Lions Club of Kalida. Apparently they’ve been doing them for ten years, and have been using comedians the whole time. I don’t know how they’d found out about Tim Walkoe, but I’m glad they did. Tim asked me to do it with him, and it made for one of the strongest lineups I can think of for any show. We’re both solid headliners, and we kicked ass.

The people in charge knew it too, and they were beside themselves with delight after the show. I knew we’d deliver, and they said it was the best show they’d ever had. Of course it was, but we both sacrificed decades of our lives to get to the point of being able to do it. They got a bargain at whatever price they paid, as getting one much less two acts like us in one night was a super buy.

Tim and I talked about it on the way back to the hotel. Not many acts of any sort would be able to pull off a red hot show like this no matter what they’re called. Most ‘comedians’ would be far too dirty, and most ‘humorists’ wouldn’t be able to get consistent laughs all evening like we did.

We both knew exactly what to do, as we’ve been at it for so long. This was a diverse group and not an easy read. There were ages ranging from 20s to 70s, and it takes a seasoned pro to pull off a show that makes them all laugh. Everyone might not get every single joke, but at the end of the night everyone had a great time. Nobody knew how much work went into it, and nobody cared.

It wasn’t their job to care. All they had to do was show up and have fun – and they did. It was a super deal with a dinner/show package that featured an all-you-can-eat steak dinner plus as much beer as you could drink. Normally that would be a giant red flag, but it ended up working well.

There weren’t any issues with drunken heckling, and in fact they were an excellent audience. It was a pleasure to perform for such a well behaved and attentive crowd, and they were all there to support the cause and laugh. Whatever the people who ran it did, they hit it all right on the head.

They got the word out with the town and surrounding areas, and I didn’t see an open seat in the whole place. I’d estimate there were probably 400 people in the Lions Club, and they brought in a very good sound system too. We had the tools we needed, and we knew what to do with them.

This was a home run from every angle. I have to believe there are groups like this in thousands of towns like this I’ve never heard of – and many more that I have. Getting people to set them up as well as this one was and last week in Woodburn, IN is a different story. They all did their jobs and it made ours easy. It isn’t like this every week, but for the last two it’s been comedy heaven.

I had never heard of Kalida, OH before last night. I'm glad I did. What nice people live there.

I had never heard of Kalida, OH before last night. I’m glad I did. What nice people live there.

Tim Walkoe and I did a comedy fundraiser for a packed house. It benefitted the local Lion's Club.

Tim Walkoe and I did a comedy fundraiser for a packed house. It benefited their local Lions Club.

Early Departure

February 6, 2014

Friday January 31st, 2014 – Findlay, OH

This is turning out to be an especially nasty winter, but we’ve been due for one for a few years now so I’m not complaining. If I’m going to be based where I am, it has to be expected. I’d love to be based somewhere else in the winter, and maybe that will happen in the future. But not now.

I have a booking tomorrow night in Kalida, OH with Tim Walkoe, but there’s a big snow storm on the way and Tim suggested we drive tonight to beat it. I had a booking tonight that got moved to a future date, so I happened to be off and agreed with Tim. It’s much less stress to get in early.

We agreed to split the cost of a rental car, and since Tim was working on a cruise ship he asked if I wouldn’t mind picking it up and then picking him up at his house in Chicago. He had been on a plane all day, and I totally know what that’s like. Getting to the next gig is always a challenge.

Tim has been out there slugging even longer than me. He started as a musician, and still plays a guitar at the end of his show – much to the delight of audiences. Guitar acts are often mocked by comedy ‘purists’, and I can see why. They often use the guitar as a crutch, and it’s a cheap laugh.

Those that do it well take it to a whole new level, and Tim is one. He is a brilliant comic talent in his own right, one of the funniest I’ve ever seen. He has a natural rhythm that lays me out, and most comedians that have ever worked with him will agree. He has huge respect from his peers.

He can slug it with the best of them, and then he picks up his guitar at the end and takes it even higher. I love to watch him work, and he still makes me laugh out loud even though I’ve seen his act literally hundreds of times. That’s the true sign of a seasoned pro, and Tim is definitely that.

I picked him up at his house about 7:30, and we started driving to Findlay, OH where the hotel we’d be staying at tomorrow was so we wouldn’t have to move. We were able to get a corporate rate from the event booker and it was a really nice place, so we decided to make the investment.

That’s part of the cost of doing business, and we’ve both been at it long enough to know it was a wise choice to beat the weather and worth every penny we spent. The stress it saved us from an all day white knuckle ride tomorrow was appreciated – especially by Tim who just flew all day.

I hadn’t seen him in a while, and started to tell him of my change in thinking of late. I’m trying to avoid as many of these trips as I can, and get myself more corporate type bookings that are far less demanding as far as frequency of travel. I don’t have the need to be on stage like I once did.

I could feel a separation between us as I talked about it, and it was very awkward. He’s still out there slugging, and I have nothing but respect for him for doing it. It’s a flat out brutal existence, and nobody works harder than Tim Walkoe. He started years before I did, and is still at it today.

I understand why he’s doing it, as I did it myself all these years. But I’m finding my life going a totally different direction, and I’m fine with it. Being on stage is fun, but truthfully at this point it just isn’t worth racing the elements to obtain. I have other interests developing, and the stage just isn’t the necessary element of daily life it once was. I can’t speak for Tim, but as for me I like it.

Tim Walkoe is without a doubt one of the funniest comedians working today. Period. www.timwalkoe.com.

Tim Walkoe is without a doubt one of the funniest comedians working in North America today. Period. http://www.timwalkoe.com.

A Missed Connection

November 6, 2013

Tuesday November 5th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

Imagine the feeling of going on a lifelong journey that took all your energy, dedication and free time for close to thirty long years, but right at the end you realized you were on the wrong vessel. You were supposed to catch a connecting ship years ago, but for whatever reason you missed it.

The reason itself isn’t important, but you arrive at what you thought was your final destination and there isn’t anyone at the dock to ask for directions, and there are NO refunds for the trip. It’s over, and there you are alone with a suitcase full of dirty underwear and empty shampoo bottles.

It’s a devastating combination of both total shock and extreme disappointment, and an ice cold slap in the face sending you into a deep panic mode. There are only a precious few stray bills left in your wallet, and all your credit cards are maxed to the hilt. You assumed there would be a big welcoming party at the dock and you’d get a significant expense check, but that never happened.

What to do now? There you are all alone at the dock exhausted from what you thought was the triumphant journey of a lifetime, but instead you find yourself back where you started. It’s thirty years later, and everything has changed. Nobody cares about your story – you’re just in the way.

That’s exactly how I felt after my show tonight at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago. I thought it was going to be a shining highlight of my professional life, but instead it was a bitter reminder of how cruel life and especially show business can be. Only a few ever get to taste the real big time.

Zanies is celebrating their 35th anniversary month, and bringing in some really tremendous acts as they’ve done for 35 years. Tonight it was the “Chicago Killers” which included “Uncle” Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe and me. I was thrilled to be included on such a lineup of classic Chicago acts.

The three of us have been regular Zanies acts for decades, and are what booker Bert Haas likes to refer to as “bangers”. We go up and consistently bang out rock solid shows no matter what the crowd conditions are, and he knows he can count on us getting laughs and pleasing the audience.

Tonight was the first time the three of us had ever been booked to be on one show, and that’s a big deal – or at least I thought it was. It would be like three popular rock bands putting together a special one night only show. One would think it would be an event and be able to create a buzz.

To top it off, hosting the show tonight was another long standing club headliner Jimmy Shubert out of Philadelphia. Jimmy has been out there as long as I have, and at one time toured with Sam Kinison in the heyday along with the whole Texas Outlaw crew. He’s another big time “banger”.

Between the four of us, there was more than 100 years of comedy experience on that stage, and I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of an all star cast like that. From top to bottom, that’s about the strongest lineup of club comedians I could ever picture. If anything, I would be the weakest link.

I would think that show should be sold out for months, or at least have a line that winds around the block tonight trying to score tickets. In a city of millions, there aren’t 100 fans of the standup comedy variety that would come out to see a first ever once in a lifetime all star monster lineup?

Apparently not. The show was not even close to being a sellout, and Zanies isn’t all that big of a venue. I think the capacity is maybe around 110, but I’m not exactly sure. Still, I was surprised it wasn’t jam packed – even with newbies coming up the ranks. Every new comedian in Chicago should have been there, if for no other reason than to see what a dead end club comedy really is.

Here you’ve got an all star lineup of heavy hitters on the comedy club scene, and nobody came out to see us. Not fans. Not the media. Not even other comedians that think that’s what they want to aspire to be. Tuesdays at Zanies are traditionally “Good Neighbor Night” where they let in the people who live in the zip codes near the club for a very low cover charge. That’s who came out.

There could have been anything on the bill, and they wouldn’t have known the difference. That totally stomps on any remaining shred of ego or self esteem any one of us may have come to the club with tonight, but it was painfully evident that there was nothing at all special about the show to these people. We all had to work like hell to even keep their attention, but we’re used to that.

All of us have been doing shows like that since we started, so it was no big deal. We all did our time, and did it extremely well. I watched the whole show, and all three of the other guys had me laughing out loud – and that’s nearly impossible after spending my life seeing standup comedy.

Those guys are world class performers, and master craftsmen all. I marveled at the smoothness of their acts, and they were all very complimentary to me as well. It was a treat to watch them all work, but the audience sure didn’t act like it. They were pretty stiff actually, and it was a chore.

Martin Balion has been the manager of the Chicago Zanies for decades, and he’s seen it all just like we have. Everybody loves Martin, and with good reason. He’s as laid back as they come and treats us like royalty. He knows more about comedy than most comedians, and immediately after I got off stage he took me aside and told me how far I’ve come and how hilarious he thinks I am.

Martin has seen all of us literally HUNDREDS of times, but to hear that from him put a pep in my step and made me feel like my life wasn’t a total waste after all. It sure felt like it on stage as I was working myself into a lather trying to loosen up a stiff crowd that wasn’t there to see me.

Nobody was there to see any of us, and that’s a crushing blow. There was a lady named Susan Bruno who used to work at a club called Who’s On First years ago, and she was there for Larry and Tim. My friend Joe Nuccio showed up, as he knows Tim and me. Other than that, there were ZERO fans of any of us and that totally rocked my world. What the hell did I do with my life?

I rode to the club with Tim Walkoe, and after I dropped him off at his house I openly wept all the way home. What an idiot I’ve been all these years thinking there was going to be some kind of payoff at the end of this long brutal journey I started all those years ago. I only fooled myself.

It’s not Zanies or any other club’s job to make anyone famous. It’s the act’s job to find the way to parlay his or her skills into something that can in turn become a draw where people will pay to see them years later in those same clubs where they started. For me I thought that draw would be radio, but I’ve got a whole other horror story on that subject. It never happened, and now here we all are with really great acts and nobody knows who we are. New comics should learn from this.

'Uncle Lar' Larry Reeb - a Chicago classic and one of the funniest comedians in America. www.unclelarryreeb.com.

‘Uncle Lar’ Larry Reeb – a Chicago classic and one of the funniest comedians in America. http://www.unclelarryreeb.com.

Ditto Tim Walkoe. A master at his craft, and also a talented musician. www.timwalkoe.com

Ditto Tim Walkoe. A master at the standup comedy craft, and also a very talented musician. http://www.timwalkoe.com

Jimmy Shubert used to tour with Sam Kinison and the Texas Outlaws. Go see him whenever you can. www.jimmyshubert.com

Jimmy Shubert used to tour with Sam Kinison and the Texas Outlaws. Go see him whenever you can. http://www.jimmyshubert.com

Distinguished Pedigree

October 23, 2013

Wednesday October 16th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

I’m back headlining at Zanies in Chicago this week, and it never gets old. That stage has a long and distinguished pedigree since 1978, and everyone who is anyone in comedy from Jay Leno to Jerry Seinfeld to Richard Lewis to Robert Klein to Sam Kinison and countless others have stood on the very stage I am privileged to stand on eight more times this week. This place is legendary.

It’s like an athlete getting to play in a storied structure like Yankee Stadium or Lambeau Field. One can feel the aura of history just walking in the place, and that’s what I feel whenever I walk into Zanies – even though I’ve done it hundreds of times. There’s still a magic vibe in the place.

The walls are covered with 8×10 signed photos of acts that have performed there over all these years, and it’s a virtual history of the comedy industry. Most every big star one can think of is up there, and they all look unbelievably young with pictures most of the public hasn’t seen before.

Jay Leno’s picture looks like it’s from his high school graduation, as do several others. A lot of the acts are dead now, and there are also a lot of others that most people have never heard of. I’m on the wall too, and it’s one of my earliest promo shots in a tuxedo of all things. I’m embarrassed whenever anyone sees it, but Zanies refuses to take it down. They say they’ll replace it if I try.

Part of the charm of a long running comedy club is to see the pictures of the comedians who’ve been around a while and look at how they’ve progressed. The Punch Line in Atlanta has some of the oldest promo pictures I’ve ever seen, and there are quite a few that I had never seen before.

For reasons of which I am still unsure, I am one of the Zanies family. I sure didn’t plan on that when I started, and I’m sure they didn’t either. It just kind of grew unexpectedly over decades of working together, and now I’m ingrained in the DNA. I wouldn’t think of going anywhere else.

That doesn’t mean I’m bullet proof and I could easily get booted tomorrow, but I’d have to do something pretty bad to make that happen. We’ve got enough history with each other that we’re like an old married couple. We’ve learned to live with one another and there’s a comfort level.

Is it good or bad? It just “is”. There’s an Improv Comedy Club in Schaumburg, IL and I’d love to work there and every other Improv in America. What comedian wouldn’t? They have some of the most gorgeous comedy rooms ever built, and have a nationally recognized name. I might get a chance to work some of the others someday, but not in Chicago. I’m a loyal Zanies act. Period.

I just received word I was bestowed a huge honor by being chosen to be one of three comics on Zanies’ 35th anniversary show November 5th along with Larry Reeb and Tim Walkoe. That made my year, and I’m thrilled to be included in such distinguished company. Those guys are as funny as it gets, and are classic Chicago acts. To be part of that show is like being “made” in the Mafia.

True fans of Chicago standup comedy will get to see a show nobody has ever seen before. I’ve worked with both those guys many times before, but the three of us have never performed on one show on the same night. That’s a rock solid lineup, and I’m looking forward to us all knocking it out of the park for Zanies’ anniversary. I’m SO excited! Get your tickets early. http://www.zanies.com.

Zanies Comedy Club on Wells Street in Old Town Chicago. It's a cathedral of comedy.

Zanies Comedy Club on Wells Street in Old Town Chicago. It’s a cathedral of comedy.

Who's this idiot? I have NO idea.

Who’s this idiot? I have NO idea.

Hidden Comedy Gems

October 5, 2013

Thursday October 3rd, 2013 – Rosemont, IL

Once again Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago have come through when I could use some work the most, and gratitude permeates my entire being. I’ve got several random fill in dates scattered through the rest of the year, and I couldn’t be happier. I can pay some bills but still remain local.

The openings are at all three of their Chicago area clubs and at all positions on the shows. One night I might be the headliner, and the very next I might feature or host. Normally that’s not how a club books an act and it’s a dangerous game to play politically, but Zanies and I have a history.

They know I’m a strong headliner, and I have nothing to prove. They also know I am versatile enough to handle any role on any show, and won’t bitch about not headlining. I’m there to earn a living, and also to work on new material in a productive environment. Being an emcee or feature in good rooms is the ideal place to work out new bits, and I’ll take advantage of this opportunity.

Every comedian wants to be the headliner, but it’s not easy to move up the ranks. I could write several articles about this tricky and delicate process, and I intend to in the not too distant future to benefit up and coming comedians. For now suffice to say I’m thrilled to get the local income.

I have several headline dates coming up soon, but this week I’m hosting three shows at the new Rosemont, IL location. I’m thrilled to be working with Carl LaBove, quite simply one of the best standup comedians in America. In my opinion, he should be a lot more well known than he is.

I’m always bitching and complaining about comedians I think should get more recognition, but I can’t help it. I know how difficult it is just to survive in this insidious business, but then there is a higher level of people with tremendous natural ability who are special. Carl is in that category.

I’m sure it’s the same with actors, musicians, athletes or any other competitive endeavor. There are all kinds of people who want to be stars, but very few have the ability, drive and luck to make it happen as they pictured. The magic formula is a combination of all three – and extremely rare.

I have frequently named all kinds of acts I think should be huge stars, and I mean it. My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is one. That guy hustles his business like nobody else, has a rock solid and hilarious stage character and can work clean. He should be on The Tonight Show, Ferguson, Letterman, Kimmel, Conan or any other show immediately. Find him at http://www.funniestman.com.

Steve ‘Mudflap’ McGrew is another hidden treasure. That guy is world class funny, and I can’t figure out why he hasn’t popped on a big time level. Jimmy Shubert is another gem. Then there’s Dwayne Kennedy, Steve Seagren, Tim Northern, Beth Donahue, Tim Walkoe, Larry Reeb and a whole lot of others who are out there making people laugh week after week. They’re all warriors.

Carl LaBove is right there with all of them. I first met him when I was just starting out. He was best friends with Sam Kinison, and part of the ‘Texas Outlaws’ with Bill Hicks, Ron Shock and a few other guys from the ‘80s. Carl has an amazing life story which I won’t delve into, but it sure is worth checking out as is his hilarious act. He’s at Zanies in Rosemont, IL the rest of this week, and I will be watching every minute of every show he does. He’s a master. http://www.carllabove.com.

Zanies is my 'home club'. They have been good to me for decades and I am very grateful.

Zanies is my ‘home club’. They have been good to me for decades and I am very grateful.

Check out my friend James Gregory 'The Funniest Man In America' www.funniestman.com

Check out my friend James Gregory ‘The Funniest Man In America’ http://www.funniestman.com

The great Carl LaBove - quite simply one of THE best standup comics in America today. What a talent - and a great guy too. www.carllabove.com

The great Carl LaBove – quite simply one of THE best standup comics in America today. What a talent – and a great guy too. http://www.carllabove.com

The Peak Of Ripeness

June 22, 2013

Friday June 21st, 2013 – Niles, IL

   It’s the first day of summer, and once again I find another year slipping away. After today days start to get shorter again, so this is it – the prime day of the year. I’m not booked tonight, and I’m not thrilled about it in the least. I want to be out working as much as I can, and that’s every week.

   Nothing else makes me even close to happy. I’ve resigned myself to the icy fact that I’m never going to have that solid family relationship I have always wanted, but if I can’t have that the only other thing I’d ever want is a chance to be on stage entertaining people who are there to see me.

   I’ve been chasing that tricky rabbit longer than I think I should have, and I don’t feel any closer now than when I started. I have come untold light years as a performer, but nobody knows who I am so what good is it? I know I can go on stage and light up a room, but nobody powerful cares.

   Rodney Dangerfield had a great joke that said he quit show business and when he quit – he was the only one who KNEW he quit. That’s funny to anyone who isn’t living it. I feel like I’m there now myself, and I’m not laughing. I’m not even smiling. I’m panicking, and that’s never good.

   There are too many choices to make, and I have no idea which ones are correct. I’ve made a lot of stupid ones through the years, but even so I still paid my dues and developed my natural talent to the point it’s ripe and ready to pick. I’m at my peak just like today is the peak of the summer.

    I don’t want to waste any more time, as that peak ripeness won’t last forever. It will eventually get soft and rot, and the last thing I want is to be a rotten piece of fruit that fell off the tree. I have come way too far for that, so I decided to do something about it. I am not satisfied with this fate.

   In a perfect world, I’d be working six to seven nights a week in nice venues for audiences filled with my fans. I’d super serve those people, and give them my very best each night. I’d sign every autograph and pose for every picture after the show, and live the rest of my days brightening the days of as many others as humanly possible. I’ve got the ability, now I just need the opportunity.

   How the hell is that going to happen? I wish I knew. I read an interview with Lewis Black and he said he had resigned himself to the fact he’d never make it – and then he made it. I’m right at that point myself, and I don’t like it one bit. There’s no guarantee I’ll hit anything, and that rots.

   I can rattle off a dozen names of absolutely fantastic standup comedians that the public has no idea whatsoever who any of them are. Look these people up in no particular order and tell me if you don’t think they’re hilarious. I know they are, because they’ve paid their dues just like me.

   Here’s a list off the top of my head: Tim Cavanagh, Tim Walkoe, Tim Northern, Dwight York, Don Reese, Jim McHugh, James Wesley Jackson, Beth Donahue, John McClellan, Danny Storts, Ross Bennett, Keith Stubbs, Todd Johnson, Auggie Smith, Bill Gorgo, Rick D’Elia, Wally Wang and now I’m going to get in trouble because I’ll leave someone out unintentionally. Suffice to say not everyone makes it.

   I’ve said it before, and I wish it weren’t true – talent does NOT assure anyone of career success in the entertainment business. In sports it may be different, but this isn’t sports. This is a business based on subjective opinions of many that have never once attempted to do themselves what they are allegedly experts at choosing. This has always been frightening and extremely disturbing, but I don’t see it ending any time soon. There are hoops that are to be jumped through, like it or not.

   I don’t like it and never have, but if I intend to change my current status I need to suck it up for at least a little while and get back out there. There are so many places other than comedy clubs to approach, and that’s where it gets tricky. Where do I go and who do I talk to? I haven’t been able to figure it out until now, so what leads me to believe I’ll do it now? I can’t, so I need some help.

   I had lunch with Marc Schultz today, and in his world he’s in a similar situation. Marc books a variety of entertainment acts and has for years. He inherited an agency from his father, and even though he’s not a comedy booker per se I have gotten a decent amount of work over the years.

   Marc and I are friends, and there aren’t many bookers I’d call a friend first. I genuinely like the guy, and even if he never booked me again I’d still hang out with him. That’s all fine, but we put our heads together today to see what we could come up with. His business isn’t what it was, but what business these days is? We can both use a little freshening up, so we came up with a plan.

   Most of Marc’s clients are corporate types. Most of them would never hire a standup comic but he’s going to approach the ones that might. He’s always been good about trying to include me on any sampler videos he sends, and I totally appreciate it. But I can do the job, and he realizes that.

   We also agreed that Marc is going to go after club work that I haven’t gone after, for a fee. I’m delighted to pay anybody to get me work I don’t have, so this is a no brainer. If he can land some decent work, I’m all over it. I don’t want to work the toilet circuit anymore, so these will be good clubs that will pay decent money. He’s not familiar with the club market, but he’s willing to try.

   This is not a long term fix, but in the short run it could be great for both of us. I won’t be stuck doing what I’ve never liked, and it’s always good to have a third party selling me rather than me stumbling and stammering and asking for work like a vagrant asks for change. I’ve never liked it.

   Steady work is what’s it’s about in any facet of show business. Period. I’d rather work steadily and make livable wage than be a big star one minute and a has been bum the next. I’m all about a steady career with regular income. I’ve come close many times, but I’ve never been able to make it last. There’s always been a radio job to come along and shake things up in a destructive way.

   I’m not foreseeing any radio in my immediate future. That ship has sailed – or sunk. What I am going to do is cross every T and dot every I and go after all the quality standup comedy work I’m able to get. It could be comedy clubs, cruise ships, colleges or corporate. I can handle just about anything at this point, but what I can’t handle is not working at all. That’s totally unacceptable.

   I look at comics from my generation of performers like Louis CK and Jim Gaffigan, and I want to be doing what they’re doing. How did they get it? I don’t know. I’m sure it was a lot of things. Talent is a part, but so is persistence, connections, luck and who knows what else? It’s complex.

   If I don’t get myself in front of someone, I’ll never have any chance to do anything. That’s not what I want to have as my final legacy, so at least Marc is going to be out there trying to mention my name to people who can book me in decent venues. Why haven’t we done this before now?

   Neither one of us has an answer. Marc was doing his thing, and I was doing mine. Now we’ve both run out of ‘things’, and this is a logical fit – at least for now. I’m going to dive into booking myself in as many quality places as I can. No more toilets. If I succeed, my life will change soon. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s just that where I’m doing it hasn’t gotten me seen.

What’s An Enviromedian?

May 28, 2013

Sunday May 26th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

  Nobody appreciates quality entertainment more than an entertainer. I’m a loyal and rabid fan of anything well done, but obviously standup comedy holds a special place in my heart and always has. I loved it before I did it, and my love for it was what drew me to it. I never grow tired of it.

   I think that makes me a perfect candidate to be a producer of product for other comedians. I am a lifelong fan of the craft, and who better would there be to inject a set of ‘fresh eyes’ into what a comedian does to best showcase his or her talent to the public? I feel as if I’m uniquely qualified.

   I got my chance a while back when I produced a live DVD project for my friend James Wesley Jackson, aka ‘The Enviromedian’. This was a thrill on many levels. First, James used to tour with George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic for years. That alone puts him in my Hall of Fame for life. Anyone who knows me knows I love the PFunk – even though nobody can figure out why.

   For whatever reason, I was sucked in as a kid when I first heard it on the radio and I still love it today. It’s well done entertainment and then some, and I respect the immense effort it must have taken to pull off such a huge project. James got to witness it first hand, and still be a comedian.

   Second, James is flat out one of THE sweetest human beings I have ever encountered. He has a laid back friendliness that shines on stage, and you can’t help but love the guy. He’s got his own unique style, and the first time I met him we hit it off instantly. Part of it was the fact that I knew of his pedigree with the PFunk, and another part was two fellow comedians sharing our histories.

   Whatever the case, I wanted to start producing other performers. I can think of more than just a handful who don’t have top quality recording projects out in my opinion, and that’s not meant to be an insult. Most of us are focused on our performing and just trying to stay alive that taking the time to crank out product never manifests itself. I know how hard it was to do my own products.

    I also suffer from a common ailment of not being able to sell my own stuff well, but can go all out with someone else’s. I believe in James as a comic and a person, and it was my pleasure to be the one to head up this project. It was recorded a couple of years ago now, but my hospitalization fiasco of 2011 has held it up along with other obstacles in my path. It’s been a long time coming.

   Now, I have FINALLY gotten my head out of Uranus and had 100 promo copies made to start sending them out. I don’t know exactly who to send them to, but I have them. I invested my last nickel getting this done, but I felt I owed it to James and myself to finish what I said I would do.

   Fellow comedian Mike Preston was the technical person, and I hired him to record the show at a place called ‘Asbury’s’ in the Chicago area. It’s a country club of all things, but James knocked it so far out of the park it might as well have been Carnegie Hall. It was a very special experience to be there that night, and for once the hot show was the one that got recorded. It came out great.

   I hired legendary PFunk artist Pedro Bell to do the cover art, and fans will be able to recognize it instantly. It took a long time to get this far, but I am proud to say I did it. Now I need to stretch it further and start selling some product. Not only that, I’d love to get a chance to produce several more comedians I’m a fan of. Names that come to mind are talented guys like Bill Gorgo, Jimmy McHugh, Jim Wiggins, Tim Walkoe, Tim Northern and so many more. George Clinton produced a lot of music acts beside his own. I’d be delighted to do the same with a variety of comedy acts.

The Enviromedian is BACK!

The Enviromedian is BACK!

James Wesley Jackson

James Wesley Jackson

An All Star Experience

March 25, 2013

Saturday March 23rd, 2013 – Spencer, IA

   What a euphoric experience it was in Holland, MI last night. Who’d ever think a show like that could happen in a place like that? There was no real reason for it, other than everyone showed up at the right place at the right time. That doesn’t always happen, but when it does it’s a real treat.

Those are the shows that keep us all out there chasing this goofy dream, but in reality I actually caught it last night. It only lasted for a few minutes, but I did catch it. When I started, shows like last night were exactly what I dreamed of. I wanted to hear eruptions of laughter from audiences. Period. Location of those audiences was never part of my dream. Holland, MI works fine for me as does anywhere else. All that matters is there’s a live audience and they’re enjoying the show.

It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to be king of Las Vegas or Los Angeles or any other place that’s considered the epicenter of the big time, but I think that’s a big mistake. People in Holland, MI or Spencer, IA don’t laugh any differently than the people anywhere else. Laughs are laughs.

There were a lot more of them tonight in Spencer, IA with the Chicago Comedy All Stars. This was another red hot crowd, but it sure was a major effort to get in front of them. It was 530 miles from my house to Spencer, not counting the drive from Holland, MI to my house. I’m delirious.

In reality I should have said no to the Holland show last night. I always hate to turn down work though – especially when it’s as much fun as that whole experience was. Unfortunately, it wasn’t worth the effort on a financial level. By the time I pay for gas and wear and tear on my worn and torn car, I will barely break even. I don’t like to admit that, but facts are facts. It was inefficient.

It would have been a lot smarter to have driven to Spencer with the other acts on the show. Jim McHugh, Tim Walkoe and Mike Preston split a rental car and drove out yesterday. We thought we had a Friday in the Des Moines area, but that fell through last week. I was offered the gig in Holland, so I took it without thinking. That was my problem. I should have thought it through.

A quarter of the rental car and gas cost would have been a lot easier than driving by myself like I did. Also, it would have been a blast riding with three of my favorite comedians and having fun busting balls the whole trip. The camaraderie of hanging with comics is a big part of the fun of it.

We did get to do that at the actual show, and it lived up to the billing and then some. Again, the audience was really into us, and we tore it up one more time. All the acts on the show are veteran performers and it was like a night off only having to do about thirty minutes total. They fed us an incredible dinner before the show, and everyone treated us like stars. Is there an issue with that?

Again, people anywhere else wouldn’t have laughed any more or harder than these people this evening. They loved the show, and we loved performing for them. None of us loved the drive we had to make, but that’s just something that goes with the territory. It’s a tradeoff. To get that rush of live performing, we all have to sacrifice our comfort and find a way to make it to the venue so we can get our fix. It’s an addiction. There’s no way around it, and it comes at a very high price.