Posts Tagged ‘TV’

Craig Ferguson BLOWS…

May 6, 2014

Sunday May 4th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

A few days ago, I happened to write an entry in this very diary about Craig Ferguson. Not that it matters, but I happen to be a fan and I wrote some nice things. I meant them all, and I really do think he is a talented and funny fellow. Appearing on his show was truly a highlight of my life.

I didn’t think much of it, other than I wished him well in his new endeavors. I was sorry to hear he didn’t get the David Letterman slot, and again not that it matters what I think I do believe he’d be the natural choice. The guy is second to none in my opinion, and would have been ideal for it.

Part of me wanted him to get it for my own agenda. He likes to work off the cuff as do I, and it has always been a fantasy for me to pair up with a talk show host that I can shoot lines back and forth with like Rodney Dangerfield had with Johnny Carson. They were a tremendous TV team.

Rodney appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny a whopping 70 times, and it helped make his career. I vividly remember looking forward to it as a teenager, and they always delivered the laughs. I would love to have a national TV outlet to do the same, and Craig Ferguson would have been a great pairing. He doesn’t know that, but I would have been able to keep up with his wit.

I only got to do my standup when I was on, and it was a frightening experience in many ways. I made a lot of mistakes I totally wouldn’t do again, but everyone needs to have their first slot on national television to get the experience over with. It’s very intimidating, but it didn’t kill me.

I’d be MUCH more relaxed and prepared a second, seventh or seventieth time, and I’d love to do it. In all likelihood, it won’t be on the show as it sits. The talent coordinator that booked me is not there anymore, and I don’t have any in. It’s not like Craig and I were buddies beforehand, I only opened for him at Zanies in Vernon Hills, IL and killed time when his plane was delayed and the CBS liaison saw me and told me I was hilarious. That started the process of me being on the show.

When I finally did it, he left the room before I went on. That must be their policy, and I think it is to give the comedians the floor and let them work. Personally, I hoped he’d be in the room and call me over to the couch like Johnny used to do. Still, we crossed paths as he was leaving and I was about to go on and he shook my hand and wished me well. I sensed a genuine spirit in him.

What really blew me away most is when I wrote my recent diary and saw how many loyal fans he has. Wow! I’ve never seen anything like it, and I was beyond impressed. I wrote entries about Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld the two days prior, because it happened to be their birthdays. I didn’t get even ONE response to either of those entries – but when I wrote about Craig I was deluged.

And a persnickety lot they were. They corrected me on my facts and informed me of all he had coming up. I could only dream of having such dedicated fans, and that’s why I’m writing about it now. I’m assuming they are going to find it as they seem to scout out anything that happens to be written about their hero. I do know his birthday is coming up on May 17th, so don’t correct me.

I would LOVE a fiercely loyal fan base like Craig Ferguson has, and I am totally fine with it if a lot of them happen to overlap. I’ll take second place, as long as I’m on the radar. Check out my appearance on the show. It’s on You Tube, but it’s not my best work. I have a DVD and a CD as well, and if you’d like a copy send me an address and I’ll ship out whatever you like. Hopefully you will become my fans too. Craig Ferguson blows…everyone else’s fan base away. Kudos!

Craig Ferguson has THE most loyal fan base I've ever seen. If I could have half that much support I'd be doing more than well.

Craig Ferguson has THE most loyal fan base I’ve ever seen. If I could have even half that much support I’d be doing more than well. PLEASE…be my fans too!

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.

Redd Foxx

December 11, 2013

Tuesday December 10th, 2013 – Island Lake, IL

I’m a day late, but I would be remiss if I didn’t remember the birth date of John Elroy Sanford – aka Redd Foxx – who was born on December 9th, 1922. He was influential to comedians of both his own generation and those that followed him, and in my opinion has always been under rated.

I first discovered him like most Americans from his role as Fred Sanford on ‘Sanford and Son’ in the ‘70s, but I later came to realize how important a figure he was in the bigger picture of the 20th century standup comedy scene. He was a groundbreaker and trendsetter with ‘party records’.

Those were recordings of standup comedy shows that were risqué for the time, but pretty tame by today’s standards. Before cable TV and the internet, it was the only source of entertainment at most parties and it filled a void. Redd Foxx realized this, and was smart enough to carve a niche.

I saw an interview with him years ago where he talked about having the reputation of doing X rated material or ‘working blue’, and he said the only reason he did it was that there was no place else for the public to get it at the time. It was strictly a business decision, and it worked for him.

Redd appeared on about 50 of these records, and I remember owning several through the years. I’ve moved so many times I eventually ended up dumping all my vinyl albums, but I do wish I’d held on to an autographed album I bought at a rummage sale for $1. I should have had it framed.

Redd worked the ‘chitlin’ circuit’, which is a nice way of saying he played hell holes sweating to squeak out a living just like I’ve been doing my entire adult life. I can only imagine the glut of horror stories he must have had trying to pry payment out of club owners and living on the road.

He wasn’t paid nearly enough for his record sales, even though it did help make him a name to sell tickets for his live performances. He came along at a time where there wasn’t much recourse but to keep working and squeak out a living. He paid his dues, and deserved his eventual success.

I thought Sanford and Son was a very funny show, and still do. Redd’s character holds up well in my opinion. It was always a highly rated show at the time, and my grandparents both loved it so that says a lot. They had different senses of humor, and as a kid I liked it too. It was universal.

Jerry Dye is a Chicago comedian who was born in Mississippi, and is in the generation before me. I worked with him many years ago, and he told me he used to write for Sanford and Son. He said that Redd was notorious for putting as many of his chitlin’ circuit friends on the show as he could. It might only have been a small speaking role or even an extra, but he took care of them.

I always thought that was classy, and should I ever have the ability to do that I’d absolutely do it too. It would be a thrill to be able to give people national television exposure, especially those who have paid dues and deserved it. Redd shared the wealth, and I loved hearing that from Jerry.

Unfortunately, Redd had some nasty issues with the IRS. Rumor has it he owed millions when he died. He was a performer first and business wasn’t a priority. Boy, can I relate to that mindset. Still, Redd Foxx was a pioneer and I greatly respect all of his work. He’s up there with the best.

Redd Foxx was the undisputed king of 'party records'.

Redd Foxx was the undisputed king of ‘party records’.

His major fame came from his role as Fred G. Sanford - the name of his deceased older brother.

His mainstream fame came from his role as Fred G. Sanford – the name of his deceased older brother.

Losing At Schmoozing

September 14, 2013

Thursday September 12th, 2013 – Rosemont, IL

People who don’t know me well are often surprised to find out how quiet and unassuming I am off stage. I have never been one of those painfully annoying comedians who are ‘on’ all the time, and whenever I run across someone that is I can’t wait to get lost in a hurry. That’s not my thing.

All entertainers are attention whores to a certain extent, but I choose to get my fix on stage and that’s enough. Once the show is over, I’m fine with blending in to the woodwork. I don’t need to have around the clock validation from strangers to let me know I’m ok. I’m very much to myself.

As with most quirks, I think it all stems from childhood. I have an older brother and sister and a younger half brother, but was raised by my grandparents without them so it’s like I was an only child. I did visit them occasionally as a kid, but not enough to be considered a full time family.

I got used to spending large amounts of time on my own, and I grew to like it. I was in control of what I wanted to watch on TV, and I liked to read as well. I had plenty to do to keep me busy, and plenty of friends in the neighborhood to play with when I wanted company. I was content.

As I got into comedy, that mindset did me well. Comedians often have long stretches of travel that are done completely alone, and it can be extremely intimidating at first. I remember the first time I went across the country by myself. I was about 19, and I took a Greyhound bus to Dallas.

That was a huge step at the time, as I quit my job as a cook at a steak restaurant in mid shift to chase my adventure. I’d never been out of Milwaukee on my own before that, and it opened up a door that has never closed. I couldn’t begin to count all of the trips I took completely by myself.

I’ve often joked that I could survive prison time, and I still think I could. I hope I never have to test that theory, but my enemies should probably think twice before they try anything stupid. It’s never smart to mess with anyone who isn’t afraid of consequences, but I don’t want to go there.

I want to be a comedian, and I’m already there. I’m not nearly as far as I think I should be, and that’s been my fault mainly because I am such a lone wolf. Schmoozing with others is part of the game, and I’ve been extremely poor at maintaining a facade that I enjoy it – which I never have.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy having fun with other comedians. I absolutely do, but what I’ve never enjoyed was having to hang out for hours watching others get drunk or high, as that’s a huge part of what a majority of people do to be social. I’ve never been a drinker or druggie, and don’t plan on starting any time soon. I prefer to do my show and go home, but that’s not good for business.

Tonight I picked up a last minute gig hosting the show at Zanies in Rosemont, IL. I was glad to have a chance to get paid, even though I just closed the show there last night. Ego doesn’t become an issue when bills are due, and I enjoy working all of the Zanies clubs in Chicago. I’m at home.

If I felt that at home everywhere else, I’d be a lot farther along on my career path. I really need to force myself to find a way to network better. It’s not my nature, but it’s also the only way I’m ever going to get a break. I can be a recluse after I hit a big payday. For now, I need to be seen.

$38.65

July 15, 2013

Saturday July 13th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   The gap between theory and reality seems to be widening of late. In my head, I’ve got all these grandiose ideas bouncing around for what I want to get done in life, but far too few have had any tangible results. Those that did have happened so slowly, a snail’s pace would signal an upgrade. 

   A prime example would be my feeble attempt to make a few extra bucks wheeling and dealing antiques and collectibles. I’ve been doing it my whole life and I’m in the ideal scenario with my vagabond lifestyle and plenty of free time. In theory, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be killing this.

   I have made a few nice finds, but nothing that’s going to bail me out of the poor house just yet. I knew going in that with enormous glut of TV exposure from American Pickers to Pawn Stars to Storage Wars and everything in between it would light the fires of treasure hunters everywhere.

   I wasn’t getting in it for the quick and easy buck, because if there’s one lesson I’ve learned on my life’s journey it’s that it doesn’t exist along with unicorns, leprechauns and Chicago Cubs in the World Series. I entered the game knowing I would have to work my way into it gradually.

   The main concern as always is my time outlay vs. income. I can’t afford any hobbies that only suck time right now, and I was looking specifically to turn at least a semi steady buck. I think my picking eye is halfway decent, so I set out to look for a supply of trinkets and baubles to resell.

   I compiled a bunch after several weeks of hunting in my spare time, and then delivered some to a friend of a friend who frequently sells on Ebay. We worked out a percentage deal that we could both live with, and I left him to do his thing. We both agreed it would be a low risk experiment.

   Today I received an email from the guy saying my grand total after fees and percentages was a whopping $38.65. Not everything sold, but what did actually fetched a profit. For example, I had a vintage phone I found in a thrift store for $6 and my share after everything was $15. I’ll take it.

   I also found an old model car kit at a rummage sale for $3 and my final net was $12. Again, not a bad profit and the other guy made his percentage too. We only tried a few items, so it’s not like my whole stash is used up, but at this rate it will be a long time before I’ll be in the Fortune 500.

   Rummage season is in full swing, and I am in a mega ripe area. I can’t drive down any street in any direction near me on a weekend and not see homemade signs everywhere. I’m not finding an abundance of quality items though, and it’s not been worth my time and especially gas to search.

   Everyone else is watching all those TV shows too, so anything even close to old is being listed as ‘vintage’ and priced as high as someone would have to be to buy it for that amount. It’s funny to see the looks on shoppers’ faces when they flip over a junk item and see a sky high price tag.

   Still, there are bargains to be found for those that look hard enough. I’m just not sure if I have a desire to be one of them. By the time I fill my gas tank and put stressful miles on my car sorting through randomly scattered junk piles hoping to find a rare gem, the profit I make isn’t worth it.

   I will still fart around with it only because I like it, but this isn’t the way to make any kind of a steady living. I’d have to get a storage facility and set up at flea markets, and right now I’m just not looking to do that. I’ve got other projects that mean more to me than being a garbage picker. In theory, I had a plan to bring in steady extra cash. In reality, I worked way too hard for $38.65.

A Friend On Letterman

May 25, 2013

Thursday May 23rd, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   My friend Ross Bennett is in town this week headlining at Zanies in Chicago, and we hung out all afternoon dissecting his recent appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. Ross has been slugging it out in the trenches even longer than me, and getting this break is well deserved.

   I couldn’t be any happier for someone who has been such a good friend and supporter of mine for decades, and we had a lot to talk about. Comedians can be geeks when it comes to the craft of comedy, and we spent the whole afternoon discussing everything that went into the whole event.

   When I was on the Craig Ferguson show, Ross called me and wanted to know everything about that experience and I happily told him. It’s a monumental victory to get one’s national TV debut, but unfortunately the only one who can truly understand what it’s like would be another comic.

   So much goes into such a short appearance, and the only thing an audience sees is five minutes of what looks like effortless comedy. They have no idea of the agony that has gone into honing it over years on the road, and then packaging it into a set that needs to be approved by the network.

   There’s always a talent coordinator to deal with, and he or she dictates what gets to stay in and what gets axed. I had to deal with three or four different ones on the Craig Ferguson show, and in the end it was the first person I ended up dealing with who had quit and come back. Her name is Celia Joseph, and she was a total sweetheart. She approved my set, but it took a while to develop.

   Ross told me how he would record sets on DVD, and then the talent coordinator would look at it and tell him what to keep, change or cut. He kept working at it, and eventually what came out was a killer set. I was so proud when I watched it, as I knew his back story of years of struggle.

   Ross is also a dented can, and his road has been far from paved with gold. He is from a military family, and at one time he considered a career in the military. I’m glad he didn’t go that direction because he’s a fantastic comedian and always has been. He has pissed some important people off through the years just as I have, but he’s never given up and that’s why this is such a major deal.

   We talked of how this validates all the years of extreme effort that’s required to hone this craft, and how nobody can ever take it away – especially those who rejected or never supported him in the first place. It’s a top accomplishment, and reason to celebrate – which is exactly what we did.

   Some people may celebrate by having a drink or going out to an expensive dinner, but we were delightfully satisfied to sit in the McDonald’s across from Zanies as Ross drank a Diet Coke and I drank a bottled water and go over everything about the set from beginning to end. It was a treat for me to hear it, and Ross was ecstatic to relive every moment in detail. I was so happy for him.

   It was also extremely educational, and I wish I’d had a recorder to turn our conversation into a podcast for future comedians making their network TV debut. We went over our experiences and compared notes, and someone could have definitely gotten something out of the whole exchange.

   Ross said they told him he could come back, and they’ll be running his episode again at the end of May apparently. Not only is it great exposure, he gets paid again. I’m not sure if they ever ran a second showing of my Craig Ferguson shot, but I know I never got paid again. Ross deserves it and I’m thrilled for his good fortune. See him live or see the set at http://youtu.be/3fUyhibih7M.

Comedian Ross Bennett

Comedian Ross Bennett

Sun Ra

May 23, 2013

Wednesday May 22nd, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Today would have been the 99th birthday of one Herman Poole Blount – aka “Sun Ra”. He was born in Birmingham, AL but claimed to be from the “Angel Race” – not of this planet. That alone makes him one of my all time favorite entertainers, but his showmanship is what I admire most.

   He was the leader of a huge band that he called his ‘arkestra’, and the name of it changed about as frequently as his musical directions. There was the ‘Blue Universe Arkestra’, the ‘Heliocentric Space Arkestra’, the ‘Solar Myth Arkestra’ and many many more. He was an eccentric fellow.

   There’s good weird and bad, and he was very good. By all accounts, he and his band were drug free and upstanding members of the community wherever they happened to be living at any time. They were based for years in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, where Sun Ra died in 1993.

   I never got a chance to see him live, but I’ve seen some very interesting video that puts me in a fun mood every time I see it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7_JUShK4n8&feature=related is one link. There’s also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMMWNwVhq5k&feature=related

   Sun Ra was a true original, and those are difficult to find. George Clinton borrowed a little bit from him and also set up shop in ‘outer space’. The whole ‘Mothership Connection’ concept and costume came out of Sun Ra’s shadow and I freely admit that’s where I got The King of Uranus.

   I remember the first time I saw him on TV when I was a kid. I didn’t know what I was seeing, but it captured my undivided attention as I watched it with my grandparents. Gramps looked like he got it, but my German grandma wanted to take a rolling pin to either the TV, Gramps or both.

   Grandma was not very open to anything new, different or artistic. If it wasn’t a Lawrence Welk ditty or a polka, she didn’t want it within five miles of her. Seeing Sun Ra and his ‘arkestra’ sent her farther into outer space than Sun claimed to be from. The greatest ones are loved and hated.

   I loved the fact that he incorporated outer space themes into his music, and that made me want to know more about him as I got older. He was a remarkable personality to say the least, and his claim of being taken by aliens to the planet Saturn made me like him more. He made that claim a long time before UFO abduction stories were popular, and he stuck by that story his entire life.

   I don’t know if he was from Saturn or not, but I do know he was an underappreciated artist and too eclectic for the masses. He was a recording machine, and it is said he’s the the 20th Century’s most prolific musical artist with over 100 full length albums. Wow! That alone is one major feat.

   It’s also notable that he’s a ‘22’. According to numerology, people born on the 11th and 22nd of a month are allegedly the strongest personalities and most influential people. Sun Ra was born on a 22nd, as was George Clinton (7/22). Rodney Dangerfield was too. (11/22) There are all kinds of entertainers, politicians and celebrities born on 11s and 22s so there may be some truth to that.

   I’m not a ‘22’ or an ‘11’ unfortunately. I’m a ‘pi’ (3/14). I don’t know if any of it means a dang thing, but I do know I am a fan of Sun Ra and not nearly enough people know who he was to pay tribute to a unique performer who had the guts to follow his creative vision for decades. That’s at the top of my list for people I admire most, and he’s up there with the very best. He spent his life entertaining this planet – whether he was born here or not. What better way to invest one’s time?

Sun Ra

Sun Ra

The King of Jupiter?

The King of Jupiter?

 

One Cosmic Cat

One Cosmic Cat