Posts Tagged ‘Zanies Comedy Clubs’

A Secret Agent

February 6, 2014

Thursday January 30th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

My friend Marc Schultz is a second generation talent booker who has been around the business his entire life. His father had an office in downtown Chicago, and Marc has been able to see with his own eyes how the game of live entertainment has evolved since the ‘60s. It’s a new ballgame.

Marc has been able to adapt and change with the times, and is still in business today. He knows what he’s doing, and I have great respect for his lifetime of hands on experience in the field. We have lunches regularly, and I constantly learn from him about the bigger picture of the business.

Marc’s father used to book a lot of circus acts, and Marc still does. If you need an elephant or a high flying trapeze act, Marc is your source. There aren’t many people anywhere that know how to find those acts, and it’s been a successful niche for decades. Marc is a straight up guy and very honest, and everything is above board with him. That’s why he’s been able to stay in it so long.

Part of his evolution has been having to expand into other areas, and that’s where I come in. He gets requests for cabaret type acts on occasion, and I’m on his list for comedians. He books a few magicians, jugglers and other variety acts, and comedy falls into that category. I probably get one or two bookings a year from Marc on average, but they’re always good and they pay pretty well.

The thing that stands out about Marc is that he knows the acts he books inside and out. When a client calls and tells him what kind of entertainment they’re looking for, Marc can offer the right list of people that will do the best job for the best price. He has invested a lifetime in learning it.

That was something he learned from his father, as that’s how the game worked then. A client’s trust was placed with the booker, and it was up to the booker to deliver the goods. They had the responsibility of determining which acts were competent enough to do the job and hiring them.

As with a lot of fields, the internet has changed everything. Clients no longer need to develop a trust with an experienced booker, because every bad act and their grandma’s uncle has a website and there’s no real need for a middle man anymore – or at least that’s what most clients assume.

Marc doesn’t have a website at all, and he’s proud of that fact. He thinks the internet has ruined the entertainment business, and the more I see the direction it’s all going the more I have to agree with him wholeheartedly. It’s now a big unorganized mess, and that penalizes the professionals.

Most people that book live entertainment only do it on rare occasions. They might use it as part of an annual event like a corporate holiday party for example, and they aren’t familiar in the least with what they’re doing. They can – and often do – easily make a stupid mistake based on price.

Booking the lowest priced entertainer sight unseen is about as smart as looking for the surgeon that’s offering the best deal on a quadruple bypass. It’s always better to go with the experienced one and pay a little more, rather than save five bucks and get completely stung. It’s a no brainer.

Unfortunately, most people that book entertainment like that have no brains. They THINK they may know what they’re doing, but they totally don’t. Then prices come down for the good acts.

This has become a real problem, and I talk with Marc about it quite a bit. His clients and he are on the same page, but it has taken a lifetime to get there. He has developed a satisfied client base across North America, and much of his business comes from word of mouth. He’s done the job.

When someone that has no clue takes a stab at booking live entertainment, it’s a total crap shoot with the odds favoring the crap. If all that’s available to consult are the acts themselves, they will of course make lofty promises to “do a good job”. Then they’ll tank it and blow it for all eternity.

I’ve seen this happen in the standup comedy world too many times to count. Somebody is hired for a private show for big money because they knew someone in the company that had the ear of the person in charge of hiring, and then they’re terrible and the company never hires anyone else.

This is one of the main reasons I’m now looking to brand myself as a “business humorist”, but that’s also no guarantee there aren’t leakers in that field as well. I’ve made a point to check out a few of those people, and quite frankly I’m not all that impressed. Not many are able to pull it off.

The ultimate goal for any entertainer is to eventually have name recognition. I do to a very tiny degree, but most of that is with bookers. Marc Schultz knows what I can do, and knows I am one of the most versatile acts he can use. I have vast experience, and won’t embarrass him in a pinch.

Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago know it too. I have worked for them so long without an issue and produced consistent results, they know what they’re getting every time. They can send me to any of their clubs or any private event and know they don’t have to worry. That’s good for us all.

Dealing with higher paying private clients isn’t like that. They often go for someone that won’t be the best fit only because they happen to have a flashy website or a five minute video that may catch their eye. Five minutes isn’t a full show, and like a movie trailer often has all the best lines.

People like Marc are a lot more important than clients may think, but they don’t realize it. He’d charge them a fair price for the entire package – even though it may seem like it’s higher than the process of scouring the internet looking at random websites. In the end, it’s worth the final price.

Even worse is dealing with the dreaded “committee”. Every one of my orifices pucker instantly just thinking about that word. This is just the spreading of incompetence to a group rather than an individual idiot that has no clue whatsoever. I’ve lost many a booking to a committee’s brilliance only to find out they booked the wrong act and it was a total disaster. Welcome to show business.

My speaker friend Todd Hunt talks about dealing with committees all the time. He often sends me emails of rejection he gets on an almost daily basis, and they’re beyond ridiculous. But that’s how the game is played, and if I’m going to get in it and win I need to be aware of all the aspects so I can play it correctly. The focus needs to be on marketing, and that’s what I am working on.

I’ve been compiling testimonials of late, and I’ve never done that before. In the comedy world that wasn’t an issue. Now it is. I’ve got a proven track record for decades, but people hiring have no idea about any of it unless I tell them and provide people they can call to verify. I am going to do what it takes to succeed at this game. I’ve come too far to get clumped in with everyone else.

If you ever need to book a circus, my friend Marc Schultz can get you any act you need - including an elephant.

If you ever need to book a circus, my friend Marc Schultz can get you any act you need – including an elephant.

Not sure where to find this guy, but I hope he doesn't put his wallet in his back pocket.

Not sure where to find this guy, but I hope he doesn’t put his wallet in his back pocket.

My speaker friend Todd Hunt has to deal with idiots all day that are too cheap to use an agent with experience. Despite the look on his face in this picture, Todd is very good at what he does. www.toddhuntspeaker.com.

My speaker friend Todd Hunt has to deal with idiots all day that are too cheap to use an agent with experience. Despite the look on his face in this picture, Todd is very good at what he does. http://www.toddhuntspeaker.com.

A Loyal Soldier

March 27, 2013

Tuesday March 26th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   My busy week continues as I had to be in Milwaukee today to promote the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ shows coming up sooner than later and also help judge the final round of a karaoke contest being held at the Potawatomi Casino Fire Keepers sports bar. I was flattered they asked, and I said yes.

I have an overwhelming feeling of confidence about how this project is going, and I can feel it becoming a big hit. I’ve been involved with more than my share of flops in my time, and this just doesn’t share the same characteristics. I can feel a positive buzz building, and it feels euphoric.

I’m really excited to be working at the Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino. I cannot say enough good things about that venue, and it’s just a perfect fit from all angles. The customers for my show are the exact same group the casino is going for, and this should be a perfect match.

Once word gets out there’s a funny local show that isn’t dirty, I know I’ll be able to stretch this out for years to come should I choose to do so. My biggest issue was getting the word out, but no more. Potawatomi has a very strong media presence, and they are getting behind me all the way.

Today I recorded a radio interview for WTMJ that will air this Sunday. There’s no way WTMJ would put me on the air as some Joe Shmoe local comic who came up with a half baked show in his basement, but with the Northern Lights Theatre behind it I have total and needed credibility.

It also didn’t hurt that the interview was hosted by my friend Jim Peck. Jim is a talented radio and TV host originally from Milwaukee who went on to be a big success hosting game shows on network TV. I have always been a fan of Jim’s, and am a bigger one now that I know him in real life. He’s got a razor sharp wit and is truly hilarious. He’s a pro’s pro and he made me look great.

Also with me in the interview was Bob Rech, the Entertainment Director for Potawatomi. He’s another guy I like and respect, and he totally knows what he’s doing. He’s not just giving me this run because he has nothing better to do though. He sees the potential this has for everyone in it.

Joe San Felippo of Bonkers Comedy Clubs is also someone in the mix. Joe has booked all the standup comedy shows at the theatre for years, and that’s how I got in. Joe and Bob put together solid shows, and have always been fans of mine and in my corner. I couldn’t be more grateful to both of them, and that’s why my first choice is to have the show have a home base here forever.

I’m a loyal soldier, even in a business where that’s not always common. Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago and I have worked together more than twenty years without a hiccup, and I’d love to establish a longstanding relationship with Potawatomi too. I’m not looking to start any turf wars.

All I want is a place to call performing home. I want to make a fair living, and I want the venue to make a fair profit too. This is a team effort, and I’m happy to have Bob and Joe and everybody at Potawatomi on the same team. Judging the karaoke show was a lot of fun, and there were quite a few talented performers on the bill. Now it’s off to Atlanta to be in the Laughing Skull Festival.

Familiar Territory

February 9, 2013

Friday February 8th, 2013 – St. Charles, IL

   I’m headlining this week at Zanies Comedy Club in St. Charles, IL at the Pheasant Run Resort. If there has been one comedy club that has captured my entire tenure in standup comedy, it’s that one. I’ve worked there since it opened in 1989, and have climbed up the ranks on that very stage.

I was strictly an opening act when I started (and a weak one at that) but was young and willing to make the drive to St. Charles from Chicago which was then and remains a big hassle. There is just no easy way to get there, and at some point the journey requires travel on Illinois Route 64.

Route 64 is also known as North Avenue, and there has been continuous construction going on at various points of that road since 1989. I have spent countless hours on that road over the years on my way to shows at Zanies, and more than once I’ve cut it too close for comfort and squeaked by with mere seconds to spare until show time. My stress level on that street alone has been ugly.

I’ve survived managers of every personality type, and ownership changes at the resort. I’ve had some of my very best shows ever on that stage, and have driven home in disgust wondering if I’d made the right career choice. Every emotion that can possibly be experienced, I have felt it here.

Part of me wishes I would have recorded at least one set a year since 1989 so I could document my enormous growth. I don’t think I’ve missed even one year in all that time – even though I’ve had radio jobs all over and didn’t always live in the area. If there was one place I could count on to get a booking, it was Zanies in Pheasant Run. I’m grateful for all the times it has paid my bills.

I am no longer that punk kid looking to come up the ranks, and now doing shows here is about as easy as it gets. I’m so used to the surroundings by now I could do shows in my sleep. There is a nice high stage with a strong sound system, and I know exactly what to do to have hot shows.

I’ve been a regular headliner for years now, and I do actually get fans coming back to see me at this location more than all the others. One nice lady named Harriett Leo is a major fan, and never brings less than half a dozen new people to see me whenever I appear. I was just here a couple of months ago, and she showed up with about ten people who loved the show. I really appreciate it.

This was a fallout week on short notice, and she came back with eight more new people tonight who hadn’t seen me before. I need about 100,000 more Harriett Leos in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful for not only her support but for that from Zanies over the years. They have allowed me to go from punk kid wannabe to legitimate comedy headliner, and I will always be grateful.

Those early years were pretty painful. I was beyond horrible as all new comedians are, but they stayed with me and let me work it out until I got better. The Zanies in Chicago is the place that’s touted by Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, but St. Charles is not without its own charms – especially for me since I’ve worked there so often. That place will always have a special place in my heart, and I hope I’m able to keep working on that stage as long as I’m drawing breath. This week was unexpected but appreciated, and I’m going to waste the money on dumb stuff like rent and food.