Posts Tagged ‘Zanies’

Mentor Magic

July 29, 2014

Friday July 25th, 2014 – Milwaukee, WI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Own Space

June 24, 2014

Sunday June 22nd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I’m back from my bittersweet weekend in Sparta, WI and am ready to move forward. It’s fun to visit good friends, and Jim Wiggins and Bill Gorgo are as good as they get. Jim’s family treats Bill and I like we’re in the will, but on the down side doing difficult shows for tiny audiences is a self esteem sucker and a dignity drainer. At this time in my life I just don’t need to be doing this.

Jim and Bill get it. They’ve been doing comedy for decades just as I have, and they know how I feel. Bill has been a high school teacher for years now, and has already made his transition into being able to do comedy when he feels like it. It works for him. I’m not so sure it works for me.

Jim could see that I was less than thrilled with the shows this weekend, and he took me aside at least four or five times to strongly suggest that I find my own space and start promoting my own shows. He said it should be a place where I can live as well so all my energy can stay in one spot. He’s done it himself more than once, and said it can be an exciting experience plus creative bliss.

There’s a comedian named Chris Speyrer that did exactly what Jim speaks of in the small town of Mason City, IL. That’s the home town of another funny comic named John Means – aka “Dr. Gonzo.” John and his wife owned a restaurant on the main drag, and Chris bought a building on the same block and has been able to keep the doors open several years now. I congratulate him.

Mason City is tiny, but it’s within driving distance of Peoria and Springfield and Chris books a lot of his headliners from the Bob and Tom radio show which is on in both of those cities. He has been smart to do that, and kudos to him for taking the plunge. That took a lot of guts on his part.

I’m not sure if a town that small would be to my personal liking, but there are all kinds of other options in a lot of other places. I have been wondering for years now how I could get off the road but still get on stage regularly, and my own place would be a way to do it. It would solve a lot of problems – but create a lot more. I’m fine with that at this point, and would enjoy the challenge.

I don’t know if I can find a place that I can live as well as do shows, as everything would have to be ideal for that to happen. I don’t have any money to buy any buildings, but that’s never been my goal. I just want to do standup comedy shows on a regular basis for people that want to enjoy what I do. I don’t want to have to fight drunks or drive 1000 miles to get there. Does that exist?

Between Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Rockford, I have to believe there has to be at least one facility that would be able to fit my needs. Ideally it would seat around 100 comfortably, and in theory I’d be able to work there every single week of the year for several years if I’d want to.

If I could attract audiences, why would I not want to? I’ve said before that 100 people a night for multiple nights in a week can provide a very nice living. I’m not greedy, and I wouldn’t need anything else to survive quite nicely. In an area that’s populated, it would take years for everyone to see the show in a 100 seat room and I could keep it going indefinitely. Mr. Wiggins was right.

I see this theory both in Milwaukee for the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ show and somewhere near the Chicago area that’s not near a Zanies club. I wouldn’t attempt to compete with them because for one I couldn’t, and also they have been great to me for a lifetime. There are plenty of other joints in that squared circle, and I’m up for trying to get my own thing going. If I had two dozen in my own audience, there would be only one person to blame. That I could live with. I like Jim’s idea!

Chris Speyrer figured out a way to get off the road. He bought a building and started his own venue. Smart!

Chris Speyrer figured out a way to get off the road. He bought his own building and started his own comedy venue. Smart!

If you are ever near Mason City, IL go see his club. www.mclimits.com

If you’re ever near Mason City, IL visit Chris’s club. http://www.mclimits.com

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!

John Pinette

April 7, 2014

Sunday April 6th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

As if I wasn’t feeling low enough already, I got a phone call from a friend asking if I had heard John Pinette was found dead in his hotel room today. I hadn’t, and it struck a painful nerve in my heart. I have known, liked and respected John for many years, and while I won’t lie and try to claim we were close friends he was a comedy peer and we shared a stage on many occasions.

What freaked me out deeply was that I had just thought of him yesterday. I was between shows in the green room at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago last night, and happened to run across one of John’s DVDs laying around. John was a regular at Zanies, and that’s how we hooked up years ago. The owner of Zanies Rick Uchwat acted as John’s manager, and they were extremely close.

I’m not sure exactly what their professional relationship was, but John and Rick were a hell of a team. Both were loaded with natural charisma, and they could always be seen together when he worked at Zanies – which was often. I loved them both, and always looked forward to when they would both be around. John was a world class comedian, and I never met a kinder human being.

John had a March birthday like I do, and I tried to at least contact him on his birthday if I’d not seen him in a while. Rick had a March birthday too. I’d accidentally overlooked John’s birthday this year, and seeing that DVD last night jarred my memory. I made a mental note to get in touch.

Unfortunately, now I’ve missed my chance forever and I feel horrible. John was a super gentle soul, but did have some vicious demons. I could see he was in pain, and we talked about it often. It was hard not to like the guy, and I felt very sad for him when he’d tell me about his life story.

He was from Boston originally, and totally a dented can. Like me, he was a big time giver and those are the people that get screwed over the hardest. He told me of many instances where he’d gotten the shaft, and I know it hurt him. It should have, because he had a mammoth heart of gold.

Whenever he would play a Zanies, he was famous for buying food for everyone from comics to staff and even fans. One time I saw him spend $100 at Taco Bell, and that’s not easy to do. There was a lot of pain inside him, but he always tried to make others happy instead of wallowing in it.

I hadn’t seen John a lot in the last few years, but the last time we did cross paths I thought he’d looked as good as I’d ever seen him. He had an operation to keep his weight down and it worked. He was in great spirits, and we had a lot of laughs. I always felt relaxed and at home around him.

He possessed an off the charts level of likeability onstage and off that few if any ever begin to approach. He had ‘it’, and then some. He even opened for Frank Sinatra for a while, and that’s a powerhouse credit all by itself. He was an amazing talent, and I am lucky to have crossed paths.

His main credit was being the guy that was car jacked on the final episode of “Seinfeld”, but he was so much more than that. I salute his life and accomplishments, and I hope he is finally at peace. If anyone deserves it, it’s him. He had a heart bigger than he was, and everyone that ever met him adored him. I know I did – and still do.

There has never been a funnier - or kinder - comedian than John Pinette. He was beloved by all who knew him. I am one. SO sad to hear of his passing today.

There has never been a funnier – or kinder – comedian than John Pinette. He was beloved by all who knew him, and I am one. He was a giant talent with an even bigger heart.

Thank You David Letterman

April 5, 2014

Friday April 4th, 2014 – Chicago, IL

Just as it is in life in general, breaks in show business can come from anywhere at any time. If I could know where to be and when to be there, I would obviously show up. But it’s not that easy, and that’s why this business can be so maddening. Some catch their break early, others never do.

An example of a break I caught years ago was getting a call out of the blue to open for George Miller in Cincinnati. George was a really nice guy, and we became friends. He was also friends with David Letterman, as they had come up the ranks together in L.A. George was in my corner.

The booker that week stressed that I needed to work clean, which was not a problem. George’s act was also clean, and I was a perfect opener for him at the time. He thanked me for doing what I was hired to do, as often comics have no clue where the line is and aren’t able to change styles.

That one crossing of paths led to years of friendship, and I really liked George. He passed away a few years ago, and he was very sick at the end. I was sorry to hear it, but he ended up including me in his will. I was able to get him a New Year’s Eve gig one year when he needed money, and the amount he earned that week was what he left me in his will. I had no idea he would do that.

George had some severe health problems at the end, and David Letterman ended up paying his medical bills. I’m sure Dave didn’t want that to get out, but he’s about to retire now so what does he care? It was an act of kindness and loyalty to his longtime friend, and I think that’s wonderful.

I think it’s even more wonderful because had he not stepped in, there would have been nothing left in George’s will to go to the people he left money to – including me. So indirectly, I owe an extremely big debt of gratitude to Mr. Letterman even though I’ve never met him. Thank you sir!

Unfortunately, I had to spend that money on living expenses when I had my diabetes diagnosis in 2011, but thanks to him and George, I was able to survive. I’ll be eternally grateful to both of them, and it all came about because I happened to get paired up with George all those years ago.

I sure could use another break like that somehow. This week I had a call to go to Nashville and open for Damon Wayans. I had to turn it down because I was already booked in Chicago backing up Jeff Garlin at the locations he wasn’t working. Is that a career move? Nope. It’s just money.

Would Damon Wayans be able to help me? I bet he probably could if he wanted, but there’s no guarantee if I had gone that we’d even cross paths. It would have been a total crap shoot, and I’m not saying I missed out on anything other than a chance to maybe get seen and maybe get a break if we hit it off like George Miller and I did. Again, nothing is a formula. It just kind of happens.

In theory, I should be trying to get as many dates opening for big stars as I can. In reality, that’s not always easy for one but it’s also not a great way to showcase one’s talents. The audience sure doesn’t care about the opening act, and often the star is so worried about everything else that we never get to cross paths more than a quick hello. Where is my break? It’s impossible to predict.

George Miller and I were friends for many years. It all started when I opened for him for a week in Cincinnati.

George Miller and I were friends for many years. It all started when I opened for him for a week in Cincinnati.

George was also friends with David Letterman. At the end of George's life, Dave paid his medical expenses which allowed money George left for me in his will to come to me. Thank you both!

George was also friends with David Letterman. At the end of George’s life, Dave paid his medical bills which allowed me to receive money George left me in his will. Thank you both!

Pulling Backup Duty

April 5, 2014

Thursday April 3rd, 2014 – Rosemont, IL

I’m pulling backup duty this week, and I’m glad to get it. I’ve got four nights of work at Zanies in Chicago at two of their locations, but unfortunately it’s where the action isn’t. Jeff Garlin from the shows “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Goldbergs” is in town, and I am backing him up.

Last night and tonight Jeff appears at the Old Town location on Wells Street, and I’m covering at the new Rosemont location. Tomorrow and Saturday it’s exactly the opposite. He’ll sell out all shows in Rosemont, and I’ll be in Old Town. There is an upside and a downside to this situation.

The biggest plus is that I am able to stay home and get paid. It’s not the heaping wad of money Jeff Garlin will be hauling in, but the factor of him being a draw and me not dictates our payday. I was grateful to get the call, as it could have gone to any one of a long list of needy comedians.

Times are tight, and this will put some much needed cabbage in my pocket that I can throw at bills one more month. There’s nothing glamorous about it, but it beats setting up at a flea market trying to sell trinkets I bought at thrift stores for a profit. At least I’m practicing my craft a little.

There were small crowds last night and tonight in Rosemont, but everyone expected it because of Jeff Garlin being in town. That’s where the focus was, and I knew that going in. I don’t know Jeff all that well, but we’ve crossed paths several times over the years and we always got along.

He’s more of an improv guy than a standup, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what he does, and he has taken it far. He was always a good schmoozer and understood the business, and those are the people that find their way on to sitcoms. Kudos to Jeff for understanding that.

I’m still struggling with that equation, and it seems that as I start to get the concept it’s going to likely be too late to do anything about it. I’ve said it before, but only because it’s true. I spent my time working only on my show as I came up the ladder, and paid little to no attention to business.

The Jeff Garlins of the world were smart enough to know that was the wrong recipe for success and wisely built a network on their way up. Now Jeff is consistently selling tickets for top dollar, and I’m mopping up at the other clubs as he does – and I’m thrilled to get it. There’s a cold slap.

If that’s not a valuable lesson for some kid, I don’t know what is. Hopefully someone will read this years after I’m dead and a light will go on in their head early enough where they can salvage a career rather than fall into the trap I did along with so many others. Pay attention to business.

I will say, I went up last night and tonight and gave those two tiny audiences a better show than they ever expected. I had people both nights enthusiastically come up and tell me afterward they could not laugh any harder. That’s as good as it gets – but unless the room is full it’s incomplete.

So here I sit at this point in my life, able to rock a room but the room is almost empty. Putting butts in seats is what constitutes a career, and I’m still feverishly trying to figure out that elusive secret formula. Jeff Garlin sure did, and he’s raking in the cash. I feel like I missed the clue bus.

Last night and tonight, I get to headline a beautiful comedy club - Zanies in Rosemont, IL. www.zanies.com.

Last night and tonight, I get to headline a beautiful comedy club – Zanies in Rosemont, IL. I’m grateful. http://www.zanies.com.

Jeff Garlin will be headlining in Rosemont this weekend. He's at Zanies in Chicago tonight, where I will be this weekend.

Jeff Garlin will be headlining in Rosemont this weekend. He’s at Zanies in Chicago tonight, where I will be this weekend. We switch.

The Queen Of Connections

March 8, 2014

Friday March 7th, 2014 – Libertyville, IL

It’s amazing how connections work. Sometimes people come into our lives from the strangest of places, and end up staying a lot longer than expected. One of the reasons I have loved teaching my comedy classes so much is that it has attracted a steady stream of quality people into my life.

The number of people that I have kept in contact with after having them as students is well into the hundreds, and I value and cherish every last one of them. I don’t always see all of them all of the time, but there are always enough of them coming in and out of my life to keep me occupied.

I’ve been teaching since 1994, and if I had to single out one group that stands out from them all it’s a class I taught last summer at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL. It was a class filled with ‘corporate types’, and they were a Toastmasters group from Lake County, IL. They were friendly enough people at the time, but I had no idea what an impact we would have on each other’s lives.

David Stuart is the owner of Improv Playhouse, and I approached him about teaching classes at his facility because I lived in the area and there was no standup comedy around anywhere since a Zanies location in Vernon Hills, IL had closed. He agreed, and we ended up doing a few classes.

Zanies is the big name in standup in the Chicago area, and I have been teaching there for years. No offense to David, but his facility is not that nor does he claim it to be. He specializes in acting and improv training, and he’s very good at it. My class was just an added bonus to his repertoire.

We’d held a few class sessions, but nothing earth shattering quite honestly. They were just kind of ok, but nothing special. When he told me a group of Toastmasters wanted to take the class as a group I didn’t have any idea what to expect. It was the summer, and any income was appreciated.

Little did I know that we would touch each other’s lives so deeply, and they ended up without a doubt THE best class I ever taught. Period. What made them so great was that they came from an entirely different place than most students that take the class. They were already friends because of their Toastmasters connection, and they were already used to speaking in front of an audience.

They asked me to help them punch up their speeches, and I told them I would do that but I also would not sugarcoat anything. They thought they wanted that, but when I started bringing heat it ended up scaring them. I worked those people harder than I’ve worked anyone, but I knew it was exactly what they needed. It was funny to hear them whine and moan, but they did what I said.

As the class went on, I ended up giving them several more sessions than they ended up paying for. It was my call, and I don’t regret it for a second. They were eager to learn, and I got a chance to practice teaching with people who were hungry and wanted to improve themselves. What else did I have going on in the summer? El-zilcho. The extra sessions we had were very productive.

Finally it came time for their ‘graduation’ show, and they packed the joint at Improv Playhouse for what turned out to be a purely magical evening. They all went up and lit it up in front of their friends, family and fellow Toastmasters, and it was an absolute blast for everyone. I felt like their mother hen, and couldn’t have been prouder of all of them. THAT is why I’ve taught for so long.

The leader of that Toastmasters group was Eric Feinendegen, and now Eric and I have teamed up and are working on corporate speaking angles. He’s helping me with my monthly newsletter, and I’ve been helping him with some speeches he’s been doing. He wants to set up bookings for both of us, and is very familiar with the corporate world. We’re helping each other and it’s a fit.

Another member of that class is Jean MacDonald. Jean prides herself on being one of the most connected people anywhere, and she should. She is up there with anyone I’ve ever seen at being on top of the contact game, and that’s exactly what success in any field is about. She excels at it.

Jean calls herself ‘The Queen of Connections’ and I don’t doubt her for one second. She knows EVERYBODY in Chicago – at least everybody that’s important. She makes it her business to be in contact with anyone that’s doing anything, and her days are spent nurturing her vast network.

Eric and I met up with her a few weeks ago, and she was full of ideas that were very helpful to both of us. She told us to start networking and come up with a newsletter, and that’s exactly what we’ve done. She talked about ‘warm calls’ to lead to business rather than cold calling, and talked about how to get into a field and own it. She also talked about getting multiple bookings at once.

She totally knows her stuff, and I shut my mouth and listened as she spewed nothing but useful information. Then to my surprise, she went on about how much the class meant to her and how it changed her life. I was very flattered to hear that, and I could tell she was sincere. She said it was a highlight of her life to perform at the graduation show, and she’ll always remember the feeling.

Again, that’s exactly what I’m shooting for and I couldn’t be happier to hear she had fun. That whole class was special, and the effort they all put in was remarkable. They got a lot out of it for sure, but they put a lot into it too. From my perspective, it made being their teacher well worth it.

Jean sent me an email and asked to do a follow up coffee meeting at my convenience to check on how progress has been going. Today was the day I could do it, and even though I don’t drink coffee we met up at a place in Libertyville to compare notes. When I got there she was meeting with her web person, and before I sat down three different people walked over and said hello.

I’m telling you, I’ve never seen anyone network like Jean does. It was a treat to watch, and we finally got time to talk. Jean’s passion for what she’s doing just shines, and I could feel it as she explained what she’s looking to do, and how I can be a part of it. She wants to help me connect with corporate sources to both speak and teach speakers, and she wants me to help her as well.

She’s been getting some bookings lately, and wants to polish up her speech and add humor to it. Well, if there’s one thing I can help people with it’s that. Eric and I have been working at that exact same thing, and it’s working tremendously well. There’s no reason I can’t help Jean also.

She also went on to say how this is the hot season for business whereas summer is ice cold for the comedy world. She scolded me – deservedly – about being stuck in ‘comedy mode’. I’m in a new arena now and new rules are in place. I heard all she said, and I’m on board. She’s a winner. I never would have imagined that little class last summer could lead to this, but it has and we’re all better for it. Jean’s website is http://www.networkconnectsucceed.com I think the title says it all.

Jean MacDonald is a speaker, author and trainer. She knows EVERYBODY!

Jean MacDonald is a speaker, author and successful sales trainer. And she knows absolutely EVERYBODY!

Eric Feinendegen and Jean are in Toastmasters, and they took a comedy class I taught at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL last summer.

Eric Feinendegen and Jean are in Toastmasters, and they took a comedy class I taught at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL last summer.

David Stuart owns Improv Playhouse, and it's a wonderful place to learn acting, improv or standup comedy. Tell him I sent you! www.improvplayhouse.com.

David Stuart owns Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL. It’s a terrific place to learn improv, acting or standup comedy. Tell him I sent you! http://www.improvplayhouse.com.

Harold Ramis Respect

February 26, 2014

Monday February 24th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

It was all over the news today that Harold Ramis has passed away. I wasn’t aware he was sick, and I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing. There aren’t many that can hold a candle to his list of accomplishments, and by all accounts I have ever heard he was an extremely nice person.

Where does one start with an industry giant like this? If I could score just ONE of the huge hits he had, I’d be on easy street for the rest of my life. He either wrote, co-wrote, starred, co-starred, directed or acted in several of the biggest and most impactful comedy films of the 20th Century.

The list of his successful projects is staggering, including “Animal House”, “Groundhog Day”, “Caddyshack”, “Ghostbusters”, “Back To School”, “Stripes”, “Meatballs” and quite a few more. Those are all films of my generation, and until I saw the list I had forgotten how impressive it is.

It’s a shame that it takes a person’s passing to get a comprehensive list of all the achievements they managed to attain, but that’s how it works. I knew he was a giant in his field, but until I had heard he passed I never looked at his entire body of work so closely. The man was an all timer.

What I didn’t realize was that he’d moved back to Chicago in 1996. I knew he was from there, but had no idea he came back. I totally should have known that, and I would have loved a chance to meet him even once. I bet he wouldn’t have been difficult to track down, and I wouldn’t have been anything but polite and told him how much I admired his work. I bet we’d have hit it off.

Any time I’ve met someone truly creative, I have always been able to connect instantaneously. That’s who I am too, and it just clicks. Everyone I’ve met from George Carlin to George Clinton to Rodney Dangerfield to any number of others has always been a pleasant experience. I wish I’d had even a few seconds with Harold Ramis, as I bet it would have been a memorable experience.

He might not have remembered it, but I sure would have. I remember meeting Tim Kazurinsky years ago when I opened for his friend Bobcat Goldthwaite. They’d done a couple of the “Police Academy” films together and stayed in touch. Tim was unbelievably nice, and complimentary of my show to boot. Bobcat was great too. I find myself very comfortable around all creative types.

If Harold Ramis was around Chicago all these years, it’s my own fault that I didn’t take it upon myself to cross paths and meet him. It’s not a matter of asking him for anything or pestering him to put me in one of his films, it’s just a matter of professional respect. The man was legendary.

It’s my own fault I didn’t seek him out, and there are all kinds of others that I could have been in contact with as well. Second City is barely a block from Zanies in Chicago, and I’ve worked at Zanies since the late ‘80s. I could have made time to network with those people, but I never did.

I have nothing against improv comedy, but I had all I could handle with doing standup. Still, it would have been smart business to hang out after shows and schmooze with the Second City cast through the years. I was right there, but I blew it. Maybe Harold Ramis would have looked at me as a major schmucko, or maybe we’d have been friends. If nothing else, I would have enjoyed an opportunity to say hello just once. He enjoyed immense success, and I am a huge fan from afar.

There aren't many that can touch the massive success of Harold Ramis.

There aren’t many that can touch the massive success of Harold Ramis. What a run he had!

Home Cooking Tastes Best

February 15, 2014

Thursday February 13th, 2014 – Rosemont, IL

I’m very fortunate right now to be in a great position in the Chicago standup comedy scene. It took a lifetime to get here, and there’s no guarantee how long it will last. But for the time being, I am one of the main go to acts for three Zanies clubs and it’s keeping me booked a lot locally.

This is exactly what I want, and I’m not taking it for granted. There have been a lot of odds and ends random dates that have come up of late, and I’m on the current call list to fill them. I always say yes when those calls come in, and tonight I received one to headline the club in Rosemont.

I hosted the Tuesday night ‘Ten Comedians For $10’ the week before last, and was delighted to get that call as well. Lucky for me I can fill in effectively at any position on a comedy show, and not everyone can or wants to do that. I can see the reasons why, but with Zanies I have a history.

Many comedians wouldn’t accept an opener or feature spot once they achieve headliner status. It’s a long hard climb to get to that position, and they view anything less as an insult. I see why they think that, as often bookers and club owners just want to fill spots and couldn’t care less.

I have nothing to prove with Zanies, and they know I’m one of their top local headliners and it ends up being a win/win for everyone. They don’t have to worry about whether I can get the job done, and I don’t have to worry about my check bouncing or making long drives. Count me in.

Another thing that is helping is that there are several other comedy clubs in Chicago these days and not enough strong local seasoned acts to go around. Comedy clubs can be very territorial and often don’t allow acts to work for rival clubs. That’s a game that has been played since I started.

I’ve been on the wrong side of that game more times than I can count, but for once I’m the one in the cherry spot. Zanies has three full time clubs, and nobody else in town can give me as much work as they can. I’m in the spot everyone else in town wants, and I know how fortunate I am.

When I lived in Milwaukee, I would never get the last minute calls to fill in. I saw the ones that did, and wondered if they appreciated it. They often didn’t act like it, but try as I might I couldn’t ever crack the rotation. Twenty years later I’m the golden boy, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

I have what is supposed to be a tremendous gig at a country club in Rockford, IL tomorrow for a Valentine’s Day party, and I had tonight off. Zanies only needed me tonight, so it was a perfect fit. I was able to pick up some much needed extra cash, and Zanies got a need filled with ease.

The audience tonight was a bit stiff at first, but I reached back and brought all I had. I was able to get them eventually, and there’s a deep satisfaction that goes with that much like being able to solve a difficult crossword puzzle. I had to work a lot harder than usual, but that’s fine with me.

What tonight was was a paid practice session. I had a chance to work on my act, and that’s why I got into the business in the first place. I know I should be working on marketing myself for this year – and I am – but for tonight I was able to get in the gym and work on my craft. That doesn’t happen that often anymore, and I really enjoyed it. Those people got a solid show, and I got paid.

Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont is one of the most beautiful comedy facilities I've ever seen. I was there tonight, and will be back again in April. www.zanies.com.

Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont is one of the most beautiful comedy facilities I’ve ever seen. I was the headliner there tonight, and will be back April 4-5. http://www.zanies.com.

Back To Class

January 14, 2014

Monday January 14th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I can feel the tornado of life spinning, but it’s all good. I’ve got everything I enjoy in life going on right now, and I can see my biggest concern will once again be time management. I am trying to be organized, but time just gets away when I get going on a project and I want to avoid getting too far behind in any one realm. That’s going to be a major challenge, but it’s how things are.

One area I haven’t devoted much energy to in a while are my comedy classes. I really enjoy the whole teaching experience, and I know I’ve got something good there. I have lost count of all the people that I have gone on to become long time friends with that have taken the class. That alone is an excellent reason to keep teaching, but I also love it because it keeps me close to the source.

I become a better performer the more I teach, because I’m focusing on the fundamentals of the craft. I’d do it every day if there were enough outlets, and I’ve got a good position with Zanies in Chicago as their chief instructor. That’s a position I’ve earned over time, but I’m ready for more.

Bill Gorgo and I have been working for several years now at developing our lesson plans, and I love it when we can both teach sessions together. We’ve done writing and performing workshops as well as multiple week classes, and we both agree it’s almost as much fun as performing itself.

There are only a scant few other instructors around America that have established credibility in teaching standup comedy, as it’s a difficult endeavor. There are many I’ve seen that are only in it to score a quick buck, and that has always infuriated me. I’m all about entrepreneurial endeavors, but flat out scamming crosses the line in my opinion. I always give more than a student expects.

Some of the names that have been around for years include Judy Carter and Steve North in Los Angeles, Jeff Justice in Atlanta, Neil Leiberman in San Francisco and Steve Roye who has lived in a lot of places. I’ve met everyone but Jeff, but I hear nothing but good things about his classes.

One person I have spoken to on the phone, interviewed on the radio and been interviewed by is Dave Schwensen. He was out of Cleveland, OH until very recently where he taught workshops at the Cleveland Improv. He is very credible as he was the manager of the Improv both there and in Hollywood, and has written multiple very solid books including “How to Be a Working Comic”.

I never have a problem with anyone teaching who is competent, and there are enough students for everyone. Many students like to compare teachers, and that’s fine too. Not every sports coach reaches every player, and comedy is very similar. I know personally that I have my fans and also my detractors. That’s how it is in any creative endeavor, and we all need to seek out what works.

Dave’s wife is a flight attendant, and he’s in the process of moving to Chicago to teach classes at the Improv in Schaumburg. We talked on the phone yesterday, and agreed this could be great for everyone – especially students. We’ll both offer high quality classes and raise the bar higher.

Dave is very credible, and has been around a long time. He’s also an excellent marketer, and I know I’ll learn from him in that department. Competition is good, but we’re really not competing head to head. He has his strengths and I have mine. Students win. http://www.thecomedybook.com.

A new session of standup comedy classes will be starting at the legendary Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago on Sunday February 9th, 2014 at 3pm. For signup information, go to www.zanies.com.

A new session of standup comedy classes will be starting at the legendary Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago on Sunday February 9th, 2014 at 3pm. For signup information, go to http://www.zanies.com.

Bill Gorgo will be teaching that session, and he's both an excellent teacher and wonderful person.

Bill Gorgo will be teaching that session, and he’s both an excellent teacher and wonderful person.

Dave Schwensen has been teaching classes for years at the Cleveland Improv. He's moving to Chicago to teach at the Improv in Schaumburg. Good for him. It will be great for the students, and raise the bar for all of us. Welcome Dave. His books are excellent. www.thecomedybook.com.

Dave Schwensen has been teaching classes for years at the Cleveland Improv. He’s moving to Chicago to teach at the Improv in Schaumburg. Good for him. It will be great for the students, and raise the bar for all of us. Welcome Dave. His books are excellent. http://www.thecomedybook.com.