Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dirty Diapers



Wednesday July 23rd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   I want to talk more about the whole game of getting on television. Ultimately, it’s what makes or breaks a true career in the entertainment business and everyone that succeeds needs to master it and find their outlet. Some may have a different platform than others, but television is the key.

   It used to be that once a comedian – and I’m sure singers, dancers, magicians, ventriloquists as well – got on a big show like Ed Sullivan or Johnny Carson, they were as good as set. They’d get all the agents that were anyone fighting over them, and usually end up with a guaranteed income.

   There were a few that flamed out, but for the most part those shows were the showcase for the very best of the best in any field of entertainment. If one was lucky enough to get on a show like that, literally MILLIONS would see them in one shot. It’s not like that anymore, and never will be. The days of the world wide mega star entertainer are over thanks to one reason - the internet. 

   There will be a few that slip through, but it won’t be like it was. Everybody in society had seen Bob Hope when he was popular, but not everybody has seen Justin Timberlake or Beyonce. The fan bases of those people tend to be in their own generation, and it’s not necessarily a negative.

   It sure allows for more specialized serving of one’s audience, and also gives more entertainers a taste of the enormous success that used to be reserved for only the elite marquee names like an Elvis or Frank Sinatra before him. The Beatles were huge too, as was Michael Jackson. Now we have a ton of acts carving out their own smaller empires, with most of the world oblivious to it.

   Getting on television is still important, but not nearly as important as knowing how to manage the internet. The game has changed completely now in that schmuckos like me and everyone else with a computer can technically throw our hats in the ring and start making our own appearances on “television”. It’s not network television, but the possibility does exist for it to be seen all over.

   I’m not just talking national television, I’m talking WORLD WIDE. “Going viral” is possible, even though it’s not likely just like buying a lottery ticket doesn’t make you likely to win. What it does is gives one a chance to win, and today’s entertainer needs to come up with a battle plan.

   The biggest mistake I’ve seen made over and over is people putting things out there too soon. I hear the newbies talking about how they have six videos and four CDs and “did an hour” at some toilet club somewhere that was recorded and is now a “one hour special”. I hear this constantly.

   The trick is to make a special truly special. Years of hard work and polish can’t be avoided if a comedian or any other act wants to break through the crowd. These are things nobody gets told at the beginning, and it’s wrongly assumed everything they do needs to be recorded and thrown out there for the universe to see. I equate this with dirty diapers. Should those be displayed openly?

   Of course not. They should be changed in private and thrown out. Eventually the baby will not need to wear one anymore, and it’s a non issue. The same is true for entertainers. Don’t show us your dirty diapers on You Tube or anywhere else. It’s a whole new game, and I need to master it like everyone else. It’s a good thing I have a lifetime of experience. I am really going to need it.

Dirty diapers are NOT for public display. Too many newbie comedians seem to think every brutal set they do needs to be up on You Tube.

A Cup Of Coffee



Tuesday July 22nd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   Oh, how time flies. Four years ago today my appearance on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” aired. I’d recorded it the previous March, and by the time it ran I honestly thought it would never air. When it did, it was a tremendous experience – at least for people around me.

   For whatever reason, that super short four and a half minutes on national television at 1:30am was a whole lot more impressive to people than the lifetime it took to get there. To me it wasn’t that big of a deal, because it was the easy part. All I had to do was walk out there and do a whole lot less time than I’m used to doing. It was like a night off, but that’s what put me over the top.

   As far as credibility is concerned, making it to national television even once is proof of having played in the majors. It’s not a guarantee of a lifetime of problem free bliss, but neither is making the majors in any kind of sport or entertainment genre. Lots of people have more problems after they get there than before they started, and I’m sure more than a few wish they had never started.

   There is so much involved to “making it big” in any genre of entertainment, but the one factor nobody can ever gain control over is luck. Things happen good and bad, and that’s just how it is. I freely admit that I got very lucky in a good way to have the door open to get on the show, but I also knew what to do with that luck when I got it. I had to play the game for a while, but I did it.

   I went back and forth with the talent booker, and then they changed talent bookers. Then they did it again. Then the original person came back, and I started all over again. It took a couple of years to play out, but I got my spot and no matter what else I ever do nobody can take that away.

   Several years have gone by now, and I haven’t gotten anything close to that kind of a break in anything I’ve tried. Did I put forth any less effort during that time? NO WAY. In fact, I probably put in more, but I had a few bad breaks health wise and that took me out. Again, it’s all part of it. That was a bad break just like initially getting the call to open for Craig Ferguson was positive.

   After living through this process and seeing it with others I know personally, I totally see why there are one hit wonders in music. If it’s this complicated for a comedian, I can’t begin to think what it must be like for a band. Talent isn’t the only thing that puts an act over the top. It’s many things, and everything has to line up at the right place and time for a career to really take root.

   None of this is said with bitterness, but I think it’s important to note that there are a number of ingredients needed to bake a cake. I’ll also be the first to admit I’ve shot myself in the foot more than once, but that happens to others too. Michael Vick is one of the most blatant examples of all time, but he still managed to come back and salvage a decent career. Not everyone gets that shot.

   It’s hard to say if I will ever catch another break as big as the ones I’ve already had. No matter what happens from now on though, I did manage to get on national television as a comedian and had a job doing mornings at 97.9 ‘The Loop’ in Chicago. In radio, that’s the big leagues as well.

   Not many ever make it to one of those much less both, but the key is to stay there and carve out a career. I had a cup of coffee but that was it. So far. Maybe that will be it. Maybe not. We’ll see.

Success in show business requires more than just a cup of coffee on national television. One has to make a mark - and that's a LOT harder than it sounds.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Entrepreneurial Evolution



Monday July 21st, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   Like it or not, a whole lot of us are going to have to get more entrepreneurial in a hurry. I have been interested in having my own business ever since I can remember, but it always took a back seat to being a comedian. It’s only been recently that I’ve understood that comedy IS a business.

   What a dummy I’ve been, but it’s not too late to change. I always use the great James Gregory from Atlanta as the gold standard of comedians that understand the business side best, and I have yet to run into anyone better. The only close horse in the race is Heywood Banks, and then all of the rest of us are sliding around in a giant mud pit hoping to find a couple of straggling nickels.

   There are a lot of stellar business people in the comedy field in Los Angeles, but I am thinking of road dogs like me. James figured it out early, and has been consistently at the top of the game for decades. Heywood has done well for himself too, and I respect both those guys enormously.

   If they’re not natural entrepreneurs, they sure have worked hard at fooling everyone. They are both extremely hard workers, and it is no accident either one of them has achieved their success. They have handled their business well, and didn’t choose to play the Hollywood roulette game.

   These are two shining examples of entrepreneurs in the comedy game, but I’m talking of life in general. Ma and Pa public are broke, and there’s no sign of relief in sight. They can either get out there are start some kind of a business or they can learn to like cat food. Times are excruciating.

   My grandfather used to tell me horror stories about The Great Depression, and from all he said it wasn’t that great. He was forced to become an entrepreneur, and he did just about anything he could get involved in to try and feed his family. According to both Grandma and Gramps, it was nothing to joke about. Everyone was tense, and nobody had any clue if it would ever get better.

   Well, it looks like history is repeating itself after all. The whole country is broke, and 99.999% of us can use some extra cash right about now. For most of us it’s not extra either – it’s all we’ve got. Prices of food and gas and everything else are rising steadily, and nobody I know is doing at least halfway decently much less kicking ass. Life is rather bleak, but there has to be a solution.

   Reading about The Great Depression, there were people that made fortunes for the ages. There are people doing it today as well, but they were rich to start with. The rich truly are getting richer but I don’t see how I can get any poorer. I’m barely hanging on, and it’s not how I want to live.

   It’s been a constant struggle to keep the bills paid, and the distraction that is saps my creativity for projects I want to do. I did get a couple of very generous gifts, but I used that money to erase a hefty credit card bill and stop the bleeding of that insane interest rate. Now I am right at zero.

   That doesn’t mean some emergency couldn’t wipe me out again, and I am still dangling by the thinnest of threads. I don’t think a job alone will be the long term solution. I will have to earn my own fortune, as there is nobody that’s going to leave me theirs. A lot of others share this scenario and we all have choices to make. The law of the jungle is adapt or die. It’s not “like it was”, and it’s not going to be any time soon. Being an entrepreneur is in my future, so I may as well like it.

Tough times often force people to become entrepreneurs against their will. I am going along willingly.

My friend James Gregory in Atlanta is the gold standard bearer for road comedian entrepreneurialism. He is the KING. www.funniestman.com

Another friend Heywood Banks is far from a slouch himself. He has always had a solid grasp on the business aspect. www.heywoodbanks.com

Flea-ing The Scene



Sunday July 20th, 2014 – Wilmot, WI

   There’s a flea market that’s now a lot farther than it used to be from where I lived, but if I have time on a Sunday I’ll still make the drive. It’s a ski hill in Wilmot, WI which is really close to the Illinois state line, and having a flea market in summer is a great way to make use of their space.

   I discovered it last year, and even though it’s not that great I still go at least a couple of times a month to if nothing else get in an exercise walk. It’s always an enlightening education to soak in the human freak show at any flea market, and I look at my $1 admission as really cheap tuition. 

   My main goal is to scope out a product I think I can sell myself. I realize nothing is easy, but I sure don’t want to be doing what 99% of the vendors are doing. Most of them pack up some kind of truck or trailer with a random collection of useless crap I wouldn’t take for free. Why do that?

   The grunt work alone of setting up and tearing down couldn’t begin to come close to any profit that may possibly be brought in. I can’t believe some of the flat out junk some people put out for sale. What are the chances someone will come along and need a left front fender for a ’67 Buick Wildcat or a pool table with a scratched felt? Wouldn’t it be a lot smarter to just bring pictures?

   If I would happen to be looking for a used pool table, I wouldn’t think to look at a flea market in Wilmot, WI – or anywhere else. But I see people week after week with displays that make my eyes hurt to look at them. It reminds me of my Grandfather and father, and I want to set it ablaze.

   My grandfather, grandmother, father and uncle were all borderline hoarders. They all had a big problem throwing anything away, and then they all died and everyone else had to clean up all of their messes. I vowed I never wanted to be like that, and I intend to keep my word. I’m not going to put anyone through that kind of hell when I croak. I want all my possessions to fit into a bag.

   The reason I go to flea markets is not to buy something for .95 and hope I can sell it for $1.50. I want to see how and what the public buys – if anything. Times are getting tighter by the minute and not many of us have a pocket full of disposable income. I’ll bet the vendors are all hurting.

   Collectibles as a whole are going through the floor. I’ve been wheeling and dealing sports stuff for years, mainly to give me something to do. That business is occupying the bottom of the toilet, along with stamps, coins and especially Beanie Babies. What a waste of time that stupid fad was.

   Come to think of it, they’re all pretty stupid. Sports cards are basically pictures of sweaty men. That may be popular at a bath house somewhere, but as far as contributing to society it really has no lasting value. It’s kind of fun to collect, but when life gets hard who has time for any hobbies?

   My only ‘hobby’ at the moment is trying to pay bills for another month and keep my aging car on the road. Trying to track down a three legged albino porcupine Beanie Baby is a luxury I just can’t indulge myself with right now. And if I could, I wouldn’t go hunting for it at a flea market.

   Still, I enjoy walking in the fresh air and taking in the sights which are many. I have no idea of what I would ever sell, but maybe I’ll think of something. Whatever it is, it won’t be a pool table.

Flea markets can be both entertaining and educational - but finding a real bargain is rare.