Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bill's Pills

Saturday June 29th, 2013 – Ann Arbor, MI

   Oh, for consistent bookings like this weekend in Ann Arbor, MI. I forgot how much fun being a comedian can be, and this trip was a pleasant reminder. This is exactly how it should be, and if I had my way my schedule would be loaded with gigs like this. I don’t know if they’re out there.

   There are so many things that are right about this club. It’s been running successfully for more than thirty years, so that’s usually a good sign. They’ve had time to work out the bugs, and there is a bond with the community that now has transcended generations. It’s become a town fixture.

   I highly doubt any other comedy club could knock them off the perch, and if another one tried to open I don’t think they could last. Both clubs might suffer, and both could close. This is a one club town, and they are doing an outstanding job serving their customers. It’s run as it should be.

   All I’m asking for realistically is about 25-30 places like this around the country to practice my craft and make a respectable living. I work enough for Zanies in Chicago and am developing the whole ‘Schlitz Happened!’ concept that I can stay closer to home and keep working every week.

   I’d love to be working close to home two weeks a month, and have the other two weeks on the road doing gigs like this. It’s an easy drive, and the pay is enough where I can come out at least a little bit ahead. I’m not greedy, and this is very satisfying on many levels. These people get me.

   Tonight’s shows were even better than last night. My friend Bill Mihalic drove from his house in the northern Detroit suburbs to hang out and bought me a delicious and healthy dinner at B.D. Mongolian Barbecue. He didn’t have to do that, but I’m glad he did. It was a special day for him.

   This was his first official day of being retired from the automotive industry. Bill slugged it out in corporate America, and developed comedy writing as a hobby along the way. He took my one day seminar right here in Ann Arbor ten years ago this month, and has been writing ever since.

   Stories like Bill’s make me keep teaching classes whenever I can. He’s not taking what may be considered the “traditional route”, and that’s why I’m extra proud of him. He has blazed his own trail, and that’s even more difficult than coming up the ranks the way that everybody else does.

   I’m sure corporate America has a laundry list of major hassles of its own, but Bill managed to hang in there long enough to make it to retirement, and now he’s free to pursue what he wants to do but also enjoy the perks of having a beautiful home, family and all that goes with it. He won.

   I have all the respect in the world for Bill, because he WORKS. Whether it was his day jobs or writing jokes, Bill has a Herculean work ethic that has always impressed the hell out of me and it still does. Over dinner tonight he was like a kid in his giddiness describing all his future projects.

   It was refreshing to hear someone with that much excitement about comedy projects, and it put me in a better mood than I already was. It’s easy to see the pitfalls of the business, but when I see someone as excited as Bill it makes me happy for him and proud that my class got him started.

   Bill writes a daily joke sheet called “Bill’s Pills”. He’s also been writing for Jay Leno for a few years now, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for him. You can get a free subscription to Bill’s jokes at This was a fun trip, and I’m glad I came. Now I only have to fill 51 more weeks each year with gigs like this and I’ll be set. I’ll worry about it later. This was fun.

Ann Arbor Affection

Friday June 28th, 2013 – Ann Arbor, MI

   Back on the road again, and it’s been a while. Part of me missed it, but a bigger part didn’t. It’s a definite lifestyle, and not for everyone. I could tell I’m out of sync, and that’s a place I couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago. The road bug has been in my blood all my adult life, but I’m just not intoxicated by it like I used to be. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it’s how I feel.

   The good thing about this week is that I’m back in one of my very favorite places of all time in Ann Arbor, MI. The club here is The Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, and I’ve always knocked it out of the park here as the audiences are traditionally intelligent and show up wanting to laugh.

   Places like this make being a comedian fun, and I’m bummed there aren’t more of them. It’s a treat performing for an audience that gets it, but that’s not always the case. And it’s not like I do particularly atom smashing brilliant stuff either. My material is relatively smart, but at times that just isn’t what certain audiences want. They want loud stupid filth, but that’s just not what I do.

   It’s different here, and I’ve always loved it. Ann Arbor is a very hip town located in the middle of the rust belt, and dangerously close to Detroit. People think I’m crazy, but I have always loved the Detroit area – at least the suburbs. I love the whole car culture, and at one time it was the hub of everything. I know people make fun of it now and with good reason, but Detroit was a giant.

   It was a blue collar working class giant much like my home town of Milwaukee, but that’s not the vibe in Ann Arbor. It’s very artsy and eclectic here, and I really like it. Madison, WI has a bit of that kind of vibe too, but not like here. For whatever reason, what I do seems to fit perfectly.

   It’s an easy week too. I can’t remember if there were Thursday shows in the past, but now it’s a Friday and Saturday only. There are two shows a night, and the club is located in the basement of a delicious vegetarian restaurant called Seva. I was the first to make fun of vegetarianism back in my youth, but this place won me over. It’s one of the best anywhere.

   On the way here, I stopped to have lunch with my friend Dave Rudolf. Dave is booking acts at a smaller club in the far southern suburbs of Chicago, and wants to try a comedy night. He asked if I would mind doing the opening night, and I said I would. I don’t really work the south side of Chicago much, as it’s a long ride from where I live. It’s 90 miles one way to get to Dave’s house.

   In contrast, it’s only about 50 miles each way for me to get to either downtown Milwaukee or downtown Chicago from where I live. The only way it’s convenient to visit with Dave is when I pass through on my way to a gig like I was today. Gas prices are making us all plan trips more.

   It’s bleeding us all dry, but who has a choice? I could rant and rave about how they could run a car on pickle juice and coffee grounds, but they’re never going to do it. It’s all about money, and those few who have it aren’t about to turn it loose to the masses of us who don’t. We’re screwed. 

   That’s not about to change any time soon, so we might as well enjoy whatever we can. I have a fun gig this week in a place I really enjoy. I won’t get filthy rich, but I at least know my rent will be paid Monday so that’s a big relief. The shows tonight were both solid, and I loved being back for the first time in two years. I know that because the last time I was here I went to the hospital the next week with my type 2 diabetes diagnosis. That was a fun week too, and I’m thrilled to be back. If I had 52 weeks like this every year, life would be a breeze. I don’t, so I’ll enjoy the trip.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pleasure Over Business

Thursday June 27th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   In a perfect world, I would have spent the entire day hard at work. I would have gotten up early and hit the ground running. I would have gotten a little bit done on a lot or projects or maybe put a big dent in just one. I have a lot of things that need a lot of work. Today was ideal to get to it.

   But alas, I totally didn’t. I didn’t lift one single finger to do anything I intended to, and it made today a total zilch as far as professional productivity goes. I guess I can’t complain that I am not getting anything done as it was me who chose to blow it off, so I have to live with my decision.

  What happened was, my friend Rick Wey was in town from Nashville and he invited me to go to a Milwaukee Brewers game with his company. It’s a trucking freight company, and they have terminals all over the country. Rick comes up about once a year to do what he does and that has usually been in the summer. It’s become a tradition he goes to a ball game, and has invited me.

   The people who work at the Milwaukee terminal couldn’t be any nicer, and they have taken me in as one of their own. It doesn’t hurt that I am from there, but they’ve totally treated me like one of their family. I feel like an employee, without having to do that annoying thing called ‘work’.

   There’s a super nice lady named Joyce Brainard who puts out a pre game spread of food fit for royalty, and today was no exception. There were Usinger’s brats, which are the very top as far as sausages go, along with all the trimmings any tailgate party could want. It was an amazing meal, and everyone who came to the party was friendly and laid back. I felt completely at home there.

   Rick also brought his dad along from Nashville. He came up a couple of years ago, and he’s an extremely interesting fellow. I don’t know how old he is, but Rick is a couple of years older than me and I ain’t no teeny bopper. His dad is a sharp fun guy, and I can tell he was a great father by the way Rick is when he’s around him. I can feel the love and respect, and it’s a beautiful thing.

   The Brewers ended up getting stomped by the Cubs of all teams, but nobody cared. That’s not what this was about. It was about hanging out with nice people and not only enjoying a baseball game, but life itself. Yes things are hectic all over, but for one afternoon everything was perfect.

   We had delicious food and plenty of it, and perfect weather to enjoy a game. There were some of the sweetest people I can think of to enjoy it with, and we had unbelievable seats right behind third base that I know cost a lot. They didn’t have to include me, but they did. That’s why I went.

   Did I have work to do? Yes, but missing one more day wasn’t going to turn my life around. It’s days like today I’ll look at in the end and smile, so this was the right choice for today. Rick Wey is also a comedian and a very funny one, but he chose to keep a stable career for his family and I couldn’t respect him any more. I’ll take solid friends like him over showbiz B.S. every last time.

   Tonight I had an invitation from Marc Schultz to go to his house and watch the NBA College Draft. We’ve come to make a tradition of watching sports drafts, and it’s another fun evening to hang with a good friend. His wife Audrey always makes another great spread of food and we can hang out and talk sports all night. 

Again, was it productive? Probably not in the big scheme of it all, but it sure was fun for tonight. It was baseball all day and basketball all night, but it was a lot more than just that. The real highlights were being able to spend time with some absolutely super people who were nice enough to invite me to join them. That’s a high honor, and I appreciate it.

Nashville funnyman Rick Wey - a class act onstage and off.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

War Scarred Testicles

Wednesday June 26th, 2013 – Kenosha, WI

   My friend Jerry Agar rolled through town today on a cross country motorcycle trip, and we had a chance to sit down and catch up over a delicious lunch at The Brat Stop in Kenosha, WI. We’d originally hoped to have all the members of ‘Jerry’s Kidders’ from WLS and WGN reunite for a party, but we couldn’t hook up everyone’s schedules. People were out of town, so it was just us.

   Jerry and I have been through a lot together, and even more separately. We met in the late ‘80s when he was working at a tiny AM station in St. Charles, IL and I was working for the new club Zanies was starting in the Pheasant Run Resort at the time. It started as a one shot interview, but we kept in touch from that day forward. Today we looked back on all of our tangled adventures.

   Both of us ended up moving all over the country to pursue the radio dream, and that came with a heaping helping of hurt. Rarely have we lived in the same town or even same time zone, but we still managed to stay in touch by phone and email. We’d help each other with various projects or radio bits, and when one of us got fired – again - the first call we’d make would be to the other.

   Jerry had the additional pressure of a family to support, and his wife Ann should easily qualify for first ballot sainthood for all she’s had to endure with this mine field of a business. They have three fantastic kids who I consider to be surrogate nephews and a niece, and every time they had to pack up everything and move one more time Ann would hang in there and keep it all together.

   That’s the kind of family relationship I’ve always wanted – at least the together part. It’s not in the cards, and when I really needed it it was never there. I was always of the mindset it was cruel and unusual punishment to drag a wife much less kids through the treacherous jungle of radio.

   Comedy is no clam bake either, but at least it’s a predictable instability. As a comedian, I know I will be somewhere else each week. In radio, one never knows when the next time bomb will go off – only that it will. Stations get sold, GMs and Program Directors move on, so who can say if a job will be there tomorrow? It’s always been that way from my experience, but now it’s worse.

   Jerry is currently working in Toronto, and he has really made an impact on the market. He does talk radio, and does it extremely well. He’s found his niche, and few can do what he does with as much skill as he does it. One would think that would go hand in hand with total job security - but one could not be more mistaken. The planets could align against him and he’d be out on his arse.

   Jerry told me his station is in the process of getting sold, and my bung hole puckered. That puts everyone at the station on edge, and I’ve gone through it more than once myself.  Two other pals in radio “Stone and Double T” in Rockford, IL are going through the same hell. Their station just got sold as well, and the standard company line is always “We expect there to be NO changes.”

   My war scarred testicles. I wish I had a free lunch for every time I heard that splattering pile of verbal manure emanate from behind the desk of some greasy radio snake - only to get shown the door a short time later. Then to make it worse, they themselves are blown out a short while after that and it was like none of us ever existed in the first place. It’s a vicious never ending cycle.

   It was great to hang out with Jerry, but I can’t help feeling for him and his family. He’s settling in nicely in Toronto, but he was doing the same thing in Chicago before he got axed for reasons I still haven’t been able to figure out. If there is a hell, there’s a whole wing for radio management.