Friday, August 30, 2013

Michael Jackson's Birthday

Thursday August 29th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Today would have been Michael Jackson’s 55th birthday. What a fascinating character study he was on so many levels. Only a handful of people who ever lived have had a worldwide influence like he did during his run. Like Elvis, he was the right person in the right place at the right time.

   Did he have talent? He was loaded with it, but that doesn’t always guarantee success. There are many things that have to come together for massive success, and both Elvis and Michael Jackson were the proverbial ‘one in a million’. They were one in hundreds of millions, but that in no way insured their lives would be Shangri-La. Their problems were larger than life just like they were.

   From all I’ve read I don’t think Elvis was a dented can but Michael surely was. I don’t think he and his father got along well to say the least, and that’s usually where it starts. Unfortunately, we as children of relationships like that often tend to think fame and fortune will heal those wounds, but it never does. Sooner or later that fact becomes apparent, and it’s a stunning disappointment.

   I can’t comment on Michael Jackson’s personal life, as I wasn’t there. Whether he did what he was accused of or not I don’t feel qualified to talk about. It’s absolutely none of my business and nobody else’s but his and his accusers. Unfortunately, on that level one’s personal life becomes a wide open book to be rummaged through by the public on a whim. That’s the downside of fame.

   I’m just focusing on his career. The success he had with The Jackson Five alone would be a big deal, but that was only the beginning. His star steadily rose, and he took entertainment to heights that had never been seen on a worldwide level ever – including Elvis. He set the world standard.

   He rode the global wave of MTV, and pioneered the way music videos were done. Every other act to come along after Michael Jackson basically used his template of a lead dancer in front with a flock of dancers behind, but few came close to doing it as well as he did. He was the innovator.

   Elvis had his own greatness for his time, but he wasn’t a dancer or writer of songs. He was one of the most charismatic stage performers in history, and that alone is impressive. Michael took it to a whole other level at a different time, and his influence is still being felt today. What a talent.

   I’ve always been especially impressed with the ‘Thriller’ album. That came out the year after I graduated high school, so it’s been a part of my life for decades. I heard the songs played on the radio, and they were a part of my entire life experience just as the Beatles were for a generation before. I hear Beatles songs being played today, but I was never part of that intense culture blast.

   I watched Michael Jackson’s career soar, and it was quite impressive. During the ‘80s it wasn’t easy to turn on a TV or radio without seeing or hearing something about Michael Jackson. It was a true cultural phenomenon, and part of the fabric of life. How many ever reach that level? Him. 

   I’m sorry his and Elvis’s lives ended so sadly and quickly. No mortal can sustain that lifestyle for long, but the question is if one could choose would it be the short fast life of a superstar or an ordinary one filled with mediocrity that lasted into old age? That’s a decision most never face. 

Every entertainer alive would LOVE to have a project like this on the resume - an all time classic.

White Man's Disease

Wednesday August 28th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   There is an evolution chart of success in standup comedy, and I need to move a position or two to the right or I’ll continue to drag my knuckles for the rest of my life. What I’ve been doing for so many years has been passed by. If I don’t start walking upright soon, I will get left in the dust.

   The icy truth is, a white male on stage telling jokes is not the way to break through and be seen by the masses. In other words – funny isn’t enough. Someone who just makes audiences laugh is no longer the standard bearer for success in the comedy business. An evolution has taken place.

   I don’t need to delve too deeply into the reasons why, but I do need to comprehend the bigger picture if I’m ever going to generate any kind of serious heat in the business. The landscape has changed completely, and it’s a whole new ball game. I’d better learn to play by the current rules.

   Unfortunately, I have a grave condition that plagues the majority of others in standup comedy and it’s called “Caucasianitis” or “White Man’s Disease”. It may have been a distinct advantage to be a white male in society the past few centuries, but in modern standup comedy it’s a curse.

   There has been a mega glut of white males between 20 and 50 attempting to stand out in a very crowded forest, and most end up getting lost in the shuffle. There are just too many, and we have become overpopulated like deer. There’s not enough food for us all, and we need to cull the herd.

   This is a very serious problem, and I don’t see it going away any time soon. Every city that has a comedy scene – which is every city - is producing more and more and it’s clogging the toilet at the top where people get their break. How is anyone supposed to stand out anymore? It’s tough.

   LA or New York used to be the place a comedian went to catch their big break. I was in LA for a year in the mid ‘90s, and it was crowded then. I’ve been to New York a few times, and it’s not a lot different there. The statistics are similar everywhere, and it makes succeeding even harder.

   So what’s the answer? Other than going to diesel truck driving school or welding academy, the only way to overcome this condition is to find a niche or a gimmick. That creates an entirely new set of problems, but it’s a necessity if a white male is going to swim in today’s overcrowded sea. 

   It takes years to become proficient at the craft of standup comedy alone. Adding on the task of finding a niche or a gimmick is overwhelming, but also very real. Just being a funny person isn’t going to pay off like it once may have. Newbies coming up the ranks need to grasp this concept.

   At least when I started, there was enough work to go around and I could make a livable income practicing my craft. That no longer exists, and people have to keep their day jobs much longer. It makes the whole game harder – and it was hard before. Now more than ever, a plan is essential.

   People think my ‘King of Uranus’ idea is stupid – and it is. The one thing it isn’t is just another white guy telling random jokes about his observations of everyday life. Jerry Seinfeld did that to the fullest, and got paid handsomely. Evolution is happening, and that’s no longer a valid option.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Someday Has Come

Tuesday August 27th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   The major life purge continues, and I feel improvement every day. Organizing my inner world is the only thing that will organize my outer world, and I desperately needed it. Every bit of junk I throw out opens that much more space to fill with something much better that I can use today.

   Less truly is more, and I feel noticeably better with every full bag I either throw out or take to a thrift store for donation. There’s almost a spiritual quality to what I feel as I do it, and that makes me want to do it more. Today I spent a full eight hours working, and could have done eight more.

   Most of this stuff I will eventually get rid of, but for now I just need to know what’s there. That takes time, as I have to sort through every scrap of paper or trinket in every box but I’ve meant to do it for years and I’m finally “getting around to it”. Someday has come, and a feeling of genuine accomplishment has come with it. I should have done this decades ago, but didn’t have the time.

   I was much too busy dealing with life’s tornadoes, and there were many. I just stuck everything in boxes with no rhyme or reason and said I’d deal with it later. Well, it’s later and now it’s time to sort it all out and finally move forward. Until I do that, I’ll never be able to grow to the fullest.

   I’m doing it, and it feels beyond good. I know it’s right, so I’m staying with it. At first I sorted everything into big piles, but now I’m going through those with a fine tooth comb to eliminate all that I don’t absolutely need to survive now – which is most of it. I’ll find the occasional business card with a contact I haven’t talked to in a while or a forgotten comedy idea, but that’s about it.

   Out the rest of it goes, and I’m having less of a problem the more I do it. If I really need any of this stuff I’m sure I can troll it up somewhere, but for now I want it out of my life. The chances I will need any of it are far slimmer than a white man’s hopes of playing cornerback in the NFL.

   I’ve got things I want to do, and they take up enough time as it is. Having a backlog of useless clutter is just extra weight in the saddle bags. Cleaning it out will be a one time hassle, but then it will be gone for good and I can fill that space with much more important things. I need to do this.

   It’s finally to the point where it’s manageable, even though it will take a while to get it down to where it should have been in the first place. I bit off way more than I could chew, and I thought it would all work out. It didn’t, so rather than keep hauling it around the country I’m cutting bait.

   I’ll be able to do a little at a time for the foreseeable future, and that’s how it should be. It’s just like exercise - a little every day is the way to do it. Trying to cram it in all at once in a day or two doesn’t work and never did. It’s a gradual thing, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m just sorry it took so long. I’ve wasted a lot of valuable time and energy dragging this around and it’s gone forever.

   If I choose to dwell on that, I’ll depress myself right out of the game. I’m not the only one that has made mistakes, but it’s all about how one recovers. If I throw away as much evidence of the past as I can, I’ll have no choice but to look ahead. That’s where I need to be looking, and I’m on a great roll right now. It’s all about action, which I’m taking. I’m making room for a better life.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

23 Hours Off

Monday August 26th, 2013 – Wheeling, IL

    The breakdown of time for an entertainer as far as offstage pain vs. onstage pleasure is totally lopsided. It’s ridiculous. IF we’re lucky, we get to be on stage about an hour a day – sometimes two if it’s a two show night, and there are. More often than not it’s only 45 minutes. That’s it.

   And that’s in the headliner position. It takes years to grow into that. When we first start out it’s in five minute chunks of stage time, and those are like nuggets of pure gold. Stage time is hard to get for most newbies, and the earlier in the journey the more difficult it is to get it of any quality.

   Everyone who lasts in comedy has horror stories of working under hellish conditions to acquire the much needed experience to move ahead. It’s not pleasant, but sometimes it’s necessary. It’s a lot like the plane crash survivors in the Andes Mountains who ate dead passengers because there was no food anywhere else. The same holds true in standup comedy. Stage time is nourishment.

   Unfortunately, what it takes to get that nourishment consistently comes with an extremely high price. It would be like trying to feed a family when the only food store available is a convenience store and the only restaurant is the airport. The cost is sky high, and the quality is at best so-so.

   Sometimes I wonder if the trade off is worth it. Yes there’s a buzz that comes with being on the stage, but is it powerful enough to last the rest of those 23 hours or more? At the beginning of the journey, it is. That’s what keeps us in the game. As time goes on, we begin to have our doubts.

   I’m not going to deny it, I love being on stage – when it’s going well. Last Saturday’s show in South Haven, MI is a perfect example. The show went extremely well, and things were all done correctly from a promotional standpoint. It was close enough to home where I could sleep in my own bed, and with driving time included I still think my work day came in at less than 8 hours. 

   That travel time eats up productive hours though. Sometimes I’m able to make booking related calls from the car, but not often – especially when I’m driving home late at night. There’s a much higher risk at that time as well of drunk drivers, charging deer and who knows what other perils. 

   The majority of our time off stage is spent trying to get back on stage somewhere, and that’s an ongoing process. As much as I love to perform – and I absolutely do - I dislike having to troll for work, but that’s the game. There’s a lot more time spent on that aspect than the performing part.

   And I didn’t even mention promotion. Today I did a newspaper interview for a show I’m doing this Saturday in Homewood, IL at a place called “The Twisted Q”. I haven’t worked in the south suburbs much, and I know I’m not a draw. That article will be crucial to having any chance at all to get anyone to come out. I’m delighted to get the call, but it also takes a chunk out of my day.

   This is why it’s so hard to get anything done. There are so many hidden time drainers involved in being an entertainer that nobody thinks about when they get in it. They think it will be just the fun parts. Ha! That’s the trap, and many fall for it. I know I did. It’s too late now. I’m in it for the long haul. All I can do is make the most of the 23 hours I’m off stage - and that’s on a good day.