Saturday August 17th, 2013 – St. Charles, IL
In the constantly evolving world of standup comedy, we as performers get used to the ongoing soap opera drama of venues opening and closing over time. Anybody who lasts even a few years is able to name several places that used to do comedy shows that no longer do. It’s inevitable. It ranges from actual full time comedy clubs to one nighter hell gigs at biker bars in small towns.
I couldn’t begin to count all the joints I’ve performed in that have not only discontinued doing comedy shows, but permanently closed their doors. I feel like “Fast Eddie” Felson, the character Paul Newman played in “The Color of Money”. Comedians and pool hustlers share the lifestyle of being nomadic transients drifting randomly across the country piecing together an existence.
Of all the venues I’ve ever worked – and there are many – the one place I’ve probably worked the most is the Zanies Comedy Club at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL. That one room sums up my career – or lack thereof – better than any other place. I’ve worked there for decades.
It opened in the late ‘80s, but I don’t remember the exact year. Maybe it was ’88. Maybe it was ’89. It was somewhere around there. I was just a punk kid opening act then, and nothing to write home about. For whatever reason, I hooked up with the Zanies chain in Chicago and they would use me a lot. It wasn’t because I was particularly good. I think it was because I would show up.
Zanies had several locations including Chicago in Old Town, Mt. Prospect, IL and eventually Vernon Hills, IL and I worked them all time and time again. Mt. Prospect and Vernon Hills have since closed, and a gorgeous new location has opened in Rosemont, IL. I’ve been there as well.
But the stage I’ve worked the most by far through the years is at Pheasant Run. It’s a beautiful setup for comedy, and most performers love working there. The stage is large, and the lights and sound are excellent. It’s a long narrow room, but when it’s jamming the atmosphere is electric.
I’ve had hundreds of my best shows on that stage, and there have been some clunkers too. I’ve grown exponentially as both a person and a performer since I started, and a lot of that growth – at least on stage – happened right there. It’s been my training ground, and I have learned my craft.
On the downside, St. Charles, IL is not considered a comedy hotbed. Major motion picture and network TV executives don’t book first class flights to St. Charles to scout for new faces to turn into superstars. It’s not that kind of gig. Every comedian in America wants to play the downtown Zanies in Old Town, as it has history. Everyone from Leno to Seinfeld to Kinison worked there.
There have been big stars at Pheasant Run, but it’s not the same. No offense to anyone, but it’s just not. I’ve had my share of working in Old Town, and I’m grateful to be counted among those who have played such a legendary venue. I worked my way up from opener to solid headliner.
But whenever the chips were down and I needed a paycheck, I could always count on getting a booking in St. Charles. When I would lose a radio job or when I was recovering from my horrific car accident in 1993, Pheasant Run was where I got work and I’m still grateful for it to this day.
Even last week I picked up the opening slot because Bert Haas knew I could use a payday. The late show headline spot tonight opened up, and I got called again. Bert could have called anyone else, but he called me. I can’t be any more grateful, and this is why I’ll always be loyal to Zanies.
|My comedy training ground.|