Tuesday November 5th, 2013 – Chicago, IL
Imagine the feeling of going on a lifelong journey that took all your energy, dedication and free time for close to thirty long years, but right at the end you realized you were on the wrong vessel. You were supposed to catch a connecting ship years ago, but for whatever reason you missed it.
The reason itself isn’t important, but you arrive at what you thought was your final destination and there isn’t anyone at the dock to ask for directions, and there are NO refunds for the trip. It’s over, and there you are alone with a suitcase full of dirty underwear and empty shampoo bottles.
It’s a devastating combination of both total shock and extreme disappointment, and an ice cold slap in the face sending you into a deep panic mode. There are only a precious few stray bills left in your wallet, and all your credit cards are maxed to the hilt. You assumed there would be a big welcoming party at the dock and you’d get a significant expense check, but that never happened.
What to do now? There you are all alone at the dock exhausted from what you thought was the triumphant journey of a lifetime, but instead you find yourself back where you started. It’s thirty years later, and everything has changed. Nobody cares about your story - you’re just in the way.
That’s exactly how I felt after my show tonight at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago. I thought it was going to be a shining highlight of my professional life, but instead it was a bitter reminder of how cruel life and especially show business can be. Only a few ever get to taste the real big time.
Zanies is celebrating their 35th anniversary month, and bringing in some really tremendous acts as they’ve done for 35 years. Tonight it was the “Chicago Killers” which included “Uncle” Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe and me. I was thrilled to be included on such a lineup of classic Chicago acts.
The three of us have been regular Zanies acts for decades, and are what booker Bert Haas likes to refer to as “bangers”. We go up and consistently bang out rock solid shows no matter what the crowd conditions are, and he knows he can count on us getting laughs and pleasing the audience.
Tonight was the first time the three of us had ever been booked to be on one show, and that’s a big deal – or at least I thought it was. It would be like three popular rock bands putting together a special one night only show. One would think it would be an event and be able to create a buzz.
To top it off, hosting the show tonight was another long standing club headliner Jimmy Shubert out of Philadelphia. Jimmy has been out there as long as I have, and at one time toured with Sam Kinison in the heyday along with the whole Texas Outlaw crew. He’s another big time “banger”.
Between the four of us, there was more than 100 years of comedy experience on that stage, and I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of an all star cast like that. From top to bottom, that’s about the strongest lineup of club comedians I could ever picture. If anything, I would be the weakest link.
I would think that show should be sold out for months, or at least have a line that winds around the block tonight trying to score tickets. In a city of millions, there aren’t 100 fans of the standup comedy variety that would come out to see a first ever once in a lifetime all star monster lineup?
Apparently not. The show was not even close to being a sellout, and Zanies isn’t all that big of a venue. I think the capacity is maybe around 110, but I’m not exactly sure. Still, I was surprised it wasn’t jam packed – even with newbies coming up the ranks. Every new comedian in Chicago should have been there, if for no other reason than to see what a dead end club comedy really is.
Here you’ve got an all star lineup of heavy hitters on the comedy club scene, and nobody came out to see us. Not fans. Not the media. Not even other comedians that think that’s what they want to aspire to be. Tuesdays at Zanies are traditionally “Good Neighbor Night” where they let in the people who live in the zip codes near the club for a very low cover charge. That’s who came out.
There could have been anything on the bill, and they wouldn’t have known the difference. That totally stomps on any remaining shred of ego or self esteem any one of us may have come to the club with tonight, but it was painfully evident that there was nothing at all special about the show to these people. We all had to work like hell to even keep their attention, but we’re used to that.
All of us have been doing shows like that since we started, so it was no big deal. We all did our time, and did it extremely well. I watched the whole show, and all three of the other guys had me laughing out loud – and that’s nearly impossible after spending my life seeing standup comedy.
Those guys are world class performers, and master craftsmen all. I marveled at the smoothness of their acts, and they were all very complimentary to me as well. It was a treat to watch them all work, but the audience sure didn’t act like it. They were pretty stiff actually, and it was a chore.
Martin Balion has been the manager of the Chicago Zanies for decades, and he’s seen it all just like we have. Everybody loves Martin, and with good reason. He’s as laid back as they come and treats us like royalty. He knows more about comedy than most comedians, and immediately after I got off stage he took me aside and told me how far I’ve come and how hilarious he thinks I am.
Martin has seen all of us literally HUNDREDS of times, but to hear that from him put a pep in my step and made me feel like my life wasn’t a total waste after all. It sure felt like it on stage as I was working myself into a lather trying to loosen up a stiff crowd that wasn’t there to see me.
Nobody was there to see any of us, and that’s a crushing blow. There was a lady named Susan Bruno who used to work at a club called Who’s On First years ago, and she was there for Larry and Tim. My friend Joe Nuccio showed up, as he knows Tim and me. Other than that, there were ZERO fans of any of us and that totally rocked my world. What the hell did I do with my life?
I rode to the club with Tim Walkoe, and after I dropped him off at his house I openly wept all the way home. What an idiot I’ve been all these years thinking there was going to be some kind of payoff at the end of this long brutal journey I started all those years ago. I only fooled myself.
It’s not Zanies or any other club’s job to make anyone famous. It’s the act’s job to find the way to parlay his or her skills into something that can in turn become a draw where people will pay to see them years later in those same clubs where they started. For me I thought that draw would be radio, but I’ve got a whole other horror story on that subject. It never happened, and now here we all are with really great acts and nobody knows who we are. New comics should learn from this.
|'Uncle Lar' Larry Reeb - a Chicago classic and one of the funniest comedians in America. www.unclelarryreeb.com.|
|Ditto Tim Walkoe. A master at the craft of standup comedy, and also a very talented musician. www.timwalkoe.com.|
|Jimmy Shubert used to tour with Sam Kinison and the Texas Outlaws. Go see him whenever you can. www.jimmyshubert.com|