Saturday, September 28, 2013

No Guarantees



Friday September 27th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I had a tentative gig booked for tonight that was what’s known in the business as a “door deal”. That means the performer gets to keep an agreed upon percentage of the cover charges collected at the door. In this case, I was to get 100% which is as good as a door deal gets. I was optimistic.

   The venue held roughly 100 people, and the cover charge was $10 per person. On paper, I had a chance to make a decent payday – not to mention a chance to sell some merchandise. The joint was in an affluent area, and they’ve only tried comedy shows once before. I thought I’d gamble.

   What I didn’t plan for was the place closing down completely, which is exactly what happened. I called to confirm on Monday, and was told that they were going out of business abruptly and of course that meant my show was cancelled. I was counting on making at least a little bit of money for the week, but now it’s a total loss. September has been brutal, and has totally wiped me out.

   I’m to the point now I can barely put gas in my car. I’ve got work coming up in the next three months, but that doesn’t do me much good right now and I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel to make it day to day. I never thought I’d be this low this late into it, but that’s how it’s turned out.

   There are a variety of odd circumstances that put me here, and many of them are plain old bad breaks. Woulda, coulda, shoulda isn’t going to change anything, but I sure am in the trick bag for the time being. I’m working hard every day to get myself out of this rut, and I could use a break.

   Then just when I thought I was in a bad way, I heard that some comedian friends of mine are in a whole lot worse shape than me. Scot Wickmann is a Chicago comedian I worked with steadily for a few years when I was with a group called Chicago Style Standups. I knew him long before that from the comedy trail, and we always got along well. He was just a guy out making a living.

   I was surprised to hear Scot had triple bypass surgery this week, and it made me sad. Scot has had quite a few health problems over the years, and I never wish that on anyone. He’s a diabetic and also has been on kidney dialysis for several years. That sounds extremely painful, but after I got out of the hospital with my own type 2 diabetes diagnosis Scot was right there to help me.

   He brought me to the hospital he goes to for his dialysis, bought me lunch and introduced me to his dietician who joined us and made suggestions on how I can change my diet to improve my condition. That was unbelievably nice of him, and I never forgot it. He didn’t have to do all that.

   I’ve tried to keep in touch with Scot and a lot of my other friends – comedians or not – but it’s a daunting task with how hectic life gets most of the time. Who has time to connect by telephone much less in person? Time slips away from all of us, and weeks become months become years.

   I also received some sad news that another comedian friend Jim Wiggins is going in for cancer surgery in a week. There’s another comic well liked and respected in the business. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love Jim, but he and Scot are suffering miserably while boils on the face of the Earth like Charles Manson and so many others are pictures of health. I just don’t get it, but it seems to happen all the time. I’m sad my gig got cancelled, but even more so for Scot and Jim.

Scot Wickmann "The Married Man" - if you pray, offer something up. Triple bypass surgery is no joke.

Jim Wiggins can use some prayers and good vibes too.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Five Funny Friends



Thursday September 26th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Oh, to have even a teaspoon of power and influence in this out of control tilt-a-whirl known as the entertainment business. I don’t want it so much for me, but to be able to showcase as many of my talented friends and colleagues as possible. That would give me as big of a kick as if I did it.

   That’s one of the reasons I was such a rabid fan of Johnny Carson – or at least his position. His show was a launching pad for a lot of acts, but especially comedians. He seemed to enjoy putting people on and letting the public discover their talent, and I would love to be able to do it as well.

   On a far smaller scale, any time I’ve had radio shows I have always tried to put as many of my talented friends as I could on the air. I love to be able to let them shine and have their moment in the sun, and I have always been secure enough in my own skin to not have to always be the star.

   I talked to my friend Dwight York yesterday, and he’s a shining example of exactly what I am talking about. Dwight is one of my absolute favorite comedians ever, and a super guy to boot. It boggles my mind why he isn’t a big star, and if had even a little influence he’d be one tomorrow.

   He’s delightfully sick and twisted, and an absolutely brilliant joke writer. He has a book called “The Vile File” which is a catalog of his best work, and he has a hilarious CD as well. Dwight is also one of the hardest workers around, yet he doesn’t seem to get his due. I don’t understand it.

   Check him out and see if you don’t agree he’s fantastic. His website is www.dwightyork.com, and if you get a minute send him an email and tell him I told you to say hello. You’ll be a fan for life like I am, and make it a point to see him whenever you can. He never fails to make me laugh.

   Another guy I’m in awe of is Don Reese. Don is another dark and twisted hombre, and I mean that in a very positive way. He loves monster movies, and looks like he could star in one. I have always wanted to book a tour with Dwight, Don and another comic named Dan Still. I wanted to call them “The Pirates of Comedy”, and I know they could develop a rabid following all over.

   Don’s website is www.donreese.com and his DVD “It Came From Iowa” is a must have. He’s like the typical bad guy pro wrestler – scary in the ring, but a teddy bear in real life. Dwight and Don are both sweethearts, as is Dan Still. Put them on a comedy stage, and it’s a different story.

   Dan’s website is www.danstill.com, and his CD is called “Anger Therapy”. All three of those guys get their ya-yas out on stage, and then off stage they’re mild mannered and sweet. I would LOVE to be their manager and build their brand, but who has time? I’ve got my own problems.

   Of course there’s my friend “The Enviromedian” James Wesley Jackson. I’m still trying to get his new DVD noticed, and you can find him at www.jameswesleyjackson.com. There’s someone else I think deserves to get some time in the sun. James has paid his dues, and deserves a payday.

   Then there’s my good friend Jimmy McHugh and his “Chicago Comedy All Stars” concept. He is another guy who deserves a break. www.chicagocomedyallstars.com. I can think of a lot more, but for now I’ll leave it at this. Please seek out and support these people. They’re all tremendous.

Dwight York's book 'The Vile File' is laugh out loud funny! www.dwightyork.com   

Don Reese's "It Came From Iowa" is a must own DVD. www.donreese.com

Dan Still looks a lot like 'The Undertaker' - or is it the other way around? www.danstill.com

What's an 'Enviromedian'? Find out at www.jameswesleyjackson.com

Jimmy McHugh - head Chicago Comedy All Star. Great act and great friend. www.chicagocomedyallstars.com

Overnight Frustration



Wednesday September 25th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Less than 24 hours ago, I was feeling pretty good about myself for putting time in working on a part of my job that has traditionally been my least favorite. I sucked it up, plowed through, and at the end of the day I thought I had myself some tangible results. Overnight, most of it is no more.

   This is why I get so unbelievably frustrated with the business end of comedy, and it never ends. The names change, but the situations stay the same. Everything is a hair triggered house of cards, and it doesn’t take more than a tiny ripple to make everything come crashing down. It’s a bitch.

   Of the five days I thought I booked solid yesterday, two of the them (a weekend) were stricken from my calendar when someone from the booking agency called and said someone else working in the office gave it to another comedian and didn’t cross it off the list of open dates. So I’m out.

   I don’t know who the other comedian is, but it really doesn’t matter. He or she is farther up the food chain than me, and that’s how it is. There’s no warning, no substitute backup gig, and worst of all no pay. It happens all too often, and booking agents can do it because they know we are all looking for work and don’t want to burn any bridges these days. I have to shut my yap and eat it.

   There never seems to be a two way street with these kinds of situations. If I happened to find a higher paying booking for the same date and backed out, chances are the agency would be angry and vengeful go the point where they may not ever use me again. I have seen it happen before.

   Another one of the dates was a fill in I thought I’d picked up, but it turned out there was a mix up with the actual date. The comedian who asked me to fill in told me one date, and it wasn’t the actual date of the gig. It was an honest mistake, but I am not available to do the date that’s open.

   That booking agent had no choice but to look for someone else and now I’m out that money as well. I already had it spent, but now it’s not coming. I am already booked on the date in question, but it would have been a sweet little bonus to pick up the extra cash in the same week. Not now.

   Then, one of the other dates that pays via direct deposit into my checking account sent an email and said I have to reconfirm my banking info with routing numbers and all that, and I had to take time to go to the bank and get someone to fill everything in and fax it to the gig. They faxed it to the wrong number, and the person in charge didn’t get it so I had to do everything all over today.

   The people at the bank were nice about it, but it was a hassle to wait in line and have to have it all done over again. It took about two hours out of my day after everything was done, and there’s still no guarantee I did it right. The person at the gig told me I’d hear back when it was received.

   Stuff like this drives me up the wall, across the ceiling and back down the other wall across the room. No matter how hard I try to psyche myself up, things like this happen and it kicks me right in my self esteem and makes me feel like I’m small potatoes. This isn’t what I was born to do.

   I was born to be on a standup comedy stage or behind a radio microphone entertaining a large audience. Making booking calls and faxing bank account numbers was never what I aspired to.

Frustration is a big part of the entertainment game.

My life in a nutshell.

Hey, it might help. After today I'd try just about anything.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Business Show



Tuesday September 24th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Sorry to bust the bubble for anyone wanting to get into show business, but it’s a lot more like a real job than most people think. There may be a lot more reward – or at least the potential for it – than a regular job, but there’s still a frightening amount of boring minutia that needs to get done.

   Those on the top end of the food chain can surround themselves with a paid staff to take care of a meaty chunk of their grunt work - but then someone has to watch over them all like caffeinated hawks to make sure everything gets done correctly, efficiently and without getting robbed blind.

   That leaves all kinds of unattended cracks for glitches to slip through - and many do. One way or another, performers have to make sure things get done or it’s game over. I always tell anybody who asks me about getting into show business to make sure they love it with everything they’ve got, as that’s what it will take to stay in it. If anyone wants less work, go manage a Burger King.

   No offense to anyone who does happen to manage a restaurant, but it’s less work than being in the entertainment business and you can count on your check at the end of every week. It may not have any commas in the total, but it’s there. It’s kind of like a civil service job with a salad bar.

   I spent most of today doing many of the piddly little tedious jobs I never liked but have to keep doing to stay in business. I spent a couple of hours going back and forth with several bookers via email, but it did lead to five dates on my calendar for November and December. I still have zilch for this week and it will probably stay that way at this point, but at least I filled some open holes.

   That process never ever ends, and although I’ve never liked it I’m learning to at least handle it with more of a regular schedule. Tuesday through Thursday is the prime time of every week for doing bookings, and there’s nothing close to glamorous about it. It’s a chore, but it needs doing.

   That chore can fester into a downright hassle when dates fall out at the last minute or a booker doesn’t respond to requests for an open date that would fit perfectly either in routing or schedule.  Today I happened to pick up dates that did both, and the main reason is I’ve been working at it of late. It’s taken a while to see results, but I knew I would. It’s also extra work and I knew that too.

   Unfortunately, the extra time and effort I put into it has to take time from somewhere else. I’ve been completely ignoring my act of late to make that happen but I spent a couple of hours on that today just to stay sharp. I can’t just let it go completely. That’s not how it works. It’s my product.

   I also worked on updating my bio and resume, as I intend to make a push to get some bookings for holiday parties this year. The economy wiped those off the map for a few years, but it appears as if that market has bounced back at least a little. I have to get out there and let people know I’m available, and there are limited dates in December and January when companies tend to do them.

   By the end of the day, I’d put in about a dozen hours of work but didn’t tell a single joke. I sure didn’t get into this for that to happen, but it becomes part of the process to be able to keep getting paid to tell more jokes to different people. Again, “show business” is always said in the incorrect order. “Business” should always get top billing. That’s the most important ingredient in the stew.

Without it, there IS no 'show'.

Reflecting On Celebrity



Monday September 23rd, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’m still on a high from hanging out with Bob Uecker yesterday, but I realize I’m a ways away from being the big star he is and still have to worry about paying bills every month. Most people never come close to such an elite level of success, and he is the exception rather than the rule.

   One thing that jumped out with Bob and every one of the other celebrities I’ve ever met is that they are still people and have real people problems and concerns. They might be a little different than most, but nobody’s life is without any glitches. Bob Uecker has problems just as we all do.

   Everyone in that stadium knows who he is, and in the city too. Milwaukee is his home town as it is mine, and that comes with a lot of pressure most people never have to encounter. I feel it on a much smaller level whenever I work a comedy club. There is an entire staff of managers, wait staff, bartenders, ticket takers, dish washers and who knows who else that all know me by name.

    Try as I might, it’s impossible to remember everyone’s name and that can be embarrassing as hell when someone comes up and greets me by name when I haven’t seen them in a year and am working at a new place every week with an entirely new cast of characters. It’s mind boggling.

   Bob Uecker or any other truly big time celebrity can’t go anywhere without getting mobbed by strangers whether they want it or not. Everyone has moods, and what if one just doesn’t feel like talking on a given day? Then it gets out the celebrity is hard to deal with and aloof. It isn’t fair.

   But who said life was fair? It never has been, and never will be. Most people don’t get a statue built in their home town either. Bob Uecker did, and he was alive to see it. Most times that never happens. What good is it to have a statue erected years after someone is dead? His is a rare case.

   Another thing Bob Uecker has going for him is the right personality to be a celebrity. He has a quick wit and easygoing demeanor, but I’m sure there are days when he doesn’t feel like being a jokester. I’ve heard stories of people saying he wasn’t ‘that guy’, but I can see why. He’s human.

   I happened to catch him on the right day, and he was absolutely fabulous. I will remember it as long as I live, and I’m sure he’s had moments like that with thousands of others. How many of us have that kind of clout? Not a lot. That’s why they’re celebrities. It’s a different world altogether.

   Some are made for that world, and spend their entire lives there even though it’s very rare. Bob Uecker has been there since the 1970s, and has cemented himself into the hearts of America. His place is well deserved, but there aren’t many openings. Everyone else has to fight for the scraps.

   Others get to that world, but only for a little while. I bet it isn’t hard to find Vanilla Ice or M.C. Hammer’s home phone numbers these days. They had their respective runs, but they’re over with no signs of returning. Then there are those who never get there at all. That would be most of us.

   What hit me today the hardest was that in reality I made this happen. I pictured in my mind that I wanted to meet Bob Uecker, and I did what I needed to do to make it a reality. On a larger scale I should be able to do the same with a legitimate comedy career, right? Why has it been so hard?

How many ever get to be truly world famous? VERY few. Can you name the current leader of China? I can't either.