Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Financial Statements

Monday October 28th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

    I really enjoy working at Donnie B’s Comedy Club in Springfield, IL, even though this wasn’t a strong weekend for attendance. Between Halloween parties and the World Series, it was a slow go all weekend. I feel badly for Donnie more than anything else, as I know how much he hustles.

   Before I left town, he booked me back for my birthday weekend in March. I’m delighted to be coming back, and I hope it’s much busier that week. I want to see guys like Donnie succeed, and I wish there were more of them – at least 52 so I could work for someone I respect every week.

   There are other club owners who would have tried to negotiate down and cut pay after having a slow weekend, but Donnie’s ethics are first class. The Zanies clubs in Chicago and Nashville are that way too, as is Tom Sobel in Louisville, KY. Phil Anglin in Michigan is impeccable as well.

   We as comedians are self employed independent contractors, and getting stiffed is an ugly part of the game nobody likes to talk about. I don’t like to talk about it either, but it happens and it’s a total buzz kill. Being funny for a living is hard enough without getting screwed over for our pay.

   Certain club owners and bookers know that we are vulnerable, and take full advantage of us at every opportunity. There are traditionally no written contracts in the comedy club business, and everything is negotiated by word of mouth. It used to be on the phone, and there was no receipt.

    At least now via email there is a written record of the amount that is to be paid for whatever a booking entails whether it’s one night or a week of shows. That way if there is an issue there’s at least some proof of a deal being made. For decades we were all stupid enough to trust the clubs.

    Far more often than not though, comedians would get paid what was negotiated. Most comedy clubs have a set amount that get paid each week for each position on the show, and that’s that. In rare instances there might be a door deal for a bigger named headliner, but mostly it’s a set fee.

   Still, there are many circumstances that can come back to bite the comedian in the shorts and it happens at some point to anyone who is in the business for any amount of time. Slow weeks like I just experienced in Springfield are ripe for skullduggery by less than scrupulous club owners.

    That’s why I like and respect Donnie B, Zanies, Tom Sobel and Phil Anglin so much. They’ve all been great through the years, and I never have to worry about getting paid no matter what. We have a business deal, and they honor their deal without question. That’s how it always should be.

   Unfortunately it’s not always that way, and I’ve been stung badly – usually in my home town. I am still owed $400 by The Comedy CafĂ© in Milwaukee for shows I did in 1992. That club had an awful reputation for stiffing comedians, and I know I’m not the only one. They have new owners now apparently, but the former snake let it get out of hand. I’ll never see my money and it stinks.  

   Funny Business Agency is also greasy. A club called Giggles in Brookfield, WI was bouncing checks for a long time, and they did nothing about it. I got stung, and they still owe me bounced check fees of $110 I’ll never see. And then bookers wonder why comedians can cop an attitude.

Everyone wants to  be paid for work they do - comedians are no different.

Art Appreciation

Sunday October 27th, 2013 – Springfield, IL/Madison, WI  

   I took a detour home from Springfield, IL today and drove up to Madison, WI to hang out with my friend Art Hinty. Art is a seasoned sportswriter by trade, and has an extremely creative mind. He has done standup comedy for years, and was part of Doug Stanhope’s inner circle for a while.

   Like me, Art is originally from Milwaukee. He moved to the suburb of Sussex as a kid, but it’s not all that far from the city so he is very familiar with all things local. He totally gets where I am trying to go with my “Schlitz Happened!” show, and I wanted to pick his brain for my next run.

   He’s already been very helpful with input, and I give him total credit. He’s the one that thought of the tag line “An Old Milwaukee Blatz from the Pabst” after I told him what my title was. He’s the perfect sounding board to bounce ideas off of, because he gets both comedy and local flavor.

   Art came out to see the show when I was at Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino last April, and took the time to write out a detailed three page critique and make suggestions of how I could grow it into a local hit. He was dead on with his observations, and I appreciate his interest.

   I never thought I was smart enough to pull this project off by myself. I knew going in I’d need plenty of help and support, and I’ve gotten it from a lot of talented people. Vicki Quade of “Late Night Catechism” and many other successful plays has been very supportive, and she drove up in April from Chicago to not only see the show but bring a friend with clout who could help sell it.

   Bob Rech and the entire staff at Northern Lights Theatre have been unbelievably supportive, as has Joe San Felippo from Bonkerz Comedy Clubs. He books the comedy shows in the theatre on Saturday nights, and gave me the thumbs up for the trial run in April. I’m grateful to everybody.

   I’m going to need a lot more help and support, but I feel supremely confident that it will come. I have another run set to go in December, and I’m gearing up to make major improvements. I am still in the very beginning stages, and smart decisions need to be made as the show gets rolling.

   Eventually I want to have local corporate sponsorship and a line of merchandise to sell, but for now I need to keep fleshing out the show and making it solid. I experimented a lot in April, and I also learned a lot. The audiences were there, and they got what I was talking about. That’s great, but now I need to take it to the next level and craft an actual set show that I can polish for years.

   Art is the perfect choice to consult for this, and I bought him dinner at Longhorn Steak House as appreciation not only for his time and ideas, but for a really nice thing he did for me years ago when I was going to do my appearance on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS TV. He passed the hat and asked local comedians to donate for my trip to LA. What a sweet gesture.

   Getting money out of comedians for anything is nothing short of miraculous, and I never forgot how kind it was for him to do that. Art is a wonderful and talented person, and that alone made it worth my trip to thank him for doing that. As an added bonus, we watched the Packers stomp the purple out of the nefarious Minnesota Vikings and that was the perfect way to end the day. Steak and football can never go wrong, nor can comedy and friendship.

Art Hinty - sports writer, comedian, creative sounding board

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Making The Radio Rounds

Friday October 25th, 2013 – Springfield, IL

   I’m back in Springfield, IL this week at one of my all time favorite stops, Donnie B’s Comedy Club. I’ve always enjoyed working here, and this week is no exception. Donnie B is a hustler of epic proportions, and I mean that in only the most respectful way. He’s a fantastic entrepreneur.

   I don’t think I have ever seen a comedy club owner work as hard as he does to get the word out and keep it out. He’s got a car full of posters and flyers and coupons, and everywhere I go I’ll see his club mentioned somewhere. That guy knows how to promote, and he deserves all his success.

   Unfortunately, he didn’t pick the greatest town to work his magic and he’s not living in the lap of luxury like I think he should be. The economy has hit him like most everyone else, and he’s in the same boat as almost everyone who has their own business. He’s busting ass just to stay even.

   He runs a bar and restaurant in the hotel where his club is located, and that keeps him busy for most of the week. Comedy shows are Friday and Saturday, and he runs the comedians around to get on four radio stations on Friday mornings. Nobody could ever accuse Donnie of being lazy.

   I made it into town last night, and was glad to do the four radio interviews. That’s what gets the word out, and even if people don’t come out this week at least it’s awareness for the club. I can’t believe how many club owners and comedians alike don’t realize how crucial radio exposure is.

   We did an AM sports station, the classic rock station, the oldies station and the hot hits station “Kiss FM”. Everyone was very nice, and I tried to talk fast and say “Donnie B’s Comedy Club” as many times as humanly possible. Donnie knows I know what I’m doing, and I could see a big smile on his face every time I’d mention the club or plug the shows. A lot of comics don’t get it.

   Like it or not, a comedian and a club owner are in business together for the week. It’s not smart to have a hostile relationship, as it will hurt everyone. If the club can get a dozen media outlets to have the comedian on, the comedian needs to get up and go no matter how early or inconvenient.

   Another thing I respect about Donnie is that he hosts his own shows. Who else but the owner is able to extol the virtues of a business, and that’s what he does. He talks about drink specials and upcoming events, and personally greets the regulars that happen to show up on a particular night.

   He books an opening act to do a very short set – usually about 12-15 minutes tops. It works for him, and I for one am a fan of this system. It might not be the greatest for developing local talent, but from an audience’s standpoint it’s a very solid show. He’s not in the business to develop acts, he’s in business to sell tickets, food and drinks. I grasp that a lot more now than when I started.

   Donnie makes no bones about the fact that he’s in business to earn a living. I have no problem with that, and we get along great. He knows I’ll deliver on stage, and I know my check won’t be short or bounce at the end of the week. If every club was this cut and dried, life would be peachy.

   Unfortunately, this doesn’t look to be a great weekend due to Halloween and the World Series. Sometimes circumstances can kill even the best of promoters, but at least we did all we can do.

Donnie B's Comedy Club in Springfield, IL is one of the best run comedy clubs in America.

Deep Sleep

Thursday October 24th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I have had recurring dreams throughout my life, and I wish I could figure out why they happen and what if anything it means. They range from the traditional being back in high school without my homework to being on the radio when my song ends and I don’t have another one to others.

   One I have fairly regularly is being booked to do a huge comedy gig, but can’t find my way to the stage. I’ll spend most of the dream feverishly trying to get to the venue, and then I’m not able to find anyone to report to backstage, and I never actually get to perform. It’s always frustrating.

   Other times I dream I am on a network show, and go out and destroy the audience. They laugh at everything I say, and I know even before I say my next line that it’s going to crush. Sometimes the host is David Letterman, and he and I sit and talk afterward. It’s not clear if it’s on TV or not, but we’ll chat about the business just like two comics would – and he always treats me as a peer.

   Another batch of dreams I’ve had for years is being a professional athlete and playing baseball, basketball or football. They are incredibly vivid, and it feels like I’m really doing it. I am right in the heat of action, and always know exactly what to do. In basketball I’m the point guard and get a rebound and dribble it up the court and either pass it off for a basket or sink a perfect jumper.

   In football I’m usually a kickoff returner and feel the rush of trying to run one back for a score. Sometimes I make it a long way up the field, and other times I get tackled. Other times I’m in the defensive backfield and can feel where the quarterback is going to throw and I intercept the pass.

   In baseball I’m the pitcher, but I usually get to bat and end up smacking a solid hit somewhere. I can’t control when these dreams happen, but when they do they’re of uncanny clarity and I can feel every tiny detail as if it’s not a dream. It’s a sensational feeling, and I don’t want to wake up.

   One that has always puzzled me is where I’m walking down a city street and come upon a city bus that’s been abandoned. The bus is running, and I climb in the driver’s seat and start driving it on the scheduled route. I stop to let passengers on and off, and even answer questions they’ll ask.

   I’ll feel that big steering wheel in my hands, and I know exactly what I’m doing and where I’m going. It’s unbelievably fun to be doing this, and I can’t get enough of it. When I’m done driving I just park the bus and get off. At that point I’ll usually wake up, but I still remember everything.

   I can’t begin to guess what this could possibly mean, other than I need to take better care of my diet after 9pm. I’ll bet I’ve been having a variation of this dream more than twenty years and I’m still without a clue as to what it might mean. It’s a blast to drive the bus while I do it, then it’s over.

   I had this particular dream again last night, and as a bizarre twist my only passenger was Rick Harrison from “Pawn Stars”. We were talking about comedy and pawn shops, and out of the blue I got pulled over by a cop and he wanted to arrest me for theft. Rick thought he was being set up.

   I know it’s weird, but it’s so vivid I can still picture it. It’s like I was really getting arrested and I thought I was going to jail. This time I was glad I woke up. Even my life isn’t THAT out there.

I have had recurring dreams for years. Am I nuts? Probably.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

An Unusual Mix

Wednesday October 23rd, 2013 – Vernon Hills, IL/Great Lakes, IL

   Today was a long day with an unusual mix of activities, but everything was fun. First up was a career fair of all things at Vernon Hills High School in Vernon Hills, IL. I’ve never been part of one of those before, so I went in with an open mind. I looked at it as an opportunity for learning.

   Rick Young is Jimmy McHugh’s partner in The Chicago Comedy All Stars group, and they’ve booked me many times to be on their fundraiser shows. Rick is a master salesman by trade, and was asked to be part of the career fair by some contact he made. He asked if I would come along and talk to the kids that had questions about getting into the entertainment business. I said yes.

   Part of me was curious as to how many would be interested, and what they thought was funny at that age. It was a good demographics test, plus I enjoy hanging out with Rick. The event went from 9am to 2pm, but it included lunch so I was there. I’m glad I went, as it was very revealing.

   The kids were very smart, and asked a lot of intelligent questions. When I asked who they liked as a comedian names I heard frequently were Louis CK and Gabriel Iglesias. I didn’t know what to expect, but those were by far the most frequent answers. I enjoyed talking to them, and the day flew by. I’m glad Rick asked me to tag along and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was productive.

   This evening I had a booking at Great Lakes Naval Base in Lake County, IL. I’ve worked there before, and have always had fun. They treat performers extremely well, and the audiences are up there with the best anywhere. They’re very supportive of live entertainment, and that makes it all worth going. It’s close to home too, which is a huge perk. I’ll work there any time they call me.

   John Prue and Lisa Weaver were my direct contacts, and they couldn’t have been easier to deal with. There’s a lot of government red tape to go through for security purposes after 9/11, but we worked it out and there were no problems. I brought my picture ID and all of the paperwork they sent and everything came off without a hitch. It was a small price to pay for such a fun booking.

   I hosted the show tonight, and it was a breeze. They had some giveaways they asked me to do before the show started, and I’ve had plenty of experience doing things like that. There were all kinds of nice prizes, and I had to make ad libs as people came up to collect them. It was easy.

   Then they asked me to do 5-10 minutes to warm the audience up before I brought up the other acts Beth Stelling and then Myq Kaplan. Beth is originally from Ohio but lived in Chicago for a couple of years, and I hadn’t met Myq before. He’s from New York, and has a lot of TV credits.

   Both of them were really funny, and good people too. Beth has always been a sweetheart, and now she’s made the big move to LA. She’s razor sharp in her business acumen, as is Myq. I can learn a lot from them both, and good for them for understanding the important part of the game.

   The audience loved us all, and it was fun to watch Beth and Myq work as I hadn’t seen either of their entire sets before. We had a lot of fun hanging out backstage before the show, and they treated us like big stars the whole night. We had a deli tray and drinks on ice, and it felt like we were really in showbiz. If there’s a better way to spend a Wednesday night, I can’t think of it.

Great Lakes Naval Base is always a great gig.