Thursday, January 30, 2014

New Game, New Rules

Wednesday January 29th, 2014 – Brookfield, WI

   Today I started what I hope will be a long and productive journey as a “professional humorist” and not a “comedian”- even though comedian is how I ended up being billed. I had a booking in Brookfield, WI at the BMO Harris Training Center speaking for some Coldwell Banker realtors. They were having their yearly awards breakfast, and I was hired to close it out with some humor.

   Roy Scholtka is the owner, and I’ve been friends with his son Corey for years. Many years ago Roy asked me to speak to his realtors at a similar event, and I must have done at least a half way decent job or I don’t think he would have asked me back. I didn’t embarrass myself either time.

   I don’t know the first thing about the real estate business other than it’s been in the crapper for several years like a lot of businesses have been, but I do know that ALL businesses boil down to the people business so that’s the angle I took with my preparation. I wanted to be ready for this.

   The biggest reason was I didn’t want to let Roy down. He’s a super nice person, and has people skills that could be picked up from a weather satellite. He’s extremely likeable, and if I happened to looking for a home I would absolutely trust him or anyone he would recommend. He’s a pro.

   He has been in the game for forty years, and knows what he’s doing. Corey has said often that he wasn’t blessed with the people skills his father has, and that’s why he doesn’t want to work at the office when he obviously could. He’s choosing to play to his own skill set, and that’s smart.

   I told Corey I was making the transition from comedian to humorist, and he immediately talked to Roy about having me speak again. Roy called and offered me an opportunity to not only speak at his event but also have it recorded in a tremendous facility. That’s exactly what I needed to do.

   As a comedian, word of mouth bookings are very common. I’ve been getting booked that way since the ‘80s. I don’t think I’ve used a video to get work more than two or three times in all the years I’ve been at it, and even then it was for an outside venue rather than a comedy club show.

   That’s just how that business works - at least from my experience. The speaking game is totally different, and I’ve been paying attention to my speaking friends like Todd Hunt and Dale Irvin as they tell me I will absolutely need a video to get booked. New game, new rules. I’m fine with it.

   I’ll bet I was a comedian for at least ten years before I ever thought about making a video (back then they were TAPES – what a dinosaur I am) and I only did then because I got a package deal from a video guy that was there to record one of the other acts on the show. I said yes reluctantly.

   Recording my first time out today was the correct thing to do. I’m sure I’ll wince at what I did this morning a year from now, but I got some nice laughs and everyone was happy. I don’t have close to the polish of a Todd Hunt, and I doubt if I ever will. We’re going for different results.

   Todd has a message in his presentation, and it’s excellent. I have a long way to go, but both he and Eric Feinendegen will help me craft a product that will get work. Eric coached me on what I should look to present today, and I think it came off really well. It was a very positive first shot.

A sincere thank you to Coldwell Banker Homesale Realty for having me as a humorous speaker for their annual awards breakfast today.

I've known Roy Scholtka for years through his son Corey, and he's one of the most 'people skilled' people I've ever met. If I ever need a home in Southeastern WI his company is my first and only choice. You'll get treated royally as well.

Hat Tricks

Tuesday January 28th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL 

   As the first month of 2014 draws to a close, I have to make sure I maintain a steady rotation of change in the hat department. Anyone self employed has to play a number of roles, and there is a hat for each one of them. Some fit better than others, depending on the person wearing each one.

   There’s one for sales and another for marketing. There’s one for product development and also one for customer relations. There’s one for taxes and accounting, and that’s one few like to wear. I never have, but it’s a part of the big picture so I want to make sure it stays in a prominent place.

   Taxes and record keeping aren’t sexy, but too bad. Even the sexiest supermodels have to shave their pits. It’s much easier to tend to it once a week rather than let it grow wild for an entire year and deal with it then. That’s a pretty gross analogy, but I find it accurate. Taxes are gross to me.

   I don’t enjoy doing any of it, and no matter how much I try to fool myself I know I never will. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep improving though. The more proficient I’m able to get, hopefully the less effort I’ll have to put in in the long run. It’s a hat I only wear when I have to.

   In contrast, there are others I don’t like to take off. The creative hat that searches for ideas is an especially well fitting one, but I have to make sure I take it off once in a while so others can get a little top of head time. I spent all kinds of time wearing that hat the last few decades, and it was a big mistake. I let a lot of other duties lapse, and that’s why I find myself in my current position.

   My sales and marketing hats laid around collecting dust, and I can’t afford to slip back into that old habit. I need to make sure they get some quality time, and plenty of it. It will be a major drain on the ideas and product maintenance hat time, but too bad. I need to produce different results. If I don’t make time to sell what I’ve already got, creating anything new is a futile waste of time.

   Getting a newsletter out this month was nice, but that’s only the start. That’s going to be a BIG eater of time and energy, but it’s a must in my opinion. There are still some glitches that we need to work out, and almost half of our starting emails list either bounced back or were no good. That isn’t good, but it is a start. We did manage to have several hundred people open it so that’s a win.

   There was quite a bit of positive feedback and that was encouraging, but it came from people I already know. The eventual purpose of the newsletter will be to develop relationships with those I haven’t met. There are more than seven BILLION possible recipients on the planet, so we have our work more than cut out. I’ve only got under 1000 in the fold so there’s big growth potential.

   There’s also the hat of teacher. I really do enjoy the teaching and mentoring process, but that’s a lot of time and effort as well. Lining up classes is something I enjoy about as much as keeping tax records, but it’s also a necessary part of the process that needs to be done. I’ll gladly turn that hat over to someone else, but last time I did that guy stole money. For now, I am still wearing it.

   And the biggest hat of all is the crown of the King of Uranus. I still believe there’s a gold mine under it, and with proper time, effort and input from business people it will be a home run. I have too many other hats to wear to give it the time it needs, but that’s how self employment works.

Everyone who chooses to be self employed has to wear a variety of hats - like it or not.

And then there's the crown on the head of the King of Uranus!

Reference Checks

Monday January 27th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   When I first started performing standup comedy, I would go out of my way to study any and all other acts I could find at every level of development. I would watch all the others on any shows I happened to be on, but also seek out TV shows, live performances or anywhere else I could find.

   I couldn’t get enough not only of standup comedy, but pop culture as well. I knew that I should familiarize myself with what was happening in the world so if I didn’t do jokes about it myself at least if someone else did I’d know what they were talking about. It took a lot of work but I did it.  

   Once in a while I’d see an older comedian use some reference that was painfully outdated, and it left a sour impression. It felt like ordering a sandwich in a restaurant and having it be served on really stale bread. It leaves a bad first impression, but it’s too late by then. The damage is done.

   An example that still sticks in my mind decades later is a friend of mine from Pittsburgh named John Knight who told me about going to see Shecky Greene. John is of my comic generation and a very funny guy. He’s also a student of the game, and I’ve known him since I started in the ‘80s.

   The same brothers that owned the Funny Bone Comedy Club in Pittsburgh where John started opened one in Milwaukee a few years later, and it started an exchange program between the two cities. We were like comedy cousins, and grew to know each other’s towns and each other well.

   Shecky Greene is an old school act, but John was one of the few smart enough to know that it’s possible to learn from anyone so he went to see him. Had I been offered the opportunity, I would have joined him. I still would. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who has braved the wars.

   I remember John telling me he enjoyed the show, but then told me of a bit Shecky did that used “The Bay City Rollers” and a song they did called “Saturday Night”. That’s a band that had their very short heyday in the mid ‘70s, and even though John and I both were familiar with them they were long out of the public’s eye by then and it made Shecky look like a big idiot – at least to us.

   Cut ahead decades later, and now the performers of John’s and my generation are in exactly the same position. We’re probably close to the age Shecky Greene was John saw him, and the acts of today look at us the same way. John still performs and is a pretty hip guy, but it’s still a concern.

   Neither of us have acts directly based on using many current references, and we’ve been smart enough to craft relatively timeless material that can hopefully continue to earn us our livings for the foreseeable future. Those who don’t develop this skill will get burned now more than ever.

   For veteran performers it gets easy to ride a reference too long, and I’ve been guilty of it many times. I’ve been around the block quite a bit, and have all kinds of references that used to be hot but are now as laughable as Shecky using The Bay City Rollers. I have to constantly keep track.

   Sometimes it’s fixable. I used to do a joke about a “Walkman Radio”. How dated is that?  I’ve since changed it to “iPod” and I can milk it a while longer. I hope. Eventually it will be obsolete, but then again so will standup comedy. Some robot will be built to take my place. “Robocomic”.

   I can make jokes about it, but I’m only fooling myself. This really is a major issue that needs to be addressed now more than ever. There are just too many things to keep track of, and with all of us going in so many directions on the internet it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with life.

   It used to be if someone liked sports for example, there was a relatively limited amount of info available about it to the general public. They could read the same newspapers and magazines and all share basically the same information. It wasn’t in depth, but it was enough to stay informed.

   Now there are websites and blogs and a whole new level of scrutiny that has never been around before. If someone likes sports now, it can easily become a full time obsession. Then stories like Alex Rodriguez on steroids or Dennis Rodman in North Korea become actual hard news stories.

   Every subject that people used to be able to get away with just a passing knowledge of now has an entire subculture attached to it, and there aren’t enough hours in a day to keep current with all of them. For an up and coming standup comic, it’s harder than ever to have broad based material.

   I’ve hosted a lot of showcases in the last few years that feature younger acts, and I admit that I watch a lot of them and have no clue as to what they’re talking about. They’ll go off on a movie I haven’t seen or band I’ve never heard of, and I’m totally lost. They might as well speak Chinese.

   It becomes very easy to let this get out of hand, and I totally have. Part of the reason is that I’m just not interested in pop culture of today. I find it extremely boring, and not intended for me. All that I see coming out I’ve seen before, and I wasn’t necessarily all that fond of it then. It stinks.

   Other than a very VERY few songs, I find the music of today absolutely horrific. Lady Gaga is a warmed over version of Madonna – and I never liked Madonna with her hairy armpits and gap teeth. I found her derivative, but she was able to carve out a career. Good for her, but I’m over it.

    Even sports don’t come close to holding my interest like they once did. I used to easily be able to name every coach or manager of every team in most of the major sports if not current starting lineups. I could also go back at least ten years and name all the teams that won a championship.

   Now I bet I couldn’t name who won the last championship – and I don’t really care. Unless the Packers win the Super Bowl, I’m pretty much over that too. And even when that happened just a couple of years ago life went on shortly thereafter. I’m just not into what’s going on in the world as a whole. I have enough to worry about with my own life, and that’s about all I can deal with.

   Still, as a professional entertainer I can do better than I have been doing. One of the many wise things my grandfather taught me was to look through the entire Sunday paper. He would open all the sections and look at all the articles from cover to cover. He wouldn’t read all of them, but if a headline grabbed his attention he’d at least skim over some of the article to broaden his life base.

   I used to do that for years, but I just lost interest somewhere. That’s just plain not acceptable if I still intend to grow as any kind of creative entity. There has to be more fuel added if I intend to keep the fire burning, and I don’t want to look like Shecky Greene to young audiences. I can still throw some heat, but it’s smart business to have a clue as to what’s current in pop culture today.

Shecky Greene had a tremendous run as one of THE top nightclub comedians in Las Vegas. That is SO not easy to do. Much respect.

The Bay City Rollers had a short run of hit records in the mid '70s. I bet they thought they were SO cool when this picture was taken. Times change.

Despite his deadpan look, my friend John Knight from Pittsburgh is one of the funniest comedians working today.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Body Clock Backlash

Sunday January 26th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   My body clock is way off, and I don’t know if it can ever be fixed. After years of heavy travels and morning radio, it’s impossible to establish a groove. Some days I’ll get up at 4am, and others that’s when I go to sleep. I used to be able to cover it up with youth, but these days I can’t do it.

   After the show in Indiana last night, Jimmy McHugh decided he wanted to drive home to avoid impending snow. In the old days I’d have had no problem with that, and in fact it was par for the course for me to drive home from most any show eight hours or less from wherever I was living.

   It’s a lot different now, and I am nowhere nearly as concerned about setting land speed records getting anywhere. Safety is much more important, as is comfort. We had beautiful hotel rooms in Fort Wayne, and I wanted to take full advantage of the king size bed, exercise room, hot tub and free breakfast. Jimmy did too, but he thought it was best to make it home to beat the snow storm.

   He was driving and he booked the show, so I shut my mouth and got in the car. I didn’t want to start an argument and I could see his logic, but that’s not the choice I would have made. After the entire day of having my sphincter in a state of perpetual pucker, the last thing I wanted was to get right back in the same rental car and drive back home. Too bad. That’s the life of a road warrior.

   Quite honestly, I am sick to death of being a road warrior. What drove me to become one is not what’s driving me now, and I’m finding it nothing short of annoying. Again, the actual shows are still fun but everything that goes into showing up for them is becoming less appealing by the day.

   Jimmy is a great guy and I love hanging with him, and I can’t blame him for choosing to do the exact thing he did. But as it ended up, we made it to the Chicago area at around 3:30am and there was snow coming down everywhere. I had my car at his house, so I had another hour drive ahead of me right when my body clock was screaming for sleep. Sitting in a cold car wasn’t my choice.

   I white knuckled it home, and was dead tired walking through the door. I was out in seconds of my head hitting the pillow, and then woke up at 1pm to none of the snow that had been predicted by the weather geniuses of last night. We probably could have stayed and driven back refreshed.

   None of that matters now, as it’s over with – for today. But these kinds of choices always come up and after all these years I’m all choiced out. I’m looking to either travel less or find something else to do that gives me the creative outlet performing does without having to make these drives.

   Flying isn’t any better, and in fact it’s worse. Having a pack of TSA orangutans go through my luggage is a completely different annoyance, and I’ve had my fill of it all. Right now, coming up with an effective way to make a comfortable living while establishing a home base is my number one goal for the immediate future. I don’t care where that base is, but a warm one would be nice.

   Even if it isn’t, steady money is more important to me now than hectic travel. The snowy roads of Indiana look exactly like the ones in Chicago. I would much rather be able to stay in one place and find a way to have money come to me than get in a rental car and physically have to drive all over the place picking up small payments randomly strewn about the country. I’m way past that.

I used to pride myself on being a relentless comedy road warrior - able to withstand any and all adverse conditions.

This pretty much sums it up these days. I've learned to appreciate a good nap. I've mellowed, but the road can still be tough. I'd love to do something that involves less travel - but what?