Monday, March 31, 2014

Badger Battle

Saturday March 29th, 2014 – Wilton, WI

   Whenever the topic of comedic timing comes up, it loses the majority of those involved in the conversation as it’s an intangible entity. As a rule one either has it or they don’t, and there isn’t a thing they can do about it if they don’t. It’s like singing. If one doesn’t have it, it’s a lost cause.

   This is a different subject for a different day. Today I had an example of comic timing that was completely different. I wish I’d recorded the show so others could learn from it, and it was so out of the ordinary that I think I could have learned from it myself. Situations like this are quite rare.

   My show tonight was at a sports bar in Wilton, WI. I am a cheese head by birth, and I must say that before I booked this show I had never heard of Wilton. For those that may care, it’s between Elroy and Sparta along the famous bike trail. The population is 542, and there are no stop lights.

   The ‘downtown’ consists of four bars, a post office and a Hardware Hank. There were a couple of other buildings that looked like they could be shops of some sort, but I couldn’t tell if they had gone out of business or not so I won’t count them. This town makes Mayberry look like Chicago.

   A truck driver named Jeff and his wife bought and remodeled the bar, and did a spectacular job from the ground up. I was pleasantly surprised when I walked in, and the joint was jumping. Too bad the reason it was jumping was because the Wisconsin Badgers basketball game was on TV.

   This is the timing I’m talking about. What are the chances a basketball game would have even a minor affect on a comedy show – in Wisconsin no less? This isn’t a state known for basketball, but on this night it was all anyone could talk about. Like it or not, that was the headliner tonight.

   Both Jeff and his wife are not only nice people, they’re very sharp at business. I talked to them before the show, and told them we needed to call an audible. Both the game and comedy shared a scheduled starting time of 8pm, and unfortunately comedy was going to lose. The question now was whether to try and squeeze the show in before the game ended, or wait until it was finished.

  I would have been fine with waiting until the game was over, but I’m not sure if the customers would have wanted to stay around – especially if the Badgers lost. Either way, I was going to be the one in the trick bag tonight so it really didn’t matter. I wanted to insure the bar made a profit.

  We ended up starting about 8:15, and things were fine. There was a separate stage area that was away from the TVs, and the people wanted to see the show. The opening act did a fine job for the circumstances, and then I got on and started strong. I almost thought I had a chance to pull it off.

   Then the game got interesting, and the people yelling at the bar became a distraction. I couldn’t avoid it, so I had them give updates from the bar. I started and stopped bits, and it was absolutely maddening after a while. Then to make it worse the game went into overtime, so I told the crowd I’d leave stage and we’d all watch the game. When it was over I’d finish my show. The Badgers did win, and I went back up and finished my set. It took the skill set of a Ninja, but I pulled it off.

I was cheering for my home state Wisconsin Badgers in the NCAA tournament - just not while I was trying to perform.

It took the skill level of a Ninja to pull of a show tonight, but I did it.

Afternoon Delight And Three Dog Night

Friday March 28th, 2014 – Arlington Heights, IL/St. Charles, IL

  Today was yet another jam packed super busy day, but all of it was good. In the early afternoon I was asked to give a speech to a team of website telephone consultants that constantly face a lot of rejection in their job. Lucky them, as I can’t think of anyone with as much experience to speak on that subject as me. If there was ever a match made in heaven for me to be an expert, this is it.

   There were about thirty people, and it was their quarterly meeting. Most were probably in their 20s or early 30s, and I’d guess there were a few more females than males. I had several weeks to prepare, and I worked very hard on coming up with things to talk about that would be of interest.

   For some reason, ‘regular people’ seem to be fascinated with what it’s like to be an entertainer. I guess I don’t think about it that way because I have done it so long, but it has been pointed out to me over and over recently that I have a unique perspective that business clients want to hear.

   I’m delighted to share my stories, and I have plenty to go around. I have had interaction with a lot of celebrities through the years, and that never hurts. People love hearing storied about them, and on top of that mine have points. And if it’s rejection they want to know about, I can speak on that subject with just about anyone still able to walk the planet. I’ve earned my master’s degree.

   I spoke for about twenty minutes, and I put everything I had into it. I’m still learning how to be a speaker rather than a comedian, and there is a different pace involved. There are also important message points that need to be included, and I’m working on smoothing it all out into a package I can sell over and over just like my act. It will take more work, but today was a very solid effort.

   The person that asked me to speak is my friend Vince Carone. He took my comedy class years ago when he was still a teenager, and has really done well. He now closes shows all over and has an unbelievably sharp business head to go along with a tremendous work ethic. I’m proud of him as a student, but he’s an even better person. People like him are why I keep teaching the classes.

   Vince knows the owner of the company, and thought I’d be able to add to the mix while having a chance to practice my speech for a live audience. That’s exactly what happened, and it worked out splendidly. It was win/win, and I could tell it was a hit. This was totally worth all our whiles.

   Immediately after finishing there, I drove to Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL to meet up with Mike Preston. He was scheduled to have an interview with Jimmy Greenspoon, keyboardist for the band Three Dog Night. Mike frequently calls when he does interviews like this as comics know how to act around celebrity types. Jimmy McHugh and I are usually his first two choices.

   Jimmy and I were both available today, and we each ran a camera as Mike interviewed Jimmy Greenspoon – who happens to be a fascinating character. He grew up in Beverly Hills, and he is the son of a silent film star. He told us some fascinating stories, and then we got to see the show at the Arcada Theatre just down the street. I have always wanted to see them live, and it was one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Those guys are total pros - the band and Mike and Jimmy.

Vince Carone got me a corporate speaking gig today. Thanks Vince! He's also an accomplished standup comedian and just recorded a new comedy CD.

It was a thrill to meet Jimmy Greenspoon of Three Dog Night, and see their show as well.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Daily Grind

Thursday March 27th, 2014 – Mystery Location

   Here is a perfect example of why I can’t stand the booking aspect of being an entertainer. I will keep names and locations out of it, only because if word got out with who I am talking about the fallout shrapnel could be devastating. It’s not worth the risk, but I do want to get the point across.

   I received a call on Monday asking if I’d be open for a booking tonight in a town roughly three hours from where I live. I won’t say the name of the town or even what state it’s in, but location isn’t the issue at hand. I just want to point out how maddening this business can be - and often is.

   I was open and told the person booking the show that I was. I know and like this person, who until now has always been exclusively a performer. Like many of us, this person is branching out to attempt to make more money, and I never fault anyone for that. There are no issues from me.

   The booker had sold me to a group for a private function in a hotel – or that’s how it appeared. I got about six emails telling me it was off,  then it was on, then it was off again. Then it maybe was going to happen. Then when I wrote it off that it wouldn’t happen. Then I got confirmation.

   That’s frustrating enough, but then I was told I was to call the person in charge to get specific instructions of what they wanted me to do and what I couldn’t do. That’s never pleasant, but it’s often a part of the deal in private situations like this. I tried calling four times, but of course was not able to reach him. I left word with his secretary, and also sent an email. What else can I do?

   The guy met me when I got to the hotel, and told me they were eating dinner and he’d get me when they were ready. I sat in the lobby checking my emails for half an hour, and then he came and got me and walked me to the meeting room. He didn’t tell me he was going to introduce me right away, but that’s what he did. And of course he forgot my name and that was embarrassing.

   I didn’t get to see the layout beforehand, and I had a very difficult scenario. The microphone’s cord was about six feet, and attached to a podium. The podium was off center, and not even near where the lighting was. I was trapped like a Doberman on a short leash, and had to make it work.

   What made it even harder was that they were a tight audience. They weren’t mean or dumb or anything negative – but they were very tight. Whatever went on before me obviously wasn’t any comedy, and I had to start from scratch and get them not only to pay attention but then to laugh.

   I challenge anyone of any skill level to try and pull laughs out of a group like that. Most were older than me, but a few younger ones were sprinkled in. There were probably 200 more or less, and they had just eaten a big sloppy meal of red meat with gravy and a heavy dessert. That made my job even harder, and I had all I could do to pull off 45 minutes. Oh, and it had to be clean too.

   There was no check so I had to wait as the treasurer wrote one. Did I happen to mention the TV was on the entire time? I almost wish they had said no - but I so need the money. This is just one night. Try doing it for a living. I never signed up for any of this. Want easy money? It isn’t here.

Just like a dung beetle, I get out there and push my wet sloppy ball across the treacherous desert. It's anything but easy.

Want easy money? You won't find it as an entertainer - at least not at first. It's a daily grind.

Note how easy money and hard work point in two different directions. That's no accident.

Booking Day Backslide

Wednesday March 26th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   It’s one more Wednesday - aka Hump Day - aka Booking Day. Whatever kind of slick or pithy moniker I might decide to attach to it, the fact remains I’m still falling short of what I need to do. No matter how I try to trick myself, I still find ways to blow off what I know needs to get done.

   The bottom line is if I don’t get bookings, I don’t get paid. If I don’t get paid, I don’t eat. If that isn’t a motivator, I don’t know what is. But for whatever reason, I just can’t bring myself to light a fire under my fanny and really do it right. I’m getting a little better, but it’s not close to enough.

   Finding work can be a daunting task, and I don’t know of any act that enjoys it – or any good one anyway. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I can’t think of any that I know personally. Most of my comedy friends loathe it as much or more than I do, and that says a lot. I deeply despise it.

   It’s not that it’s particularly difficult physically, it’s just the process I can’t stand. It’s glorified panhandling in a way, and through the years we as performers are conditioned that we aren’t in a position of power and need to take whatever we’re given and shut up. It’s like a giant bread line.

   I’m sure the bookers like it this way, because they have the upper hand. If we don’t obey all of their whims, we’re off the list and there are a dozen more hungry slugs standing in line behind us to step in immediately. Until one becomes a draw – which rarely happens – there’s no recourse.

   All bookers aren’t felons and scumbags, but you wouldn’t know it by the way more than a few act. Each one has their own set of self imposed rules for us to follow to the letter, and they’re all different. Some want us to call by phone, others want us to email only. Some want us to send our available dates monthly, others quarterly. One I know books his entire club for the year in a day.

   That’s the way he chooses to do it, and it’s his club so who can say what’s right or wrong? I’ve known the guy for years and I happen to really like him – but I have never once been booked for a week of work because I wasn’t able to get through on “the day”. It’s like a big radio contest or something. The 748th caller gets a week of work next October. But that’s how that guy handles it.

   I’m in a precarious position of not being a draw, and I admit it. That’s not a good position to be in bargaining wise, but that’s where 99.999% of us are on any level of the business at any time. It took blood and sweat to fight my way through the herd, but now I’m a solid headliner. Bookers I work for know that, and there have been enough that kept hiring me so I’ve been able to survive. 

   The trick is to get my name out – in a positive way – with every single living human that might ever be able to hire me to perform at any event on the planet. That ramps it up a bit from just the tiny circle that handles the comedy club business – and I haven’t even gotten to all of those yet.

   There’s just no excuse for this, and the more I think about it the more angry and frustrated I get at myself. This should have been a priority decades ago, but it never was. I’ve always had plenty of work because of the times and because I was a strong act. Well, the times are now changing.

   I’m still a solid act, and in fact I’m getting better all the time. Even the people that can’t stand me personally all admit that I am good at what I do, and there’s a hollow satisfaction that comes with it. “Yes, he’s funny – but I will NEVER use him.” Does that do either of us any good? No, but it happens to more acts than just me. It’s political, and another reason I don’t enjoy any of it.

   I’ve tried to tell myself how important this process is – and it really is – but I just can’t seem to get myself in the habit of taking at the bare minimum ONE day a week and focus on it for maybe two or three hours. I’ve done it a couple of times, but then I get tired of it again and that’s wrong.

   It’s kind of like trying to get a dog to swallow a pill. I’ve seen people try to hide it in the dog’s food, but it never works. The dog scarfs down the food, and sure enough right there at the bottom of the bowl is the unswallowed pill. I’m taking the dog’s role here, and I’m only hurting myself.

   It’s completely to my benefit to be known from coast to coast by anyone and everyone that can possibly use me for any projects whatsoever that pay money. I’ve been (stupidly) limiting myself to standup comedy work the majority of the past three decades, and that couldn’t be more idiotic.

   There are innumerable ways to make money with the skill sets I have now, but until I properly get word out – and keep it out – to all those that could potentially hire me it’s a case of ripe crops rotting on the vine. This needs to be THE single biggest ongoing P.R. campaign I’ve ever done.

   A big positive has been the addition of a monthly newsletter. That goes to several bookers that I know and like, and I have already gotten a couple of small bookings from it. The matter of just keeping my name fresh in their head is what did it, and it’s solid proof that it is worth my while.

   We’ve only done three so far, but each one is getting smoother and better. That will continue to grow, but I still have to get myself to swallow the pill and take care of my comedy bookings on a much more regular basis. What makes it an even harder sell is that I’m trying to evolve from that level and graduate to more corporate and speaking work. That’s fine, but I still need to maintain.

   For at least the next little while – say two to three years – I’ll be young enough where I can get work in both comedy clubs and corporate or business type settings. Eventually I’ll be too old for the clubs, and I can see that coming now. That’s something everyone faces eventually, but if I’m smart I’ll be able to milk as much money out of it as I can until geezerhood wins. It always does.

   There are many places I’ve never worked, and there’s really no reason for it other than I’ve had plenty of other work and never needed to. Denver is an example. I love the city, but just have not made it a point to look for work there. It wouldn’t take much to get the lay of the land, and I will.

   Other bigger cities like Boston or Toronto or Houston should be on my radar too. I used to love working in Houston, but the club I worked for closed a few years ago. I never sought out another even though I loved the town. That’s on me to go back and start looking again. I know on paper I should be doing it, but will I get it done? That’s what scares me, but at least I admit it’s a fault. 

Even though it's a necessary part of the entertainment business, I've never enjoyed the booking process. To me, it's glorified panhandling.

There's a little telemarketing aspect thrown in there too, to make it extra annoying. I'm not going to lie, I've NEVER liked it.