Sunday, June 29, 2014

Rock Star In Rockford

Friday June 27th, 2014 – Rockford, IL

   Ah, a flash of the good old days. For at least one day I got to be in the comedian groove again. I’ve been out of it for a while, and it felt very much at home to be back. This is what I was born to do – at least the performance part. I got to work in a nice venue in front of a receptive crowd, and there were no long drives to make. This is exactly how I picture my comedy future to look.

   Long time Chicago comedian Ken Sevara books monthly comedy shows at a wonderful Italian restaurant in Rockford, IL called Franchesco’s. I was the headliner for their opening night a few years ago, and it’s been a while since I’ve been back. I never bugged Ken about it, and that’s one of my problems. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get lost in the mix because there are so many comics.

   He knew I did a killer job, and so did the staff. That was never the question. Quite a few of the staff that remembered me from that night walked up and said hello within ten seconds of walking in the door. I know they weren’t faking, because it’s a busy restaurant with lots of people coming and going all the time. They were sincere, and it felt very satisfying to have them remember me.

   There was also a table of people that were there a full 45 minutes before the show that had seen me perform at a place called L.T.’s that ran weekly comedy shows for years. They said they had been waiting for me to come back to town, and didn’t want to miss it. I almost felt like a big star.

   I also got to be on the radio this morning with “Stone and Double T” on WXRX, and they have always been fans and treat me great. Their station is probably not my demographic, but it’s still a lot of fun to be on with them so I always say yes whenever they ask. They’re both real people on the radio, and that is SO refreshing. If they were Bob and Tom, I would be a millionaire by now.

   They’re not Bob and Tom, and Rockford isn’t Las Vegas – even though the actual room where they do the shows could easily be in Vegas. It’s a gorgeous facility, and has a separate and sound proof entrance from the bar and restaurant area so as to keep the showroom quiet during shows.

   They have big screen TVs all over the room that say ‘Comedy Night’, and it’s a perfectly sized and proportioned room that seats probably 150ish. They can show clips of upcoming acts if they like, or list drink and food specials. Everything about this particular space is how it should be for all standup comedy shows, but rarely is. It’s a pleasure to work rooms like this whenever I can.

   It’s EXACTLY the kind of venue I’d want to promote my own shows on a consistent basis, but they’re almost nonexistent. This one has just about everything anyone could want, including tons of free parking and a liquor license plus full menu of delicious food. There’s a lot to work with.

   I would never infringe on Ken’s room, and that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m just saying it has all the features I’d be looking for to do my own shows. Rockford may be a bit small to shoot for a weekly show anyway, and that’s important to know. It’s easy to burn out in a smaller town.

   I’d love a place similar to this in Milwaukee to do ‘Schlitz Happened!’ more regularly, and one in the Chicago area wouldn’t hurt either. Even if I did weekends once a month and promoted the hell out of them I bet I’d develop a following sooner than later. This is the future of the business.

Franchesco's Ristorante in Rockford, IL is a fantastic place to have dinner and see a show. It's hard to go wrong eating at a 'bistro' or a 'ristorante'.

Ken Sevara books the comedy shows at Franchesco's, and also does comedy himself. He's also on the radio on WIND with a talk show called 'Fly By Night'. Find him at

It's always fun to be on the radio with Stone and Double T on WXRX. They're two of the nicest - and most competent - radio people anywhere. I'd do anything for those guys anytime.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Kindness 101

Thursday June 26th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL 

   No matter how many complicated problems I have or how disappointed or overwhelmed I feel – and I do on a daily basis – I have not forgotten that the only thing that matters is kindness. I am making it a priority in my life, even when nobody is looking. It’s what makes life worth living.

   I’m obviously not perfect, but I feel myself getting into a groove and I really like it. I’m always on the lookout as to how I can make someone at the very least smile a little. That’s a positive, but it takes it to a whole new level if I can get an outward laugh. One to one laughter is comedy too.

   Another of my grandfather’s countless wisdom pearls was “Find the ugliest person in the room and make it a point to be extra nice to them. They’ll appreciate it a lot more than everyone else.” I know that’s not P.C., but it’s SO true. Gramps knew how to cut to the chase with total candor.

   I’ve always tried to be nice whenever a situation presented itself and I don’t intend to stop, but now I am actively seeking those opportunities before they happen. Holding doors for people in a public place is a great example. Just holding the door itself is nice, but it only takes a teeny tiny smidgeon of extra effort to make it an event. A deep bow and arm gesture can work wonders.

   Sometimes a goofy little line like “PRESENTING…his (or her) ROYAL majesty…” will light up a stranger’s face and make them laugh out loud. It doesn’t work every time, but even when it doesn’t I find that especially funny. Imagine what the person must be thinking. I find it hilarious.

   I also find that it takes my mind off my problems several times a day. We all hear how what we think shapes our lives until we’re sick of hearing it, but it really is true. We can only think about one thing at a time, and the more good things we focus on the less time there is for the ugly stuff.

   This takes a concerted effort, and I am not saying it’s easy – especially at the start. I just know that as for me I have been putting a lot of effort in of late and I’m seeing results that I really like. My goal was and is to make kindness my habit, and to train myself to go there without thinking.

   Another thing I have been working on is making a call a day to someone I haven’t talked to in a while and saying hello for no reason other than their name jumped out at me on my phone list. I try to be objective, and just scroll through my massive list and pick somebody out at random.

   This has been getting outstanding results. I’m dusting off relationships that have been put on hold as life does its thing, and everybody has those. There isn’t time to keep close track with all the people we know, but this is a great way to let people know they’re still on the friend radar.

   Yet another little deed I’m working on is writing a personal email to someone as well, telling them all the good things I can think of about them and how much I appreciate them. I don’t lie, and I really try to honestly seek out their good qualities and let them know it. Sometimes I have not heard back, and maybe those people think I’m a weirdo. That may be true, but I did mean it.

   None of this means anything other than I think it’s the right thing to do. There are still idiots I can’t stand, but I refuse to let them waste my energy. I would much rather focus on those I like.

Kindness is life's magic password. Pass it on!

Friday, June 27, 2014

No Religion Please

Wednesday June 25th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   I’m going to stomp all over a very touchy subject today, even though I probably shouldn’t. I’ve already gotten myself into enough trouble with some of the posts I’ve made through the years, so why stop now? This is the subject that happens to be on my mind today, so I’ll bring it up gently.

   Okay maybe not so gently, but here goes: Please STOP trying to force your religion down my throat. I don’t want to hear it, and I’m not interested. If and when I ever do want to hear it, I will ask. Until then - ZIP IT. Whew, that felt good. I just hope people will take it right and let it be.

   I’ve lost count in the last couple of weeks of self appointed do-gooder zealots thinking they’re helping my cause by waving a bible in my face. I’m trying to be polite, but it’s getting very hard. If it helps you get through your own personal mine field, great. Personally, I think it’s all hooey.

   Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism - all of it. There, how’s THAT for pissing in the pool of the highest amount of people in one fell swoop? I’m not trying to start any unwinnable fights, but after looking at it objectively, logically and intelligently that’s the conclusion I come up with.

   I was “force churched” as a kid, and at that time I bought it hook, line and sinker. I also bought the concepts of Santa Claus and professional wrestling mind you. I believed in those with all my heart as well, but was eventually clued in to the truth. I feel exactly the same way about religion.

   This is a subject that really gets people going. Look around the world at the wars going on right now. How many of those have religious overtones? I’d be shocked if any DIDN’T. Can anybody define exactly what ‘God’ is? It seems to be different all over the world, but who really knows?

   It sure isn’t what I was taught as a kid, and I can’t believe the billions that still believe it. I am not claiming to be smarter than anyone, but from a logic standpoint does it make sense? We read stories written thousands of years ago that were translated into many languages, and we believe it without question just because we’re told to? Really? I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. It’s a tale.

   Of all the billions, trillions and zillions of planets, why would this little one be so important? It doesn’t make sense from that point alone. And if God is supposed to be perfect and without fault, how come humanity is so flawed and continues to screw the pooch generation after generation? 

   If indeed God made us in His image, either He’s imperfect or He cranked out a faulty product. We’re genetic AMC Gremlins, and it’s not getting any better. And I’m not buying the “free will” argument either. Good people get screwed all the time, and I just don’t see how a loving God is able to sit back and let that happen. I am totally disillusioned, and I admit my faith is evaporated.

  When I was a kid, my grandfather told me “Explore all the religions you can now. One day you will wake up and discover it’s all crap. There IS no pie in the sky, and this life is where you have to do your best. After that you take your chances.” I thought he was crazy then, but he was right.

   If you are a member of any organized religion and you believe it, that’s your business. I won’t get in your face or mock you. You can do what you like for you, but please don’t force it on me. 

My views on God and religion have done a complete 180 over the years, just as my grandfather predicted they would.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

It Takes A Champion

Tuesday June 24th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   If I have learned nothing else from my life’s long twisted journey, it’s that making one’s living exclusively as an entertainer for any significant amount of time is nothing less than a big old, icy cold, rock hard, unforgiving, unrelenting, cruel, nasty, fire breathing seven days a week BITCH.

   Anyone that has lasted more than ten years has my undying respect, and then there are the lifer types like me that have gone past any and all ‘normal’ boundaries, and find ourselves desperately hanging on for dear life from week to week despite having sacrificed our lives to polish our craft.

   My particular scope of view has been standup comedy, radio and professional wrestling. I have friends in each of those areas that have been at it for decades and are either struggling to hang on even a little bit longer or feverishly looking for something else so they can continue to survive.

   And I know there are other fields like actors, dancers, musicians, magicians, film makers and a few more categories I’m sure I missed that are in this same (sinking) boat. We’ve devoted our all to our crafts, but never “made it big”. That term is so unfair, and it’s never about who is the best.

   I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until someone hears me – there are all kinds of talented people at any given craft that are virtual unknowns, and quite often those with minimal talent manage to claw and scratch their way to the top by having razor sharp focus and wanting the spotlight more.

   It takes almost a psychotic obsession to hit the big time in any creative endeavor, or a once in a lifetime streak of amazing luck. Or both. That’s rare enough, but now find a way to keep yourself around for more than a few months or even a year. Trust me, it’s NOT easy and most people fail.

   In the comedy field, I can easily name dozens of really solid acts that just never found a way to get that break we all need. There are all kinds of reasons for it, but that doesn’t mean they are not talented – and solid citizens as well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter in this vicious death race.

   Names that pop into my mind off the bat include Dwight York, Don Reese, Dwayne Kennedy, Larry Reeb, Tim Walkoe, Jimmy McHugh, Beth Donahue, James R. Zingelman, Tim Northern, Danny Storts and Ron Ferguson. For every one of those names there are a dozen more, and I will stop naming because I know I’m excluding a friend that I like and respect. But you get the idea.

   This all started when I got a phone call today from Rick D’Elia – another highly respected road warrior I love onstage and off. What a classy chap he is, and funny too. He is originally from the Boston area, but has been living on the west coast for years. We met in 2003 at the San Francisco Comedy Competition and have stayed in touch. He’s out there still slugging it out just like me.

   He’s driving across the country, and working a week in Oklahoma this week to earn money to get himself home. He’s getting thrown out of his apartment for subletting while he was out trying to make a living in the crumbling comedy business, and he needs to find a place when he returns. I love Rick like a brother, and could totally empathize with his situation. This is why I have zero patience for cocky know-it-alls that have paid zero dues. The show business meat grinder is not for everyone. My heart goes out to Rick and everyone else still in the game. It takes a champion.

Rick D'Elia is a super funny comedian and offstage a classier person not exist. Look him up along with everyone else I listed, as they all deserve a break. They've paid their dues and then some.