Friday, February 28, 2014

Something Smart

Wednesday February 26th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   The older I get, the more I realize just how poorly I’ve managed my life in so many ways. I did manage to have a generous helping of fun and adventure along the way, but I sure did screw a lot of things up too. When I hear people say “I have no regrets in life,” I can’t relate. I have a bunch.

   What’s even worse is that I have to keep living, and try to steer myself in a good direction even though I’m coming from a place I really didn’t want to be. That makes where I am even more of a challenge, and I feel time catching up. I wish I could reboot and start over, but that’s no option.

   We all have to play the hands we’re dealt, and we get ONE shot. That seems rather unfair, does it not? Most of us are clueless on our own, and unless we have razor sharp guidance from parents or some sort of mentor figure our lives drift off course like I feel mine did. Now I’m trying to get my bearings in order to make a run to the finish line. I hope I can salvage at least some of a life.

   I truly think my first major boo boo was staying with radio after my first job came to an end in Lansing, MI in 1990. It would have been early enough where I could have gone back to standup comedy, and eventually moved to New York or Los Angeles and stayed until something popped.

   I did eventually make it to L.A., but totally not how I’d planned it. I had been blown out of yet another radio gig in Reno, NV and it was closer to drive to L.A. than it was to Chicago so I went there. I had a few bucks of severance pay, but not a lot. I lived like a cockroach for about a year, and then started doing road gigs to pay bills. That’s not the smart way to be based in Hollywood.

   In retrospect, I should have taken a break from standup and just found a way to do whatever it took to settle in out there. I knew a lot of people, and had some connections. A lot of people that are doing very well now were just arriving, and I could have come up the ranks along with them.

   Billy Gardell was there, and he’s doing well now on ‘Mike and Molly’. He’s a super guy, and I remember seeing him at a Sunday football watching get together with comedians. “Are you here now?” he asked. I said that I was, and he said “Cool. I know you’ll do well.” And he meant it.

   My friend Keith Leslie was writing for “Grace Under Fire” then, and I hung out regularly with him and the writing staff. In fact, some of my lines ended up making it on the show. Those guys were very fun, and I had no problem fitting in. I just didn’t stay long enough to grow any roots.

   Mark Roberts is an amazing talent, and he’s now doing extremely well. He’s got his fingers in a lot of pies, one of which is “Two And A Half Men”. I think he’s in charge of that show, and he could have easily hired me to be a writer. A lot of Chicago comedians moved to California right around that same time, and several are still there. In a perfect world, I’d be out there with them.

   Maybe in a parallel universe I’m living that dream with all the trimmings, but I think that ship has sailed for this one. I moved back to Chicago to regroup, with full intentions of going back to California when I was ready. I never made it, and now I’m starting to have some regrets. I was in a super position then and didn’t realize just how good it was. I chose the safe route, and it turned out to be more dangerous than if I’d stayed and delivered pizzas for a while until I got settled in.

   One year is not long enough to do much of anything well enough to make a lasting impact. One year is barely a radar blip, and that’s generous. There are a lot of of athletes that had one big year and that’s it. Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych and ‘Super Joe’ Charbonneau are two lingering examples from my youth. Both were poised for stardom, but now they’re taking up residence in oblivion.

   The same holds true with any skill based endeavor. How many one hit wonder music acts have come and gone? Debby Boone comes to mind. She was hot for about a year – if that – and then it was over. Did she have a ‘career’? How anyone can in that short of a time? It’s just not enough.

   Had I stayed out there, who knows what would have come along? I loved everything about the whole idea of living there, and deep in my heart I still do. If I had a reason to be out there I’d get in my car and drive there tomorrow. Again, I think that ship has sailed from a realistic viewpoint. I was living in the right place, but it wasn’t at the right time – yet. I wish I would have waited.

   The last thing that will do any good is beating myself up about it. I had reasons for what I did, and that’s how it turned out. There was no way to see the big picture then, but I’m writing about it now in hopes I’ll be able to help someone else with their own personal struggle. I hope what I screwed up will encourage someone else to stay and wait it out. Go where the magic happens.

   Not a whole lot of magic has happened anywhere else I’ve been. I thought Salt Lake City was going to be my home, and that blew up in my face worse than anywhere. I chased that radio bug, and it wouldn’t stop biting. Then I came back to Chicago, and it bit me again. When will I learn?

   It’s getting a little late in the game now. If something happens, it’s going to have to happen in a hurry. There are a few stories of people who have made it late, but they are always the exception and never the rule. My path has been anything but ‘normal’, so I need to really focus on strategy.

   Is what I’m doing now the smartest thing I could be doing?  I say yes, but that’s what I thought years ago when I was being so unknowingly stupid. I truly believed I was going to land that huge radio gig and it would set me up for the rest of my life. It didn’t happen, and now I’m struggling.

   One thing I do have is a boat load of hands on experience, but who really cares enough to give me a job? I could go on any radio station on the dial and fit in somewhere, but try as I might I’ve not been able to keep a job more than a year and a month. It was always something else but me.

   Not many people I know are still out there slugging like I am this far into the game, and I have no idea if it’s the right choice or not. The idea of quitting doesn’t thrill me, but doing it like I’ve been doing it thrills me even less. What can I do to scratch the creative itch, and still be solvent?

   Living hand to mouth just isn’t cutting it, but I’m by far not alone. I don’t want to end up at the home for wayward road comedians, and that means I’ll have to figure out something a lot sooner than later that provides an income. Until then, I’m going to work on improving my business skill.

   Today I spent three hours sifting through computer and paper files looking for anyone that has ever hired me. I need to come up with a current list of potential hirers, and work them like a sales rep works a client list. For life right now, that’s my smartest move. I could use something smart.

Getting into the radio meat grinder was one of the biggest career mistakes I've made. It's a cruel game.

I lived in Los Angeles for a year in the mid '90s. I loved it there, and wish I would have stayed. Everyone makes mistakes.

Billy Gardell got there around then, and he played the game correctly. Good for him, he's a great guy and everyone loves him - including me. Go Billy!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Tuesday February 25th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   I heard sad news from my friend Jimmy McHugh today that radio station WNTA in Rockford, IL has changed formats from news/talk to “classic hits” - and everyone who worked there got the boot from the entire on air staff to the producers. It’s yet another example of the cruelty of radio.

   I’ve been through that scenario myself, and it’s sickening. It always comes out of the blue, but one day the boss asks to see the air staff one by one and the purge is on. Word spreads around the  building, but it’s too late by then. Everyone gets their pink slips, and then it’s all an afterthought.

   The people that get shown the door are out of the building within minutes, and the rest of those that kept their jobs feel sad - in a way - but also relieved that it wasn’t them. The radio guillotine can fall at any time, and few are fortunate enough to escape the blade at some point in a career.

   This news really hit home, as I had done quite a bit of fill in work on WNTA the last couple of years and learned a lot. I was never a talk radio host before - at least not a news/talk station. I did my Sunday night paranormal show “The Mothership Connection”, but that was a different vibe.

   WNTA had a current events format, and it forced me to grow by leaps and bounds from a radio standpoint like no other job I ever had. My first radio gig was a classic rock morning show, and I took to that immediately. I had music to play, and all I had to do was fill in the cracks. I was able to do that without thinking. It’s what I do. Talk radio is a different animal, and one that can bite.

   The first hour I did it, I knew I was in for some growing pains. I’m fine with being the side guy and throwing in a smart ass comment when needed. That’s way too easy. I’m great at reacting to situations and adding a punch line, I’ve been doing it since grade school. Hosting is a lot harder.

   Most people don’t appreciate just how frighteningly difficult it is to sit alone in a room in front of a microphone and just talk much less be interesting for eight to ten minutes. That can feel like eternity. I thought I was relatively witty and a quick thinker on my feet, but those first few feeble attempts to do talk radio were embarrassing. I flat out stunk, and I’m not too proud to admit that.

   But without the chance to stink repeatedly, there can’t be growth. Everyone stinks at first in all creative and artistic endeavors, but those willing to press on and pay dues become masters of the craft. WNTA had a long standing staff of talented professionals, and I was fortunate to fill in for all of them during my tenure. I filled in on every shift, and it was an education. I respect them all.

   Doug McDuff was the morning show host, and then there was Ken DeCoster, Mark Mayhew, Paul Youngblood and Dean Ervin. Every one of them treated me great, and made me feel like I was part of the station even though I was just filling in. Producers Howard Bailey-Murray and a guy I only knew as Tim were also easy to work with. My entire experience there was pleasant.

   Jim Stone is the Operations Manager, and I feel sorry for him because he had to fire everybody as per company orders. He’s got a heart and is a great guy, and I’m sure it was no picnic for him to have to do that. It was sad news all around, but I wanted to pay respects to all those people for being so nice to me when I was there. WNTA will live on in my heart, and I wish them all well.

I'm very grateful for the air time I had on WNTA in Rockford, IL. I'm sorry to see the station change formats, but that's radio. A whole staff of people lost their jobs, and my heart goes out to all of them. They're all talented and nice people.

Harold Ramis Respect

Monday February 24th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   It was all over the news today that Harold Ramis has passed away. I wasn’t aware he was sick, and I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing. There aren’t many that can hold a candle to his list of accomplishments, and by all accounts I have ever heard he was an extremely nice person.

   Where does one start with an industry giant like this? If I could score just ONE of the huge hits he had, I’d be on easy street for the rest of my life. He either wrote, co-wrote, starred, co-starred, directed or acted in several of the biggest and most impactful comedy films of the 20th Century.

   The list of his successful projects is staggering, including “Animal House”, “Groundhog Day”, “Caddyshack”, “Ghostbusters”, “Back To School”, “Stripes”, “Meatballs” and quite a few more. Those are all films of my generation, and until I saw the list I had forgotten how impressive it is.

   It’s a shame that it takes a person’s passing to get a comprehensive list of all the achievements they managed to attain, but that’s how it works. I knew he was a giant in his field, but until I had heard he passed I never looked at his entire body of work so closely. The man was an all timer.

   What I didn’t realize was that he’d moved back to Chicago in 1996. I knew he was from there, but had no idea he came back. I totally should have known that, and I would have loved a chance to meet him even once. I bet he wouldn’t have been difficult to track down, and I wouldn’t have been anything but polite and told him how much I admired his work. I bet we’d have hit it off.

   Any time I’ve met someone truly creative, I have always been able to connect instantaneously. That’s who I am too, and it just clicks. Everyone I’ve met from George Carlin to George Clinton to Rodney Dangerfield to any number of others has always been a pleasant experience. I wish I’d had even a few seconds with Harold Ramis, as I bet it would have been a memorable experience.

   He might not have remembered it, but I sure would have. I remember meeting Tim Kazurinsky years ago when I opened for his friend Bobcat Goldthwaite. They’d done a couple of the “Police Academy” films together and stayed in touch. Tim was unbelievably nice, and complimentary of my show to boot. Bobcat was great too. I find myself very comfortable around all creative types.

   If Harold Ramis was around Chicago all these years, it’s my own fault that I didn’t take it upon myself to cross paths and meet him. It’s not a matter of asking him for anything or pestering him to put me in one of his films, it’s just a matter of professional respect. The man was legendary.

   It’s my own fault I didn’t seek him out, and there are all kinds of others that I could have been in contact with as well. Second City is barely a block from Zanies in Chicago, and I’ve worked at Zanies since the late ‘80s. I could have made time to network with those people, but I never did.

   I have nothing against improv comedy, but I had all I could handle with doing standup. Still, it would have been smart business to hang out after shows and schmooze with the Second City cast through the years. I was right there, but I blew it. Maybe Harold Ramis would have looked at me as a major schmucko, or maybe we’d have been friends. If nothing else, I would have enjoyed an opportunity to say hello just once. He enjoyed immense success, and I am a huge fan from afar.

There aren't many that can hold a candle to the success of Harold Ramis. What a run he had!

Monday, February 24, 2014

I Miss Uranus

Sunday February 23rd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   I’ve really been enjoying life these last couple of months, and much of the reason for that I still have to attribute to the positive energy flow that was started by reconnecting with my siblings. It has improved my life to the core, and everything just feels better because of it. It gives me hope.

   We have our meeting set up for March 8th, but don’t have a place just yet. I’ll let them choose, as it really doesn’t matter in the least from my end. I’d be ok with a can of sardines and a glass of water. It’s not about where we meet or what we eat, it’s about having closure. That’s what I have wanted as long as I can remember, and even getting together one time will do that. It’s all I need.

   I had one of my super vivid dreams a few nights ago. I have those from time to time, and when I do they’re unbelievably life like. I have had them about being on stage or TV or even playing in the NFL or NBA. When I’m having one, it’s like I am in a completely different world. And I am.

   I can’t explain how they differ from regular dreams, but they absolutely do. In this most recent one, I was at the restaurant where we were supposed to meet up, and I sat at the table the hostess told me to go to. The place was crowded, but I could feel eyes on me from all across the room.

   The longer I sat, the more uncomfortable I became. I finally left thinking they weren’t coming, and then I got to the parking lot and they were all driving up in one car. I was overwhelmed with emotions, and I started to weep openly. They all did too, and we tried to go back inside but it was closed. I felt pure exhilaration to see them, and the dream was so intense it felt frighteningly real.

   When I woke up, it was all I could think about. I know there are a lot of built up emotions from my childhood, but I didn’t think it would affect me as deeply as it has. This is exactly what I feel I’ve needed forever, and I don’t know how I know it but I know everything else is just a bonus.

   I am fully prepared in my mind should things go south. I don’t think they will, mainly because all of us have volunteered to be there. Nobody is coming kicking and screaming, but that doesn’t mean someone won’t change their mind before that day. I won’t, but I can’t speak for the rest of them. I know I’m going in with the right mindset, and no matter how it plays out I’ll deal with it.

   There’s no denying there was a lot of damage done to all of us. Childhood was an ugly blur of dysfunction, and it will be painful to go back into that mess. We’re not going in there to troll up that old sludge, but I don’t see how at least a little can’t splatter on us during our time together.

   We’ve all got raw nerves exposed, and chances of someone hitting one are unfortunately really good. I’m not going to lash out at anyone, and should it get out of hand I’ll politely leave and not initiate any combat. I believe in my heart none of us want that, but if it happens I’ll remain calm.

   Even then, I won’t carry any grudges or wish them anything other than peace. That’s what I’ve wanted, and we’re almost there. I have no idea if we’ll stay in contact after that night, and though I’d really like that we’ve all built lives for ourselves and nothing would change much for any of us. We’ve already learned to live without each other, so anything more than that will be an added treat. I’m looking very forward to March 8th, and no matter what happens I’m already a winner.

   The change that has come over me is dramatic, and I’ve never felt better. It’s pretty late in life to be starting over, but that’s how I feel. No matter what happens on March 8th, I will hopefully wake up on March 9th with something to aspire to. Without hopes and dreams, life is worthless.

   I’d still love to find a good woman and experience what a healthy love relationship is. That’s a goal I’d like far more than comedy. I have been striking out left and right lately, even though I’m trying my best to put myself in a position to make myself available to someone special. It’s been a total blow to my already shaky self esteem, but if I don’t try I’ll never get my chance. It’s hard.

   But like with my siblings, I know what it’s like to be alone and not much will change if I don’t hook up with Miss Dreamy Pants. I know several women I’d love to hook up with, but for some reason it’s just not clicking at the moment. Maybe I’m changing too much and too fast for them.

   All I can do is be myself, and that’s one thing that I know is absolutely improving by amazing leaps and bounds. My whole inner psyche feels better than I ever remember, and I have to think it will catch up in the rest of my life. Maybe the women I like now aren’t the right ones for me.

   I’ll let that happen as it will, or maybe it won’t. If I have to die alone, I’ve always been able to deal with that. I’ve been alone my whole life, so it’s not a big deal. I know I have trust issues, but a big part of getting over that will be this meeting. I feel great about it and am ready for anything.

   What I’m not feeling great about is my career – or lack thereof. I am having without a doubt by far my best shows ever, but I’m not making much of a dent anywhere. I can’t seem to crack all of the big comedy club chains like the Improvs or the Funny Bones, and that’s only because of a jag against me by a few people in charge. It has nothing to do with my ability, but that’s how it goes.

   Could all that turn around in a second? Absolutely! ONE big break will turn it around, and I’ve always known that. What I don’t know is if I feel like hanging in there much longer and sucking raw sewage fumes. It’s just not thrilling me, and I need a place where I can channel my passion.

   In all honesty, what I want more than anything else is to develop the King of Uranus and make it a viable entity rather than a half baked whim I have kicked around with no set direction. There is a goldmine in Uranus, and I feel it with all my heart. It excites me to an inner boil, and it feels like my inner mission despite the fact people have told me I’m nuts. A lot more have laughed.

   That’s the whole idea. I live to make people laugh, and it doesn’t have to be just doing standup comedy. I love doing it, but not with the life toll it takes. The King of Uranus is a goofy gimmick by itself, but the creative genius will come from the marketing aspect of how it all gets executed.

   I want to be the head of a successful company that sells funny. That could be clothing, trinkets, novelties, live shows - it doesn’t matter. I want to create a brand, and be the personification of it. Much like Vince McMahon personifies the WWE, I want to be associated with Uranus. No joke.

   Crazy? Without a doubt. Stupid? That’s debateable. I feel this so strongly I can’t keep it in, and it’s all that trips my trigger right now. Sink or swim, this is where my passion lies. I can see it all as vividly and realistic as one of my intense dreams. This idea has rotted too long. I miss Uranus!

Remember - it's always FUNNY when it comes from URANUS!

Did you know this is the international symbol for Uranus? You do now.

Uranus is the 'butt' of every 9 year old's jokes! Pun intended. THIS is the level of the public's humor, and I intend to pry a few bucks from them all.  Free your mind, and Uranus will follow!