25 Years Already?
Friday November 14th, 2008 - Milwaukee, WI/Lake Villa, IL
As close as I can figure it exactly twenty-five years ago today I stepped on a stage to try my hand at standup comedy for the very first time. I was a twenty year old punk without a clue as to what life was about or what the future would bring. That kid has now grown up.
Back then I would have given anything if I could have guaranteed myself all the things I ended up doing since that day. Now I would give anything for the chance to go back there and talk to that kid for an hour and tell him to do things differently. I sure screwed a lot of things up since 1983 but there weren’t a lot of people to offer guidance. I was on my own.
The one thing I’m thrilled about is that no matter what storms blew through my life I’ve NEVER stopped doing comedy since that day. Never. I was almost killed in two nasty car wrecks but that didn’t stop me from performing nor did several morning radio jobs I took to both pay bills and hopefully get seen or heard by someone. Too bad that never worked.
Even though I started in Milwaukee I am a Chicago comic. People in my age group that moved to L.A. and found success include Paul Gilmartin from TBS ‘Dinner and a Movie’ and his wife Carla Filisha who wrote for the sitcom ‘Still Standing‘. The creators are also both from Chicago and I knew one of them Joey Gutierrez quite well. He’s a funny guy.
John Riggi is from Cincinnati but I knew him when he moved to Chicago and he’s huge on the Hollywood scene. He’s a big time writer and multi-millionaire now. Mark Roberts is another mega talented writer and performer who I was very familiar with and hung out both in Chicago and L.A. when I was there. These are just the first few names I think of.
Pete Schwaba did his movie ‘The Godfather of Green Bay’. Steve and Leo were a team both as comics and writers and they wrote ‘Space Jam’ and ‘The Santa Clause’ among an impressive list of their successes. All of them had one thing in common - they had a plan.
I was all over the place just trying to survive. I had no family support and didn’t know a lot of people I could trust so I made my decisions along the way as I saw fit. As I evaluate my decision making skills now I have to give myself a ‘What the hell were you thinking?’ Sometimes I’d make some brilliant decisions and other times I’d completely blow it. I’ve usually not had much middle ground in my life but all these years later I’m still kicking.
I drove up to Milwaukee today to reflect on my life of the past quarter century. It wasn’t necessary that I went up there but I had a lunch date with a woman I’ve known for almost as long as I’ve been a comedian. We’ve drifted in and out of each other’s lives for reasons I still can’t figure out and for whatever reason we’re back in contact again. It’s strange.
She’s funny and good looking and I enjoy her company. She has had her own mountain to climb and has some baggage of her own but who doesn’t? She’s a good person and we just sat and had a low pressure lunch and talked about life a little. It was very relaxing and I don’t know if it will lead to anything but she’s single and so am I so at least I’m trying.
After lunch I took a tour of all my important Milwaukee landmarks all these years later. The first place I did comedy was called ’Sardino’s On Farwell’ on this day in 1983. It was a Monday night open mike showcase hosted by C. Cardell Willis who became my mentor and more of a father figure to me than my real father. That was the first time I’d met him.
Sardino’s has been torn down for years and there’s an apartment complex there now. I’d love a picture of myself from that era but I don’t have any. That’s a big regret now. I have done WAY better than anyone could have predicted including me and I would have loved to have shown everyone there that night a list of all the things I’d do in the next 25 years.
I didn’t start out full time of course. Nobody does. I had day jobs and struggled until my act developed and I was able to go on the road full time. That was in late 1985 and I have been performing ever since. Just because I never got hugely famous doesn’t mean I’m not a success because pulling off what I have from where I came from is a full sized miracle.
I drove past Shank Hall which is also on Farwell which was Teddy’s then. It was a rock club which did comedy on Sunday nights and where I got my first paid gig - $10 for a ten minute set. Boy did I stink then. I should give the $10 back. I could be charged with theft.
There’s no guarantee I have another 25 years left and whatever time I do have I will use wisely to help others avoid the mistakes I made. Still I was able to survive since 1983 and if you’d have told me that on that night I probably wouldn’t have believed it. But I did it.
Now it’s time to write about all of my adventures for that quarter century. I’ve seen and done all kinds of things most people never get to experience and they weren’t always in a good way. I had to dodge bank robbery charges for a bank I didn’t rob and get humiliated time and time again by club owners and radio pinheads and even my own closest family.
I’ve seen deaths and disappointments but I’ve also seen people like Jeff Foxworthy and Drew Carey and Frank Caliendo grow from the level I’m at now to being household name superstars of pop culture. They were all holding winning lottery tickets. I hold my own.
The game isn’t over for me yet but if I do hit anything it will be by sheer persistence for staying in the game this long and a little luck too. That’s always a factor. I’ve had a lot of bad breaks though. Sure I’ve made some whopper mistakes and I admit it but anyone who knows me also knows I’ve had more than my share of lumps along the way. It’s uncanny.
It’s also unchangeable. Whatever happened happened and it’s over. I’m where I am now because it’s the result of all the choices I made since this date in 1983 combined with the luck of the breaks I caught. It’s what everyone has to face up to and I am facing it head on without complaining. I made my choices. It’s time to choose again. I’m a lot smarter now.
I closed the day by going to the Milwaukee Public Museum. I haven’t been there since I was in grade school. I remembered some of the exhibits and enjoyed the rest. This was an excellent way to celebrate my 25th anniversary of comedy. I sure have earned my stripes.