Sally’s Stage, Chicago, Illinois

I’ve always loved comedy in any form since I was a boy. Of course, I loved all the old TV comedies like The Dick Van Dyke Show, the Honeymooners, and Laugh In, and the variety shows like the Carol Burnett Show and the Flip Wilson Show, but I especially loved watching the standup comedians like Bill Cosby, George Carlin, Bob Newhart, Joan Rivers, and Phyllis Diller. I loved watching them so much that I wanted to be a comedian, too. For some strange reason, I would always remember every joke that I heard. Of course, I had trouble retaining my school lessons, like the multiplication tables. But I knew hundreds of jokes by the time I was a teenager. Other boys memorized baseball statistics from baseball cards or knew where all the pretty girls in the neighborhood lived. My friend Adrian could tell the year and make of any automobile just by looking at the taillights, the headlights, or the grille. When that became too easy for him, he graduated to airplanes. Anytime a plane flew overhead, he would tell us what kind of plane it was and what airlines used them. If no one stopped him, he would recite every statistic he knew about that plane. He even knew about military aircraft. But he still knew his cars as well.

Anyway, surrounded by friends like that, I wanted to find my niche, my very own specialty. Something in which I could indulge to the nth degree. In the immortal words of Tina Turner, I never do nothin’ nice ‘n’ easy! I decided that jokes would be my forte! When we went to the library, I would check out a joke book. Every Sunday, I would read the jokes religiously in the My Favorite Jokes section in the Parade Magazine that appeared in the Sunday paper. Since I didn’t speak English that well, learning all these jokes helped me improve my English. And I became one of the best spellers in the third grade even though I didn’t speak English all that well. My mother, who had the same love for jokes, and I would always tell each other the latest joke we had heard. I even read Reader’s Digest just for the jokes.

So, it’s no wonder that I became a standup comedian. However, I was always nervous on stage, even when I settled down and became comfortable. That’s one of the reasons I gave up performing. I would feel nervous for days before performing. That feeling would intensify while performing. And then, I wouldn’t get over my nervousness afterwards for days because I would think about all the mistakes I had made or things that I should have said. But that didn’t stop me in my quest to become funnier.

Funnier? I wanted to be the funniest comedian ever! That’s the way I am. When I do something, I must go all out. I don’t let my actual talent and limitations stop me. I know my limits because I cross them all the time. I wanted to become so funny as a standup comedian that I would make someone die from laughter! I fantasized about someday performing at the Chicago Theater and seeing my name on the marquis and an ambulance on standby parked in front. Yes, I thought I could be that funny!

And to that end, I watched every classic TV comedy show and every classic comedy movie ever made. But that wasn’t enough for me in my quest for killer comedy. I also read every humorous book I could find, usually by culling the bookshelves at one of the many used bookstores that we used to have in Chicago. I even bought a book autographed by Bob Hope for a dollar! I read a lot of comedy, humor, and joke books in my lifetime. Well, as usually happens to me whenever I read a book, while reading I discover at least two or three other books I must read. Especially with the comedians who are always thanking someone who positively influenced their comedic skills. So, let’s just say that I read a lot of funny books.

My favorite book of all time!

So, one day, I was invited to a party by my friend Mary McCall at her condominium at 400 E. Randolph. That’s the high-rise building with the pool covered by the glass geodesic dome that used to be located by the Lake Shore Drive S-curve until someone decided to straighten out the S-curve. The building is still there, but the S-curve is gone. Anyway, I met, just by chance, Aaron Freeman the comedian. Mary introduced me to him, but we already knew each other because we both had performed at the Clout Club, the comedy club founded by Jim Wiggins on North Lincoln Avenue in 1986. Aaron mentioned that there weren’t any funny books written. I couldn’t help it, but I had to disagree. “What about the classics?” I asked him. Aristophanes and Shakespeare wrote some very funny stuff. Cervantes was a very funny guy, too! Of course, Catch-22 and Catcher in the Rye are also hilarious. I told him he had to read anything by some of the lesser-known humor writers, but equally as funny, such as Ring Lardner, Stephen Leacock, S.J. Perelman, James Thurber, Groucho Marx, Will Cuppy, Woody Allen, Dorothy Parker, Richard Armour, and Max Shulman. He said he would read them. I really enjoyed that conversation with him because I love talking about jokes and funny things that I have read. I never met Aaron again, so I haven’t been able to ask him if he ever read any of my suggestions and read any of those funny writers. Such is life.


The Clout Club

Dr. D. performing standup comedy.

One of the comedy clubs that I remember fondly is The Clout Club. I performed there in late 1986 and early 1987. It was in the back of a bar called the Lounge Axe across the street from the Biograph Theater on north Lincoln Avenue. I went to perform there for the open mic, and I got to know the manager quite well after a few weeks. His name was Jim McManus, but I’m not so sure now. My friend Vito wrote me a joke that I always used there: “I once broke my arm in three places. Halsted, Lincoln, and Fullerton.” Sometimes it would get laughs and sometimes the audience would just stare at me with their mouths hanging wide open, leaving me to wonder why I wanted to be a standup comedian in the first place.

One day, the manager brought in Jim Wiggins who was a TV comedy writer. He had the bright idea to do political humor about the Chicago political scene since the mayoral election was coming up in February of 1987. And thus, The Clout Club was born.

I was lucky enough to be part of it after a few short months of being a comedian. Eventually, I was the emcee for the club. The highlight of my career was when CBS News came to cover one of our shows because it was right before the mayoral primary. I actually performed my standup act and got big laughs. I was even recorded by the camera for the sake of posterity during my whole performance! Jim Wiggins, Aaron Freeman, Bob Odenkirk, and Bill Gorgo also performed. Many others, Judy Tenuta, Kevin Lampe, Tom Johnson, and Bob Harris also performed back then. The Clout Club soon became the mayoral campaign headquarters for Don Haider on election night of February 1987. I was excited to be part of the entire process. During one performance, Judy Tenuta had Don Haider go up on stage with her. She told him to raise his hands, to put them down, to jump up and down. He did everything she commanded. Finally, she said, “You’re going to make a fine leader of men!”

I remember that Spike Manton was also at the club at the time. He was using his real name Kevin Manton at the time. He told me he was thinking of changing his name to Spike Manton. I told him, “Don’t do it! I don’t think people will like it.” I lost track of him for a while. So, imagine my surprise when I started hearing him introduced on the radio as Spike Manton! I am always amazed at how wrong I can sometimes be about certain things.

Dr. D.’s business card.

Working at The Clout Club was the highlight of my standup comedy career. That eventually led to my only cable TV performance that was forgotten by everyone except me. Sometimes when I recall that epoch of my life, I want to return to the stage. But then I come to my senses.