I never actually performed at Zanies Comedy Club, but I did see a few shows there. My favorite night there was quite a surprise that I was even there in the first place. I remember I was at The Clout Club and one of the other comedians told us that Zanies was having a party the next Tuesday for all the Chicago-area comedians. All comedians were invited. I met a lot of people that night at Zanies that I had seen perform in other comedy clubs. There were also some famous and many more not so famous people there whom I don’t remember now.
My sister wanted to go, so I told her to just say that she was a comedian, too. Before she actually showed up, I met Richard Kind who went through Second City and had done some TV commercials. However, I didn’t know who he was at the time because he wasn’t actually famous yet. Richard was very surprised that I didn’t know him. I felt embarrassed not knowing who he was. Finally, he asked me, “You didn’t see my bank commercial where I’m climbing outside the window with suction cups?” I was extremely embarrassed when I told him that I had never seen his commercial because I didn’t watch much television.
When my sister finally showed up, I told her about my encounter with Richard, who was now mingling with everyone at the party. She laughed at me even though she didn’t know who Richard Kind was, either. Eventually, Richard made his way back to my sister and me. “Do you know who I am?” he asked her. “Of course, I do!” she said. “You’re Richard Kind. You did the bank commercial. You’re the guy with suction cups on the window.” “Finally!” Richard said. “Someone who knows my work!” And he was genuinely pleased that he had found someone who had seen his commercial.
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.
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.