Comedian


Well, I’ve started going back to the comedy clubs after more than thirty-three years. Things have really changed since then. So many changes! I think the changes are for the better.

I was surprsed by how many comedians go to the so many available open mics in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. And the comedians are so supportive of each other. Of course, that’s not surprising because Chicago is one of the comedy breeding grounds for the U.S. If you are a new comedian, you may perform every night of the week, multiple times per day. And, there are no hecklers. I was very surprised by that. I remember always dreading my confrontations with hecklers. Some of my best shows, of course, were when I was able to handle the hecklers.

Gone are the smoke-filled comedy rooms since smoking was banned indoors, which is great for me since I have always been a non-smoker. But I sort of miss the ambience. However, I think the audiences are nicer now that they don’t smoke.

Back in 1986, I occasionally earned money as a standup comedian. Now, many clubs have a two-drink minimum for comedians who want to participate for the open mic. Yes, I understand that this helps keep the clubs open, but I remember getting paid five dollars and getting two drinks for performing at the open mic at the Higgins Street Cafe.

Back in 1983, all the open mics started at 9:00 or 9:30. Now they start much earlier, often as early as 6:00 PM. This is a much more convenient for aspiring comics who must get up early the next morning for work.

There are so many comics attending all these open mics. Yes, I’m one of them, too. Last night, I went to the Comedy Shrine and there were forty comedians signed up! And about half of them are very funny. Not only do I perform, but I also enjoy watch the other comedians perform.

When I started performing this go-round, I wrote all new jokes. I had my friend Vito look over my jokes and he contributed some very funny jokes, as he did for me back in 1983 and 1986. Most of the jokes went over very well. Afterwards, several comics would ask me, “How long have you been doing comedy?” I suppose you can take that both ways: 1. That I sound like I have some previous experience as a comedian, or, 2. You must be really new at comedy!

Well, I am finally overcoming my stage fright and getting more comfortable on stage. My new jokes are getting laughs at all the right times. Plus, I have been inserting my old jokes in there from time to time. At first, I was afraid to tell the old jokes, but I told one or two from time to time. Some of my biggest laughs come from jokes that are more than thirty years old!

I’ll keep working at standup comedy for the foreseeable future. I enjoy hearing the laughter. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think I finally found my true calling.

Riddle me this


Riddles Comedy Club, 5055 W. 111th Street, Alsip, Illinois 60803

I often try not to think about comedy clubs. Then, suddenly, Riddles is put in my path. Why is there a comedy club here? I usually drive up and down 111th Street. A very mundane experience. I know all the usual landmarks by heart: Beverly Arts Center, Burrito Station, the fire station, Mount Greenwood Park, the  Oak Lawn Dolphin Club. All the usual landmarks that I begin to not see after seeing them so many times. But then one day, I see the Riddles Comedy Club! And I can’t avert my eyes. I’m staring at it with my mouth gaping.

Just a few years ago, I visited the Riddles club in Orland Park with the hopes of performing at their open mic night on Thursdays. I wrote some jokes. And you better believe that they were very, very funny. So funny that I was afraid that someone would die laughing. I went to Riddles a few times just to check out the ambience. My very first night there, I was told that I wouldn’t have to pay a cover charge if I was an open mic performer. As tempting as this invitation was, I politely declined. Okay, I admit it. I was afraid to go on stage! I had flashbacks to when I actually did go up on stage.

Anyway, when I was finally comfortable with the club, I decided to perform. I wrote some more killer jokes. I thought about rehearsing, but I was afraid to sound too rehearsed. So, I didn’t rehearse. But believe, I was ready! Oh, yes, I was! Or so I had fooled myself into believing When I get to the club and tell them that I want to perform for open mic, they tell me that open mic has been cancelled. How disappointing! Well, not really. What I really meant was, “What a relief!” Especially, since I was invited to stay to watch the show without paying a cover charge. Well, open mic night was cancelled because the starring acts had arrived a day early and want to perform in order to warm up for their weekend performances. I must that I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I was also greatly relieved that I didn’t have to perform.

Whenever I get the urge to perform again, I get really motivated. But then, I lose the urge when I realize that I would have to leave the house about 8:00 pm and return until after midnight. I used to enjoy that, but I didn’t have to get up early to go to work. I would usually wake up at the crack of noon, go running, and then relax before I went to the comedy clubs. I have become such a homebody lately. I really enjoy staying home! Of course, I occasionally leave the house. I not exactly a shut-in.

I plan on going to Riddles very soon. As a spectator. Luckily, they don’t have an open mic night. Yet!

Comedy


Sally's Stage, Chicago, Illinois

I’ve always loved comedy in any shape or form when 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 learning the times 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 tail lights or the headlights and 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 it. 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 nuthin’ 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 in the My Favorite Jokes in the Parade Magazine religiously. 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 nervouse 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 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 have to 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 to 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 condo at 400 E. Randolph. That’s the high-rise building with the pool covered by the glass geodesic dome that used to 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 meet, just by chance, Aaron Freeman the comedian. Mary introduces me to him, but we already know each other because we both 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 really 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 Schulman. 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 followed my suggestion and read any of those funny writers. Such is life.

Politically (in)correct


Riddle Comedy Club, Alsip, Illinois

I haven’t been to a comedy club for a couple of months now, but I keep thinking of one joke in particular that I heard while I was there. You have to remember that comedy clubs are the last bastion of politically incorrect jokes. So anything goes there. In a way, it’s very refreshing to be able to go back in time a couple of decades or so to when free speech meant exactly that.

Anyway, the joke I keep remembering makes me laugh every time I recall it. I don’t even remember the name of the comedian, but I saw him at Riddles at the open mic night. “Are there any Mexicans here?” he asked, I assumed he asked this because he was not of the Mexican persuasion. No one answered up–not even me. I wanted to say, “I’m Mexican,” but I couldn’t get the nerve to shout it out. Besides, I wanted to see what he would say if no Mexicans were present.

After a long silent pause, he asked, “How many Mexicans does it take to change a light bulb?” No one answered and after another long pause, he said, “One. They’re just like everone else!” And everyone laughed, but I think I laughed the loudest.

Zanies Comedian Party


Dr. D. warming up for his comedy debut.

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.

If you were funny


Little Italy, Chicago, Illinois

The Operation Family Secrets trial is underway, The Sopranos season ended with a lot of publicity, and Hillary Clinton successfully parodied that final Sopranos episode. Well, because of all this attention drawn to Italians lately, I recall one particular Italian man I met a long time ago in an Italian restaurant in Little Italy. I have met Italians who are American, Italian immigrants, and Italians who try to project the mob lifestyle, even though I know that some are just wannabes. We have them all in Chicago. This man I met, looked like the stereotypical Italian mobster gathered with some “associates,” but they just could have been his family. He was a middle-aged man dressed in a dark blue suit, bright red tie, and he had a gold pinky finger with an enormous diamond. Balding head with salt and pepper hair. He looked like a real mobster and was obviously the power holder at the table. One of the stories he told began, “This gumba called me the other day …” When he finished it, everyone at the table laughed. I didn’t exactly hear the whole story, so I couldn’t tell you if his story was actually funny or they merely laughed at the boss’s joke.

I was sitting at the next table with my running friends after our track workout. Every Wednesday evening, we went to the track, ran some speed work, and then went out afterwards to eat pasta, and drink a few beers. About ten of us sat there drinking and being loud. We always felt especially proud when someone would ask the management to tell us to be quiet. But not on this night!

At first, we didn’t really notice the people at the neighboring table. We told jokes and funny stories as we usually did. Actually, our two tables got into a game of one-upmanship. I don’t like to brag, but I was usually the loudest and funniest one at the table. Finally, the Don at the next table points to me and says, “Hey, kid! You think you’re funny, don’t you?” “Well, you heard how I made everyone laugh, didn’t you?” mimicking him fearlessly, but it was just false bravado. Well, suddenly our two tables got very quiet. “How funny are you?” “Really funny!” “Come here. I want you to make me laugh!” And he smiled a really big smile, so big I could see that no food stuck was between his teeth.

As I walked over to him, I recalled a story that Bob Hope once told: “I worked in some mob-owned nightclubs. They didn’t pay you. But if you were good, they let you live!”

Well, I seemed to have gotten myself in a very similar predicament. He tells me, “Tell me your best joke. And you better make me laugh.” Of course, I didn’t tell him my best joke, but I did tell him one that always got a laugh and he laughed, along with everyone else at the table. “Tell me another one.” This time he laughed a little more. I can’t even remember what jokes I told him. I told him a few more jokes and only then I hit him with my best joke. You have to build up to it, right?

Well, he really laughed and laughed. And he slapped me on the back. It really stung! So he says, “You’re really funny, kid. You should be a comedian!” “I am,” I said. “Didn’t I just prove it?” He smiled at me and then said, “Okay, go sit down.” When I sat down, both our tables continued telling jokes and laughing and drinking beers. His table left way before ours. I figured he probably had to get up early to go to the office in the morning.

When we asked the waitress for our check, she told us that the gentleman who sat next to us had already paid it. “You are so funny!” I told her. But we actually ate and drank for free that night. How funny!