Lucky us! We get to vote on Ground Hog’s Day! So if a candidate sees his shadow … Oh, never mind. Ground Hog’s Day is such a silly holiday, anyway!
I got one phone call to vote for Jim Ryan for judge. When I said I would vote for him, the caller asked if I would like to put Jim Ryan sign on my lawn. Then, last week, I get two unusual calls from politicians soliciting my vote for David Hoffman. One was from Paul Vallas who doesn’t even reside in the state of Illinois anymore. And the other was from Miguel del Valle who also solicited my vote for David Hoffman in Spanish. I must admit he spoke Spanish very nicely. I’m not sure if Paul Vallas really wanted me to vote for David Hoffman. Or if, as I suspiciously tend to believe, that he wanted to remind me that he still existed so that I would vote for him upon his imminent return to Illinois politics. But that’s just me.
I also received voting instructions for early voting in English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese. Okay, I’m not actually sure if it’s Mandarin Chinese, but I wanted to sound knowledgeable. Everyone wants to sound knowledgeable around election time, no? In Chicago, all the polling places are multilingual. If you’re an American citizen, you’re entitled to vote even if you don’t speak English! But this is typical of every election in Chicago.
A Chicago election is always very confusing. For whom do I vote? There are always a few obvious candidates for me. But others, I never even heard of them! I know we’re supposed to vote for candidates intelligently. However, I only seem to be aware of candidates who raised enough money to pay for radio and TV ads. So how do I vote for everyone else? Including the completely unknown candidates? I vote the Chicago Way! I vote for all the candidates I knew from before election day would get my vote.
What happens to my votes for the rest of the candidates? In a general election, if I’m not sure for whom to vote, I vote the straight Democratic ticket. It’s the Chicago Way! In a primary election when I have to declare myself a Democrat, I vote for all the Irish candidates. It’s the Chicago Way! Of course, I once met a Judge Cunningham who was elected as judge because of his Irish name. Judge Cunningham was African-American! So I guess voting for an Irish or Irish-sounding candidate is very egalitarian. It’s the Chicago Way! Next in the pecking order are female names. If it’s a female candidate with an Irish name, so much the better. That was in the old days. Now that we have more Hispanic candidates, I automatically vote for a Spanish name. The election slate is so long for some elections that very few people would know every candidate very well. However, I want to exercise my Constitutional right to vote! Even if it’s the Chicago Way!
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.