In 1991, I decided I wanted to go onstage and do comedy at open mic nights.  I was 27 and had moved from a small town in Missouri to the Chicago suburbs the year before.

I should preface this with the fact that in 1982 I had won sixth place In Illinois state high school speech, original comedy.  So I’d had some experience making crowds laugh.  I wanted to see if I could do it for actual comedy club crowds.

I had no idea how to go about it, so as a stab in the dark, I bought Chicago magazine.  In the back were the major comedy club listings.  I called them all to see if they had open mics.  A few did.

The closest one was in Elmhurst, about 25 minutes away.  The place was called Who’s On First.  It was an actual club that held about 150 people.  The owner, Ted Holum, was a comic.  On Sundays, they had open mic before the scheduled improve group.

The first time I went up, I didn’t take my guitar.  I did about 6 minutes in front of about 20 people, and it went well.

I knew I wanted to go up the next week.  Then I thought:  “I know some funny stuff on the guitar, why not bring that up?” So the next week, I did.

It went even better.  I went back every week, always trying new songs and material in 6-minute bursts.  Other comics were supportive and offered advice on tweaking jokes.  After about 3 months, one comic said, “Why don’t you ask Ted if you can emcee here sometime?”  It had never occurred to me that I might get paid to perform.

So I came up to Ted after a show one night and asked.  He immediately pulled out his schedule book and said, “When do you have open?”


So my first paying gig ($50) was emceeing at Who’s On First.  It was great, and I was there every six weeks or so.  Ted knew the owner of The Comedy Womb in Lyons, and I started appearing there whenever possible.

Then you meet folks: comics, agents, people who know people.  Before long I was booked as an emcee pretty much every weekend.  It was great.  I got to write whatever stupid shit came to mind (okay, not ALL of it worked), I got paid (a pittance, granted), and the audiences liked it.

After about a year, an agent called and said, “I need a feature act next weekend.  Can you do a solid 25 – 30?”  I said, “I think I can do that.”  So I started featuring, and was still getting booked every weekend.  The best part was that I rarely had to look for work – they always called me.

The act got tighter, and I did topical songs about O.J., Waco, Bill Clinton, etc.  I had a great creative outlet.  I only had what I considered a “bad” show every once in a while.  Life was good.


But it got to get old.  I’d been a feature act for about 3 years, and my next natural step was to headline – 45 minutes to an hour.  I knew I couldn’t come up with that much new material to keep an act of that length fresh.  I barely thought of 5 good new minutes every couple of months.  And driving 3 hours to Indiana for $75 was getting tiresome.

Plus, I was gone from my (fairly) new bride every weekend.  And despite all the easy skanky ho comedy poontang, I was a faithful lad.

(SIDE NOTE:  98% of all married comics cheat whenever they can.  Don’t let them tell you differently.)

The final straw was in 1996.  I was on my way to Eau Claire WI.  At about Madison, a huge blizzard hit.  Long story short, I thought I was going to die, and (very) luckily got out of it.

I took that as a sign to chuck the comedy trade.