My “Experience” at Zanie’s in Chicago

Tonight I had my first opportunity to perform at Zanie’s in Chicago – a dream of mine for quite some time.  It was the “Rising Star Showcase”.  If you’ve never been… go.  It’s a blast.  You’ll see soon-to-be-big-name comedians before they get their break.  You’ll be able to say “I saw him/her when…”

I had the honor of being introduced by one of my personal heroes and former mentor, Dobie Maxwell (you might have seen him on the “Craig Ferguson Show” recently – he was amazing).  We also had a really cool surprise take place before the show began – one of the best in the business, Dwayne Kennedy showed up.  He’s getting ready to do a guest spot on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” later this week, so he wanted some stage time to work on some of the material.  How cool is that?  This audience is coming in to see the rising stars of comedy – and at the end of the evening they’re going to get the awesome surprise of finding out their ten bucks and two-item minimum was also going to allow them to see Dwayne Kennedy – no extra charge!

So, needless to say, I was psyched.  Not only was I about to get my dream of performing at Zanie’s in Chicago, but I’d have Dwayne Kennedy in the audience watching!  Suh-weet!  The show began, and we had some great talent tonight.  I was the sixth comedian on the schedule.  But when the fifth comedian was up on stage… it happened.  Bert Haas, the manager of Zanie’s tapped me on the shoulder and said, “slight change of plans.”

I’ve always prided myself to be one that could adapt quickly to just about any situation.  I’ve been to clubs in the past where I was told beforehand to do twenty minutes of material, and the owner at the last second asked for thirty minutes of material instead.  I’ve also been asked to do twenty minutes and been told seconds before hitting the stage that they only wanted ten minutes from me.  It happens.  You learn from it, you live through it, you go up and do your time and hope that you can find a great place to leave the audience laughing when your time is up.  However, tonight, when the manager of Zanie’s said “slight change of plans” he had something totally different in mind.

Have you ever seen the movie “Funny People” starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogan?  There’s a scene where Seth Rogan, playing a “rising star” type of comedian who is somewhat new to the business has shown up for an open mic night at a local comedy club.  He’s just about to go up on stage when at the last second the manager of the club holds him back one slot – because George Simmons, the biggest comedian of the decade (played by Adam Sandler) just came in and wants to do a few minutes for the crowd.  Imagine being a new comedian, ready to try your stuff on the crowd, nervous already, and then being told that you’d have to perform for the crowd AFTER Adam Sandler was done with them.  Tell me you wouldn’t have to change your shorts when you got home.

“Slight change of plans,” Bert said.  “I’m going to have Dwayne go up before you.”

“Dwayne?” I thought.  “No… certainly not THE Dwayne in the room.  Right?  I mean, he must be talking about some OTHER Dwayne – not Dwayne Kennedy.  After all, Dwayne Kennedy is well above any comedian in this room, he headlines the biggest clubs in the nation.  He’s been on Comedy Central, Letterman, Conan, and even had his own Showtime comedy special.  THAT Dwayne is going up before me?!?!”

Yes.  That Dwayne.  He killed.  He over-killed.  He killed, maimed, and dismembered the audience.  The guy is genius.  He took thirty minutes of amazing material and somehow delivered it in a ten-minute guest spot that rocked the house.

The crowd went nuts.  Then I went nuts.  “I have to follow THAT?!?!?” I said to myself.  I had no choice.  I have worked four long hard years to finally get to the point that I felt I could handle the stage at Zanie’s.  If I ran out now I’d never live it down, and I’d be afraid all of my life.  So I said a prayer, asked God to help me get through this… and about the time I said “amen” Dobie Maxwell returned to the stage, thanked Dwayne Kennedy, and then introduced me.  I literally stumbled up on the narrow staircase, almost falling down.  I took the mic, nervously looked at the audience and said…

“I’d like to thank Dwayne Kennedy for opening for me.”

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