Archive for the 'Outreach' Category

Mar 13 2013

Chicago, Thanksgiving Night, 1978

Since August, I had been hanging out at a Comedy Club called The Comedy Cottage, trying to muster up the courage to actually go on stage. Up until then, I had been telling everyone that I was a magician who specialized in close-up magic, with no desire to take it up on a big stage. I like the table magic. Truth is, I wanted desperately to go on stage and try stand-up comedy. I just lacked the courage.

That had been pretty much my life up to this point. I wanted to go on stage in high school, to do plays. I even went down one day to join the theatre department.  But I was a jock, and when my friends found out, they mocked me. That ended that.

When I got to college, I was in Radio and Television. I told the instructor I wanted to learn how to direct. Truth was, I wanted to perform. Again as a jock, when my teammates found out, the ridicule started. That ended that.

Now that I had no teammates to ridicule me, I still hadn’t gone onstage, and I realized I was the one mocking me the most. The fear of being laughed at as a comedian is almost a joke in itself. No other profession I can think of exposes a human being to being ridiculed like stand-up comedy.

If you are bad public speaker, people just fall asleep. They don’t think it is their job to shout out their discontent and how much they think you stink, before they nod off. Comedy audiences, on the other hand, feel it is their obligation to let you know – as if they all got together and nominated two or three drunk guys to speak on behalf of all who have attended.

After three months of putting it off, I ran out of excuses. I was leaving my parents house after a Thanksgiving meal – which in our house was a few bites of turkey and a belly full of beer – and driving to the comedy club to hang out. Then I realized that tonight was Thursday night, Open Mike night. Anyone could get five minutes on stage.

It was time for me to suck it up and set aside my fear. I reminded myself that this was my dream. It never occurred to me that I didn’t have any stand-up comedy material. I didn’t know at the time that comics actually prepared things to say. I just thought you talked about your day, and hopefully people found it funny.

If you are a budding young comic reading this, take my word for it. Prepare something, anything. Standing on stage stuttering and drooling on yourself, no matter how entertaining to the comics in the back of the room, creates severe discomfort for the normal people in the audience.

To this day I have no idea what I said beyond my opening line. Looking into what amounted to the sun, I said, “Man, I can’t see a f-ing thing!” As a matter of fact, I don’t know if I did the whole five minutes, but I can tell you the audience probably thought it was an eternity. I finished whatever it was I did and was wiping the drool off my face as I stormed out of the club, humiliated, and I vowed I would never step foot in that place again. I cried all the way back to my apartment and pounded holes in my closet door. Again told myself I can’t go back there again and face those comics.

Good thing, as an alcoholic, humiliation was a way of life, and I lie to myself all the time. The only thing I do more than break promises to myself is breathe.

I was back in there on Sunday. The MC, a large and cool black man named Orlando, came over to me and said, “If you are going on tonight, you goin’ to have to make sense. We’re still trying to figure out what you said Thursday night.”

And so it began, my life as a stand up comic.

In 1978 there were only a few clubs in the Chicago area that did stand-up comedy. I began to hang out at all of them and eventually became a regular performer at each of them. The fact that they didn’t pay anyone really helped, and believe me, I was worth every penny they were not paying me.

microphone-stand

It took me a long time to get over the stage fright that paralyzed me that first night. Years later, I was in therapy, trying to figure out if I was a sadist or masochist. Trust me when I tell you, every night someone was suffering an unbearable pain because of my performances. It was either them or me. I don’t know which came first, the stress or the fear, but it always manifested itself in the form of stress, and it wasn’t pretty.

It is interesting to me how different people respond to stress. Some people actually use it to heighten awareness and consequently performance improves. Bobby Jones, the great golfer, said he needed to be nervous in order to perform at his best. On the other hand, my response to extreme nervousness is that the brain goes completely blank; I lose all thought. Nothing. When I say nothing, I mean nothing. It plagues me even today; it just doesn’t happen that often. But it stills rears its ugly head every now and then. I have just developed alternative ways to deal with it rather than running off the stage and crying.

This problem has cost me more than once in my career. One of my favorite stories happened when I was living in New Jersey and working out of New York City.

I was in final callback for a VJ job on VH1, a big opportunity for me. A couple of days before, I was to meet with the executives over at the VH1 studio. Rosie O’Donnell, who was one of their stars, called me at home and told me that the buzz around the studio was that the job was mine. This audition was just a formality. I even had lunch with one of the executives and she heaped all kinds of praise on me. I was one of two finalists out of thousands that they looked at nationwide.

That was a Saturday. I was to go in and read, I believe, on Monday or Tuesday the next week.

It gave me enough time to think of what this meant for me and my young family. I thought of the cash, the exposure, and I saw what VH1 was doing for Rosie. I knew this was my break. Finally, stardom! Combine those thoughts with a core belief of worthlessness, and you have an amazing recipe for disaster. It was a recipe that unfortunately would play out over and over again in my career.

I got to the studio early and began to go over in my head what this meant, and told myself not to choke. Breathe.

It didn’t take long for the panic to set in. By the time I got through with the reading, I did everything but vomit on my shoes. My mind went blank, I stammered and stuttered and eventually started screaming at myself in front of all these VH1 executives. I even heard the tech people laughing at my meltdown in the sound booth. Believe me, it made Albert Brooks in Broadcast News look like Tom Brokaw. That is only one of many instances when fear destroyed a tremendous opportunity for me.

In hindsight, I didn’t know which I was afraid of more, failure or success. I will delve into that more in the coming weeks. The problem with recovery is that it is lived one day at a time, and those days add up to years.

There is a saying in the 12-step rooms, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift so enjoy the present.”

It took years for me to openly quit sabotaging my life and my career, and to walk in the simplicity of God’s Grace.

Blessings to you all and may God’s Grace be enough for you today.

Jeff

 

One response so far

Mar 04 2013

Recovery Again, Not Recovered

Published by under Outreach

On September 28th of 2012, I celebrated my 25th consecutive year without a drink of alcohol or an illegal drug, i.e. cocaine. While it was a monumental birthday for a person in recovery, it passed in our home and among my friends without much fanfare. No one seemed to notice it.

Outside of me mentioning it in my social media accounts and a couple of times on stage, I really didn’t seem to care about it. You see, I got “recovered” a few years earlier and began to live my life as if I was officially recovered and not recovering.

Every addict will tell you that you are one drink (or one drug or one minute) from the path of enlightenment and peace to the gutter. In other words, we are always recovering, never recovered. What happened to me, happens I am sure to other addicts. My pride and ego took over and I began to live off the tank of God’s grace that I had built up for over 20 years. And ran it dry.

I traded in the drugs of alcohol and cocaine for a myriad of earthly more “socially acceptable” but almost equally destructive drugs. I won’t bother to list those, because to explain how they took over my life, would take more space than I choose to use in this format.

Let it suffice to say that the enemy of my soul was winning the war against the Lover of My Soul.

As I begin to come out of the self-afflicted deep dark hole I had been in, I am beginning to see God’s light again and feel his breath of inspiration. It is “my” desire to use this format of blogging to try to understand what happened and why it happened. It will take time, as I am just beginning to get my life back.

It was, a week ago last Friday that I had convinced myself that my wife of 26 years had had enough of me and was going to leave. I was so thoroughly convinced of this, I was ready to move into a hotel for a few days to give her some space. It never occurred to me to ask her if this was her desire. Instead, I just played the scene over and over and over and over in my head, and then made the decision for her. After all, I knew the kind of man I was and I wouldn’t want to be married to me either. The thing about this kind of depression is, it is not a chemical imbalance. Rather, it is an imbalance of what God wants for you and what your flesh desires.

I heard a wonderful thing a little while ago, I don’t know where, so forgive me if it was from one of my twitter followers. “My pride binds me to the earth and my flesh, so that those things of heaven can’t get in.” In other words, when I am so full of myself, there is no room for God to get in. And when God can’t get in, the devil will.

I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, when the devil’s minion writes him and says that his subject is actually getting “true humility in Christ,” and the devil writes him back and says “make him proud of his humility.”

In essence, what I have learned these past few weeks is, when I took credit for God’s work, all his work unraveled briefly enough to give me a glimpse of the work I actually do, which is basically wreck all the work that God has done. I don’t know if that makes sense to any of you, but it hit me like a ton of bricks, when my wife Tami told me before dinner a couple of weeks ago, “You remind me of the man you were 25 years ago.” (Wow! She wouldn’t say that if she read my press clippings, sheesh!)

Who Tami says I am, trust me, I am. I respect her opinion of me more than she will ever know. No one outside of God knows me better than Tami. It has been said who you are at home is who you are.

The good news is that I am crawling out the other end of all this, I know this is true because the other day eating dinner, my lovely wife got up and walked to my side of the table and kissed me on the neck, hugged me and said “It is nice to have you back.” Praise be to God! There is no other explanation.

Truth is, I am not the man I was 25 years ago. Christ dwells within me and when I seek His counsel, His grace and peace will come permeate my soul. All I have to do is “knock and it will be answered.”

Today is another day and a glorious one at that. It is the day that God has created. I can use it to feed my selfish desires or use it to honor His creation. By trying to serve His creation, I have found that feeds my soul the way the Lover of My Soul designed it to be fed.

Something I wrote years ago is appropriate again today:

Who I was, is not who I am. Today I choose to walk a different path.

So feel free to throw at me the stones of my past, I will not deny them, but gladly use them to humble me, for today my shield is the Lord.

It is because of who he was and the blood that he shed that I no longer have to run from my past but can embrace it and walk with his grace to my future.

I would love to hear from you guys about your recovery and faith and trials. If there is anything I have learned in my life, we can’t do life alone. God wanted us to be in community with one another. I am thrilled to death to be “recovering” again and not “recovered.”

Blessings,
Jeff

9 responses so far

May 13 2011

Family Get-Together – After 20 Years

Family Get-Together – After 20 Years
I am the baby of the family. I know it is shocking to find the baby of any family, choosing a profession as an adult that draws attention to himself, you know, like a comedian.
Anyhoo, I am the youngest of four children. I have a brother, Kirk, who is five years older than I, two sisters, Vicki and Lori, in between, and then there is me. As all youngest children think, your parents stopped breeding when they hit perfection!  Truth is, after I was born, Mom told Dad if he touched her again she’d shoot him. Or something like that.
Having four kids in five years will do that to a woman. Not being a woman, I can only guess, of course. But I know what having a stomach ache does to my mood and I can’t imagine how many people would have met their demise if I had a nine-month stomach ache, five years in a row.  Looking back, I am sure it was why my mom insisted on having the lights on all the time. In her mind, bad things happened when the lights were off.
Being the youngest, of course I was Mom’s favorite (don’t worry, my sisters don’t read my blogs and my brother is illiterate). I always thought I was Mom’s favorite because I was just darn special. My wife Tami, who is an oldest child, jealous of me, and a mother, told me, if I was Mom’s favorite it was because I was her last – and being the fourth in five years it probably took her less than two minutes of labor to deliver me.
The reason I bring all this up is that the older I get, the more I want to be around my family.  Truth is, I miss them. We have a lot of laughs when we get together. The problem is that it seems to be only at weddings or funerals that we can see each other. I am fortunate that in my job I travel quite a bit and I am able to sit with my sisters when I am in Dallas or Vegas.
My brother, Kirk, is another issue. We have been estranged for almost two decades. I have missed him the most. The few conversations we have had over the years on the phone have always left me hope that one day God would heal whatever was standing between us. Those of you who have seen me perform know that I have asked for prayer for him as well as me.  Well, I can tell you all Thank You for your prayers; this one has been answered. I sat with my brother over lunch last week in Indiana, when I was in town for a show.
We have both gotten older and balder but the bond between us is the same. We picked up right where we left off twenty years ago. He punched me in the face and I cried like a four year old schoolgirl.
Well, I cried, not because he punched me, but the mere sight of my brother was an answer to a daily prayer for over ten years. I am not naïve. There have been plenty of opportunities over the years for me to reach out, but fear always won the day.  I will not go into any great detail about the get-together other than to say that family bonds are forever – good, bad or indifferent, the bond is huge. One thing I know is that it is never too late to correct and change a course of action.
I would love to hear from you guys on overdue sibling get-togethers.
God ‘s Peace be with you in your journeys, and remember, as hard as it is, we as Christians are to forgive as we too have been forgiven.
Blessings, Jeff.

I am the baby of the family. I know it is shocking to find the baby of any family, choosing a profession as an adult that draws attention to himself, you know, like a comedian.

Anyhoo, I am the youngest of four children. I have a brother, Kirk, who is five years older than I, two sisters, Vicki and Lori, in between, and then there is me. As all youngest children think, your parents stopped breeding when they hit perfection!  Truth is, after I was born, Mom told Dad if he touched her again she’d shoot him. Or something like that.

Having four kids in five years will do that to a woman. Not being a woman, I can only guess, of course. But I know what having a stomach ache does to my mood and I can’t imagine how many people would have met their demise if I had a nine-month stomach ache, five years in a row.  Looking back, I am sure it was why my mom insisted on having the lights on all the time. In her mind, bad things happened when the lights were off.

Being the youngest, of course I was Mom’s favorite (don’t worry, my sisters don’t read my blogs and my brother is illiterate). I always thought I was Mom’s favorite because I was just darn special. My wife Tami, who is an oldest child, jealous of me, and a mother, told me, if I was Mom’s favorite it was because I was her last – and being the fourth in five years it probably took her less than two minutes of labor to deliver me.

The reason I bring all this up is that the older I get, the more I want to be around my family.  Truth is, I miss them. We have a lot of laughs when we get together. The problem is that it seems to be only at weddings or funerals that we can see each other. I am fortunate that in my job I travel quite a bit and I am able to sit with my sisters when I am in Dallas or Vegas.

My brother, Kirk, is another issue. We have been estranged for almost two decades. I have missed him the most. The few conversations we have had over the years on the phone have always left me hope that one day God would heal whatever was standing between us. Those of you who have seen me perform know that I have asked for prayer for him as well as me.  Well, I can tell you all Thank You for your prayers; this one has been answered. I sat with my brother over lunch last week in Indiana, when I was in town for a show.

We have both gotten older and balder but the bond between us is the same. We picked up right where we left off twenty years ago. He punched me in the face and I cried like a four year old schoolgirl.

Well, I cried, not because he punched me, but the mere sight of my brother was an answer to a daily prayer for over ten years. I am not naïve. There have been plenty of opportunities over the years for me to reach out, but fear always won the day.  I will not go into any great detail about the get-together other than to say that family bonds are forever – good, bad or indifferent, the bond is huge. One thing I know is that it is never too late to correct and change a course of action.

I would love to hear from you guys on overdue sibling get-togethers.

God ‘s Peace be with you in your journeys, and remember, as hard as it is, we as Christians are to forgive as we too have been forgiven.

Blessings, Jeff.

8 responses so far

May 07 2010

We Are All Wet

Published by under Outreach

OK, yes, I know this blog is supposed to be funny or entertaining or something like that.

If you missed it on the news, much of Nashville, the place I call home, was buried in what is being referred to as a 500-year flood.  I think that means a flood that comes once every 500 years, but if you saw the place, you’d swear it’d been raining for 500 years straight.

This is no laughing matter.  It’s one thing if you live in a flood plain and have flood insurance.  Not good, but not as bad.  But this flood went to places no one ever dreamed of needing flood insurance.  I have some very close friends that have lost homes.  Ours was OK, but it was a while before I was able to travel back to see it.

So, please pray for the good folks in Nashville.

As with many disasters, one of the really cool things is that friends and neighbors come out of the woodwork.  One friend made a trek into town to get some badly needed supplies when his phone rang. His wife was on the phone telling him he needed to get home.  She said, “You wouldn’t believe it, there are some 30 people here helping out, and they brought a giant smorgasbord of food.”

Human beings may do some pretty stupid stuff from time to time, but when called upon, when the need is obvious and apparent, we often see the very best of people. Thank God.

I’ve heard that to help fund disaster relief efforts, Taylor Swift will donate $500,000. Ke$ha, a Nashville native, will play a benefit show on June 16th.  I’ve also heard that the Country Music Association will contribute half the proceeds from the CMA Music Festival to relief efforts.

2 responses so far

Oct 07 2009

Can There Be Anything Funny About Outreach?

Published by under Clean Comedy,Outreach

Author Os Guinness once posed the question, “Is there a place for the court jester in the kingdom of Heaven?”

Over the years, I have tried to build trust with pastors and church leaders by not only being funny and making sure my events are enjoyable, but also by treating comedy as a legitimate outreach tool. To me, an outreach event should be geared toward opening the mind of the unbeliever, even if it’s just a crack.

Comedy breaks down inhibitions.  Laughter opens the heart, especially when it’s the laughter of recognition.  My humor about skirmishes with my wife and children is felt universally.  When people are laughing hysterically at me and at themselves, I’ve gained credibility; I’ve earned their respect.  So now when I start to share about how it used to be, how far I’d fallen, how I’d almost lost everything, they are with me.  They get it.  They can also relate.  Maybe they were never on the brink of divorce and total despair, but each of us has had those really low times when we weren’t sure we’d ever again be lifted up.

Nothing opens up people’s hearts and minds more than when they can relate to the tragic suffering of a fellow human being they respect.  Once I have that opening, I know they are ready to hear whatever I have to say.  I’ve got the credibility and legitimacy to speak to them.  When I tell them how far I’d fallen, they are with me.  And when I tell them how God lifted me up, they stay with me.

The first time I took a chance and shared my testimony, I was very nervous, even though I felt God had laid it on my heart to do it.  I received an e mail that evening following the show from a gentleman in attendance.  He wrote, “Thank you for sharing your story.  You and I have been through very similar things, and the fact that you got up in front of 1500 strangers and shared your struggles gives me the strength to share them with my wife tonight.  Thank you for your honesty.”  Since then I’ve received many stories about people who brought their unchurched friends to see my comedy performance, who wound up being moved to join the church.

An outreach event should engage as many different age demographics as possible, and nothing brings together multiple generations like comedy.  Nearly every night, I can look out in the audience and see three generations of families enjoying a good laugh together.  Christian musical concerts are typically subjective and age-specific, but hilarious, clean comedy easily transcends age, gender and background.

Comedy opens up the opportunity to share the love of Christ with people who might never have otherwise set foot in a church. Is there a place in God’s kingdom for a court jester?   You bet there is.

What kinds of outreach events have made a difference for you and/or the people in your life?

2 responses so far

Jan 14 2009

WELCOME: “Teenagers: God’s Revenge on Mankind”

Hello all!  Welcome to the inaugural (I just looked up “inaugural” and I’m astonished to see that it means just what I intended! Namely: “serving to set in motion”) post of my new blog, Teenagers: God’s Revenge on Mankind.  Anyone who has seen my act knows that I pursue the lighter (and heavier) side of being married with teenagers. It’s true that I’ve been quoted as saying that I believe God created teenagers to punish us so we would know what it felt like to have someone created in our own image that denied our existence.

The purpose of this blog is to explore issues related to being married, raising children, even wandering around in the “empty nest” – that state of grace that many dread, only to come to appreciate, or long for, only to come to dread.

However, I’d like this to be different from my normal gigs – the ones where I do all the talking and you do all the laughing.  I’d like this to be more of a dialogue – a community conversation.  My hope is that we’ll all learn something, and have fun in the process.

Are you in?

12 responses so far