Saturday, November 30, 2013

PayPal Makes Black Friday Even Darker


I've never participated in a Black Friday sale. My view of Black Friday has always been people getting big-ticket items at huge discounts.

My lack of participation has always had to do with my finances. I have never had the discretionary income to go out and buy such things, I had bills to pay.

Every year I've watched the annual running of the shopping carts from the safety of my living room clutching my wallet. Fearing that I might get the idea that I could do that too.

Well, it finally happened. Things have gone pretty well this year. While I haven't made a ton of money I'm in a better place financially. I just came off of a 6 week comedy run with a few extra dollars. So I thought, maybe I can give this a try. I'll do some of my Christmas shopping on Black Friday! I'll get some cool things for myself and those I love. I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I knew I didn't know exactly how it was all going to work, but I believed I could make it work.

I was sooooooo wrong ...

I'm not much for holidays any more (that's another story for another time) so I spent my Thanksgiving driving from my home in Illinois to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle is within 2 hours of my final destination, a comedy club that I'm working at on Black Friday. It will be my first time there. I could have left real early on Black Friday and made it, but getting close the day before enables me to get some rest the night before show and come in fresh. I can do a much better show when I'm not tired and stressed out from driving 14 hours.

Included in my travel plan was to stop at a Walmart, (actually 2 of them) on the way to take advantage of some Black Friday specials. They had some guaranteed pricing from 6 - 7 and more from 8 - 9. The plan was simple. Stop at the first Walmart at 6:00P, buy some stuff. Then I would head down the road, stop at the next one at 8:00P and buy more stuff. I would head into Carlisle.

Those of you laughing as you read that last paragraph have been through the Black Friday experience before and can see how naive I really was. I had no idea what I was I was walking into.

I left my home outside of Abingdon Illinois at 7:00A and drove through the states of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio without incident, things were going well. By 5:45P I found myself in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania. I had done my preparation the day before and knew there was a Walmart there. I had made a list of 10 Walmarts that would be on my route. As I got close to Pennsylvania I would enter the addresses in my GPS to figure which one I could stop at about 30 minutes before the Black Friday start time, Belle Vernon was the big winner.

I wasn't even alarmed when I saw the Walmart parking lot was completely filled. I didn't even try to search for a spot. I took the first open spot I saw which was about as far away from the front door you could get. When I walked in the store I saw was crowded but I expected that, they gave me a map and I found where my big get was, an Ipad Mini.

I found the line for the Mini and it stretched so far that you couldn't see the beginning. It started in the Pharmacy and went along the outside wall stretching half way into Lawn and Garden. If you're a regular Walmart shopper that will have meant something to you. If not, trust me; that's a really long line. Even then I wasn't worried. When 6:00P came and the Black Friday event officially started I expected the line to start moving after a few minutes but it didn't. In fact at 6:15P I was still standing in the same place I started in, the line had gotten longer but still had not moved. I started to worry. The Ipad wasn't the only thing I wanted to get between 6 and 7, there were other items I wanted.

By 7:40P I had moved about 20 feet and it was becoming apparent I would not get through it by 8:00P. I would be lucky to be done by 9:00P. How was I going to buy the other things? I was getting really worried. It was then that a Walmart employee came down the line asking if people had a green wristband. Only those people would be getting an Ipad Mini tonight. What? I didn't have one of those wristbands! Walmart promised! If I was in the store between 6 and 7 I would get the Ipad Mini at a very special price. This is what I was thinking as the Walmart person explained that the people with the green wristbands take home an Ipad Mini. Everyone else gets a card to take to the cashier. Once you pay for it Walmart will ship the coveted Ipad Mini to the store of your choosing.

Perfect! I didn't want to carry stuff with me anyway! Give me my Ipad Mini card Walmart person! I'll go do the rest of my shopping! That's what I did. I went around the store and collecting the cards of the things I wanted because they had run out of EVERYTHING. Now that I was holding all the cards I was going to pay for all my great stuff, get a big discount and it would all be waiting for me when I got back home! I wouldn't have to carry it all around with me and worry about getting it stolen from my car. Things couldn't have worked out better!

Why was I even worrying?

Then it came time to pay. I went to the regular checkout lines and it looked like standing room only at a concert. There was no pattern to where people were standing. They were all just pointed toward the checkout stands. I was standing next to a woman who had a cart overflowing with boxes. She looked at me and said "If all you have is those cards you should try checking out at the Jewelry counter". I asked her "Is this some sort of trick to get me out of this line?" She smiled and said "No, I will save your place." Since it wasn't much of a place anyway off I went to the Jewelry counter. It was located in the center of the store.  Just the like the center of a hurricane it was pretty calm. There was a line there that I stood at the end of for a while that just wasn't moving.

At that point I didn't know what to do so I decided to go back to my people in the Ipad Mini line. I couldn't believe what I saw as I walked into the Lawn and Garden area. There was a cashier standing at her register and there were only 2 people in front of her! I quickly rushed toward the checkout station!

I was now the 3nd person in line at the Lawn and Garden Register! Wow was I lucky! All the other lines were much longer than this one. Unfortunately the cashier was stuck on the first person for almost an hour. She couldn't figure out how to properly check someone out with one of these cards. I patiently waited and thought, OK I'll just stay here for the 8:00P sale, I'll be a little late getting into Carlisle, but I'll have my shopping done. I'll pay for Round 1 and then go through Round 2 here. All is still well! This Black Friday thing is going to work out after all!

It was right about that time the cashier (with the help of 3 other manager type people) finally figured out how to check someone out. All the sudden it was my turn! All my waiting and worrying was about to pay off. My first ever Black Friday purchase! Man was I saving a lot of money! The cashier told me the total and as she and the people behind me watched I swiped my PayPal MasterCard to pay for my treasures.

Why didn't I take cash? I was buying a lot of stuff and I didn't want to take a lot of money. Besides, my PayPal card was bulletproof. It was never declined. You see the way it works is I charge something, PayPal authorizes it. Then it's taken out of my checking account automatically. I never get a bill and I can always use it. It's perfection when it comes to paying for things.

I had just spent 10 days in Canada and crossed 3 provinces. Not only did it work there. It paid in Canadian and automatically exchanged to US. How cool is that? So you can see why I would never even consider the possibility that my card would be declined. Which is exactly what happened and I was stunned. All that I just went through and now the card was not going to work? There must be a problem with the authorization system I told the clerk, there is no reason this shouldn't work is what I embarrassingly said as I asked her to try again. She did and again it didn't work and that's when I started getting the "it's time for you to move on loser" look from her and the people in line behind me. The looks of disapproval were making me feel extremely uncomfortable. I had a little cash with me but in the end I was able to get a couple of things but I left nearly empty handed and disappointed, my Black Friday was ruined.

The next day I called PayPal and asked what happened. They told me that because I lived in Illinois that my attempt to make a purchase in Pennsylvania triggered their fraud alert system. So to protect me, my card was "disabled".

That's when my disappointment turned into anger ....



Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created GreenRoomRadio.net a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is Vilmos.com.
Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/vilmosthecomic or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why bother?


Most people would think that all it takes to make it as a stand-up comedian is the ability to be funny. I can tell you that is a part of it. I could even make a pretty good argument that it's not even the most important part.

When I first started doing comedy for pay I thought that in order to make it in the business I should not only concentrate on being funny I should also be a professional. I already knew what being a professional was all about. I owned several businesses at the time and had also successfully worked my up to being a Senior Loan Officer at a bank. You just don't do that without being professional.

Being professional at what you do requires commitment, you have to take things seriously. You have to communicate well, show up on time, be motivated and work hard. In the business world if you are a professional you greatly increase your chances of success. I know this because I've seen it happen many times and it has worked for me.

I can tell you it's not necessary in comedy. I have come to believe that actually the opposite is true when it comes to stand-up comedy. The more professional you are the more it seems to turn off the people that you work with. Show up on time, do a good job on stage, don't drink, greet people on the way out and then go right home after the show; don't plan on coming back.

Get there at the last minute, go onstage to cheerlead the crowd, drink through your whole act and then drink with the staff until they tell you to leave; you'll be coming back for sure. Why? It's actually simple enough, in the abstract a comedy club is a bar. Instead of having a jukebox or the occasional band for entertainment there are comics. A bar makes it's income selling drinks. That's what everything is geared towards.

I am going to generalize here but before I start I will say this. There are perfectly good, honest hard working people that work in bars. I'm not quite sure why but the people that work in bars are generally not of the finest caliber. That is not to say they are bad people. What I am saying is they seem to be more prone to drink and party. So they gravitate towards people who do the same.

Drinking and partying seems to be a favorite pastime of many of the comedians I have  known over the years. So you see we have 2 groups of like minded people that are brought together with the shared interest of having a good time. That good time involving will involve partying and we all know that alcohol is  major component when you are out to do some serious partying.

You see where I'm going here? People gravitate towards what they know. Is it any surprise that bad behavior is tolerated in the stand-up comedy world? Bad behavior seems to give you an "edge" that actually gets you ahead.

Are you someone that can walk into any bar, make friends and feel like you're at home? You are half way towards a successful career in stand-up comedy! That's because the people that staff the clubs that you will be working with will immediately sense you are one of them and embrace you. You'll party with them and it will make you a "club favorite". They will look forward to having you back.

I, on the other hand am an "acquired" taste. I don't have a lot to say to people. I figure when they are at work that's what they want to do, work. I don't drink before or while I'm on stage because I take what I do seriously. I'm trying to do the best show I can. To do that I need to have my wits about me, I don't want to be impaired in any way. I don't hang out after the show and drink with the staff because I'm not much of a conversationalist. I also (call me weird) have this thing about driving while impaired. I don't want to take the chance that I'll kill someone. I also don't want to get a DUI and loose my license. That's going to make working pretty difficult.

I guess I just don't get it ...



Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created GreenRoomRadio.net a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is Vilmos.com.
Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/vilmosthecomic or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why Don't You F&$%king Leave Idaho


The first time I walked into a comedy club was the fall of 1992. I was there to attend a weekly workshop for people interested in being a stand-up comic. I had seen 2 comedy shows on a cruise ship in 1979. I knew nothing about stand-up comedy, I just knew I wanted to do it.

I was not any good when I started, no one is. When you start performing your act is a mixed bag of bits that may or may not work. That's the way it is. It's funny how generous an audience can be. If you are really trying they seem to know it and are patient with you.

One of the things you have to get accustomed to is audience feed back. You very quickly learn that not everyone will appreciate what you do. I've said it many times but it bears repeating comedy is a numbers game, especially in the beginning. You write all kinds of jokes. You end up keeping the ones that do the best. The one that the highest percentage of people in the audience like.

Along the way you run onto people who don't like what you do. As a rule they let you know by not laughing at anything you say. Sometimes they'll cross their arms and stare disapprovingly at you while you do your act. It's like they are trying to intimidate you into leaving the stage.

On rare occasions someone will make a comment on the way out of the show. Generally those people will leave you with a "that was out of line", "you should not talk about that [insert topic here] in that way" or any number of judgmental type comments. As a rule these are never made in an aggressive manner but it does happen on occasion.

The harshest criticism comes via the comment card. Something set out on tables at all comedy clubs. The comment card allows people to say whatever they want without having to actually say it to your face. This breeds some particularly vicious comments since they don't have to actually say them to your face.

You'll notice I've not mentioned hecklers. I'm excluding them from this because these people may not necessarily interrupt your show because they don't like what you do. They could be anything from drunk idiots to self-absorbed narcissists. They are not a part of this discussion.

Over the years I've received my share of negative feedback and always have put in perspective. I don't expect everyone to like what I do. Whatever they have to say about my act falls on deaf ears. I know what I'm trying to accomplish and the only feedback I'll give any weight to comes from the audience response I get and others in the business whose opinion I value. I could care less what some person I don't know (and will probably never see again) thinks.

In all the years I've been performing comedy which has now reached 21 I have never had an encounter like the one after the 2nd show this past Saturday night at Liquid Laughs in Boise, Idaho.

Here is the abridged version:

After I had finished for the evening I sat down at the bar to have a drink before I went back to the hotel. I sat next to three 50 something women that had been someone disruptive in the showroom. They came in with about 5 minutes left in the features set and were disruptive. They left about 5 minutes into my set. No one had any confrontation with them in the showroom. They left of their own accord.

They are all clearly beyond their prime years. They are dressed in such a way as to be "noticeable" but not in a sexy way because for them that is not possible any more. They are extremely drunk and honestly you can tell they just are unhappy women. I would be willing to bet they are all divorced. I would also be willing to bet that they all hate men and I'm sure the feeling is mutual.

I'm looking forward minding my own business and the one closest to me starts it all:

Angry woman #1: You really are the worst comedian we've ever seen.

Me: I'm sorry you didn't enjoy my show.

Angry woman #1: No you don't understand. You're awful, you have no business going on stage.

Me: I don't expect everyone to like what I do.

Note: It was very apparent to me from the beginning that we were well beyond feedback and it was her intention to try to emotionally hurt me. It was in her body language and her voice.

Even though I was trying to be polite about it the conversation continued on a dark path. Angry women #2 and #3 both chimed in to let me know how absolutely unqualified I was to perform comedy. As if they were some sort of barometer of good comedy, but Angry woman #1 was clearly in charge.

It got to this point:

Me: If I'm so horrible how is it I was hired here? How is it I have been performing for almost 21 years? How is it I make a living doing this?

Angry women #1: I don't know, you're just horrible.

This continued and the strange thing about this was club staff watched this take place and did nothing to stop it. I'm not sure what their thoughts were but most clubs would have escorted these women out for their behavior. I'm not calling them out but I'd be curious to find out why they didn't intervene. They must have assumed I could defend myself.

That's what I did, for nearly 10 minutes and ended with this:

Angry woman #1: Why don't you just fucking leave Boise, fucking leave Idaho and never fucking come back to Idaho!

Me: There is no way that will ever happen.

At this point Angry Woman #1 turned to continue speaking with the other 2 and thankfully they finally ignored me. The bad thing was I couldn't get up and leave. Had I done so they wold have won. They would have thought their attempt at emotional intimidation harmed me.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Afterward one the staff did tell me that they kept asking for my name. I sure hope they remembered what it was and they find this.

Here is my message to those women:

You are all obviously unhappy. Your attempt to force your unhappiness on me was a miserable failure. There is nothing someone like you could ever say to me that would have value and I certainly would never give your opinion any power. You don't deserve nor have your earned that.

I would wish you well but I already know that would be a waste of my time. You are way too happy wallowing in your own anger. I can assure you that you will be the agent of your own destruction. You will continue to make the people around you so miserable that one by one they will leave you. Eventually you will be all alone, left with nothing to comfort you but the resentment of those smart enough to get away from you.

The beauty of all this is that I don't need to worry about what happens to you, karma will take care of that. I'm pretty sure yours is going to run over you like a freight train.



Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created GreenRoomRadio.net a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is Vilmos.com.
Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/vilmosthecomic or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

A Watched Pot


Useless Fact: A watched pot never boils.

Everyone knows this is not true. As long as you put enough heat under the pot it's going to boil in the same amount of time whether you watch it or not.

A search on the Internet and common sense tells us that this old saying relates to patience. That when you are waiting for an outcome that it will inevitably seem to take longer than the time that actually passed. That you are better off occupying yourself doing other things. That once things are started (or put in motion) that your result will happen.

That's not the way things work in the entertainment industry. You don't just wait for "things to happen". If that is your plan you are destined for failure in this business. No one makes it by waiting for something to happen.

Just like with the kettle if you want something to boil faster you have to turn up the heat. In real life the heat is effort. Making it in the entertainment takes a lot of it. You can have all the talent in the world but if you just wait for something to happen, nothing ever will.

In the entertainment business you have to be impatient. There needs to be a sense of urgency in everything you do. That sense of urgency turns into motivation. It motivates you to go beyond your limits, to test your self. It gives you the strength to continue on against insurmountable odds.

That is how you succeed ...



Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created GreenRoomRadio.net a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is Vilmos.com.
Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/vilmosthecomic or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.