I'm in the middle of a major move (more on this in weeks to come) and in going through my copious archives, I discovered something very special about myself in an overflowing box of Howie Mandel memorabilia.
That's quite the opening sentence.
Years ago, 1985 to be exact, I cut my teeth cut my showbiz teeth co-promoting Howie's first-ever North American concert tour with my friend Rubin Fogel. I was 25 years old, and Howie was renowned as one of the stars of St. Elsewhere, which was a hit medical dramedy for NBC long before it was the title of a Gnarls Barkley album. Ironically, one of the biggest challenges we had was "selling" Howie as a comedian; due to the show, most of the local promoters we were dealing across the USA with had no idea he did stand-up.
Their educations, however, paled next to mine. I was way out of my league, but soldiered on with the bravest of faces, learning with every step, essentially "making it up as I was going along." I did my first-ever box-office settlements with slimy sharks, hustled shows and filled seats in slow markets, and stared down Teamster's Union Local #1 at Carnegie Hall to ensure Howie got what he needed.
Due to Howie's NBC shooting schedule, we could only work weekends, so over a period of 12 weeks starting in October, we hit the road every Friday morning and returned late Sunday or early Monday. There were seven of us who traveled from three different cities to meet up--myself, Howie, his brother Steve and father Al, who handled merchandise sales, his manager Terry Danuser, as well as comic Lou Dinos and troubadour Tommy G, Howie's friends and opening acts.
Later on that fall, we had some majestic moments at Carnegie Hall in New York, Universal Amphitheatre in L.A., taping an HBO special at the old Bismark Theater in Chicago, and greeting Steve Perry of Journey backstage in San Francisco (that's him with Howie in the photo above)...but the Howie Mandel Watusi Tour made an inauspicious debut in a dumpy, 1000-seat basement venue called the Westport Playhouse in a suburban St. Louis mall. We did four shows in two nights, a weekend I documented over six handwritten pages on the lonely flight home.
It was this mini-diary I recently found, unseen for two-and-a-half decades under a pile of ad mats and tour-stop checklists. Reading it was indeed a touching, near-hallucinogenic, Jules Verne-like experience. Here are a few excerpts:
"Thank God St. Louis is over! Although we sold out four shows solidly, it was a nightmare of surprises, screw-ups and misunderstandings...unfortunately, most on my part."
"The settlement! Oh, too many problems to even think about. Rip-off on catering, limo and especially comps (over 350 in all). Looks like we really got taken. Howie was fuming. I must admit, he's right. As Steve says, and jeeps on saying: 'A buck's a buck, watch the bottom line.' Oh well, next week, no catering, double-up on rooms for all of us...and hopefully no more screw-ups."
"I guess that's the nature of my job here--making sure that the screw-ups don't get out of hand. Let's face it, they're gonna happen. I just better make sure there's less and less of them...and that Howie is aware of the bare minimum."
"Randy, Larry's assistant, was quite the charmer (Larry Kelly was the owner of the Westport Playhouse). Petite, cute, waif-like, she claimed to be a country singer and spent most of her time chatting up either me, Lou or Tommy. As Howie put it, 'She wanted to get shtupped so badly'...but she ended up home alone. This is, again in Howie's words, 'A real Jewish tour--married family men, no drugs and an emphasis on money'."
"Next week--Kansas City and Cleveland. Grief? Has to be, but that's my job. Howie says he wants this tour to be fun...yeah, maybe in December, when it's over. For now, I just want to make things run smoother and keep Howie happy. If he has fun, and we improve the bottom line, I'll be okay. There'll be more and bigger tours. If not, well, Club Soda (a 500-seat Montreal venue), here I come!"
There's so much more, including some wild anecdotes of Lou's late-night misadventures with three St. Louis comedy "fans" named Laurie-Lee, Laura and Lori. Another place, another time.
Back to this blog's point--what I discovered, first and foremost, by time-traveling is that:
Experience and success don't necessarily remove one's insecurities, fears and worries.
Jeez, I STILL feel the same embarking on new projects...or even tackling the old ones. A quarter century later, with a legacy, boxes full of accolades and a few bucks in the bank...I'm still the kid in St. Louis.
Better yet, I don't really mind it. Such is the stomach of an entrepreneur I guess. If we knew "for sure," where would the challenge be?
Another lesson learned, equally as profound, is the importance of documenting your thoughts. Frankly, this is why I take some quiet time every weekend to do this blog; TypePad and Pow! have become my file boxes. The fact that you're reading is a delightful and appreciated bonus, but this I do for me (and my family, I suppose).
25 years from now, I'm looking forward to discovering even more about myself.
Hopefully, I'll be more confident.
Even more hopefully, I'll still be embarking on new projects.
EPILOGUE: I still speak to Howie on a somewhat regular basis.
Always been filled with admiration for him--first of all for being able to continually re-invent himself; secondly for his financial and marketing savvy, and most recently, for the courage he had writing his most revealing book "Here's The Deal: Don't Touch Me" which outlines his very serious battle with OCD.
And guess what--we're on the road again together! But this time I'm kinda his opening act as we both deliver keynotes at the upcoming Canadian Marketing Association Conference in Toronto this May.
This time though, there will someone ELSE to yell at if something screws up... ;)