John Cantu doing the door at the Zoo John doing the door at the Holy City Zoo

The Difference Between the Amateur and the Professional

by John Cantu ©

Q: "Will you always act?"

A: "Oh, I always think I'm going to give it up. You get the cold feet. You think, 'Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don't know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this? I don't have to do this. It is something I confront at the beginning of everything. I have to start out with nothing each time."
Reprinted from:(USA Weekend Nov. 29 - Dec. 1, 2002)

So who said these words of self-doubt and second guessing?

Meryl Streep. Yes, she is an actress and not a comic, but I see this self-doubt side of artists across the board.

And I have heard similar terms said in interviews over and over from artists of all stripes. Many feel that constant nagging self-fear, self-doubt.

And that is the different between the amateur and the pro. The amateur lets the fear(s) stop him/her. The pro doesn't.

Lessons in Running a Comedy Club from the Billy Joel and Elton John Four Week Tour
by John Cantu ©

This was an interview I read sometime ago. It reminded me of some principles I learned running a comedy club. The interview with Billy Joel is about a four-week tour he did with Elton John. The interview was done by Aidin Vaziri for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Cantu says, this first part is a good example of real world synergy and audience desires and perceptions:

A: This is a sissy tour. This is four weeks. This isn't even a rehearsal. By the time we get good we're going to have to stop. This is like a Madonna tour. It's not even a Billy Joel tour. It's a Billy and Elton tour, so I'm only doing half the work on stage.

Q: So you do half the work for all the money.

A: More money!

Q: How much more?

A: You want to give people a reason to hate my guts more? I'm making more money. It's one of those equations where 1 plus 1 equals 10. It doesn't make sense. It's like Simon and Garfinkel. If they go out together, they'll sell out stadiums.

But Paul Simon goes out on his own and he sells theaters. Now, who's the talent here? Paul Simon wrote all the songs, played the music. Garfinkel just stands there and sounds like a vanilla ice-cream cone. But them together, it's the big kahuna.

Cantu says: Like Billy Joel points out - the combo of Simon and Garfinkel is a monster act. But the solo performance of the talented one, Simon - is much less well-received. This is the intangible of show business dynamics that will drive you nuts if you let it.

It is a waste of your time and energy to look at another performer in a rage because said performer is not as talented or creative or funny as you, yet performer is getting ten times the bookings and 100 times the money as you.

Happens over and over again. Let it go or it will consume you with jealousy. Just get on with your life and career.

Q: Do you think you're into classical music now because you're having a mid-life crisis?

A: That might be part of the reason I'm writing the music I'm writing now. There's a certain longing in it. There's a certain desire for a romantic relationship. There's a certain sadness because things didn't go the way I wanted them to go. I find this to be a great source of inspiration.

Nothing turned out the way I thought it would. That made me a completely new person. I'm probably writing music now for the same reason I started writing songs when I was 14 - to meet women.

Q: You're back doing that again?

A: I never left that. It's always about that. People assume I'm writing for the audience or a record company. No way! I'm writing because I want to move a woman.

This is the first time I'm on the road and have no home. I'm not married. And I don't even have a girlfriend. I don't know what I am. This is going to be very interesting. No home, no life, no girlfriend. The only thing tethering me to the Earth is my daughter, otherwise, I would just float away

Cantu says: It's always about guy wants girl (or in the case of Elton John - guy wants guy.) Sex is the great motivator. Most comedians are frustrated rock stars who can't sing or play an instrument - so comedy is a way to meet girls.

Q: Do you meet a lot of women when you're on the road?

A: You know, we have a policy: We don't sell the first couple of rows of our shows. I got really sick and tired of the scalpers always getting the best tickets and selling to the fat cats who pay stupid money, sit in the front row with their gold chains and wives with beehive hairdos.

They don't move because they've paid a thousand dollars, so they just sit there like an oil painting. So we hold the tickets for the front rows, and we give the tickets to the roadies, who go to the worst seats in the house and give those people the front-row seats. Now, most of the roadies are guys, so who do you think most of those tickets go to? Cute girls.

So we're looking down, and - we're seeing all these cute girls jumping up and down. It turns the show into a whole new dynamic. It's like sex.

Cantu says: I am going to make a very, very politically incorrect confession here - but I live and work in the real world.

Let's say in the course of a week, 100 hundred women came through the door of the Holy City Zoo. Maybe 10% were college students and their main focus was studying; 10% were trying to succeed in business; 10% were into the outdoors and when they weren't in clubs, they spent most of their time hiking, biking and camping. Ten percent were readers and thinkers and they spent time in bookstores and museums, etc.

But 10% were what I classified as party girls - they liked to party and they liked to party with guys. And if they liked the guy they were not averse to sleeping with him. These were not prostitutes nor tramps - they were like the women in Sex in the City - everyday babes who enjoyed sex.

So, I always kept a mental list of the party girls. Whenever a media person was in the club doing a story (95% of the writers were male), I would always do two things. I would comp all his drinks and I'd look around the club for one of the party girls. I'd call her over and introduce her to the "media" guy.

If there was chemistry, I'd leave well enough alone. If not, I'd invite over a 2nd, if necessary a 3rd and let human nature and chemistry take its course. I had discovered if you make the media people happy, they write nice things about you.

Q: How does Elton John feel about this policy?

A: When we started touring with Elton, we explained this to him, and he thought it was a great idea. One night I saw a little light bulb off over his head. The next night, in all the seats in front of him were these cute young guys. And his show got better.

NEXT: Success in Comedy More than Just Laughter from the Audience