Sunday, December 20, 2009



Copyright (and that's no bull- it IS copyrighted, DO NOT reprint or steal this!) 2009
Christmas. That's one word that seems to make everybody light up with a smile. At least if they live in the Western world and don't worship Buddha or something - but even then, you know they'd dig on Santa since both those dudes have got bellies full of jelly.

But me? I've always hated Christmas.

Why, you ask? Spend five minutes with me in a bar on Christmas Day, and you'll be asking why NOT.

Take the fact that I was one of 17 kids. That's right, my mom was a regular baby factory, and I had to be 16th off the assembly line. So I didn't get the honor of being first, or the last, or even really being part of the middle. I was almost an afterthought.

But I try to put it in perspective. After all, I was only 16th out of 17. That jerk Osama bin Laden was like one of 55 kids. No wonder he grew up to be so angry. You never get any good presents when you're way down the list like us.

Then again, I'm not sayin' I don't miss those guys. I think about 'em every Christmas. It's hard not to, considering Momma and Daddy drove the family van over that cliff in the snowstorm when 15 of 'em were on board. They were going to sing in our town's Christmas pageant, and I happened to have a cold that day. So they left me with Grandma, and I survived. Just me and my baby sister.

So it's hard to get cheery over the Big Day. In fact, I don't even believe in it anymore. Not in Christmas, or Christ, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Passover, Eid, or anything the Hindus might be into. If there was a Big Man out there watching over us all, why would he let so much crap happen to one little guy like me?

And that's why it was so weird that I was called in for this job interview. I was about to be hired to play 36 straight hours of Christmas carols, from noon on Christmas Eve clear through Christmas Day, on a station called KCHR - otherwise known as "K-Christ," Chicago's number one Christian music station.

In other words, I'm hardly the perfect candidate for the job. But do you know anyone else who would do it? Working Christmas in radio is the ultimate sign that your career is in the toilet. It means you've got no one to spend it with, no one who cares, and an infinite amount of patience for songs about jing-jing-jingling and taking sleigh rides. Not to mention, trudging to work in Chicago, where it's always a white Christmas, whether Bing Crosby dreams of it or not.

But hey, I'm Travis Koback, and I'm a commodity. I used to be somebody. In fact, I was the #1 morning DJ in the city until that unfortunate incident involving the mayor's wife, a hotel suite and some unexpected news photographers. I never realized the mayor could have the power to get a guy like me fired, but hey, you learn something new every day.

I learned a few other things after that. Like if you're gonna rob a bank while dressed as Santa, make sure you have his shirt on right, so you don't have a bunch of witnesses describing you to the police as "a guy in a Santa suit, but his shirt was on backwards." That made it hard to claim they had the wrong guy when they caught me three blocks away.

I learned that even though we pay a lot of lip service in this country to getting second chances, making comebacks, and being "born again," most people really do hold grudges. No station would touch me with a ten-foot pole once everyone found out I was a convicted felon. But didn't they realize if they'd just give me a job again, I wouldn't have to steal?

But somehow I lucked out with the fine folks at K-Christ. The word was out on the street that nobody would take their Christmas gig, 'cause not only would you have to be cooped up in a glass booth for 36 hours, but you also would have to play their idea of traditional Christmas carols. No rock. No country, amazingly. Definitely no rap versions of "Away in a Manger." Nope, you were stuck with glorified elevator music that would put the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sleep.

But hey, I needed the dough. They were actually paying pretty good - $5000 for it. I mean, DJing on Christmas is about as much fun as kissing your sister, so they've gotta pay. And since they were paying, I decided to make the most of my interview and info session. I actually dressed up.

I suppose, getting "dressed up" is relative. The chick at the K-Christ reception desk didn't seem that impressed with my black pleather suit jacket, shirt and pants combo.

"Um.So you're the DJ?" she asked, her eyes wide open with wonder. Or, maybe it was a combination of fear and disgust. You never can really tell these days.

But nonetheless, she had a nameplate on her desk, and I scored points by calling her Maria before she could realize I was just reading it off the sign in front of her.

"Wow, you know my name? Cool. How'd you do that?" she asked, smiling like a sorority girl who just landed the perfect homecoming date.

"I'm, uh..psychic. It's a gift." I was kidding, of course, but she bought it hook, line and sinker. Within seconds, I was sent through to the manager's office.

The guy in charge at the station was typical management: suit, tie, perfect hair, and way uptight. I could tell he wasn't thrilled to meet me, and especially to hire me at this holiest of times.

"Do we need to refresh you on, um, FCC decency rules?" he asked, staring me straight in the eyes.

"I know, I know, there's seven words I can't say, like…" I replied, trying to appear confident. Instead, he almost jumped out of his seat while waving his hands at me.

"Stop, stop, no need to recite them," he said, looking like he was afraid of losing his job if he even heard a single one of those words even off the air.

He stood up and paced to his window, trying to impress me with his view of the Sears Tower. It was kinda strange, considering we and the station were in the JC Penney Building, which was only half the Sears Tower's size. It was like staring at success, right in our faces, and realizing we were only halfway there. Story of my life.

"Look, just to be safe, why don't you not say much of anything at all? Just say the time and who the song is by occasionally, maybe read the weather off, and say a Merry Christmas at the top of the hour," said the bossman. "Think you can be a good boy and handle that? We're paying you a lot of money to just play by the rules."

"Sure." I'm not stupid. I knew when to keep my mouth shut. Or at least I learned after the first million bucks in FCC fines. This guy had good reason to be scared based on my track record, but this was going to be two months of living money for a day and a half of work. My intentions, at least, were the best.

But as somebody smart once said, or wrote, or something, the best laid plans of mice and men often…um….well, they get smashed in a mousetrap.

The station's booth was a lot more advanced than I ever expected. I thought I'd be dealing with a station with a budget determined by bake sales and a lame-o turntable with a bunch of scratchy records that were one inch away from being dumped forever into a Salvation Army thrift store. But instead, it had a big ol' touchscreen computer that gave DJ's the chance to pick up to the next ten songs just by pushing a bunch of buttons on a screen.

Other than the fact I hated the music with my very existence, this would be a piece of cake. I hit the station's promo button the second I took my seat.

"K!C!H!R! K-Christ!"

The funny thing was, those plastic radio chorus voices actually sounded good, even if I didn't particularly care for the call letters or what they stood for. The important thing was that I was back on the air, even if they didn't promote it in any way. I was still in the heart of Chicago, and I knew that if I decided to give a damn, building an audience would be no sweat.

I gave myself a second to clear my throat and suck in my breath. Had to get rid of the rasp in my voice, and put my cigarette throat on their precious, wholesome wavelength. And I was gonna try and make it through this without relying on my good friends Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker.

Besides, I could afford to take a few moments - who the hell would be listening to a Christian station nowadays, besides a few hundred old ladies who couldn't hear well enough to notice whether I talked or was silent anyway?

But then again, it was Christmas Eve. If anyone with a pulse was ever going to tune in, it would be today.

"Good afternoon to ya, Chicago. It's that holiest of holidays, Christmas! And with Christmas comes Christmas Eve, and you know what that means."

Yeah, I knew they knew what that meant. It meant that some shmuck was gonna have to lock himself in a radio station and play every Christmas song known to man for the next 36 hours. But I couldn't actually SAY that.

"IT means we'll be playing those most precious of songs, Christmas carols! And OHHH, we've got lots of 'em, folks, so call in your requests now!"

Yeah, right. Piece of cake. No one was gonna call in. I mean, don't you forget how to use the phone after age 73?

"Here we go now, with a personal favorite of mine, 'Silent Night,' in that ever-popular Muzak format." I looked at the computer screen for a moment and finally hit the song's button. Whadaya know? It worked. Let there be crap!

God, I remembered when stations actually used records on the air. I mean, I'm only 45, but I've been on the air for 22 years. The mayor threw me a congratulations dinner party even. If only I hadn't tried to make his wife my dessert, I wouldn't be sitting here.

But I hadn't seen records in over a decade, except at Christmastime. Everyone used records for carols during the holiday season, 'cause it somehow made you feel a downhome warmth even if were an old Grinch like me. All things considered, though, this was gonna be kinda nice. I coulda been listening to my own record collection back home, but without this gig I woulda been living outdoors by New Year's.

Just then, a phone line had to light up.

Damn! I couldn't kick back for a second, could I? It was only 12:02 p.m. But I now realized my eight listeners wouldn't be hitting the sack just yet, and picked up the receiver.

"K-Christ. This is Travis. Merry Christmas," I droned.

'Yes, could you play 'Christmas in Killarney' by Bing Crosby for me?" Bingo. Some old bag over age 75. What a nightmare.

"I don't know, lady. Why do you wanna hear that? It's Christmas in Chicago, for cryin' out loud."

I really didn't wanna deal with this. But as the old lady released a startled gasp, I thought maybe I was being too harsh on her. It was Christmas, after all, and she believed in it even if I didn't.

"Awright, awright," I said. "At least it's not religious."

Another gasp from her. Then, a question.

"Who are you?"

"I told ya, lady. My name is Travis."

"Last name, I mean. I'm reporting you!"

"Good. I won't be here. I got this stupid, stinkin' shift as a one-shot deal. Ya think anyone else would work 36 hours straight on the most precious holiday of the year? Song's ending. I gotta run. Call's over."

Time to stare at the computer again and find a song that wouldn't make me want to kill myself. What a stupid frickin' life.

5:23 p.m. Over five hours of carols, carols, carols, CAROLS. Carols sung, carols spoken , carols in Muzak. It would've killed a lesser man by now. I knew I had to do something to protect my sanity.

When I signed the contract for this gig, I knew they wanted me to play every Christmas carol known to man. Problem was, the man who made the songlist didn't know too many carols.

It was time to hit the vaults, or at least dig through my own Superbox O'Christmas. Despite my aversion to all things Christmas on a personal level, I had built quite a collection of holiday tunes on vinyl over my years of having to play nice on the radio. And being the city's craziest DJ, a lot of 'em were WAY off from normal. I brought a big box of 'em over to the station with me just in case. After all, anything that would keep me from drinking had to be seen as helpful.

I slipped on "O Come All Ye Faithful" for the 23rd time. It was the perfect long song to go searching to.

But just that moment, I saw that the keychain they gave me had an extra key besides the one for the front door. It was one of those antique keys you see in haunted house movies, and it didn't seem to match any of the doors in the place - except for this one closet behind the booth.

I headed for that door and rattled that key like crazy. I also gave the door a good solid kick but we don't have to mention that, do we? Oops, just did.

Anywho, that door opened into a huge closet that.voila.was packed with tons of records, stacked high as the eye could see. Even higher, man, 'cause I had to climb up on a chair to see them all. Turns out they were left over from the previous station, which actually played good tunes.

Suddenly, my 36 hours wouldn't feel like another night in the drunk tank downtown. I couldn't take my eyes off the records, or keep my hands off them - until I realized that the last song had ended and I had accidentally left the station silent for over a minute now. Not that I had to worry, since everyone was probably sitting down to dinner right then.

I couldn't help cackling, though, as I realized one thing while running back into the booth with my hands full of vinyl: tonight, this city was gonna be dancing.

"OK, folks. Enough with the dead people's music. Screw the Perry Como, the Frank Sinatra and the Johnny Mathis Christmas albums. Forget about 'Sing Along with Mitch Miller.' It's time to dance along with Travis. We'll start slow and ease into a full night of frenzy. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time for CHA-CHA CHRISTMAS !!!"

I plunked down the needle, spun out of my chair and burst into a dancing frenzy as the switchboard lit up again.

"GOOOOOOOD evening. Or should I say God evening? You're feelin' nice with K-Christ."

"What do you think you're doing?" Another old woman, complaining because her heart was just jump-started by some Latin American carols.

"Spreading Christmas cheer. That's what I'm here for."

"Well, Perry Como was cheery enough for me. And I want to sing along with Mitch.'

"Well, too bad, you dried-up old…" Click on the other end. Conversation over.

Call on line two.

"Feliz Navidad!" I cried into the receiver.

"Yeah, right.You sound a lot nerdier on the air tha n a guy who would play cha-cha music during Christmas dinner."

Whoa. This was another lady, but at least she sounded like she might have a pulse and a heartbeat that wasn't regulated by medication. Stay cool, I thought, we could be onto something. Like a mattress, sometime soon.

"YOU sound alive." Cover up the surprise, man, I realized. "..with the Christmas spirit. What's going on at your place?"

"Let's just say I've never had my family dancing at the dinner table - especially not at Christmas." She sounded tentative, afraid of how to express her surprise, and most likely her thanks.

"So, is that good? Your parents are dancing?" I asked, leadingly.

"No, my kids!..And me," she said, embarrassed.

Hmmm. Could she be divorced, or singlle?

"And your husband?"

"He wants to know if you have 'Cumbia Christmas."

OK, what did I expect anyway? Even if she were single, she was most likely Christian. And that didn't fit with my game plan.

"I'll have to hunt for that one," I teased. "Are you regular, ardent supporters of K-Christ?"

"No, actually. It was the weirdest thing. My kids were flipping the dial, and they just thought it was the goofiest music they'd ever heard. We love it!"

Take a Valium, lady. Apparently, you don't listen to the Ramones.

"Well, I'll see what I can do, if you just do me a favor."

"Oh, sure. Anything, for bringing some life to Christmas."

Anything? Watch what you say, man.

"Call all of your friends for just a second and tell them to tune me in. Get your kids to call their friends, too. I wanna have more than just eight listeners out there. I wanna throw a party for Chicago. Got it?"

She laughed goofily. "OK, I guess so."

"I mean it now. Call them."

"OK, you got it."

"Whoa. 'Cha-Cha Christmas' is ending. You got your request too, then. Catch ya later."

I flipped smoothly through the records before making a perfect switch of the albums.

"It's Cumbia Christmas time, Chicago!"

8:54 p.m.

That lady must have a lot of friends. I hadn't been able to rest from answering the switchboard for hours. In fact, it was almost like the old days in the morning, when I was riding at KKOZ, #1 in the city. Those bastards. I was beginning to feel that maybe the city's radio fans - the true judges of talent - hadn't forgotten me. But then again, eighteen months without a job had been a mighty long time.

Trouble was brewing again. I'd already gone through all of the cha-cha stuff, and the mambo, samba and tango carols as well."Polka Christmas" was one album I really dreaded playing, but even that nightmare had come true. You can't avoid polka in Chicago. They might as well have a 24-hour polka station on the dial. Maybe a polka video channel, too.

All that was left to play were Christmas opera tunes. I leaned back in my chair as Jose Feliciano wailed "Feliz Navidad" for what must have been the 52nd time.

No way, man. I'd rather kill myself than play opera carols. Time to rock'n'roll. Time to reach into the old Christmas collection from KKOZ.

The needle was rising. OK, it was now or never. I reached down under the table and fumbled through the records. ANYTHING would do to get the party started. Switch!

"OK." Oh no, not that" I realized, but plowed forward with my next selection. "Here's somethin' for all you metalheads out there. ‘Back Door Santa’ by Bon Jovi. Rock on!” I switched off my mike for a second. I was about to gag.


10:07 p.m. Well, who woulda thought? Rock’n’roll carols were a success! The bluehairs were fast asleep after seven, and everyone else was ready for something to break the monotony. Sure, the station owners were upset about it, but what could they do? Skip church to come and remove me?

The first call after “Back Door Santa” had set off a tidal wave.

“K-Christ! How are ya?”

“Hey, man! This is like, fucking awesome!” Oh great, just the kind of call I was praying for all night – one that could get me thrown off the air. It was Attack of the Teenage Metalheads time.

“I’m your back door Santa, guaranteed to satisfy’??? Now you know why I’m an atheist, kid.” I couldn’t believe how that stupid song could get such wild popularity every Christmas. Why didn’t the band members’ moms break their instruments when they were kids?

“So, what are you doing listening to K-Christ, man? Shouldn’t you be listening to K-Metal?”

“Yeah, but they started getting a little mushy for my tastes, man. Playin’ “White Christmas” by a band like The Skinheads adds a whole new meaning to the song, ya know? I had to change the channel or wind up crying.”

“I know what you mean, man.” What the hell is wrong with America now? I knew every generation says that about the next one, but dammit -= I meant it.

“Tell all your friends, man. I’ll start taking requests no. I used to be at KKOZ. We had everything there, man.”

“Awesome! You got ‘Safety Pin Santa’, man? It’s off the ‘Punk Rock Christmas’ collection. It should complement the Bon Jovi quit nicely, don’tcha think?!”

“Lovely, my man. You got it.”

Christmas in Chicago would never be the same.

“Safety Pin Santa” might have gone too far, I realized, as I stared at the switchboard. The calls were running two-to-one against the tune. It seemed harmless enough. Who ever actually sees Santa anyway? How would they know he’s not into puncture wounds? But that was beside the point- the ones in favor were the kids, lots of them. Of course, not the little ones – they were traumatized. But the teens, the ones who really counted in the ratings, were back. They were mine again.

The problem was, I also was starting to catch some attention I didn’t want. From the mayor, for one. How was I supposed to know he listened to K-Christ every Christmas while hosting a major fundraising dinner? And how did I know his guests would get so damn upset over a song like “Elves in Bondage”?

Of course, I guess I could’ve put myself in the mayor’s shoes. Think about it – you’re opening your house on the most sacred day of the year to a houseful of donors, you set up what you think is gonna be some nice background music on the most Christian station in town, and then suddenly everyone notices that the songs are making thinly veiled references to Santa being quite naughty himself. .

Of course the guests are going to get upset. And of course, the mayor’s gonna want to know who the hell is on the radio, playing those songs in the first place. And then, when he figures out it’s the guy who was responsible for a front-page scandal involving his wife, he’s going to want to exact some revenge.

After all, he had the police department at his disposal. And as he dialed up the chief, he was ready to declare war.

“Travis Koback is back on the air. And I want you to take him off,” he told the chief. “Forever.”

Of course I knew i was crossing the line when I played “Elves in Bondage,” and obliterated it when I played “Santa Wants A Spanking,” but it was such an adrenaline rush that I just couldn’t stop! This was life on the edge, even more so since it wasn’t KKOZ with its high-priced ad campaigns. Here, I was really making people listen. A couple more hours, and it would be time for me to try my ultimate experiment. But for now, I told folks who were complaining that I would back off, and even played “White Christmas” for them. As an extra gesture of goodwill, I dug out the Bing Crosby version, instead of going for The Skinheads’ rendition.

I still couldn’t resist a dig, though.

”This is for all the folks who are dreaming of a white Christmas. What planet are you on, guys? I’ve lived in Chicago all 45 years of my life! When have we ever gone without snow on Christmas in this friggin’ city?”

That sealed it. Even crooks don’t work on Christmas Eve, so for lack of anything better to do, the city’s cops were tuned to that dial. And when their chief put out the call to take me down, they sprang into action. The playlist had truly strayed too far for the flock long ago, but now I’d angered the boys in blue.

It is often said that Christmas is the loneliest time of the year, that if you don’t have family or friends to share it with you really can feel like a loser. Well, I was supposed to abandon my friends Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker a few years ago, before I went into AA, but this night I knew I’d be facing a long dark time of the soul – and I sought out their company at a liquor store on the way into the station.

I had started to share my troubles with them slowly, with shots around 9 p.m. That wasn’t so bad – I had waited through 9 full hours of musical horrors before I finally succumbed to temptation. The problem was, they kept calling my name and asking me to join them for another glass, to pour another drink and then another and another...

And as I started to play wilder and wilder songs, and started to slur my words on air, i had unexpectedly drawn the attention of another “friend” besides the mayor. I didn’t know it, but Maria the station receptionist had decided it was time to help keep me under control – and, by extension, make sure I didn’t destroy the station.

“So, having a good time, Mr. Koback?”

I spun around so fast in my chair that I almost fell out of my seat. I still managed to throw up inside my mouth. I don’t recommend trying it.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked, after somehow managing to swallow.

“You sound like you could use a friend. Or at least a supervisor.” She was leaning against the side of the booth door – wearing a checkered skirt that looked like a Catholic schoolgirl’s uniform. Since it was Christmas, I refrained from making a pass. But still – she just radiated with confidence, something I never noticed when I assumed she was a dumb peon the other day.

I was impressed.

“Don’t you have someone you’re leaving really, really lonely right now?” I asked.

“Nope. Christmas kinda sucks for me.”

“Join the club. What’s your story? Dead family?”

She flinched in shock.


I realized I better explain, or she’d think I was laughing at the saddest thing imaginable.

“I’ve got dead family. Fifteen siblings. All died on Christmas when i was a kid.”

She was stunned. I guess anyone would be.

“But...I know you have a sister.”

“Come on, Maria. I can call you Maria, right?”

She nodded. “That’s still my name.”

“Well, my sister and I might as well be dead to each other. We don’t talk. She thinks I’m the worst possible influence imaginable for her kids,” I said, taking another deep swig of Johnnie Walker. “I don’t know what gave her that impression. A real bug up her butt. I think it’s her husband, actually.”

“Come on. Surely you can find something to blame yourself for.”

“My whole life is a blame game, sister. I’m 45 with no kids, I’ve been banned from radio, the one thing I love doing, for years, I’m stuck playing holiday tunes for a holiday I don’t even believe in, and I just can’t seem to get a handle on how to stop drinking.” I took another swig. “I’m a real catch, babydoll.”

“You used to be. I heard about you. Nothing says you can’t be again.”

“You hittin’ on me, sugar?”

“Ewww, no!” I think she was serious, not just covering up for truly having an interest in me. You don’t yell “Ewwww” that loudly without meaning it.

“Well, it’s up to you if you wanna change,” she said.

“Yeah, yeah. I can do anything I set my mind to. I went to the meetings for years, so spare me the advice portion of today’s little talk.”

“I can make it happen right now.”

“Yeah, so can I. Watch me.”

If Maria had really wanted to avoid all the trouble that followed, she could have stopped me from what I said next. But looking back now, all these years later, I realize she was secretly getting a thrill from the moment.

It was 12:54 a.m. by then, as I leaned into the mic and really started to stir up some trouble.

“That was the incomparable ‘Christmas in Hollis’ by my absolute favorite holiday artist ever, Run-DMC.”

The needle lifted out of the groove. I hunched forward and stared at it as it slid back into its resting position. I started to talk, actually trying to sound quiet and subtle.

“Folks, fellow Chicagoans, this is your good buddy Travis. I’ve been here almost 13 hours, working very hard to bring some spice, some originality to your Christmas festivities. You’ve allowed me to enter your homes and your hearts, but in turn, you’ve made me suffer a lot of things – Madonna squealing her way through ‘Santa Baby,’ the Ramones’ ‘I Killed Santa Claus Because He Screwed My Girlfriend’....Don’t make me go on listing the atrocities to the Christmas spirit.

“Now ‘Punk Rock Christmas’ is finished, ‘Christmas Rap’ is tapped out, and I’ve even played all the way through ‘Tiny Tim’s Christmas Surprise.’ Folks, I’m OUT. My collection is finished, the station’s vaults have been emptied, and I am done. We are scraping the bottom of the barrel for your Christmas caroling pleasure.

“That why I need you,” I implored, my voice plumbing the depths of false emotion. “I know you all have some special record of carols that’s dear to your heart, that maybe no one else remembers.”

Or cares about.

“But in your special way, I want you to show that you care for my efforts, my spent energy. I want you to stand up for once and show New York City that they don’t have a thing on us! If they can throw a part in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, why can’t we rock on Christmas Eve? Let’s start our own tradition! Come on down to the J.C. Penney Building and we’ll party!”

The switchboard lit up again. I had known in my gut that people were still listening. A metalhead was on the line.

“Hey man, like where IS the JC Penney Building? I’ve never even heard of it!”

Figures, I thought. KKOZ was on top of the Sears Tower, and everyone knew where that was. But not K-Christ. It had to be on top of a building less than half as tall and which no one even knew existed.

“OK folks, it’s really quite simple. You had downtown on Addison Street and turn off onto Hayes Boulevard.”

“How do we know which building it is, man?”

“it says JC Penney on it, butthead. Merry Christmas.”

Click. The studio was silent. Maria was just staring at me like I was crazy for inviting the whole city down. Maybe I was. It was the last quiet moment of my shift, but then, i always hated silence.


Speaking of crazy, I knew there was one other person I had to get involved in this mess. It was pure instinct that led me to make my next move. Hell, I’d been accepting calls for thirteen hours, so why couldn’t I make one?

It was time to call my best buddy “Crazy Larry” Waterston. He’d been my partner for eight years at KKOZ, flying a helicopter over Chicago’s streets and highways to give a verbal picture of the traffic jams each morning. But working together always involved more than that. Everything was ratings, listeners, teens, power.

Almost every morning required another publicity stunt – another low swoop to virtually scrape the paint off some car roofs, or pulling zig-zag, side-to-side maneuvers through the sky. He lived for the excitement, and he had the cojones to actually fly, while I locked myself away – king of a switchboard, master of the radio dial.

So when I got canned after that whole incident with the mayor’s wife (sorry, I still can’t explain it to you. Court orders!!!) Larry lost his gig too. He would’ve quit to show his solidarity with me anyway, ‘cause if he learned one thing in ‘Nam, it was the essence of teamwork. And as my phone call throttled his eardrums and shook him awake in the wee hours of Christmas, he was ready to act on the few principles he had left.

“What?!” he groaned into the receiver. I could hear a crowd in the background. Damn, even on Christmas morning, he had gone to the Off-Track Betting parlor to drink himself to sleep. Well, I told you he was asleep – I didn’t say where.

“This is Travis, man. How’s it going?”

“For God’s sake! Whaddaya think you’re doing, calling me at this hour?”

“What?! You? Asleep? At any hour? Much less before dawn on Christmas morning? I know you’re at the OTB, man. Probably wearing the same Santa suit you’ve been bumming money with the last few years.”

There was a pause on the line. I knew he was staring at his clothes, wondering how I always knew how to guess right. He indeed was in his Santa suit, although it was one decorated in Technicolor hurl. Not his Technicolor, mind you – but that of one of the 500 kids he’d seen that day as they sat on his lap outside Marshall Fields, where he was able to spare parents the hourlong wait for the “real” Santa inside the store and talk to their rugrats for a buck apiece.

“I’m gonna hafta get you back in fighting shape,” I said. “I’ve got a mission for ya.”

“Christ, man.” Larry’s head was rocked by the gelatinous mass within.

“No, K-Christ!”

“K-Christ?” Larry rolled his seat round and managed somehow to stand on his own two feet. “Have ya lost all your principles? Man, you’re in the JC Penney Building!”

“It’s a job, which is more than you can say for yourself. Just listen to me. I’ve got just a LEETLE favor for you.”

Watch out, Larry thought. Think, man.

“What?” I recognized his tone; it was the height of skepticism.

“Steal the KKOZ copter from the top of the Sears Tower.”

The words tumbled out of my mouth, quietly, so that Maria couldn’t hear me as she stepped outside the booth and disappeared into some file cabinets. I also was hoping to win him over by confusing him. No dice.

“Are you crazy?!”

“No, but you are, Larry. Remember how it felt? Crazy Larry! Crazy Larry! Crazy Larry!” I chanted, beating out a rhythm with my hands on the countertop.

Larry sat quietly. I could tell he was thinking, adding it all up. He didn’t have a woman around to piss off if he left on the spur of the moment. In fact, he hadn’t had a woman in his life since the day he was fired and his wife left him after the stunt with the mayor’s wife almost eight years ago.

Now the thought shook him even further awake. It would be great for him to get that old adrenaline rush back, the thrill of flying coursing through his veins. Not only flying, but breaking into the Sears Tower on Christmas Eve, of all nights, and stealing his old copter back. Whoa. Back on the airwaves?

“You betcha,” he cackled.


The second I hung up, I realized Maria had been standing behind me and listening. She just wouldn’t stop pushing my buttons. Couldn’t she see that my entire goal right then was to get plastered and be left alone with the sound of music and the low buzz of the phones?

Instead, she picked that moment to surprise me.

“I think I found you something you’ll like for Christmas.”

“Umm, I really don’t think I should be messing around with you while I’m still having to play the music…”

She rolled her eyes again.

“Take a look behind me, Travis. If that doesn’t make you feel better, then, well.. I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do.”

And just then, I saw what she was talking about. My sister Jenny came walking into the booth. She looked a little sad, but more importantly she looked like she was ready to just see me. Me. No one had come by to visit me at work, home, or anywhere in...well, just so long.

“How’d you…? You know…?” I asked.

Maria waved a folder she had in her hands.

“I checked out your personnel records before I walked in here tonight. You listed your sister as your next of kin on your contract.”

“You’re crafty. But…That’s good.”

“Just shut up and hug each other,” she winked, looking at both of us.

A dance remix of Lou Rawls singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” echoed through the booth. He had just died a few days before, and he sounded like he was singing from the beyond – and right just then, he may as well have been. I had grown up hearing that song without the creepy dance beats over it, and just then it was the perfect song to take me back to the perfect Christmases before that damn van accident ruined everything.

Jenny looked good, though she did have a bit of middle-aged-mom pudge and she had turned into one of those PTA ladies I used to laugh at when i was about twelve. But hey, we all get older, and I wasn’t so easy to look at myself. It was instinct to wanna hug each other, and so I stood up and threw my arms open.

She came towards me, ready to return the hug, but I could tell the moment she flinched and decided just to shake my hand instead. She got a little too close to the bad-breath residue i had from almost yakking a few minutes before, and besides I had the whiskey breath and hadn’t showered yesterday, and my coat, well, it smelled what you could charitably describe as “ripe.”

“That’s OK, Jenny, i understand I’m a bit, well, ripe. Kinda like old Swiss cheese I guess,” i said as i took a quick whiff.

“Um, yeah...Don’t worry about it. It’s just nice to see you, Trav.” She smiled. It was sincere. And it was just what i needed. We both looked over at Maria to show her our thanks for hooking this up. It wasn’t necessary to say anything, she was a smart gal and could tell by looking us in the eyes that this meant something. A lot, actually.

“So, where are the kids?” I asked. She had five of ‘em, like I told ya, and damned if I wasn’t going to see them too.

That made her a little bit nervous, but hey.

“They’re outside, in the SUV. With Jack.”

Oh boy, her husband. We never really got along, ever since I poked fun at the fact he made a living marketing tampons. He didn’t think it was appropriate humor at a Thanksgiving dinner in front of his children. But then again, we all have our opinions.

“At least he’s here, I guess. Even the Cold War ended, I guess it’s our turn.”

“So, call ‘em in?”

”Sure.” We smiled at each other again. I hadn’t really smiled, i mean genuinely smiled, in so long.

“Hey, why not? He’s already got the whole rest of the city coming,” Maria said, rolling her eyes.

“Yeah...I noticed a crowd out there...Didn’t really know why,” said Jenny as she dialed her cell. “Yeah, bring ‘em up....Um, yeah. Kinda ripe.”

Great. I could tell she was describing my condition to Jack. Then again, it would have to be up to me to make a better impression tonight.

But I still didn’t really believe I’d convinced anyone to show up downtown. I was just talking out of my ass, lonely, speculating, wondering if i had any DJ superpowers left.

“So, you say there’s a crowd out there?” I asked Jenny, my disbelief coating every syllable.

She grabbed ahold of the cords that controlled the window blinds, and told me to look outside. Maria came up to the glass with me, and we both had the same reaction.

“Holy crap!”

I looked at her like we had a magic psychic moment between us. She just looked at me like “Dude, you better control this situation.”

The situation had indeed occurred. There were at least 2000 people down below, waiting outside to see what I’d do next. And there were thousands more driving in on the streets, as far as the eye could see. The police were NOT going to be happy with me.

But I’d gone too far to head back now.


1:42 a.m. The streets below were filling up as I looked down from the rooftop of the JC Penney Building. I had held the city’s attention before, but never quite like this. Before, it had been calls on the switchboard, letters after my firing. Supportive letters, mostly. The kids usually saw anything unusual as cool, regardless of the politics behind it. The whole world had been altered for them by Jon Stewart and David Letterman; every experience was filtered through his sarcastic vision.; All of America was a friggin’ TV show to them.

But hell, this would make a heck of a gag on the Dave show, though I was sure this would be even bigger. All the local channels would cover it, then maybe feed it to the networks. Not just a Letterman skit, but a joke on the opening monologue, maybe even a guest spot on there – and with Jay, Craig and Conan too.

“Yeah, baby, you’ve got ‘em. Bigger than ever,” I told myself. But it was time to get back in the studio. God only knows what Jenny’s little rugrats were doing in there. And besides, I still didn’t trust Jack not to sabotage every piece of equipment he could get his hands on.

********************************************************************************************”Hey, hey, hey! Merry Christmas, Chicago! Looks like you’re really giving a damn about your city for once. Screw New York! Here come the headlines!”

And the KKOZ copter. I recognized the sounds of its blades, slicing the air over the horizon. Too long, baby! It had been too long since I’d heard that helicopter getting set to land and touching down on a rooftop above me. And even better, I now knew that Crazy Larry could still come through.

With a floor-shaking thud, Larry had landed. The wind from the propellers always whipped his hair into a frenzy, making him look like a white guy with Don King’s hair, as he made the dash from the copter to my studio. As he pounded on the studio door, I almost choked up. And this time, without any puke. It was just pure emotion I was feeling.

It almost made me forget the fact that Jenny, Jack and their kids were running helter skelter through the station offices, playing the most destructive game of tag I’d ever seen. But what did I care? It wasn’t my workplace past midnight on Christmas, so I let Maria hopelessly attempt to play sheriff.

I had more important things to deal with – like getting Larry into the studio.

“Tada! Boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages!” I boomed into my hand-held mic, throwing my hands out and feeling for all the world like a Ringling Bros. ringmaster as everyone froze and stared at me like I’d just gone loco. “We’ve got an extra special treat for you now – the return of Crazy Larry!”

He burst through the door, further stunning Maria and my entire remaining family.

“Why yes, folks! The crowd below was just going wild!” Larry screamed into the mic, back in his element. “I’m going to be here to help direct traffic for all of you as you race through the city to come see us. So come on down!”

Little did we realize, even more of Chicago’s finest boys in blue were about to take Larry up on that offer. KKOZ’s DJ had just regained consciousness and called to report a stolen copter.


2:18 a.m. Back on the rooftop, hop hop hopping – to fight off the brutal cold. Looking down, the crowd just kept getting bigger and bigger, and it was now turning into a lightning rod for every bizarre group of people in the city. There were clusters of teens out there – ones who wouldn’t stay home on even this most allegedly holy of nights. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

There were other groups, too – pro and antiwar protesters pushing up against each other, fighting for room and slogan-shouting attention against civil rights groups and neo-Nazi skinheads, and even whole families bringing their kids to see a spectacle of activity unseen in Chicago since the police busted down the Democratic Convention of 1968.

This could get ugly, I realized. I didn’t expect this to actually HAPPEN. I didn’t really think anyone would come down to the station and expect to get in, especially early Christmas morning. And apparently, I wasn’t the only one surprised by it all – because just then the K-Christ Listeners Board showed up to have their own protest. A protest against me !

But frankly, that’s what thrilled me most of all. If old folks were rousing themselves from sleep and onto the streets with a collective battlecry, I knew I was onto something.

And Crazy Larry was out trying to rev up the escapade, flying over the city and directing the miles of traffic that were forming on the expressways. This was turning into the biggest mess of his career. But he was also helping me create a little diversionary tactic to fend off the police and a takeover of the studio by their own copter patrols.

“This is Crazy Larry Waterston on K-Christ 103! This city’s a madhouse! Who woulda thunk it? I’m flying over Lake Michigan now, and holy cow! Some idio’ts pulled a ‘Risky Business’ move with his car and drove it right into the lake!. It’s sinking, and he’s going down with it. Good Lord! There’s a baby there too! Get some choppers down here, now!”

Larry pulled away into the night sky so the cops wouldn’t be able to catch him too quickly for lying, while I had to act quickly myself to keep people moving towards the JC Penney Building instead of towards the fake accident. I ran back inside to the control booth.

“Kinda rough about the family there, huh? Nothing you can do ‘bout it, though. But we got some incredible door prizes here!”

2:31 a.m. The first wave of squad cars had arrived. I could hear the sirens below as Larry zoomed in just over them for a closeup sound check.

“Whoa! You should see the officers duck! I wouldn’t be too sure of their confidence in a crisis situation, folks. Heh, heh, heh!” Larry cackled. For him, it was almost like doing a treetop run over the Vietnamese jungle again.

Maria and Jenny weren’t being too helpful, though. This wasn’t the time I needed to hear doubting, but they were freaking out – to put it kindly.

“Travis Koback, you’d better leave this station in one piece, or it’s my head that’s rolling on Monday!” I always liked to see a woman get tough, and right now Maria was putting the “grrrr” in aggressive. It was kinda hot, to tell you the truth. But with Jenny, her kids and her tool of a husband there, it was impossible to do anything with the moment.

“Calm down!” was the only thing I could think of blurting out.

“She’s right, Trav. I’ve got kids here to worry about!” Jenny was yelling, and that was the last thing I wanted to hear. Not that I blamed her at that moment. I imagine I would’ve been protective if I had kids in a situation like this. But then, that’s a big hypothetical – because how many people ever find themselves in a situation like this?!

But I did feel bad about her being worried. I grabbed Jenny’s shoulders firmly and looked her right in the eyes.

“We’re going to get through this,” I said.

She started to calm down, and I looked around for her kids. Turns out they were fine little troopers, just sitting in swivel chairs and spinning each other around. They didn’t even know what was going on. All they cared about was seeing who would wind up puking first from all the motion sickness they were giving themselves.

Jenny’s husband Jack, on the other hand, was cowering in a corner in the fetal position. I couldn’t deal with that. I knew the officers would be storming the building the second they recovered from the shock of Crazy Larry’s flyover. So I put the Sex Pistols’ rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful” on the turntable and ran for the elevators.

Well, first I kicked him a little to get him up.

“Come on, man! Grow some stones!”

“Eeyow!” he squealed.

“Dude, I don’t have time for pussyfootin’ around! You’re an electrician, right?”

“Um…yeah?” He sounded REALLY worried.

“Then you’re coming with me!”

“Jenny?!” He squealed again.

She actually crossed her arms and stood her ground while towering over Jack as he lay on the floor.

“He’s right, Jack. Go with him. What could he possibly do that could hurt you?”.

I looked at her funny. “Oh, gee, thanks, sis.”

“Hey, don’t forget who gave you a wedgie anytime you tried to snag the TV remote.”

“Touche,” I replied.

It didn’t take me too long to find a way. Jack did actually get up and followed me as I handed the booth controls over to Maria. We were heading for the elevators.

But we weren’t going for a ride. In fact, we were about to stop the cops from taking one either.

‘We could get arrested for this,” said Jack, as he fidgeted with the wires.

“Like they’re not gonna take us in to the county jail already,” I scoffed.

It didn’t take Jack long to disconnect the elevators. He was one of those guys you see in the movies who actually know what each color of wire means, meaning he could defuse or disconnect anything from a bomb to a car ignition. And the second I saw the cars’ power go out, I cackled.

I could just picture a hundred of our fine city’s overweight donut jockeys going into shock at the realization they might have to break a sweat by climbing the stairwells to the top. Now that was a feeling of control.

I thought I could get used to this. How little I knew it would all (well, mostly) go away before sunrise> But for that short time, I knew the Chicago police force was in for more exercise than a triathlon could provide. I walked back into the sound booth cocky as hell. Everything was in place.

3:18 a.m. I had given up on playing records half an hour ago. I had to focus on my in-person audience of my adoring fans now, not to mention catching up with my sister, her kids, Jack and all the while laying the groundwork to hit on Maria when all this was over. Who has time for music?!

So we threw an on-the-spot studio party for everyone, standing on the JC Penney Building rooftop with a helluva mic in my hand and my sis, nieces and nephews bundled up around me as I led the crowd down below in a live, on-air singalong.

I took my cues from tradition, and began by copying the Beatles’ famous rooftop concert and led the crowd through rockin’ renditions of “I Get By With A Little Help from My Friends” and “Ob La Di, Ob La Da.” Then on top of it all, was “Hey Jude” – there’s nothing like hearing the “Na Na Na Na” chorus sung by 100,000 Chicagoans. It would have brought a tear to my eye, if I believed in tears. But seeing all these groups that usually hated each other together was pretty amazing.

I then leaped into U2 mode, ripping off their ripoff of the Beatles by howling my way through “Where The Streets Have No Name” while the crowd contributed a riveting “OW OH UH” at the chorus. Pure magic. It was time to get to the point. The officers might be halfway up the stairs by now, and the helicopter squad probably already had figured out the Lake Michigan disaster report for the scam that it was.

“OK, folks. You’ve been great so far. I never thought I’d see the Ku Klux Klan and the NAACP members locked arm in arm, swaying side-by-side singing ‘Kumbaya,’ and the same for all you war mongering soldiers hugging your peacenik brothers while grunting “OW OH UH.” Even you, the K-Christ board members, singing along to ‘Let It Be.’ You might wanna remember those three words when ya leave here, though. It’ll save you a lot of grief and the money from your ulcer medications.

“But what we’re going to do here may seem silly. I want you to join in, though. When I yell out something, I want you to call it back to me and maybe act it out a little. OK?”

One hundred thousand people screamed out their agreement as one. Whatta city.

“Run!” I yelled, trotting along the edge of the building.

“RUN!” The crowd yelled back in a thundering roar. They ran, too. It was like seeing a cattle stampede. Problem was, they kept running, even after I stopped.

For a moment, I thought about just letting them run. This was incredible. But letting 100,000 people hurtle through ice-covered streets with no clear direction, goal or end point could have resulted in more sheer carnage than running the bulls at Pamplona. Not a good idea, in other words.

“Come back!” I yelled, and they just stopped and stared up at me for a second. I realized I was actually going to have to lead them every step of the way. This was getting scary, but I ran back a few feet the other way along the roof’s edge.

“COME BACK!” the crowd finally replied, and ran back to their original positions.

What morons, I thought to myself in stunned silence. I had just wanted them to come back, not yell the command back to me.

“Your fans are the stupidest people I’ve ever seen!” Maria blurted.

Frankly, at that moment, I agreed with her. But to admit they were stupid was to admit that I was, too. I had to defend their honor.

“Hey, they’re your station’s fans too.”

Good one, Travis. Now I had just taken things all the way down to a 7-year-old, I’m rubber and you’re glue, level of namecalling. But I couldn’t keep it up.

Maria was bundled up in her coat, her face bright red from freezing, and she was still adorable as hell. I liked women who spoke their minds. I wanted to go over and hug her tight. But then my sister had to pile it on too.

“She’s right, you know,” said Jenny.

“Yeah…thanks, sis.” I looked back at her rugrats. They had the biggest grins I’d ever seen, and were jumping up and down waiting to see what my next command was gonna be. Jack was just wheezing for air and had a look on his face like he was pleading for me to stop – meaning he was following me too. I felt justified.

“Look, your kids are following me too…” I said, daring my sister to challenge me.

“They’re all under ten years old, Travis! God!” She had a point. But then, there WAS the matter of Jack, her own husband, following me.

“He’s a sheep, Travis. Like the rest of them,” said Jenny, frustration in every note of her voice.

Jack and I blurted out a reply at the same time. “What are you talking about?” We had never thought on anywhere NEAR the same wavelength before. So now we were stared at each other and did what two guys had to do in that situation: we slapped hands and cackled, “Jinx! Buy me a Coke!”

Jenny just headed for the studio and a break from the madness around her. If I’d really thought about things, I probably would have realized how screwed up things were when I was getting along with Jack better than Jenny, but hey, I had 100,000 people to look out for. And maybe I could cut the guy a break after all. It was Christmas, after all. It may not have meant much to me, but it did seem to be a pretty good time to make peace. We stuck out our arms and pumped fists again while his kids just laughed.

I looked back down at the crowd, and saw that they were staring back up at me too, like I was a god. Just because of the stupid microphone and a radio tower to broadcast what I had to say. I could say anything now, but I decided to have a little more fun.

“Sit!” They dropped in place like boulders. Too good to be believed.

“Stand!” They jumped up at once. I oughta tell them to bark like a dog, I thought.

There wasn’t time for that, though. I could hear the police SWAT team breaking through the rooftop door now.

Larry was also veering back in over the horizon. Maybe he could figure out how to save me.

Another ten seconds or so and the cops would be across the rooftop, next to me, grabbing me and dragging my body down 55 flights of stairs. And this time, I knew they wouldn’t just let me go. Truly speaking your mind and using it to lead 100,000 people in any time or place was too dangerous for them. Free speech was longer free.

I didn’t want them to take me, but I certainly didn’t expect what happened next. As the lead officer threw open the rooftop door, I ordered everyone on the roof to get away from me. This was gonna have to be my standoff, my fight.

“FREEZE!” yelled the lead officer.

“No problem, man! I’m frozen already!” I snapped back.

So it had come to this. I had gotten the whole city riled up again, broke through decades of bad blood with my sister and especially with Jack, and felt like I was The MAN again…All to be told to calm down and go inside, where they wouldn’t just calm me down, but would take me to jail for 7 to 10 years.

The cops would have to come get me if they wanted me. I didn’t budge an inch. But as I shared one last glance at the crowd and then looked at the faces of my sister’s kids, my sister and her husband, with a final stolen glance at Maria, the officers eased ever closer across the ice towards me.

And then, just before they tried to cuff me, Maria jumped out and gave me a hug.

She didn’t even flinch at my ripeness.

“You did good,” she said.

“Whadaya mean? I made a mess of this city.”

“No, you showed 100,000 people that they weren’t alone on Christmas Eve. They might’ve been stuck on their own, or families might’ve been miserable even if they were together, but you gave them a place to go and be part of something bigger.”

“Oh, don’t go all deep on me now.”

“Fine. You did it for me, then. I had nowhere else to go either.”

She pulled back and looked at me then, and I realized I could really dig this girl. Maybe even get to know her better and wind up having rugrats of my own with her someday.

But before I could get all drippy with visions of happily ever after, the craziest, most amazing thing of all happened: the lead officer was just about to split us up and arrest me, but he slipped. And as he slid towards us, he knocked Maria and me clear off the rooftop and out into the night sky.

I could only imagine the shock waves that were running through Crazy Larry’s mind at that moment. I was pretty shocked myself. And Maria, well, she wasn’t exactly talking. More like shrieking, while grabbing me so tight her fingers were practically tearing straight through my coat.

I must say, Larry tried his best to help us. He had seen plenty of dangerous things happen back in his ‘Nam days, and he’d saved plenty of guys from plenty of dangerous situations. But no matter how fast he tried to speed his chopper towards us, in the hopes of us catching onto his landing gear, he just couldn’t get close enough. Too many damn skyscrapers in the way.

Besides, he’d heard me talk plenty the last few years about wishing I could just jump off a roof somewhere and go out with one last blast of publicity. He figured there was no stopping me from doing that, but he really wasn’t thinking straight – I would never take a beautiful woman like Maria down with me.

Even so, Larry opted not to watch. He turned the chopper away from me after offering one last wave goodbye, and flew off into the night, crying. He had never even cried in ‘Nam.

Meanwhile, the entire group of police officers had run up to the edge of the rooftop, looking down at us as if we were just floating gracefully through the Windy City’s night sky.

“Look at ‘em go,” said a young officer in awe – well at least according to the lawsuit transcripts. And I must admit, even as we seemed to be hurtling towards certain death, Maria and I were a rather spectacular sight.

And for a few moments, there did seem to be gusts of wind strong enough to almost hold us in place mid-air or even lifting us back up a little bit at a time. It gave me more of a chance to notice things, that’s for sure.. Like the fact that my sister was on the rooftop also, waving while her husband tried to take one last picture of us.

“Cheese!” he yelled, and I did my best to crack a smile. But I was really smiling at Jenny. She had made me so happy by showing up. And her kids…Well, they were there too, and I had to give ‘em some advice to remember me with.

“Listen to your mom and dad, brush your teeth twice a day…and….don’t be afraid to take chances in life!” I yelled. That last part made Maria speak up. She had finally stopped shrieking and had fallen into stunned silence, but apparently she still had an opinion.

“Take chances?! Are you KIDDING?! That’s how we wound up here!”

Well, that was true. But I felt if I was gonna die early, at least I was going out with a bang.

As the wind tossed us around and made me face the sidewalk below, I decided to just accept my fate. Spinning through the Christmas morning air was magical, in a way. I was finally flying. Now I knew I shoulda taken up Larry’s offers of flight lessons.

But people were so stupid, though. Nowadays they seemed to listen to anything you said, whether in politics or the news or the media. If your face was on a screen or your voice was on the airwaves, you were nothing less than a god.

Ooh, I noticed Channel 4’s cameras now! Should I wave, or just do the “4-is-#1” sign with my fingers like the rest of the city does at the end of each night’s newscast? Wow! I realized we were sure to make the 6 o’clock news now.

But it was kinda sad, though. I could have changed “Seig, heil!” up there and they woulda listened. A Nazi rally in downtown Chicago, and they wouldn’t have even noticed.

“I hate you!” Maria yelled, just to get in one last dig.

And then I said it: the seemingly Craziest Thought Ever, at least coming from an atheist like me. But then they always say there are no atheists in foxholes. And I suppose that applies to when you’re falling 55 stories down onto concrete.

“Let go and let God, sugar,” I replied. And she tucked her head in my chest even tighter.

And that’s when I realized I had thousands of people down there, willing to do whatever I said. And if there were really enough of them, maybe we could all save each other.

“Raise your hands!” I screamed.

The crowd below each shot up one arm, as if I was calling on them to answer a question in the world’s largest third grade classroom. Morons.


And they did it. And we hurtled towards them, the world’s biggest mosh pit. And thanks to a couple of miraculously placed fat people, we suddenly had cushioning in place.

“HALLELUJAH!” I shrieked. Then I closed my eyes and just let it happen.

It’s funny how different things can turn out from what you expect. I expected to slowly lose my sanity while playing those Christmas songs, and at some point either that night or a night soon after to pop a few pills or a shotgun in my mouth and end it all. And I assumed my sister had no interest in ever speaking to me again, that her kids wouldn’t either, and her husband…well, I didn’t care about him speaking to me either.

And that night, that moment as I shrieked to the heavens in what I thought was my last moment of pure, unbridled joy, I thought I was making a last kamikaze dive into a next world I hadn’t believed existed a mere 18 hours before.

And because I believed, God suddenly decided to really show me a sign.

We didn’t die. OF course, you might’ve figured that out by now considering I’m telling you the story, but it was still a surprise to me, Channel 4, 100,000 Chicagoans, the Chicago PD and especially, the mayor. All those people raising their hands caught us, and any resistance from all the people sharing the brunt of it was absorbed by them falling into the fatties.

They still put Maria and me into the hospital for observation. Ya know, to prove I wasn’t crazy and she hadn’t broken any bones. But cooped up next to each other, divided only by a curtain for four days, me and Maria got to know each other pretty well. And she did turn out to be everything I thought of that night as I got to know her: funny, sophisticated, innocent yet sexy all at the same time. And she came to dig me too: enough to marry me, even.

The wedding made plenty of news too, but the totally good kind this time. It was a nice one, but what do you expect when the City of Chicago was paying for it through the settlement I negotiated with them for knocking me and Maria off the roof? We made enough bank off the whole thing and from all the talk-show appearances to never have to work again. It drove the mayor crazy, but then he was forced to resign once it came out he was responsible for the city’s overheated response, and that it was all part of an attempt at revenge.

But work we did. If there was one thing that night taught me – other than the existence of God and miracles – it was that people still loved me out there in Chicago. And that lesson rubbed off on the folks at K-CHRist, who just happened to be looking for a morning man who could make people under 80 listen.

And miracle of miracles: they do.

And now, so do I. .

Friday, November 20, 2009


Big Hollywood writer Carl Kozlowski is also the winner of the America's Funniest Reporter contest at the Laugh Factory and is the co-author of the self-help advice book satire "Seize the Day Job: The Humor Book Al-Qaeda Kept You From Reading" with Tim Joyce, a Chicago comic whose views are the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of Kozlowski's - but that clash makes a fun dynamic in their writing.

The book is just $14 and makes a perfect stocking-stuffer for the Christmas season. It's also the perfect "bathroom reading," if you catch their drift, It is not available in stores, but can be ordered from Kozlowski's website,, and Kozlowski will personally sign all orders.

 BUT THIS WEEK ONLY, through Black Friday (Nov. 27), you can check out two hilarious excerpts from the book and see for yourself why it's such a great buy!




Big Hollywood writer Carl Kozlowski is also the winner of the America's Funniest Reporter contest at the Laugh Factory and is the co-author of the self-help advice book satire "Seize the Day Job: The Humor Book Al-Qaeda Kept You From Reading" with Tim Joyce, a Chicago comic whose views are the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of Kozlowski's - but that Cclash makes a fun dynamic in their writing. The book is normally just $14 and makes a perfect stocking-stuffer for the Christmas season. It's also the perfect "bathroom reading," if you catch their drift, It is not available in stores, but can be ordered from Kozlowski's website,, and Kozlowski will personally sign all orders. BUT THIS WEEK ONLY, through Black Friday, ALL copies are just $10 (30 percent off!) and are still custom-signed by Kozlowski.

Here's an EXCERPT from a chapter about modern etiquette:

Living in America means that we have some fundamental freedoms, and one of the biggest is the freedom to travel. We're Americans – so we have the right (or at least the ability) to go anywhere we want on the planet (except Osama bin Laden's hiding place, and Al Qaeda's HQ).

But just because you CAN fly when,how or where you want, doesn't mean you SHOULD. In fact, there's tons of people who should never set foot on a plane or in an airport or, well, just about anywhere in public. And therein lies the need for a few basic rules.


You've gotta love air travel. It's one of the great inventions in human history, and can take us from one end of the planet to another within a matter of hours. Flying used to be a grand concept, something to look forward to, the glamorous way to go anywhere,

But nowadays, that sense of excitement is replaced by fear and dread: of terrorists, plain old crashes, endless waits in airport security, and a general reduction in service that now leaves you paying for your damn peanuts.

Seriously, tack a dollar on to my ticket price and I won't mind, but DON'T tell me you're charging me for a half-ounce pack of unsalted snack treats. I can perhaps think of no better example of just how friggin' cheap big business has become.

Sure, there's the first class section on a plane to allegedly make your life better. But is it really worth double the ticket price just to feel a little more comfy for the 90-minute flight from Milwaukee to Cleveland? It's the only section you can still get served a meal in while flying, but come on: you should be paying them NOT to force airplane food on you, rather than REQUESTING a meal.

Forget about “Snakes on a Plane,” it's space on a plane that's truly terrifying. There's not enough room for me to even stretch my legs, but I have to wear a seatbelt so I don't fly down the aisle if we crash. Right. Seat belts are supposed to keep you from flying out the window of your car. So what the hell's the point of having them on a plane? Do they really think a 300 pound guy like me is going to be thrust 200 feet down the narrow center aisle, slammed through the steel-reinforced cockpit door, crashed through the front windows, and then launched forevermore into the ether?

And don't ever fly into or out of Florida, unless you're willing to spend an extra three days getting on and of f the plane. There's so many old people in wheelchairs, it's like a flying hospital in the sky. And I love how planes are the one form of transportation that needs to tell you 20 ways to survive a crash before you even take off.

At least there's not as many ex-cons and felons as on Greyhound – unless you're on Southwest, which is so cheap, I call it Greyhound in the Sky. If you can't afford to fly Southwest, save your money, buy a gun and kill yourself. At least you won't be spending three days going cross-country with a guy who just got out of the clink for being a child molester.


Riding a bus across town is scary and embarrassing enough, but riding a cross-country just to save 56 bucks that you're going to spend on the crappy food at rest stops anyway is ridiculous. But hell, even I've ridden Greyhound a few times (including to Vegas – ah, the glamorous life!) so here's some tips to alleviate your trauma:

First, beware of everyone around you. Possibly even the driver. You never expected to see the other riders outside of a carnival midway or a racist '70s cop show. There's two types of people who ride Greyhound: convicts and grandmas. Both are likely to sport tattoos, and sometimes you can't tell the groups apart. Let's just say there's some scary grandmas on Greyhound.

There was a dude once onboard who had tattoos above his eyebrows. Then, just as I was thinking, “He never cares if he gets a job again,” he admits openly and loudly that he just got out of prison. Trust me, there's nothing you can say to a guy like that that can lead to a more productive or healthy situation, so don't say anything.

In addition, almost everyone who rides on Greyhound looks like they've stepped out of a Diane Arbus photo. But hey, this is life on the edge. Who cares if the most normal-looking person on the bus is an Irishman with one eye? The conversation is straight out of a David Lynch movie, but the travelers are genuine Americans. The experience will leave you praying for our nation's future.

A full day of fun for all, to be certain. In any case, pack a camera. You can use the photos in court later when you sue Greyhound, and your grandkids will cherish photos of freaks at the turn of the millennium for decades to come.

With all the human tragedy buses and trains have to offer, not to mention the unique friendships one can forge there, how could you ever consider riding a plane again?



Have you ever driven your car away from the auto shop and had the uneasy feeling that the entire staff there was laughing like hyenas at you behind your back? That is a common feeling, and there is a simple reason why you think that.

They are.

“But why?” you may ask, “Why are they having a laugh at my expense?” The explanation for that is pretty easy, my friend, and deep down inside you probably already know it. Let us set the time machine back a few years and look at things as they were when you were in high school.

Chances are you thought you were pretty darned smart back in high school. Remember? You were on the debate team, the yearbook staff, you may even have been the valedictorian of your senior class. Your parents were so proud they gave you a car. They helped you take care of it. Then you went to college and really wowed 'em.


But before we move on, let's go back to high school. Remember that guy who took all the shop classes? Remember his friends? What was it you called them, Motor Heads? Grease Monkeys? Wrench Jockeys?

Boy did you ever look down on them! Ha Ha Ha! Look at the shop guys! Losers!

Admit it – that's what you thought. But now you're fresh out of school. On your own. With your own car. Your own used car, that is. Funny how life works.

See, Mom and Dad aren't going to pay for the repairs now that you've struck out on your own. So guess who's laughing now? That's right, Smartypants...all those guys you looked down on in high school.

Admit it – when you take that car into the shop you feel as dumb as a brine shrimp. When the man in the coveralls looks at you and gestures back at your disabled transportation, you haven't got the vaguest idea what he is talking about, do you?

Be honest.

If you are the average person you wouldn't know a catalytic converter if there was one floating in your soup. That's why you'll happily pay the “dumbest kid” in your high school class to fix it. See, he would know the catalytic converter if it was floating in your soup.

So who's the dumb kid now, Mr. Philosophy Major?

While you wait in the repair shop for the former dumb kid to tell you what's causing your 11-year-old dorkmobile to spew black smoke and sputter like a Cub Scout at a nude beach, perhaps you might want to check out the walls of the repair shop. Go ahead, look at the sign that lists their labor rate...Look at it!

No, no, you didn't read it wrong, Einstein. It says $75 an hour. Seventy-five dollars!

Even your psychiatrist doesn't charge that. And without your car, you can't even go see your psychiatrist. In fact, it's not unlikely that you will see your psychiatrist in the waiting room of the repair shop as well. See, he doesn't know what a catalytic converter is either.

The hour and a half you wait for the mechanic to return from the bay and tell you what's wrong with your car is the longest ninety minutes you will ever spend. You'll try to distract yourself by reading the three-year-old copies of Sports Illustrated they've thoughtfully left for you. Maybe you'll buy a can of pop. Perhaps you'll treat yourself to a nice gumball. If the repair shop is nice they'll even have free coffee for the patrons. Go head! Have a cup of java on the boys in the bay! At $75 an hour, they can afford it.

Finally, after half a pot of the strongest coffee this side of Istanbul, the mechanic will come out and call your name, If you're smart you won't answer. You'll run for your life.

He's about to start telling you why you have to give him five hundred dollars.

He'll start with the phrase, “Well, we checked the engine on the computer and this is what the problem is...” That's the last thing he'll say that you will understand at all.

Except the five hundred dollar part.

He will ramble on about the alternator fan belt or the fuel injectors or the overhead cams. All the while your eyes will glaze over. You will have absolutely no idea what he is talking about.

He will know that you have absolutely no idea what he is talking about. But he'll keep on talking about parts that he is about to replace in your car....and you'll nod. He will take an eternity to get to the only part of the conversation you really care about anyway.

The part about the five hundred dollars.

All along you will both know that you are giving him the money. But he'll make you wait.

Why does he make you wait? Why does he torture you like this?

Because you asked for it, buster. You deserve every second of torture he dishes out. You owe him that five hundred bucks, even if all that's wrong with your car is that it's out of gas.

Why do you owe him? Because you wated all that time in high school and college learning philosophy. And mocking him.

He knew you thought he was dumber than you. He wasn't. All along he was plotting this day of sweet revenge in his grease monkey mind. You will gladly pay restitution to him for your arrogance, restitution in the form of five hundred bucks. Your psychiatrist will pay him the same restitution as well.

It's a good lesson in humility when you think about it... guess that's why “kar” is the first syllable in “karma.”

Thus endeth the lesson, but since you will inevitably face a mechanic who knows you know nothing at all about your car, here's a short list of parts that your car does not have. Hopefully, this will save you embarrassment, if not money.

Your car does not have a :



Blinker Fluid Reservoir



Mine Sweeper

Ionic Transmographer

Semiautomatic transmission

Time Portal

Solar Interferometer

Martin Landau Roof

Starter Pistol

Cheese Filter


Electric Slide

Clown Vent

Serling Rod

Catatonic Converter

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy


Jimmy Hat

Snooze Alarm

Iambic Pentameter

Proton Torpedo Valve

Picnic Gasket

Litter Box

Friday, October 30, 2009

COMEDY WILL MAKE YOU CRAZY or does that mean crazy people make great comedy?

Funny Hurts

Laughing away life’s aches and pains at Kyle Cease’s Comedy Boot Camp

By Carl Kozlowski

“I’m 19, unemployed and pregnant. My ex-boyfriend’s not happy about the baby — but the guy who got me pregnant was.”

Those words come from the mouth of a 20-year-old woman named Katie Wood. She’s standing before a room of strangers, revealing dark truths about herself — including the fact that up until she learned of her pregnancy, she had been casually using marijuana and cocaine for the past couple years.

She then evokes gasps by admitting she still takes “a few puffs on about five cigarettes a day. If my baby’s craving it, who am I to deny it?”

You might think that Katie is speaking to a support group before a circle of fellow single moms and drug users. Actually, she’s standing, microphone in hand, on the elaborately decorated, beach-themed stage of the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club at Universal CityWalk, learning how to turn her personal pain into big laughs as part of the Kyle Cease Comedy Boot Camp.

Cease is one of comedy’s fastest-rising stars, having beaten out even mega-selling monolith Dane Cook last year to win the “Comedy Central Standup Showdown,” in which fans voted for their favorite comic. He’s parlayed that into becoming a frequent presence on the network — his special, “Weirder. Blacker. Dimpler,” has become the channel’s most-played standup performance and led to the taping of a second one-hour special this week in his hometown of Seattle.

I have also come here, both as a reporter and as a 13-year part-time professional comic, to hone my skills and see what all the hype was about.

In Katie’s case, Cease isn’t trying to exploit her by prodding her to reveal her innermost self. He’s trying to get her (and everyone else he teaches in his intensive five-day, 60-hour camp) to break down their personal walls and reveal who they really are — in a (hopefully) funny way.

The idea is not just that it will it make their own comedy more unique, but will also build a movement in which Cease hopes comedy will become more of a part of American culture again in a way that brings positive change to both individuals and society.

It may sound like pie-in-the-sky ambition. But as Katie finally opens up, her thoughts spill out rapidly and — most importantly — humorously, leading Cease to say Katie could be the next Roseanne if she continues building on this breakthrough. It’s clear that a transformation has occurred, as this young woman who took the stage nervous and fearful just 20 minutes prior runs offstage to a wave of applause from Cease and her classmates.

“When he was asking me why I had walls up, I felt I should tell him and he made me feel really good about it,” Katie says. “Everything I said was true, and to get that response from people was amazing. It gave me the courage to run out and finally tell my mom about my pregnancy … It made me see how powerful standup comedy is as an art — not just about making people laugh, but as living art.”

Thought control

At the ripe old age of 32, Cease is already a 17-year veteran of professional comedy, performing at age 15 in Seattle, where performance venues were all-ages and his parents were supportive enough to drive him to Los Angeles for occasional auditions soon after he told them comedy was the only thing he wanted to do with his life.

That support paid off early. Cease scored a role as Bogey Lowenstein in the 1999 teen hit film “10 Things I Hate About You.” After his short but attention-getting part as the Slow Clapper in 2001’s “Not Another Teen Movie,” he fast became a college audience favorite and upped his appearances to over 200 shows a year. Young, level-headed enough to steer clear of drugs and with a seemingly never-ending supply of fans, Cease looked to be soaring into the stratosphere. But he instead collapsed with a combination of illness and severe stage fright that nearly derailed his promising career.

“I learned about the psychology of all this in 2004, when I got exhausted and was getting dizzy and worrying onstage and worried I’d make myself faint,” Cease recalls. “Then I started learning how we have control of our thoughts, but most people think their thoughts control them. Once I learned that, I took control of my act.”

The key, however, came when Cease began following the principles of self-help kingpin Tony Robbins. While Robbins is often derided as a late-night TV pitchman hawking an endless array of conferences, motivational books and tapes, Cease has become a firm believer in his teachings. He credits them not only with helping him regain his confidence as a performer, but also giving him the insights needed to build healthy relationships that led to his current engagement to fellow comic Jules Kline. It also helped him lose 50 pounds within two months.

“Live as if you’re already a master of what you do, and it will happen,” Cease says.

Sharing the pain

It’s become a cliché that comedians are often the saddest people around, but as veteran actor and comic Thomas Wilson takes the stage, he reads off a litany of zany entertainers who ultimately died way before their time from alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide.

“John Belushi, Chris Farley, Sam Kinison …,” Wilson intones solemnly, with many more names following. He achieved his own greatest fame between 1985 and 1990 as the villainous Biff in the “Back to the Future” movies, but has maintained a thriving standup career and gets steady work as a supporting actor in films like “The Informant!” and TV series like “Freaks and Geeks.”

The ability to hang in when others have flamed out is paramount to his lesson to boot campers: don’t let your career and desire for laughs become your entire identity. Stay grounded with good things outside of the treacheries of show business.

“Comedy is my passion, but it’s not my life,” says Wilson. “If you don’t find balance and grounding and self-worth in real family, friends and other interests, this will eat you up.”

That sobering warning is but one topic from just one of the 13 star comics who drop in to give talks and evaluate performances throughout the five days of Cease’s camp. The appearances are well-regulated but nonstop, giving the neophyte performers the chance to ask questions of and rub elbows with some of the biggest names in the business: “Last Comic Standing” champions Alonzo Bodden and Iliza Schlesinger, veteran star comic Louie Anderson, “Hangover” co-star Bryan Callen and “SNL” superstar Jon Lovitz are just a few.

The students hang on every word as they hear Lovitz — a star many grew up watching on “Saturday Night Live” — talk about the struggles of his early days while urging them to find balance in life. They hear Anderson explain how he poured the pain from his bad relationship with his father into a career that earned him millions but left him bereft of true happiness until he was able to forgive his dad.

And most powerfully of all, they hear Ant tell the story of his longtime relationship with his partner, and of the mix of funny and sad moments that seasoned his last year, before dying last November of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

“I’m sharing the pain of my true experiences with you not only to honor him, but also to show that I’m willing to put it all up on the stage, just like I’m asking you to,” says Ant. “If you bring real truth to the stage about who you are, it will be unique and funny and heartfelt and memorable.”

Add in talks by Cease’s agent and manager as well as constant feedback from the Lovitz club’s co-owner Frank Kelley, who spent many years running the top Improv comedy clubs in the country, and the admittedly steep tuition of $599, $799 and $999 for various levels of interaction with the pros make a bit more sense. Still, the program has drawn some sniping on online message boards.

“Everything that anyone does that’s new and different is criticized,” Cease says in response to the naysayers. “They get hated until it really starts proving itself. I want to make things better for comedy; I want to get clubs full again, get a passion for comedy revived that’s been lacking.

“The work you get instantly and near-instantly, like me taking the best students to open shows for me, or Louie offering five minutes opening for him in Vegas to anyone who asks, or Frank Kelley offering spots right here at the club, and the long-term connections you get like meeting and exchanging numbers with 13 headlining comics — that’s priceless. You make way more back than you spent. I taught technique after technique on learning how to end nerves, market yourself — and anyone who chooses to can take action anytime. And we have a big crew filming it all so you get an amazing reel to use at the end.”

After each guest lecture, students indeed get to take direct action. Breaking into rotating groups or intermittently taking the stage for solo spotlight attention, attendees get to work out big chunks of material within the small group or receive one-on-one guidance from each star who visits. Within minutes, each person involved goes from being a face in the crowd of nearly 40 students to a readily identifiable, unique individual.

Among them was Myke Dehu, a 44-year-old Phoenix resident who spent the years from ages 16 to 32 bouncing in and out of jail before deciding to fly straight and narrow, only to develop and survive testicular cancer at the expense of a testicle. “Some of you are looking at me like you’ve seen me somewhere before. I have to admit, I was on one of the first ‘Star Search’-style reality shows. You might have seen me. It was ‘America’s Most Wanted.’”

Then there’s Lukas Seely, a 27-year-old who’s the youngest and only American-born member of a Laotian refugee family that got plunked down into the middle of Montana. “When we first got to Montana, we took a look around and realized there were no Asian people. So we opened a nail salon, a restaurant and a Laundromat.”

The Big Moment

Throughout the camp experience, I had seen people prompted into opening their personal closets and letting out their darkest secrets, confessions often accompanied by tears, before ultimately scoring a triumphant breakthrough to deeper, richer comedy than they had ever thought possible.

As I took the stage, I wondered what psychological Jedi mind trick they were going to use to make me break down and cry like a baby. I had no way to get pregnant and had never abused drugs or been abused, but I do suffer from narcolepsy and had made it my goal to write a killer routine about it that week. But the goal was for it to make people laugh, not cry.

So I grabbed the mic and started running through my new jokes professionally, timed just right, moving the way I planned — all to a deafening silence. It looked like I was about to be crying after all.

“It’s just not working for me,” says Kelley, as I feel a thousand daggers stabbing at my insides, certain that 15 years of performing was going down the drain. But then Kyle comes up with a solution that led to my own personal breakthrough.

“Carl, you tell more one-liners than almost anyone these days, and they’re mostly about your life,” says Cease. “It’s a really ‘50s style, or like vaudeville, one after another. Why don’t you try doing your material way over the top, but filtered through that general style?”

Within moments, I was completely out of control, acting like a ’50s Catskills comic, punctuating every joke with a “Zing!” a “Badabing!” or a “Zowie!” while punching or kicking wildly at the air. Kelley loved it, my classmates cheered it on. And with the addition of Cease backing me up with rim-shot sound effects during the night’s official showcase, I scored the wildest response of my entire career.

I now have a shot that I never had before at better quality stage time, and meetings with agents and managers who came to see the show. But most of all — like the dozens of other students at this and Cease’s prior boot camp in May — I had discovered new possibilities within myself.

“What I’ve learned from camp is that people who come here are not just numbers to make money or help the camp grow,” says Cease. “Each person has a story; even the quiet ones who seem boring have great stories. The second they learn that and that that story is their strength, their life changes. That’s great.”


His Royal Silliness

John Cleese fish-slaps Pasadena and Glendale with ‘A Final Wave at the World’

By Carl Kozlowski

“Of all the questions I’ve ever been asked, that’s got to be the stupidest!”

I never imagined hearing those words being spat at me in a raging fit of comic apoplexy by John Cleese, the British comedy mastermind who has made a career out of playing flustered upper-crust twits who are constantly enraged by the stupid behavior of everyone in the world around them. I must admit though, I’ve spent much of my life laughing at Cleese venting his frustrations at others onscreen.

Yet there I was last Thursday morning, surreally injected into a moment that could be found in any one of his hundreds of film and TV appearances. At the behest of my esteemed editor, I had just asked Cleese if he still engaged in the occasional bit of Silly Walking — an utterly ridiculous form of strolling that formed the centerpiece of one of his most famous skits with the legendary comic troupe Monty Python. His response made me want to duck for cover as I stammered an apology.

“Wait, I’m having a go at your editor!” Cleese explained, in a half-conciliatory tone. “I lead a very entertaining but not a high-key life seeking attention. When I was younger I used to do eccentric things to amuse myself. But now, no Silly Walks! Why would I do that? Good heavens!”

Cleese was on the phone from a luxury hotel in New York City, where he was staying while promoting “Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut),” the new six-hour Independent Film Channel miniseries about the troupe.

He was speaking with PW in connection with his upcoming Nov. 14 live performance at Glendale’s Alex Theatre of “John Cleese in A Final Wave at the World (or the Alimony Tour, Year One),” in which Cleese will ruminate on his life and work for a 100-minute, two-act stretch before engaging in a question and answer session with the audience. He archly noted that the “utterly shambolic” Q&A seems to be attendees’ favorite portion of the show, despite the fact that he poured months of effort into creating the show’s scripted portion.

Cleese is strikingly candid about his motivations for the tour. “I still need money, especially with having to pay alimony of $1 million a year until I’m 76,” the 69-year-old Cleese explained with much the same sense of joy he had just employed in scolding my editor. “She got $13 million up front and a million a year more until I’m 76. That’s a lot for having no children, but that’s California law, which I consider a bit mad.

“I was actually told to fix the back steps of my home because a burglar could fall and get hurt trying to get in!” Cleese continued, switching the conversation to his bucolic Santa Barbara estate. “The American legal system is a complete failure, except for making money for lawyers. There’s a little bit about that at the start of the show, and believe me, the Norwegians loved it.”

It’s not just the Norwegians who are loving Cleese’s show. While he played 10 cities there, he launched the show in another unlikely corner of the world: New Zealand. Cleese got the idea four years ago, after “a couple of irritating experiences” with Hollywood studios and executives “who didn’t know they didn’t know what to do, telling me how to make changes to scripts.

“If there’s a good idea given by someone, I pounce on it with a snarl,” Cleese says. “I got an Oscar nomination for writing ‘A Fish Called Wanda,’ but 13 people contributed ideas to it. I pinch any ideas that are good. But when the people at Disney told me my script was all wrong after I’d invested three months in it, and I got a call from someone who wanted me to take a stage tour of New Zealand, I thought that’ll be fun since no one will be able to tell me what to do.”

This will be a rare stateside performance for the current show, played only a few times in California back in 2006. He digs deep in his history for material, tracing how he got into comedy; about people he worked with like Marty Feldman, Peter Sellers and the Python guys; his years in the hilarious “Fawlty Towers,” and his richly diverse escapades as writer and actor since then.

“And then of course, there is the divorce to talk about,” he notes with a perfectly icy tone that could put a deep freeze on a desert.

Cleese was torn between the funny and the serious from birth, as the son of an acrobat and an insurance salesman. Similarly, he spent his student years mixing good grades with pranks, such as painting footsteps on a school’s grounds to make it look like a statue had come off its pedestal and gone to the toilet. But he was almost lost to the legal world — he was attending law school at Cambridge when he joined a comic troupe called the Cambridge Footlights Revue.

That decision to join the revue, then meeting fellow future Python Graham Chapman, saved him from a dreary life of briefs and court appearances. The breakthrough came when the 1963 Footlights highlight show became so popular that it toured the world, including stops on Broadway and in Cleese’s now-beloved New Zealand.

Cleese then dove into a career as a humor writer for British TV and radio, gradually forming the friendships that became the unstoppable force known as Monty Python. Earning worldwide stardom through their five-year TV series and a string of classic films that include “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and the controversial Messiah-centric “Life of Brian,” the group earned lasting respect and untold riches before unofficially dissolving after “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life” in 1983.

While group members have worked on each other’s solo projects since then, Chapman’s death in 1989 meant the group could never be fully revived. Yet Cleese and the other surviving members re-teamed in a rare collective appearance Oct. 15 on NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” to help promote the miniseries — belying Cleese’s jocular claims earlier in the day we talked that “we all hate each other too much” to work together.

“My favorite silly bit from Python was the fish-slapping dance, and my favorite sketch was the cheese shop,” Cleese recalls. “It was a little bit like the parrot in format, with me and [Michael] Palin. My favorite film within an episode was a spoof of a natural history program, a parody that was really really funny about a pantomime horse. My favorite Python movie was ‘Life of Brian’ but Americans prefer ‘Holy Grail.’”

It’s here that I tell Cleese that he might very well be in part responsible for my eternal damnation, since my hometown’s Catholic bishop warned his followers they would be banned from the Church for watching “Brian,” a wicked satire on the life of Christ. While I was only 8 years old when the controversial film was released, a decade later I almost literally ran for the video store during my first weekend away from home at college to rent “Brian” and see what the fuss was about.

“Very well,” he chuckles. “It’s always amazed me how big church authority finds the most incredible things to meddle with. A movie?! I think spirituality is alive and well, but I just think organized religion has always mashed it up.”

While he has kept a strong presence in the public consciousness through his colorful supporting roles in countless films and TV series (including Emmy-winning guest spots on “Cheers” and “Will and Grace”), Cleese has maintained a lucrative sideline by starring in, producing and co-writing a series of videos designed to teach business principles in a humorous way. Though the videos were only viewable by those lucky enough to work for a corporation that purchased the special video sets, and weren’t mass-marketed for consumption by individual fans, Cleese earned a mint on them.

“Businesses bought them as a business expense, and I did it for 19 years, from 1972 to 1991,” says Cleese. “We started out making films about selling, but we found what everyone wanted was how to interview, make decisions, how to run a meeting, all those kinds of things that happen everywhere — from charities, in the army, and even town halls. We made over 100 of them. I wrote the first 15 and then hired the best British TV writers. I liked the sense of continuity to it, because in show biz you often never see people again, even after you’ve made friends or a sort of family on the set. Here I saw the people all the time for 19 years. Then the directors wanted to sell up and retire.”

For now, Cleese is content to traverse the planet as a comic colossus, touring with the show and prepping two new major co-writing projects — a Broadway musical version of “A Fish Called Wanda” with his daughter, Camilla, and a film he won’t spill the details on with his friend Lisa Hogan that he feels has “an extremely good [outline].”

He also has long settled into Santa Barbara, both because he felt a desire to dissociate from his English upbringing and because he finds the town to be a cultural Mecca attracting the best musicians and authors imaginable amid their journeys between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In coming to the Alex, he’ll no doubt also make a point of visiting Pasadena.

“My two favorite places in LA are Pasadena and Santa Monica, but I haven’t been to all the areas of the city,” says Cleese. “In Pasadena, there are so many beautiful buildings, great shops and great bookshops, plus some wonderful restaurants.”

Yet in typical curmudgeonly fashion, Cleese found a cloud in even that silver lining.

“Apart from the air, Pasadena’s great,” he harrumphs. “The air doesn’t seem to be the cleanest.”