April 2013 Column from Irish American News

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Mike Houlihan


Life can be very cruel and show biz even crueler.

Driving down the street the other day with my lovely wife on Oak Park Avenue, we spotted the gentleman by the side of the street, wearing the Statue of Liberty costume. He was dancing back in the forth in the frigid weather and waving at all the cars. “Look at that guy. He must be freezing his keester off!” I said to the missus. I waved to the guy out of pure pity and noticed that he was hustling for a CPA storefront on the street, “Liberty Tax Service”.

I’m not smart enough to do my own taxes every year so I always hire a professional. But I’m also smart enough to know that I don’t want the guy in the Statue of Liberty costume doing my taxes! The lovely Mary said, “You think he actually gets them business?”

“Whatever they’re paying that guy, it’s not enough.”

He seemed to enjoy the work as he jumped back and forth on his feet and smiled at the cars, but I’m pretty sure I saw his teeth chattering. It was too cold to roll the window to hear his spiel, if he even had one.

As we drove away and left the Statue of Liberty in my rear view mirror, I remarked to Mary, “Well, it’s still show business.”

Now this has been a mantra I’ve used over the last forty years in show biz when I’ve been forced to take a “survival job” until the next theatrical, film, or TV gig comes along. As far as I’m concerned, any position that involves interacting with the public, or is in close proximity to any kind of entertainment, can be considered show business. I’ve had tons of these gigs from ushering, bartending, chauffeuring, even cold calling where I’ve had to perform on the phone reciting a preposterous script hoping to bag a client. An old friend of mine officially left Second City years ago to open a sex-toy shop and I told her, “It’s still show biz!”

As we drove on that day we discovered another thespian at the corner of Cermak and Harlem hawking for a video game store. The performer wore a costume modeled after one of the Super Mario Bros and we had no way of knowing their gender. At least this outfit looked somewhat warmer. I remarked to Mary, “It’s still show business!

She seemed mystified. “Why do you keep saying that?”

“Because my dear, it IS still show biz. Look, they’re wearing a costume and entertaining the public. That could be the next Elanora Duse standing on the corner in Berwyn!” Mary scoffed, “More likely the next Snooki Polizzi!”

I then told Mary my favorite story of the guy who goes into the bar every day and complains about his “crappy” job, and how he hates his boss, and all the “animals” he works with everyday at his place of employment. The bartender finally asks him, “What line of work are you in, pal?”

The guy says, “I follow the elephants in the circus and clean up with the bucket and shovel.” The bartender asks, “If it’s so awful, why don’t you quit?”

To which your man replies, “What? And give up show business?”

Most performers will endure hell just to be closer to the flame, the magic, and the absurd irony of it all.

And that of course brings us to the Southside Irish Parade last month when I looked out the window of Ken’s on Western Avenue and spied the guy in our third photo, following after the line of mounted cops that signals the end of the parade. I asked him if I could snap his picture and told him the story of the guy in the circus.

He didn’t seem to mind his job at all, didn’t mind getting his picture taken, and even laughed at the joke. And why was he so happy? Because folks, he’d learned, as I have 40 years into it, that IT’S STILL SHOW BIZ!


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