by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
- South Korea to ban eating dog meat
- Dog attack leaves woman severely injured, deputies “subdue” dog with taser
- Abused dog found by PUD workers adopted, set to lead Longview holiday parade
- I Was Newly Divorced. My Dog Helped Me Find Love Again
- 2 people arrested after allegedly stealing car with service dog inside in Stamford, Connecticut
Unless they become a household name, life on the road for many stand-up comedians is no laughing matter.
Bad gigs, low pay, questionable motel rooms, booze-soaked nights and frequent travel are the staple of the road comic archetype.
In “The Road Dog,” starring comedian Doug Stanhope, the road is gray, the Midwest is bleak, and the rotgut whiskey is harsh.
That is what Park Ridge-native director/writer Greg Glienna and Tinley Park-native writer/producer Tony Boswell were aiming for when they shot the independent film in parts of the Northwest Side and in Park Ridge in February of 2022. Glienna lives in Los Angeles. Boswell in Pittsburgh.
“We did stand-up comedy during the boom years, and we were talking about this friend of ours who was notorious for drinking.” Glienna said. “We used to say that you had to catch him on the middle show because the first show he wasn’t drunk enough, the middle show he was perfect and the late show he was too drunk.”
Boswell, who himself has been sober for 16 years, said that it was brutal to watch his friend bomb. “A comedian whose name I won’t use out of respect for him, but he’s a famous Chicago comedian who struggled with alcoholism for a long time and he got sober, and a club booked him to come back,” Boswell said.
“All the words were the same but there was this magic that was gone and he kind of bombed. That was the impetus for the script. We incorporated things I knew from alcoholism and stories from the road. Every comedian is damaged in some way, so we incorporated many of those stories as well.”
The film has Stanhope portraying a booze-soaked, dirty clothes-wearing, cigarette smoke-smelling comedian Jimmy Quinn, an alcoholic road comic who finds out his now adult son wants to reconnect with him to do standup. Naturally he uses the kid for a ride around the Midwest since he can’t drive anymore as he goes from gig to gig, bottle to bottle, ashtray to ashtray, hoping he will find the errors of drinking his life away. It may be his last shot at redemption.
“It’s not Dave Attell,” Glienna said, of the inspiration for the fictional comedian Jimmy. Attell, like Stanhope, are legends on the comedy circuit. “He was not one of our models but there are a lot of Dave Attells who didn’t even get to the point where he is at with his career. Just guys who did the road, and never made it to the next level.”
“We had Doug for a month,” Glienna said. “Getting Doug Stanhope made the film because he is just so good and so right for that role. We had seen him on ‘Louie’ (Louis C.K.’s show) where he played a similar self-destructive comedian, so we offered it to his manager and his manager asked if he wants to do it “You gotta go to Chicago in February” and he was like “Forget that.” But he eventually connected with it, and he was great to work with,” Glienna said.
Editor’s note: Stanhope declined to be interviewed for this story, a publicist said.
“I think it’s the most accurate portrayal of the life of a not famous comedian. If we had the budget, we would have probably set it in the 1990s because the comedy scene is significantly different now than it was then. Comedians find their own way now,” Boswell said.
Shot for about $300,000, the film uses several Northwest Side locations. “Those bars in Edison Park (the now closed Curragh and the open Emerald Isle), two houses in Park Ridge. We stayed in Gurnee, so we shot some stuff out there, and some road driving through the countryside. We shot a lot of stuff in Park Ridge,” Glienna said.
“We couldn’t do it for the budget we had without a lot of help. My sister knows everyone in Park Ridge. We got a lot of locations for free. The Park Ridge Community Church let us shoot there and didn’t charge us. We never could have done it for the budget we had if we hadn’t shot it on the Northwest Side of Chicago,” Glienna said.
From the plastic LTD bottles full of Canadian whisky, the cheap two-bed motel rooms that one can almost smell from the screen, the comedy condominiums, to jokes about selling T-shirts, breakfast diners, to club owners charging for all the booze, Jimmy Quinn goes from gig to gig, paycheck to paycheck, from one shaky-handed whiskey shot to the next.
Shooting the film was hectic, Glienna and Boswell said. “We had to constantly think on our feet. We can’t do this scene. If we don’t have this, how does that affect the next scene, maybe we can just say this. It was constant making it work,” Glienna said. He said that while some may compare the film’s artistic vision to “Leaving Las Vegas,” the actual shoot was more of a “you guys have to be out of here by 5 p.m. and we have 10 pages to shoot.”
Boswell said that those initial weeks shooting were rough. “Greg hired somebody to produce the film and he was not up to the task,” Boswell said. “The producer who failed us…he was promising us things like Bonnie Hunt and Ricky Gervais and all these people and then we found out nothing has been done (preproduction-wise) so we had to cast things that we were going to shoot in a week,” Boswell said. “We did a lot of leapfrogging.”
As Jimmy and his son David (Des Mulrooney) hit the road, many familiar faces appear, including Calvin Evans, Khrystyne Haje, Greg Fitzsimmons, Tim Kazurinsky and wait for Northwest Side’s own Patti Vasquez in scene-stealing cameo as Denise, Jimmy’s ex and the mother of his son.
“When they were filming, they had me audition on Zoom,” Vasquez said. “That was how I got cast. They were very generous in letting me do my own take. Told me to scale it back. They were great to work with,” she said. “Was my part supposed to be Bonnie Hunt?” We will never know.
No stranger to the comedy circuit herself, Vasquez recalled the road and the accuracy of the film.
“Stanhope was excited to do it. I mean what an incredible performance. I was a road comic for 20 years. I had to do a retirement home once and this woman got up and started yelling at me. So, there are various elements that were so brutally honest. I’m almost reluctant to tell people because that’s what my life was like for 20 years,” Vasquez said.
“I had to share comedy condos with guys. They played a homage in the film to another comedian who struggled with addiction — John Fox. And the legend was that you never wanted to have the mayonnaise from the fridge because John Fox may have done unspeakable things to the condiments,” she said. The late Fox eventually said in some online interviews he never did anything to the jar of mayo. Or did he?
She also shared several stories from the road when she used to open for Lewis Black. She said someone hit her car during breakfast with Black. And how she booked gigs that were near Amtrak stations.
Vasquez said that comedy was different in those days. She said that she never liked being filmed by people on their phones.
“It lost me some work because it was a little racier than what I would do for a corporate gig. People don’t realize that that stuff can lose us work. It’s not as bad now because I have enough material under my belt. Enough credits. A lot of people expect more crowd work because of social media. A lot of comics put crowd work. But it is not my goal to humiliate people,” she said.
Glienna and Boswell said that they are grateful for the crew and that the movie would not be possible without their tireless energy and experience. “I kind of appointed myself to be the chief morale officer. Everyday as producer I made sure that I visited with everybody and seeing if everyone was doing OK,” Boswell said.
“I always thought that the script and the casting is 90 percent of the movie, and this film brings that out. The script was good, I think, and we had a good star in every scene. It works because of the writing. Some people can’t look past the budget,” Glienna said. “I didn’t want to make a standup movie. It’s really a character study of this Jimmy. We tried to make it as if every encounter gives the audience a little more information about him so by the end of the movie you understand his story.”
No stranger to script-writing, Glienna wrote the original “Meet the Parents” and “A Guy Thing.” Before it was a famous vehicle starring Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro, “Meet the Parents” was once a $30,000 indie starring Glienna in the lead. Same story. Guy goes to meet his woman’s parents and things go off the rails.
He said he is friends with comedian Emo Phillips and at the time in 1990s he put up some money for the project. Eventually Steven Soderbergh brought it to Universal and they bought it.
“When I sold it, Steven Soderbergh was going to direct it. We did a draft with him. And that would have been great. And then it went through five other writers, and it ended up what it is. If Steven Soderbergh had directed it would have been one of the greatest comedies of all time. One of very dark comedies,” Glienna said.
He said he has no ill feelings about selling his work. He said that the movie studio won’t let him show his original low-budget film. But it’s out there if anyone is willing to look for it.
“Considering the budget when I sold it, it was an OK amount of money. But when you think it made something like a billion dollars (combined with the sequels) that’s when it hurts. Emo said it was like the Native Americans when they sold Manhattan for beads,” Glienna said.
Available to stream on several major platforms, Glienna hopes “The Road Dog” finds a larger audience than just Doug Stanhope fans.
“It was the higher grossing movie that week. We out grossed “The Equalizer 3” in our one week at The Pickwick (in September). Doug came in and a q-and-a went well,” Glienna said. “It’s fiction mixed with life. We know that comedy world, comedy condos, one nighters and staying in motels. We know that world pretty well. I like the human element. People annoying people. It makes for good drama,” Glienna said.
“I always sort of pictured it as a comedic version of “The Wrestler,” Boswell said.