“My college roommate thought he was Hunter Thompson. He started calling me Dr. Gonzo. I asked him why, and he threw me the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. ‘Gonzo’ refers to someone who takes it to the edge without falling off.”
And Gonzo sure has. After receiving his degree in 1977, he and a buddy moved to San Francisco to produce a play. “For a long time there, I worked at mindless jobs — putting boxes in boxes, sweeping rain off roofs. I made some money playing guitar.”
Gonzo started to get gigs at the Boarding House, in San Francisco, and other popular clubs — “the places where Steve Martin and Robin Williams performed,” he says. At that time, he was developing his special mix of humor and song. He opened for the Bay Area band Huey Lewis and the News for more than a year and appeared in the band’s videos.
Means also toured with another San Francisco band, Jefferson Starship, did some shows with Stevie Ray Vaughan and told jokes on the syndicated Los Angeles comedy radio show, “Five O’Clock Funnies.”
“I was the cartoon before the movie. When I was on the road with a band, I stopped in local comedy clubs and met all these wise guys. Then I started working the clubs all the time.” In 1991, he was asked to open for Joe Walsh during a time when Walsh’s band, the Eagles, was not together. “I got to live my rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. I was playing with one of my idols.”
I first met Dr. Gonzo sometime in the late 80’s when he was one of the top touring comedy headliners and I was a young club manager, running the show and partying til dawn after the shows each night. I can’t say my memories are all that clear about a lot of what happened back in those days, but I do remember one weekend night Gonzo was playing a club I managed in Buckhead, the hot night spot in Atlanta. We were packed the first show, the bar was rocking and Gonzo was on stage living up to his “Doc of Comedy Rock” billing. The box office summoned me to deal with some dude that was saying he had a back stage pass that John left for him. I head up, see a scruffy looking guy in a ball cap that looked pretty wasted and insisting “John left me a back stage pass.” I laughed and said, sorry no such thing as a backstage pass at a comedy club and there was no John working the club.
In between shows Gonzo mentioned he was supposed to leave a ticket for a friend of his that was in town for a gig. I laughed and said oh, was it a backstage pass, making fun of the dude from the box office earlier. He laughed too, and said just leave a ticket for Lewis. Then he said, he may ask for me by my real name, John Means. Suddenly I got a weird feeling, I think I’d just turned away his friend. I told Gonzo that and just chuckled and told me I’d kicked out Huey Lewis. He was in town for a gig the next day and had asked Gonzo to jam with him. Gonzo, being the nice guy he was, just laughed and said it would be all right. And later that night, as all three of us were hanging out back at the hotel, we were all feeling pretty good and laughing and it was all right.
I haven’t seen Dr. Gonzo in years. He moved back to his hometown of Mason City, Illinois in the 90’s to raise his son. He ran for and won a place on the City Council, started teaching at the local college and as we all said in the comedy business, he grew up and went legit. He and his wife bought and ran an Italian restaurant in town and then a second. In 2011 Gonzo came out of retirement to perform at the 30th anniversary of Comedy Day in San Francisco, his old stomping grounds. What he learned is that after 30 years, he could still make people laugh. And he’ll be doing that this weekend in Dayton.
Catch Dr. Gonzo at Wiley’s Comedy Club in the Oregon District.
Friday March 14th at 9:00pm with an admission of $12.00
Saturday March 15th at 8:00pm and 10:30pm with an admission of $15.00
DMM Ticket Giveaway
DMM has 2 pairs of tickets for Friday night’s show. We’ll do a drawing at 4pm Friday and post the winner’s names on this post. To enter the drawing, like this post and fill out the form below.
Our contest is closed, congratulations to Scott Strawser and Patsy Sanders-Mercuri