For various reasons, including the enjoyment of all of you as well as for purposes of my own introspection, I've decided to include an overview of my life so far. This is going to be an ongoing, long term project that I'll work on when I have time and when I'm in the right mindset. I've reached an interesting point in my life. For the first time, I'm very content with things. I'm working towards where I want to be, and even though I'm not there yet, and it's going to take a while for me to get there, I know I'm on the right path. I can't think of any place I'd rather be than right here, doing what I'm doing right now with the incredible group of people I have the pleasure of learning, working and playing with. This isn't going to be the most coherent or well planned out biography you've ever read, and it will most certainly jump around a lot, but I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I think I'll enjoy writing it. Stay tuned...
To this day, I'm not a morning person....
Despite the fact that I was present at my birth, I don't recall the details of it.
I grew up in a modest brick bungalow in the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. All the houses on the street were nearly identical, including the elderly people who inhabited them. I was the only kid on the street. Prior to starting kindergarten, I hung around with old folks all day long. Steve and Agnes Sankovich, or Ms Sanky and Mr Steve as I called them, lived next door to us. They were my best friends as a child. I would visit them nearly every day. We sat in wing back chairs, sipped cream soda and complained about how much noise the people in the park across the street were making. Its natural for kids to want to emulate the people they look up to, and I looked up to my geriatric friends. So I started walking with a cane and spitting phlegm just like Mr Steve. For whatever reason my parents let me have a cane but spitting phlegm was strictly off limits.
The house I grew up in. Note the Brian Henning Realty One for sale sign. This is a rare picture, snapped during the incredibly short period of time before the "Sale Pending" sign went up.
My street was an unusual street. It's fairly short, with a city park on one side, and houses on the other. The houses back up to a large church yard, so the residents of the street have no other houses in front or behind them. Impett Park is fairly large, it has three baseball diamonds, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a soccer field and a playground. What a playground it was. A good old fashioned unsafe playground. It had big huge blocks of concrete for kids to climb on. To get to the climbing concrete, you had to walk up a steep concrete incline. Those who managed to make it to the top of the incline without falling and scraping something were sure to be cut, bruised or knocked unconscious on the climbing concrete. The park also had a few swing sets, a big igloo shaped metal climbing contraption, and 4 steel slides. Two of the slides were fairly small, maybe 12 feet high, but the other two were probably 24 footers. In the summer, the surface of the slide reached temperatures nearing 150 degrees. Luckily the slide was fairly steep and offered a quick ride to the concrete down below, minimizing the tush burns. The playground has since been refurbished. I haven't been there in years.
On the south side of the park is Edgecliff Ave, where my grandparents on my dad's side lived. Their backyard butted up to the park near the soccer field. My grandpa died when I was 3 so I really don't remember much about him. I was very close to my grandma though. It was really great that she lived so close, I would walk over to see her a lot. I was fortunate to have two sets of really great grandparents. My dad's mom was more of a kid's grandparent. She liked to play and see our toys and have us talk to her about things we were interested in. I remember bringing my collection of WWF wrestling trading cards over to her house to show her, and she sat and looked at them all with me, reading the information on the back and making comments on them. My mom's parents were what I'd call adult's grandparents. They weren't really the kind who were interested in kid things, for example I have a tape that my grandpa and I made when I was very young. Apparantly he wanted to show off his new tape recorder by having me make a nice tape for my mom to listen to. He kept asking me to say certain things, but being a kid, I had my own agenda. This particular tape ended up being me telling weird jokes about George Washington. Grandpa sounded pretty disgusted. "I'm trying to make a nice tape but all you want to do is talk about George Washington," he said. But as I grew older I became much closer to to my mom's parents. I'll talk about them more later.
My first bedroom was yellow with big pictures of Disney characters on three of the walls. The other wall was covered with cork board squares. It was referred to as "the bulletin board," an idea my mom's dad came up with. It allowed me to hang endless amounts of stuff without doing any harm to the walls. I had all sorts of cardboard cut out holiday decorations, posters, pictures of things...a bit of everything. It was a neat little room...but soon I would be moving upstairs.
I don't know why, but I vividly remember the morning of August 17th, 1983. That was the day my sister Paula was born. I don't remember much about that though, what I remember is waking up to the wonderful smell of bacon frying on the stove. For whatever reason, that seemed strange. I had never woken up to the sounds and smells of breakfast being made before. I walked into the dining room and peered into the kitchen to see Grandma Henning standing there. She explained to me that I had a baby sister, and boy was I excited. Not that I had a baby sister, but because my grandma was there, and she had bacon.
(Left to Right): Me, Grandma Henning, Paula. No, I don't know why I'm holding my crotch.
Soon my dad and my mom's dad would begin construction, turning our unfinished attic into what would become my bedroom for my childhood and teenage years. It was a weird room. There were rooflines because it was a bungalow, so the room was built around them. Upon entering there was a long narrow part which opened into the main room itself, followed by another narrow part with built in shelves and two closets. What wasn't covered in antique car wallpaper, was covered with cork board squares...yes another bulletin board...or really cheap paneling. It would become the envy of all my friends. No, not Mr Steve and Ms Sanky, because they couldn't make it up the stairs. I'm talking about once I actually had friends my own age...
In late august or early september 1983 I started kindergarten. I was in the first kindergarten class at St. Mark grade school in Cleveland. Prior to that time, St. Mark's didn't offer kindergarten classes. The building was originally used as a convent. It smelled like nuns and probably still does to this day. The smell was very pugnant, a combination of moth balls, clorox and orthopedic shoes. I was in the afternoon kindergarten class. Perhaps thats why I'm not a morning person to this day. Kindergarten was the first time I was regularly surrounded by kids my age...
Our kindergarten had several rooms. There was a great big room which served as a class room, with large tables that sat eight each, and little tiny kindergarten sized chairs. Next was another big room where we would sit in a circle on the floor (cult like, indeed, but hey, it IS a catholic school) or do other activities that didn't require being seated at a table. Finally, there were two playrooms, the blue room, and the yellow room. The yellow room had more play toys. Cars and trucks, building blocks, stuff like that. The blue room contained the more creative toys. It had easels for fingerpainting, books, and a sandbox... I spent most of my playtime in the yellow room. Then one day, Mrs Weiss suggested that I give the blue room a try. I didn't really pay much attention and continued playing with the trucks. Eventually, I went into the blue room to see what it was all about. I began to play in the sandbox which was on legs so it was about stomach level for the average kindergartener. As I was playing, I discovered something was stuck to the bottom of the inside of it, beneath the sand. I started to tug and pull at it, trying to figure out what it was. Finally, i pulled it loose, only to discover it was a plug that kept the sand inside the sand box from running out all over the floor. I quickly returned to the yellow room. Nobody was ever officially blamed for the sandbox incident, although I'm happy to report I was never a suspect, since I never played in the blue room.
St. Mark Kindergarten
If you did something bad in St Mark's Kindergarten, you got sent to the thinking chair, a chair off in the corner of the main room with the tables. The thinking chair was called the thinking chair because it was a CHAIR that you were supposed to sit in to THINK about what you had done wrong. You had to face the corner and not participate in the class while you were in the thinking chair. In hindsight, I have no clue why it was such a feared place...but I was terrified of the thinking chair. I was only sent their once, because of a no good squealer.
One day, there was a huge cardboard box in the front of our classroom. When it was milk time, Mrs Weiss went to get the milk, and several of the kids ran up to look at what was in the box. I was amongst those who peeked. The last kid who ran up to peek in the box was a girl named Rebecca Jones. Rebecca was fairly dumb, and made no effort to get back to her seat before Mrs Weiss returned. Upon arriving, Mrs Weiss discovered Rebecca staring into the box, and sent her to the thinking chair. Rebecca began crying and told her that I had also looked in the box, so I was sent to the thinking chair as well. What did I think about while I was there? What a bitch Rebecca Jones is.
My first real friend under the age of 10 was a kid named Mike Caril. We remained best friends through all of grade school. He was kind of a nerdy kid, and I was fairly eccentric, so we got along very well. Neither one of us were ever considered one of the "cool kids," but in hindsight, we were the only two who weren't afraid to be ourselves. I thought outside the box, liked what I liked without care of whether or not it was the in thing to do. Back then I only listened to Oldies from the 50s and 60s...that alone made me a social outcast for most of grade school. If that wasn't enough, I regularly stopped at yard sales in search of "knick knacks" and other oddities. I also wore a tie to school on several occasions for no appearant reason. Fortunately, I've never been afraid to be me...that holds true even more now that I'm in Chicago.
Sr. Mary Tyler Moore from St. Mark Grade School
When I was in second grade, something magical happened. I performed comedy for the first time. St. Mark was a predominately Irish parish, and the school talent show was no exception. It consisted of several Irish dancing acts, a number of lip syncs (for some reason they decided lip syncing was a talent) and me, doing a ventriloquist act. It was a brilliantly crafted act if I do say so myself. I would start a joke, the dummy wouldn't know the answer, and I would deliver the punch line. For the final joke though, there was a reversal...the dummy got the joke right, and I cleverly activated a battery operated laughing box in my pocket which I made the dummy laugh along with. I won the first place ribbon. Little did I know what that performance would snowball into...
My extended family is pretty large. While I only have one aunt, one uncle and one cousin on my mom's side, my dad's side of the family is quite the opposite. I have 4 aunts, 3 uncles and 9 cousins on that side. In addition, my two oldest cousins each have children. I think the technical term for them is "second cousins" however I feel that term is demeaning and makes them feel small or unimportant. Thats why I prefer to call them cousinettes. All and all, both sides of the family are great. I often hear people gripe or complain about spending time with the family at holidays and so forth, but I actually enjoy my family.
The Henning "adults" in July 2005.
Some of my closest friends when I was younger..and still to this day even thought I don't see them often...are my cousins. During two consecutive summers, I spent a week or so with 4 of my cousins at my aunt and uncles house in Southern Ohio. I really don't remember a whole lot about these trips, other than mom crying when I left and the fact that I had lots of fun...however, years later, two things are talked about to this day: Cheers and Eskimo Bob.
As I mentioned before, I was a slightly unusual kid, and so for whatever reason (most likely my desire to perform comedy), my cousins and I played "Cheers" for the entire week. Selecting cast members from the beloved TV sit com that none of us were old enough to watch, we used the breakfast bar as the Cheers bar and carried on as we felt Sam, Rebecca, Woody, Cliff and Lillith would. I think it may have been more fun for the adults to watch, but that didn't stop us. As for Eskimo Bob, my cousins seem to recall more about him than I do. I remember him being a comic character that I had made up, with a wife, Eskimo Bertha. Somehow I ended up becoming Eskimo Bob and had long forgotten him until one of my cousins recently brought him up, expressing the desire to see the character brought to life on stage....wheels are turning....
On August 17, 1986, my sister's third birthday, my dad's mom died. It was pretty hard for me, because I was incredibly close to her. She was a wonderful, loving person and I cant remember one time when she didn't have a huge smile on her face. I remember a few years later being taught about something called a "rite de passage," a defining moment where one goes from being a child to being an adult. I think my grandma's death was my rite de passage. Even in second grade I considered myself on the same level as adults, and resented being treated as a kid by teachers. My mom always says that even when I was a kid, I was an adult because I was overly mature and level headed for my age. Mom also said on more than one occasion that she was afraid that because I was so adult like as a child, that Id become some sort of wild and crazy kid-like adult. While I admit I'm probably more like a kid now than I was as an actual kid, I don't think she has anything to worry about. I mentioned earlier that Grandma Henning was a kid's grandparent. We used to play with my hotwheel cars a lot, and every time we did she would choose the same car...a yellow Chevy pick up with red flame decals on the sides. It is one of the few things in life I will never part with.
For the most part, grade school was fairly uneventful. Sure, a bunch of things happened, but really, there is only one other defining moment that I can recall from grade school...the eighth grade talent show. The eighth grade talent show differed from the second grade show in that lip syncing was no longer considered a talent. Participants had to be able to demonstrate a talent that did not involve pretending to sing a song. It turned out to be a pretty good show, people sang, lots more Irish dancing, others played instruments, but in the end, the show came down to two acts: The Burtch kids tap dancing to New York New York, and me, Brian Henning, telling the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears with Roger, the amazing talking wonder dog.
The original ventriloquist dummy I had used in second grade was tragically disfigured in a two on one wrestling match against me and a friend in fourth grade. Luckily, I had obtained Roger, whose 100% synthetic fiberfill body could withstand even the most brutal pile driver. The eighth grade act presented me as the straight man, and Roger as the wacky, impatient dog who wanted nothing other than to breath life into the dull tale of Goldilocks...and boy did he. The act was a tremendous success and the sound of uncontrollable laughter from hundreds of catholic school children still echoes in my ears over a decade later. Later that night, the show was performed again, this time open to parents and other adults. The show was just as much of a success then.
After winning the overall trophy...thats right, a brilliantly choreographed tap dance routine has nothing over a hastily written talking dog act...I quickly found myself on fame's backside. The next morning, I was rushed by adoring fans...of Roger. "Where's Roger" they would yell..."Can I get Roger's autograph?" others shouted. Despite being the brains behind the act, it was Roger who took all the credit. I attempted to take the act on the road, but Roger would have no part of it. He decided to break off on his own, but failed miserably. After nearly a decade of not speaking to each other, I recently discovered him, down and out, living in a cardboard box in the back of the closet. While we have no plans to tour again, I'm pleased to report we've put our past differences behind us.
Me (top) and Roger after being reunited in 2005.
The summer after eighth grade was somewhat of a turning point. It was the end of my time being an outcast as I had been in grade school. As I began high school, I continued to be me, but was generally much more accepted for it. More on that in a few. But one thing happened that summer that would play almost as much of a part in my life as the talent shows did...my discovery of "stuff."
I'm a huge collector. I love weird, quirky, oddball things. Old stuff, vintage stuff, you name it, I probably currently or once collected it. During the last 15 years I have collected antique clocks, vintage watches, brewery memorabilia, bottles, antique oak furniture, walking sticks, old toys, early radios and phonographs, antique cabinet photographs, vintage lighting, rare books, advertising, animated wooden bottle stoppers, tobacco pipes, Nazi memorabilia and antique midget wedding photos...just to name a few. My love of antiques and collectables ultimately led me to become an auctioneer down the road, and the summer of 92 was the start of it.
I have three people to blame for my love of stuff...my uncle Mel, and Chuck and Carol, who owned a resale shop near my house. Mel bought my great grandparents house when they passed away, and turned the basement into what I viewed as my Mecca. It was full of vintage beer memorabilia, motion signs, a pool table, arcade game...all the things an eccentric kid like me loved. So I began to hit the yard sales in search of beer stuff and other oddities. My search led me to Home Stuffers resale in Lakewood. There, I met Chuck and Carol. That summer I ended up working part time for them. Helping make deliveries and such. Ultimately, they made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I would work in the store one day a week, and in exchange, they would give me a small section of the store where I could sell stuff. My life as an antique/junque dealer began...
I hated grade school, but I loved high school. I was floored the first day that I was treated as an adult. I wasn't talked down to the way I had been at the hands of the evil nuns of grade school. That, in itself, was magical to me. I quickly became one of the Drama Club kids, performing in five plays, directing two more, stage managing an eighth, and writing one out of the two homecoming rally skits that I was in. In addition, I was elected the treasurer of the club my sophomore year, and served an unprecedented two terms as it's President.
I used to take an RTA bus to and from school. The good old 83 bus. It's route started at the Triskett Rapid Station not too far from my house, and worked its way south down W. 130th Street eventually stopping at the corner of Snow Rd. and Queens Highway, one block from Holy Name High. I had a love/hate relationship with the bus. On one hand I would have much rather gotten a ride to school from my parents or friends, however at that time, all my friends were freshmen, so none of us had drivers licenses yet. On the other hand, the 83 provided me with tons of real live comic characters to observe. Disco Inferno Woman, Quint, Scrubby, The Tee-Hee Girls, Larry...the list goes on and on. Fortunately for me there were a few other students who took the 83, most notably Tim Gannon and Erin Brutvan, cousins, who I would have the pleasure of working with in several productions during my 4 years at HN.
For the time being, I'm going to skip past high school. Most of what I consider writing are merely stories that only a few people would remember and none of which offer any insight into my past. To summarize, in high school I made some great friends and did a lot of drama work which furthered my desire to try and make a living in the arts.
A majority of my family are practical people. I always knew I wanted to perform, yet after high school, my practical side won and I never seriously gave any thought to persuing a career in theater, writing or comedy. I applied and was accepted to Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, Ohio and planned to have a dual major in business and communications. College really didn't impress me. Part of it may have been that I commuted rather than live on campass, but it just seemed like a bunch of kids drunk all the time eating cold pop tarts for breakfast and falling asleep during a 10am class. A degree is a piece of paper. Some of my heroes have several, others don't have any. Some of the biggest douchebags I've ever met have several, while others don't have any. Education is a very important and valuable thing yet the drive and desire to learn and succeed is more important.
Towards the end of my first year I felt that I didn't want to continue. In hindsight, I know it was because I wanted to write and perform only I didn't really know it at the time. I set my sights on becoming an auctioneer, a job that would combine two of my favorite things: being in front of a crowd, and lots and lots of junk.
Mom wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea and recommended we get an outside, impartial opinion from somebody. We agreed to ask her friend and former co-worker, Roger Carman. Much to mom's suprise, Roger supported my plan to persue what I wanted to do. Typing this, I realize what an impact his advice played in my decision to move to Chicago several years later.
In summer of 1997 I attended The Missouri Auction School in St. Joseph, Missouri...The Harvard of auction schools. In addition, I went to Hondros College to take the classes necessary for me to become a real estate agent. I worked those two jobs until I moved here in 2003. Being an auctioneer never got old for me. I still love doing it. It is performance and improv, and is probably the only aspect of "Ohio Brian" that I miss. Real estate, on the other hand, started to get old after a few years.
At first, I was very successful. I made a lot of money, got to make my own schedule, drove a nice car, bought a great condo...but it got to be monotonous. It became very clear for me during that time that I could not continue to do this for another 40 years. I was pretty unhappy. There were days when I really didn't want to get out of bed in the morning. I didn't like what I had become....I was old. I was in a career surrounded by people in their 40s and 50s, I had lost contact with most of my high school friends so with the exception of the auction crew, I felt alone. No social life, no nothing, just me trying to buy my own happiness with the money I was making...and it didn't work.
I don't really remember the turning point that led to my decision to move to Chicago, but I do remember it being a very easy decision. My friend Nate had told me about Second City and after doing some research it seemed like the place I needed to study if I wanted a chance to succeed. The decision was made in November 2002. There was no specific deadline to move, but things went into action.
Somehow having an end to my unhappyness in sight made everything better. Oddly enough, having an "I really dont give a shit" attitude can be a good thing. Despite stopping all my real estate marketing towards the end of '02, the business I did in the first 6 months of '03 before actually leaving Ohio surpassed that of any of my previous 4 years in the business. I also began the process of downsizing my 1700 square feet worth of collections on ebay, including an 1860's foot powered dentist's drill and a player piano. In June of '03 I listed my condo for sale. It sold in 3 days. At the end of July, I was on my way.
More to come....
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