Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Favorite Venue



Saturday July 19th, 2014 – Milwaukee, WI

   Ahhh…nothing is as thoroughly refreshing as an oasis in the desert. Tonight I was booked for a pair of shows at my all time favorite performance venue which is The Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. I love everything about the place, and I’d work there anytime.

   The stage is enormous, the sound and lights are always perfect, and the hometown audience is primed. I can talk to them like nowhere else, because I grew up in Milwaukee and know exactly what buttons to push. I can use references I can’t use anywhere else, and it is total creative bliss.

   Another reason I like working there is the friendly staff. Bob Rech is in charge, and everybody from him on down treats me like a big star. I treat them well too, but I do that everywhere. That’s how I think everyone should be, but it doesn’t always go down that way. I feel totally at home.

   Tonight I wasn’t hired to do my “Schlitz Happened!” show about growing up in Milwaukee, so I kept it separate and just did my regular standup comedy show. I have enough material to divide it up, and I have always been one to switch things around depending on the individual audience.

   I’m rarely if ever nervous before any show, but tonight I admit there was a knot in my stomach because my sister Tammy and her husband Jake came out to see the early show. I had a difficult time coming up with the last time Tammy saw me, and it has to be more than 25 years. Jake had never seen me perform ever, and I wanted to have a good show just so they’d have a good time.

   We went out for dinner before the show, and met up with my cousin Wendy and her childhood friend Mary Jo. Tammy and Wendy had never met, and I was a nervous host there too because I wanted it to go well. The last thing I needed would be any family tension, but there wasn’t a bit.

   Wendy is a super sweetheart, and has supported me for years. She and Tammy were fine, and we had a relaxing meal before they went to gamble for a while before the show. Cary Ruby was the opening act, and she joined us for dinner. I didn’t expect any problems from her, and didn’t have any. All of us got along, and it went exactly how it was supposed to go. I was SO relieved. 

   The early show audience wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. Summer shows are always light, and the 7pm starting time can be a factor too. I was still able to get them going, but I have had much better audiences. Tammy and Jake thought it was great, and so did Wendy. That’s the main concern I had, and I’m always ultra hard on myself and set high standards. I want to please.

   Of course the second show was a whole lot better, but that’s how it usually goes. When there’s anybody that need to be impressed, the show rarely delivers – at least in my mind. When it’s just another show with nobody I know in the crowd, that’s when it rocks. Those people were laughers and we all had a blast. When that room is rocking, there isn’t any place like it. I adore that space.

   If it were up to me, I would work there 52 weeks a year. I would perform “Schlitz Happened!” and build my legend like Danny Gans did at his theatre in The Mirage in Las Vegas. It doesn’t even have to be in the Northern Lights Theatre, even though I fit perfectly there. A smaller room would be fine, as long as the hot audiences keep showing up. I was born to work there. Literally.

I can't think of a more ideal venue for standup comedy than Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. It's my favorite venue ever. www.paysbig.com

An Extended Mess



Friday July 18th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   My life is an extended mess, and I don’t know how to fix it. It’s not messy like a lot of people, and in fact my mess is pretty boring. There are no drug or alcohol addictions or cheating on my pregnant wife with a secretary. But it’s still there. A mess is a mess, and they’re a bitch to clean.

   I am flopping around desperately like a fish in a boat, with a giant hook in my mouth. My eyes are bugged out and I’m suffocating - with water just inches away. If someone would remove the hook and toss me back in the water, I would have a chance to start over. I would like that chance.

   The hook in my mouth is being an entertainer. I have given up everything else in order to attain a skill level most never come close to, but it has put me in an unstable financial position. I can no longer earn a living like I have all of my adult life and my eyes are bugging out. I’m suffocating.

   But water is just inches away. All it would take to turn my life around is one phone call with an extended run of bookings somewhere. It could be comedy clubs, casinos, cruise ships colleges or I could write for a TV show. I could also do radio. It’s not like I’m a total zero. I have a skill set.

   The skill set I have is very specialized, and those that are at the top end of the scale are hauling in enormous bank. I don’t need that right now quite honestly. I’d be thrilled with medium money on a steady basis, but entertainment is a feast or famine game. I am smack dab amidst a famine.

   There are few if any entertainers that don’t experience this at some point, but many have a nest egg put away to fall back on during the lean times. I had one started, and a nice one at that. Then I had a “worst case scenario” pop up in 2011 and health problems cleaned out every last nickel.

   This was after getting blasted out of a radio gig in 2004 that would have paid great money and offered full insurance benefits so the crisis in 2011 wouldn’t have been nearly as devastating as it was. But it was. And ever since then I have been watching everything I have worked so hard for for so long dry up in front of my eyes. I know I’m not the only one suffering, but it’s still a mess.

   How does one manage to clean up a life mess? It usually takes a while for one to develop, and it can’t be taken away in one fell swoop – even though that’s what most of us expect. It’s like the dieter that took a lifetime to put on that extra 100 pounds, but expects to take it all off in a week.

   It’s not realistic, and in fact it’s dangerous to even try. There has to be a slow steady battle plan in place, and it’s neither pleasant nor easy. But that’s what it takes to achieve desired results, and it gets harder as one gets older because so many other things pop up and become obstacles also.

   I’ve got so many problems right now I have no idea where to start. I do a little something every day on as many as I can, but then I look at how high the mountain is and I lose hope. What’s the solution? I sure wish I knew. A steady income would make things a lot easier, but how to get it?

   I’m working on getting a resume out to ‘normal’ jobs, but I can’t lie. My heart isn’t in it. I need stability, but I sure don’t want to do it this way. Landing another radio gig that lasts several years would be ideal, but who is passing those out these days? Nobody. Back to cleaning up my mess. 

Sometimes I feel like a fish at the bottom of the boat - with water just inches away.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Scrabble Babble



Thursday July 17th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   I think I am finally ready for old age – that or a long prison term. I have found the activity that is going to keep my brain occupied for the rest of my days on this out of control little planet. I’m hooked for life, and if there’s a rehab program I don’t want to participate. “It” is online Scrabble.

   I have loved words and word games since my earliest memory. My grandfather would work on the daily crossword puzzle in the newspaper, and as I got older I would help – or at least make an effort. I didn’t solve many clues at first, but in time I got better and learned to enjoy the process.

   Gramps never played Scrabble, but I had an uncle that introduced me to it at a young age albeit under unusual circumstances. My wacky aunt would always want to play, and she was a piece of work to say the least. She eventually caused us to bend the rules, and allow for trading of letters.

   I’m sure that’s not the first time additional homemade rules have been implemented to a board game, but even that didn’t help my Aunt Charlene. She would always find a way to get into a big argument with my uncle, and it put everybody on edge. Still, I grew to adore the game anyway.

   I had never heard of a Scrabble club before I moved to Lansing, MI in 1990 to take my first job in radio, but I was fascinated with the idea. The club met on Saturday mornings, with most of the members being women quite a bit older than me. I was 26 then, and they saw me as fresh meat.

   They would bring assorted home baked goodies to share with the group, and many would bring craft projects to knit or crochet during the games. On the surface they didn’t look like a school of bloodthirsty sharks, but then I’d sit down and get shredded flesh handed to me week after week. 

   Wow, were they cold blooded. They would beat me like Ike Turner beat Tina, and never break a sweat. They’d keep on knitting and crocheting, and the grandmotherly smile would never leave their face for a second. Try as I might, I don’t think I ever won even one game. They crushed me.

   I only went a few times, but I had a fresh respect for how much I needed to learn and how good someone could get at a game I thought I was already good at. They were on a level I hadn’t even conceived of, but it also made me want to improve. I have played whenever I could since then.

   I can’t believe it took me this long to discover there was an entire online community of players, but I have now become one of them. I am hooked. It’s only been a couple of months, but I can’t see myself ever getting sick of playing. I do it whenever it’s convenient, and I don’t have to play an entire game if I don’t want to. But if I do, I can play as many games as I want at a single time.

   Just like with the Scrabble club in Lansing, at first I was finding myself getting torched with an alarming degree of regularity. It was discouraging, but I knew I’d get better if I hung in there and that’s what I’ve done. Now I’m starting to win games regularly, and I can feel myself improving.

   My two most regular opponents have been Bill Gorgo and Kristie Dickinson. They are terrific players that consistently kicked me around for weeks, but now I’m starting to win a few and they don’t like it. It’s a super challenge, and I’m never bored. I have found my passion for the future.   

Anybody want to play Scrabble online? I'm hooked.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bus Dreams



Wednesday July 16th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   One of a large laundry list of assorted oddities in my life I have never been able to figure out is a recurring dream I have had for decades. I have told it in detail to several dream interpreters that I have run across both on the radio and in private, but nobody has given me a definitive answer.

   In my dream, I am walking through an unidentified city. It is almost always at night, and I find an abandoned city bus parked with the motor running and lights on. I get on the bus, sit myself in the driver’s seat and proceed to start driving along a route that somehow I already know by heart.

   I stop and pick passengers up, and nobody ever questions anything. I will exchange banter with many of the people that get on, and even answer questions they have about directions. It’s a very realistic experience, and I can totally feel that big bus steering wheel in my hands as I’m driving.

   It’s never a school bus or Greyhound, and it’s never out in the sticks. It’s always a city bus in a city environment with big buildings around me and lots of traffic. I know exactly how to operate everything, and I consciously check my mirrors and use turn signals. It’s a detailed experience.

   The funny thing is, I have never driven anything close to a bus in my life. I did own a hearse a long time ago, but I didn’t drive it very much. It was basically a gimmick I used to advertise my comedy. I had “Die Laughing with Comedian Dobie Maxwell” painted on the side, and I parked it in a friend’s driveway that lived on a busy street. It was more of a billboard than anything else.

   I only wish I could have as vividly detailed dreams about being a special guest at the Playboy mansion, but that has never happened even once. These bus dreams have been going on for most of my adult life, and I’ll be dipped in diesel fuel if I can figure out why. But it’s not unpleasant.

   I did happen to ride the city bus quite a bit while growing up in Milwaukee, but there’s no way it should have buried itself that deeply into my psyche that I still have such vivid dreams about it today. I have never charted how often this dream occurs, but I’d say a couple of times each year.

   Last night it happened again, and I have to admit I enjoyed it. I wasn’t naked behind the wheel or anything like that, and once again I knew exactly what I was doing and where I was going on my route. If I had that kind of confidence and vision in real life, I would be a superstar by now.

   The only other recurring dream I still have is about trying to be a baseball pitcher. I show up at a tryout camp somewhere, and try to act like I belong there. I get on the mound and start to throw and before long there are scouts standing around asking me questions. Again, everything is vivid.

   Once in a while the procedure will take place at an actual stadium although I can rarely identify which. Sometimes it’s Wrigley Field. Other times it’s Comiskey Park or the old County Stadium in Milwaukee. Most times it’s just your random run of the mill stadium, but it’s always packed.

   Between innings I get to go out there and show everybody what I have left in the tank. I give it all I have, and then they ask me to join them in the broadcast booth. Again, I have no idea why it happens, but it’s never unpleasant. Where’s Sigmund Freud when you need him? I need answers. 

If my life dreams could match my bus dreams, I would be an unbelievable success.