Thursday, May 31, 2012

Staying In Practice

Tuesday May 29th, 2012 – Chicago, IL

  Anyone who claims to be a performer of any kind needs to get on stage regularly in order to get better, but it’s especially true for comedians. We need that dynamic of a live audience to develop our timing and tell us what’s working and what isn’t. We are a slave to what audiences will buy.

   A musician or singer can practice alone for hours to improve his or her technical skills, then go up on stage in a live setting and do virtually the same thing they rehearsed. A comedian can’t just memorize some jokes or routines like a laundry list and expect it all to be a ready to go product.

   There are always tweaks and adjustments to make, and the feedback of an audience is required to help us sort out what stays and what goes. That’s what ‘polishing up an act’ is about, and what makes it even harder is that audiences change every single show. Not every crowd likes the same things, and it can be maddening to try to please everyone – although most comedians try anyway.

   This week I’m back at Zanies in Chicago for another engagement and I’m grateful for a chance to be able to perform six nights in a row. I have always enjoyed working on my craft, and if I had my way I’d get on stage somewhere seven nights a week for the rest of my life if they’d let me.

    That used to be a lot easier to do, and I thrived on it for years. Club bookings used to be called ‘weeks’ for a reason. That’s how long we were hired to do shows. It usually started on a Tuesday just like this week did, and would often run through Sunday. Zanies is one of the few clubs in the country that still have that long of a week. Most other clubs are down to two or three nights tops.

   A lot of the bigger club acts get booked for Friday and Saturday nights only. It’s for two shows each night, and they can make a very nice chunk of change for those four shows. That’s fine, but I would love to come into a town and sell out a club from Tuesday through Sunday consistently.

   There’s a groove that builds up with regular performance, and it’s a feeling of power to be that razor sharp at any given time. Athletes talk about ‘the zone’, and I’m sure musicians get that way if they’ve been on tour for a while. The old adage is really true – if you don’t use it you’ll lose it.

   The audience tonight was pretty dead, but that can be expected on weeknights. Zanies has their ‘Good Neighbor Night’ promotion where people living in the surrounding zip codes can come in for a very low price. I think it may be a buck, but I could be wrong. Whatever it is, it’s very low.

   The other acts on the show are good guys, and pretty laid back on stage and off. That’s fine by me, as I tend to get pretty animated and energetic. I love nothing more than to pound an audience into submission and keep pounding them until they can’t laugh any harder. That’s what I live for.

   Having people line up after a show and tell me they almost choked to death from their laughter or better yet wet themselves, even if only a few drops, makes me feel I’ve done my job. There is no better reward for a comedian than hearing a customer needs a change of underwear. Paydirt!

   Tonight I had to work very hard to get and keep their attention, but I didn’t let up and took it as a challenge. This is what I do, and I gave them the best I had. I’m grateful for the chance to do it.

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Absolutely Nothing

Monday May 28th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   War…Huh…Good God y’all. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Edwin Starr said it best, and I wholeheartedly concur with those sentiments – even though he didn’t write the song. It was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, two of the all time classic Motown songwriters who didn’t pull any punches and wrote from the heart. They tapped into the pulse of the people.

   Today is Memorial Day, and while I’m eternally aware of and grateful for the extreme sacrifice made by the generations of American Armed Forces who gave part or all of their lives defending my  homeland, I find their valiant efforts to be an extreme misuse of underappreciated resources.

   I can’t figure out why war still has to exist at all. We’ve had thousands of years to work out our differences, but there’s no sign of anything being resolved any time soon. What the hell is wrong with us as a collective? I’m really getting cynical in my old age, and I wish I didn’t need to be.

   Can’t we as a species of pissed off hairless apes find a way to work this out already? Wouldn’t one think there would have been some kind of worldwide truce pact drawn up by now that we all can live with? I’m not angry at anyone in Iraq or Afghanistan. There are a few people quite a bit closer to home I’m not all that thrilled with, but that doesn’t mean I’m planning on killing them.

   Wars have been going on since Biblical times, and I’m sure a lot longer than that. I don’t think anyone who ever lost a child in one can come up with a cause that’s bigger than the loss they felt when their child died. Today was a day to remember all of the families who have had that horror pay them a personal visit. My heart goes out to them for their loss, but why does it still continue?

   The unpopular but true answer is – money. There’s money in war, even though it comes with a price of total devastation to a percentage of the population on both sides of the battlefield. I don’t think any amount of money is worth that high of a price, but my thoughts don’t mean anything.

    I’m just a grunt – exactly the class of people who end up having to fight the wars. I was lucky enough to have been too young for Vietnam and too old for the Persian Gulf, but there are those that weren’t and lives were wasted in both places. I don’t think that’s fair. Make the leaders go.

   If there was a dispute in a neighborhood between two families, wouldn’t the fathers be the ones to be expected to work it out? They’d meet face to face, and either settle it peacefully with words or maybe have a fist fight. If that didn’t settle it, maybe they would stop speaking to one another.

   That’s a pretty good way to avoid a body count if you ask me. My sister Tammy has chosen to give me the silent treatment for going on twenty years now. I might not like it, but at least I’m on the sunny side of the dirt and can move on. That would be a good solution to wars in my opinion.

   If our country doesn’t get along with another country, let’s just stop speaking to them until they either shape up or die on their own. We kind of did it with Cuba, and that wasn’t so bad now was it? As far as our government is concerned, Cuba is dead to us. Joking aside, war stinks. I wish it were avoidable, and I bet so do all those who have lost a loved one to the bloodlust of mankind’s greedy nature. If we’re going to evolve, war has to stop. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

Monday, May 28, 2012

Theory Of A Thousand

Sunday May 27th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’ve never been a fan of anything mathematical, but for whatever reason I’ve been crunching a bunch of numbers in my head of late and it’s been captivating me. I’m trying to figure out a hard number of how much I’d need to be financially secure for the rest of my life – assuming I’m able to live to a ‘normal’ age. So far, nothing in my life has been normal, but I’ll assume it anyway.

   I’ll even take it ten years farther than the normal life span according to the Bible of ‘three score and ten’, or 70 years. I’ll start figuring from 80, even though I find it hard to picture myself being that old. Then again, I never thought I’d make 49 – which I’m going to painfully round off to 50.

   Basically, I’m looking to survive comfortably for another 30 years. My standards are as low as dream standards get, but I don’t need all that much to live quite nicely at this stage. I’m way past the point of needing a mansion and a fleet of Jay Leno or Jerry Seinfeld expensive cars. I’m not a material guy, even though I often joke about what I’d do with wealth. I really want the security.

   There’s nothing wrong with anyone going ape if they can, but I’m just past that point in what’s important to me. I’d get as big as or maybe even bigger of a kick out of doing for others than I’d ever be able to squeeze out of buying anything for myself. I just need my things to be functional.

   I’d be totally fine with renting a livable apartment space for the rest of my life. I have no desire to be a homeowner ever again, as the year or so I experienced it was constant misery. If that isn’t smart business, so be it. I’d rather call my landlord when the toilet gets plugged than a plumber.

   I don’t even need a brand new car either. Just something that runs and starts will be fine. I’d be happy with that, and as I get older the last thing I’m going to do is buy a hot car trying to impress women. I’ve watched way too many worn out weenies waste wads on a Corvette. It won’t be me.

   The numbers that intrigue me the most are those of potential fans. The American population is now right around 314 million. Canada is close to 35 million. Australia is roughly 23 million and The United Kingdom checks in at about 62 million. All totaled, that’s 434 million who allegedly speak English as their first language. I won’t even count anyone else who speaks it secondarily.

   Now, I’ll knock a quick 34 million off the total and make it a nice round 400 million. If I could squeeze $20 out of just one tenth of one percent of them either for a live performance, CD, DVD, t-shirt, book or other trinket it would add up to 400,000 customers and $8 million in my pocket.

   I’ll make it even simpler than that. I’d be thrilled if I could pack 1000 people in a venue for one show a night - every night for a whole year. That’s 365,000 total, and I’ll slice the ticket prices in half to $10. That way, they may be more likely to buy a DVD, CD, t-shirt or book. I may be able to squeeze $30 or $40 out of a large percentage, but I’ll keep it at $10 each. It’s still $3,650,000.

   Cut taxes and expenses out of that and I’ll leave myself with half - $1,825,000. I’d put away $1 million immediately and be left with $825,000. Divided by 30 years, that’s $27,500 a year. I can squeak by on that, and would be grateful to get it. This all looks great on paper, but I’d be blown away if I could draw 1000 people ONCE. I better work on that first. No wonder I stink at math.

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Maximizing The Moment

Saturday May 26th, 2012 – Wonder Lake, IL

   One of the most humbling parts of the entertainment business is that no matter how satisfying a particular show or evening or week of shows may be, there’s always the next one to worry about. Too often there’s not enough time to savor when things go well, and that minimizes the moment.

   We wear so many hats as entertainers that at any given time we could be a promoter, producer, sales person, babysitter of egos, damage control specialist and a vast array of other positions that have nothing whatsoever to do with actual on stage performing. The work is never ever finished.

   Last night was an absolute blast, but that’s over today. There’s a wedding or banquet going on in the space where we did the show, and nobody there knows or cares there was a killer comedy show in that very room just 24 hours before. A moment was created - but then it’s gone forever.

   Tonight was a brand new set of circumstances in a completely different location with a mix of entirely new characters, even though the result was pretty much the same. The people who came had a good time, and I got paid at the end of the night. On a basic scale, that’s showbiz success.

   We have to do that same process over and over and over again, and that opens us up to having all kinds of unexpected results at random times that can have maddening results. Any number of catastrophes can jump up out of nowhere to ruin the party, and at some point it happens to us all.

   Tonight went pretty smoothly all around, even though there was that typical table of boozed up idiots who wouldn’t stop babbling and ruined the show for the rest of the people who really liked it. I had to be a little sterner than I’d prefer, but I had to let them know they were being too loud.

   I don’t think the rest of the audience expected that, and I could feel the energy get sucked from the room for a few seconds as I was doing it. I was able to get them right back, as I have years of experience of handling these situations but it takes years of being in them to know how to do it.

   The show tonight was in a town called Wonder Lake, IL, even though I didn’t notice much of a town anywhere near the place we worked. It was set up by a former comedy student named Ruth Ruhnke who lives near there, and she asked if I’d be willing to do a show. Of course I said yes.

   There was very minimal risk involved because I made my nut for the week last night and could afford to take a chance tonight. It was only 11 miles from my house, so even if nobody showed it wouldn’t be a total disaster. I told Ruth I would not charge her if it flopped, so it was a win/win.

   It’s great experience to run a show of any kind, and I highly recommend everyone tries it to see exactly how difficult it is to get people in a room for any reason. It takes weeks of hard work and there’s still no guarantee even one buttock will show up to fill half a seat. It’s a major challenge.

   I know Ruth worked her butt off promoting this night, and there was a very respectable turnout to reward her for her hard work. I helped her by doing a solid headliner set, and she helped me in return by handling all the things I never enjoyed. I just want to show up and perform, but that’s a luxury that’s fading fast. Times are different now. We all have to start setting up our own shows.

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Country Club Kudos

Friday May 25th, 2012 – Frankfort, IL

   When things go like they’re supposed to, standup comedy is the best high I could ever imagine. It’s a feeling of utter euphoria for the performer, but the audience gets to enjoy it too. How many who ever watch a drunk or a drug addict end up having any amount of that pleasure themselves?

   Comedy is the ultimate win/win, but only when it works. When it doesn’t, it’s miserable for the performer but in most cases the audience doesn’t even care. That’s what really makes it a horrific experience. Nobody watching it has any clue of how much the performer is hurting on that stage. 

   It’s never a one way proposition - it’s a dance. The performer leads but an audience must come along right behind in order for it to work. When that happens, magic follows. It’s a feeling I have never grown weary of experiencing, and I felt it once again tonight. This is what keeps me going.

   My friend and fellow WLS radio ‘Jerry’s Kidder’ Ken Sevara booked me for a show tonight at Prestwick Country Club in Frankfort, IL. It was the first time they’ve ever tried comedy, and I’m flattered Ken asked me to kick it off. It couldn’t have gone better, and I hope they keep it going.

   Everything about this situation was right. The place wanted us, which is always a plus. A lot of times shows end up being booked by places who don’t want it. They think it might only be a way to make some easy money quickly, which is never the case. NO money in comedy is ever ‘easy’.

   This show was done correctly. The first thing I saw when walking in the door was a nice poster placed in a conspicuous spot where it could be seen by people who might actually want to see the show. What a novel concept! Way too often posters get taped up above the urinals - or not at all.

   The General Manager Jim Johnson made it a point to greet opening act Brian Hicks and myself at the door, and get our introductions so he could bring us up on stage with some credits. He was the host, and did an outstanding job of bringing us up with class and respect. That sure does help.

   Brian always does a professional job, and tonight was no exception. He set the tone and put the audience exactly where they needed to be. They were there to laugh, but they weren’t necessarily a comedy audience. There’s a different vibe from a crowd that’s in a comedy club and have been trained as opposed to a show like this where they’ve never seen it before. Brian knew what to do.

   They took a break between acts, not something that’s popular with comedians because it breaks up the focus the opening act had to work so hard to get. I informed Jim about that fact, but didn’t make it an issue. I told him I’d roll with it however he wanted, and I could tell he was getting it.

   By the time I got on they were primed and ready to go. I knew exactly what to do from the start and they were with me the whole time. They weren’t drunk or nasty, and let me take them where I wanted. That’s what makes it fun for everyone, and I know these people will become regulars.

   So many things about this whole experience were pleasant, it gives me hope that comedy is not dead quite yet. From Jim Johnson to Ken Sevara to Brian Hicks to the whole audience, this was a perfect example of everyone doing their parts to perfection. Why can’t every gig work this well?

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

Nowhere Fast

Thursday May 24th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   Life is hard, show business is harder. There’s never a time to just lay back and relax, as there is always some major project that needs attention or impending problem on the horizon. One has to mentally be about six moves ahead at all times, yet still find a way to focus on the task at hand.

   I’m so far into it, I don’t know which way is up anymore. I don’t know if I ever did. I just kept showing up wherever they would have me, and kept things pretty loose. I’m paying for that now, as I’m not really going anywhere special. I’m still on the beach, waiting for my ship to come in.

   It may never come in, and that’s just how it is. There are no guarantees of success in this game, even when a person has talent. I’ve heard stories of people like Lewis Black who said he thought he would never make it and was prepared to live out his days in obscurity – and then he popped.

   That’s a great story, but what about those that don’t? Those are the ones nobody ever hears of, and they die in obscurity. I can think of several really talented comedians that have either died or are still spinning their wheels in obscurity trying like me just to stay afloat from month to month.

   There are a lot of factors that determine who makes it and who doesn’t other than raw talent or ability, and two of them are timing and sheer luck. Those are two ingredients someone either has or they don’t – and I don’t. I have been in the wrong place at the wrong time most of the time.

   I can’t use that as an excuse though, and am not trying to blame that on my lack of what I think is success. I’ve made more than my share of stupid choices to go along with my lack of luck and timing, and that’s why I’m sitting where I’m sitting. I did learn from my mistakes though, and if I am able to get a good opportunity in the next little while I really think I’ll be ready to handle it.

   What I will choose to take as a positive is that I have made some unbelievably poor choices for a long time, but am still around and in a position to take another run at something. I will use what I know to hopefully help others coming up the ladder save needless heartache of blowing it like I did on the way up so they can move ahead the correct way. I’ve shot myself directly in both feet.

   The good news is, I’m not dead yet. I still have some ability, and this is a big world. I’ve pissed a few people off, but in the big scheme of it all a lot more people like me than don’t. What puts it all into true perspective is that the majority of the several billion people on this planet don’t even know who I am. That’s a giant face slapper. Touching even 1% of everyone is a mammoth task.

   I’m not even talking about worldwide notoriety. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I won’t be known to anyone in Africa, Asia, South America and most of Europe. I may rustle up a scant few followers at some point in Australia, England and some other English speaking places in Europe, but other than that I doubt if my jokes will be translated into Mandarin or Swahili. I’m a speck.

   I’ll be fine if I can just get my name and product out there and allow it to be sampled by people who might become paying customers. That’s what I’ve been trying to do since the very first time I ever stepped on a stage, but it sure is a lot harder than I thought. I just want to be able to make a decent living entertaining a group of fans who enjoy what I do. Is that too much to ask? Maybe.

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Visit Lake County

Wednesday May 23rd, 2012 – North Chicago, IL

    It’s time to transform theory into reality, and make something positive happen. Whining won’t accomplish that, so it was up early to attend the quarterly breakfast meeting of Visit Lake County of which I am a member to kiss hands and shake babies - and verse vicea. Networking is a must.

   Lake County, IL is an excellent location for me. It’s halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago, and also very near Kenosha, WI where I have a number of friends in addition to ‘The Mothership Connection’ radio show Sunday nights on AM 1050 WLIP. I wasn’t thrilled about moving out to the sticks when I did, but I’m finding it much to my liking now. This is the perfect spot for me.

   That being said, planting some roots is a smart thing to do. Joining Visit Lake County will help me do that if I follow through and use all the resources membership offers. The staff there are all down to earth sweet people, but my main contact is Jayne Nordstrom. She has been a sweetheart to deal with and always directs me to anything in the immediate area she thinks might be useful.

   She suggested I show up for this quarterly event to see what’s going on in the area this summer and I’m glad I did. There’s a lot going on throughout the county during the summer, and tourism is a huge part of it. I have to believe I can fit in somewhere, and I want to. This is my home now.

   As I’ve said before, I’d also like to do this same formula in Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Rockford, IL. Between those four places and everything in between which includes Lake County there have to be countless possibilities off the radar of what would be considered ‘normal’ work.

   I want to establish myself as the go to source when it comes to holiday party comedy shows or emcee work all kinds of events. Pressing the flesh at meetings like this will help plant seeds to be sewn at a later date. The good thing is, I’m not competing with an ocean of others as in comedy.

   Getting booked consistently in top level comedy clubs is getting harder and harder, but this is a whole new potential market. Awareness is the first requirement, and then word of mouth kicks in after that. I know I’ll be able to deliver when someone hires me, and be easy to deal with as well.

   That’s when word spreads, and hopefully before long I’ll be asked to do all kinds of events that nobody advertised. And, it’s all close to home on top of that. There are far more than the 100,000 number of potential fans Lenny Bruce used to talk about located between those four cities, and it might come close in Lake County alone if I work these contacts hard enough. This is prime area.

   The paradigms of what used to be absolutely etched in stone are now changing completely, and keeping close to home is a tremendous perk. Gas prices aren’t going down any time soon, so this is absolutely worth my effort. Profits of traveling entertainers of all kinds are being sucked up by fuel costs, so it’s time to adapt or get out of the business. But I don’t know what else I would do.

   And truth be told, I don’t want to do anything else. I love the creative part of what I’m doing; it just doesn’t bring in enough consistent cash at the moment. If I can cut way down on travel costs and find more local or at least regional sources of income, it would improve my life dramatically in a very short time. Everyone dreams of Hollywood, but right now I’ll settle for Lake County.

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

Psycho Babble TV

Tuesday May 22nd, 2012 – Mt. Prospect, IL

   The King of Uranus has finally landed! I - or should I say ‘he’ – recorded a pair of appearances this evening that will be seen in two future episodes of my friend Mike Preston’s cable TV show “Psycho Babble”. It was great fun as always to be part of the show’s energy, and long overdue.

    I really need to dive in with both feet and make this character come to life. It will either be my show business legacy or a flaming cherry on top of my sundae of personal failures. Either way, I have to follow through. Ideas aren’t a thing without action, and at least I’m taking some. Finally.

   All the excuses I want to make won’t change the icy fact that I need to make something happen but quick - or I’ll be derriere deep in a steaming heap of trouble. Doing what I’ve been doing for decades is just not working like it used to, and I need a new game plan. I’m backed into a corner.

   I need something to make me a player in the show business game, and this will either work like a charm or be the final nail in my coffin. Nobody in Hollywood is waiting for another Caucasian journeyman to show up after years of touring comedy clubs to turn into the next world wide star.

   If I’m going to squeeze out any kind of significant financial payoff to compensate for all of my years of struggle, I need to take a trip in a totally different direction. What I’ve been doing isn’t leading to what I thought it could, would or should, and it won’t any time soon. That’s the truth, even if it’s hard to swallow – and it is. The public just has not bought what I have been selling.

   Mike Preston told me a great quote tonight from Graham Parker that says “I don’t appeal to the masses and they don’t appeal to me.” Apparently it’s a lyric in one of his songs, and immediately upon hearing it Graham Parker acquired me as a fan. I can relate more to that than to the public.

   The King of Uranus is completely different. All I basically did was put on some goofy clothing and throw out some random bits and pieces of obscure riffs I borrowed from obscure sources the masses of today would never know. I used a helping of George Clinton and then added a slice of Superstar Billy Graham for starters, then tossed in a tiny spoonful of R.W. Schambach for flavor.

   Schambach was an evangelist who used to be on radio and TV when I was a kid. His charisma was unbelievably strong, and he had a haunting guttural wail I’d compare to Bon Scott or Brian Johnson of AC/DC. I don’t know if he’s living or dead, but his style will continue on with me.

   Every comic character has influences, whether they admit it or not. Woody Allen pays homage to Bob Hope and Groucho Marx. Johnny Carson worshipped Jack Benny and Jonathan Winters. I am putting new ingredients into the character of the King that I don’t necessarily use in my show now.  I’m a big fan of George Clinton and Superstar Graham, but they’re not comedy influences.

   I’ll keep working on it, and am grateful to Mike for letting me experiment. He’s got a talented bunch of regulars in his ensemble, and I’m flattered to be one of them. The show’s website is an experience all unto itself, with everything from strippers and porn stars to celebrity interviews of varying degrees. I’d love to see Mike hit major pay dirt, but he’s still trying to cultivate his core audience just like I am. Love it or loathe it, but please check it out.

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Computer Confusion

Monday May 21st, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   Is the internet a good thing? I’m still not completely convinced. Parts of it are nothing short of a modern day miracle. It’s the single most dramatic leap in the communication process since the printing press, and has completely revolutionized modern life as a whole. That’s the good news.

   The not so good news is that most of us don’t need all that and never did. We were absolutely fine before our entire world was set on its ear without us asking for it, but now we’re all forced to get on the internet bandwagon whether we want to or not. Those who don’t are sadly lacking.

   I’ll be the first to admit, life is passing me by and I can do nothing to stop it. It was difficult to keep up before, but now it’s downright impossible. Who has time to stay current with everything that’s happening these days? I know I don’t. I feel more lost every day, and it’s very frustrating.

   No matter the subject, there are now countless websites devoted to it that make it only a button touch away. That’s very convenient, but is it for our own good? It used to require digging deeply into the bowels of our local library to find certain tidbits of information. Now it’s all right there.

   Is that a good thing? It’s convenient, that’s for sure. But is it in our best interests as a species to have everything so effortlessly available? It sure is the recipe for us to get fatter, lazier and not to mention dumber - which we totally are. One would assume that it would be completely opposite.

   We’ve got all this knowledge at our fingertips, but do we use it? No, we’re too busy surfing for more pornography or putting up flatulent Facebook posts telling everyone on our list what we ate for lunch or showing the latest pictures of some relative’s cross eyed cloven hoofed demon baby.

   Who the hell cares? I sure don’t, but I have more than 4500 ‘friends’ who constantly post tripe like that on a daily basis. And are those people really friends? I’ve met quite a few over time, but to call them friends is a bit of a stretch. Some are fans. Some are acquaintances. Some I have NO idea at all why they would want to be associated with me, but alas there they are. It’s a mystery.

   I know I sound like my grandpa, but I think he would have hated this by now. He was a student of human nature, and liked to get out in public and meet people belly to belly. He was very social and knew how to engage people – especially total strangers. That skill is shrinking by the minute.

   Who gets out and interacts face to face anymore? Not many. What’s the purpose? Kids can put on a headset and sit at a computer screen and play video games with other kids around the world. On one hand, that’s about as cool as it gets. On the other, it’s amputating our basic social skills.

   It’s totally killing my business. I used to be able to count on making at least a passable living in the live entertainment field, but that’s shrinking by the day with You Tube offering every last act in history who has ever darkened a stage to anyone who dials it up on a computer – FOR FREE.

   Granted, the convenience of the internet is fantastic. I love sending emails and keeping in touch with friends all over the world. But it gets to be too much at times, and I’m overwhelmed with all that’s out there that I’m supposed to be keeping up with regularly. I just can’t do it, but who can?

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

Monday, May 21, 2012

It's Mr. Weenie Time!

Sunday May 20th, 2012 – Peru, IN/Fox Lake, IL

   It was nice to be able to pick up a few bucks last night, but I still had to make the dreaded drive home at some point. I should have been home Friday night, but I kept putting it off seeing friends along the way. I love visiting friends, but that doesn’t change the fact I’ve got to get back home.

   One of the few things that still makes a drive even the slightest bit interesting is if I take a route I haven’t taken hundreds of times in the past. Way too often it ends up an extremely boring drive on an Interstate Highway where there’s nothing new to see. Today I made sure I didn’t do that.

   I stayed on two lane roads as much as possible and drove through some smaller towns I haven’t been through in many years, if ever. Despite the fact Indiana is flat as a board, it was fun to drive through the towns and take in the scenery. I hadn’t been through Marion in years, and on this day with picture perfect weather it was an enjoyable experience – much better than a dull Interstate.

   One of the towns I don’t recall ever passing through is Peru. For whatever reason, I don’t think I’ve ever had reason to go there. If I did, I’d have surely remembered the hot dog restaurant there with the delightful name of “Mr. Weenie”. Who could ever forget a name like that? I had to stop.

   I can’t believe that isn’t a worldwide franchise. What an outstanding name. It has a cheesy logo to go with it, and I mean that with the utmost respect. It caught my eye from several blocks away and I immediately took a picture of the sign with my cell phone – and I rarely take any pictures.

   It’s the same reaction I get daily from my ‘URANUS 2’ license plate and ‘I (heart) URANUS’ bumper sticker. It strikes the chord of the nine year old in all of us, and it’s just plain funny. I had to stop and snap that picture, and noticed they also sold t-shirts that say “It’s Mr. Weenie Time!”

   Now who wouldn’t think that’s big time funny? I asked one of the teenagers who worked there if the owner was in. They said no but if I wanted to leave my info they’d pass it along. They said it’s been open for 50 or 60 years, and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before. It’s pure genius.

   I had to order a couple of hot dogs just out of respect. An idea that pure doesn’t come along all that often, and I can’t believe it hasn’t been taken and marketed. The hot dogs were delicious and dirt cheap to boot, even though I haven’t been eating many hot dogs with my diabetes diagnosis.

   I can’t believe I’m the only one that would think that. I left my info with the teenagers working and asked that they please forward it to the owner. If I don’t get a call back I’m going to go after this until I get an answer. I can totally see making this a part of the Uranus umbrella of products.

   This one is a winner. The owner saw it enough to offer t-shirts for sale, and I doubt if I was the only one to have this reaction. The secret is to find the way to get the rights to be able to pull the most money out of the concept. It obviously hasn’t been done yet, as I’d never heard of it before.

    This is the kind of stuff that makes life a fun adventure. If nothing else, it reignited my passion and desire to create my own products and become more entrepreneurial. My mail order books all talk about finding a product and then creating a new market that buys it. It IS Mr. Weenie time!

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

Perfect Timing

Saturday May 19th, 2012 – Eaton, IN

   I wish I knew how and why, but every once in a while life will somehow fall together perfectly for a day and circumstances will line up without a hitch. Why that can’t be bottled up and used in a pinch is beyond me, but I’d love to find the way to control it. Today was one of those rare days.

   My friend Darryl Rhoades called this morning to say hello. We’d been playing phone tag a few days, and he happened to be in Indiana for a couple of shows he’d booked on his own. He hadn’t known I was in Fort Wayne, and when I asked him where he was it was less than an hour away.

   I really wanted to get home, but I like Darryl and we decided to get a meal since we hadn’t had a chance to catch up in a while. Darryl has been playing music his whole life before transitioning to comedy, so he’s been around the craziness of the business even longer than me. We’re lifers.

   We get along tremendously, as neither of us tends to suffer idiots or bullies well. We both have had our share of run ins with less than ideal situations, and after enduring painful decades of that same old same old it tends to get stale. Sometimes it’s just nice to vent with someone who gets it.

   I met Darryl at his raggedy hotel room and commented how it looked exactly like almost every other room comics on the road end up getting. It wasn’t a national chain, and had a distinct air of sleaze that could be felt from the road. I could easily picture an insurance fire in the near future.

   Darryl told me how he was starting to book more and more of his own shows in smaller towns to avoid having to deal with the frustration of having to jump through the insane hoops too many bookers make us jump through. I can’t say I blame him, and he says it’s been working out well.

   He bought his own sound system, and it fits in the trunk of his car. He also sells a lot of t-shirts and CDs, and says money adds up quickly in a one nighter situation as people aren’t bombarded every week like in some of the more traditional rooms. He says for what he does it works great.

   I enjoyed hearing about how he’s putting these shows together, and then he asked if I’d like to come and see it all for myself. He said if I wanted to open the show he’d pay me at least a couple of bucks for my gas and effort, and I could see it firsthand. I did want to get home, but I couldn’t say no. Darryl was being nice, and I was at least a little curious as to how the evening turned out.

   The hotel was in Hartford City, IN but the actual gig was in Eaton. I’d never heard of either of those towns, and I’ve been around the block a few times. It wasn’t a career move, and it wasn’t a traditional comedy venue – but the people who showed up came to laugh and it was a hot show.

   I’d guess attendance between fifty and sixty, and they all paid to get in. I opened the show with a solid twenty minutes to get them warmed up. Darryl knew he was lucky to have an experienced emcee in front of him, but that’s fine. I didn’t mind helping, and was glad to see it work out well.

   This was an example of old fashioned hard work, and I was grateful to Darryl for letting me be part of it and earn some gas money home. It was a win/win, and everything came together nicely and without incident. The hotel didn’t seem quite as grimy as I drifted off to sleep a little richer.

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The Long Unwinding Road

Friday May 18th, 2012 – Pittsburgh, PA/Canton, OH/Fort Wayne, IN

   I’m not able to describe in adequate words just how stressful yesterday was, and it didn’t let up for several hours. No amount of money is worth that kind of aggravation, but sometimes life just works out that way. Could I have left for the gig earlier? Sure. Should I have flown in? Maybe.

   But there’s more to it than that. This is a much deeper issue than just running into a few traffic problems on the way to a comedy gig. That happens to everyone at one time or another, and this was my time. I’ve had countless examples of other times too, but I can’t seem to learn my lesson.

   There are just too many things to do, and not enough time to do them all. When that happens, it leads to situations like I just had to endure and ends up draining my entire being. Yes, I ended up making it in time for the show. But there were several hours of living hell when it was in doubt.

   That’s not how I want to do business, especially after being in this game for so long. It’s never a perfect world, but it would be nice to have someone to help coordinate my travel schedule so it doesn’t boil down to a literal race against the clock to get there on time. I can’t keep doing that.

   It’s funny for me to hear rock stars complain about how hard they have it. They have a tour bus waiting after their shows with someone else driving. They also usually have their meals prepared for them as well. They show up to a catered meal, do the show - and then get on a bus and sleep.

   That sounds pretty good to me right about now. I have to haul my own carcass to my gigs, find a way to feed myself from a drive thru window without reigniting my diabetes demons with a lot of sugary junk food, and then have to get myself home when I’m done. No wonder I’m stressed.

   I was so tight after the show last night I couldn’t have fallen sleep even if I wanted to. This gig was one of the few that didn’t come with a room included, so I got back in the car and started the long trip west. I’d just spent all day coming from there, now I had to drive back. How frustrating.

   I made it back to the Pittsburgh area before starting to unwind. I found a sleazy hotel room that was not worth the $46 price, but that was the cheapest I could find and I was beat so I took it and shut up. I thought about sleeping in my car, but that would have totally destroyed my self esteem.

   A hot shower, decent meal and a good night’s sleep can work wonders in stressful situations. It did the trick this time, as I woke up refreshed and ready to head home. I stopped in Pittsburgh for a lunch with Jeff Schneider and we recorded three half hour episodes of ‘The Unshow!’ podcast.

   I made it to Canton, OH with plenty of time to hang with my old friend Tim Marszalkowski for dinner at the delicious Mama Guzzardi’s Italian restaurant. Tim is also stressed to the limit on his day job, and told me at least I was working for myself. He’s absolutely right, but stress is stress.

   I got back in the car with a full stomach, and made it to Fort Wayne, IN and felt myself starting to nod out at the wheel. I could have tried to make it home, but what for? In the old days I’d have sucked it up and kept driving. Mountain Dew and Hershey bars would have helped a ton, but that strategy is what led to diabetes. Tonight’s choice was a big salad, water and a good night’s sleep.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Stress Test

 Thursday May 17th, 2012 – Mansfield, OH/Bird In Hand, PA

   There’s nothing like an all you can eat buffet of stress to make one think of changing careers in a hurry, and today was it. I don’t think I could pry my ass cheeks apart with a crow bar right now as they’ve been clenched together in terror the entire day. This kind of stress causes heart attacks.

   I had a 413 mile hell ride from Mansfield, OH to Bird In Hand, PA that was a lot more difficult than it needed to be. The weather was beautiful, and I expected to have a leisurely ride to my gig as I made notes about anything creative that popped into my head. I started out in a cheery mood, but by the end of the night I was ready for shock treatment and a sedative. This isn’t what I need.

   As can happen at any time in comedy, today suddenly morphed into a one man NASCAR race against the clock. I needed to be in Bird In Hand by 6:30pm for a scheduled performance time of 6:45. That’s a little early for the typical show, but it’s their event so they can have it whenever.

   I chose to take US 30 to avoid tolls, knowing it might take a little longer. I allowed myself time in case of delays, but it wasn’t enough. I got stuck in a nasty traffic jam in Pittsburgh, and I don’t know why. It was about 1:30pm, and it’s not like it was rush hour. Whatever the reason, I had no escape. I was caught in it and couldn’t move. The longer I waited, the higher my stress level got.

   I knew I’d be in for a race against time, and those are never fun. The distance that needed to be covered was what it was, and there are no shortcuts. I could only do one thing – keep driving and hope I would get there on time. I knew I’d be cutting it dangerously close and needed to keep my wits about me. Any more long delays of any kind would have caused me to miss the gig entirely.

   The entire state of Pennsylvania’s highway system seems to be under construction, and I had to go 40 miles an hour for much of the rest of the trip. I was trapped behind lines of other frustrated drivers who were trapped behind truckers who made it impossible to pass. I couldn’t go faster if I wanted to, and I totally wanted to. I could feel my heart lodge in my throat as time slipped away.

   I put the gas pedal to the floor and sped dangerously through construction zones and wherever else I could to just get there. I couldn’t afford to not get paid, and I had to risk death or a ticket to make it to Bird In Hand. They were on a time schedule, and only had the hall rented until 8pm.

   I finally made it with less than two minutes to spare, and I sprinted from my car to the room to discover that the motorcycle group members were all over 60. I wasn’t expecting that, so I had to adjust on the fly and go from there. The person who was to introduce me was out of the room, so I had to start cold as they were growing impatient. On a difficulty scale of 1 to 10, this was a 74.

   Still, I managed to pull an extremely solid show out of this situation. It took every last ounce of the quarter century of experience I have to do it, but I did. I slowed down and gave them my very best, and they loved it. They were great laughers, but had no idea how hard this show really was.

   I could have easily missed this one, and that would have been devastating financially. I was an absolute wreck afterward, but at least I’d made it. Barely. I don’t want to be living my life on this kind of a shoestring, but sometimes it happens. This is not a business for the weak or squeamish.

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Eastbound And Down

Wednesday May 16th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL/Mansfield, OH

   My only work this week is one show tomorrow night just outside of Lancaster, PA in a suburb with the goofy name of ‘Bird In Hand’. There are a few odd town names out that way like ‘Blue Balls’ and ‘Intercourse’, but everyone out there has heard the jokes so there’s no point in trying.

    I’d guessed it was roughly a 750 mile drive each way, but I was wrong. It’s longer. 813 miles door to door is what MapQuest says, but what do they know? I’ve been screwed by them before.  Whatever the case, that’s way too long of a drive for one night of work at this time in my life.

   I took this gig because it came from an associate of my friend Marc Schultz. Marc was asked to find a comedian to entertain a group of motorcycle enthusiasts, and he thought of me. Apparently they’ve been booking comedians for years at this annual event, and they needed some new meat.

   The pay is fairly decent, but not quite decent enough for me to fly in. Plus, I thought I might be able to rustle up a weekend somewhere in the region and make it worth the drive. I wasn’t able to find one, and that’s a red flag. Gigs just aren’t that easy to come by these days as they once were.

   There’s a weekend room right in Lancaster, and I’ve worked there before. That’s the place that would’ve made the most sense, plus the guy that owns it owes me a favor – or so I thought. Last time I was there was the weekend my father died. He ended up booking Jim Norton on very short notice, and was going to cancel me altogether until I told him I’d be willing to work as a feature.

   What were my choices? I’d have lost all money for that week, and I had another gig to get to in Pittsburgh the following week. I would have had to sleep in my car and have zero income, so the smart thing to do was just shut up and take it. Jim Norton was actually a very nice guy, and came up to me and apologized at the end of the weekend. But it wasn’t his fault. I see why it happened.

   I don’t have a problem with anyone being able to make a buck, but there’s no excuse to cut my pay for a gig we’d already booked months before. I ended up eating several hundred dollars I had already spent, but that’s how it can go. Many owners couldn’t care less, and he was one of them.

   That guy was notorious for bringing plates of food from the restaurant attached to the comedy club and telling comedians to ‘try this’ – and then giving us a bill at the end of the week. I had it happen to me, and found out I wasn’t alone. The only thing that cheers me up even a little is that he’s a big Steelers fan and I know it killed him when they lost to my Packers in the Super Bowl.

   I asked him nicely months ago to help me out this weekend, but he sent back a short curt email saying ‘Booked already.’ That’s it. Not ‘Hey, let me see if I can make some calls.’ Nothing. I felt like an ass, but I shut my mouth because I’m already in enough trouble with others for running it.

   I always said it’s time to quit when it’s not fun anymore, and I’m really to that point. I haven’t got the patience to deal with this kind of abuse anymore. That guy couldn’t care less about me or any other comic. I’ve had enough. I got a hotel room after driving 400 miles on the dot. I’ll give them all I have tomorrow, but I’ve really got some serious choices to make. This isn’t my future.

   On the way through Northwest Indiana I stopped off for a fun lunch meeting with the members of Jerry’s Kidders, Ken Sevara and Tim Slagle. Those guys can relate all too well with what I am dealing with, as they’re in the exact same boat. There is an entire generation of nightclub comics between 45 and 60 that are really struggling right now, and none of us expected to be part of it.

    Like rock stars and professional athletes, I think we all thought the comedy gravy train would last forever. How na├»ve and short sighted that was, bordering on flat out stupid. We’re all used to working regularly, and we came up at a time when it wasn’t out of the question to expect to work every week if so desired. Most of us never thought about an exit strategy…and now it’s too late.

   Now there’s a group of younger generation comics who all used to open for us that are taking a giant bite out of the work pie, and it’s becoming a real struggle. Part of it is the natural process of aging. If patrons of comedy clubs are of a certain age, they want to see comedians that age also.

   Another part is, there are fewer and fewer places to work that pay a living wage. There’s such a glut of supply that there isn’t a need to pay a premium for it. There’s always somebody who’ll do a gig for $50 less and drive twice as far. I guess that used to be me, and now it’s passing me by.

   I’m sure athletes go through this process on a lot crueler level. They fight their way up the line to sign the big contract, and then the team unceremoniously cuts them at some point to bring in a younger player for a lot less money. Its economics 101, but it’s a lot harsher to live it in real life.

   Ken and Tim and I are all in that boat and we know it. Believe me - every one of us in that boat is well aware we are there. There are no stowaways. We might not want to be there, but that’s an unfortunate reality. It doesn’t mean our lives are over, but if we’re smart we’ll start preparing for exactly that. The comedy dream doesn’t come with a retirement plan, but that’s kept very quiet.

   It’s a different game altogether now, and there are two choices – play it or get out. Comedy is a craft, but there’s a business side of it too. It’s a process of evolution, and like it or not we all need to change our strategy. As much as all of us long time comics hate to admit, it’s no longer 1986.

   Still, that doesn’t have to mean gloom and doom. I’ve had quite a few people call me bitter, but I don’t tend to sugar coat any situation. Bookers and club owners have always been difficult. Not all of course, but quite a few. One tends to take it a lot more at the beginning, thinking there’ll be a payoff at the end that will make up for the abuse. But rarely does that happen. It stays the same.

   Jim Bouton was called bitter too when he wrote ‘Ball Four’, but it was true. He wrote about the way baseball was, and many didn’t like that. Comedy is the same way. I may be a pariah in a few circles, but at least I’m honest with myself and tell it like it is. This has never been an easy career path, but I knew that going in. It would be nice to receive a little respect from those who book us.

   Maybe my expectations are too high, but I always thought it was important to be nice to people along the way. This just isn’t a business of ‘nice’, and I’m not able to let it go unsaid. I had better start, or start looking for something else to do. That’s a strong possibility. I still enjoy performing but the off stage insanity is getting tougher and tougher to swallow. I’m not equipped to handle it well, and I know it. Some people like to play the game, but I never did. All I want is to be funny.

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wheeere's Johnny?

Tuesday May 15th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   This year marks the 50th anniversary of Johnny Carson’s remarkable thirty year run as host of “The Tonight Show”, and there’s a well produced two hour documentary chronicling his life and career on PBS. I watched it last night with some friends, and all of us were riveted to the screen.

   What an astounding career Johnny had. He ruled the roost for three decades, and then went out on top and never looked back. It’s hard to believe he’s been off the air for twenty years now, but the tens of millions of us that still remember him will see him as a star forever. He was the king.

   A career like that comes along so rarely, it sets the standards for a generation of others who are never able to come close. Too many things have to come together at once, and only an extremely small amount of lucky sperm club members ever get to take that ride. Other than Johnny Carson, who comes to mind in any field? I can think of Babe Ruth, Charlie Chaplin and Elvis Presley.

   Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan both had spectacularly impressive careers and made huge marks in their respective fields, as did Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. They would all probably get a significant number of votes if there were a poll of the all time greats, but I don’t want to argue.

   My point is, very few ever get to take the big ride and wear the crown as the undisputed king of any field. Johnny Carson was the king of late night television, and there are millions of witnesses that would testify accordingly if asked in or out of a court of law. His star status is unquestioned.

   Besides the issue of talent, there’s always the luck factor. Timing is imperative, and without it talent is useless. Elvis came along at exactly the right time for what he was doing. He did what he did first, and he did it best. Rush Limbaugh would be another example of that kind of timing.

   Johnny Carson came along right as TV was starting. His family moved to Omaha, and he got a job as an announcer on the only station in town. He was also good looking and that didn’t hurt in the least. He was the total package that came along at exactly the right time. Of course the talent was there too, but all the other ingredients combined with it made him the superstar he became.

   It was interesting to learn some things I hadn’t known previously. Apparently, his mother had a way of stinging him with things she said about his career through the years. She didn’t seem very impressed with all his success, just as I read Steve Martin’s father was cold and aloof toward him as well. Far too many performers of all kinds get into performing only to seek parental approval.

   The documentary also talked about Johnny’s relationship with his three sons and how it wasn’t great, nor was his track record of marriage. He was human as we all are, and had dents in his can too apparently. Most of us can’t relate to those kinds of dents, even though we’d like the chance. Just because somebody is on top of their field doesn’t mean they don’t have human foibles also.

   Who’s to say any of us would be able to handle that situation well? Put any of us in the million dollar hot seat pressure cooker and see what we do when everyone has their eyes focused on our every move. Johnny pulled it off for thirty years, and he’ll never be equaled. The world is a very different place now, but he had his run. Wheeeeeere’s Johnny? In a prominent place in history.

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My Radio Mentor

Monday May 14th, 2012 – Milwaukee, WI

   I find it extremely important to pay the proper respect and honor those who have had a hand at helping to make my life a more worthwhile journey. There have been several who have stood out far beyond the rest, and I’m humbly grateful for all of the kindness and guidance they’ve shared.

   My grandfather is the shining example, with C. Cardell Willis following a close second. Those two had a personal influence on me more than I’m sure they know. Gramps helped me my taking the time to be the father figure my birth father never was. Maybe he wasn’t the father he planned to be himself, but he sure made up for it with me. He got a second chance, and he did it correctly.

   Cardell was my comedy father, and he showed me the ropes that Gramps never could. I needed a mentor to help me live my dream, and he was it. I could not imagine anyone kinder or wiser for that role, and I’ll always remember him fondly. I hope I can live up to the memory of them both.

   The person I consider to be my first and biggest mentor in the radio business is Pat Martin. Pat helped me get started in that snake pit of a racket, but despite that I like him anyway. I have often joked with him that I wished we’d never have met, but that’s not true at all. Pat is another gem of a soul that has been there for me through thick and thin and helped me when I needed it the most.

   Radio has been a lot colder and crueler to me than comedy ever was. I only got into it because I thought I might have a better chance to not have to be on the road constantly and become ‘stable’ enough to create an environment to have a family of my own. I never thought it was fair to make a wife and especially kids have to go through the loneliness of me being on the road constantly.

   How laughable and utterly ridiculous that all sounds now. Stability? Are you serious? Comedy has been WAY more ‘stable’ than radio ever was, but I kept going back like the abused wife in a trailer park thinking it would be different the next time. It never was, and I’m still disillusioned.

   None of that was Pat’s fault. He’s had to drink continuously from his own cocktail poured from the bubbling cauldron of radio insanity. He started as a disk jockey, and worked his way up from there to program director, G.M. and eventually station owner. Radio has been his lifelong dream.

   Pat was always there to offer a kind word whenever I got fired, as he could relate to it himself. He always told me I had big market talent, and that eventually I’d get my shot. When I was hired at The Loop in Chicago, I think he was more excited than I was. He told everyone he knew about how proud he was of me, and that I deserved it. Then I got fired, and he was there then as well.

   Today is Pat’s birthday, and I wanted to take him to lunch to show how grateful I am for all his kindness. He told me I was one of the very few who remembered, and I could tell he loved every bite of our delicious corned beef and pastrami sandwiches at Jake’s Deli – his choice of venue.

   I don’t know what this may mean in the big picture of life, but it felt great to be able to give the royal treatment to someone who I feel totally deserves it. I heard it in his voice when I called and saw it in his eyes when we ate. I know he felt appreciated, and isn’t that what we all want to have a chance to feel – especially on our birthday? I fall short too often, but today I did the right thing.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

O Mother, Where Art Thou?

Sunday May 13th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   Most if not all of the dented cans I have ever met can directly trace the primary sources of their pain back to their parents. That’s where it all starts. I’m sure there have been examples of people who had a loving upbringing who flip out and go to the dark side, but those are rare exceptions.

   I wonder what percentage of strippers, inmates or drug addicts have pleasant memories of their childhoods that pop into their mind immediately when asked to describe their family history? I’m betting under 1%. Life is hard enough without starting in a hole, but who has any control over it?

   I’ve heard more than a few times we all choose our circumstances before we’re born, but I find that rather hard to swallow. If I did happen to choose my particular path, I must have been drunk or high and I’d like a second chance please. I don’t know why any sane mind would choose this.

   I’m not looking for sympathy. All I ever wanted was at least some sort of a fair chance. My life started out off the beaten path, and wandered from there. Now I feel like such an outsider I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find my way back to the main road. Nobody ever answered my flares.

   Today is yet another Mother’s Day, and it’s really hitting me hard. Some have been better than others, but I thought I was over being sad. I guess not. I honestly don’t know if my mother is still among the living, even though I heard she was as of a couple of years ago. It doesn’t matter now.

   The damage is done, and she never made up for it. If she were dead it would be one thing, but I never understood how she could just walk out of the lives of three kids and not come back for us at some point. I’ve heard countless stories of fathers doing that, but rarely a mother. I don’t get it.

   I don’t know what’s worse, having bad memories of a parent or none at all. My old man was as mean spirited of a nasty bastard as I’ve ever crossed paths with anywhere, and that’s saying a lot. I’ve met some major league wank bags in my day, but he was right up there with the elite forces.

  The memories of my mother are few and fuzzy. The first time I saw her I was about 10, and she took my sister Tammy and brother Larry and me to the zoo for whatever reason. Maybe she was hoping to bring us back or trade us in for some monkeys or something. It was all very awkward.

   I remember that she was upset we wouldn’t call her ‘Mom’, but she hadn’t earned it. We didn’t feel a bond with her, even though Tammy and Larry are older and they knew her a little before it all went south. I was only five months old, so I don’t remember anything. Again, what’s worse – having one’s mother walk out as a toddler or not knowing her at all? Neither one is appealing.

   It’s easy for people to say ‘that happened long ago’ and ‘just get over it already’ and they often do. I can’t say they’re not right either, but on days like today no amount of pep talking or logic is going to take the pain away. There’s a gigantic vacuum void in my soul where a mother’s love is supposed to be, and I don’t know what else could ever fill it. Comedy hasn’t, and probably never will. I don’t think fame and fortune will either. There are things in life money can’t buy, and this is one of them. Dented cans of the world unite. Maybe we did get cheated, but it wasn’t our fault.

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Fun Isn't Enough

Saturday May 12th, 2012 – Wauconda, IL

   I had a very fun show tonight in Wauconda, IL at a place called ‘The Energee Center’. I did it a few months ago, and it was enjoyable then as well. The people who came out were there to see a show that night, and we gave it to them.  Even though it isn’t a gigantic venue, it was pretty full.

   Tonight, not so much. Maybe twenty, tops. I felt horrible on many levels, as that’s just not how anyone is going to make a decent living. The people who run the venue are absolute sweethearts, and want comedy there. They only do shows once a month, and have brought in excellent talent.

   Sally Edwards is a comedian who lives in Wauconda, and she both books and hosts the shows. She gets it as far as pairing acts together that fit well, and the comedians I’ve talked to that have worked there have all enjoyed themselves just as I did. We’re all hoping it lasts for a long time.

   In theory, it totally should. There is NO live comedy within probably 25 miles or more, and it’s a cozy little place that really works well. There’s a nice little stage and pretty good sound system, even though in such a small venue that’s not a major requirement. It is a plus though, and they’ve got a nice setup all around. There’s a positive vibe in that room, and I’d love to see it keep going.

   I don’t think they sell alcohol at all, but they may have wine coolers. I didn’t see any beer and I can’t say it bothers me, even though I know alcohol sales are the major source of revenue for the comedy business unfortunately. Trying to tame nasty drunks is not fun under any circumstances, and I’ve got a lifetime of experience to prove it. This is a much better scenario, and I cherish it.

   There have to be at least some people who aren’t raging alcoholics who want to see live shows, aren’t there? I would think there would be quite a few of them within driving distance to a venue like The Energee Center in Wauconda or Improv Playhouse in Libertyville. There’s another little room that’s fun to work, and the people who run it get it. Why can’t places like this draw flies?

   I was very disturbed to see such a small turnout tonight. Bill Gorgo was also on the show, and he’s a headliner in his own right. Those twenty people got way more than they paid for, and they were a tremendous audience. We all had fun, and there were no issues in getting paid either. We got our checks immediately after the show as promised, even though I know they lost their shirt.

  The people who run it were upbeat, but I never like to see anyone lose money. They need to eat like everyone else, and they put out a very good product for what they charge. There’s no reason it shouldn’t have been full, and even been able to sell out two shows. The fact is it’s just not easy to get people in a room for any reason. I know, I’ve tried to for years - and have failed miserably.

   I’m sorry to see this happen, as it’s such a fun room for everyone. The people who run it enjoy having comedy, and that makes it fun for us as performers. The cold hard fact that I don’t like to think about is - fun isn’t enough. It’s a business, and if there aren’t enough customers it’s a flop.

   That’s hard to stomach, but it’s just how it is. The slow animals in the jungle get eaten. Period. It doesn’t matter how fun they are, or how much any of the other animals like them. If they can’t keep up, they’re gone. I don’t know who made up this system but it sure seems cruel, doesn’t it?

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

KISS vs. P-Funk

Friday May 11th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’m still buzzing about how much I enjoyed seeing George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic light up the crowd at the Cubby Bear in Chicago last night, but there are a few factors that don’t add up inside my twisted little logic box. Let’s see if I can sort a few things out and make sense.

   In my opinion, the show should have been held across the street at Wrigley Field. Concerts are no stranger to that venue, as I remember Paul McCartney getting booked there not that long ago. I think Bruce Springsteen is there later this year as a matter of fact. Why isn’t George booked?

   Some might snicker when I suggest that, but they probably don’t realize just how major a draw P-Funk was at one time. I still remember them playing Soldier Field in 1977. I wanted to see that show, but had no means of getting there from Milwaukee at the time. I can only imagine the look of unbridled horror on my grandparents’ faces had I asked them to take me to see that concert.

   “You want us to drive you all the way to Chicago to see WHAT?”

   “A concert where a spaceship lands with black people from outer space coming out of it.”

   End of story.

   A lot of people also don’t realize that George and Parliament were signed on with Casablanca Records at the same time KISS was with them. That must have been a circus and a half trying to keep all of that together. But I never liked KISS, even though I tried. Their music flat out stinks.

   I do love their showmanship, and they can still sell out all over the world today even with such an inferior product music wise. George and the boys still bring it musically and always could, but they’re playing the Cubby Bear for a few hundred people on a Thursday. Something doesn’t fit.

   What went wrong? Is it a marketing issue? Creative differences? A black/white thing? I have to believe it’s a little bit of everything. Maybe George isn’t a very good ass kisser, or chooses to put his energy in the creative side and not the business like so many other performers do. That’s been a huge hump for me to get over as well, and I don’t know how to overcome it. It’s a real concern.

   There’s something to be said about doing things on one’s own terms, and I’ve always chosen to make that a major priority with everything I’ve done, but was it always the right choice? Might it be a little smarter to play the game a little better and allow myself more choices in the long run?

   That could be exactly the right thing to do, but as for me I never did it. KISS did it, and they’re still raking in major cash to this day with not only their less than stellar music, but merchandising as well. George had a few t-shirts for sale at the Cubby Bear, and a few obscure CDs. That’s it.

   I still had a great time, and I’m glad I went. But I don’t want to be doing B and C venues when I’m 71. That’s not all that far off, and it’s rather scary to think about. The path I’m on now won’t lead me to any kind of Promised Land, so I’d better find a way to change that - or get a day job.

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The American Nightmare

Wednesday May 9th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   One of the most unpleasant parts of the entertainment business, and self employment in general I suppose, is the need to go after delinquent accounts for past due payment. I’ve never handled it well, and have way more experience than I’d prefer. It’s a hassle, and rarely has a happy ending.

   Unfortunately, I’m going through it again. It brings back all kinds of painful memories I don’t want to drudge up, but I can’t help it. It’s a nasty part of doing business, and I know I’m not the only one. I have a friend in the electrical contractor business and he said he’s dealing with it too.

   The hardest part by far is keeping personal feelings out of it. I’ve always been one to do things in good faith, and when I make a deal I consider it to be binding. I’ve gotten stiffed several times by unscrupulous slugs, and I don’t handle it well. I find it to be a major hurdle and it irritates me.

   It’s especially painful in the comedy business because we’re so vulnerable. We drive across the country in blind faith with the promise of being paid by someone we’ve usually never met. There are rarely if ever any written contracts, and most outsiders would view this as complete insanity.

   I’d have to say I think they’re right, but that’s how it is in comedy and has been for as long as I have been doing it. People can easily get ripped off, and quite often do. Every comedian has ugly war stories of getting stiffed, and it stinks. But, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened more than it has.

   What stinks even more is that most booking agents don’t go to bat for the comedians, and they freely admit it. They usually get a booking fee from the club or venue, and that’s all they tend to care about. If there’s a problem with a comedian getting paid, too bad. There are hundreds more lining up to take whatever gigs are being handed out. It’s a buyer’s market, and they know that.

   I’ve had clashes with a few bookers in my day, and it was a bitter pill to swallow to learn that I was the least important ingredient in the stew. Pardon me for thinking I might be due a modicum of respect for being one of the ones who provides the service that helps them make their living.

   One situation that still infuriates me is how I had to fight for a bounced check to be paid not all that long ago, and the booker knew going in that the club was bouncing checks. He wouldn’t tell the comedians, and the situation got quite nasty. I’d been a good soldier for years, but apparently that wasn’t enough. He didn’t think twice about totally sticking it in my poop shoot and it hurt.

   He didn’t even pay for my bounced check fees as he said he would, and then had his moron kid fire me via email and said they ‘wouldn’t need my services any longer’. Gee, thanks for all of the warmth and humanity. What about all the times I drove in a blizzard risking my life to make it to some horrendous gig at a sports bar in North Dakota so he could score his almighty commission?

   Those times are all forgotten, and now there’s a new group of fresh meat to piss on and exploit the exact same way. It’s a vicious cycle, and most people don’t see it until it’s too late. I’m upset just thinking about it, but I’m one of the few that actually says anything. Most others just take the next gig, and hope it gets better. But it never does. This is the part of the business few people see.

   Thankfully, there are a few shining exceptions who are a welcome breath of fresh air in a filthy rotten cesspool of a business – or what can be. Most times things come off as they’re negotiated. When they don’t, that’s where people’s true colors show. There are good and bad, just like life.
   Zanies in Chicago has always been nothing but totally professional in the way they handle their business dealings. I’ve probably worked for them more than any other single source of work, and there has never been ONE problem as far as payment goes. I’ve always gotten paid, and have not had to deal with any unpleasantness like a bounced check or late payment. I do a gig, I get paid.

   That’s how it should always work in my opinion, but a lot of things in life don’t always go how I think they should. It’s funny though how Zanies and I have been able to carve out a relationship all these years without the hint of a glitch while others and I clashed. It all seems so unnecessary.

   Another example of a booker that I’d drive to the North Pole and back for is Tom Sobel out of Louisville, KY. Tom has always been above board to a fault, and goes out of his way to take care of the comedians who work for him. I haven’t worked nearly as much for Tom over the years as I have for Zanies, but I’ve had the exact same results. Everything he said he would do gets done.

   Why is that so damn difficult? It shouldn’t be, but apparently it is. I wish Tom had more power and clout in this business, and if he did the comedy world would be different. But he’s chosen to live his life in Louisville, and unfortunately is just trying to hack out a living like everybody else.

   Tom is the one who is negotiating the settlement of the particular situation I’m dealing with, as he was the one who negotiated the original deal. I went through him knowing he was ethical, and he wrote up a contract between me and the person who intended to hire me for the engagement at issue. It ended up being canceled on extremely short notice, and took everyone by total surprise.

   Thankfully, there is a contract and things were all done above board. Tom would have received a commission, and he earned every penny of it. He was thorough throughout the entire process of negotiation, and I have no problem whatsoever paying someone to do it. It’s an insurance policy.

   Now we’re going through the process of collection, and it’s shaping up to be a big time pain in every orifice imaginable. The guy who booked the show has sent a few emails implying he wants to pay us out promptly, but then disappears when we try to call him on it. It’s all a stupid game.

   All Tom and I would like would be for the guy to write a check and move on. I wasn’t thrilled the gig got canceled, as I was looking forward to doing it. There was a class involved, and I put a lot of work into preparing a custom session for that weekend. I did my homework and then some.

   All that aside, it’s not my fault it didn’t happen. It’s not Tom’s either. We did what we said we would, and I was ready to fulfill my end of the deal and make good on the deal we booked. Now we’re both holding the same flaming bag of dead skunks, and there’s no telling how it will end.

   Will we have to go to court? Maybe. Will we get a dime? Who knows? This is all part of being self employed. Everyone wants to live the American Dream, but this is the American Nightmare.

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

The Dream Candle

Tuesday May 8th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   Monday Mania isn’t slowing down. Tuesday used to be my day to just unplug from the world’s power grid and disappear for a while to relax and get ready to tee it up for a new week. I’d do my laundry, go get my mail, answer emails and phone messages, whatever. It was a free day to relax.

   Now I’ve got a commitment to record three episodes of ‘The Unshow!’ podcast at 8am. I don’t mind, and in fact I like doing it, but it’s another thing I have to keep track of and pushes back my schedule even farther. People call me every day and ask for a slice of my time for one activity or favor or another, and I’m to the point I’m finding it all overwhelming. I can’t keep track of it all.

   I really do think I need to hire some kind of a secretary to help me keep everything straight. It’s too daunting a task for a one man band to take care of everything, and that’s just a fact. I’m using up a lot of creative time doing minutia I’m not even interested in, but it has to get taken care of.

   Meanwhile, a lot of important things I should be spending time on get neglected. Pretty soon, it feels like I’m in the corporate rat race all by myself without the benefit of the steady paycheck to counterbalance the frustration of having to deal with the grind. I think I have outsmarted myself.

   I chose to get into comedy to fulfill my creative urges. I’ve been able to make a living doing it for going on three decades, and that’s no small accomplishment. I challenge anyone to start from scratch with no map and make that happen. It’s a borderline miracle I have been able to survive.

   But survival isn’t enough. Nobody sets out in the entertainment business to just barely squeak by for twenty years. I’m sure nobody in the corporate world sets out to do that either, but it’s not as much of a disappointment when it eventually happens. It’s expected, but has other features to make up for it like a steady paycheck and health insurance. Sometimes, reality drowns dreams.

   I always chose to keep my little dream candle burning, even though life’s torrential downpour tried to drown my dream countless times. Sometimes that candle flickered more than a little, but it hasn’t been extinguished yet. I may be getting a little low on the wick, but there’s still a flame.

   What do I do with my candle? I could call that the burning question, but that’s a horrible pun to bring into a very serious subject. I’m not joking. I don’t know what to cut out of my life to give a little relief to all this overwhelm I’m feeling. I’ve got all these half baked projects going on right now in various stages of completion, and I haven’t the slightest idea if any of them will succeed.

   I still think my favorite of all is The King of Uranus. That’s just such a goofy idea that it makes my creative muscles twitch with anticipation of bringing it to life out of total nothing. I relish the challenge, and it really interests me. But so do the other ideas. They’re like kids, I love them all.

   I do want to do the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ one man show about Milwaukee at some point. I want to keep teaching comedy classes too. Then there’s The Mothership Connection radio show every Sunday. That’s fun too. And what about my act? I’ve got so many ideas of new material I’d like to work in but haven’t had the chance. This is all fine, but I have to handle my everyday life first.

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Monday Mania Running Wild

Monday May 7th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL/Kenosha, WI

 Whatcha gonna do, when Monday Mania runs wild on YOU? It’s sort of like Hulkamania, but it only involves me. If there is another entertainer living or dead who has been as consistently busy on Mondays as I have been, I want to see proof. I don’t think that’s likely though. I’m the man.

   My Mondays have been booked up tight for years. It’s the rest of the week that needs work. If whatever I’ve been doing all these years can be called a ‘career’, it could be judged on Mondays alone and I’d bet more than a few people would be impressed. If nothing else, I’ve made it fun.

   For several years, Mondays were the day I would teach my comedy class. In recent years, I’ve been hosting the Rising Star Showcases at Zanies in Chicago. On many occasions I’ve had to do both on the same night. After working a whole week of comedy shows and then hosting the radio show on Sundays, Mondays could get a bit long. Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love it.

   I still teach classes and hope to do more, and I’m sure I’ll host some more Rising Star shows as well. What’s part of my Monday mix now is waking up early to be on the radio in Rockford with ‘Stone and Double T’ on WXRX ‘The X’. They call me around 7:40, and we riff about whatever topics I feel like bringing up. They trust me, so I feel like I need to have some prepared material.

   That’s fine, but I don’t usually get home from Kenosha until around 1am, and then I have some emails to answer after that. I’m lucky if I get to sleep by 3am, and by then I’m usually so pooped I don’t end up getting ready for Stone and Double T until about 7:15 after catching a few winks.

   I’ll wake up and decide the topic direction I want to take, and make a couple of bullet points to hit if necessary so I can have something to say. I like working off the cuff, and those guys let me pretty much do what I want so that’s a plus. Still, it takes some effort and I don’t take it lightly.

   After that, it’s time to record ‘The Unshow!’ podcast with Jeff Schneider via Skype. We’re on a pretty consistent schedule now, and record three half hour episodes on Mondays and Tuesdays. I really enjoy doing that too, but after everything that goes on all weekend I’m usually just happy  to get it over with. I like doing it, but it’s always when my tank is on empty and I can use a nap.

   A nap? What the hell is that? I have no time for naps. Mondays are the big weekly ‘lunch club’ day in Kenosha to get together with the people who are in Mark Gumbinger’s film making group of friends of which I am now a member. Between Mark and Lou Rugani, there are several people who come and go depending on availability. Whenever I’m able, I go. I enjoy the camaraderie.

   We hang out for a couple of hours busting balls, coming up with ideas and having fun. Sleep is nice too, but it can be overrated. To me, having a chance to hang out with friends is always much better. I love being a part of the group, and I genuinely enjoy the experience. It’s worth my time.

   Doing the podcast is really satisfying too. Jeff and I get on some excellent riffs, and we’re both capable of carrying the ball at any given moment. Listen online at We  are on 5:30 Central Time, with a rewind on the weekends. After all that, NOW it’s time for my nap.

Posted via email from Dobie Maxwell's "Dented Can" Diary