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Readers Blog: Dobie Maxwell's 'Dented Can' Diary

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Friday October 19th, 2012 – Milwaukee, WI

   Just two short days ago, it felt like I was dining at a fabulous banquet. What’s for dessert? How about a big sloppy piece of humble pie? Wednesday night’s fundraiser at Shank Hall was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Tonight it was back to the trenches once more.

   My friend Russ Martin attempted to set up a comedy show at an American Legion Post in Bay View, which is on the south side of Milwaukee. There have been various attempts at pulling off comedy there in the past, and I recognized the room as soon as I walked in. I’d done this before.

   That was a few years ago, and as I recall it was not a place I wanted to return. I had to fight for the attention of the audience that night, and at a Legion Post on the south side of Milwaukee beer wins over comedy one hundred times out of one hundred. Why I’d come back is still a mystery.

   Russ has been wanting to promote shows for some time, so I told him I’d do it. I know I should have checked it out, but I was too busy promoting the fundraiser to even think about it. I let Russ pick a venue, and I told him I’d show up if he could secure one. This was it, and it was a mistake.

   No offense to Russ, he’s a great guy and wants to make comedy work. It’s refreshing to see his passion and exuberance, something I’m losing quickly at this level. Doing shows for crowds who aren’t into comedy just doesn’t thrill me anymore. I used to want to play anywhere. Now I don’t.

   It’s not that I think I’m better than anyone, but I’ve paid my dues and should be playing places that want to at least have comedy shows if not me by name. Trying to attract people off the street to see a show or catch them as they’re finishing their fish fry just isn’t what I want to be doing.

   Russ means well, and he took out an ad in the newspaper and everything. I think the final count was 14. I think. I didn’t want to count twice in case it was less. I wanted to turn around and get in my car, but Russ wanted to do a show so I sucked it up and did it hoping he would save face with those who did show up and at least recoup a few bucks from his loss. I’ve been in that situation.

   Russ went up and did what he could to host the show, and then brought up Elly Greenspahn for her thirty minute set. She’s a teacher in Chicago and knows how to project and she did very well under the circumstances. She kept her poise and went through her material like a trooper. Kudos to her for doing it, and that’s part of paying dues when someone climbs up the comedy ladder.

   I didn’t want to waste the opportunity, so since I was already there I went up and worked on an array of new ideas I’d been thinking about lately. I sprinkled in a bit of my regular show, but not a lot. It was much more productive to work through the new thoughts and I used my time wisely.

   Of course there was a drunken obnoxious heckler, and I had to deal with her for at least twenty minutes. I didn’t let her bother me, and disposed of her accordingly. I’d done this too many times before, so wasn’t a big deal. I focused on the work I was doing rather than her drunken ramblings and that was the correct choice. My head is in an excellent space right now, and I didn’t flip out.

   Putting this fundraiser together really was a useful experience for many reasons. Sure, it was an opportunity to help someone but it was more than that. It was an opportunity to reach out past the normal parameters of where I’ve been hanging and give me a new and much needed perspective.

   Going after the bar crowd is not what I want to be doing with my life. It never has been where I shine, but often that’s where the work is so I’ve done it as much as anyone I know. I like to work and entertain those who want to see a show, but my days of fighting for the attention of drunks is over. I’m just not that needy to need their approval anymore, and I consider that a major victory.

   Some comedians will work anywhere under any circumstances, and I don’t always think that’s a good thing. All of us need to do that for a while, just because it’s crucial for us to keep working to improve and attain a level of competence. But after that, working in hell holes becomes a bore.

   The same circumstances happen over and over. The sound and lights are rarely up to anywhere close to a professional level, and table talk and distractions are prominent. Tonight we dealt with a live band on the lower level that disrupted the entire show. I’ve been here enough. I’m through.

   Unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon in show business. I’ve heard countless stories of how some performer gets a hit on a TV show or does some big event and then just a few days later is doing some ghastly gig at a pancake house in Peoria. When entertainment pays one’s bills, it happens.

   Russ promised me a certain amount for doing this show, but I couldn’t take anything from him. He lost his ass, and I’m sorry it happened. There are some circumstances where I would demand payment in full, but this was a speculative deal to begin with and it just didn’t go as he expected.

   It’s actually a subtle kick in the pants for me to stop doing gigs like this, but we all need to eat. I thought it might be a chance to make a couple of bucks and stay close to home, and that’s never a bad thing. The road is losing its luster as well, and that can be a problem as far as income goes.

   I need to find some way to make a living but still be able to get my creative jollies. If I have to get a straight day job, I don’t see it ending well. Someone’s head will have a bullet in it and I am not able to predict who. It might be me, or 528 of my closest enemies. I’d rather not explore that.

   It all boils down to marketing. If I can’t figure out a way to get known, I’m going to be trapped in this vicious vortex forever and will be having more long nights in front of 14 people and a bad band downstairs drowning out what few laughs I do get. This does not sound like a bright future.

   I believe I have far more ability than the level I’m performing, and I need to make changes if I am ever going to rise above where I am. Doing the fundraiser put me in front of an audience that has never seen me and those are more like the people I desire as fans. I’m on the correct path.

   I want to be working stages like the Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino. I’m there December 8th, and I’m looking forward to it as I always do. Those are the kinds of places I want to play on a regular basis, and that’s where all my focus and attention should be in my opinion.

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