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

New Old Material

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Friday February 1st, 2013 – Frankfort, IL

   Comedians and non comedians alike are constantly obsessed with who has ‘new material’, and it’s a waste of time. It’s natural to want to grow and expand, but there first needs to be rock solid old material on which to build. That takes years of work, and it’s a lot harder than it may appear.

   Comedians of the Vaudeville era would often do virtually the same act for forty and fifty years, even though that might be a little obsessive in the other direction for today’s needs. What I mean by getting ‘old’ material is having pieces that are polished and can be performed automatically in any situation without having to think about them. Those don’t come overnight to any performer.

   Standup comedy is not natural in that nobody gets up in the morning and plans what they’ll say to their spouse or their boss or the people at work. Conversation is spontaneous. Standup comedy gives the ILLUSION of one just making up one funny line after the next on cue without effort.

   Real life just doesn’t work like that, even though when it’s done well standup comedy gives the false impression it does. A good comedian makes it look effortless when in fact it’s anything but. The public doesn’t know that and doesn’t care, but smart eyes and ears know comedy is a craft.

   I performed with Mike Preston tonight at ‘CD & ME’ in Frankfort, IL. That’s a gig Ken Sevara has been booking for several years now, and although it’s always fun there are a lot of regulars in the audience. They only do comedy seasonally, and Ken likes to use the same core group of acts.

   I totally get what Ken is doing, and it makes perfect sense. It’s not a comedy club per se, and to constantly bring in new people for a one night part time gig would be virtually impossible. It’s an economics thing, and the people he brings in are very good acts. It’s been a win/win for all of us.

   That being said, I like to purposely switch my set around in situations like this because I know there will be a certain amount of people who will have seen me before and I like to make it fresh for both them and me. I might do some of the same bits, but I change the order and add new ones whenever possible. When I can keep them on guard it’s good for everyone as it keeps us all alert.

   There’s no law that says I have to do that, and some comedians do the exact same jokes they’ll always do in the exact same order, even though they know they’ve done it at the exact same club. There gets to be a fine line between consistency and laziness, and it takes effort to identify where it is. Some acts will walk through their set to get the money. I’ve always tried to be a bit deeper.

   I like to know where I am and who may or may not have seen me before. There are people who like to see the same bits again, and I’m to the point where I get requests from regulars to do some bits like ‘Doris The Porkasaurus’ or ‘The Greyhound Bus’. When asked, I’ll always try to oblige.

   Tonight I went back into my archives and did some material I haven’t done in years. I can’t say why, but I knew it would work so I did it. And it did. A group who has seen me often came up to me after the show and said how much they enjoyed all of my ‘new’ material. If they only knew.

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