Dobie Maxwell has always had deep connection with his hometown of Milwaukee. Though he’s spent most of his 30 years as a stand-up comedian on the road, he always knew where home was.
The comedian known as "Mr. Lucky" had a difficult childhood - and not just because he kept falling off his bike and getting hit with baseballs - hence the nickname, given by his grandfather. He thought that maybe leaving the city would mean leaving some demons behind.
Now he’s coming back for a month-long run at Potawatomi Bingo Casino’s Northern Lights Theater, 1721 W. Canal St., presenting "Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst." Maxwell hopes to make the show a hilarious love letter to the city he says had a lot to do with the man - and comedian - he is today.
"Coming home, we want to prove something. Whether it’s a parent or siblings or people we went to school with who wouldn’t go out with us on a date - ‘I’ll show you! I’ll do something!’" he told OnMilwaukee.com. "I was angry about a lot of things (as a kid). Now I’ve worked through all the anger - and as far away as I went from Milwaukee, it got to the point where all those things followed me. I was fooling myself thinking I would run away from it. It’s all inside me. I could’ve gone to Pluto and it still would’ve been there."
"Schlitz Happened!" will be an unabashed embrace of his Milwaukee roots. And he couldn’t be more excited.
"When I started (in comedy), all I wanted to do was be the king of Milwaukee. That’s all I wanted to do," he said. "I’ve never had buzz about anything I’ve done locally, ever, like this."
He credits the team at Potawatomi, as well as friends in the media like former OnMilwaukee.com sportswriter Drew Olson with backing him on this latest project, which he hopes will be "a local show like Danny Gans’" - referring to the late Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year.
"This is the right place and the right time for everything," he said. "After 30 years I’m finally an overnight success."
Maxwell started his comedy career in November of 1983, at the open mic night at Sardino’s on Farwell. He was mentored by Milwaukee comedy icon C. Cardell Willis and said coming up in Milwaukee was "very, very hard."
"It made me bulletproof," he said. "Coming up through Milwaukee was the hardest thing I could ever think of. I would not wish that one anyone. This place will keep you humble. It’s like a cement cocoon - you gotta peck through it."
Maxwell has spent most of his career away from his hometown, but he never forgot it - mostly because he kept running into fellow Milwaukeeans wherever he went. That, he says, is what inspired him more than anything to do "Schlitz Happened!"
"Everywhere I go, no matter where, somebody at some point is from Milwaukee and they’ll start talking about it the whole time after the show, and I’m always thinking, there’s gotta be a show in this for us," he said.
Just a few topics he plans to cover in the Cream City send-up: Milwaukee’s mania for bowling, our German heritage (shared even by those of us who aren’t German), the love of retro wrestling ("Everybody wanted to watch Crusher. He was our local hero."), Maxwell’s experiences as a ball boy for the Bucks while in high school and as a vendor at County Stadium for two games, and the strange (but true) reality that everyone in Milwaukee is either a "State Fair person" or a "Summerfest person."
"It’s going to be memories, but shared memories," Maxwell said. "Memories we all have. It’s never going to be exactly the same show twice. I want to encourage, after the show, if people have a memory, they can bring it up, whether it’s an old place they ate frozen custard or favorite pizza. I think it’s gonna be almost group therapy."
And though it was a hard experience starting out as a comedian in Milwaukee, Maxwell has no qualms about returning to play for audiences here. He’s older, wiser, and more seasoned.
"It’s a homecoming," he said. "It’s like coming home for Christmas."
He’s proud of the fact that it will be a family-friendly show - as in, no cursing (at all) and no inappropriate content. "This is a clean show. I’m not a prude in any way, but this is something you can bring your family to."
And don’t expect any jabs at our fair city. Maxwell has nothing but love for Milwaukee.
"(The jokes come from) total love, total positive things," he said. "I’m a little brother, I know what it’s like to be teased - your family can tease you, but if someone comes from outside, they’ll protect you. We can tease about Milwaukee ourselves, but nobody else better. This is still our hometown. We still love it."
And he’s not at all nervous about how the show will be received.
"When word starts to spread, they’ll say this is a show about us," he said.
OnMilwaukee.com readers can keep up with Maxwell’s exploits in and out of Milwaukee on his OnMilwaukee.com reader blog. A prolific blogger, Maxwell says he has an entry for at least every day over the past eight years.
He began the blog at the urging of his friend Drew Olson.
"I started out saying, I want to make it like 30 days in a row of what it’s like to be a comedian," he recalls. "That was my start. And now I’m going on my eight year. Sometimes I’ll fall behind a couple of days but I don’t miss an entry. I’ve had an entry for every day for eight years. I can’t imagine not having it, not doing it. It’s like brushing my teeth, taking a shower, writing my blog. Sometimes it’s up and sometimes it’s down and sometimes it’s about comedy, sometimes I write about Milwaukee things.
"I write about my life, warts and all."
"Schlitz Happened!" premiered last night at the Northern Lights Theater. Maxwell will be doing two shows every Saturday night for the remainder of April.
The audience can expect to be breathless with laughter, he says.
"I talk fast anyway, but on stage, it’s like 100 miles and hour with gusts up to 115," he jokes. "It’s like a juggernaut, boom, boom - people say ‘I can’t laugh any harder, I can’t do it.’ Thirty years I’ve been doing this. I know what I’m doing up onstage. The rest of my life may be in flames but onstage, I know what I’m doing."
Potawatomi has generously provided two free tickets "Schlitz Happened!" for Saturday, April 13 at 7 p.m. Enter OnMilwaukee.com's contest to win. Contestants must be 21 or older to enter.
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.