Game Experience

By Dobie Maxwellwww.dobiemaxwell.com

   Any craft that requires skill requires repetition to maintain and improve said skill. There isn’t a single exception to this rule, even though a surprisingly high percentage of beginners mistakenly like to think the rule doesn’t apply to them. This is as wrong as feeding chili to a newborn baby.

It’s fine to read articles and have in depth discussions – even take classes, but until one actually goes out and DOES something it’s all meaningless. The learning comes by doing, and there’s no way around it. It’s great to be prepared, but preparation alone is never enough. Action is needed.

I’ve forever heard pro football people say that NFL quarterback is the most difficult position to play in sports. There are a lot of subtleties to it, and the only way to learn them is by actual game experience. It’s a painstaking process of trial and error but it’s the only way to become seasoned.

Standup comedy is the same way. I believe it’s the most difficult of all entertainment positions, and like quarterbacking there are many subtleties involved. It’s not just a matter of spitting jokes out night after night like a robot. There’s a lot more to it than that. It’s a very complex process.

Circumstances change constantly, and adjustments need to be made. As in football, sometimes a last second audible at the line of scrimmage is necessary. The only way to know what is needed requires experience, and there’s only one way to get it – making mistakes. It’s part of the game.

If there’s one subject I’m qualified to speak on, it’s making mistakes. I’ve made more than my share – more than a dozen people’s shares – but I’ve learned from them all. I’ll still screw up on occasion, but I am able to hide it and recover because I have finally figured out what I’m doing.

Having game experience opens up all kinds of new doors, and makes being on stage even more fun than it was before – and it was intoxicating before. The rush of being on stage is like nothing I have ever experienced, and I have pursued it for a lifetime. It’s the most exciting buzz there is.

I had no idea how to control it when I started, but I knew I loved it. I wanted to be on stage any and all chances I had to do it, even if only for a few minutes. That’s all anyone gets, but that’s all anyone can handle at first. Five minutes can be a LONG time – especially when it’s going badly.

Now, I can do a solid hour without thinking about it and still have plenty of material left over – and that’s a rock solid polished hour, not “Where ya from?” or “What do you do?” Crowd work doesn’t count, even though that’s a skill of its own. I’m talking about an act. It takes a lifetime.

A lot of nasty lumps were taken in that lifetime, and I can’t honestly say if I knew what it was going to entail and had to do it all again if I would. The experience I have came with a very high price, but I chose to pay it and now it’s mine. What can I do with it? Other than continuing to do shows, hopefully writing about my journey (and many mistakes) will help others on the way up.

My perspective now is very different than it was at the start. I still love being on that stage, but growth never ends. No creative artist or performer is ever a finished product. There’s always the next lesson to learn. Game experience gives me confidence, but also helps to keep me humble.

A Hugh-mongous Heart

   By Dobie Maxwell – http://www.dobiemaxwell.com

   One of the cruelest aspects of human life is that all too often those that have the most intensely focused desire to attain or achieve something are the ones that are never able to have it. I’ve seen it time and time again – including in my own life. There’s a cruel irony to it I can’t understand.

I wanted to be a professional baseball player from as early as one can comprehend what that is. I was a pitcher – and left handed at that. That is THE most desirable position to be if one intends to realize that dream, yet I still couldn’t manage to pull it off. It disappoints me to this very day.

Most of my childhood was spent throwing a baseball whenever and however I could. I had no preference if it was to another human or against a brick wall, I just wanted to pitch. I read books on pitching, watched live games and even obsessed as far as to keep my left arm out of the cold.

I knew for sure there was going to be a bust of me in Cooperstown at some point, but the only part that came true was ‘bust’. I didn’t make it, even though I did have a tryout for one day with the Kansas City Royals. They used to have a baseball academy, and would travel around to visit the other Major League cities and scout for talent right under the noses of all their competition.

I was 19ish, and cocksure of myself when I went to that tryout. I knew I had put in my years of preparation, and knew how to pitch. Unfortunately, that’s not what the Kansas City Royals were looking for – nor was any other professional team. They were looking for physical specimens to mold into the position they thought was best, and that’s something someone is born with or isn’t.

We all get standard and deluxe equipment with our packages in life, and not everyone likes all they get. Some of us get special talents and attributes included that we never expected, while the rest have to make do with what they get. Many more than don’t ever get what they really want.

I did happen to get a few tools in my box, and throwing with my left hand was one of them. I’d gotten that gift, but I couldn’t throw the ball as fast as a Major Leaguer needs to to stand out in a crowd. 80 miles and hour is not 90, and it sure isn’t 100. That’s what the scouts are looking for.

That’s why those that have it get paid so much, as it’s just plain not that common. Bull Durham is one of my favorite baseball movies because it shows exactly how random things are in life and in baseball. Kevin Costner’s character is intelligent and diligent and by all accounts should be the one with the big career. That’s not how it worked out. Tim Robbins’ character got the big break.

It’s not fair, but that’s the last thing life ever is. There are countless stories in every career field where natural talent or innate ability is required. Standup comedy is surely no exception, and it’s loaded with fiercely loyal aspirants who try as hard as I did in baseball but will never make it out of the low minor leagues if at all. Try as they might, they just don’t have it. It’s not in the cards.

I’ve seen this sad story play out from coast to coast since I started doing comedy, and I see it in my comedy classes regularly as well. It shreds my heart into confetti when I see someone with an unfaltering desire to succeed get out there and slug it out for years and not make progress. I wish I could make things even a little bit fair, but nobody has that ability. That’s not how life works.

One of the saddest examples of this theory was Hugh Neary. As I write this I’ve been teaching comedy classes for eighteen years, and have had more than 2000 students come through my class that has been taught at various locations. That’s a lot of people, and I have studied and observed all of them. Some of them ‘have it’, and others totally don’t. No matter what they do, it’s useless.

It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, and it doesn’t mean they’re failures in life or entertainment or anything else. All it means is that as far as standup comedy goes, they weren’t given that extra scoop of potatoes it takes to put them over the top. Like with baseball, it has to be a natural gift.

Tom Clark is an example of someone that had it. Tom was in the very first class I taught, and it was obvious to both me and the rest of the students that he had that extra scoop. He needed to be seasoned as we all do, but the natural flair was there. Hannibal Burress was another one that was easy to spot. He never took my class, but I saw him shoot up the ranks in Chicago like a rocket.

He’s doing really well for himself now, and I’m not surprised. He’s just like the Tim Robbins character in Bull Durham, except he’s a lot smarter. That kid not only has it, he’s LOADED with it. I don’t know if I have ever seen anyone else with a scoop as big as his. He’s a rare exception.

Unfortunately, Hugh Neary was not. He was just the opposite. He had about as tiny of a scoop of potatoes as I’ve ever seen, and no matter what he did it wasn’t going to change. He was given what he was given, and that was it. No amount of practice or dedication would ever change that.

That small tidbit wasn’t going to stop Hugh though. He must have taken my entire class at least half a dozen times all the way through. He could have taught the damn thing after a while, but he absolutely loved being around comedy and comedians. He loved the creative process, and he had an amazing appreciation for anyone that did have natural ability. He was a student of the game.

Hugh was without question THE most dedicated student I have ever taught. It’s not even close. He would show up early, and sit through everyone’s act and make dead on observations. He had an outstanding eye for what others were doing, but when he got on stage himself it was different. He had a hard time keeping his composure, and no matter what he tried he never put it together.

That didn’t matter to me, because I could see the lion’s heart that beat inside him. Hugh wasn’t going to give up, and after the first couple of times through the class I let him show up for free. It wasn’t hurting anybody by having him there, and he totally added to the class. His passion for all that standup comedy entails dripped off of him like the flop sweat he had when he was on stage.

Hugh Neary was born on October 14th, 1975. He passed away from a blood clot on November 20th, 2005, and I’m still fighting back tears as I think about it. I went to his funeral, and saw him lying in his coffin holding a microphone. His mother and sister were standing next to it and they didn’t know who I was. When I told them, they lit up and said how much Hugh loved my class.

There aren’t many in any field with the passion of a Hugh Neary. I will honor his memory with an award called “The Hughie” for my future students that show the most passion for comedy and all that it involves. They won’t be able to match Hugh though. Nobody can. He is the undisputed champion of all time. His heart was the biggest I’ve ever seen. Wherever he is, I hope life is fair.

NOBODY has ever had more passion for standup comedy than Hugh Neary - 10/14/75 - 11/20/05

NOBODY has ever had more passion for standup comedy than Hugh Neary – 10/14/75 – 11/20/05