By Dobie Maxwell – www.dobiemaxwell.com
Another one of far too many things I now wish I’d done differently on my comedy journey is to have kept a detailed diary from the very start. I have done a thorough job in more recent years, and in fact have kept a daily journal since March 14th of 2006 that can be found on my website.
It’s much easier to keep track of things now with the advent of technology, but when I started it was not an option. Still, with a little effort I could have had an outstanding chronicle of a lifetime journey which took me all over North America and allowed me to meet some legendary names in the comedy business. I didn’t realize how important it was then, and I think that’s true with most.
I was fortunate enough to come along at an amazing time in history that will never ever happen again. The stars and planets all aligned and the boom of the ‘80s exploded with America jumping on board the standup comedy bandwagon. It was red hot, and I got to be a part of the explosion.
None of us knew it, but we were in the right place at the right time and rode a wave that spread across the entire nation. There was no internet to distract anyone, and people came out in droves to experience standup comedy live. We were the flavor of the time, and that time lasted a while.
Big Names Weren’t Always Big
I was just a beginner when the boom hit, so I missed out on the big money by a smidgeon. Had I had the solid polished act then I have now, I’d have been hauling in some serious bank. Still, it allowed me to make a livable wage while learning my craft and touring all over the continent.
Not only that, I got to work with and become friends with talented people from every corner of North America – quite a few of them on their way to bigger and better things. Every week was a brand new adventure, and we never knew who fate would match us up with at any given time.
Names I distinctly remember from those early days are some you may have heard of including Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, Robert Schimmel, Drew Carey, Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, Jimmy Fallon, Rosie O’Donnell, Steve Harvey, Richard Jeni, Frank Caliendo and Andrew “Dice” Clay.
And that’s just off the top of my head. Other legendary names I crossed paths with at one time or another include George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and my very favorite comedian of all time Rodney Dangerfield. I was very lucky to come around at the time that I did.
In addition to the big names, I also got to work with some wonderfully talented people who are no longer here including George Miller, Ron Shock, Ed Fiala, Zack and Mack, Shirley Hemphill, Dennis Wolfberg and my early career mentors C. Cardell Willis, Jimmy Miller and Gary Kern.
All of these people touched me in some way, and almost all of it was good. I learned how to be a professional entertainer by interacting with all of these names and I wish I’d kept better track.
Change Is Constant
Another part of the journey most everyone neglects is the actual venues where we perform. For example, the first place I ever did standup comedy was a jazz club called “Sardino’s on Farwell” in Milwaukee. It’s also where singer Al Jarreau began his career, but it’s since been torn down.
The first place I ever got paid to do standup comedy was just a few blocks down the street also on Farwell Avenue called “Teddy’s”. It was a rock club that would eventually become a comedy club a few years later called “The Funny Bone” where I would end up cutting my early chops.
There were also plenty of local dives, toilets and hell holes I worked along the way that are not around anymore – and probably shouldn’t have been around when they were. Looking back, they were all part of the journey and it wouldn’t have taken much to snap a photograph of all of them.
One of my very first road bookings was at a nightmarish old hotel in Iowa, and my cousin rode along to keep me company in the car. It was filthy and rickety, and the room they tried to put me in had stains I was afraid to try to identify. My cousin and I still joke about it all these years later, but how hard would it have been to take a few pictures? I would truly love to possess those now.
Record Your Journey. If Not For You – For Others
In painful retrospect, I wish I would have recorded every single place I ever worked, and every single comic I worked with – good or bad. I wish I had pictures of the slimy booking agents who chiseled us for anything they could, and the tiny radio stations I drove to at 6am to go on and try to promote my show between farm reports. It was all part of the trip – and it was all fascinating.
There was only one comic I ever remember doing it correctly, and his name was Chip Chinery out of Cincinnati. Chip always took pictures of the comics he worked with, and then would send us one in the mail a few weeks later. I always thought that was neat. He was way ahead of us all.
Today’s world is completely different. I don’t know if it’s better or worse, but the opportunity to record the journey of life is not difficult at all. I highly suggest anyone embarking on the epic life long journey that is standup comedy start keeping detailed records and keeping them early.
Anyone who is in the entertainment business for any amount of time will experience the same things we all do. There will be people of all kinds who come in and out of the game, and some of them will rise to great heights. Others will die unexpectedly, and still others will quit or vanish.
Memories will evolve or get fuzzy over time, but having the picture to refer to will bring things back into accurate perspective. Good and bad events will all morph into good in time, and having the record will be a wonderful souvenir of a life spent chasing a dream. I speak from experience.
If you drive through a blizzard or stay in a crappy hotel – take a picture and file it away. You’ll relive it later and laugh. I know I sound like an old fart – and I am. I have a lot of great memories of a life doing what I always dreamed of, but I could have easily kept a better trip log. Do better.
What To Do?
Had I to do all over again, I’d have put my complete heart and soul into cataloging my journey. I put my heart and soul into taking it, so why not record it for the future? It’s like taking a doggie bag home from a fine restaurant. You’re full at the time you leave the restaurant, but later on it’s an unbelievable treat to sample a few more bites of that delicious food. This is the same thing.
How many people get the chance to chase their life’s dream? Maybe that’s the wrong question. How many people actually DO it? I did, and I don’t regret one second. Even the stupid mistakes I made along the way were an education, and I’d rather do that than suffer at a miserable day job.
When I started, I was a naïve punk kid who thought he was bullet proof. Now I’m the war torn grizzled old cuss I never thought I’d become. I’m a seasoned veteran of many missions, and I put everything I had into learning my craft. I lived what most people only dream of, and it would be a tremendous treat if I could look back over it now from this perspective – but I blew my chance.
While it was all happening, I was too busy dealing with whatever was going on at the time. My eyes were always looking forward to the next thing, when in fact I should have been enjoying the events one at a time as they happened. I had a lot of fun adventures that are only a memory now.
It wouldn’t have taken all that much to keep better records, and I’ve proven that with the diary I have kept every single day that’s now in its eighth year. I’ve got over 3000 pages packed with detailed stories of my life on the road and on stage, and it has become habit like taking a shower or brushing my teeth. I may fall behind a day or two, but I always catch up. I’ve been consistent.
Record It ALL!
My advice to anyone and everyone would be to make a point to record everything about one’s journey from the earliest point possible. If you can have your first time on stage recorded – do it! I’d love to have a recording of my first time on stage, but it’s gone forever. That ship has sailed.
I also missed out on taking a picture of the venues where I started, and most of the comedians I started with. When I started to travel, I wish I’d have recorded the places I worked, the less than ideal places I stayed, the rattletrap cars I used to crisscross the country and everything else I did.
I should have kept track of all the out of the way restaurants where I had delicious meals of the highest order, all the sights I saw, the people I met and more. I stopped at every oddball museum, tourist trap and roadside attraction I saw, and I should have it all chronicled – but I totally don’t.
I also made remarkable progress on my act. I could easily have monitored what material I used where, and what I may have ad libbed that later became a part of the show. That happened often. I also vanquished an endless string of hecklers, and it would have been fun to keep track of those as well. I’ve had some legendary stories I wish I’d be able to examine from my perspective now.
You have a chance to do better. I highly recommend you take this opportunity and keep track of your personal journey as it unfolds. You won’t even notice after a while as you’re doing it, but at some point in your future you’ll enjoy looking back and seeing what a fantastic voyage you took!