A Q&A with Dobie Maxwell: Bank robberies and car wrecks are no match for comedy

Upside-down in his crumpled Mustang convertible in the dead of a rain-slicked night, Dobie Maxwell had one question. “What’s funny about this?”

Dobie Maxwell headshotHow do you develop the kishkes to ask that question when you’re possibly about to die? You can find out next week when Eckhartz Press releases Dobie’s long-anticipated memoirs, Monkey in the Middle. If you want to know the answer and find out what happened in the aftermath of that catastrophe (think bank robberies, FBI and Vegas), there’s good news: the book is now available for pre-order, and even better, you’re invited to Dobie’s show and book launch on his birthday,March 14th, at the downtown Zanies.

I can’t write about Dobie Maxwell without saying that in life you meet a small handful of people who change your life in a way that’s lasting and meaningful for the rest of your life. He is one of those people to me.

In the early ‘90s, I took Dobie’s stand-up class at Zanies. It meant me coming to terms with phobias of speaking in public, standing on stage, of people looking at me and of saying anything personal about myself other than I hate speaking in public, standing on stage and people looking at me.

But a lifelong love of comedy overcometh a lot. Especially if you’re fortunate enough to be encouraged and mentored by a gifted and successful comedian and teacher and that is Dobie. By the end of the class, the phobic and the non-phobic, the meek and the bold, all got on stage at a live show at Zanies and killed. For many, it was the beginning of a successful career in comedy. How? Dobie. He changed lives with his friendship, his mentoring and his example.

One of the key lessons was Dobie’s mantra: “What’s funny about this?” He didn’t just lecture us about it. He taught it with stories from his own challenging, inspirational life.

He told us about the time he asked the question after the convertible hit an electric wire hanging low and taut over the street, downed by a drunk driver moments before, flipping the car and trapping him inside.

He told us about convalescing in the home of his best friend who shortly afterwards would rob a bank twice, one time dressed in a gorilla suit. The FBI was quickly on the case; on Dobie’s case, that is, after his best friend framed him. Did the FBI believe it? Well, who would rob a bank dressed like a gorilla and walking like a gorilla if not a comedian with a broken back?

By then, Dobie was already an expert in asking, “What’s funny?” At five months-old, his Outlaw biker dad tried to hand him over to an orphanage after his mom, who was a drug addict, left the family which included two older siblings. His grandparents intervened and raised him. It was not a harmonious household, but his grandfather would have a lasting impact, passing along the importance of humor, generosity and of being unstoppable.

Dobie’s career includes thirty years of being a nationally touring headliner and too many television appearances to count, but they include Oprah and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He has worked as a radio host at stations across the country, including in Reno, Milwaukee and at Chicago’s WLUP, WLS and WGN.

Over the last twenty years, he has taught nearly three thousand students. In addition to touring and teaching, he is the creator of the Maxwell Method of Comedy, a Facebook page devoted to comedy mentoring which has attracted close to two thousand members and includes nationally known comedians and newbies.

He is a straight shooter with a huge heart. “People think I’m the Christ figure or the devil,” he says.

Dobie took time out of a hectic schedule to speak with me by phone about his life and career, including a behind the scenes look at his Craig Ferguson appearance and thoughts about the current state of Chicago comedy. As always, his view is towards how his experience can benefit others and make their road easier than his own.

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Q: I realized I don’t how you got started in comedy!

A: I was a baseball player. I’m a left-handed pitcher, a very in-demand position for baseball, and I had a tryout with the Kansas City Royals. I was about nineteen and I didn’t make it. I got a second look, but I didn’t get signed and I thought, what am I going to do now? I’d spent my whole childhood to that point planning for a Hall of Fame baseball career.

I saw an ad in the Milwaukee paper about an open mic comedy show at Sardino’s, a jazz club where Al Jarreau began his singing career. It was a Monday night and I went there and I had no idea what to expect from stand-up comedy. I liked comedians. I pictured there would be about two or three thousand people there. It’s going to be a big arena. I had no clue. I was an idiot.

So I walked in there and there were seven people and I thought I must have the wrong day, so I went back out to the car. I looked at the paper. Right place, right day. I walked backed in and the host was on stage saying, “We’ve got six of the funniest comedians in Milwaukee here.” I was the only person in the place who wasn’t a comedian besides the bartender.

The show started. By the end of the night, there were twenty or thirty people. The host said, “It’s open mic. If anybody would like to come up and try comedy, this is your chance.” I thought, “Those guys were terrible. I can do that.” I got up on stage and realized, “Oh, boy. I was worse than they were. This is a lot harder than it looks.”

The first time I got on stage I just knew it was my calling. This is my new baseball. And that’s how it started. It was totally unexpected. I’d found it. Did not expect it.

Dobie Schlitz Caricature 1Q: How did you know?

A: Some guy was there making the moves on the woman he was with and I said an ad lib to that guy and it got a big laugh and that was the first hit of heroin. I will never forget it as long as I live.

That group laugh, that pop. When I heard that, it was literally addictive. I needed to hear that. That’s what started it going.

Q: How did your growing-up years influence your sense of humor?

A: Oh, man. It was the pain. Comedy was a release. I was raised by my grandparents. My grandpa was very funny. My German grandmother … Germans aren’t necessarily known for their warmth and their humor. I didn’t get my first hug from my German grandmother until I was thirty-seven and I wish that was a joke.

It was painful. They were fighting. But I’d wake up at night, and turn on The Tonight Show and watch the comedians. They were usually on at the end of the show and I was supposed to be sleeping, but I wanted to see the comedians.

My grandfather was cool. He took me to see people like Victor Borge and comedians he liked. I was old even when I was young. An old soul. He would say, “You’re way past your years and I think you can handle it.” So comedy was an escape. I was very reverent of it. I loved it and respected it. So comedy was a very, very big influence.

Q: When you were interviewed on The Savage and Starbuck Show, one of the hosts asked if your students had anything in common that made them want to be comedians. You said “Yes, daddy issues.” Why do you think it’s that issue in particular?

A: I wish I knew. I think we need to prove something. Johnny Carson had mom issues and he seemed to have to prove it to her. I find that it’s a very common thread. I don’t want to put a percentage on it, but it’s way more than half of comedians I know.

Robin Williams said in an interview, “My dad was a jerk. He never supported me.” A lot of my students say, “I thought I was the only one.”

I thought I was the only one when it came up for me. The need to settle those issues shouldn’t go hand in hand with comedy, but unfortunately it does.

People have always said to me, “You know, you just shred hecklers to death.” And I say, “That’s not the heckler I’m talking to. That’s my father.”

Q: You’ve been through so much, yet one of the first things you told us as a teacher was always to ask in every situation, “What’s funny about this?” You asked it even in the first moments of your car accident. How? What did you find that was funny at that moment?

A: I didn’t know I was upside down for the first few minutes, so I tried to push on the gas to drive away. So I was spinning the wheels like an idiot.

I had trained my mind so much to think, “Okay, what is the funny here?”, that when I realized what had happened, I thought, well, if I’m going to die now, I’m not going to have to pay off my credit cards. It looks like I’m getting one over on Visa. To me, that was quite funny. I don’t know why it was, but that was hilarious.

Then somebody came out of a house. It was three o’clock in the morning and I’d hit a mailbox. It was very loud and people came out of the houses and were yelling, “He’s dead! He’s dead!” I thought, “Oh, no. Maybe I am dead.” Then I heard someone else say, “Get his wallet!” And I’m thinking, “For identification purposes only!” I thought that was pretty funny right there.

That’s how I trained myself to think, although I remember laughing in that situation was painful. I might die, but this is pretty funny.

Q: How did you train yourself to have that ability even in the midst of a life or death situation?

A: It had to do with my grandfather. He was cool about stuff like that. When stuff would happen, he wouldn’t necessarily react. If I fell and hurt myself and was bleeding, he wouldn’t be like, “Oh my god! What’s wrong?” He’d be very cool and calm. “What happened?” “What’s bleeding here?” He would talk it through and he always went to the funny. He was a funny person. I learned through him.

Funny is the first place you look. Not “Oh my god, the world’s going to die.” Ask, “Is there any humor in here?” His life was pretty miserable. His marriage to my grandmother wasn’t good. He used humor as a cushion in his own life and he passed it down to me. That’s the first place I look.

Q: That’s such a great lesson.

A: He was awesome.

Q: How would you describe your voice as a comedian? And how did you find it?

A: Man, that’s a really, really good question. I haven’t thought about it before. Have you ever seen the movie Mr. Saturday Night with Billy Crystal?

Q: Yes.

A: He talks about how comedians are the ones who need to call B.S. on everything. “There’s something wrong here.” You’ve got to point out the emperor’s new clothes. In my earlier years it was very much anger-driven and I didn’t realize it at the time. I was going to right the wrongs. “This is stupid.” “This is wrong.” A lot of comedians, males, I don’t know if women come up necessarily in that mindset, but guys have a lot of testosterone in their twenties. You want to right the wrongs of the world.

I know a lot of comedians who are way more mellow than thirty years ago. I am, too. I’ve looked more inward. The butt of the jokes now is me. Musicians mature. Writers do, too, and comedians as well. I’m not anywhere close to being the same comedian that I was twenty-five years ago and that’s good. It’s like the person in their fifties trying to dress like a twenty year-old. No. You’re not that anymore. Move on.

Q: What do you think are the biggest changes in your comedy and perspective?

A: I’ve had more rich experiences and I can describe them more vividly and be more at home, not only on stage, but with myself as a person. Young people wonder, “Am I ok?” When you get older, it’s like, “I really don’t care anymore.” It comes from experience. Stage fright is a matter of not knowing what to expect. Well, I’ve been on stage thousands of times. Most often it’s gone well. Sometimes it has not.

New comedians worry, “What if I bomb?” You’re going to bomb. It’s like there’s going to be a lottery. On some nights people are just not going to be into what you do. After you get off the stage the world will still spin. Life will go on and it’s no big deal. People are more worried about their own problems and themselves. If you bomb on stage, five seconds later no one will care. That ends stage fright in a hurry. “Well, you’re oversimplifying!” No, I really don’t think so.

On the other side of that, if you kill and destroy and crush, five seconds after you get off the stage no one will care. It’s for you. It really is. The time you’re on stage is for them, but after that, we’re not that important. It takes a lot of pressure off in a good way.

Q: Yeah. If nobody’s thinking about it the way I think they’re thinking about it, then I don’t have to think about it.

A: Correct. You do what you do and you move on.

Q: What is your advice to comedians on finding your voice? How do you know when you’ve found it?

A: Look inside yourself and trust and have confidence in your instincts. A lot of times you’ll feel, “I think that, but nobody else will agree with me.” Chances are not everyone will agree with you, but there will be enough people who get what you’re saying.

Sometimes you’ll guess wrong, but more often, I think people will be surprised that they guessed right. Be true to your instincts.

I don’t have to agree with the opinion or the point of view, but if you present it to me in an entertaining way, I can still enjoy it.

Q: What are the best and worst things that have happened to you as a comedian?

A: I was in Rochester, New York. I remember it like it was yesterday. I got off the show and thought I had a pretty decent set. A lady came up to me and she looked like she was going to strangle me. She was probably in her seventies and there was a woman that was probably in her forties who looked like she could possibly be her daughter. The woman in her seventies came up to me with a stern look on her face and she grabbed me and she gave me a hug where I thought my lungs were going to pop and she started to cry and I thought, “Oh boy, now what did I do?”

The younger woman said, “Her husband died three weeks ago. She was absolutely crushed and devastated. This was the first time she went out of the house and you made her laugh.” I started crying. I’m tearing up now when I think of that.

The look on her face was so intense, that her husband’s loss was everything to her. I was the one that made her laugh? That’s what makes it worth it. That goes way beyond a comedy club in a strip mall in Rochester, New York. Now you’re talking about comedy’s [power to] heal and touch people.

Those kinds of incidents have happened all over the country. That’s what makes it worth driving through a blizzard to Duluth in a car with the check engine light on staying in a crappy hotel working in a lumberjack hellhole bar. That’s what keeps you going.

And the worst? I was starting out. I was probably twenty-five or twenty-six, just getting out on the road. I had a run of shows in Hays, Kansas. [In between] was Thanksgiving and there was no show. I was in a little hotel right next to a gas station in this tiny little town. All the restaurants were closed. On Thanksgiving I had to walk across the street to a gas station and have a Thanksgiving dinner of a couple of candy bars and a bag of Doritos. I’d never felt so alone in all my life and this is coming from a life of loneliness. I’m thinking if this is what comedy is, this is not for me.

It jars you to the bone. We’ve got the people who are wannabes and the people who need to do it. It’s not for the squeamish. It’s a lifestyle. Either you’re in or you’re not.

Q: How did you develop your style, the real rapid fire, vivid sentences and descriptions?

A: To be honest with you, I had a fear of silence on stage. Some of the great comedians like Jack Benny talk about using silence as a weapon in your show and having the guts to stand up there and have five seconds of silence. But five seconds of silence to a comedian is like eternity and I wanted to fill the silence with sound. If it wasn’t laughter from the audience, then it had to come from me.

Q: What’s your process of writing the strings and riffs of comic descriptions?

A: Sometimes I’ll write down a note. I never write it down in order. Miles Davis said, “I play some of the same songs every night, but I never play them in exactly the same way.” I’ve always been that way.

There’s a bit about the waitresses of Hooters in Wisconsin. It’s a litany of afflictions and diseases. It’s a rhythm thing. Diseases can be funny and descriptive sounding words, so do you write those down? No, I really don’t. I’ve got them in my head and depending on the night sometimes it will go longer, sometimes it will go shorter, but I like to go by feel for that night. It’s really working without a net. I don’t recommend other people do that, but that’s how I like to do it because it’s fun for me.

Q: How would you say the Chicago comedy scene has changed over time?

A: I was coming up in the Eighties and those years were the true nirvana boom years. Here are the old guys like me talking about it now, “Oh, the Eighties were the boom years.” They really were.

I would come down from Milwaukee to open mics. I was twenty-two or twenty-three at the time. People were lined up out the door. Every booth was full. People would bring in chairs around the stage.

And you would do a five- or a ten-minute set, sometimes a three-minute set and they would have twenty comedians. It was a showcase style and the audience was electric. At the time, comics got paid maybe three dollars, maybe five dollars. The top-paid people got ten dollars a set.

There was a huge crop of talent. People like Greg Glienna who wrote Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers. Mike Toomey who’s on WGN and Anthony Griffin who’s in a lot of films in L.A. There was enough of a scene where the quality was really good.

Now I see way too many wannabe comedians who are not good. Everybody’s not good when they start, but my generation had more respect for it. Now I see these open mics and it’s like a t-ball game with no parents there to supervise. There’s nobody that has any kind of clue that’s hosting it.

There seems to be an arrogance with the new generation where they don’t want to talk to the old guys. They hope Tim Walkoe, Larry Reeb and me die in a car wreck so they can get all the spots at Zanies that we’ve been getting for twenty-five years. That’s the way it is. Obviously, I don’t know everything, but I’ve been around the block. We know what we’re doing. You’d think you’d want to learn from people like us.

I’ve become the crusty old man I never thought I’d be. I did a benefits show for one of the Zanies waitresses who had a stroke. There were seven headliners, John DaCosse who’s on WGN, Larry Reeb. Patti Vasquez was there. It was posted on the Chicago comedy Facebook pages. Not one new comic showed up. Not one. The suggested donation was $20. If someone said, “Hey, I’m a comic, I’m struggling. I’ve got a dollar,” I wouldn’t have turned anybody away. There were seven headliners who make their money at comedy. You could have talked to any one of us. You could have picked our brain for an hour and a half. They could have had free access. For that alone they should have showed up.

Q: Did you find that in the ‘80s people had more of a connection with the comedians who came before them?

A: Yes. Because here’s the thing. There was a camaraderie where after the show we’d all go out to an all-night diner and talk about comedy. We wanted to learn. It was almost the headliner’s job. After the show they’d go and hang with the young comedians and as a young comedian, you’d hope you could take them to lunch, ask them questions, or take them back and forth to the airport or to a one-nighter somewhere hoping that they would spew some wisdom on you.

I used to promote pro wrestling shows. I talked to some of the wrestlers I knew and they were old by the time I talked with them, but they said that’s how it was in wrestling, too. You’re driving up and down the road to the next gig and the young guys would ride with the old guys and that’s how the business got passed down.

Native Americans did that same thing. There was no texting back in the prairie. The older ones would sit with the younger ones and they’d pass it down the generations. That’s how it was with comedy. It seems to me that the younger generation thinks they know it all and they’re not interested in learning from the old ones. That’s my experience.

Yes, the internet has changed life in general and society has changed, but going up and telling jokes is the same as it was a hundred years ago. There are acting coaches. They are music teaches. There are sports coaches. There are writing coaches. Why would you not want somebody to tell you how to do the hardest of them all, stand-up comedy? I don’t get it.

I’ll go to an open mic sometimes if I’m in town. I never ever want to come across as I’m the guru and I know everything. I try to avoid that. But it’s like, I’m a little brother in real life. I want to be the big brother in comedy that I never had.

I always say I’m around at the open mics when I’m in town. I’ll sit in the back at the room. If you have any questions I’ll talk to you. And ninety-nine times out of one hundred it’s “Who’s that old man? He’s taking my stage time.” It’s the politics of high school.

I don’t understand the mindset. A lot of it is young twenty-something mostly white males. I call it white man’s disease or Caucasian-itis. They’re a white male comic between twenty and fifty – shoot ‘em. Garden variety. Way too many. I see these guys twenty-four to twenty-five and they’re all in their little cliques. It’s exactly like high school. Okay, I’m not going to force myself on you, but you’re up there looking at me like I’m the principal when you should basically be kissing my ass and saying can you teach me anything?

Q: Is that why you started the Maxwell Method of Comedy page?

A: Yes. I wanted to do it without the B.S. I’ve seen pages over the years that turn into “he said, she said” and “that person stinks” and “you can’t like that style of comedy” and “if you do props or you juggle, you’re not a comedian” and it boils down to that snippy stuff.

I want to talk about the nuts and the bolts of writing jokes, of routines, of how to get gigs and the things that really need to be passed on, that are timeless.

Q: How would you describe the Maxwell Method of Comedy?

A: I stress what I call the high five, a five minute chunk of stand-up comedy that describes who you are as a person. So many people don’t do that. I can’t tell you how many people come to classes over the years and said, “I’ve got hours of material.” Really? Let’s find a funny five minutes. That’s going to be hard enough.

I did the Craig Ferguson Show and I didn’t have a high five. I did a couple of new jokes I’d never done before on national TV. What an idiot! I would never do that again. I screwed it up.

Q: Really? But that was such a great set.

A: Thank you for the nice compliment, but I screwed up everything there was to screw up with that.

Q: You’d never guess! I think I’ve watched it 25, 30, 75 times.

A: That’s so nice of you and I’ve had so many people say nice things, but I would do everything over. The stupid thing was like an idiot and every budget-conscious comic, I flew out the day of the show.

I thought, okay, I’ll get an early flight. It was a taping in March. No big deal. The night before, I was up in the way north suburbs of Chicago and in March it still snows in Chicago. I hit a pot hole with my car. It was snowing and I broke the front end. The car couldn’t run. It was about nine o’clock at night. I had to get to the airport. My flight was at six o’clock in the morning. So I had to be at the airport at four o’clock in the morning and now I’ve got no car and there’s no place to rent a car.

So I called my friend who was in bed. I said, “I’ve got to get there. It’s the most important thing in my life.” So he took me there. Of course, it flew out of Midway, so we had to drive all the way through the suburbs of Chicago in a snowstorm. I think it took us four hours. He’s still my friend and I apologize to him every time I see him.

So I get there. I’m stressed out. I get to the plane as planned. We get to LA. There are no rental cars. I didn’t make a reservation. I’d said, “Oh, It’s LAX, they’re going to have a rental car.” Didn’t have one. I had to take a cab three blocks away and get it there.

Then there was the hotel reservation. They said, “Well, the room that we had …” So we had to find another hotel. Have you been to L.A.? You know where Studio City is where they used to tape the Carol Burnett Show?

Q: Oh, yeah!

A: Well, at the time I did it, American Idol was hot and they were taping American Idol there. There were literally thousands of people waiting to get in. There’s a long line, it was packed.

So I get there and I said, “I’m supposed to be taping a show” and the guard, who didn’t speak English very well, said, “What is your name?”

“Dobie Maxwell.”

“There is no Dobie Maxwell! I can’t let you in.”

“Look, I’ve got the TV shot of my life. I’ve got to get in!”

“No Dobie Maxwell. Don’t let you in.”

I don’t know why I thought of this, but I said, “Try Maxwell Dobie. See if that’s in there.”

“Oh, yes. Right here. Maxwell Dobie. I can let you in.”

If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have gotten in to my own TV taping. They said you could bring friends along, so I had a couple of people I’d known a long time who lived out there who said, “I want to be backstage with you,” so I said okay. So it’s backstage before the show and now I have to be the party host when I should have been focusing on my set. One of them was asking me, “Are you nervous? Are you nervous?” Well, I wasn’t nervous until you asked me every thirty seconds for the past twenty minutes.

Then they walk you out and say, “Here’s where the mark is.” You’re going to walk your ten steps. The way they did it was Craig Ferguson tapes the show. Then he leaves. That was his policy. He didn’t want to be in the studio for the comedians. So he came out, shook my hand, said “Good luck, I hope you do well.” I’m thinking this is going to be easy. I’ll nail this. I’ve been doing this my whole life.

Everybody I’ve ever heard has said the same thing about a national TV spot. Your legs are going to feel like cement. Your tongue is going to feel like cotton. And you’re going to wish you were back in your mother’s womb. They say, “I never thought I’d cry until I got here and then I cried.”

I thought, “Oh, come on. I’m going to ace this.” And everything they said was true. My legs felt like cement. I walked out there. I wanted to die. I hit the first joke and it went okay. Then I did a new joke and I blew it. They edited it out later. And in my mind I’m panicking for half a second and I said out loud, “It took me 20 years to get in front of you nice people to make my national television debut and I blew that joke. That’s why I’m Mr. Lucky.” And it got an applause break.

I stood there for maybe two seconds thinking maybe they can edit this out and then I popped the clutch and I went in a completely different direction and I closed with material that I hadn’t planned on doing whatsoever. I did the dismount and got off the stage in the right amount of time.

The director came up later and said you know, you’re not the first person who’s screwed up a line. There are people who’ve gotten flustered and walked off stage. That’s why we tape the comedians as a separate thing. And if it doesn’t go well, they still get paid, but it wouldn’t air. I could tell you were experienced because you gave me time to edit. I’ll be able to edit that out. No problem.”

And I talked to the producer. Very nice lady. She was Jamaican and had a thick accent. She said, “Oh, I thought you were going to lose it there, mon. You did a good job.”

They had some long-time fans of the show that were in the audience. Super nice people. Husband and wife. They came up to me afterwards and said, “When you pretended like you blew that joke in the middle of the set, there were people around us who really believed that you did!” I said, “I really did blow it!” They didn’t believe me. “Oh, come on. We know it was a part of your act. They loved you.”

I’m glad bad things happened because now I’ve got something to teach. Sometimes in class I’ll say, I’m not bragging, but here’s my set from national TV. Here’s how I screwed it up. Here’s how you shouldn’t screw it up. Have a high five. You can start doing it at open mics tomorrow.

You tweak the set and you get that set to where it’s five minutes and you know it in your sleep. You don’t have to open with it. I recommend that you do. But as you get up there, every night you do that five minute chunk. It could be months, it could be years before you get your TV spot, but you’ll be able to go out there and absolutely nail it.

So the Maxwell Method is shoot for your five minute set.

Also, in your whole time in comedy I don’t think any comedian needs to have more than ten topics or premises. Take a topic or premise and really dig into it. Look at Richard Jeni. He dug into a premise more than anybody I’ve ever seen. There’s always meat on the bone that comedians leave, myself included. That’s what I would say the Maxwell Method is, too.

I’ve made all the mistakes in the world. Do what I say. Not what I did.

Q: You have such a genuine commitment to helping others. What makes it so important?

A: It’s the right thing to do. You’ve got to have a heart. I know what it’s like to be ignored. I know what it’s like to get pushed aside. I also know what it’s like when people come up to you and say, “Are you okay? Can I give you a helping hand?” Sometimes people come up to me and say, “You helped me out twenty years ago. It changed my life.” That’s why I do it.

Q: You definitely changed my life. But not everyone is concerned about reaching out to people. It’s hard. It’s exhausting.

A: It can be. You know, the same way you look for the funny in everything, you look for a way to help. It becomes a lifestyle after a while.

Do you know who won the World Series ten years ago? Most people don’t. Now think back to your school days. Who was the one teacher who had an impact? People know. “Oh, Mr. Pelvis. I want to be Mr. Pelvis.” “I took Dobie’s class. It was great.” I never get sick of hearing it.

There are a couple of thousand people who have taken the class over twenty years. You could have taken another class. I’m thrilled that you took mine. These are the people I want to reach. People who say this is part of my life and it’s really important to me.

I’ve had some people say, “I thought you were a flaming ass when I took your class, but now all these years later, you were the only one who told me the truth.” Tough love. If you ever saw the movie Full Metal Jacket, I’m the drill sergeant. It’s combat out there. I can’t just say, “Oh there, there. Everything’s great.” No. There’s got to be some balance.

I don’t care if I never get famous. I don’t care if I never get rich. It would be nice. The rich part. But to hear people like you say that you had fun. That’s my payment.

Q: What was the hardest part of writing Monkey in the Middle and what was most rewarding?

A: The hardest part was going back there in my head. It was my best friend who put me in the position of having to testify against him in federal court. And it was my testimony that sent him to prison. He was closer than my brother. He was my best friend through the formative years from age eleven through high school and the college years and getting started in comedy. To have to go back there in my head and relive every horrible, tortured moment, even twenty years later was extremely painful.

I’m a very tough critic. I hate everything, especially if I did it. I always find ways to pick it apart. I just re-read it because it’s about to go to the printer. And I’m thinking you know what, it’s a beautiful baby. All the blood and the sweat and the agony and the pain that went into this … I found myself laughing.

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Dobie will launch Monkey in the Middle with a party and show on Monday, March 14 at Zanies, 1548 N. Wells at 8:30 p.m. Tickets here.

On March 21 at 7:00 p.m., Dobie will have a show and book signing at Shank Hall, 1434 N. Farwell, Milwaukee, WI.

Monkey in the Middle will be available for purchase at both book signings.

You can pre-order Monkey in the Middle here.

Dobie will also be the headliner at:

Zanies in Chicago, April 26 and May 3

Zanies in St. Charles, April 28 thru April 30

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Filed under: Entertainment, Interviews

Tags: Dobie Maxwell

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