Comedy writer highlight: Dobie Maxwell
Updated: Jan 17
Dobie Maxwell (website here; Facebook page here), a Wisconsin-based 30-year comedy veteran and best-selling author of a real-life story about his best friend trying to frame him for a robbery, is passionate about paying it forward to new comedians. He’s been on stage, TV (including the Late Late Show, Bob and Tom show, and as an actor), radio, and in the classroom. His Facebook group, the “Maxwell Method of Standup Comedy,” has 4,500 members who range between new to seasoned comedians. After being diagnosed in 2010 with Type 2 diabetes, he began co-hosting a podcast, “The Diabetic Show”, a diabetic-themed podcast with an eye toward comedy. Check out his recent interview on “The Art of Bombing” podcast here.
Below, we made him answer five short questions.
What would you have told yourself at the beginning of your career if you could go back in time?
I would have SCREAMED at myself at the top of my lungs to work on developing myself as a complete and balanced person rather than just focus on comedy. I sacrificed so much of my personal life to chase the comedy dream, and I caught it - at least technically.
All I wanted (or thought I wanted) when I started was to be able to become a headliner in major comedy clubs and make my living being funny. I also liked the idea of radio and wanted to get involved with that as well. I wanted to appear on national television and at least one movie, and I did that too.
On paper, I guess I "made it." In reality, I missed the boat in so many other areas and I deeply regret it now.
Too late. Choices made, damage done. All I can do now is appreciate the good parts and hope to mentor new comedians to make better choices.
What crazy activity or thing do you dream of trying someday?
Living a "normal" life would be pretty crazy - if indeed such a thing exists.
I took my chances and chased my rainbows in my youth when others were being much more practical. I'm glad I got it out of my system, but now I'd like to backtrack and sample some of the stable life I have heard so much about.
I realize everything comes with pitfalls, but there are benefits too. I'd like a new set of challenges as my final chapter approaches.
How do you (or have you) handle(d) a bombed performance?
Well, if I ever bombed I'd be glad to comment.
I hope you know that's a joke, but it's hard to get away with that in print.
EVERY comedian on every level bombs, even the best of the best. The only difference is they do it a lot less over time - but it still happens on occasion whether we like it or not. And... none of us do.
I am to the point now where I am not cocky, and when it happens I relax and savor the moment. I have the luxury of having THOUSANDS of successful shows under my belt, but I also know that on any given night, any given audience might not plug in to the wavelength of any given comedian. Believe me, I have eaten it with the best of them in my day - and I absolutely know I will again. It goes with the territory, and that's why the good shows feel so good.
This game is not for the squeamish, and there are no safety nets.
How did you come up with your best joke?
Actually, it's never just the comedian that comes up with a joke. The audience has a crucial role in it, whether they like it or not. It's ALWAYS up to them, and that should keep all comedians humble.
If we guessed correctly, they laugh. And that's good.
If not, that silence can be a soul chilling experience that makes us question our very existence. And that's not so good.
Then to make it even more insane, jokes that work one night sometimes don't the next. And then the night after that, they do again.
I come up with my ideas as a result of my life experiences. If something strikes me as funny, I shape it into something I try on stage. It doesn't always work at first, and sometimes not at all. Then there are times when it just destroys from the very first attempt. The extreme unpredictability of it is both the greatest frustration - when it doesn't work - to the most intense high when it does.
Describe your comedy writing process.
I am a disciple of the great comedy writer Gene Perret and his book, "How To Write and Sell Your Sense of Humor." (The title has since been changed to "Successful Standup Comedy," but the principles are the same.) Gene talks about taking notes on a topic and thinking of everything that can be thought of about it, including words, phrases, terms and situations. Then it gets broken down into subtopics, and the structure starts to take shape into a routine.
A strong opener and strong closer are necessary, and it then becomes a process of trial and error, and tightening over time on stage.
I have taught classes for years and have come up with my own formula to hopefully make it easier for new comedians. I call it "C.R.A.P." which stands for Collect, Review, Assemble, Present. It's a goofy word but people remember it, and the process is in easy order for newbies to follow and hopefully develop proper habits that will last them a lifetime.
· By "Collect", I mean to, as Gene Perret says, organize every possible tidbit of information that could go with a given topic.
· "Review" means to edit and pare down to only the most useful ideas that can be built upon and used to create comedy.
· "Assemble" is the process of putting the pieces together and making jokes (or guesses) to offer the audience to decide if they like them or not.
· "Present" is the fun part - to perform in front of a group of strangers to see if what you guessed was funny agrees with what they do.
I also like to switch my order both with jokes and topics, as that keeps things fresh, in my opinion. Some nights I will open with what I closed with the previous night, week, or month. That can be difficult, but if we don't challenge ourselves we won't get better - and improvement is always the long term goal for all of us.
Cartoon illustration: Bill Sanders