Offstage Maintenance

Friday November 27th, 2009 – St. Cloud, MN

I’m feeling much better today. I stayed up until 4:30am working on a breakdown of all my comedy material for 2010 and I’m delighted with the results. I’ve really put an effort into organizing my comedy bits in the last several years and I can feel significant growth.

I’ve broken everything down into a dozen categories, two of which are ‘miscellaneous’ and ‘topical’. That leaves ten topics to tackle, and if I do it right I’ll have all I can handle to flesh those out to the fullest and keep me working on it the rest of my life. This is what I should have done years ago, but I didn’t. I’m doing it now though, and that excites me.

I like to do what I call ‘accordion bits’. That’s when I can expand or contract a premise depending on audience reaction and how I’m feeling on any given night. A good example is a bit I’ve done for years about a Greyhound bus trip I took when I was 18. Some nights it’s three minutes, others it’s ten. When it’s rolling I’ve stretched it out to twenty or more.

There are all kinds of surprises I can throw in depending on how I’m feeling, and there are also a lot of places to jump off if I don’t like where it’s going. I’ve toyed with that bit for years, but I don’t do it all that much anymore. Once in a while people request it so I’ll dust it off just to stay in practice. If I can develop ten bits like that I’ll be set for a lifetime.

That piece of material really has grown over the years and it fits me perfectly. Structure is crucial in comedy and I’m finally starting to feel like I know what I’m doing after many years of trial and error, mostly error. I looked at the material I have now and the outline of where I hope to take it and I was very excited. This is going to be a gigantic labor of love.

I want to come up with five or six television sets I can start road testing immediately so next time I won’t be in the predicament I was in when I did the Late Late Show. I did pull it off, but I don’t want it to work that way again. I’ll be much smarter this time and begin putting bits in a running order so I‘ll have sets growing organically. I’m finally wising up.

It took me a few years to write all my material down, but now I’m sorting it by category so I can start organizing it that way. I’ve got ten fingers, and will assign a category to each one so on stage I’ll be able to go back and forth however I want. The audience won’t have any idea what I’m doing, and they shouldn’t. All they have to do is show up and enjoy it.

This is all part of the ‘Maxwell Method of Standup Comedy’ I’m developing and trying out on myself. I really think it’s a solid system, kind of like the West Coast Offense in the NFL or The Triangle Offense in the NBA. Like with those systems, some will thrive with mine and think I’m a genius. Others will struggle and blame me for it. That’s how it goes.

I absolutely LOVE to work on projects like this, but unfortunately it’s not necessary for me to ever write even one more joke. I can get by with the material I have now, and that’s not bragging. I’ve attained a status of ‘funny enough’, and what comes into play there is a level of competence that once achieved really doesn’t have to be improved upon. I’m it.

There are performers of all kinds that achieve that status. I’m sure there are many actors all over the world that could be in movies and not embarrass themselves, but getting hired to do it is a different story. That boils down to marketing and image and many other traits. Very few if anyone has a level of talent alone that’s far and away superior to the majority.

I’ve been blessed with a quick wit and the ability to think on my feet in front of an open microphone, whether it’s on a comedy stage or at a radio station. I have done shows again and again both on stage and on air but I haven’t been able to turn that into big money yet.

Show business should actually be called ‘business show‘, as that fits it more accurately. My show part is fine, and in fact probably well above average. Even my detractors always finish a long diatribe of attacking me with “But he’s a very good comedian.” I love that.

What I don’t love is still struggling to find my way all these years into the business part of this whole thing. That’s where I really blew it. I can either work on that and get better or continue to live like a cockroach and have people ask “Why haven’t you done better?”

I’m the first to admit many of my problems are self inflicted. I’ve had a heaping dose of bad breaks thrown in too, but that’s no excuse. Lots of people catch bad breaks, it’s what they do to fight back that determines ultimate success. That’s where I am now. I have my warts, but I have ability too. What can I do to balance out my ‘show’ and ‘business’ side?

One thing I did to make an effort was hooking up with a comic named Dante in LA on a trade for a list of comedy bookers all over the world. He advertised on some comedy list a while back and I contacted him because he said he’d be willing to trade for sports cards or anything else of value. We talked on the phone and he was a good guy so we did the deal.

I had to throw in $100 but I now have a monster list of bookers from everywhere. Some of them I had, many I didn’t. I was able to send him sports cards I don’t have much actual cash into so it was a good deal for us both. Now it’s up to me to parlay this into paid gigs.

The fun part is working on my act like I did until 4:30am. The chore is contacting every one of those bookers and sending them my avails every month or six weeks or whenever they tell me to do it. It’s a want to work on my act. It’s a need to get bookings. I can come up with ten topics all day long, but if I don’t have gigs what good does that do? Not a bit.

This whole one man show idea about Milwaukee is still very much alive also. I worked on it in the car all the way to St. Cloud. I made notes on a legal pad all afternoon and I’m still stoked that this could be good on many levels. If I do it right it could eliminate all my money issues and that’s when the real creativity starts. I don’t like struggling each month.

The show tonight was also a struggle. This place rocked last time I was here but tonight it was half full of drunks who wanted to be the show. Fighting it wouldn’t do any good so I plowed through and did my time without incident. I’m starting to do a lot of things right so that’s where my focus needs to be. This was a temporary glitch and won’t rattle me.


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