One of the contributors to Jerry Agar's show is Dobie Maxwell. He's a part of the segment known as "Jerry's Kidders." I first interviewed Dobie last year when he was doing that segment on WLS. Dobie had a big summer. He made his national television debut as a comedian (on Craig Ferguson's show). I recently caught up with him and asked him how that went, and what it's like to do "Jerry's Kidders" on a different radio station...
Dobie: Getting on national television was like my whole life flashing in front of my eyes. I thought about all the horrific gigs I had to endure to get there and starting out in Milwaukee and my mentors over the years and it was like going down a waterslide of my entire past. It was also like an out of body experience in that I felt like I was watching it from afar rather than living it in person. I'd heard that from others who did their first shot and wasn't sure what it meant. Now I know exactly what they meant and they were 100% accurate.
It was also important to add legitimacy to an entire lifetime of struggle. The very first thing anyone asks when they hear someone is a comedian is "Ever been on TV?" Now I can say yes and not have to fudge something like Good Morning Albuquerque. Craig Ferguson's show is very credibile and it was a terrific experience and one I won't soon forget.
Jerry's Kidders is a little different only because we have to watch out for kids on Saturday mornings when that wasn't much of an issue on WLS, mainly because of the day and time we're on. WLS was Mondays at 11:30. Most kids are in school or at least not listening to WLS in the summer. WGN is on Saturday and there are a lot more kids. We don't try to do an off color show but once in a while when something approaches 'the line', we now have to push that line back a little, or at least we choose to. We're not trying to push any envelopes other than one with a paycheck in it. Other than that, it's been great fun. We all love to have the studios on Michigan Avenue because people can watch us perorm, and that's what we're used to so we don't mind at all.
The original interview follows...
Dobie Maxwell is a regular contributer to the Jerry Agar show (every Monday) on WLS-AM 890.
I've been all over the road like a dead skunk. After Dick Biondi I might just be right up there with times fired in radio. It's to the point now every time I'm in a radio studio and the hot line rings I start looking for a cubicle to clean out.
(My first radio gig)
(I ended up getting on the morning show and it was a total disaster from day one. My partner and I didn't hit it off at all. He fancied himself as the funny guy and always tried to one up me no matter what. It got to be a huge pain in the shorts because he was very lazy but still wanted to be the funny guy. I tried working with him and changing my style to fit his and no matter what I did we were just not cut out to work together. That lasted about ten months and I got fired the day before Thanksgiving of 1991.)
KQNV-Reno (100.9 FM)
(I liked Reno but again got blown out after one book because the owner was too impatient with the format change and decided it was better to fire everyone rather than wait for the product to catch on.)
'Extreme Country 104.7'-Kenosa, Wisconsin
(One morning the GM said to me: 'If my husband didn't think you were the funniest person walking the earth you would be SO fired.' Hey, thanks a lot for the vote of confidence! I quit before I got fired but eventually it would have happened.)
Salt Lake City
(I got a call from my ex-partner in Reno asking if I would come to Salt Lake City and do a morning show with him there. He had to fire his morning show because one of them got caught exposing himself on video camera at a department store in town. I lasted a year and a week and they decided to 'go in a different direction'.)
(It's a good thing my partners were fantastic and we still get along well today. Those were some hectic times in many ways and trying to build a show from scratch was not pleasant at all.)
(Jerry Agar's show, every Monday at 10:30 a.m)
Rick: You've always been a stand up comedian who did radio, instead of a radio guy who did stand up comedy. How did you get that first radio job?
Dobie: I started in radio doing comedy bits up in Milwaukee where I'm originally from. A morning guy saw me when I was starting out as a standup and asked if I wanted to do a regular weekly bit on his show. It went pretty well and then of course he died. That's why my moniker of 'Mr. Lucky' fits so well. It couldn't be that he got fired or promoted, my only connection had to actually DIE. I felt bad for him but I felt bad for me too because I liked the pressure of a deadline to come up with new stuff every week. That was also my first experience of being without a gig, and even though I wasn't getting paid I did enjoy the exposure, so getting let go was a let down. This was probably around 1985 or '86. The station was WMYX and the guy that passed away was Keith Moore. His partner Jane Matanaer is still there today, and I just was a guest on that show two weeks ago.
After that I hooked up with another guy who ended up living a little longer. In fact he's still living today. His name is Jeff Rowe, and he's done all kinds of big things from being the PD at VH-1, to developing sitcoms at NBC in Hollywood, to being a bigwig at AOL. He was running WKTI back in the 80s and hired me to do a bit called 'Milwaukee Vice'. Miami Vice was hot back then and I wrote a bit that ran a couple times a week on the Reitman and Mueller show. Looking back at it I was HORRIBLE, but Jeff gave me a shot and the concept was ok. That was my next foray into radio and it ended when Jeff got his promotion to VH-1 in New York. His replacement was an anal rententive pinhead who clashed with me right away.
My first real job was at classic rock WMMQ in Lansing, MI. I was a guest comedian on the morning show and the owner heard me and said 'Hey, you're pretty funny. How would you like to fill in on the morning show for a couple of weeks?' I told him I guess I wouldn't mind, but what I didn't know was that I wasn't 'filling in.' The other morning guy was in cocaine rehab, and I had the job but didn't know it. What a ride that was. There was a great staff there, and three months after I got there the PD left, and one by one the staff did too. The owner was a total moron and nobody liked working for him. He was very hands on with everything. If his wife thought Beetle Bailey was funny that morning he'd call me on the hot line at 6:30 and tell me to do a bit about it at 7:10. I lasted about six months, and it was brutal, but I sure learned a lot about radio at that job.
(Photo: Dobie with Jackie Mason)
Many comedians think they can do radio and many jocks think they can do comedy. WRONG. They are both very different and I happen to be able to do them both well enough to get hired professionally, but that's very rare. It's like an athlete playing two sports professionally. Yes, a few have done it but not all that often.
A few other examples of people who have done both successfully are Dennis Miller, Steve Cochran (photo), Bill Leff and my old partner at the Loop Spike Manton. Spike was great to work with even though our comedic styles are very very different. I'm not sure if we should work together on radio again only because we're just from two different schools. That's not good or bad, but it would be like drafting a punishing running back for a west coast offense in football. It doesn't fit together, but it doesn't mean they can't all have a successful career. A big part of radio is chemistry and I usually got fired in most places before I could let that chemistry gel a little. Spike is funny and very good at what he does and I thought he was especially effective with Steve Dahl.
Rick: I know you're originally from Milwaukee, but you've been based in Chicago for quite a long time. What is it about Chicago that made you decide to make it your home?
Dobie: That's a great question. You should do this for a living. Seriously, places just have a vibe and Chicago and I have always been a match. I can still remember going on vacation with my grandparents when I was a kid and driving through Chicago and loving all the tall buildings and overhead restaurants on the tollway and the big neon signs on the side of the road for Magikist and Dad's Root Beer and Budweiser. I knew at about six years old that I wanted to live in Chicago and my grandmother thought I was possessed by a demon. "Why would ANYBODY want to live in this ghetto-fied hell hole??" That's a typical Milwaukee reaction to Chicago but I'm not very typical in a lot of ways. I loved Chicago then and I love it even more now. I was born in Milwaukee but Chicago is my home. It's like Steve Dahl. He was born in LA but Chicago is his home now as well.
Milwaukee was never a good comedy town and still isn't. Chicago is 90 miles on a map but 90 light years as far as being an entertainment city. I hooked up with Zanies and have been a regular there for years and I still love working there today. I also teach comedy classes there and that's very rewarding actually. It's like a sports fantasy camp where people who want to see what comedy is all about can live the dream for a night. I have been doing that since about 1995 and it's still fun.
Whenever I've gotten fired from a radio job I've always drifted back to Chicago at my lowest point and rebuilt my life. That's happened WAY more times than I'd hoped but at least I have a place I feel at home. I'm bulletproof here. I even like it in Gary. Well, maybe that's a little stretch.
Rick: People probably remember you best from your stint on the Loop, as co-host of the Morning Loop Guys (photo). One feature of that show was your 60 second soapbox, which was essentially a rant on whatever was bugging on you on that particular day. How did that ever start?
Dobie: Well a lot of things bug me at any given time and that's what makes good comedy. I was in Utah and had to follow that horrible situation of the guy exposing himself in the department store on video camera. He was the sidekick and the lead guy on the show had been an icon in town for many years. My partner and I had to field calls of 'What happened to the other guys?' for weeks after we started and one day I just told him to crank up my mike and I went off on everything that was bugging me about it.
I really let loose and told it like it was. "You wanna know what happened to those two idiots? They got FIRED. And you know what? They're NOT coming back so SHUT YOUR MOUTH AND STOP WHINING. And better yet if we stink WE'LL get fired soon enough too so QUIT CALLING US and let us sink or swim on our own." I thought my partner was going to soil his shorts because it was a country station in Salt Lake City, but we started to get calls immediately saying "I like this guy - he can stay." Even the GM came in the studio and said "Now THERE'S a fresh way to handle it."
The following morning my partner asked me if I had anything else on my mind and I said "Well as a matter of fact I do..." and I went off on the Mormons. It wasn't bad or mean spirited but everyone was afraid of what the Mormons would do or say or think and I just said I knew they were out there and I knew I wasn't one of them but that didn't mean we couldn't still have fun and that started getting calls too.
It started from there and eventually I'd do one almost every day if I could think of something to write about. I mentioned it as a possible bit at the Loop in a meeting and Greg Solk wanted to hear it and we gave it a shot and that was it. I did it every single day for over a year and I still get people at comedy shows asking me if I'll do it again. Jerry Agar has asked me to start doing it on WLS and we're almost ready to let it rip. I love doing it for many reasons, mainly because again it gives me a deadline and something to write for. I think that makes a good entertainer. If a person can deliver consistently in a pressure situation that's what makes a pro. It's like sports. I definitely want the ball in the clutch situation.
Rick: You're co-hosts on that Loop show were Spike Manton, Max Bumgardner, and Bruce Wolf. You've already talked a little bit about Spike, but what it was like working with the other two?
Dobie: Spike (photo) is really the reason I got the job. I was a guest on his overnight show with Harry Teinowitz on WMVP AM 1000 and he suggested me to Greg Solk. I thought we would eventually end up fighting because that year was so hectic but just the opposite happened. Spike is a great friend and a quality person and I think the world of the guy. That year together bonded the three of us and we still stay in contact now.
Max and I clicked on several levels. We are very close still and probably will be for life. He is not a comedian and never claimed to be but he's a super person and we like to say we're 'dented cans'. Spike had a pretty decent family but Max and I are still haunted by our past. His father and mine were both louts and lowlifes and it's affected us to this day. We bonded on that level right away and I know a lot of listeners have the same kinds of problems Max and I are trying to overcome and break the chains of our painful childhoods.
It's like trying to talk to a woman about the pain of child birth. I can IMAGINE how painful it is but I've never actually experienced it and never will. The same is true with the 'dented can' childhood. Max (photo) had one and I did too and we're both striving to overcome it and salvage a good life for each other. We call each other at times when we're down and it's great knowing there is somebody out there with the same mindset who 'gets it.' I love Spike as a comedian brother but Max and I go a lot deeper than that. I'm a wacky uncle to his kids and think the world of his whole family. He's a great businessman too and has a very bright future and I need work in that area. We've each got strengths the other one doesn't and that's what makes a good show partner.
Bruce Wolf (photo) is a very talented guy. He's extremely intelligent and funny and I loved working with him even though we weren't in the same room. He was at Fox TV doing sports so we only had him twice an hour so I didn't get to know him like I did Spike and Max. I have stayed in contact as much as possible and have only good things to say about him. He should go on Jeopardy and win a lot of money because I think he's that smart. He's the kind of personality people love or loathe and that's what good entertainment is. Not all Loopers got him and that's just how it works. I did, and thought he was really sharp, but many times people who would see me at a comedy show would say they didn't care for his style of humor.
One thing I think may have hurt us is that he was associated with the old regime at the Loop and we were new. Some listeners didn't like that for whatever reason. I'm glad he's back on with Johnny now and that's probably where he belongs. I don't have anything against Johnny but I don't listen just because it still hurts that we got torched for no good reason. We'd really be jamming by now and I wouldn't be struggling to pay rent. I wish Johnny and Bruce both well though and if that's how it was meant to turn out who am I to fight it? But the company could have been nicer.
(Photo: Dobie with former Loop colleague Cara Carriveau)
Rick: OK, anyone who has seen your act knows that you go by the name of Mr. Lucky, because of your legendary streak of bad luck. I'm sure your "luck" has spread to your radio career too. Tell us a few of your favorite Mr. Lucky radio stories.
Dobie: I don't know how one guy could have so many stories of being in the wrong place at the wrong time but I'm your man. I must have been a real evil guy in a past life to keep suffering so much in this one but it sure makes for good comedy and good stories.
I remember one time when I was first starting out I made a mistake on the air and said the old line "Hire the handicapped, they're entertaining." I got a call from a guy which I stupidly took live and he said "I'M handicapped you asshole." I told him I was talking about ME and making fun of the mistake I just made and not about him but he wouldn't hear of it and kept going on about it. I tried to be nice but he kept on 'poking the tiger' so eventually I said "Hey you crippled waterhead, why don't you hang up the phone and change your diaper and put on your bib and helmet and go take one of the good parking spaces a REAL person could be using. There, NOW you have something to be upset about. Keep drooling."
Well of course that was live and the GM got to work and had about 200 faxes about how rotten I was and it turned into a major deal but believe it or not I didn't get fired for that one. The sales manager was listening and he and the GM were tight and he thought it was the funniest thing he ever heard on the air in his life. Still, it was bad timing to take the call live.
Another one I won't forget was when I was in Lansing and had been on the air for about a month. Lansing is a college town and I was 26 at the time and a sales person came up with a 'Win a date with Dobie' promotion. The date was dinner and a movie. The restaurant was a client and I had to choose the movie. I went with it but since I was working so hard I really didn't have a chance to catch up on any movies so I just picked one out of the paper. It turned out to be 'The Silence Of The Lambs.' I thought "Well, it's got the word 'lambs' in the title so it must be a chick flick." True story. That was a total disaster and needless to say we didn't have a second date. We barely got through the first. No kiss that night.
Yet another one happened when I was in Utah. They tried that same gimmick again but this time the 'date' was Utah Jazz tickets. I love sports so I said I'd do it and the woman who won the contest sent a picture and was very hot. I picked her up but we didn't go to dinner because she had kids and could only go to the game. As luck would have it the tickets were in the very last row of the arena so we walked up the stairs and I felt like I was going to have a coronary right then and there. I bought us some hot dogs and nachos and sodas and we sat down and were just about to start eating when she said out of the blue "You know I'm a member of the Mormon Church and I don't believe in having sex with a man unless we're married don't you?" I thought I was being funny and said "Well you could have gotten a couple of dinners out of me first before you told me that." She did NOT find that funny at all and got up and left. I sat there with my hot dogs and sodas and nachos and watched her walk down the steps and out of my life forever. I turned and shrugged to the people sitting around me and started eating my hot dogs and nachos. Go Jazz.
Those are the first few that pop into my head but they're by far not the only ones. One time I was with a chick in her apartment and things were going great and the doorbell rang. It was her brother and after an awkward introduction he said "Well Dobie, I'm sorry to have to meet you on a day like this but I can't think of a way to sugar coat this - Sis...Mom died today." End of date. End of relationship. Another dinner bought wasted. There are ten thousand tales in the Lucky City. These are but a few of them.
Rick: Now you're a regular on the Jerry Agar show on WLS-Radio. What do you do on Jerry's show?
Dobie: I've know Jerry Agar (photo) for about 20 years. Jerry asked if I would help him get a panel of comedians to do jokes on current events and that's what we do on Mondays at 10:30am. The bit is called 'Jerry's Kidders' and it's really a lot of fun because I don't have to get air checked when I'm done with it.
Jerry has his own story of bouncing around the country doing radio, and every time either one of us got fired we'd call each other and have someone to complain to. He's been great and we've stayed in contact all these years. We started out in St. Charles at a tiny AM station 1480 WFXW. He did mornings and I was a guest plugging the new Zanies location in Pheasant Run. I was complaining that I had to go way out to St. Charles at 6am to do some rinky dink low life AM station and he was complaining that the club didn't even send the headliner. I was just the opening act. We laugh about it now but back then it was true. We hit it off after one visit and I was a regular after that. I think that was back around 1988 or 89.
Rick: Can you see yourself ever doing a full-time radio show again, or is your career heading in a different direction now?
Dobie: I'm battle scarred and jaded after years of dealing with radio idiots or 'radiots' as I like to call them. For every Max and Spike and Rick Kaempfer and Jerry Agar I've met there have been ten to twenty imbeciles who tell me to do a Beetle Bailey bit at 7:10. I'd LOVE to have a chance to work at a solid station for a period of time when a show could gel and develop but at this point I'm not sure if that will ever happen.
The only reason I ever wanted to get into radio was so that people would know me as a comedian and come out to see me live. My first three or four jobs in radio I was SO not ready and I freely admit that. Then I found out I was halfway decent at it and it started to come together, and now I feel I could do an outstanding job if I had a chance somewhere. I may never get my own full time show again and I'm ok with that. Working at a place like WLS is as close as I have gotten to doing what I set out to do. I am billed as a comedian and don't have to stop to play a Pink Floyd or a Faith Hill song just when things are going well. My friend Kipper McGee (photo) is the program director and I put him on my short list of positive radio connections I've met over the years. Between him and Jerry they both sit back and let me go because they know I know where I'm going when the mike is on.
I doubt that I would pack up the car and head out across the country again to work for some half wit with two first names like "Mike Michaels" or "Steve Stevens" or "Joe Joseph" again. Those days are mercifully over. But I've said that before. On the right day if someone calls I just may find myself back on the air someplace but would take a hell of an offer at this point to make that happen.
What I really enjoy is being a 'friend of the show' to many different shows. I'm on once a week with Jerry on WLS but I also stop in on Max's show in Springfield, IL any time I'm down there. I also have a friend in Rockford who does afternoons and I can stop there any time I want to and hang out on the air. I also am a semi-regular at the ESPN station up in Milwaukee too. I also still have friends in Salt Lake City and Reno who put me on when I'm out that way. That makes radio really fun. I go in and add to a show and then leave and not have to worry about getting yelled at by "Fred Fredericks" or "Walt Walters" when I'm done. I've got the best of both worlds and for once Mr. Lucky is catching the good break.
One more thing I'm working on is a website to sell funny stuff of all kinds called 'Uranus Factory Outlet' or U.F.O. I am going to come up with a character and call myself "The King Of Uranus" and go on radio and TV and do my own commercials like a cheesy used car dealer. Every town is familiar with their own local goofbag who sells cars or carpets or catheters or whatever and those people get known. I've been trying to catch my break for years and have been too busy getting fired at radio to wait for my ship to come in.
This idea is SO stupid and that's exactly what will make it work. My slogan is 'It's ALWAYS funny when it comes from Uranus.' Stay tuned for that because it will either be my million dollar empire or I'll go totally broke trying. Neither one scares me, so here we go. I have a corporate entity set up and am getting things in place and hope to be up and running in just a couple of weeks. My birthday is March 14th and Uranus came to be on March 13th so all this is cosmic. It was meant to be and I have never felt as strong about any idea I've ever done than I do about this one. Who doesn't like to laugh? I will use my radio experience and comedy experience and a lifetime of criss crossing North America as the basis of scouring the planet to find the funniest things on Earth.
So to answer your question I guess I would take a radio job again but it would have to pay more than a King at this point. Thanks for letting me be a part of your interview and a big 'Thumbs Up Uranus!' to your readers.
Oh, one more thing. I will be performing at Zanies both in Vernon Hills and downtown later this month. For exact dates go to www.zanies.com. If you would like tickets to a show as a very special thanks for reading all the way through this article please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll make sure you'll get in as my guest absolutely FREE.
Free your mind and your laughs will follow. Hope to see you all at Zanies and hear laughter coming from Uranus!