Category Archives: Milwaukee

Strangers Wanted

Saturday December 14th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   I can’t keep up with how fast the weeks are flying by. This was my third Saturday of four total in this current run of performing “Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst” at Northern Lights Theater in Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. The calendar is on warp speed.

   There is quite simply no better facility I have ever worked, and I never get tired of performing on that stage. It’s the ideal size, and everything about the experience is as fun as it gets. The staff is friendly, and they’ve grown up in or near Milwaukee so they get exactly what I’m trying to do.

   I feel so at home because it IS my home. There’s no other place on the planet where I can have that much history to fall back on at any given time during a performance. I was born and grew up within a few miles, so I’m in my element. It’s exactly what I pictured, and it’s working perfectly.

   If I’m a draw anywhere, it’s here. People I went to grade school and high school and worked at any number of dead end hellish jobs with not only regularly come out to see me but bring friends along. It’s a venue that has been built specifically for entertainment, and where I want to be seen.

   Tonight my cousin Wendy came out and brought about a dozen people to the early show. Most if not all of those people have seen me before, and that always makes me work harder as I like to do at least a little something different that they haven’t seen. I want to make it worth their while.

   Music is completely different in that people are disappointed if they don’t hear the hits they’ve bought tickets to hear. That’s why they buy tickets in the first place. Comedy is on the other side of the coin. If people hear something they’ve heard before, they tend to feel like they’re cheated.

   I do notice that there are a core of fans for any comedy performer that love to hear the hits over and over, but that’s not the majority. Brian Regan has rabid fans that will call out specific chunks of material they want to hear – kind of like asking a band to play hit songs – and then he does it.

   I’m starting to get that too, at least a little. I have a chunk of material I’ve done for years about a waitress named “Doris the Porkasaurus” that seems to resonate with fans who enjoy what I do. I frequently have people ask me to do it, and there’s a fan named Harriett Leo that comes to see me every time I’m at Zanies Comedy Club in St. Charles, IL and brings a group along with her.

  She’s heard that bit dozens of times, but it’s her favorite and she always makes it a point to ask if I’m going to do it. I always do whenever she’s there, because that’s why she shows up. I want to give whatever fans I do have whatever they want, and she always comes back so it’s working.

   I feel the “Schlitz Happened!” fan base building, and it’s exciting. My cousin Wendy showing up is great, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the support. Unfortunately, strangers are the ones I need to win over but that’s working too. I’m seeing those who have started to become regulars.

   I know in my heart there are at least a million people that would enjoy the Milwaukee flavor of this show, and I want every last one of them to come see it. There are two more chances with this run, and I hope many strangers show up. My aim is to turn them into friends. www.paysbig.com.

Schlitz keeps happening at Northern Lights Theater in Potawatomi Casino. www.paysbig.com

Schlitz keeps happening at Northern Lights Theater in Potawatomi Casino. http://www.paysbig.com

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How ‘Bout Dat?!

By Dobie Maxwell – http://www.schlitzhappened.com

   Even in his home town of Milwaukee, the name ‘Reginald Lisowski’ might not be immediately recognized by everyone who hears it. But mention ‘The Crusher’ and everyone knows exactly of whom you speak. He is of local legend, the beer swilling cigar chomping professional wrestler of the 20th century with his bug eyes and bleached crew cut who stomped ‘bums’ into the canvas.

The wrestler who made Milwaukee famous!

The wrestler who made Milwaukee famous!

   The Crusher was an icon to multiple generations of Milwaukeeans. I have a friend probably ten years older than I am who was a child of the ‘60s. He once told me the three top athletes from his era in no particular order were Hank Aaron, Bart Starr and The Crusher. All were equal royalty.

Hank Aaron - Legendary Braves Slugger

Hank Aaron – Legendary Braves Slugger

Bart Starr - Legendary Packers Quarterback

Bart Starr – Legendary Packers Quarterback

Da Crusher - Just Plain Legend!

Da Crusher – Just Plain Legendary! 

   But all through my childhood The Crusher was the king of not only my sports world but that of all my neighborhood friends. We would gather around our televisions every week and watch ‘All Star Wrestling’ on Channel 18 to see our hero in action. He kept us all riveted with his charisma.

Channel 18 had ALL the good programs!

Channel 18 had ALL the good programs!

   For reasons I still can’t identify, we believed without question that a stout man in his 50s could actually train for a legitimate athletic contest exclusively by lifting a beer keg, dancing the polka and smoking cigars. We never once questioned any of this, and this is why humanity scares me.

Another day at the office...

Another day at the office…

   I was just as gullible as anyone, and I bought it too. I loved the Crusher, and without any other local icons during a very lean sports era, he was it. Kareem Abdul Jabbar might have been close for a while, but when he demanded to be traded his stock dropped quickly. The Crusher ruled.

Even in his 50s, Crusher STILL ruled!

Even in his 50s, Crusher STILL ruled!

   His matches were secondary to his legendary interviews. That’s where he sold us on what he’d do to his upcoming opponents, and we were putty in his hands. He’d rant and rave and make lots of threats and promise to vanquish evil and restore justice to the universe. And we believed him.

with Marty O'Neil 'that slippery eel'.

with Marty O’Neil ‘that slippery eel’.

   My best friend Timbo and I used to save our money and go see our hero live at the Milwaukee Auditorium whenever we could. What a ‘trill’ it was to witness as he’d defeat some ‘turkeyneck’ of the week by administering his infamous stomach claw or his best weapon ‘The Crusher Bolo’.

His t-shirt says it all!

His t-shirt says it all!

   On rare occasion – maybe once a year – the matches would take place at the Milwaukee Arena which could house double what the Auditorium did. Those usually meant there would be a ‘cage match’ where the Crusher would vanquish a bad guy inside a chain link cage. We lived for those.

I think this was Crusher's driver's license photo too.

I think this was Crusher’s driver’s license photo too.

   One New Year’s Eve many years later when I was a comedian, I had a show at the downtown Hyatt Regency. I stepped into a packed elevator and in the back I heard a guy impersonating The Crusher – and not very well. When I got off the elevator I discovered it was really him, and got to shake his hand. It felt exactly like one would imagine, rough and strong. Those ten seconds were the biggest ‘trill’ I ever had in sports. To quote one of his trademark sayings, “How ‘bout dat!?”

One of my all time prized possessions.

One of my all time prized possessions!

How Many? Germany!

By Dobie Maxwell – http://www.schlitzhappened.com

   Milwaukee is a collection of things and can be described in a variety of ways, but if it had to be boiled down to a single word it would have to be “German”.  Many outsiders would likely guess “beer”, “polka” or “bowling”, but that’s not the whole picture. Germans took over in Milwaukee and Wisconsin as Norwegians did in Minnesota – and everyone else either plays along or leaves.

"Pass the bratwurst, Klaus!"

“Pass the bratwurst, Klaus!”

   That strong and lasting influence is far from hidden when suburbs are less than subtly given the names “Germantown” and “New Berlin”, and the whole city’s reputation is built around brewing beer. It’s also consumed heavily, and that’s often what leads to dancing polkas and/or bowling.

   Sausage in all forms is a familiar staple in every Milwaukeean’s diet, and the word ‘vegetarian’ is used exclusively to describe someone who puts onions on a bratwurst. Gravy has been used as both a beverage and household lubricant, and sauerkraut recipes have been stored in bank vaults.

Now THAT'S breakfast!

Now THAT’S a Milwaukee breakfast!

And here's desert!

And here’s desert!

    Other ethnic groups have had an important contributing hand in shaping Milwaukee’s rich and storied culture, but the big dog on the porch is unquestionably a German shepherd. Although my official pedigree is ‘mutt’, I do have a significant amount of German blood pumping in my veins.

Barchen Sie Deutsch?

Barchen Sie Deutsch?

   That comes courtesy of my paternal grandmother. She raised me along with my grandfather of Russian/Jewish heritage, and that was an interesting mix to say the least. We’ve all seen how the Germans and Jews have hit it off throughout history, and I lived through my own personal battle station during my childhood years watching Grandma and Gramps go at it like enemy soldiers.

   I personally experienced German culture firsthand both inside and outside the home, and there are specific characteristics that were consistent with both. First, Germans are a very clean people. Their houses are immaculate – inside and out. Their lawns are manicured to obsessive perfection. Their cars, lawn mowers and anything else of a mechanical nature gets maintained religiously.

"Vat time does der bowling league shtart?"

“Vat time does der bowling league shtart?”

   I always thought it was funny that a nation with the word ‘germ’ as part of its title has a people so excessively clean that nobody could locate one within a seven mile radius of a German home. My grandmother would wash walls, scrub floors, clean windows and do laundry. She had hands of a surgeon in that she could iron a shirt – while you were wearing it – and not leave a wrinkle.

   German people also tend to be a bit icy when it comes to interpersonal relationships. I received my first hug from my grandmother when I was around 37, and it lasted about as long as virginity in the back seat of a Chevy Impala on prom night. She had a look on her face when she did it like the one someone gets when accidentally stepping in a cat litter box barefoot with the lights off.

"Nein"

“Nein”

   Suffice to say this is the base on which Milwaukee culture as a whole is built, and we’ve grown accustomed to it over generations. This long built tradition has created a distinct local flavor few other places have outside of The Motherland itself. Adolf Hitler allegedly stated frighteningly he would set up his base of operations in Milwaukee if he won World War II because of the German flavor already there. I shudder to think what would’ve happened if my baseball went on his lawn.

“The Dented Can” – My Story In A Nutshell

By Dobie Maxwell – http://www.schlitzhappened.com

   I was born at 12:13am Thursday March 14th, 1963 at Mount Sinai Hospital in Milwaukee, WI. After that first slap, they wouldn’t stop coming. My story has twists and turns few others do, and had I not lived through all of it myself I probably wouldn’t believe it. I assure you, it’s ALL true.

   I have always heard I should “write a book someday” – which is turning out to be today. I have enough crazy stories to tell to fill several books, but I’ll start at the beginning to set the stage. I’m ashamed to admit that for many years I wanted to forget about my past and where I came from.

   Unfortunately, there’s just no way to do that. We all come from somewhere, and wherever that is becomes an inescapable part of who we are for life. I am from Milwaukee, and no matter how far I’ve ever tried to run – and I have – it always will be a part of me. I have come to embrace it.

Flying my hometown colors

Flying my hometown colors

   It wasn’t easy. I had a very rocky start. I was born the third child to two people who should not have been parents under any circumstances whatsoever. My father rode with a motorcycle ‘club’ of local infamy called The Outlaws, and my mother was not even 21 when I came on the scene.

   Neither one was ready for parenthood, but they kept cranking out babies like Harley-Davidson was cranking out motorcycles. By the time I was five months old, they’d had enough. My mother left, and I was sent to live with my paternal grandparents temporarily until they could decide on a place to send me. One thing led to another, and they ended up raising me most of my childhood.

Other colors I saw at home

Other colors I saw at home

   That doesn’t mean life was all “Hershey bars and Archie comics” as Gramps often liked to say. He and my grandmother fought constantly, and by the time I was twelve they split up. During all that time, I would be shipped back and forth to my father’s house to try and assimilate with both my natural siblings, step mother and eventually a younger step brother. It was constant turmoil.

   I would spend occasional weekends and frequent extended school vacations living in what the neighbors came to know as the “Outlaw House”, and saw firsthand how that insane lifestyle was lived. It wasn’t fun and I never fit in, and that’s extremely painful for a child to have to endure.

   I never felt like I had a true home anywhere, but that later trained me well for the comedy road life. All too often the back stories of comedians are loaded with sadness. That’s what eventually becomes the motivation for wanting to hear laughter because there was so little in our childhood.

Does this look like a future comedian?

Does this look like a future comedian?

   What makes my story unusual is that I lived through not one but two painful childhoods at the same time. I’d spend some time at one place, and then get sent back to the other. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would provide me with more comedic material than I could use in six lifetimes. There were oddball characters everywhere I went – and that’s the ingredient of all good comedy.

   Combine those two off the charts scenarios with the backdrop of Milwaukee culture, and I was living in two sitcoms at once and didn’t know it. I wasn’t able see the humor then, as I struggled to carve out an identity and figure out what life was all about and where my place in it might be.

   I like to refer to a comedian (or anyone else from a painful childhood) as a “dented can”. There isn’t anything technically wrong with a dented can at the grocery store, but they never put it with the ‘normal’ cans on the shelf. They always stick it in a cart in the back of the store with all kinds of other rejected products like oddly shaped fruits and vegetables and crushed boxes of cereal.

   It trickles down, and robs the dented can of self esteem. There is no real reason they shouldn’t be with the rest of the cans, just as the tomato with the unsightly lump or the ripped box of Corn Flakes has a reason to be removed from the rest. There might be a cosmetic flaw, but the actual product itself is just as good as the others. The same holds true for products of painful families.

dented can

   It doesn’t mean we’re inferior people, it only means we’ve had some outside damage that has placed us in a separate category through no fault of our own. This is never pleasant, but it’s true for literally millions of people in America and all over the world. It’s not a matter of if someone is a dented can, but rather how deep one’s dents are and where. Very few live the fantasy life.

   A lot boils down to how one reacts to the poker hand life deals. I never asked to be born at all, much less to lower class biker parents in Milwaukee. Who wouldn’t love to be the firstborn son of a billionaire who lives in a mansion in Hollywood or some other exotic dream circumstance?

Life deals us all a hand.

Life deals us all a hand.

   We get what we get, and that’s how it is. I fought it for years, but the more I fought the less it changed. I was who I was, and part of that was where I came from. I eventually started to travel as a comedian, and I found that where I was from was definitely not like everywhere else. There are definitely dented cans everywhere, but everywhere was definitely not like my home town.

   One thing I noticed right away was that anywhere I went in America where there happened to be another Milwaukeean in attendance we’d always end up talking about home. We’d talk about our favorite restaurants and what side of town we were from, and it forged an immediate bond.

   This kind of a bond is both instantaneous and everlasting – just like meeting someone with the same birthday. If it happens to be the same year, you can pretty much invite yourself over for the holiday dinner of your choice. Meeting someone from one’s home town works exactly the same way, and the farther from home one is when the meeting occurs the deeper the bond becomes.

milw seal

   It took me painful decades of unsuccessfully trying to escape my past and hometown heritage to learn that I could be abducted by a UFO and taken to a far away galaxy and still not get away from the fact that I am a dented can from Milwaukee and always will be. I’m no longer ashamed, and in fact it’s quite the opposite. I’m proud of where I’m from, and I want to be an ambassador.

   Warts and all, Milwaukee and its local culture is flat out FUNNY. The situations of my painful past are funny. Life itself is funny – if we will allow ourselves to look at it that way. It took me a lifetime to be able to see that, but now I do and am excited to share the stories with everyone else who might be able to relate to being either a Milwaukeean or a dented can. Maybe you happen to be both. That’s great! Pull up a barstool. We’ve got some serious (and funny) catching up to do.

I’m From Milwaukee, And I Oughta Know!

 By Dobie Maxwell – http://www.schlitzhappened.com

    My name is Dobie Maxwell, and I was born and raised in Milwaukee, WI. If you are also from or have spent any length of time there, you already know the official home town pronunciation is “M’waukee ‘Sconsin”.  You also know a lot of other things about our hometown, and that’s what I’m going to be writing about. This is just for ‘us’ as Milwaukeeans, and nobody else will get it.

   Well that’s just too bad, ain’a? We have had to live in the corrupt and polluted shadow of those nasty “F.I.B.s” in Chicago long enough. They have had more than enough popular songs written about them and movies made that glorify gangsters, outlaws and hoodlums. This is about a much more honest and hard working city just 90 short miles up the road. We’ve got a rich history too!

   That rich and unique local history combined with my own unique life story are the ingredients of a one man show I have created called “Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz from the Pabst” that debuted at the Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino in April of 2013.

   The show ran for eight performances over four consecutive Saturdays, and was by all accounts an all out hit. It set the attendance record for a comedy show on the very first night, and audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive – so much so that people came back to enjoy it numerous times and brought friends with them. How many shows anywhere mention Ernie Von Schledorn?

   If you’re not a Milwaukeean, you have no idea who Ernie Von Schledorn is. If you are, you not only know who he is immediately but also where to find him. He’s “just minutes away on Route 41 – Main Street in Menomonee Falls.” Any true Milwaukeean has that tattooed on their brain.

   We also have quite a few others in our local cast of characters that spark up instant recognition upon hearing their names. Who was the wrestler who made Milwaukee famous? That could only refer to the man with “100 megaton biceps” – da one…da only…da CRUSHER! How ‘bout dat?

   Who was the lovable puppet that predicted our weather on Channel 6 every night for decades? We all know it was Albert the Alley Cat, and our day wasn’t complete unless we heard what the ‘humidery’ was at ‘Tinnimum’ Field. And if you were cool in school, you wore your Albert cap.

   Irv “The Working Man’s Friend” was located on the one and only Mitchell Street, along with “Krazy” Konzal, the undisputed Carpet King of Milwaukee. Honorable Mayor Henry Maier sang stodgy songs between puffs of his pipe, and Chief Harold Brier reigned over Milwaukee’s police force with an iron fist and a crew cut. And who can forget O.C. White and his famous barbecue?

   These are legendary names that don’t mean a ‘ting’ south of Kenosha – or maybe even Racine. Larry started in Chicago, but he wasn’t truly a ‘legend’ until he came to Milwaukee. Fritz wasn’t really a plumber, but fans of polka music never checked his credentials. As long as he showed up at the radio station to announce the next Frankie Yankovic tune, nobody cared. This is the era of Milwaukee history I will be delving deeply into, as it’s the DNA of my life. If any of this rings a bell in your head, I invite you to join me for a fun ride down an old road not everybody knows.

Who d'ya know, knows Ernie?

Who d’ya know, knows Ernie?

Turkeynecks beware!

Turkeynecks beware!

Hey friend, can you loan me $20 until payday?

Hey friend, can you loan me $20 until payday?

The hippest puppet anywhere...

The hippest puppet anywhere…

...with the hat to match!

…with the hat to match!