By Dobie Maxwell – http://www.schlitzhappened.com
Anyone who knows me well knows how much I have always admired Bob Uecker. I think he’s one of the absolute funniest humans of our time or any other time, and his multi faceted career of long lasting duration is about as impressive as it gets. He has long surpassed entertainment and is now part of American pop culture. Who hasn’t heard of ‘Uecker seats’? It’s part of our lexicon.
For whatever reason, people like to ask comedians who they think is funny. I’ve gotten that for as long as I’ve been a comedian – and that’s a long time. I don’t know why that should matter to anyone, but apparently it does. I’m a fan of the business and a student of the game, so I like a lot of different people for different reasons and many of those people are not known to the masses.
Anyone not in the business wouldn’t care about those reasons, and I totally get it. It’s an inner circle thing, and nothing is more boring than listening to someone prattle on with shop talk when they’re not in the same business. What the masses always want to hear are names of the famous.
I’ve been very lucky in my time to have either worked or crossed paths with some of the most famous comedians of the modern era including Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Jeff Foxworthy, Drew Carey, Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks and that’s not nearly a full list.
I don’t say this to brag, but I’ve been around the block a few times and crossing paths with all kinds of people goes with the territory. I could throw out hundreds of names nobody would care about except me and the people themselves, but that doesn’t capture imagination like fame does.
Everyone always wants to know “what they’re like”. They’re people, and people are people on all levels. Some are nicer than others, and depending on the day and time you meet them they’re exactly like people are. I’ve rarely been in awe of meeting anyone famous for that exact reason,
As a result, my meetings with celebrities have traditionally gone very smoothly. I’ve treated all of them like people, and that’s how they responded. Only a very few times have I ever been even the slightest bit star struck, and even then in the end it turned out well. Again, they’re just people.
The Holy Trinity of funny people on my personal hero list that I’ve always wanted to meet are (in no particular order) Rodney Dangerfield, George Carlin and Bob Uecker. I did get my chance to meet Rodney and George, and both were not only extremely warm and gracious but I also was able to make them laugh. The thrill of having that happen will stay with me the rest of my life.
Today I rounded out my awesome threesome in style as I got to hang out with Bob Uecker for a good 20-25 minutes – on the field at Miller Park no less! What a dream come true for a native cheese head and it couldn’t have gone any better. Everything was right, and it all went perfectly.
I can’t thank my friend Drew Olson enough for making this happen. He knows everyone at the stadium, and although it was no big deal for him he knew it was a big deal to me so he took time to make the call and walk me through the process. I like to do nice things like that whenever and however I can, and when it comes back my way it’s extra sweet. I’ll remember this day forever.
We were sitting in the dugout at Miller Park – something that by itself was worth my trip – and Bob came out of the other dugout and was standing behind the batting cage before the game. I’ve never been on the field before, so the whole experience was surreal from the start. I loved it all.
Drew told me to follow him, and we walked up to Bob and Drew introduced me as a comedian from Milwaukee. That’s all it took. Bob’s eyes lit up, and he shook my hand and started rattling off story after story, and it was like we’d been pals for years. It was the right place and the right time, and circumstances couldn’t be better. He had nothing else going on, and had time to hang.
Since I knew of his career highlights so well I was able to keep him talking and recalling funny story after funny story. The guy who was his sidekick in the Major League movies is a comedian friend of mine named Skip Griparis, and that helped forge a bond up front even though we didn’t need it. He was warm right from the start. Everything was laid back, and I loved every second.
What was an even bigger thrill was making Bob laugh a couple of times. I tried to just shut up and let him do most of the talking, but on a few occasions I had a quick story to throw in and his head snapped back with laughter more than once. It’s THE most flattering compliment I can get.
We hit on a lot of topics from sports to show business to being from Milwaukee to professional wrestling of all things. He used to go see it in his younger days and he did a fantastic impression of Dick The Bruiser. Drew and I were bent over laughing, as it really was dead on and hilarious.
I really wanted to get a picture, but things were going so well I didn’t want to ruin the moment. These situations can be very delicate, as it’s almost a peer thing. I don’t consider myself on a par with Bob Uecker, but he and Drew are peers and I didn’t want to put that status into jeopardy.
Another delicate situation was a package I brought for Bob with my DVD, CD and t-shirt from my ‘Schlitz Happened!’ show about growing up in Milwaukee. He if anyone would get the jokes listed on the shirt, but again my wack-o-meter went off and I decided not to force the situation.
We were having such a good time I just wanted to enjoy it for what it was. I’ve waited decades to get the chance to have this opportunity, so I dialed it back. We were three Milwaukee natives just hanging out – but we were doing it on the giant ‘M’ on the field at Miller Park. What a rush!
As we were walking off the field I asked if he’d mind if I sent him a shirt, and he said he’d like to have one but what else would he or anyone say? “No, stick that shirt up your bilge hole. Like I need to wear a cheap t-shirt from some goof I don’t know to advertise a show I will never see.”
Of course he didn’t say that, and before we left the stadium Drew gave the package to one of the trusted Miller Park staff who said he would deliver it to the broadcast booth – which he did immediately as we watched. I felt a lot better doing that than trying to force it into Bob’s hands.
I have no delusions that he’s going to listen to or watch my act or wear the t-shirt, but if he had a chance to look at the shirt I’m sure he had a chuckle or two. That’s good enough for me, and he hopefully gave it to someone or even left it in the booth and someone else may get use out of it.
One thing I noticed immediately as we were talking was how ‘the kid’ in him was out. I always heard that with any great comedian, their inner child is close to the surface and easy to identify. I definitely saw it in Bob, and I think he saw mine too. That’s probably why we hit it off so well.
Another thing I noticed was how he had absolutely nothing bad to say about anyone else. He’d only bring up positives and/or good times they’d spent together. He knows celebrities from many fields, and I’m still not sure if the people of Milwaukee realize just how bright a star he really is.
I listened to him tell a few stories of being inducted into more than one Hall of Fame. How rare is THAT? It’s hard enough to get nominated for even one much less inducted into several, but he is although he doesn’t say it to brag. It was thoroughly enjoyable to listen to everything he said.
He pokes fun at himself for his lack of ball playing prowess, but in fact making it all the way to the Major Leagues is no small feat in itself – especially when he did it. There were only 16 teams then, and he still not only got a cup of coffee but managed to stay in the Major Leagues for years.
That’s a noteworthy accomplishment most people would milk for a lifetime, but he also got on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when that really meant something. Not only that, he was on somewhere around 100 times when people would give up a lung to get on once. It’s amazing.
Then there was a successful sitcom in ‘Mr. Belvedere’ that lasted several seasons. Then he was in two ‘Major League’ movies where he stole the show. He did hilarious color commentary work on ‘Monday Night Baseball’, not to mention rose to become one of the best play by play baseball announcers anywhere. Each one of those would be noteworthy by itself, but Bob nailed them all.
Did I forget anything? Well, he wrote two very funny books and also hosted another funny TV show called “Bob Uecker’s Wacky World of Sports”. And, he was part of Wrestlemania for what was then the largest audience ever. I don’t need to go any farther – one is impressed or not. I have always been impressed, and to meet and hang out was a big thrill. I was in the front row for real!