00:00 Announcer (Recording): Max Brockmann!
00:03 Max Brockmann (Recording): Hello, fellow humans. My name is Max, and I like to tell jokes. Let’s do that together right now. Sometimes I can smoke a plant. I won’t say which plant, but I will say this, it starts with Marijua… And it ends with both of my arms stuck in Pringles cans.
00:38 Max (Recording): Sometimes I like to smoke a plant, I will not say which plant but I will say this, it starts with Marijua… And it ends with me opening 20 stores and gentrifying the neighborhood.
00:53 John S: Okay. This is AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. And today I’ll be speaking with comedian Max Brockmann based out of Eugene, Oregon. Max is a person in recovery, an atheist, and I think he’s pretty funny. I hope you enjoy this podcast.
01:08 John S: Hey Max, thank you so much for recording this podcast with me, how you doing?
01:11 Max: I’m doing great thanks for having me.
01:13 John S: Well, I’ve listened to your album “Normal Within Reason”, more than several times, and I love it.
01:18 Max: Oh, thank you.
01:19 John S: And I’m really kind of fascinated by the story behind the album and the jokes. You wrote those jokes and you’ve been performing comedy, for several years. And you mentioned in your album that something happened in your life where you stopped writing jokes. Was that your bottom?
01:36 Max: It really was. And that’s the funny thing, all the physical things. My bottom wasn’t what signified it for me. What it was for the first time, because when I was 22, I first started doing comedy as a way to get over my social anxiety. I couldn’t really talk to people until I got on stage, and then that kind of helped it out. So, for the first time in my life I couldn’t do that, so that was totally my bottom.
02:00 John S: You mentioned that writing jokes was your way of kind of making sense out of life, it kind of helped you through life.
02:07 Max: Right. Yeah, it was sort of my… Exactly, my way to navigate life.
02:11 John S: When you got to that point where you were beginning to experience blackouts and your addiction was getting bad, so you sought help. I assume through a 12-step program. And when you were there, it was recommended that you keep a journal during your first year of recovery. And you did what you know to do, which is to write jokes?
02:32 Max: Right. That was the first suggestion that made a lot of sense to me, because I’ve been keeping a joke journal for years. So, I kept two journals. I kept doing my joke journal and then kept other type of sobriety journal. And they kind of started to melt together as the year went through.
02:48 John S: I find that interesting, I think the podcast before the last, I interviewed somebody who wrote a poem every day of his sobriety. He said that writing poetry kind of helped him express feelings that he couldn’t express otherwise, and to kind of understand what he was going through. Does this kind of do the same thing for you when you write jokes? Does it kind of help you uncover some truth about yourself through the jokes?
03:14 Max: Absolutely. Once I kind of write it, I can see it from more of a third person point of view, I guess. Seeing it all in different perspectives.
03:21 John S: That’s why I was thinking, in particular the joke about the bike helmet, which I found, I found it really, really funny. And I was laughing but behind that joke, there’s real tragedy behind it. Is there a lot of truth to your jokes?
03:36 Max: I usually say it’s about 75% true, but most… I always have… There’s always truth to the joke, but you have to have room to wiggle a little bit. But yeah, the truth behind that joke is 100% true. Yeah.
03:50 John S: Yeah, so three overdoses.
03:52 Max: Oh yeah. [chuckle] But I just kind of find a way to make things a little bit lighter and to kind of show people that you can find the funny thing about some dirt stuff.
04:05 John S: Yeah. I’ve always thought that people would be surprised that when you go to an AA meeting, and probably NA is the same way, that there’s always laughter in every meeting. It’s like, that’s how we find a way to, I guess, deal with it.
04:21 Max: Yeah. And people think that a lot people in 12-step programs don’t have a good sense of humor, but it’s the exact opposite. I’ve started a new show that are primarily for 12-step audiences, and they have a great sense of humor for when it comes to that kind of stuff. I have a joke that basically insinuates that AA is a cult, as a joke, but it does great. It does really well in 12-steps audiences.
04:43 John S: Yeah, I like that. You use that in your album too, I think you said, “But I kind of like being in cults”.
04:50 Max: Right. Well, I like the concept that it could be a good cult.
04:56 John S: Yeah, yeah, that’s true. But I often tell people, I remember cults because I grew up in the ’70s, and we had some really hardcore cults back in those days. And so it’s hard for me to relate to AA being like that. But yeah, we are kind of cult-ish.
05:13 Max: But that word’s not right, but yeah.
05:16 John S: Do you think that the humor helps us with understanding or somehow communicating our stories? Because whenever I go to a speaker meeting and someone’s telling their story, they always look back and there’s always some laughter from the speaker and also the audience. And I think some of it comes from the fact that we’re talking about something in the past that we’ve kind of grown out of.
05:44 Max: Right. And just the absurdity of what we’re talking about kind of breeds the comedy. Even if what you’re talking about is just entirely serious.
05:54 John S: When you look back at all those jokes that you wrote during your first year, you mentioned that it kind of coincided with your other journal. Did it help you see your growth or how you changed or how you developed or how you got through things during your recovery?
06:11 Max: Absolutely. When I first started writing, I was writing about past drug use. And then as the year goes, I start to write about just my development and just different things. So towards the end, I’m getting some more personal development. Yeah, it’s definitely… I can see how I have a long way to go, but I can see how in one year there was a lot of change, just through that.
06:35 John S: Because some of your jokes were about issues other than addiction, like codependency.
06:41 Max: Yeah. I was maybe six months in and I decided to start a relationship, which I think was a bad idea, [chuckle] which I was told by my sponsor, but you gotta try it for yourself. But I think that kind of helped me confront my issues with co-dependency also.
06:57 John S: Yeah, yeah.
06:58 Max: Which is obviously going to be an ongoing thing, yeah.
07:00 John S: Yeah. I think that’s cool that you were able to discover that, but also just write about it. And I think that it helps other people understand the issue as well, because sometimes codependency can be kind of a complex thing to understand. But when you describe it the way that you describe it on your album it makes perfect sense.
07:22 Max: Well, that’s kind of the challenge I had because sometimes I had to use weighty issues, but if you’re doing a comedy club you can’t… You have to get to the point. [chuckle] You have to get a punch line within 15-20 seconds. So the challenge is, how do I boil that down and explain it? And some other things, too, that I talk about, you kind of have to boil it down a little bit.
07:42 John S: Yeah. I guess I’m so analytical. I think the first time that I listened to your album, I just relaxed and I laughed and I smiled and I enjoyed it. See, I listened to this many times, [chuckle] and then I started really listening and trying to… And I was hearing your story through those jokes. And it was like I could see beneath them some of the reality, and I don’t know if the audience is aware of any of that. Maybe they are on some deeper level, but that just absolutely fascinated me for some reason.
08:17 Max: Thank you. I’ve always written personal stuff. So it was kind of weird when I first got sober, or tried to get sober. I stopped for like three months doing comedy, which is the longest break I’ve ever had in seven years, because you’re at the bars all the time. So, when I went back, I immediately had seven jokes about it. For me, it was kind of a thing to help with accountability early on, also, because if I know I’m working on this five minutes about being sober, I’d better stay sober. So for the first three or four months, that was a good accountability to have.
08:55 John S: And did you think that you would ever perform those when you were writing them?
09:01 Max: I knew I would. [chuckle]
09:03 John S: You would? Okay.
09:04 Max: Just because I’ve always written very personal stuff.
09:08 John S: Yeah, yeah.
09:09 Max: I’ve never been a “Two ducks walk across a street” kind of guy.
09:13 John S: Right, right. So, how did the idea of making the album come about?
09:18 Max: I’ve wanted to do one for about three years, and I could have but I didn’t because I absolutely wasn’t there emotionally. And I wanted to have a structure for it, because I do one-liners, short jokes, but I didn’t want to just do an album of just short jokes. So, after a year of the journal, it kind of just popped in my mind that I could do it that way. And I was emotionally ready to do the album, and then also there was a pretty good structure that I could try. But I had not done it until… The first time I did it was on the night of the recording, so I was a little nervous about it, obviously.
10:00 John S: Interesting. That was the first time you did that routine and you actually recorded it?
10:03 Max: Yeah, yeah. And I spend a good amount of money to get the right person to master it, so it was kind of a gamble, but I’m glad it worked out.
10:14 John S: So do you use that as a routine that you take out and do on a regular basis?
10:21 Max: I stopped using those jokes when I do normal comedy audiences because I did want to write more stuff. But when I do shows that are primarily 12-step, I will do that and I do a longer version where I’ve added more jokes to it.
10:33 John S: Oh, okay. So do you get gigs that are for 12-step people?
10:39 Max: Yeah. I’ve been starting to do more and more, and then I actually run my own show in Eugene that is a monthly recovery comedy showcase.
10:47 John S: Yeah, I saw that, the Sober Thoughts Recover Showcase. Can you talk about that a little bit?
10:52 Max: I heard that someone in Portland was doing a show featuring recovery comics, and I really liked that idea, because a lot of people in my groups want to go to comedy but they don’t want to… It’s not necessarily that they don’t want to go to a bar, they used to go into bars to see different, new stuff, but they don’t want to go… Comedy, a lot of times it’s like 9:00 PM and there’s a lot of drinking and it can be kind of a hostile environment for people in recovery. And then the other side, there are some family-friendly shows, but that’s not necessarily what they want either because there’s no cursing, it’s for kids, it’s not comedy as far as what I see. So, I run a couple of shows, and one of them was a 7:00 PM slot on a Friday, and I just realized that that would be a pretty good spot for a sober-themed show. Because it’s early enough that people can come out and it’s not going to be a heavily drinking venue.
11:47 John S: Is it kind of like an open mic thing where people will kind of try out their stuff? Or are these people that already have routines down that they perform?
11:58 Max: It’s a professional showcase. Everyone is at least a couple of years in and it’s a nice curated hour-and-a-half show.
12:06 John S: That sounds so neat to have that.
12:08 Max: Yeah, it’s nice to have something a little different.
12:11 John S: Yeah. I’ve been talking to people who have different creative talents. The guy who wrote poetry, there are people in recovery who write music, who play music. Now you, with your comedy. And a lot of people think that… I think there’s a misconception that, that their talent was helped through their addiction. And did you have any concerns like during that time when you were getting into recovery that you might lose your ability to write jokes? Did you have any fear of that whatever? And have you noticed any difference in how you write now as compared to before?
12:58 Max: Absolutely. Because I had always tied my joke writing and just performance into how different I am and weird, and that ties in the album Normal Within Reason, the title. So, I was afraid that I was not going to be able to write jokes anymore, but then that I realized a few months in that it’s really… It doesn’t really affect the creative part of me, it just affects the production part of me. I could be so more productive now that I’m sober, but my creativity is exactly the same.
13:28 John S: Okay. So you’re more productive. You can actually… Before when you were drinking or drugging you could actually create the jokes and so forth, but not actually do anything with them.
13:40 Max: Right. Because I might write down an idea, like for a joke you might think of a concept which is the set up and the punchline, that sets up the joke and the punchline, but you have to edit that joke, and you have to remember that you wrote it down [chuckle] And you can’t do that when you’re knocked over. At first, I think I was afraid that I would lose the inspiration a little bit if I was sober all the time, but it’s still there, you have to do a little bit more work to find things, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
14:09 John S: Yeah. So, have you received much feedback from people about the album? People in the recovery community? I did read a review on a website, serious comedy.com, which was really positive. But are you getting a reaction from people that are in recovery or just maybe even not in recovery, maybe people who are still using?
14:30 Max: Yeah. I’m getting a lot of different reactions, mostly positive. I think the negative ones might not talk to me directly, but yeah, mostly positive reviews. Yeah. And then whenever I do shows for 12-step audiences, it’s mostly positive. I could tell that there’s some negativity there, but it’s not vocal.
14:53 John S: Yeah. I would think that it might actually help somebody to be able to recognize something about themselves through your routine. But maybe they’re just like… I was the first time, I just kind of listened and laughed. And there’s something about your delivery that just kind of provokes a person to laugh. And maybe they don’t do what I was doing before this interview, I was really kind of analyzing all of it. I don’t know. Do you think people see the deeper levels behind these jokes?
15:24 Max: I think it depends on the person. Some people that aren’t so comedy-minded might not. But then some people that are a little bit more aware of that might. I do have some friends that notice that kind of thing, but they’re kind of ignoring it, because comedy is notorious for people that have issues with alcoholism. So, I think a lot of people want to kind of avoid that, which is fine. But they don’t want to really talk about… Which is kind of an interesting dynamic that I’m in, because I go to meetings almost every day and then I spend time with alcohol recovery, and then I go out at night, and I’m with alcoholics that are active. It’s an interesting dynamic there.
16:06 John S: Yeah, I had a sponsor actually. It’s a former sponsor now. Who was a comedian and he would play, he would travel sometimes up to South Dakota for whatever reason. He went up there a lot. And I was able to see his act a few times, and I was really kind of surprised, because he was someone who always had a sense of humor and he would crack jokes in meetings and stuff. But his routine, it was like he was acting, it was like a totally different person. Is that what it’s like for you? Do you see it kind of like acting or do you feel like you’re just being yourself?
16:39 Max: It’s kind of a mix of two, of both. Because I do have a character on stage, and it’s basically just how I see myself dialed up to 11, and it took me a few years to kind of figure that out. I’m kind of dialing it down a little bit now, after I recorded the album, but at the height I was very much go up and start screaming and deadpans. [chuckle] That’s kind of my thing, which was originally just a way to get people to listen, because you’re doing comedy in a small town where people don’t really understand the concept to comedy. So it was my way to get people to understand that, yeah, it’s my time to talk for a little bit. [chuckle] But that kind of became my character. So it is me, but it’s definitely way higher and I’m learning how to turn it up and down when I need to. because it can turn people off depending on the show and then it can really work depending on the show.
17:36 John S: Well I thought it worked pretty well. I thought it was pretty ingenious to have that type of a delivery. I think that delivery probably has a lot to do with the success of the whole routine.
17:49 Max: Well, thank you. Yeah, it’s just kind of a thing I’ve been trying to develop.
17:54 John S: How are things going for you now? How’s your recovery? How are you balancing your meetings and you’re a regular job and your comedy and how are you keeping all that together?
18:08 Max: Things are good, I’ve been a getting pretty good balance. Things are different for me because I work a day job from 2 PM to 10 PM, and then I go out and do comedy right after. And so I sleep in and then hit a noon meeting. So, I have it pretty balanced out, but it’s different because it’s a different schedule than a lot of people hold.
18:28 John S: Yeah. And do work comedy almost every day? Is it a daily thing every night?
18:33 Max: Yeah, five to seven weeks, almost every night. And then every night I’m not working my day job, I’m on the road. Usually just… Somewhere in Oregon or sometimes Seattle, and then a little bit in Northern California.
18:48 John S: And do you have a regular place that you perform at? And are you in Eugene?
18:52 Max: Yeah, in Eugene. I grew up in Eugene, I run a couple of shows down here, and we just kind of have a scattershot of shows, we just have 10 shows at different venues. So it’s a very guerilla warfare type scene.
19:05 John S: It sounds like a pretty good city for the arts, to be able to have that kind of…
19:10 Max: It is.
19:10 John S: Yeah.
19:11 Max: Yeah, and it’s a great city for recovery too. We have a great community down here.
19:15 John S: Yeah, I know. There’s actually… I’m kind of into the whole secular AA thing, and there’s actually… I think there’s a secular group in Eugene, and they had, oh, their conference, the Widening the Gateway conference. I think last year was in Eugene, I can’t remember. But anyway, yeah, there’s a lot of people in our… That come to our website and listen to our podcast that live in that area.
19:41 Max: Yeah. I think it’s more accepted in the other meetings than some other places that I’ve been to just when I was visiting, it seemed a little bit more hostile in other places, just for secular people and medians.
20:00 John S: Yeah. And do you see yourself that way, as sort of agnostic on the whole business?
20:05 Max: Yeah, I consider myself more of an atheist. I kind of went through… I grew up Catholic and then when I was 16, I started to question it. I went through the whole Bierce thing, being mad and then not. So by the time I got into AA, I was kind of over that, where I can just kind of realize that there’s just the way that other people see reality or the universe is the word God.
20:25 John S: Yeah.
20:26 Max: But yeah. And yeah, I’m having a good time with it. My sponsor is religious, but he’s never tried to convert me. [chuckle]
20:35 John S: That’s cool. Yeah, I see that a lot. Sometimes it works out well to have somebody who is religious and someone who’s not. Because when you boil down to it, I think anyway, when you get down to your recovery, it’s more important the things that we do rather than anything that we believe, and people can believe what they want. So anyway.
20:56 Max: Yeah. When you boil down our two beliefs, me and my sponsor are pretty similar, it’s just a difference between believing in a conscious power and then a power that’s not conscious, and it’s really not that much of a difference.
21:08 John S: Yeah, yeah. I kind of see it that way too. When I get right down to it, everything that we actually do in our recovery and everything that we experience before our recovery is pretty much similar. It’s just whatever we think empowers us to make these changes in our lives that might differ. How we express it, how we describe it. And it’s probably a much less deal as you said where you live, maybe than the part of the country that I live in.
21:34 Max: And it depends on the meeting, if anyone’s listening to you. I have a lot of friends who were comics that tried AA and then they had issues with that. But they just go to one meeting, you might have to go to more than one meeting just to find the right spot.
21:47 John S: That’s a very good point because every single meeting is different and every single group is different and every single meeting within the group is different, it all kind of depends on who’s there, yeah.
21:56 Max: Right.
21:57 John S: So, to kind of turn things around a little bit, to finish up little bit. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about just being a comedian in general?
22:04 Max: Absolutely.
22:05 John S: Okay. My first question for you is, how do you feel about hecklers? Do you get hecklers and how do you deal with them?
22:12 Max: I just went through a phase for me. When I was new, I hated hecklers more than anything in the entire world.
22:19 John S: Yeah.
22:20 Max: Well, because we’re trying to build a scene in Eugene where there’s no comedy. So we’re trying to get this concept that people understand comedy. So I took a militant stance against hecklers.
22:33 John S: Okay.
22:33 Max: And this is when I was trying to figure out my persona. I was even more awkward than I am now and the way I am on stage. So what I would do, when I was watching someone heckle, I would go up to them, not on stage, and say, “Please stop talking.” In a very, very awkward way. Which works, but it kind of alienates people. So over the years, I’ve gotten a little bit better with it because I’m a one-liner, so I’m just doing jokes. So I’ve gotten better at doing the jokes and then bantering in between.
23:08 Max: But I’ve gotten better at dealing with them in a way that they will feel comfortable staying. And I’ve actually been having issues with hecklers at the Sober Thoughts Show, which I didn’t see coming. I think it’s because a lot of people, it’s their first comedy show that they’ve been to. So I was able to talk to some people and then they stayed and had a great time and stopped heckling. This one person who was heckling, I was like, “You gotta stop doing that.” And then the second time, and then she goes, “What, I can’t talk?” I’m like, “Well, not. You can’t interrupt the performance.” And she goes, “Oh, okay,” and that was it.
23:43 John S: She just didn’t understand.
23:45 Max: Right, right. And so I’ll probably make an announcement. It’s something I never do on my shows, but people do it. In Salem, Oregon they do an announcement before every show about heckling, so I should probably do that. [chuckle]
23:57 John S: Well, that’s smart. I guess that people really do…
24:00 Max: But some comics love it. Some comics really deal with… I have a friend who encourages it and then it really works out for him.
24:10 John S: You mentioned that when you first started doing comedy you would shake and you were very nervous. But after about doing it for about six months it got better. Do you get a bit of an adrenaline rush or do you feel nervous before you go on and perform?
24:25 Max: I get an adrenaline rush now, but it’s more positive. And it just depends on the show. At this point, most shows I’m doing now I’ve done similar things to it before. But if I do something that’s very different, like the first time I did a theater, that was a very big crowd, or a recording for something, then that I get a little bit more nervous there.
24:45 John S: Yeah. Well, I get that way when I do podcasts actually, and I’ve talked about this before. Before the podcast begins, I’m very, very nervous about it and I was anxious about this one, because I wasn’t quite sure. I’m a serious-minded person. I love comedy and everything, but I’m afraid I’m going to bring people down. I have a comedian on and I was going to be serious about it and everything. But I said, I have to be who I am and just talk about what I found interesting and ask the questions. But what happens with me is, okay, I’m all nervous and jittery before I do the podcast, then I do it, I have the conversation with the person and then I do get a big rush, almost like a high, that, wow, I go through this emotional roller coaster. It’s kind of weird, but I think it’s addictive and it’s why I keep wanting to do another podcast after the last one. So, I can see how anyone who performs…
25:43 Max: It is addictive. And that’s something I had to watch out for when I went back to comedy after that three months. I wasn’t really worried about grabbing a beer at the bar, but I was worried about having a good set and then wrapping all my emotions into that, or having a bad set and relapsing or putting all my emotions into that too.
26:02 John S: Yeah. What’s it like when you have a bad set? Have you ever just totally bombed before?
26:08 Max: Oh yeah. Well, especially because of my style. For people that haven’t heard me, I’m very… In one way. I have the jokes I do, and I do it in a very specific way. I don’t have ways to generalize. Some comics if they’re not doing well can just general it out a little bit and soften their landing, but I can’t. So, if I’m not doing well, I just have to keep going. But over the years, that number, the percentage of bombing has gone down and I bombed enough. Well, I’ve been on stage at least a 1000 times. So at this point, you’ve bombed enough that you know what it’s like. It’s not the end of the world. And at this point, if I have a decent crowd, I think I could do pretty well, even though I have a specific style. But yeah, there’s some that you don’t see coming that can really hit you hard.
27:00 John S: Yeah. Well, that’s interesting that you said that. You’ve experienced enough that you can get through it. It’s like you’re not really codependent about with your audience necessarily.
27:10 Max: Right. Well, that’s actually really interesting. I’ve never thought about that, but yeah. I don’t really even look at the audience. Yeah, it can be rough if you’re doing a long set, but… And Rodney Dangerfield said that when you’re bombing, you basically have two choices. You can either, you can break, so that’s when you say something like, “Oh, that didn’t work,” or you acknowledge that it didn’t work well, which will get a laugh from the audience, but then you lose their respect and they don’t see the character anymore. So, his thing was because he would just do wife jokes, self-depreciation, wife jokes. He was very specific on what he did. And he said he went 10 years without getting a laugh in his book.
27:54 John S: Wow.
27:54 Max: Which I’m not surprised by, in the time that he was doing it and what he was doing. So, his thing was be a tank. You have to stay in your character, and even if you’re bombing and you don’t get a single laugh, it doesn’t matter. Just stay in your laugh, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know who’s going to walk in, and yeah, I actually had to show a few weeks ago that was like that. The show that I’m doing had been great, had been amazing, but one show, they asked me to open with the ‘Our Father,’ which was a little rough. [chuckle] So, when I didn’t, and then had a rough set, but I was able to stick it through and then a few people came up to me and said that they had a great time, so you never know.
28:37 John S: Yeah. Well, that’s funny. That would be weird to do that ‘Our Father’ like that.
28:42 Max: Well, because I know it, but I don’t want to be dishonest within myself.
28:47 John S: Right, right, right. It’s always something we have to deal with out here, but I don’t participate in that either. But anyway, so you do mention you do work outside of Oregon sometimes.
28:58 Max: Yeah. Yeah, mostly the West Coast.
29:01 John S: Okay. Well, where could people learn about you? Do you have a website or anything?
29:09 Max: Yeah, maxbrockmann.com.
29:11 John S: Okay, maxbrockmann.com. And I know you can get the album on Amazon, it’s also available on iTunes.
29:17 Max: Absolutely.
29:18 John S: We’ll put a link to that so that people can find it. Well, thank you. I appreciate this conversation very much.
29:25 Max: Thank you so much, this was great.
29:28 John S: Well, that concludes another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. Thank you, Max, so much for participating. To learn more about Max you can visit his website, maxbrockmann.com, and that’s Brockmann with two N’s, maxbrockmann.com.
Get Max’s album “Normal Within Reason” at Amazon.
Visit Max’s website maxbrockmann.com