Conduct Your Life With Exuberance

Imagine being 80 years old with more energy and life than you had in your 40s, 30s, and even your 20s…

Seem impossible? Meet Benjamin Zander, the musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, who will have you second-guessing your perception of age and energy from the moment you meet him. At the end of April, I will be hosting the Akron Symphony Orchestra’s annual charity gala, and one of the auction prizes is a visit to Zander’s home in Cambridge, a trip up the Charles River in his pontoon boat, and VIP treatment at a Boston Philharmonic concert. Since I was already in Boston to perform comedy, I decided to reach out to see if I could arrange a meeting.

The moment he swung open his front door, I knew I was in for a treat: “THERE YOU ARE!” he exclaimed in his sing-song British accent, arms joyously in the air as he wrapped me in a warm embrace. It was as though he was reuniting with a long-lost friend, and I went from being nervous to meet the world-renowned conductor, to feeling like we had known each other for years.

As we spoke with one another, his eyes sparkled, reminiscent of Sir Ian McKellen’s as Gandalf at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, and he smiled from ear-to-ear and nodded along as he listened to me talk about why I’m passionate about bringing more laughter to the world. Unsurprisingly, he shared my value of humor as he spoke about the fun he and his musicians have during orchestra rehearsals.

“Having fun at rehearsals is so important, even though the symphony is supposed to be serious,” he shared. “The world is much better off with more laughter.”

Though I only spent about ten minutes with the incredibly busy conductor, it felt as though time stood still, and we connected on much a deeper level. The zeal with which he approaches others is evident in his TED Talk, which I HIGHLY recommend watching – even if you’re not into classical music – because his message transcends music:

“I have a definition of success. For me, it’s very simple – it’s not about wealth, fame, and power – it’s about how many shining eyes I have around me… It really makes a difference what we say – the words that come out of our mouth.”

He goes on to quote an Auschwitz survivor:

“I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever say.” 

When I reach 80, I can only hope to have half of the spirit that Zander has, but he left me with powerful questions to ask myself: do you leave people with shining eyes? Are they happier and filled with more energy that they were when you met them? How can you leave every interaction inspiring others to live with energy and exuberance?

Ask yourself these questions every day and find that life becomes a little happier, more exciting, and  more fulfilling.

Check out Benjamin Zander’s TED Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion#t-1197578

Check out The Art of Possibility, the transformative book he wrote with his wife: https://www.amazon.com/Art-Possibility-Transforming-Professional-Personal/dp/0142001104/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+art+of+possibility&qid=1555090828&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Engage Your Creativity: Change Your Scenery

Ah… Portland, Maine: the Portland of the northeast.

This is my second time visiting this eclectic city bursting with personality – even on the grayest, snowiest days. Looking at the overcast skies and slush-soaked streets, you wouldn’t think there would be an explosion of ideas going on in my brain. But alas, I’m writing this right now because I can’t stop my brain from spitting out new ideas and I need an outlet for them. Every time I travel, I’m overwhelmed with new ideas, new spins on old ideas, and most importantly, I leave writer’s block in the dust. Why is this?

It turns out, working in a new setting can engage our creativity in ways that racking our brains for ideas inside the same four walls can’t possibly hope to achieve.

Here are two key benefits to working in new locations:

Open-mindedness: Working in the same environment means stronger connection to previous ideas, rather than open-mindedness to new ones.

New connections: You may see something that inspires an unrelated connection to an old idea or project that ignites the spark of creativity you’ve been looking for.

“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility (the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas) and depth and integrativeness of thought; the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School. – https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/03/for-a-more-creative-brain-travel/388135/

Exposure to different environments actually changes the neural pathways in your brain. This means that exploring new places can boost your ability to leap between diverse ideas and make richer mental connections between ideas. https://blog.join.me/change-scenery-can-spark-creativity/

You don’t need to drive 600 miles to get a fresh perspective, simply leave your usual workspace and head to a new coffee shop, park, or someone else’s house (particularly a stranger’s that you’ve broken into. Try on their clothes and glue pictures of your face onto their family photos and get out before they get home for EXTRA creativity),* and get to work!

Where’s somewhere new you can work on that project you’ve been struggling creatively with to engage your brain’s creativity?

 

 

 

 

*Please don’t actually do this

 

Humor and Grief: Putting the ‘FUN’ in Funerals

When a close relative of yours gets murdered, it shakes the foundation of your existence; it can send you on a downward spiral of depression, dependency, and regret. One of the toughest moments of my life was learning of the passing of my aunt, Kristie, at the hands of her own daughter – my cousin Taylor. I was lying in bed around 7 AM after a late night of shock and questioning reality – we had already known Kristie had been killed, but when we went to bed, we didn’t know the culprit – when my dad burst into my room with hate in his voice, declaring, “Taylor did it.”

My first thought was, “Christmas is going to be awkward this year.” I stopped myself from laughing: “This isn’t the time to make jokes.” The next few weeks were miserable – every day we learned more and more gruesome details about the murder. If you were to drive by our house, it would’ve been the one with the black cloud hovering above it. You always hear people say things like, “That kind of stuff happens on the news, it doesn’t happen to us,” so none of us really knew how to cope. We spend a lot of time together, consoling and comforting one another. In college at the time, I confronted my vulnerability by skipping two straight weeks of class – the only percentage I got was the .09 I blew into a breathalyzer. Needless to say, none of the family could find a way out of the black hole we were stuck in… until the funeral. That’s when I finally gave in to the humor of the whole situation.

During the eulogy, the minister said, “This is a celebration of life!” I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “celebration,” I think “party,” and not one person was partying. Besides, if you were to invite me to a party, then inform me it’s at a church, everyone would be crying, and the DJ would be bagpipes, I’d politely decline. And one more thing: he called it a “celebration of life…” with a dead body in the middle of the room – you couldn’t get more contradictory. That’s like having an open bar at a sobriety party. I had to laugh – and the moment I did, it was like a weight was lifted off of my chest. I began to notice even more incongruities: the first three letters in ‘funeral’ are ‘F-U-N,’ Kristie found joy in the happiness of others and, ironically enough, EVERYONE THERE WAS CRYING, and a stranger no one there had ever met sobbed uncontrollably into the microphone for five minutes, blubbering on about how he wished more people had known Kristie, while we wondered who the hell knew who that guy was.

In the face of tragedy was the moment I realized the power laughter has over our fears, stress, and sadness. But it shouldn’t come as such a shock: science has known this for some time now

A study from the University of Berkeley, bereaved widows and widowers able to laugh about their loss were observed to be happier, better equipped to deal with distress, and better socially adapted.

A study done at Kent State and reported in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care revealed that humor was present in 85 percent of 132 observed nurse based visits. Amazingly, they found that 70 percent of the humor was initiated by the patient.

Humor provides us with relief, not by washing away bad feelings, but by activating them, along with positive ones, so that we can enjoy a complex emotional experience. Tragic circumstances are an effective breeding ground for humor because they provide the same release as horror movies, allowing the participants to confront their emotions head-on.       –Scott Weems (author of Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why)

How have you used humor in the face of tragedy? How have you helped others experiencing tragedy, trauma, or even just a bad day smile?

Each of us has had a “Christmas is going to be awkward this year,” lean into it and let yourself laugh.

 

How a Workplace Taboo Can Increase Employee Engagement and Productivity

“This is not the time nor the place to laugh.” “Why are you laughing when you should be working?” “Work is work. You’ll have time to play when you’re done.”

These should sound familiar to many of us, especially coming from the mouths of our managers and executives as a hearty guffaw is stifled before it can breathe life into the otherwise routine, stressful, and mundane workday.

Comedy and productivity are two things you probably don’t associate with one another, but believe it or not, the evidence is overwhelming:

Comedy (humor, to be more precise) in the workplace increases productivity, counteracts stress, builds trust, strengthens relationships, improves performance, builds leadership skills, engages employees, reduces sick days, enhances learning and memory, provides needed perspective in the face of failure, opens lines of communication, attracts great people, drives creativity, strengthens confidence, and transforms workplace culture into one centered around the well-being of others, making work meaningful, and a breeding ground for happiness.

So sure, make your work environment “humor free,” but eliminating light-heartedness from work is no laughing matter.

We have been entrenched in a culture of work focused on appeasing shareholders, reaching quotas, and meeting deadlines for as long as the humans on this planet have been alive – and even longer than that – so the “work-is-work” mentality is ingrained in our DNA. It’s no wonder a majority of workplaces don’t place very high value on the power of laughter – they have no idea of the benefits. It’s not like we learn about the numerous benefits of humor in the workplace, in college, or even at work trainings, so what I’m writing here might be news to you.

And that’s okay… but now, it’s time to do something.

Now, we’re entering an age where information is readily available at the click of a button, and study after study, poll after poll, and case after case show that positive laughter in the workplace is transformative. Now, we can find companies who have instituted humor programs, see the positive results, and figure out what works for our company. Now, we can finally feel great about letting loose and laughing a little, because even though our bosses don’t seem to value humor at work… well actually… they do:

  • A survey of 730 CEOs by Hodge Cronin and Associates found that 98% would rather hire someone with a good sense of humor than someone with a more serious demeanor.
  • 91% of executives in a Robert Hath International survey agreed that humor is important for career advancement, while 84% believe that people with a good sense of humor do a better job than their counterparts.

There are far too many positive side effects to continue to list, so I’ll let the following articles, books, and studies do the talking.

https://hbr.org/2018/11/the-benefits-of-laughing-in-the-office

https://hbr.org/2014/05/leading-with-humor

https://wol.iza.org/articles/are-happy-workers-more-productive/long

http://mentalfloss.com/article/564511/laughter-at-work-can-boost-productivity

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/laughing-at-work-can-actually-make-people-take-your-career-more-seriously-2018-11-20

http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/Bitterly%20Brooks%20Schweitzer%20JPSP%202016_54efbab5-2561-4408-b008-38d958e0ad50.pdf

http://apps.prsa.org/Intelligence/Tactics/Articles/view/11933/1143/Play_at_Work_Increasing_Communication_and_Producti#.XKG6dutKjOS

Improv:http://time.com/4357241/improv-lessons-success/

TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iFCm5ZokBI

Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why – Scott Weems

The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way To the Bank – Michael Kerr

Work Rules!: Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead – Laszlo Bock

What are some ways you can infuse humor into your work?

Work isn’t the time or place to laugh, eh? Knowing what we know now, that’s damn funny.

Enough Fighting! The Solution: Start From Common Ground

It seems like nowadays, there’s constant conflict with no end in sight between groups with opposing ideologies. “I’m right, you’re wrong” conversations based on judgment have overshadowed actual conversations focused on solutions, and enough is enough!
Instead of telling all of you fierce Democratic debaters and Republican retaliators that you’re wrong for your behavior, I’m here to present a solution.
In order to get anything done, it’s important to begin from a common origin – common ground, if you will – and the common ground is an issue I think we can all agree on: ambrosia salads need to be banished.
Forgotten.
Exiled to the annals of history.
And then those annals need to be burned.
If you disagree, you’re what’s wrong with the world today.

Thanksgiving is coming up, and for some reason, we all have a distant relative who decides it’s a great idea to bring a bowl of fruit, marshmallows, and some sort of creamy, disgusting, dairy-based mixture to keep the party going.
This is why you’re a distant relative, Aunt Patty!
Really, have you ever been to a holiday potluck and thought, “Thank god someone brought the ambrosia!”? You haven’t!
It’s one of those foods that’s there, but you only take one tiny scoop so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Then people act surprised when there’s so much left over, and they try to pawn it off on everyone else.
“Take some home! There’s so much left over!”
There’s a reason: it looks like the after photo of what happens in a garbage disposal!

First of all, the name sounds like a skin condition – “Stop scratching! You’re making your ambrosia worse!” – but is actually more arrogant in origin.
It references the food of the Greek gods.
Point me to the immortal being who orders the ambrosia, because Zeus ain’t standing for that shit.
Your ass is banished from Mount Olympus!

Ambrosia salad is what you make when you’re broke and all you have left is Del Monte fruit cocktail, Cool Whip, marshmallows, and the pecans you found in the back of the cupboard from last year’s Thanksgiving.
If I were starving to death and you offered me ambrosia, I’d take a heaping spoonful of death.
How this dish keeps appearing on tables at holiday gatherings is beyond me.
When my mom makes sweet potatoes, people ask her to make it again the next year.
When someone makes ambrosia salad, people ask them to never come back:
“Maybe go spend next year with the other side of the family.”
But alas, they’re back, and with a fresh bowl of vomit, completely ignoring the explicit context clue that no one even touched their heaping bowl of why white people need to check themselves last year.
Yet, there they are.
“Guess what I broooooought! Everyone’s favorite!”
This needs to end.
Now.
Democrats!
Republicans!
Heed my words: ambrosia salads need banned, and that’s something you can all reach across the aisle about.
If President Trump tweeted his disdain for the dish, it would be his most liked and least controversial tweet EVER.

I’m not saying that banning ambrosia salad is going to unite all sides on all issues, but starting from common ground and working towards solving other, more controversial issues is much more productive than starting from dissenting points of view.
If we admit that we share a perspective with even our most fervent of detractors, the stereotypes that come to mind when we think of our rivals dissipate, and we see the human behind the label.
Unless the human likes ambrosia salad, in which case I hope they get struck by lightning. Twice for good measure. Because Zeus ain’t standing for that shit.

Vote for the Person, Not the Party

“You have to vote Republican, David.”
“How could you vote for any Republicans?”

These were two messages I’ve received this week from two people I care deeply about when politics came up in our conversations. Neither of them could understand why I wasn’t voting along party lines – something I used to do when I first started voting. Through extensive research and experience, I’ve learned that my beliefs do not adhere to strict party lines. My ideologies lie within both parties because they are founded on basic tenets of human behavior, not politics. When I chose to major in political science, I thought I wanted to eventually run for office in order to make the world a better place, but what I really learned was that politics was about winning, not making others better.
This shook my foundation, and I realized that to make the world a better place, we must work together to promote ideologies beyond politics – ideologies that are human.

These are the ideologies that will make people, and the world as a whole, a better place. However, political affiliation has clouded our vision, and we get into arguments over who is right and who is wrong, completely ignoring the fact that we both want to live in the same world. Every human being, regardless of ideology wants to live a life of happiness, autonomy, safety, abundance, accomplishment, meaning, love, trust, connection, and engagement, but each of us has our own methodology and beliefs of how to create this life. Focusing on this, rather than what we want, is what divides us, and the current political climate and constant onslaught of propaganda is widening that division.

I’m not writing this to change your mind or to tell you who to vote for, I’m writing this to inform you of the human qualities that have and will create a world, country, and community filled with happiness, autonomy, safety, abundance, accomplishment, meaning, love, trust, connection, and engagement. Ask yourself, not if the person you’re voting for is Republican or Democrat, but if they exhibit the following, which transcend political ideology:

· Vision: Is there a goal? Is their focus on creating a world of the above qualities? Or are they focused on simply defeating the opponent?
· Openness: Do they consider the perspectives and well-being of others who are unlike them? Or do they belittle and ignore these perspectives because it doesn’t fit their ideology? Do they surround themselves with the best people or do they foster a culture of groupthink by surrounding themselves with yes-men and ass-kissers?
· Accountability: Do they have a history of owning their mistakes and shortcomings? Or do they place blame on others, events, and the political climate?
· Growth: When they make mistakes, do they consistently take new actions that prove that they’ve learned? Or do they continually make the same mistakes over and over?
· Innovation: Do they have new ideas and take risks with an eye toward making the world a better place? Or do they stick to the safe confines of the status quo, so as not to rock the boat?
· Optimism: When confronted with a problem, do they see it as a challenge to learn to be better? Do they see it as a necessary part of making the world a better place? Or do they see it as an obstacle that should be eliminated?
· Leadership: Are they focused on making other people better, inspiring a culture of trust and togetherness, taking ownership of defeats, and giving credit to others in the face of victory? Or are they more concerned with boosting themselves, spreading a culture of division and mistrust, spreading blame in the face of defeat, and taking credit for victories?
· Service: Is their focus on building up other people and inspiring the importance of better service and being able to serve more people? Or are they concerned with building a bigger name for themselves and spreading the emphasis of making more money over serving others?
· Connection: Are they willing to bridge the gap with others who are resistant to them and overcome differences through a focus on common goals? Do they see the individual behind political affiliation, gender, race, religion, and economic standing? Do they see other people for their potential? Do they encourage others to unite when their differences come into play? Or are they resistant to differences, focusing on what they don’t have in common with others? Do they see other people as stereotypes instead of as individuals? Do they see people for their problems and shortcomings? Do they set people against one another?
· Integrity: Do they have a history of following through with promises and owning up when they are unable to? Or do they avoid questions, skirting blame in order to take less of a hit on their character?
· Honesty: Do they tell the truth and create a culture of trust founded on reality? Or do they try to make themselves seem bigger and better, creating a culture of mistrust not founded on reality?

I am not voting for a political party this election, I’m voting for the human qualities in which I believe. If you want to create a better world, I strongly encourage you to do the same. Sure, each candidate is flawed, but if we focus on these flaws, it will be incredibly difficult to create the world we all want. Take the time to learn about each candidate, and vote for whichever person exhibits the above qualities, but also remember to exhibit these qualities in your everyday life too. Don’t leave it up to the politicians to create a better world when you have the power to make your own world better and inspire those around you to do the same.

People Are Good, But We Can Do Better

After a pretty rough week in terms of current events last week, wouldn’t it be nice to have full confidence and trust in other people to help make the world a better place?

Lately, there seems to be a growing distrust of others, especially those who are unlike us, and that’s not a world I’m comfortable living in, because it goes against our human nature.
Here’s the thing: all people are born good, so it’s our natural state of being.
The fact that we’re all inherently good is the reason we’re at the top of the food chain: we’ve come together as a species to build a system of trust and a society, and the only way we could conceivably do this is by working together. Humans are better when we have strong social ties, since teamwork is the evolutionary trait that has allowed us to rule the planet.
The way I’ve been seeing people treat one another is getting away from that and it worries me.

Once we’re born, our culture, loved ones, and education condition us and we start to lose our innate tendency to help others in lieu of developing behaviors centered around how right and righteous we are, while proving wrong those who don’t believe and act the same as us.
I want to live in a world where we focus on helping each other build better people and communities, but that’s tough to do when we’re distracted by the forces dividing us.

How do we build that world?
What if learning to work together was a part of our childhood conditioning?
I don’t mean sharing blocks and not pulling each other’s hair in preschool, I mean learning how to come together, no matter our backgrounds or if we even agree with one another, and fix problems with a focus on how each of us can help.
What if school curriculum was centered around learning about one another, learning how to communicate and have empathy, and learning how to best combine our backgrounds, skills, and knowledge to create something? What if, instead of ranking students based off of scores representing their own individual knowledge, we develop a system where the goal is for students to come together to make each other better in pursuit of a goal, say a class project, a community service, or just helping one another score better? If this was part of our upbringing – how we were conditioned – how would we, as adults, behave differently when we come across someone who isn’t like us? Would we be resistant and fearful, or excited and hopeful?
If we’re conditioned to want to help each other be better, how different would the news look? Would they be focused on human progress or the events tearing us apart?

The world I want to live in is one where people come together to understand one another so that we can learn to build better communities.
My question to you: how can you help make this world a reality?

Comedy Creates Connection

Comedy: it’s more than just making people laugh – there are real life lessons that can be learned, and I just learned an important one this past weekend that I felt compelled to share: it doesn’t matter how funny you are, if you don’t make a connection with your audience (your customers), they can’t be invested in you.

I learned this the hard (fun) way this past weekend.

Last Friday and Saturday, I was hosting a comedy show featuring a musical comedian at a comedy club in Akron. As the host, it’s my job to set the tone for the show, so I had spent the week at open mics both working on my material and riffing with audiences. Then Friday night came around… I was instructed by the club owner to promote upcoming shows, so that’s how I kicked off the show.
“Give it up for yourselves for coming out!”
They cheer.
“Now, coming up next week is Jim Florentine from VH1’s That Metal Show! The following week is Dave Landau who has been a special guest on The Bob and Tom Show! Anyone here listed to Bob and Tom?”
Crickets.
“Well you should. They’re hilarious.”
Crickets.
Side note: I don’t even listen to Bob and Tom.
That was me trying to force a connection, but still not listening to the crowd. That’s not how you connect with people.
Now what? Do I stand up here and keep trying crowd work? I’m 0 for 1, that can only mean it’s going to get worse. I know! I’ll perform my set for them.
Before the show I went through all of my jokes and decided on the ones that would tie into the narrative of humans being too comfortable with the status quo to make meaningful change. For example, we call a peanut a nut when it’s actually a legume, Gettysburg will never be a progressive town because they can’t stop reminiscing over the glory days – you know, The Civil War – and the Cleveland Indians calling themselves Indians when their logo is clearly Native American – two distinct races.
It turns out the audience wasn’t there to laugh at thought-provoking humor. The headlining comedian used crude acoustic parodies of well-known songs, including Christmas carols, and the audience ate it up. I couldn’t believe it! What was I doing wrong??
“But I do smart comedy!” I reasoned to myself, “I challenge the status quo!”
If you went to see Bruce Springsteen in concert, but a world yo-yo champion was his opening act, you’d be like, “I’m not here to see this guy walk the dog, I want to hear about the glory days.”
So sure, I got some laughs, including one big laugh at my Indians joke (appropriate since the team was in the playoffs at the time), but I never fully connected with the people in the room, and it was a little disheartening to begin the show on a dud.

I approached one of the other, more experienced comedians for pointers on how to more effectively open a show and get the audience riled up.
“Ask if anyone has a Birthday or anniversary and comment on that… and listen for the blender at the bar. Someone always orders a frozen margarita during the opening act. Commenting on that always gets a laugh.”
Noted.
Back on stage again: “Anyone celebrating anything?”
No one. Oh, great. Time to go into my routine – surely the first audience just didn’t get it and the second audience would be much better.
Nope.
Again, I got some laughs, but I was missing that ever-important connection… then the blender went off.
“If anyone needs a root canal, they’re doing them for cheap at the bar.”
Everyone laughed!
“This place has it all: comedy, cocktails, and clean teeth!”
Another laugh.
This was it! Time to ride the momentum train into the rest of my set!
“Did you realize human beings are the only animal to drink the milk of another animal?”
Just as quickly as I got them back, I lost them again, and it deflated me. What was happening?
Lightbulb: I wasn’t listening to them! They came to hear jokes about balls, and here I am telling them about the potential of Gettysburg before the Civil War.
Connection begins when you listen, and I forgot this vital rule of human interaction because I was so focused on getting laughs, rather than working together with the room to create an experience.
The first show the next night got off to a promising start – there was a Birthday and it was at a front table full of women – perfect – they’re probably wasted and I can have some fun at their expense.
“Do any pre-gaming at the Red Fox next door?”
They didn’t, so I asked what they were drinking.
“Vodka cranberries!”
“Ah, the vodka cranberry: the vodka cranberry of cocktails.”
I’m not proud to admit that that got a much bigger laugh than I expected, but hey, a laugh’s a laugh, right?
“Pam’s drinking beer!” Another woman at the table chimed in.
“I like beer,” Pam added. The second she said that, the next few words slipped out of my mouth and into an abyss of silence:
“So does Brett Cavanaugh.”
I didn’t read the room… this was a conservative audience, and that could be construed as a liberal joke.
That wasn’t my intention at all, but it’s how the audience read the joke, and just like that, I lost them. The rest of the set went okay, but I never felt a true connection with the people in the room.

One more show, one more chance.
“Anyone celebrating anything?”
“17th anniversary!”
“17! Give em a round of applause, everyone!” Applause break.
“I can’t make it past two years, but I just got into a relationship. If I’m lucky, in 17 years we’ll be catching a show at this comedy club together too.”
That got a laugh – off to a good start. After some riffing that included the rest of the crowd, it was time to go into my set, which I updated to be a little more off-color.

“When I was a kid, I used to get picked on for my last name. I resisted it because no one wants to be known as the horny kid when they’re ten. It’s a hard reputation to shake off.”
Starting the set with this was the first step to audience connection – it’s what they wanted – but when I felt myself beginning to lose that connection, like when I began a new joke on the absurdities of Tinder, I listened and recreated that connection. “Anyone in here on Tinder?” No one made a sound.
“Next joke.” Everyone laughed, including me. That’s what a real connection feels like.
Although it wasn’t my best set, the key is that I maintained that connection and got some good laughs, keeping the audience invested all the way through my ten minutes of time onstage.
The headliner approached me after I got off stage, “Great set, man. This is going to be a good show.”
If you want to get what you want, you have to look at it from the other person’s perspective and ask yourself, “What is it they want?” first. It took me three shows to remember this, but once I did, it led to me performing the best 10 minutes of comedy in my life, opening up for a national headliner in front of 100 people the next night.

By investing our energy into seeing the world through the eyes of others, we create connection, and once that connection is created, others will be more invested in us.

When The Audience Doesn’t Laugh…

As a comedian, there are very few things that irk me more than when a comedian calls out the audience for not laughing at their joke. It makes me cringe – the audience wasn’t on your side to begin with, what makes you think yelling at them for not laughing is going to get them to want to laugh!?
Even if you hold a gun to my head, sure, I’ll “laugh,” but you better believe it’s not because you’re actually funny.
Saying something like, “That joke was funnier in my head,” is a good way to cut the obvious tension when you don’t get a laugh, but blaming the audience for being unfunny is a quick way to make sure no one laughs at your next joke.
I’ve made it a rule of thumb to never blame an audience when they don’t laugh at a joke because I don’t have control over what they think is funny. All I can do is rework the writing or performance aspect to make it funnier next time.
So what do I do when a joke dies in front of one audience with nary a giggle, but leaves another audience rolling the next day, even though I told it the same way (same wording, gestures, and timing)? It didn’t just make them laugh, I had to pause before continuing so everyone could compose themselves, I used it as a callback 40 minutes later and got another big laugh, and overheard audience members refer to the line and laugh following my performance.
My logic goes like this:
Joke bombs > rewrite joke/adjust timing and tone of joke > try new version
I’ve been telling the joke for a little over a year, and though it didn’t hit the first few times I told it, I followed my formula, fixed the set-up to make the punchline punchier, worked on my vocal tone, and adjusted my timing. For the last six months, the joke gets big laughs 8 out of 10 times, regular laughs 1 out of 10, and dies on the stage 1 out of 10.
If The Backstreet Boys were to put out a new album that everyone hates, they could still sing “I Want It That Way” at a concert and people would looooove it.
This joke is my “I Want It That Way.”
It’s my LeBron James on a team full of “I don’t know hims.”
It just works.
Until it doesn’t.
I wish I could say for sure why there’s a discrepancy.
I want to not blame the audience, but evidence is overwhelmingly pointed toward the fact that it’s a funny joke, so why is there the occasional audience that just blinks at me when I tell it?
I have so many questions.
Was there a difference in audience?
The joke I’m referring to is aimed at a human resources audience, and both days I was speaking to HR professionals, so the type of audience didn’t vary much.
Geography?
Located within 40 miles of one another.
Demographic?
I’m in Maine, so incredibly white.
Did I change anything?
I record myself every time I get on stage. Listening to the recording, I delivered the joke identically both times: word for word, pause for pause, and vocal variety for vocal variety.
What the hell, man?
Though I have no idea why the joke landed for one audience and fell flat for the other, it’s important that I remind myself not to put a gun to the audience’s head on this one.
All I know is that they didn’t laugh, and in the end, that’s perfectly okay. Sometimes people just aren’t on the same wavelength, and that’s not on them, it’s on you to say, “Well, that happened… what can I do with it?”
In this case, write a blog post, laugh about it, keep telling the joke, and that one time out of ten it doesn’t get the laugh, remember that I can’t win ‘em all and move forward. It’s a good reminder that variety makes things interesting.
Of course, there’s the ol’ stand-by of saying, “That joke was funnier in my head.” At least that will break the tension with a chuckle, and a chuckle is better than waving a pistol and yelling, “LAUGH, DAMMIT!”

Gun Violence and the Solution That’s Right Under Our Noses

Last month, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hosted a roundtable discussion where they invited victims of school shootings to the White House to discuss their experiences and ideas for solutions. Regardless of your position on the president and Mrs. DeVos, this was a welcomed development in the debate over gun violence. Instead of debating, arguing, and the typical candor between politicians, real people came together to share solution ideas for a problem that has divided us for years. Not one to watch the news (or what I call “the noise” because I’m just so damn clever), I was transfixed. In a culture where we’re focused on who’s right vs. who’s wrong rather than “How can we come together to create a solution?” for once those in attendance had a common goal: create a culture of safety. Not five minutes after the meeting ended, came the hot takes from pundits and social media accounts focused again on who was right and who was wrong, why the president is an asshat, and his meeting notes, including a reminder to “hear” those voicing their concerns. We were right back to focusing on problems instead of creating solutions. In all this noise, we missed out on the solution to the problem that was offered during the meeting that doesn’t just take care of the symptoms like mental health reform, banning certain guns, or arming teachers: a cultural shift focused on how we see one another.
During this meeting, one person really stood out to me: Darrel Scott, father of Rachel Scott, who was killed in the 4/20/97 shooting at Columbine High School. This was the school shooting that brought the topic of gun violence into the national spotlight almost 21 years ago, and still, few solutions have been reached. In fact, mass shootings have only intensified, because in these twenty-plus years, Columbine has dropped out of the top 10 list for deadliest shootings (um… yay?). It’s time for new ideas, because the ideas we’ve been working with for over two decades are clearly not doing the trick. What Scott said struck a chord with me since I study and share how to create positive workplace cultures for a living. Scott has a brief opportunity to get to the core of, not only the issue of gun violence, but the issues of violence in general and the underlying lack of happiness plaguing the country. Scott isn’t just talking about it a solution, he’s actively doing something to fix the deeply rooted cause of violent behavior: a lack of human connection.
Since his daughter lost her life, Scott has founded Rachel’s Challenge,* a nonprofit on a mission to create a positive climate focused on making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect. According to Scott, the program has touched 28 million students since its founding in 1998, has prevented 7 school shootings, prevents an average of 150 suicides a year, and has seen improvements in the schools with whom they have partnered. According to the website, this includes gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate, as well as reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. While debates rage on over whether to arm teachers, ban automatic weapons, or apply stricter background checks when purchasing a firearm, Scott, a private citizen just like me and you, free from the entanglements of bureaucracy and politics, is, putting it bluntly, getting shit done.
Scott’s solution: “We must create a culture of connectedness. We must create a culture in which our classmates become our friends.” He goes on to explain how he has seen students connect with one another and makes a fascinating point: “Every single one of these school shootings have been from young men who are disconnected.”**
In his book, Flourish: positive psychologist Martin Seligman lists positive relationships as one of the five elements of human well-being.***

“Selfish-gene theory argues that the individual is the sole unit of natural selection. Evidence shows that the group is a primary unit of natural selection.”

Sure, I have read books in the field of positive psychology that re-affirm this, but it’s through my research in other fields like leadership, history, and, yes, even improvisation that have led me to go as far as to say that a lack of human connectedness is the causation of aggression, violence, and discrimination.
From Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last:

“When we cooperate or look out for others, serotonin and oxytocin reward us with the feelings of security, fulfillment, belonging, trust, and camaraderie.”

Humans are wired to get along, but we’re conditioned to covet personal gain, which goes against this biology, and costs us opportunities to make connections, become happier, and grow exponentially. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian Yuval Noah Harrari wrote:

“Evolution favors those capable of forming strong social ties. In addition, since humans are born underdeveloped, they can be educated and socialized far greater than any other animals.”

To solve the problem of gun violence, we must create a culture focused on humans connecting with one another in order to make each other better and to make the world a better place, which is what Darrel Scott and his wife are doing with Rachel’s Challenge. I believe that the long-term solution is an overhaul of the education system where the goal is for students to learn to connect with one another and work together, rather than work separately for individual accomplishment. Until then, each of us can play a small role on creating a culture of connectedness in our own lives and circles. Though each of us as individuals has a small voice, we have an opportunity to come together and connect as a cacophony of voices on a quest to create safety, happiness, and love. It is in the pursuit of creating something we all believe in that can connect us, rather than arguing over who is right or who is wrong, which denies us the chance to create connection.
Darrel Scott is just one voice who has brought together a chorus of many voices to make a difference and bring us closer to a more human culture:
“The focus must not be just on unity or diversity, because if you focus too much on diversity, you create division. If you focus too much on unity, you’ll create compromise. But if you focus on relatedness and how you can relate with one another, then you can celebrate the diversity and you can see the unity take place. The focus really needs to be on how we can connect. That’s something our organizations have learned: how to connect students with each other, with themselves, with their teachers, and with their parents.”

Imagine the freedom of walking the streets without the fear of violence – with a feeling of confidence that every person you pass has your best interests at heart. We have the choice to focus on how this isn’t possible, which is what has been happening, or we can shift our focus onto how we can come together and create this culture. One thing you can do today is not to debate, but to listen to the ideas of others and remember that no matter who we are, we all want to feel safe and loved. How can you help make this happen and connect with others today?

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe in a friendly or hostile universe.” – Albert Einstein
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in looking with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
*Darrel Scott speaks at about 33:50 in this video:
https://www.denverpost.com/2018/02/21/darrell-scott-columbine-shooting-donald-trump/
** Learn more about Rachel’s Challenge and how a culture of connectedness is helping students all over the country build relationships with classmates, parents, teachers, and themselves.
***The other four are positive emotion, engagement, meaning, and accomplishment.