Don’t Cancel, Question

If everyone had the same beliefs and the same things made everyone happy, what would the world look like?

It would decidedly not look anything like today’s world — in fact, I would argue that if everyone shared the same perspective, this planet would be painfully boring. No diversity of thought means the first idea would always be the best idea, which, without any form of challenge from others, could actually end up being the idea that kills everyone.

Nowadays, with everyone being so connected through the internet and social media, we have an opportunity to explore the incredibly diverse perspectives of people across the globe. Yet, it seems that whenever someone shares their ideology, those with other ideologies instinctively attack.

I’m guilty of it too.

From comedians making insensitive jokes, to far-right purists, to Black Lives Matter activists, to opinionated lesbian feminists, there is something to learn from each of these ideologies, but the moment we say “I disagree,” we miss out on the opportunity to make a connection. Each of these people experienced their own unique upbringing and have reasons for why they behave the way they do, but our basic human nature requires us to be social and work together with the group.

The way we’re nurtured drives us away from our human nature.

It’s in our nature to explore, try new things, and work together, but we’re conditioned to stay in our lanes, hold steadfast beliefs, and value individuality. It’s like our school system taught us how to be less human.

When I see an opinion that is unlike my own, I ask, “Why?” The other person must have a reason for why they see the world differently, so instead of insulting, disparaging, or ignoring them, I’m more interested in seeing from their point of view. At worst, learning from those who don’t believe like me will expand my worldview and help me build a stronger argument in favor of my ideology. In fact, one of the best ways to make our point is to be able to argue effectively from the opposite perspective. At the very least, it will put us on similar footing, which gives us a starting point upon which we can all agree.

For example, freedom of speech is a value held dearly by most Americans, from BLM protesters to right wing militias. But when BLM protesters are being arrested, gassed, and beaten by law enforcement for exercising their right to free speech, the “Don’t Tread On Me” folks are nowhere to be found. Freedom of speech doesn’t just refer to the opinions you agree with. Perhaps, with a shared agreement that all speech much be protected, these ideologically opposed groups can come together and start a dialogue with one another.

If everyone had the same beliefs, the world would have far less dialogue and way more monologue. We learn way more when we listen to others than when we parrot our own opinions, so if you disagree with this post, feel free to contact me and ask, “Why?” because I’d love to hear your perspective too.

Empathy: The Starting Point To Building A Better World

“You’ve gotta watch Breaking Bad. Watch a few episodes and it’s going to hook you.”

“What’s it about?”

“Walter White, a brilliant scientist turned chemistry teacher, gets diagnosed with cancer and starts cooking meth to pay for his treatment and support his pregnant wife and disabled son.”

“That’s not really my speed.”

My friend Scott recommends shows for me to watch all the time, and they’re usually great, so I decided to give Breaking Bad a go, even though the premise didn’t really appeal to me, but he was right: I sped through the first four seasons in about two weeks, and what really struck me was the fact that I was rooting for a man who would kill someone — even an innocent person — to “protect his family.” Why was I cheering on someone to ruin people’s lives with a drug that led to violence, greed, and the thirst for power? Why was I rooting against a well-intentioned DEA agent driven by justice to save people’s lives and get a dangerous drug off the streets? The answer: I saw myself in Walter White — not because I wanted to cook meth or murder my rivals (I like my rivals) — but because I, too, have had my back against the wall. I, too, have been doubted by even the people closest to me. So when Walter made the decision to end someone else’s life, I found myself conflicted internally because, even though I would never consider murder, I could understand what motivated Walter to do it.

And that’s something the world needs more of — not murder, but empathy. Being able to see the world through the eyes of people unlike yourself is the key to understanding why they do what they do. That’s why we love stories: we get to see the protagonist’s world through his or her eyes while rooting for them to overcome their adversities; and the well-written shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, or Dexter will have us rooting for the protagonist, even though he or she is willing to do some unsavory deeds to get ahead.

Now these are all fictional stories, but our capacity to empathize with the people in these shows and judge them based on why they do what they do, rather than what they do, is a skill we can use with people in the real world who are unlike us. To be able to see through the eyes of another, even if he is a diametric opposite, can help you communicate better, reach agreement, build a relationship, and even make you happier. Though you may not be willing to do what someone else has done, to be able to connect with why he does it is the first step to bringing unlike people together — a must in an increasingly connected world.

Whether you agree with me or not, chances are we both want to live better lives in a better world, and that is a great starting point for coming together and creating it.

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.