Taking Short-Term Risks for Long-Term Reward

When competing in a comedy competition, it’s wise to use safe material, that is, material that you KNOW works with crowds of all shapes and sizes. But as a performer, sometimes hitting the same laugh lines over and over can get exhausting and feel less rewarding.

I was in a comedy competition in New York City last week, and the rules stated that if you advance to the next round, you can’t use any of the material you had already used. I have three ten-minute sets that have historically held up in front of all kinds of crowds, so I initially planned on using these three sets. But once I moved on from the first round to the semifinals and was prepared to use my second killer set, I called an audible at the last second.

I had thought of some new jokes a few days prior and was itching to try them out in front of a live audience. Sure, I knew set number two was going to work, but I had been milking that set for so long (see what I did there?), my itch to be creative won out.

I tried an entire new set in the semifinals and failed to move on to the finals.

You’re probably thinking, “What’s the point of writing a post about taking risks when the risk you took didn’t pay off?”

The point is that, sure, I suffered a short-term setback.

Sure, after opening up my set strong, the next two minutes fell painfully flat, with little to no laughter from the audience. But after lightheartedly drawing attention to this elephant in the room, the rest of the set concluded strong.

The moment I got off stage, I knew I wasn’t moving on in the contest, but it felt liberating to try out something new.

The next day, I listened back to my set, took notes, made adjustments, then worked out the material at three open mics. By the time the third one rolled around, I had a fully functional, laugh-worthy set ready to go.

It killed.

Even though I fell flat during the second round of the competition, I now have a brand new ten minute set that I can confidently take to the stage, knowing I can get laughs.

When we play it safe, eventually it becomes rote, routine, and incredibly boring, even if at one point it was rewarding. When we take risks, life becomes much more exciting, it’s just important to remember that when we fall short of our goals the first time, it isn’t the end of the world. There’s always a chance to learn, improve, and achieve that internal (and external) reward by adjusting and adapting. Don’t let taking a risk stop you when the reward can be that much greater.

What’s one risk you can take that makes you feel uncomfortable? What’s the potential long-term reward if you see it through?

Micromanaging? That’s SOOOOO Industrial Revolution

When I step outside in my Victorian era tailcoat, vest, and top hat, I tend to get some concerned looks, but it’s when I take a leisurely ride through the park on my comically lopsided penny-farthing that I end up on a lot of Instagram stories. Why?

I look like an idiot.

If my roommates’ parents were to take a steam-powered locomotive from San Francisco to visit Cleveland, I’d be perplexed. Doing that instead of taking a plane would be like Frodo taking the One Ring to Mordor on foot… rather than just using GIANT EAGLES. Seriously – Gandalf had giant freaking eagles at his disposal. The quest to save Middle Earth from destruction could’ve been over in days!!! Why would you take such an outdated, antiquated method of transportation when there are GIANTE FREAKING EAGLES called AIRPLANES!? You could even take Amtrak, make a stop at every single goddamned town, and still be more efficient in your travel.

It doesn’t make sense to rely on 19th century practices when there are so many better ways to do things, does it? So why do many of today’s creatively stifling management practices run on 19thcentury thinking?

With the dawn of factory work, companies relied on measurement and monitoring in order to control thousands of workers. According to the book Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do, managers created policies that stifled employees’ natural desires to explore and try new things so that they would focus on narrow tasks. This system was crucial to production and reliability, but it hampered self-expression, the ability to experiment and learn, and withered away their connection to the final product, thus eliminating meaning and engagement from work.

Now, we live in a world that’s evolving at an unprecedented rate where thinking outside of the box, taking risks, and innovation are key qualities that employees need… but the old industrial management practices are still entrenched in most workplaces.

Employees are unable to leverage their unique skills. They’re shoehorned into a system that creates stress, fear, and encourages office politics so that there are constant missed opportunities for collaboration, breakdowns in communication, and a rampant lack of meaning.

The Industrial Revolution discovered new ways to innovate technology so that people could work more efficiently, but if factories were still relying on the same machinery from 150 years ago, they’d actually be hurting their efficiency.

Most workplaces are still relying on the same management practices from 150 years ago, yet little effort has been made to change this entrenched system. Time continues to pass and we’re heading into a new, automation revolution. IT’S TIME FOR CHANGE!

There are workplaces out there that engage their people in ways that gives them the freedom to explore, take risks, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. This makes their teams much more innovative and their people much more fulfilled by their work, thus creating the production that Victorian era managers were looking for without the sacrifices to their employees’ humanity. These workplaces, however, are few and far between…

If advancing our technology allowed mankind to take such a giant leap forward during the Industrial Revolution, imagine how big of a leap mankind would take by advancing how we treat other people – you know, the ones who use and innovate the technology. Giving humans the opportunity to take advantage of the biological need to explore our creativity at work is our GIANT FREAKING EAGLE; let’s work together and USE IT!

Think About It:

Do you work better when you’re free to be creative or when you’re micromanaged and every part of your work is monitored?

Think of a time you were able to think outside of the box on a project: how did it engage you? How did it make you feel? Were you able to come up with solution ideas more quickly?

If you’re a leader, how can you communicate to your people that it’s okay to stretch themselves creatively and take risks? If you had just a little more creative freedom with your work, what would you do differently?

How can you spread this shift in workplace thinking at your job?

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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.

 

I Was Going to Post to My Blog, But…

…There’s a cat on my lap, and when there’s a cat on my lap, nothing gets done.

It’s not that like the cat pins me down and forbids me from typing, I just choose not to work when there’s a cat on my lap.

Then I blame it on the cat.

It’s definitely the cat’s fault that I didn’t type my 1,000 words today.

It’s not like I can type over him.

Every time I try to type, he attacks my fingers.

I’ve had to delete and re-type this line seven times for that reason.

There’s nothing I can do about this cat on my lap.

This is all on the cat.

I couldn’t go to the comedy show because of the cat.

I know I said I was going to come, and I know you were counting on me to perform, but when I sat down for seven seconds to check my email on my way out the door, guess what happened?

Cat. Lap.

And you can’t stand when there’s a cat on your lap because he needs to be pet.

Calm down! I know I ruined your show, and I’m sorry

I get that you’re mad. – I’d be mad too – but you didn’t have a cat on your lap.

If you did, that means you’d probably be at my house, which means you wouldn’t have gone to the show either, which means you have no room to talk.

And I couldn’t even answer the emails anyway!

There was a cat on my lap.

The cat found the cursor on my computer screen and I discovered that I’m distracted by cats chasing computer cursors.

I know there was a deadline, but I have a disease where I physically cannot focus on sending emails when there’s a cat on my lap.

It isn’t diagnosed.

I don’t have a doctor’s note.

Because I couldn’t get to the doctor’s office, since there was a cat on my lap, but that proves that it’s a real thing.

And it’s why I’m just now sending a time-sensitive email, three days too late.

Again, not my fault.

Blame Wright Catterson.

That’s not my cat’s name.

Or maybe it is.

I never asked.

I just gave him an arbitrary name without asking him what his actual name is.

I’ve actually been wanting to adopt a cat for forever because I have an overwhelming mice infestation, but I never got around to it.

There was a cat on my lap.

When there’s a cat on your lap, it makes it hard to adopt a cat in the first place.

Especially a cat who would rather chase a computer mouse instead of actual mice.

YOU try to get a cat when there’s a cat on your lap being hilarious.

You can’t, so as a result, you get mice.

This is how the world works when you have a cat on your lap.

Wait a minute…

If I need to get a cat, then how is there even a cat on my lap in the first place?

There is no cat.

…I don’t have a cat.

I’ve never even owned a cat.

I’m not even sure how to pronounce “cat.”

The only reason I know how to spell it is because Microsoft Word didn’t give it the red underline.

The only reason I know that cats even exist is from cat videos on Facebook.

Which means, it was never the cat at all… it was me the whole time.

What a twist!

But wait a minute… that means…

I was the one attacking my own fingers.

I wasn’t petting a cat, I was petting myself

I was the one spending hours chasing the cursor.

I’m the one named Wright Catterson!

IT WAS ME THE WHOLE TIME!

And I was making excuses instead of doing what I needed to do to get what I want!

Oh man, what a waste of three months.

…And I blamed it all on that stupid cat that I made up…

That means I have reframe this with some new self-talk:

“What do I want?

What does it look like?

What am I telling myself that’s stopping me?

How is it stopping me?

What’s something new I can do?

What’s 1 action I can take to move me closer to what I want?

Now go do it, Wright Catterson!”

Do the same thing when you have a “cat” on your lap.

Because excuses don’t exist.

…And neither does my cat.

 

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.

Let Loss Propel You Forward

In our lives, we experience love and loss – it’s inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is the growth that can come from even the worst of times. It isn’t about suppressing our emotions when something unexpected happens, it’s about leaning into those emotions and using the momentum to find ways to learn and grow from the loss. I’ve recently experienced loss, and I thought I would share what I’ve had to go through to become a better person because of it.

My JBL Bluetooth speaker is gone.
It wasn’t by my choice, although I suppose my choices led up to the moment it was taken from me.
And now I can’t get over this feeling of loss…
Of despair…
Of regret…
Sure, I could’ve left it locked away in the trunk of my car, but a speaker with that depth of sound quality deserves to be free, to experience the world as it was meant to be experienced.
It deserved to left on top of my car to experience the feeling of wind, the warmth of the sun, the chill of the rain.
Something that beautiful should never be locked away.
You were small, but your sound… your sound was enough to fill a room.
And you played it all without question… because music was your life.
I want to hear you sing again.
To tell jokes again.
Hell, I want you to turn off on your own when I need you during a presentation again – you had a real habit of doing that.
But you can’t.
I just… I just want to feel your cylindrical  shape in my hand again.
I want to be in one end of my house with you in the other, singing away, making it feel like you’re right beside me.
I want to see “JBL Flip 2” appear on my list of Bluetooth options and know that my Macbook will connect to you since you’re within range.
You were unlike any Bluetooth speaker I had ever owned, because I had never owned another Bluetooth speaker.
You were the one – it wasn’t supposed to end like this.
But you were taken.
Stolen.
Who knows where you are now, or if you’ll even get this, but I miss you.
I stopped listening to music altogether.
When I hear other speakers, they just make me think about what we had, and I weep.
Dad says I’ll be okay.
He says you were “just a speaker.”
To some, sure.
But to me, you were more than “just a speaker.”
You were a part of my life.
And you know you never forget your first.
It’ll take time.
I’m not ready to get out there and try other speakers, so I just ordered a cheap Chinese replacement.
My mail order speaker should be arriving soon, but it won’t be the same.
I hope I’ll learn to listen again – and soon.
Listen, I know I’m better because of you and I should focus on that.
What you taught me in all of those audiobooks and podcasts… you’ve made me grow.
I learned so goddamn much from you, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.
You’ll live on through me.
And together, with my new Chinese partner, our story will be told, and the world will be better because you were in it.

I’ll make sure of it.

Why Characters? Perspective and Sketch Comedy

Why characters?
If you’re ever at a restaurant where people drop their business cards in a fish bowl for the chance to win a free lunch, when you’re taking other people’s cards out to have a better chance at winning and you see my business card, you’ll notice that under my name it reads “Keynotes With Character(s).”

As someone named Jessica probably would say: “What even is that?”

Put simply, I do keynotes as characters to make audiences realize that we’re all characters, then I show them ways to build character.

That sentence was 134 characters.

As a writer, to build more effective (read: realistic) characters, it’s necessary to see the world from your character’s point of view. Every character has a completely unique background and has been met with completely unique life experiences, so they have a completely unique perspective from everyone else. This means, my POV has to change from my own to that of someone else – someone who doesn’t think, feel, or respond like me.

When writing comedic characters, the key is to write each character to be completely serious, because the humor comes from them seriously trying to get what they want, but mucking it up. People aren’t funny because they’re trying to be funny, people are funny because they’re trying to get what they want and they don’t know how. That’s comedy! Each of my characters is dead serious about getting what he or she wants. Each of my characters has a fully formulated backstory so that I can determine why they would each behave a certain way when confronted with what life throws at them. Each of my characters has shown me the value of seeing the world through the eyes of someone else – a skill I remember to use in everyday life when I’m not quite seeing eye-to-eye with others. Having this background allows me to take a step back and examine a new point of view, because I know that every single person I see comes from a completely unique background, and I wish more people could pause and take a moment to see the world through the eyes of another.

Because everyone, even you, is a character.

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!”

Jobs: Created for Surviving, Updated for Thriving

Why do we work?
Why do we wake up and, day-in, day-out, put ourselves through a routine of boredom, stress, and putting on a nice face for other people? Even if you love your job, why do you do it?
We go through school in order to graduate college with a degree so that we may get a “good job,” but do we ever consider why?
Allow me to take you back to a time before jobs as we know them.
Human beings were pretty new on the scene and they were trying to figure things out. They wandered the wilderness, looking for food with the odds stacked against them. They were slow, uncoordinated, weak, fearful, and unnecessarily violent with one another.
Then, between 17-13,000 years ago, people began to communicate with one another, and it was within this communication that we brought to reality something that had never existed before: imaginary concepts. Not once before the dawn of humankind had any other creature come up with a conscious idea, and it was within the use of our newfound tool of imagination that people took a leap forward on the food chain. In this newfangled world, humans began communicating ideas back and forth on how to make survival easier, and in doing so, invented jobs.
Some of us weren’t so good at hunting, but could tell a mean story about the hunt and keep morale up.
Some of us couldn’t whittle a spear to save our life, but we could tell the difference between good and bad mushrooms.

(Have you ever seen a movie where the villain gives a glass of wine to a lowly servant to make sure it isn’t poisoned? I wonder if there was a group of people whose job it was to figure out which foraged foods were okay to eat…)

The idea of having a job was brand new, and people ran with it. Hunters, gatherers, builders, inventors, shamans, storytellers, and telemarketers (who knew?) soon populated communities, and they knew their role and the purpose of that role: survival and the survival of their families and communities.

Fast forward from this world of scarcity and struggle to survive to a world of abundance and on-demand TV.
We go to work to get paid so we can support ourselves and our families, so while it feels like we work to survive, we live in a world with abundant resources, so focus can be shifted from simply surviving to thriving.
How?
We live in a world dominated by an imaginary currency, imaginary companies, an imaginary internet, and imaginary beliefs on what it means to live a good life. If humans disappeared, none of these concepts would survive because we created them (hence “imaginary”). Since large-scale human cooperation was based on imagined concepts such as these, we have the power to create new concepts and ideas to transform our current jobs into tools that can be used to further the capabilities of people. All we have to do is share these concepts with the people around us, make this cause one that they can believe in, and hope that they share with the people around them too.
What if we looked at work as an opportunity to advance humankind and make the world a better place for our children?
I don’t know about you, but that’s way more exciting than working toward retirement.
No matter your job, you have an opportunity to create for others.
For example, when I started speaking, my focus was on getting more gigs so I could entertain, educate, and inspire more people, but it felt like something was missing. Now that I realize the value of being a creator, my focus has shifted to creating a better experience of reality for those I have the opportunity to serve. I want to create excitement and energy in others so that they use their position, whatever it may be, to create excitement and energy in even more people. By focusing on this, I get more excited and energized and work becomes more than just getting booked – it becomes a daily opportunity.
Added bonus: the more excited and energized we are, the better work we do.
What do you do for work now?
What product, service, or experience do you sell?
How does your product, service, or experience help other people thrive?
What would it look like if it helped even more people or helped the people it’s already helping even more?
How can you use your talents, skills, and the tools already at your disposal to make this a reality?
We have the power to share the idea that all of our jobs, no matter what they are, exist in order to further humankind, not to simply earn a paycheck and maintain the status quo.
Maintaining status quo breeds stagnation, and stagnation breeds disease.
What do you want to create in the world with your work? Stagnation or energy?
What do you want to inspire in others? Stagnation or energy?
It all starts with the story you tell yourself about your work.
We work to create opportunities for ourselves and others to thrive.
Pass on this story, because without sharing it, sure, we’ll survive, but what’s the point of just surviving when we have the power to elevate ourselves and thrive?