2020 has been quite the human experiment, and based on the results, it’s plain to see that, well, people have some work to do. It’s plain to see where our shortcomings lie, but instead of ripping into humans for those, let’s take a moment to be grateful for them.
Beyond World War II, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought so many societal problems to the forefront, I’d start listing them, but I want you to feel better after reading this. We’ve gotten so good at pointing out and picking apart problems, that we don’t have the time and energy to solve them. That’s why this Thanksgiving weekend, I’m advocating for you to stop talking about the problems the world is facing and stop stressing out about things you can’t control. When you hear about mass, maskless gatherings, Trump refusing to concede, or an economic system not built to support everyone in an increasingly automated society, simply say, “GOOD. Something someone can do something about.” Take the thing you can’t control, and give it to the universe so you can take a break from worry and enjoy just one weekend. You deserve it.
Let’s be honest: chances are good that if you’re reading this, you’re not the president, a senior member of Congress, or a powerful lobbyist, so chances are good you can’t do something about it anyway. Don’t let something you can’t control stress you out or strain your relationships. And if you must discuss such issues, be sure to talk in terms of ideas and hope for the future.
Whether it’s “Trump was cheated” or “Trump cheated,” here’s how you respond to shift the focus away from events and people to sharing ideas:
“I understand why you think that, and I’m sure we both can agree that our elections should be free, fair, and easily accessible by anyone who wants to vote. What would this kind of election look like in a perfect world?”
Knowing the problems, or other people’s perceptions of the problems, is the first step to coming up with solutions, but an even more engaging way to approach it is to work together to paint a picture of a best-case-scenario future and go from there. If you can’t actually do anything about it, talk about how great it could be and keep vibes in the realm of gratitude.
Speaking of gratitude: in a year where it seems like there isn’t much to be grateful for, it’s more important to shift our focus on the things we do have, no matter how dark our worlds may seem. This year, I worked my last shift in an industry I loved, at a job I loved, with people I care about. I lost more than ten speaking gigs, caught COVID, had to fully rethink my business plan, and give up on doing what I love — performing stand-up comedy in front of a live audience — for more than half of the year. The moment I said, “Good. Something I can do something about,” was the moment I started doing something about it.
Remember, we live in an abundant universe, even though our brains are wired to notice scarcity. By focusing on what you can control, what you do have, and what you can do, the world — no matter how dour — feels just a little bit brighter.
If you’re feeling down this weekend, take a moment to yourself and ask yourself:
What’s one new thing I’m grateful for doing this year?
Who’s one person I’m grateful for meeting this year?
Who are the people who have been there for me the most?
What talents or skills have I tested and improved this year? (And yes, baking bread counts.)
What has been my favorite show, movie, or documentary I’ve seen this year?
What’s one thing I’ve learned about myself this year?
How have the adversities and challenges I’ve faced this year made me a better person?
What’s one action I can take to leverage my opportunities, skills, relationships, etc. to overcome those adversities and challenges next year?
So take a deep breath (after you swallow), find one thing to be grateful for, and have a Happy Thanksgiving.
This election doesn’t matter. There, I said it. Not only does this election not matter, this pandemic doesn’t matter, this blog post doesn’t matter, your ideas don’t matter, your opinions don’t matter, and you don’t matter either. But neither do I.
You are matter, but that doesn’t even matter.
“But David, you’re supposed to be a motivational speaker. You always talk about uplifting other people, and this isn’t uplifting.”
Well stick around, idiot, because you’re about to get uplifted.
When everything feels so important and it feels like the bad thing that’s happening is the worst possible thing that could ever happen in the history of the universe, remember: you’re on a rock hurtling through that universe, and that universe is expanding infinitely… but no one’s talking about that this election.
Where’s that question in the debates? Neither Biden nor Trump acknowledged the inevitable supernova of our Earth’s sun, black holes, or the fact that a particularly violent solar storm could wipe out electricity across the planet, the only planet (that we know of) that supports life. When the sun goes supernova, Earth will be vaporized like it never existed in the first place, in the meantime, sure, let’s argue about healthcare.
Everyone should have access.
Controversial? It shouldn’t be, but when money, a manmade construct, comes into play, the argument becomes not about doing what’s right, it turns into “Who’s going to pay for it?”
Making cities and technology green so that everyone can enjoy the fresh air and water that was a package deal with this planet? “We can’t afford it.”
Overhaul education so that human beings are engaged by learning, creating, and sharing new ideas to innovate new technologies that allow us to stop doing demotivating jobs and start engaging our brains with new occupations? “But we’ve never done it that way before.”
We’re on a rock hurtling through space.
Mathematically, the fact that we even exist is an anomaly, so the fact that we’re arguing about how certain things aren’t possible is laughable. Our schools educate the concepts of infinite possibility out of us at a young age, confining our imaginations to a system filled with manmade limits that is centuries old… in the middle of a universe that’s expanding infinitely. Yet, nobody has even brought up the education overhaul we so desperately need. I would argue that it’s the most pressing issue because it could literally solve all of our problems. For example:
Income inequality: teach students the concepts of creating wealth through altruism
Inequities (gender, racial, religious, socioeconomic, and cognitive): teach students the concepts of empathy, acceptance, and communication
Climate change: teach students the concepts of relevant ecology, innovation, and collaboration
That’s just the tip of the melting iceberg.
You know what doesn’t care about money? The sun. The only time we talk about the sun is when the president looks directly into it, but the worst day in the history of our planet pales in comparison to the day the sun explodes.
I know this particular blog post is pretty meta, and I’m bringing up some pretty out-there concepts, but somebody’s got to. I mean, for God’s sake, we’re arguing about wearing masks in the middle of a pandemic. Really? That’s the hill you want to die on? Because it’s a hill that’s hurtling through space in an infinitely expanding universe.
Infinity isn’t a concept that our simple, human brains can understand, I mean, our symbol for infinity is an eight that fell over. Think of it from the perspective of an ant. If you try to explain the human world to a single ant, it would probably just carry a grain of sand somewhere else because that’s what it knows. Compared to the complexities of the universe, your brain ain’t shit, but compared to that of an ant, it’s a Milky Way of molecules. Unlike ants, humans can look at where we are, learn from where we came, and plan for what’s to come. Looking back, humans have been arguing about things that don’t matter — politics, profits, and power, to name a few — instead of innovating to create things that do. If Earth were to be destroyed by a celestial body tomorrow, religion, economies, and political ideologies would be destroyed along with it, and the universe would remain unmoved by the devices of human imagination. Arguments over these imagined orders have driven some innovation, sure, but they’ve also created a stasis that challenges those who challenge said stasis instead of considering the validity of their ideas.
In the scheme of the universe, the entire planet of Earth is a single electron on a single atom on a single grain of sand on a single nude beach. However, our individual problems, concerns, and ideas feel like the most important thing in our lives. The point of this particular blog post is to remind you that even though the election looms large, in the scheme of the universe, the ripple it causes is like a single ripple of water in the ocean — it’s meaningless… unless the conversation shifts to how we can come together to strive for infinite growth by reaching for our infinite potential.
We need to give people the tools they need to explore new ways of reaching the infinite possibilities the universe has in store, but if what you’re doing isn’t learning, growing, or expanding infinitely every day, make the shift by asking the questions:
How did I get better today? What did I learn?
How did I help others get better today? What did I learn?
How can I apply these things tomorrow?
These are just small ways to make infinity relevant to you.
Sometimes we all just need a reminder that WE’RE ON A ROCK HURTLING THROUGH SPACE! AND SPACE IS EXPANDING INFINITELY!
We gotta figure out ourselves, then we gotta figure out this rock, and then we gotta figure out space, because in front of us is infinite possibility, but like explaining capitalism to an ant, we can’t quite comprehend it… yet.
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
If you were looking for a definitive yes or no like the answer to “Did you take out the trash?” you’re in for a rude awakening. Since the news broke on Thursday that the president contracted COVID, I have seen so many social media posts, articles, and videos articulating why the president getting COVID is funny, but also why it’s not funny.
They’re both right.
And both wrong.
Human beings live our lives in search of certainty, but we live in a nuanced world where certainty is uncertain, and comedy explores that nuance. If you’re sure Donald Trump getting COVID is or is not funny, then I’m facing an uphill battle in convincing you otherwise. I have a podcast called You Can’t Laugh At That, and we interview comedians to explore why certain topics are funny, so I thought I’d do that here, starting with why it’s not funny.
Getting COVID isn’t funny
Coming from firsthand experience, COVID-19 sucks and I don’t wish for anyone to get it, but the thing itself isn’t usually what’s funny — it’s everything around the periphery. A door itself isn’t funny objectively, but if you have a story tied to the door about how someone pinched their fingers, or how the door was invented, or if there’s a quote about doors, etc., then there are any number of ways to find the humor in something so banal. That’s the nuance I want to share with you here. So no, the fact that the president has COVID is not funny, but there is so much more that is.
HOW he got COVID IS funny
Human beings are flawed creatures striving to be perfect in an imperfect world, and Donald Trump is a human being who won’t admit that he’s not perfect. We all know someone like this, and when they very clearly mess up, it’s extra funny. If you don’t know someone like this, it’s you. It’s okay to make mistakes, and when you, a world leader who serves as an example to so many, refuse to take the simple precautions of maintaining social distance and wearing a mask in public — two strategies proven to limit the spread of COVID (just ask Japan) — and you catch it? That’s funny. Not only that, but when you host a non-distanced gathering where the majority of people aren’t wearing masks, that’s even funnier. When I contracted it, I was extra cautious, quarantining with only my girlfriend and roommate. My roommate, on the other hand, decided he needed to get laid, so he went to a party, and two days later had a splitting headache. Two days after that, I had a splitting headache, and the rest is history. What’s funny about that? Dude didn’t even get laid.
The irony of him getting COVID IS funny
Irony is one of the most powerful forms of humor when the goal is to make a point, and the fact that he joked about Joe Biden wearing a mask in public two days before contracting COVID is the ultimate hubris. If you refuse to lock your front door, you brag about the fact that you don’t lock your front door, you post on social media about not having to lock your front door, you make fun of people who do lock their front doors, and someone steals your TV, that’s funny to everyone but you. Sure, chances are high someone isn’t going to try and come into your house, but when someone does and you’ve been bragging about not locking your door for over six months, it’s hard for everyone else not to laugh and say “Told ya so.”
What he did once he got COVID IS funny
If you know you’re HIV-positive and you have unprotected sex with someone without disclosing it, in most states, you can be charged with a felony. Following his positive diagnosis, the president engaged intimately with donors at his golf club in New Jersey, endangering people completely unaware of his condition. In comedy, much of the humor comes from the audience knowing something the characters don’t, one character knowing something the rest of the characters don’t, or most of the characters knowing something one character doesn’t. This is a textbook example of this tool at work. Another tool used by comedy writers is forcing characters into situations they can’t get out of, and President Trump forced his Secret Service into an SUV with him, so he could wave at his supporters. Now, these agents are at high risk of having the virus, which isn’t funny in itself, but the circumstances through which they were exposed to it — a very Michael Scott-like demand of to be paraded around — is cringe-funny. It’s like we’re all living on the set of a sitcom.
What WE did once he got COVID is funny
I took time out of my day to write this because I felt too many people were missing the point when discussing whether we should be laughing or not. That’s funny. If laughing helps you cope through the release of endorphins, then who am I to tell you to stop? If you’re laughing out of spite, I feel for you, because this sort of laughter doesn’t provide any of the benefits of endorphins, and can in fact make you feel more stressed. If you hate the idea of someone laughing to feel better, that’s like deriding someone for crying at a funeral. If you hate the idea of someone laughing at someone else’s misery, let them laugh — they have to live with the stress of spite.
Through all of this, remember to be kind — it’s one of the most basic and most rewarding human behaviors. Though the hubris is evident in this situation (and I’ll enjoy the humor in that), I don’t wish harm to befall anyone. Let this whole situation be a lesson: whether you think it’s funny or not doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you put other people’s well-being first by wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. If you won’t do that, then don’t be upset when people say “Told ya so,” because humor can come from any situation, especially one resulting from our own choices.
Happiness is a lot like baseball: you remember it from last year, you’re waiting for it to happen this year, and the further into 2020 we get, you start thinking that maybe it isn’t going to happen at all. But unlike baseball, you have the power to determine when your happiness season begins.
When you see a genuinely happy person, they make it look easy, but just like baseball, this perceived ease actually takes a lot of work. You can’t pick up a bat and glove and expect to be great at baseball on your first try. Also, why are you holding a bat and a glove at the same time? I’m starting to think you don’t even know what baseball is.
Happiness is a muscle, and with all that’s going on in the world, it doesn’t take an umpire to see why it would atrophy. With consistent daily practice of simple actions, you can finally get the hang of swinging that happiness bat without shying away from the curveballs life continually throws. (Sorry, but not sorry for all the baseball references. I miss it.) Some of these actions aren’t for you, and that’s fine. Just like it wouldn’t make sense for a pitcher to practice being a catcher, you know which actions will work in making yourself happy.
Here are 7 things you can do every day to improve your happiness levels and your mood:
If you’re not good at meditation or if you’re like me when I first started doing it, (I fell asleep EVERY time and my mind would start to wander like, “Argh, baseball is on. I wonder who’s winning? It doesn’t matter – you can watch baseball any time you want, it’s time to meditate.”
Meditation grows your left prefrontal cortex; the part of the brain responsible for making you happy. So if you meditate, you give yourself a little brain boner and you start feeling good. If you’re not sure how to meditate, there are guided meditations on Spotify and YouTube or meditation apps that’ll guide you through. Put in some earbuds undisturbed for around 20 minutes tops – you don’t want to do much longer than that, otherwise, it’s a nap.
2. Find something to look forward to
Granted, this is a little more difficult… now… but get creative with it!
Look forward to your birthday.
Look forward to the next Marvel movie.
Look forward to the next time you’re going to get laid.
Look forward to the 4th of July… 2021.
Look forward to Halloween.
Look forward to getting laid.
Just find things to look forward to!
Schedule a phone call with some friends that you haven’t talked to in a long time, and be sure to put whatever it is on your calendar as a reminder. Sometimes, the anticipation is as good as – if not better than – the actual event.
3. Commit conscious acts of kindness
Altruism decreases your stress levels and contributes to enhanced mental health. If you want to reap the psychological benefits from committing kindnesses for other people, do it deliberately and consciously; not to make yourself feel better. Do it because you ACTUALLY want to help other people. There’s a reason I’m doing this blog post, and it’s not just to entertain myself (it’s just to entertain myself). It has nothing to do with entertaining myself (it has everything to do with entertaining myself). It’s 100% not – I’m FINE. EVERYTHING’S FINE! (It’s not).
4. Infuse positivity into your surroundings
Okay, we don’t necessarily have control over ALL of our surroundings, but we can infuse them with a little positivity and some elements that make us happy. Make your desk at work more fun – whatever that means for you. Pictures of your family? Pictures of someone else’s family? Pictures of your favorite porn star? (When people come to your desk and say, “Oh, I recognize her. Why do you have HER on your desk?” You can respond, “That’s my SISTER! …My STEPsister.” That’s fun, right?) Put lots of plants in your house – make it feel like the Rainforest Café and install misters and strobe lights so it feels like a thunderstorm a few times an hour. Put “Live, laugh, love” on the wall, just so you can remind yourself to do those things. Remember what you do have control over, and adapt those things to your liking.
Run, walk – I dunno – climb a tree? Do some physical activity to get your heart pumping and get endorphins flowing through your body. Are you familiar with the feeling of runner’s high? Those are endorphins, which are a great momentum booster for your day… or so I’m told (I vowed never to work out until baseball comes back).
6. Spend money (but not on stuff)
Spend money on experiences for yourself, or if you want to magnify the effect, use that money to share experiences with people that you care about.
7. Practice signature strengths
Visit viacharacter.org/character-strengths, figure out what YOUR strengths are, and think about all of the ways you’ve used them recently. Think about all of the ways you CAN use them right now. Humor is one of mine, for example. I find the funny in EVERYTHING – almost too many things. I have a podcast (You Can’t Laugh At That) based around it, I perform stand-up, so I’m always writing new jokes, and I do a keynote speaking program based around the power of humor in the workplace. Find ways to use YOUR signature strength.
Just like with baseball, continued practice at happiness makes us better at being happy, so pick just one of the seven things from above and find a way to infuse that into your day. Once you do it with one, do it with a second, and a third, and so on, until you’re so happy that you forget that it’s July and the baseball season still hasn’t started.
Fun fact: each second, your brain receives 11 million bits of information. Out of that, it processes 40 to 50 bits, so it chooses what it takes in. That’s great news because that means each of us is consciously choosing what bits of information to take in.
During this coronavirus crisis, it’s easy to find the negatives because we’re being constantly bombarded by bad news on TV, on social media, or from our friends and family giving us “helpful” updates on the most recent closings. Personally, I’ve been forced out of my service industry job, I’ve had speaking gigs cancelled, and I have no outlet to get on stage and make people laugh. Suddenly, I have all of this free time to swipe, scroll, and get sucked into a vortex of negativity.
NOT SO FAST
Instead, I’ve made it a goal to do my part in making other people smile when there doesn’t seem like there’s a lot to smile about. It gives my days meaning, distracts me from the negative news that I literally can do nothing about, and hopefully creates a different narrative for others, as we experience the same uncertainty.
I want you to know that you have options, no matter how limited they seem. Here are 6 ways to make the most of the coronavirus quarantine.
1. Maintain the Losada Ratio
Psychologist Marcial Losada specializes in using human behavior to develop high performance teams. In his years of hands-on study, he discovered that people perform best when they balance every negative interaction with 3-6 positive ones. Negative moments weigh heavier on our brains because our survival depends on focusing on potential dangers vs. the positives in our environments, hence the 3-6:1 ratio instead of a 1:1 ratio. If we want to outweigh the negatives, we must find 3-6 positives in our lives. Every time you read a negative news story, or are bombarded with a “the end is near” mentality of a loved one, find 3 uplifting news stories, funny memes, cuddle with a pet, send someone an email thanking them, etc. The more you do this, the more you train your brain to find what’s good.
2. Be a positive broadcaster
While the rest of the world is filling the airwaves to the brim with negative, stress-inducing stories. Instead of complaining about this, do your part and share the stories that are going to bring smiles to the faces of others. If it makes you smile, don’t hesitate – SHARE IT! Through all the negative, there’s a lot of people doing good out there. I just got a free oil change and tire rotation as a service offered by Automotive Specialty Services to ease the mental tension of their customers. Last month, after being laid off from my last job, my barber offered me a haircut, calling it a “Getting-Back-On-Your-Feet Cut.” My current workplace is preparing pre-cooked meals for any service industry employees who were laid off due to the quarantine, regardless of where they work. If you find a story like this, don’t keep it to yourself, SHARE IT.
3. Make a daily to-do list
Sitting around watching TV, falling into a YouTube vortex, and playing video games while pounding Miller High Lifes might seem like a good way to distract yourself from the fact that you’re not working, but it’s actually doing more harm than good. Our brains need stimulated so that they’re releasing dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins into our bloodstream; these chemicals counterbalance the stress that can run rampant while thinking about paying bills without work. A simple way to release these “good” neurotransmitters and activate your brain is to set and achieve goals every day. They can be as simple as finishing a book you’ve been reading, putting furniture together, learning something new, meditating daily, or finally organizing that desk. You can be as ambitious as finishing a book you’ve been writing, getting your weight down, or putting together a new resume for after the quarantine is over. Make a list of at least 3-5 things to get done the next day, right before you go to bed.
4. Create Positive Momentum
Hanging around the house in your flannel pants and ratty hoodie is comfortable, sure, but what kind of message are you giving your brain? Communicate that today is going to be a good day to get something done by treating the morning like any other busy morning – except better. Get dressed, exercise, shower, dress your best, eat a healthy breakfast, and get working on your biggest to-do of the day. Whatever you do, don’t turn on the news before you start your day. If you’re going to watch or listen to anything, put on something that motivates you or makes you laugh. Now is as good a time as ever to create new habits.
6. Practice Gratitude
Whenever you feel yourself becoming stressed, depressed, or anxious, find at least one thing you’re grateful for in that moment. For example, when I start thinking about and getting stressed out by what I don’t have, I remember to be grateful for the opportunity to get a bunch of projects finished that I’ve been working on for months, even years. At the very least, right before you go to bed, make a list, mental or physical, of three things you’re grateful for that day. They can be as simple as being grateful for air, water, or the house you live in, just do it as you lie down, so the last thing going through your head is good vibes. It can always be worse, which is why it’s important to consciously remember why it’s always better than it seems.
What we see and how we see it determines how we feel, what we do, and what we get. Shift the first thing and create some positive momentum, even when it seems like doing so is impossible =)
Episode 2 of You Can’t Laugh at That was released yesterday, and it’s a topic that has both inspired and infuriated me for years: the power of words. Growing up, I was confused by the fact that certain words hurt others, but didn’t hurt me, and that other words have hurt me, but didn’t hurt others. Comedy legend George Carlin said it best when communicating his confusion with an arbitrary list of “bad” words: You never know what’s on the list because it’s always somebody else’s list… People’s lists even change day-to-day.
I’ll never forget discovering my first swear words as I marched into my parents’ kitchen after a rigorous day in kindergarten. They had some friends over and I wanted to share my new vocabulary with an audience, so I put my bag on the floor, proudly proclaimed, “Fart penis!” and was whisked into the bathroom to learn what soap tasted like. Though those words aren’t considered bad by most people, that was the day I discovered there are “curse words” that you can get in trouble for saying, but also that these words aren’t cursed by everyone.
In this episode, fellow comedian Steve Mers and I invite the outspoken Dave Flynt onto the show to ask and answer the questions:
What even are words?
Why are some words offensive to some and not to others?
As artists and entertainers with the ability to influence, do we have a responsibility to avoid offending others?
How can we lessen the power of these words so that they don’t hurt anymore?
Literally just noises out of your mouth that creates emotions and actions in others through their subjective understandings and interpretations of them. Because the interpretations are subjective, a word doesn’t have the same effect on one person as it would another person hearing or seeing that word. Society is based on shared stories that bring people together, and we’re a social species, so we needed a shared method of communication, so we decided certain sounds would mean certain things, and language was formed. This caused the exponential growth of the human race, but the subjectivity of meanings can also cause disagreements and conflict.
Tools you can use to do whatever you want, from asking someone to grab you a beer from the fridge, to starting a movement, it all depends on who’s using the tools and what their intention is.
Some words are offensive to some and not to others because…
When it comes to the words we use, we have to remember that others have different life experiences, and that certain words will cause them pain when they mean nothing to the person who uses them. To paraphrase the eloquence of Flynt:”Some people have emotional stuff that makes them feel a certain way. You could be listening to a rap song called “I Fucked Your Bitch,” and if your girl cheated on you 2 weeks ago, that hurts. If you could be the dude who fucked his bitch and you listen to that song, you’re like, “I feel good.”
When we have a conversation, tell a joke, or write a tweet, we have to remember that other people’s feelings are at play and that we don’t share the same experiences and aren’t riding the same emotional wave they are.
As artists and entertainers with the ability to influence…
We have to realize that a comedy set is a roller coaster ride for the audience. If each line has the audience in stitches, those laughs will diminish as the set progresses – there has to be a natural ebb and flow.
We have to realize that the show can be an emotional experience for some. I once did five minutes of funeral jokes and was approached after the show by the woman who booked me that I wasn’t welcome back to present to the group because they had recently lost a member to cancer. At another presentation, I did the funeral bit with rewritten material, and afterwards, an older man who had just lost his wife to cancer shook my hand and thanked me for making it okay for him to laugh. Being wary of the potential sensitivity of the audience pushed me to be more creative in expressing myself.
We can lessen the power of words by…
Realizing that much of the offense comes from societal inequalities. Steve hypothesizes that if we treated everyone equally, there’s less of a reason to feel offended about something because they don’t feel like they’re being subjugated.
Changing the narrative behind the words to dilute their power. Since language is a manmade concept, changing language to move us forward is also a manmade process. If there’s a word that brings people pain, the question isn’t, “How can we stop using the word?” It’s going to be difficult to convince ignorant people to stop using “retarded” negatively, so changing the meaning of the word or creating a new word to describe someone who is developmentally disabled may be a better option.
Stopping the prohibition of certain words. Steve asks an incredibly intriguing question: “Are words like drugs where if you make them legal, they lose their power?” When we dwell on something “offensive,” we give the culprit power over our emotions. It’s not the words that cause the emotion from the listener, it’s the listener’s thoughts about what is said. In eighth grade English class, I used the word “dingus” in a sentence and the teacher and I got two completely meanings out of the word. The word “dingus” is used to refer to something whose name the speaker cannot remember, is unsure of, or is humorously or euphemistically omitting. Even after showing her this definition, she was still furious because she assumed I was referring to a penis and I was given two detentions.
I was totally referring to a penis.
As a comedian, your sole job above all else is to make people laugh. If you’re trying to shock, offend, or subjugate, you’re not doing your job. Remember that certain words trigger certain people, and that you can still make your point – and probably in a much more creative way – if you find a better way to communicate your ideas and what’s funny to you. As Steve puts it, “If you’re not an asshole, convince people you’re not an asshole before you say something that makes people think you’re an asshole.”
Another sideways glance and furrowed brow from a presentation attendee around 25 years my senior after another presentation about how humor makes better leaders: “I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t see why I should change what I’ve always done.” I’m used to this response by now, but at first, it was hard not to snap back, “WERE YOU LISTENING AT ALL!?” Then came the realization that I was tucking a fake mustache and a papal mitre into a suitcase while this sharply dressed, more-successful-than-me executive questioned my credibility. I get it. When you picture a successful business executive, what do you see? How do they carry themselves? Dignified? With importance? Are they stern? Some Mad Men-esque Don Draper figure pops into many minds, but with a little bit of humor and a loosening of the tie, leaders can take an already successful enterprise away from renting a Bentley from Enterprise to blasting off into the cosmos on the Starship Enterprise. A little bit of humor coming from the top can unlock maximum potential in your people, and here are three reasons why:
1. Makes you more approachable
A warm smile and a hearty laugh go a long way to make you appear approachable to the people who call you “boss.” When we’re able to laugh, especially at our own mistakes, it makes you more human, thus more relatable, by communicating to those who may be too shy to come to you with ideas. I hear the platitude, “My office is always open,” from many managers, but just because it’s open, doesn’t mean people feel comfortable coming in. By having the vulnerability to be able to laugh and be open to others laughing at you it makes others actually want to see you succeed as a leader, as long as you’re open to their ideas.
2. Sparks creativity and trust
When people genuinely laugh, it’s when they’re at their most authentic, and seeing someone in a leadership position so open to being real creates a natural sense of trust. When we trust our leaders are authentic, it gives us an intrinsic motivation to want to help them overcome challenges and difficulties or come up with new ideas. If you’ve ever had a boss you’ve loved, you know that feeling of wanting to overdeliver for them. By laughing and being real about your own mistakes, it communicates that your employees don’t have to be perfect. Think about it, would you rather be around someone minding their Ps and Qs and calculating what they’re saying or someone who is real?
3. Reduces sick days
What? How do you reduce sick days by laughing? I don’t want to dive too deep into the biology of what happens when we laugh, but at the very least, it increases blood flow, reduces muscle tension, and massages internal organs. That’s not something a chair at Brookstone or a masseuse at your local strip mall can do. All of these unintended results of laughter being a core part of work allow your employees’ blood pressure to go down so they’re feeling better, taking less time off, and working with a renewed energy.
If what you’ve been doing as a leader all of these years is working, by all means, stick with it! I’m not saying you should overhaul the way you run manage, but you should definitely find more reasons to laugh, especially if it’s at your own mistakes. We’re all human; communicate that it’s okay to be more human to your team and you’ll unlock even more of their potential than you even dreamed.
Humans believe they are rational, when in reality, we act based off of our emotions and then rationalize our actions in hindsight.
Then we claim we’re rational.
We don’t like to “look bad” in front of other people, so we rationalize our behavior when we act in a way that may go against our beliefs, when we belittle another person, or when we get into trouble.
“I fell behind at work because my girlfriend is stressing me out.”
“I was speeding because everyone else was speeding. Besides, the police are preying on people to meet quotas. I’M THE REAL VICTIM HERE!”
“That audience wasn’t there to think, which is why they didn’t laugh. No wonder no one is happy at work, they’re all stuck in the old way of thinking.”
We’ve all looked back at something and thought along the lines of “It couldn’t have been me” or “Something else has to be at work here,” when really, we don’t want to admit that we’ve allowed our emotions to overtake us, and that’s why we acted how we did.
That’s okay! It’s human nature.
It has been wired into our brains since animals have had brains in the first place.
Fight or flight was vital for our survival, but now that we live in safe and abundant environments, our brains have kept this old technology and there’s a disconnect between our emotions and cognitive thought.
The rationalization of emotion-based irrational behavior does three things:
Makes us veer toward ideas that soothe our ego
Makes us look for evidence that confirms what we already want to believe
Makes us see what we want to see, depending on our mood
IT MADE SENSE FOR ME TO PUNCH THAT WALL, WALK OUT OF MY JOB, AND GET IN AN ARGUMENT ABOUT THE PRESIDENT ALL WITHIN 5 MINUTES.
The key to avoid giving into the emotions that lead to doing things we regret is to take a moment and ask ourselves the question “What is objectively true?” Answer with no emotional keywords and no rationalization, just objective facts.
I had a recent presentation not go well, and at first, I rationalized why it didn’t seem to have the impact I wanted. For instance, the audience had just sat down with their lunches the moment I was getting introduced, so it was hard to connect with them since most of their focus was on their food. All of the participation bits and my jokes fell flat because of this… at least that’s what I told myself. Then I watched video of the presentation and realized that the story I was telling myself soothed my ego, was focused on evidence that confirmed my beliefs, and made me see what I wanted to see. None of this helped me other than making me feel temporarily better. However, here are the facts:
I gave a presentation in front of an audience of 100.
It was my first time giving this particular presentation.
I had been up until 3 AM the night before, making changes.
I only ran through the presentation once before actually giving it.
The audience didn’t laugh at my jokes or give me energy.
I stumbled over middle parts of my presentation, had to refer to my notes multiple times, and forgot some important points
The feedback I received reflected these objective facts
Allowing my emotions to dictate my perspective to make me feel better about myself made it impossible to do anything about what had happened. But looking at those objective facts showed me a clear course of action in order to continue to grow as a speaker.
With this knowledge, I gave the same presentation a month ago and have received positive feedback and inquiries about follow-up speaking gigs.
All because I chose to take a step back, admit my irrationality, and look at things as objectively as possible, I improved my long-term situation. We can use our emotions as a tool to ask ourselves “What else could be true?” and “What can I do about it?” That’s how we can bridge the gap between our lizard brain and cognitive thought.
What are the objective facts of a situation in your life that didn’t go your way? How are you rationalizing what happened? What can you do about the new facts you have in front of you?
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.
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?
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.