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.

 

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.

What the Cavs Championship Taught Me About People

Sports!

Just mindless idiots trying to put a sphere into a circle while the other mindless idiots wearing a different colored shirt are all like, “I don’t want you to put that in there,” while thousands of mindless idiots watching are all screaming “We want you to put that in there!” Right?

Not so fast.

I grew up watching, playing, and getting emotionally invested in sports. I’ve always loved sports, but I’ve recently expanded my perspective of them and grown a bit more distant.

“What’s the point? It’s not like you have any control over what happens.”

Maybe not, but if this is your worldview on sports, you may want to take a step back and reconsider your perspective. It’s not the athletes, gameplans, deals, performance, or even the sport itself that’s so important; it’s the group mentality in pursuit of one thing: a championship.

When the Cavs won, thousands of people took to the streets of Cleveland in celebration, hugging, high fiving, chanting, and screaming with joy in the face of complete strangers without getting punched in the face. Being a witness to this completely shifted my perspective. We can learn something here that has a further reach than any sports championship could ever reach:

Togetherness.

When people have a common goal and believe in the achievement of that goal, they come together. In the case of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it took a combined effort from the team itself, the coaching staff, front office, trainers and equipment managers, and ownership to reach their collective goal. As for the fans, while only a few thousand could cheer their team on in the arena, the rest took to the internet, packed local bars, or sat around their TVs, sending their positive energy in hope of reaching this collective goal. When the goal was achieved, there was such a sense of joy, love, excitement, and positive energy, that people who would never associate with one another were high fiving and hugging in celebration. Then, a few days later, over one million people packed the streets of Cleveland to share their appreciation for the team.

Looking down on the celebration in the streets after the game from a rooftop bar, I couldn’t help but think: “What if this collective effort and togetherness were to be re-directed toward creating positive solutions to other problems? What if companies came together as one cohesive unit to solve financial issues, rather than just the board making cuts?” (Although a celebratory parade might be a bit extreme: “Come join us for the Hazen, Hazen, & Hazen-Hazen Law Firm Victory Parade for the New Break Room Soda Machine!”) A collective mindset is more likely to create a collective solution. Whether it’s in the workplace, with family or friends, or even with the government.

“What if this collective effort and togetherness were to be re-directed toward creating a better life for each of us?” Looking at the major issues facing the world with this upcoming election, what if we looked at issues like immigration, not as Democrats, Republicans, rich, poor, Christians, Muslims, Latinos, or even Americans; but as fans of living peacefully. That’s what we all want. It’s our NBA Championship; our collective goal.

If so many people from different walks of life can descend upon a city in pursuit of the common goal of a sports championship, what can we do to come together in pursuit of the common goal of a higher quality standard of living?

What if we looked, not at our differences, but at our similarities, and embraced those?

People would be high fiving, hugging, and sharing their joy with strangers. Sports has nothing to do with mindless idiots. Quite the contrary, in fact. It’s a microcosm of life and what happens when people come together in pursuit of a common goal.

 

Majoring in Minor Things

Why Focusing on the Little Things Blocks Out the Big Picture

My return flight to New York City was set to leave from Akron-Canton Airport at 5:00 PM. It was 2:30 and I had just realized that I forgot my contact lenses, glasses case, toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, and vitamins at my girlfriend’s apartment in Cleveland, 45 minutes away from my parents’ house, which was another half hour away from the airport. What I should have been doing was enjoying the last couple of hours in Ohio with my family. What I was doing instead was imagining spending the next couple of months blindly fumbling around New York City with God-awful breath, an unkempt beard, and a weak immune system. There was frantic pacing, unnecessary cursing, and, “Oh God, I’m going to miss my flight! Is my girlfriend going to break up with me over this!?” I had my keys in my hand and was on my way to my car, ready to make the hour and a half trek to and back from Cleveland when my dad suggested I slow down and think everything through. I needed that. Because I let these unchecked thoughts have a field day in my brain, I completely forgot that I had six pairs of extra contacts at my New York apartment and could buy everything else at literally any pharmacy. Crisis averted.

It didn’t have to be a crisis though. Now, any time I’m confronted with a minor obstacle, I’ve learned to slow down and ask myself a couple of questions. “Is this fantasized prediction of the future guaranteed to come true? Is this worth the stress I’m putting myself through?” The answer to both questions is always no. When we’re immersed in a seemingly stressful situation, it’s not always easy to stop for a few seconds and realize there are better options than the worst-case scenario that we project inside of our heads. Any time something goes wrong, it doesn’t mean everyone we know is going to hate us, it means we have an opportunity to grow by weighing out worst-case scenario, probable scenario, and best-case scenario, and then choosing our next move accordingly. Personally, I prefer best-case. Looking back, we’ve all made it through every stressful situation intact, so we shouldn’t allow these “panic-inducing” situations to loom so large in front of us. They’re never as serious as we make them seem.

Stressing out actually reduces the number of options of actions we consider taking because we’re so focused on the potential ramifications of the problem (which are all imagined), we filter out many possible (and logical) solutions. In fact, according to a study done at the University of Toronto, our line of vision is actually worse when we’re in a negative state of mind!^1 I was producing a sketch comedy show at Carolines on Broadway, and two nights before the show, my computer crashed. If anything was a panic-inducing situation for me, this had the potential to be the Titanic (no offense to those on board the Titanic – I’m not minimalizing your situation, I’m just being dramatic). I needed to use my laptop for music cues and sound effects, and with the super-important dress rehearsal just hours away, my initial reaction was pounding my fists on the desk and shouting, “No, no, no, no, nonononono, not now!” I felt my brain start running away with stinkin’ thinkin.’ “The show is ruined! We’re going to have to cancel! All of this hard work for nothing!” But I remembered the famous forgotten contact debacle, asked myself, “Is this fantasized prediction of the future guaranteed to come true? Is this worth the stress I’m putting myself through?” Just like that, I stopped my panicking brain from deciding on anything rash and took a much-needed moment to really weigh my options. Worst-case: I throw my computer against the wall and do the show without music or sound effects, ruining everything! Probable: someone else downloads the sound effects and music and we use their computer to run the show. Best-case: I take my computer to the Genius Bar and get it back in time for the show. I chose the latter and my computer was repaired and ready to go literally minutes before the pivotal final dress rehearsal.

We’re faced with problems and obstacles, big and small, every day. If we spend our time thinking about how bad the problem is, no matter how small, it takes over our lives and has a dramatic impact on what happens next. Basing our choices on imagined future worst-case scenarios that aren’t even guaranteed to happen causes us to forget to focus on right now. As a result, the actual solution becomes ever-evasive and we create a self-fulfilling prophecy based on decisions made in a stressed-out state of mind. Take a breather, ask yourself the questions, and imagine a future where the result is the best-case scenario. I guarantee the next action you take will help guide you there if you let it.

1: Elias, C., & Luke, K. (2009, June 2). People Who Wear Rose-Coloured Glasses See More. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
http://www.artsci.utoronto.ca/main/news-archives/people-who-wear-rose-coloured-glasses-see-more/