Vulnerability, Risk, And Comedy At Work: How One Leader Was Able To STAND UP To Traditional Leadership

When it comes to taking risks, the last hour of an all-day management retreat for your team doesn’t seem like it’d be the time or place – they’re tired, their work for the day is done, they feel the sweet release of freedom at their fingertips – when suddenly, it’s ripped away for an extra hour of training. And not just any training, stand-up comedy training.

“If looks could kill, I would’ve died right there on the spot,” recalls Steve Cody, founder and CEO of NYC-based Peppercomm.

Peppercomm is a marketing communications company that prides itself on challenging conventional wisdom when it comes to marketing, and what challenges conventional wisdom more than combining stand-up comedy and managers? Okay, maybe discipline via trial-by-combat, but comedy in the workplace is up there.

Why take such a risk? According to Cody, after performing stand-up for a few years, he began to notice that the skills he learned onstage were actually benefitting him around the office.

“My senses were sharpened by having to read the room, deal with silence, catcalls, and nerves before making a major presentation, so I said, ‘I think this is applicable to the workplace.’”

He’s right.

Peppercomm Hosted Annual Comedy Fundraiser | Peppercomm
Steve Cody performs at Peppercomm’s Annual Comedy Night at West Side Comedy Club (2019)

Comedy, or at the very least, laughter in the workplace, has been proven to generate results for those organizations who place high value in humor. According to a Huet & Associates study, organizations who used humor to engage employees reported shareholder returns 19% higher than their competitors. A study by market research company Ipsos found a correlation between employee retention and the sense of humor of the managers at those organizations – imagine all that time and money you’d save on recruiting and onboarding with lower turnover rates. And a study published in The Journal Of Managerial Psychology discovered a direct correlation between a supervisor’s use of humor and employee performance, engagement, collaboration skills, and satisfaction. Leaders who use humor were also perceived as better performers and more likable.

The effects of humor at work are clear, so even though Cody’s managers were initially resistant to the idea of comedy training, they didn’t take long to come around.

“You could see everybody pulling for one another,” remembers Cody, “so it became part and parcel of our training program.” Now, Peppercomm uses his outside-of-the-box, culture-building, shared experience a few times a year to train new hires or employees moving up in the organization, and they even offer the training to clients. Because of this unique cultural cornerstone, Peppercomm has a competitive edge over more serious marketing firms when it comes to attracting potential clients and hires. More than once, Cody has heard, “You made us laugh,” when closing a deal with a new client, so needless to say, his risk to introduce comedy to his team had more than paid off. Not only has it helped attract new clients, but it has also landed Peppercomm on many “Best Places To Work” lists, including Forbes, Crain’s, and Inc., which makes the firm a destination for the PR world’s creative up-and-comers.

The gamble could’ve easily backfired on Cody, but he doesn’t look at taking risks from such a doomsday, “What if it all goes wrong?” perspective. Another powerful lesson the average non-comedian can learn from stand-up is that it’s okay to fall on your face when you try something new, and this willingness to be vulnerable and honest in pursuit of a goal can serve as a catalyst for growth.

As the old adage goes: it’s about the Journey, not Steve Perry.

Okay, maybe that joke didn’t work, but I had to at least take the risk and include it. If you didn’t laugh, I’m okay with that because instead of wasting energy and speculating on “What would’ve happened if I included the joke?” I now have the answer and can learn from it… and never say that again.

OR find a new way to say it better.

OR include it as part of a longer joke.

In today’s workplace, vulnerability and the willingness to think outside-of-the-box are vital leadership skills for adapting to changing times, and when things don’t go according to plan, your team will look to you for guidance.

“I allow all of my employees to see me fail, and fail miserably,” remarks Cody.

Come again?

“You’ve got to be a little more human and authentic.” But what about the idea that leaders have to be strong and have all of the answers?

In short, this perspective of leadership is outdated. With the development of virtual and AI technology disrupting the status quo of work and new challenges popping up seemingly on the hour, agility is a much more valuable leadership skill than rigidity in the modern workplace, and the first step to being agile is to come to terms with the fact that you may be wrong sometimes… and that’s okay!

Not only is it okay, it’s more than okay in today’s world. With technology speeding up the way we work, we have to hang onto our humanity in the workplace, and the best way to do that is by being open to your own imperfections and being willing to laugh about them.

Peppercomm Inc. | Crain's New York Business
Source: Crain’s New York Business

“People want the truth and want to be treated as peers, which is difficult if you’re in the CEO spot. But the beauty of comedy is that it level-sets. It personifies and humanizes the CEO in a way that nothing else can.”

By taking a risk and trying something new, so much can go wrong, but if you’re open to laughing about it, not only will you be quicker to adjust, your people are more likely to have your back. According to Cody, employees expect vulnerability, humanity, and open-mindedness in their leaders.

As a comedian, if you’re willing to put yourself on the level of your audience and connect with them as an authentic human being – rather than performing by memory, or lecturing them on the way you see the world – you build trust. Once an audience trusts you, when one of your ideas doesn’t connect, they stay on board and are rooting for you to adjust and succeed with your next joke. Some comedians will badger an audience for not laughing, others will plug on in a rote, rehearsed way, but the ones who can take that bombed joke and build audience trust on a non-laugh by turning the attention to their own failure – those are the greats.

Just like performing stand-up, being a leader is rooted in being a human being first, and being a human means making mistakes.

Leaders: ask yourself, with whom would you rather work side-by-side? The person who works the same way every day, who has tall of the answers and never admits when they’re wrong? Or the person who is willing to try new things, who has questions and admits that they don’t have all of the answers, and is sometimes willing to laugh at themselves?

Be the leader you’d rather work with – that’s who your employees need you to be.

According to Cody, “The companies and leaders that’ll come out of this [pandemic] with the most success are the ones who show that they care. You need to let [your employees] know that it’s okay to not be okay.”

With this leadership mindset, you have permission to present your wild, outside-of-the-box idea to your team, and even if it fails miserably, remember, that’s what makes all of us human.

Watch the full interview HERE.

For more about Steve and Peppercomm, visit peppercomm.com

If you’re a leader and you want to develop to benefit from the results of using humor in the workplace, click here to set up a free consultation with Water Cooler Comedy.

Humor Isn’t The Same Thing As Comedy? I Don’t Get It

When I bring up the subject of humor, what is the first thing that pops into your head?

A comedy show?

Telling jokes?

The fact that the British need a second ‘u’ in the word?

Whatever it may be, I just wanted to clear something up: humor (or humour) is not the same thing as jokes, comedy or even funny, so what is it?

Humo(u)r is an internal process that solves the tension of two competing thoughts by connecting them in new and unexpected ways.

Jokes are one way to connect these competing thoughts. Explained simply: all jokes are a form of humor, but not all humor is jokes.

Funny: Connecting competing thoughts may produce some unexpected results, which can lead to laughter, but the outcome of using humor need not always be funny.

Sense of humor: If you have a good sense of humor, it means you’re open to the idea of multiple unique ways of these competing thoughts. For example, if you laugh when someone teases you about losing your hair, you’re both holding onto your elevated sense of self-importance while being open to someone else’s observations. You can see the connection, and you’re willing to not hold so tightly to preconceived notions.

Comedy: The practice, science, and art of connecting two unlike thoughts — the setup to the punchline — until it generates laughter from an audience through repeated trial, error, and revision. Comedy can certainly include jokes, though they’re not always necessary, but a comedian must have a sense of humor. If a comic fails to work out the connections between his or her incongruous thoughts, there’s no way an audience will make those connections either, and everyone will be sitting in silence, wondering why this weird person is talking at them.

I hope this helps you put the ‘u’ in humor.

Register for FREE Webinar: “9 Guidelines For Incorporating Humor Into Your Workplace” https://bit.ly/2WcKYur

Why This Election Doesn’t Matter… Yet

It might be just a rock, but it’s OUR rock (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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.”

— Carl Sagan

Is Donald Trump Getting COVID Funny?

Is this funny? (Source: Slate)

No.

But also yes.

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, 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.

Put The ‘Comfort’ In ‘Discomfort’

I don’t mean to brag, but my mask collection is thriving right now. Back in March, I bought a pack of 12 different colored bandanas, and I’ve been able to pair each one of them to complete so many different ensemble combinations. They’re the accessory I never knew I needed (After typing that, I now understand why people regularly ask if I’m gay).

Speaking of an abundance of something, I have about thirty minutes of new stand-up material since the pandemic began. Most of it stems from my experience getting COVID, visiting the hospital, and how others have responded to world events. Sure, I’m still working on honing it onstage in front of socially distanced audiences, and it’s not all great yet, but the more I do it, the more I’m getting comfortable with what’s funny, what connects with people, and what doesn’t.

I haven’t done an in-person speaking presentation since the second week of March, but I have given some virtual presentations. Sure, I wish I could have a live back-and-forth with the audience and really get a feel for the energy in the “room,” but I’m learning to love the live interaction I get with Zoom’s chat feature. The last few months have been spent transitioning my speaking business to a virtual level, and it seems to be picking up some steam.

Nothing is as it was, but everything can be adjusted to. My life has turned upside down (not a breach baby joke), and now that I’ve shifted to looking for opportunities to adjust and grow, I’m finding normalcy in disruption instead of pining for normalcy.

And you can too.

That’s the beauty about us human beings: we’re incredibly resilient to change. If our ecosystem drastically shifts — say a volcano erupts, a drought strikes, or a pandemic rages — we have the ability to course correct faster than any other species. With the advent of the internet and our ease of access to an infinite amount of information, when a pandemic strikes and our way of life is disrupted, there’s an abundance of opportunities to adapt if we so choose. Our way of life is shifting to one with constantly evolving technology based in algorithms far beyond our grasp, and, within the next decade, our lives will be disrupted by this on a regular basis. COVID-19 is just a sample — a test, if you will, and I’m worried because of the amount of resistance to change I’ve witnessed.

But we’ve lived lives of general complacency, which actually works against our very own DNA.

At the dawn of the agricultural revolution some 12,000 years ago, humans were hunters and gatherers, built to adapt to daily uncertainty. “Will the weather shift and bring a great storm? Will I be bitten by a snake or eaten by a tiger? Will the herd of deer we saw yesterday still be in the valley so we can eat for the next few days?” Before humans settled down in fixed locations to farm, they were much happier, much more in-tune with their bodies and the world around them, had healthier diets, fewer instances of disease, and generally lived more rewarding lives. Anthropologists hypothesize that hunter-gatherers in the world’s most inhospitable climates worked only 35–45 hours a week and didn’t have to worry about mundane household chores (How can vacuuming be mundane when there’s the threat of getting mauled by a saber-toothed tiger?). Once humans settled down to farm, they began performing the same tasks on a daily basis, falling into mind-numbing routines. In many locales, the people depended on a limited number of crops, so that their diets actually reduced their lifespans, and they were infected by diseases originating in livestock. In today’s world, we settle down in one locale for many years at a time, enjoy the same foods, interact with the same people, and work the same jobs, sometimes doing the same task ad nauseam every day for the entirety of our adult lives.

We’re meant to explore, learn new things, and deal with daily uncertainty, yet we’ve shoehorned ourselves into a society set on status quo. Because of this, we resist uncertainty, which goes against our biology, instead of embracing who we were meant to be as a species, learning and adapting. Once a volcano erupts, early humans were quick to relocate to a safer place. Today, the volcano is this pandemic, and we’re insisting on staying in the path of a slow-moving lava stream while we choke on volcanic ash and refusing to wear masks. If we want to survive and thrive in the automation era, we can’t pine for the way the world used to be. To be happy, successful, and connected as human beings — since we’re all going through this on some level — it’s time to, not only get comfortable with discomfort, but embrace it.

Also, you too can crush the bandana-mask look.

7 Ways To Raise Your Happiness Levels In The Middle Of A Pandemic

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:

1. Meditate

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.

5. Exercise

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.

Play Ball!

I mean be happy!

When it Comes to Jokes, How Soon is Too Soon?

Life is full of ups and downs. Without the ebbs, we wouldn’t appreciate the flows, and when things are down, they can seem really down. In the face of tragedy and trauma, sometimes the last thing we want to do is laugh, but sometimes, that’s the jolt we need to shake ourselves out of a slump. At the end of the opening monologue for the first episode of Saturday Night Live after 9/11, executive producer Lorne Michaels asked Rudy Giuliani, “Can we be funny?” Giuliani quipped back, “Why start now?” which immediately broke the tension and heaviness that hung in the air. Collectively, it seemed as though America breathed a sigh of relief.

In the age of social media, when tragedy strikes, comedians, wannabe comedians, and basically anyone with access to a smart phone take to Twitter to joke about it. Many are in poor taste, many are cringeworthy, and very few actually do what the Giuliani did on that night in 2001. As he was flanked by first responders, he cut the tension with one punchline (whereas now, he creates tension every time he appears on a TV screen).

Which begs the question: how soon is too soon to joke about something?

The answer to this question has been debated for forever, and it can’t measured in days, months, or years. Whether a joke is too soon is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Too soon can be better measured by combination of the teller’s intent, the target audience, the trust built with that audience, the framing of the joke, and the target of the punch line. Whether you’re a comedian on stage, a random person tweeting about a tragedy, or searching for a way to console a friend or coworker, these are the questions you should ask yourself:

What is the intent of your joke?

A comedian’s job is to make people laugh. Even though sometimes it may seem to be to shock, offend, or gross out an audience, the goal of these jokes is always laughter, and through a trial and error process at open mics and bar shows with very few laughs, the goal of funny is either reached, or the joke is abandoned. For me, the biggest reward of getting a laugh is the fact that I have succeeded in making a connection with others. I’ve shown them that funny does exist, even in the darkest corners of life, and that from that darkness can come release. If the goal is simply to offend, shock, or disgust, think twice about opening your mouth or hitting “send.”

Who is the audience?

If you want to make your audience laugh, you first have to know who your audience is, whether you’re speaking to a room full of people, or saying something in jest to one person.

One of my first speaking gigs was for a group in Richmond, Indiana. In that presentation, I had a joke about the negative spirals our brains can take us down when we’re stressed, and the joke ends with me joining a cult because “I can never turn down free Kool Aid,” which almost always gets a laugh. In this case, the audience stared back with nary a smile, and I had no idea why until we reached the Q&A portion of the program. A woman’s hand shot up in the air, and with a quiver of subdued anger in her voice, she scolded me: “Jim Jones is from Richmond. Some of us in this room lost loved ones in the Jonestown Massacre.” I had no idea. My face turned fruit punch red;

Since then, you better believe I read the room and adjust my material accordingly before I get on stage. A few weeks ago, I spoke at a luncheon, and as the meeting was about to start, the meeting planner made me aware of a table of nuns seated in the front of the room. Instead of powering through the program, I switched out a few of the more PG-13 punchlines and had a great presentation without alienating anyone. I even snuck in a double entendre at the end that made the table of nuns double over in laughter. Why? Because before I told the joke, I asked the question:

Have you built trust with the audience?

I could spend 1000 words talking about how building trust with someone is more important than the content of your funny line, but I’ll boil it down to just a couple of points.

  • Communicate that you empathize with your audience. See where they’re coming from before you share where you’re coming from. This is vital whether you’re performing at a comedy show, or just having a 1-on-1 interaction.
  • Be sure to approach them from equal footing – if you make it seem like you’re preaching or talking down, it makes it harder for the two of you to see from the same angle.
  • Do they know you’re funny? If I’m in front of an audience, I never start with the edgy material until we’ve all shared a laugh at my own expense or at the absurdity of everyday life, so we’re now on the same page. If you barely know someone and you find out they’re going through a rough patch, even if you want to make them laugh, it’s abrasive to just introduce yourself, then go right into your jokes.

How are you framing the joke?

Again, your goal is to make your audience laugh, but the tragedy or trauma in itself isn’t funny. It rarely is, even if there is humor to be found. For example, Giuliani’s joke wouldn’t have worked if it weren’t for such a heavy tragedy. Without explicitly mentioning 9/11 in the setup or punchline, though it was implied, that way, when the punch came at the expense of Michaels and SNL, everyone exhaled deeply. More recently, Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash along with eight others. Since then, I’ve been using that tragedy as the vehicle of a joke about my mom always calling me to deliver bad news. The joke isn’t framed to make light of the tragedy, the tragedy is framed to make light of my experience of it.

Who is the target of the punchline?

The intent of the above Kobe joke is to make people laugh, I perform it in front of audiences who want to laugh, I place the joke at the end of my set so that the audience already trusts that I’m funny, I use the tragedy as a vehicle to get to the punchline, and the punchline never comes at the expense of the victim. It takes the tension and releases it in a way that makes the audience feel better for having laughed. After my Aunt Kristie was killed in 2009, I was able to make light of the situation, not by making light of the tragedy or by poking fun at her, but by making light of the weird ceremonies we have to mourn the dead, by making light of the idiocy of her murderers, and about how I don’t have the tact to make people laugh in the face of tough times.

You don’t have to be a comedian to practice these tips. The next time you want to break the tension after a tough meeting, someone’s hard day, or after a tragedy, ask yourself the above questions and help make the world a better place by making one person smile at a time.

Hear more on the topic and listen to the above Kobe joke in this bonus episode of “You Can’t Laugh At That” on Spotify. If you enjoy, follow the podcast on Spotify – we post new episodes every Monday.

Thanks for reading and enjoy!

You Can’t Laugh at That Recap: Comedy and the Power of Words

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?

Words are…

  • 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.”

This goes for comedy and everyday life.

Listen, comment, follow, and share on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0uivwpcpfokYkTBsOKepz5?si=8CA86iyAST6Nj86Whc5T1g

or Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-2-the-power-of-words/id1495600197?i=1000463781993

You CAN Laugh At That

My last name is Horning.

That’s where it started.

With a last name like that, you naturally get picked on when you’re a kid, and I learned at a young age that because my last name was Horning, therefore, I must be “horny.”

I didn’t know what that meant.

I was in kindergarten, so there was no context for “horny.”

You don’t experience “horny” when you’re six, so I imagined a Viking helmet, a bull, or a trumpet, and I was none of those things, so I resisted the name-calling.

And instead of solving the problem, it made it worse.

And the more I resisted, the more I became an easy target.

Until one day, I decided that enough was enough.

I decided to lean into the bullies and it flipped the script completely.

They were like, “Your last name’s Horning, you must be horny,” and I was like, “I am.”

And it worked.

Because no one wants to pick on the horny kid.

The horny kid is unpredictable.

The moment I start dry humping pillows at your birthday, is the moment you stop calling me “Horny Dave.”

It solved my bullying problem.

Because if we get into a fight, I’ll defend myself, but if I get a boner and you win the fight, I win the fight.

That’s a risky proposition.

This taught me that when shit hits the fan, instead of resisting, lean into it.

Once you do that, you realize that even though you may be struggling at any given moment, there are an infinite number of other ways to examine the situation, discover new information, try something new, and overcome it.

This realization has the power to flip your mental script, not only making the shit more bearable, but making it exciting.

You can power through to the other side and do something about it because now, you see that another side exists.

When I leaned into my last name, I learned that leaning into the situation instead of pushing back took away the power that other people had over my happiness.

Leaning in and rolling with the punches life throws has gotten me through bad days, stress, anxiety, failure, heartbreak, loss, and even death (not mine).

The wave of relief that comes with the realization that there’s another side to any situation is a gift that laughing gives, and that’s why I do comedy.

It makes me feel good and I want to share that with you.

It’s why I speak.

It’s why I started a podcast.

It’s why I’m writing this.

No matter where you are and no matter what’s going on, know that somewhere, somehow, there’s something funny, and as soon as you’re ready, give yourself permission to find it and laugh.

Remember that you can laugh at that, and when you do, it makes you stronger and happier… even if you are a trumpet.

*Below is the first episode of my podcast “You Can’t Laugh at That” with fellow comedian Steve Mers. If you’re a comedian, a fan of comedy, or you’re looking for fresh perspectives on controversial or overplayed topics, there’s something for you in every episode. New episodes drop every Monday, and we dive in headfirst with our first where Steve and I break down transgender jokes, exploring what’s funny, what’s not, why, and how to find fresh angles that prove you CAN laugh at that.*

Listen here:
If you enjoy, follow on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Libsyn.
Like it on Facebook:
Follow on Twitter:
Share with your friends.
And most importantly, enjoy!

Thank you!

4 Reasons Why The Office Clown Is Important To The Workplace

In school, I took more than my fair share of trips to detention and, as a result, received a fair share of admonishment from my parents after coming home with notes from teachers.

“You don’t want to be the class clown, do you?”

“You don’t need to talk out in class – you have a D in math.”

“Stop trying to be funny all the time. It’s not going to get you anywhere”

They also used to tell me that I couldn’t possibly make a living playing video games while 176 gamers are out there mashing buttons for six figure salaries (esportsearnings.com).

Now that I’ve fully embraced my role as class clown, I’m here to spread the good news: if you’re the class clown, KEEP GOING.

And if you’re a manager who has a class clown on your hands, LEAN INTO IT.

I’m not saying to head to your local open mic and try your hand at stand-up comedy (unless you really want to), but I am saying that there are benefits to being the class clown in the workplace. Whether you’re the class clown or you’re in a leadership position and trying to figure out what to do about the class clown in your workplace, lean into the laughs. Don’t worry, there are ways to utilize it as a tool to improve your culture. According to a study reported in The International Journal of Humor Research, office jokers were considered invaluable team members by coworkers and managers. Here are 4 reasons why:

1. They provide stress relief

Have you ever had a stressful day at work where it seemed like everything was going wrong when suddenly, a beautiful angel came swooping into your office and made you laugh so hard you forgot you were having a terrible day? Sometimes, it’s just what the doctor ordered, and stifling your resident joker’s ability to do this can be harmful for office morale. A quick shot of dopamine in the form of a joke making light of the day can offset some of the demoralizing effects of stress and give us a jolt of perspective.

2. They’re integral in building a strong culture

So you say you want to attract and retain the best and brightest applicants. In various surveys and polls, millennials would rather work somewhere where their work carries meaning and allows room for creativity over a company that just pays well. In a world where companies are competing with, not only their competitors down the street, but on the other side of the country to hire the best talent, culture plays a vital role. If potential hires can see that you not only allow your people to showcase their creativity and humor, but you embrace it, they’re more likely to be excited about your potential partnership. As an added bonus, office jokers naturally put fun twists into stories about the company, thus playing a key role in keeping the corporate history alive.

3. They question authority without subverting it

As a manager, life becomes easier when you give someone a task and they respond, “Yes, right away!” But sometimes, believe it or not, your employees may have a better idea for how things could be done since they have a different perspective of their jobs than you. For many managers, the thought of employees not being subservient to every request and demand can be scary, but fear not, because questions can often bring better answers and ideas than your people blindly nodding along with everything you say. You don’t want blatant insubordination, but there’s a difference between that and your office joker poking holes in the legitimacy of your commands. Along with this openness, you must be vigilant about being open to new ideas. If you’re going to be open to your authority being questioned, you better make it clear that:

  • those who question you damn sure better have a new idea that improves upon yours
  • you have a forum for employees and coworkers to come to you with ideas and you LISTEN and try to improve upon them when necessary

otherwise, people will have trouble taking you seriously.

4. They push boundaries

Bringing humor into a professional setting carries with it many risks, but in today’s world of rapid and continuous expansion, taking risks is one of the most important actions for keeping your organization ahead of the curve. When you embrace office jokers, especially when you’re comfortable with their challenges, this signals to the rest of the office that you’ve got an open mind when they try new things, which is a natural human tendency. With risks come failure, which is where your leadership is most important. When your people fall short with their new ideas, it’s up to you to help them discover new ways to course correct by utilizing objective facts – not subjective emotions –  from which they can learn. Human beings learn more from messing up than from everything always going to plan. Allowing the office joker more freedom in itself is a risk, but if the strategy initially doesn’t work out, it gives you the wisdom to respond in a new way, which communicates the important act of showing, not telling. By course correcting yourself, you serve as an example for how your people should respond when their ideas don’t work. After all, this is a team effort – no matter if your role is manager, clown, or both.