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.

You’re Being Conditioned Out Of Being Human

Sir Ken Robinson: We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.

What’s the world going to look like in 50 years? Will the entire world, from continent to continent, be connected to free, unlimited wifi? Will formerly barren landscapes burst with lush, sustainably farmed crops, reducing world hunger to zero? Will there be fully green cities, running on renewable energy with carbon emissions at zero? Will there be access to healthcare for anyone who needs it, regardless of socioeconomic status, to lower mortality rates, and nearly eradicate infectious disease? Will a 94-year old Tom Brady break his own record for oldest player to win a Super Bowl MVP?

Many of you are probably thinking, “Those things are impossible,” but before you click out of this article, let me remind you that we’re in the 21st century at the dawn of the Automation Revolution, while the system in which we work and are educated is a 19th century system from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. So, yes, in our current system, those things are impossible, but that isn’t inevitable. Our system is costing us the contribution of millions of people who spend their days driving trucks, making sales, and micromanaging their subordinates, instead of exploring their creativity to discover their true potential.

Rather than lament what isn’t, it’s vital to begin from what is, which is where the work of thinkers such as Sir Ken Robinson come into play. Though Sir Ken unfortunately passed away last week, that doesn’t mean his calls for an education revolution have to pass away with him.

His work is painfully relevant today, because many of the worlds problems stem, not from inequality, systemic racism, or capitalism (though those don’t help), but from receiving an education that doesn’t allow children to explore, play, or embrace their differences. In an industrial world, people are conditioned to be compliant, to memorize facts, and to meet quotas, but human beings are at our best when allowed to explore our creativity. Because we’re taught to not question the way things have always been done, it costs us the opportunity to find ways to make things better.

Remember the embarrassment of answering a question incorrectly in front of the class? Or when you thought you had a great idea, and you were laughed at? Think about how it felt to receive a bad grade on a test or project. In the current system, failure, being wrong, and making mistakes are the worst things a person can do. This conditions the creativity out of children, and we become a world where only 15% of people are engaged at work (Gallup) — a world where over 3 million teens have experienced a depressive episode in the last year (SAMHSA). A world where only 14% of American adults say they’re very happy (University of Chicago).

By conditioning the creativity out of people, people are becoming like the robots that will be taking human jobs, and ironically, to prepare for the incoming wave of automation, people need to be creative. As Sir Ken said in his prophetic first TED Talk from 2007,

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They’ve become frightened of being wrong, and we run our companies like this — we stigmatize mistakes — and we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. The result is that we’re educating people out of their creative capacities.

We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.”

Sir Ken Robinson

Most of you reading this aren’t kids (if you are, go outside and play, you psychopath), but that doesn’t mean you can’t take something away from this: it’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to think outside of the box and get your ideas shot down. It’s okay to be laughed at because you think or do things differently. If we want to leave future generations a world we can be proud of, we’re going make a lot of mistakes, but with each mistake, we’ll be one step closer to a world where children are taught that it’s okay to be themselves, take risks, and make mistakes. If we don’t start taking action now, the world in 50 years won’t feel much different than the world today, and that’s not something we can be proud of.

Don’t Cancel, Question

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

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

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

I’m guilty of it too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empathy: The Starting Point To Building A Better World

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

“What’s it about?”

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

“That’s not really my speed.”

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

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

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

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

Coping With Quarantine: Be Happy Now

Being stuck inside during this quarantine has been trying on my patience because I’m so used to getting out and working at the restaurant, speaking, and doing comedy, I’m ready to pull out the few hairs I have left on my head… but I’m not going to do that – it’s going to be awhile before I can get a haircut.

Being cooped up at home, I decided, “Why not do something to help others who are cooped up?” so I decided to go through some old notebooks and I found notes from the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. It’s an easy and interesting read about positive psychology – the science of happiness – and it’s the book that got me interested in becoming a speaker in the first place. (For a general idea of the topic of the book, check out Achor’s 12-minute TED Talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXy__kBVq1M)

The book begins by talking about how most people follow a formula that we learn when we’re kids, and we keep learning it in school, the media, and our workplaces.

That formula: if we work hard, we’ll become successful, and when we become successful, then we can be happy.

This formula is broken.

If you say, “If I’m successful, then I’ll be happy,” that keeps pushing our happiness further and further out when happiness and optimism actually fuel our performance and achievement. Think about it: do you do better when you’re feeling good, or when you’re stressed out, pissed off, or have coronavirus?

The formula we’re conditioned to believe is actually backwards because, it turns out, it’s happiness that leads to success. If we keep telling ourselves “I’ll be happy when…” then our happiness will always lie in the future because our brains only understand right now, which is why it’s so important to ask ourselves, “How can I be happy now?”

When I first read this, it blew my mind because it made too much sense.

What is positive psychology?

Positive psychology breaks from traditional psychology’s focus on what makes people unhappy and returning them to “normal,” while positive psychology focuses on what makes people thrive and excel. Achor refers to this as “escaping the cult of the average” because typical psychology sees average as the goal for those who fall below that curve instead of looking at those above the curve and asking:

  • “How can we raise the average?”
  • “What makes those above the average so happy and how can more people achieve    that?”
  • “How do their brains work? How do they talk to themselves?”

This spoke to me, man.

Okay, so what are the benefits?

In one study, doctors that were put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis showed almost three times more intelligence and almost three times more creativity than doctors in a neutral state. The positive doctors even made accurate diagnoses 19% faster. Who needs coronavirus tests when you have happy doctors?

Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56% – that’s pretty good.

Our brains are hardwired to perform at their best when they’re positive, and that’s because of the dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins that counteract the cortisol (the stress chemical) that limits our perspective.

The moral of the story

“Once I get out of the house, I’ll be happy.”

“When I get back to work, I’ll be happy.”

Cool, but right now, you’re not out of the house. You’re not working. Saying the above is going to make this quarantine feel like forever. Instead, move that happiness into the present and start looking for even just one thing that makes you happy right now. For example, I have food in my refrigerator, I’m grateful for that, and that gratitude makes me feel good. Saying, “I’ll be happy when…” is like saying, “I’ll be full once I eat,” when you have food right in front of you.

Take a few minutes a day and make a list of things that make you happy, so that when you do get back to work, you’ve got a mental edge and you can help bring others into that frame of mind.

Choose to be happy NOW, so start by finding things that make you happy NOW.

Comment, reach out if you have questions, and share with people you think may benefit from a happiness injection.

Why Are We Teaching Cursive?: School Shootings and Education Overhaul

The other night, I sat down to take care of my 2019 taxes. Armed with my 2018 tax forms and an IRS-sponsored how-to as a reference, I was fairly confident I’d finish up within an hour. Four hours of frustration and stress later, I leaned back in my chair, signed the final dotted line, and sighed, “I wish we learned how to do this in school,” out loud.

Whodathunk that teaching a useful tool for adulthood at some point during elementary, middle, and high school might be a good way to spend some of that 13 years?

Filing taxes isn’t the only skill our education system can teach that would make the world a better place. Sift through Twitter, Facebook, or the comments on YouTube videos for a few minutes. Turn on the news and watch talking heads argue with one another about one person sitting in a certain white house for hours on end.

Perhaps teaching our fragile-minded youth a thing or two about skills they’ll use EVERY DAY like empathy, communication, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and creativity would do them better than learning how to classify species of primates, a skill they’ll never use… unless they become a biologist.

Imagine students graduating college and entering the workforce with the abilities to diffuse conflicts before they even start, to turn disagreement into collaboration, to share the talents they’ve been honing for over a decade in a way that contributes to society.

Or we could keep teaching them cursive.

Kids need to engage their brains, explore, and discover what they’re passionate about, and how to work with other people to share their passions. It’s silly that the system forces children to work alone on tests, projects, and various busy work, while ranking them individually. Then, once they graduate, they have to suddenly work together in groups with others who don’t think like them, and no one has the skillset to collaborate efficiently.

HOW IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS!?

In episode five of the You Can’t Laugh at That podcast, the topic of discussion is school shootings. As comedians, one of our jobs is to point out absurdities and injustices in ways that make people laugh. The fact that younger generations have to go to school worried about a potential shooting is absurd. Yet, nothing is being done about it. Sure, lawmakers are attempting to pass legislation to restrict the purchase of firearms, but an overhaul of our massively outdated education system – a system that was created to control the population during the Industrial Revolution – reaches the core (not Common Core) of the problem.

Shootings are the symptoms of a much larger problem:

  • Kids aren’t being taught actual life skills like how to get along with others who aren’t like them. They’re taught how to fall in line and fit within a societal construct.
  • Children need to collaborate, explore, and be creative, and that need is being stifled in favor of robotic, state-mandated curriculum and standardized tests.
  • Children are punished for their eccentricities and displaying their talents in ways that don’t fit an outdated system.

Do you think there’d be a school shooting problem if students actually looked forward to going to school? No one has ever said, “I love going to school!” Then proceeded to go on a shooting rampage.

What can we do? It’s not like our education system is going to be overhauled overnight. We can:

  • Push our school districts to put more money into art and mental health programs
  • Lobby for schools to push more collaborative classroom learning experiences
  • Vote the legislators out of office who support standardized testing
  • If you have children, support their creative exploration and let them make mistakes. Besides, you’ve made mistakes too. It’s okay to not know all the answers all the time, and your children need you to support them as they search for the answers to their questions. That’s the real education
  • START A CLASS THAT TEACHES KIDS HOW TO DO THEIR TAXES

It takes several small changes, starting in your home and in your community, for any real and lasting change to occur. After a quick glance at our world today, there is a deep need for growth in how we condition our children, and rather than just alleviating the symptoms, it’s time to get to the root of it all.

Also, WHY ARE WE EVEN TEACHING CURSIVE!?

You Can’t Laugh at That episode 4: School Shootings

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-4-school-shootings/id1495600197?i=1000465863089

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

We’re All Irrational. Here’s Why (And How We Can Fix It):

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:

  1. Makes us veer toward ideas that soothe our ego
  2. Makes us look for evidence that confirms what we already want to believe
  3. 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?

Micromanaging? That’s SOOOOO Industrial Revolution

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

I look like an idiot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think About It:

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

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

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

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

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