Why Characters? Perspective and Sketch Comedy

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

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

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

That sentence was 134 characters.

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

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

Because everyone, even you, is a character.

Vote for the Person, Not the Party

“You have to vote Republican, David.”
“How could you vote for any Republicans?”

These were two messages I’ve received this week from two people I care deeply about when politics came up in our conversations. Neither of them could understand why I wasn’t voting along party lines – something I used to do when I first started voting. Through extensive research and experience, I’ve learned that my beliefs do not adhere to strict party lines. My ideologies lie within both parties because they are founded on basic tenets of human behavior, not politics. When I chose to major in political science, I thought I wanted to eventually run for office in order to make the world a better place, but what I really learned was that politics was about winning, not making others better.
This shook my foundation, and I realized that to make the world a better place, we must work together to promote ideologies beyond politics – ideologies that are human.

These are the ideologies that will make people, and the world as a whole, a better place. However, political affiliation has clouded our vision, and we get into arguments over who is right and who is wrong, completely ignoring the fact that we both want to live in the same world. Every human being, regardless of ideology wants to live a life of happiness, autonomy, safety, abundance, accomplishment, meaning, love, trust, connection, and engagement, but each of us has our own methodology and beliefs of how to create this life. Focusing on this, rather than what we want, is what divides us, and the current political climate and constant onslaught of propaganda is widening that division.

I’m not writing this to change your mind or to tell you who to vote for, I’m writing this to inform you of the human qualities that have and will create a world, country, and community filled with happiness, autonomy, safety, abundance, accomplishment, meaning, love, trust, connection, and engagement. Ask yourself, not if the person you’re voting for is Republican or Democrat, but if they exhibit the following, which transcend political ideology:

· Vision: Is there a goal? Is their focus on creating a world of the above qualities? Or are they focused on simply defeating the opponent?
· Openness: Do they consider the perspectives and well-being of others who are unlike them? Or do they belittle and ignore these perspectives because it doesn’t fit their ideology? Do they surround themselves with the best people or do they foster a culture of groupthink by surrounding themselves with yes-men and ass-kissers?
· Accountability: Do they have a history of owning their mistakes and shortcomings? Or do they place blame on others, events, and the political climate?
· Growth: When they make mistakes, do they consistently take new actions that prove that they’ve learned? Or do they continually make the same mistakes over and over?
· Innovation: Do they have new ideas and take risks with an eye toward making the world a better place? Or do they stick to the safe confines of the status quo, so as not to rock the boat?
· Optimism: When confronted with a problem, do they see it as a challenge to learn to be better? Do they see it as a necessary part of making the world a better place? Or do they see it as an obstacle that should be eliminated?
· Leadership: Are they focused on making other people better, inspiring a culture of trust and togetherness, taking ownership of defeats, and giving credit to others in the face of victory? Or are they more concerned with boosting themselves, spreading a culture of division and mistrust, spreading blame in the face of defeat, and taking credit for victories?
· Service: Is their focus on building up other people and inspiring the importance of better service and being able to serve more people? Or are they concerned with building a bigger name for themselves and spreading the emphasis of making more money over serving others?
· Connection: Are they willing to bridge the gap with others who are resistant to them and overcome differences through a focus on common goals? Do they see the individual behind political affiliation, gender, race, religion, and economic standing? Do they see other people for their potential? Do they encourage others to unite when their differences come into play? Or are they resistant to differences, focusing on what they don’t have in common with others? Do they see other people as stereotypes instead of as individuals? Do they see people for their problems and shortcomings? Do they set people against one another?
· Integrity: Do they have a history of following through with promises and owning up when they are unable to? Or do they avoid questions, skirting blame in order to take less of a hit on their character?
· Honesty: Do they tell the truth and create a culture of trust founded on reality? Or do they try to make themselves seem bigger and better, creating a culture of mistrust not founded on reality?

I am not voting for a political party this election, I’m voting for the human qualities in which I believe. If you want to create a better world, I strongly encourage you to do the same. Sure, each candidate is flawed, but if we focus on these flaws, it will be incredibly difficult to create the world we all want. Take the time to learn about each candidate, and vote for whichever person exhibits the above qualities, but also remember to exhibit these qualities in your everyday life too. Don’t leave it up to the politicians to create a better world when you have the power to make your own world better and inspire those around you to do the same.

People Are Good, But We Can Do Better

After a pretty rough week in terms of current events last week, wouldn’t it be nice to have full confidence and trust in other people to help make the world a better place?

Lately, there seems to be a growing distrust of others, especially those who are unlike us, and that’s not a world I’m comfortable living in, because it goes against our human nature.
Here’s the thing: all people are born good, so it’s our natural state of being.
The fact that we’re all inherently good is the reason we’re at the top of the food chain: we’ve come together as a species to build a system of trust and a society, and the only way we could conceivably do this is by working together. Humans are better when we have strong social ties, since teamwork is the evolutionary trait that has allowed us to rule the planet.
The way I’ve been seeing people treat one another is getting away from that and it worries me.

Once we’re born, our culture, loved ones, and education condition us and we start to lose our innate tendency to help others in lieu of developing behaviors centered around how right and righteous we are, while proving wrong those who don’t believe and act the same as us.
I want to live in a world where we focus on helping each other build better people and communities, but that’s tough to do when we’re distracted by the forces dividing us.

How do we build that world?
What if learning to work together was a part of our childhood conditioning?
I don’t mean sharing blocks and not pulling each other’s hair in preschool, I mean learning how to come together, no matter our backgrounds or if we even agree with one another, and fix problems with a focus on how each of us can help.
What if school curriculum was centered around learning about one another, learning how to communicate and have empathy, and learning how to best combine our backgrounds, skills, and knowledge to create something? What if, instead of ranking students based off of scores representing their own individual knowledge, we develop a system where the goal is for students to come together to make each other better in pursuit of a goal, say a class project, a community service, or just helping one another score better? If this was part of our upbringing – how we were conditioned – how would we, as adults, behave differently when we come across someone who isn’t like us? Would we be resistant and fearful, or excited and hopeful?
If we’re conditioned to want to help each other be better, how different would the news look? Would they be focused on human progress or the events tearing us apart?

The world I want to live in is one where people come together to understand one another so that we can learn to build better communities.
My question to you: how can you help make this world a reality?

Gun Violence and the Solution That’s Right Under Our Noses

Last month, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hosted a roundtable discussion where they invited victims of school shootings to the White House to discuss their experiences and ideas for solutions. Regardless of your position on the president and Mrs. DeVos, this was a welcomed development in the debate over gun violence. Instead of debating, arguing, and the typical candor between politicians, real people came together to share solution ideas for a problem that has divided us for years. Not one to watch the news (or what I call “the noise” because I’m just so damn clever), I was transfixed. In a culture where we’re focused on who’s right vs. who’s wrong rather than “How can we come together to create a solution?” for once those in attendance had a common goal: create a culture of safety. Not five minutes after the meeting ended, came the hot takes from pundits and social media accounts focused again on who was right and who was wrong, why the president is an asshat, and his meeting notes, including a reminder to “hear” those voicing their concerns. We were right back to focusing on problems instead of creating solutions. In all this noise, we missed out on the solution to the problem that was offered during the meeting that doesn’t just take care of the symptoms like mental health reform, banning certain guns, or arming teachers: a cultural shift focused on how we see one another.
During this meeting, one person really stood out to me: Darrel Scott, father of Rachel Scott, who was killed in the 4/20/97 shooting at Columbine High School. This was the school shooting that brought the topic of gun violence into the national spotlight almost 21 years ago, and still, few solutions have been reached. In fact, mass shootings have only intensified, because in these twenty-plus years, Columbine has dropped out of the top 10 list for deadliest shootings (um… yay?). It’s time for new ideas, because the ideas we’ve been working with for over two decades are clearly not doing the trick. What Scott said struck a chord with me since I study and share how to create positive workplace cultures for a living. Scott has a brief opportunity to get to the core of, not only the issue of gun violence, but the issues of violence in general and the underlying lack of happiness plaguing the country. Scott isn’t just talking about it a solution, he’s actively doing something to fix the deeply rooted cause of violent behavior: a lack of human connection.
Since his daughter lost her life, Scott has founded Rachel’s Challenge,* a nonprofit on a mission to create a positive climate focused on making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect. According to Scott, the program has touched 28 million students since its founding in 1998, has prevented 7 school shootings, prevents an average of 150 suicides a year, and has seen improvements in the schools with whom they have partnered. According to the website, this includes gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate, as well as reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. While debates rage on over whether to arm teachers, ban automatic weapons, or apply stricter background checks when purchasing a firearm, Scott, a private citizen just like me and you, free from the entanglements of bureaucracy and politics, is, putting it bluntly, getting shit done.
Scott’s solution: “We must create a culture of connectedness. We must create a culture in which our classmates become our friends.” He goes on to explain how he has seen students connect with one another and makes a fascinating point: “Every single one of these school shootings have been from young men who are disconnected.”**
In his book, Flourish: positive psychologist Martin Seligman lists positive relationships as one of the five elements of human well-being.***

“Selfish-gene theory argues that the individual is the sole unit of natural selection. Evidence shows that the group is a primary unit of natural selection.”

Sure, I have read books in the field of positive psychology that re-affirm this, but it’s through my research in other fields like leadership, history, and, yes, even improvisation that have led me to go as far as to say that a lack of human connectedness is the causation of aggression, violence, and discrimination.
From Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last:

“When we cooperate or look out for others, serotonin and oxytocin reward us with the feelings of security, fulfillment, belonging, trust, and camaraderie.”

Humans are wired to get along, but we’re conditioned to covet personal gain, which goes against this biology, and costs us opportunities to make connections, become happier, and grow exponentially. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian Yuval Noah Harrari wrote:

“Evolution favors those capable of forming strong social ties. In addition, since humans are born underdeveloped, they can be educated and socialized far greater than any other animals.”

To solve the problem of gun violence, we must create a culture focused on humans connecting with one another in order to make each other better and to make the world a better place, which is what Darrel Scott and his wife are doing with Rachel’s Challenge. I believe that the long-term solution is an overhaul of the education system where the goal is for students to learn to connect with one another and work together, rather than work separately for individual accomplishment. Until then, each of us can play a small role on creating a culture of connectedness in our own lives and circles. Though each of us as individuals has a small voice, we have an opportunity to come together and connect as a cacophony of voices on a quest to create safety, happiness, and love. It is in the pursuit of creating something we all believe in that can connect us, rather than arguing over who is right or who is wrong, which denies us the chance to create connection.
Darrel Scott is just one voice who has brought together a chorus of many voices to make a difference and bring us closer to a more human culture:
“The focus must not be just on unity or diversity, because if you focus too much on diversity, you create division. If you focus too much on unity, you’ll create compromise. But if you focus on relatedness and how you can relate with one another, then you can celebrate the diversity and you can see the unity take place. The focus really needs to be on how we can connect. That’s something our organizations have learned: how to connect students with each other, with themselves, with their teachers, and with their parents.”

Imagine the freedom of walking the streets without the fear of violence – with a feeling of confidence that every person you pass has your best interests at heart. We have the choice to focus on how this isn’t possible, which is what has been happening, or we can shift our focus onto how we can come together and create this culture. One thing you can do today is not to debate, but to listen to the ideas of others and remember that no matter who we are, we all want to feel safe and loved. How can you help make this happen and connect with others today?

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe in a friendly or hostile universe.” – Albert Einstein
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in looking with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
*Darrel Scott speaks at about 33:50 in this video:
https://www.denverpost.com/2018/02/21/darrell-scott-columbine-shooting-donald-trump/
** Learn more about Rachel’s Challenge and how a culture of connectedness is helping students all over the country build relationships with classmates, parents, teachers, and themselves.
***The other four are positive emotion, engagement, meaning, and accomplishment.