Taking Short-Term Risks for Long-Term Reward

When competing in a comedy competition, it’s wise to use safe material, that is, material that you KNOW works with crowds of all shapes and sizes. But as a performer, sometimes hitting the same laugh lines over and over can get exhausting and feel less rewarding.

I was in a comedy competition in New York City last week, and the rules stated that if you advance to the next round, you can’t use any of the material you had already used. I have three ten-minute sets that have historically held up in front of all kinds of crowds, so I initially planned on using these three sets. But once I moved on from the first round to the semifinals and was prepared to use my second killer set, I called an audible at the last second.

I had thought of some new jokes a few days prior and was itching to try them out in front of a live audience. Sure, I knew set number two was going to work, but I had been milking that set for so long (see what I did there?), my itch to be creative won out.

I tried an entire new set in the semifinals and failed to move on to the finals.

You’re probably thinking, “What’s the point of writing a post about taking risks when the risk you took didn’t pay off?”

The point is that, sure, I suffered a short-term setback.

Sure, after opening up my set strong, the next two minutes fell painfully flat, with little to no laughter from the audience. But after lightheartedly drawing attention to this elephant in the room, the rest of the set concluded strong.

The moment I got off stage, I knew I wasn’t moving on in the contest, but it felt liberating to try out something new.

The next day, I listened back to my set, took notes, made adjustments, then worked out the material at three open mics. By the time the third one rolled around, I had a fully functional, laugh-worthy set ready to go.

It killed.

Even though I fell flat during the second round of the competition, I now have a brand new ten minute set that I can confidently take to the stage, knowing I can get laughs.

When we play it safe, eventually it becomes rote, routine, and incredibly boring, even if at one point it was rewarding. When we take risks, life becomes much more exciting, it’s just important to remember that when we fall short of our goals the first time, it isn’t the end of the world. There’s always a chance to learn, improve, and achieve that internal (and external) reward by adjusting and adapting. Don’t let taking a risk stop you when the reward can be that much greater.

What’s one risk you can take that makes you feel uncomfortable? What’s the potential long-term reward if you see it through?

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.

Get It? Got It? Good. Now Give It.

It doesn’t seem like it’s been almost two months since my last blog post, but the internet never lies,* so it has to be true. Time has absolutely flown by and I can’t believe I’m sitting here sipping on an iced latte because it’s June; I can’t drink hot lattes in June because I don’t want to contribute to global warming.

What have you been up to?

Wow!

That sounds great!

Me? Oh, I’ve been doing some traveling, speaking, and I’m doing my best to ignore gorillas. I recently had a pretty funny tweet about sex and balloons too (follow me on Twitter @THEdavidhorning).

Oh yeah, and I’m working on my first book, Find the Funny, for which you’ll see plenty of shameless plugs on my social networks over the next couple of months. I’ve been doing a bunch of reading lately and couldn’t help but notice the unmistakable connections between psychology and many of the basics of creating sketch comedy. Another thing I have noticed is the fact that in utilizing these principles, I have gone from being a political science student who couldn’t stand politics, to the producer of a sketch comedy show in Times Square, to a professional motivational speaker.

Why am I writing a book now?

Because another thing I have noticed is that very few people out there are aware of the power of humor and how it can grow us, expand our perspective, and bring us joy. Not everyone can see me speak, but everyone can download or buy a book. I didn’t leave New York to become a motivational speaker in pursuit of financial abundance (although that’s a big reason why I went there), and that’s not why I’m writing this book. There is a need for humor and perspective in the world. When we turn on the news or read an article, the objective of the network or author is to impact our emotions and tell us how to think. Why do you think the media uses buzzwords like “Horrible tragedy” or “Gruesome”? They’re manipulating our feelings so we make comments condemning anyone who believes otherwise, and click on links to other stories that support our emotional attachment. Believe it or not, we can perceive events, no matter how “tragic” or “gruesome,” however we want. It is within these perceptions that our feelings are created and our actions follow suit. I was called away from a great opportunity with very funny, genuine people in New York City to share with others that OUR PERCEPTIONS ARE OUR CHOICE AND WHEN WE CHOOSE ONE THAT EVOKES POSITIVE EMOTION, WE’RE MORE LIKELY TO CREATE POSITIVE RESULTS.

Because we have been groomed in a society that values the pursuit of getting rewarded for our actions, we often forget that our jobs are all designed to serve others in some way. To work in order to get something is completely missing the point of why we work. While getting a job as a staff writer on a TV show, getting 1 million video views, or getting paid six figures would all be great achievements, these must serve as the means to an end and not the end itself. If we focus on how we can use these rewards as stepping stones to serve even more people, we will have an engagement and meaning in our lives that fill in so many gaps that exist as a result of the pursuit of reward as an end.

We are meant to serve.

True, I charge over $1,000 to speak for 90 minutes. True, my book is going to make me money, but the money itself isn’t the goal in either case. The financial reward is a tool to improve production value and hire help so that I may reach out to even more people and introduce them to a perspective that can change lives for the better like it has changed mine. Each of us has a gift to give in order to leave this world a better place than it was when we got here. If we’re focused on what we can get, it becomes a lot harder to focus on how we can use our gifts to serve. Not only that, but by giving, we inspire others to give and, before we know it, we will have left a legacy that lives on long after we’re gone. That is the real reward.

What are your gifts?

How can you use them to serve others in what you do?

When it comes to reward…

Get it: What are your goals? What actions can you take to keep moving forward?

Got it: Congratulations, you achieved a goal!

Good: Because you received reward from the completion of your goal, that means you were able to serve others well enough that you got something for it. Now it’s time to take another step and

Give it: How can you use the rewards you’ve received to serve even more people?

When you’re engaged and your life has meaning in the service of others, bouts of boredom will be few and far between. Not only that, but the external rewards will pale in comparison to the internal fulfillment you’ll live with knowing that your work is inspiring others.

Thanks for reading. Now, back to either my book or tweeting about sex balloons (Which is what I call condoms. Which is probably why I’m single).

*Correction: the internet lies sometimes

Check Your Privilege, Kermit

EVERY. YEAR.

Every damned year, Al Roker/Matt Lauer and whatever physically appealing female co-anchor that happens to be working for NBC go flipping crazy when that Kermit balloon appears in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. All we hear about is how everyone loves him, how he’s one of the main attractions, and then there’s some obligatory joke about Miss Piggy. The heaps of praise and unwavering love for this frog isn’t equal to the love for many of the other balloons and I say, “No more!”

Where’s the praise for cartoon characters? Corporate mascots? And there’s not even a Caitlyn Jenner balloon; it’s blatant disrespect.

Check your privilege at the door, Al Roker. There’s more to this parade than just Muppets.

What about Sonic the Hedgehog? “There’s Sonic. He’s making his 6th appearance in the parade.” That’s it!? That’s all you got!? No mention of his rings or the fact that he SAVED THE WORLD FROM DR. ROBOTNIK!?

Hello Kitty? They’re just like, “Hello, Kitty. So anyway, how’s your turkey coming, Hoda?”

When Bart Simpson appears, it’s a bullying slugfest. “What trouble will he get into this year?” “He’s probably been up to some mischief.” What, because he’s yellow that automatically means he’s been doing something mischievous?  Get off your high horse, NBC.

I’m sick of the puppet privilege this amphibious ass gets every. single. stinkin year! Enough is enough!

When you see that smug son of a salamander snake his way onto your screen, switch off the set and watch something that DOESN’T rub puppet privilege in our faces. Like football.

Big Bird too! Such an avian a-hole.

Just watch and see what I mean. How do you think the other balloons feel about all of the attention these Muppets get? It’s time to take a stand. I, for one, won’t be watching the parade and will be watching Home Shopping reruns. I won’t be shopping at Macy’s anymore either because I can’t, in good faith, give my money to a corporation who obviously doesn’t care about equality. Join me in my defiance and let’s tell the man that we won’t stand for this inflatable injustice any longer!

Krush Kermit

The Simple Solution to Boredom

“You must get so bored.”

I’ve made the 8 hour drive from Akron, Ohio to New York City at least a dozen times, and this is the reaction I get from most people who hear that I drive as opposed to flying. I may not be able to take a nap, write a blog, or do yoga while hurtling at 70-80 miles per hour down a highway, but I don’t have to be bored either. Instead, I choose to enjoy every second of the drive, and I almost wish it was longer because I’m enjoying myself so much. Am I crazy? It’s debatable, but I’d rather be crazy and enjoying myself than be bored and dread any part of my life. We have the choice to be bored or enjoy ourselves in every situation – and life is too short to be bored for even one second. All you have to do is make the conscious choice.

How do I combat boredom? I create excitement. The it’s-so-simple-it-can’t-possibly-work solution to boredom is to stop telling yourself you’re bored. This can’t be done by saying, “Stop being bored,” because when we try to stop something, we’re thinking about that thing. That’s why I create. It’s the law of the universe: when we try to destroy or stop something, we create more of that thing (How many times have you seen someone try to stop violence by using violence?), but when we create something different, the energy used on boredom is transferred to creating something different. It’s how our thinking works

When we have a thought, we’re commanding our brain to say, “Okay, this thought must be true, so I’m going to work to make sure that it’s the truth,” and then filter out anything that says otherwise. By saying, “I’m bored,” “This is boring,” or “Time is going so slow,” our brain completely filters out anything else. It’s not our brain’s fault, it’s just doing its job, and then we take action on that thought. It’s up to you, the boss, to command your brain to see things differently. Because we have 50-65,000 thoughts a day, it can only take in so much information, so it only accepts the information we consciously tell it to accept. By getting frustrated at your boredom, you’re basically ordering a burger, then getting mad at Burger King for giving you a meat sandwich when you’re a vegetarian. Choose to order up excitement. Here are a few ways to do it:

  1. Condition your imagination

We’re all born with an imagination, but just like those 6-pack abs hiding under the Pillsbury Doughboy stomach you’ve worked so hard on, it takes practice. You’re not going to look like an Abercrombie model overnight, and you’re not going to go from droning through spreadsheets to Tolkein overnight either. Imagination doesn’t necessarily mean you’re imagining dragons everywhere you go (people will wonder why you’re randomly ducking and carrying a spear with you) Inject a little creativity into your life wherever you can: take a different route home from work every day, imagine that spreadsheet you’re working on is going to save the world from a terrorist attack, create a different meaning for street signs, or every night, write down one thing you did differently that day that was new and fun. Disrupting the previous thinking pattern is the first step towards building an imagination 6-pack.

2.   Ask “What else could this be?”

When you hear yourself use the words “I’m bored,” immediately challenge that thought with, “Which means I have an opportunity to make this AWESOME.” Train your brain to find the all of the reasons why you’re having a good time instead of finding the boring. A common opportunity is when we’re waiting. If you’re in line, that’s a great opportunity to people watch. When I’m in line, I love to observe other people and ask myself, “If they do that, what else do they do?” and then I create a story about that person based on just one observation. Try it; it can be a lot of fun. You can also notice and appreciate something you wouldn’t normally notice and appreciate: trees, the patterns in woodwork, the sound of silence, darkness, your breath or heartbeat, or the vastness of the unknown in the universe, man. There’s an infinite number of things that we don’t take the time to appreciate. When we do, it’s really amazing where our thoughts can take us. Time can start to fly in an instant.

3.   Start a fire

Fires are never boring. They make movies based on fires. You’re also helping a firefighter, who may be bored, liven up their day. Whether it’s a house, a forest, or a bon, fires, for whatever reason take a “boring” gathering and turn it into a great time with the simple flick of a lighter.

4.   Do several hallucinogenic drugs at once

Have you ever seen air? Have you ever seen air as moving colors? Have you ever thought you were dying when there was absolutely nothing wrong with you? Combine numbers 4 and 3 and chances are, you will.

Sing, dance, imagine, be grateful, use your senses, read about the census, think about tents, file for bankruptcy for fun, file for a new filing cabinet and then file files into it, paint, turn boring ol’ productivity into a game, breathe, see how long you can hold your breath, see how long you can hold your hand in the air while your hand is holding a gun, fight imaginary dragons with said gun, listen to Imagine Dragons, dress in drag, drag race, pretend you’re a racist on Facebook, re-friend everyone who de-friends you, make friendship bracelets; I don’t care what it is, but whatever you do, make sure you always create. It’s why you’re here. Life is too short not to create, and creating boredom seems silly. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to create enjoyment out of boredom, because boredom is an opportunity to create our lives how we want, and no one wants to be bored.

A CatCall to Action

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The term “catcalling” has taken center stage on social media lately, but it has nothing to do with the fact that Snowball isn’t very good at answering the phone, like I originally pictured. A video surfaced about two weeks ago, showing a conservatively dressed girl walking through New York City being hollered at by men on the street. “Hey beautiful,” “God bless you mami,” and lots of iterations of, “Dayum!” are some examples of the catcalls hurled at the girl. Catcalling, AKA street harassment (which sounds way more dramatic), can be an uncomfortable experience for anyone. First off, I don’t want this post to be misconstrued as me supporting catcalling. I’ve never used it (although I say hi to people on the street all the time) and I think people who do use it need a lesson in manners (sheesh, I sound like my mother). Catcalling is disrespectful, inappropriate, and, “Dat ass tho,” should never be used as a formal greeting. What this video does is raise awareness of the problem, but it is also self-defeating, and I will explain why by diving into the flaws of our social sciences – the lens through which we’re conditioned to see the world.

Social science (psychology, political science, cultural anthropology, sociology, etc.) is founded on the principle that the environment is the driving force behind why we do what we do. As a result, the last century and a half have been founded on a system that is really good at exposing wrongs, but has a hard time with proposing solutions. As a result, we miss out on the individual actions we can take when something we can’t control (like someone else’s unacceptable behavior) happens to us. When we focus on how other people have wronged us, we take the role of the victim and give power over our lives to those people. In this case, it completely nullifies the purpose of the video. Instead of coming up with a solution, we instead stay stuck on how bad the situation was or is. When this happens, the proposed remedies are always centered on the principle of fixing things by banning something so it never happens to anyone ever again. But when has banning something ever really worked? Prohibition? Gay marriage? The war on drugs? Freedom of speech? Just a few examples of bans that have crashed and burned wonderfully. These examples are focused on stopping the problem rather than creating an effective solution.

The way social sciences are set up creates a culture of blame instead of one of problem solving. Need proof? Just watch C-SPAN for ten minutes and you’ll see political science in a nutshell: it’s always the other team’s fault. So this video exposes the wrongs of catcalling, but it does nothing to propose a solution. If we want to make a difference with anything, we must focus on the solution instead of the problem. People who catcall do it every day and probably have no idea that what they’re doing is rude, and that, “How you fit all that in dem jeans?” can be interpreted as, “I’m surprised your pants fit, fatty.” Not exactly the same as, “Lovely weather we’re having,” right? So instead of saying, “Hey, we’re exposing this bad thing, now let’s ban it,” why don’t we educate the catcallers on the proper way to treat others? Instead of telling the perpetrators to stop, why don’t we replace it with something more positive and productive? Empower yourself and others by presenting a positive solution instead of victimizing yourself by focusing on the problem. This way, when someone comes up to you on the street and says, “Have a nice afternoon,” he means it, and we don’t immediately become the victim of a guy who simply wants you to enjoy your day.

Majoring in Minor Things

Why Focusing on the Little Things Blocks Out the Big Picture

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

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

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

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

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