The Pandemic May Not Be Your Fault, But It’s Your Responsibility Now

You wake up in the middle of the night – something’s not right. As your eyes adjust to the darkness and your brain comes to, you realize that it smells like something is burning.

You lay your head back down onto your pillow and hear the muffled chirps of what sounds like a smoke detector from the apartment next door.

SOMETHING IS BURNING!

You leap out of bed, suddenly completely aware of your surroundings – the stench of burning wood and plaster fills your nostrils.

The second you thrust open your door, smoke pours into your room. The bedroom door across the hall swings open – you lock eyes with your roommate, who is still in his pajamas too. There’s a fire and you have to do something fast.

“Where is the smoke coming from??”

“I don’t know!” You respond in a panic. “We’ve got to get out of here!”

“This isn’t my fault.”

“…What?”

“Don’t blame me for this.”

He crosses his arms and shakes his head, “It’s those stupid neighbors. I knew I didn’t like them, right from the moment they moved in.”

“Who cares? Let’s get out of here!”

“We gotta figure out what to do about those neighbors first.”

“Now??” He can’t be serious.

Your roommate presses a button on his phone and raises it to his ear.

“Oh, you’re calling 9-1-1.”

He raises his finger as if to shush you. You notice more smoke pouring into your apartment. It’s taking an unusually long time for the dispatcher to pick up.

“What’s going-?“

“It went to voicemail.”

“9-1-1 WENT TO-?”

He holds up his finger again.

“Hi, this is your neighbor from next door. I’m just calling to say, ‘How dare you start a fire in the middle of the night like this! My roommate and I were both sleeping, so not only are we both going to be tired tomorrow, now neither of us are going to have a chance to save our stuff! You owe us an explanation and an apology. Also, we’re not leaving until you either put out the fire, or come get us out of here. Good. Bye!”

He hangs up the phone and gives you a nod like he solved the problem. Their smoke detector continues to beep. You look up at your own smoke detector, and see it hanging from the ceiling by its wires.

“Why aren’t there batteries in the smoke detector??”

Your roommate shrugs, “The people who lived here before weren’t ready for a fire.”

“There were batteries in there when we moved in!”

“Yeah, but I didn’t like the last tenants, so I took them out.”

“Wha-?? Come on, let’s get out-“ you make a move for the front door, but he puts a hand to your chest, stopping you in your tracks.

“What are you doing?”

We didn’t start this. This is on the neighbors, so they should have to fix it.”

“THAT’S NOT HOW FIRES WORK!”

You start to cough. The smoke is becoming unbearable, you’re having trouble catching your breath, and you can barely see your roommate from just a few feet away. You get down onto your hands and knees.

“What are you doing?? Humans aren’t meant to crawl on all fours. Are you really giving up your freedom because of some stupid fire you didn’t even start?”

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING!” You shout back up at him.

He bends down and forcefully lifts you back to your feet.

“Don’t worry,” the wall connecting your two apartments begins to glow orange, “I called the people from the building next door to let them know they can’t come into our building.”

“WHAT GOOD IS THAT GOING TO DO!?”

“Hey! This is the neighbors’ fault – you’re treating me unfairly! Here, put on this hospital mask.”

Your apartment door bursts into flame. At this point, you can’t even make out your roommate. You’re losing consciousness, so you stumble back into your bedroom, desperate to get to the window. Each step becomes more difficult than the last. The thick black smoke fills your lungs while your brain is screaming at you to breathe, but you can’t. You reach for the handle on the window, but don’t have the strength to open it. You fall to your knees, and just as you slip into the warm grasp of unconsciousness, you can hear your roommate gasp out the words, “It is what it is.”

What’s happening in the world may not be your fault, but finding a solution is your responsibility. I’m not saying that you can solve this pandemic, but I am saying that it is up to you to solve the problems that have impacted your life as a result.

Continuing to blame the “culprit,” may make you feel better in the short-term, but in order to really take control of an unfortunate situation, it is vital to ask, “What can I do now?” If the leader you’re working for, or even your elected official continues to ask, “Who’s to blame?” (I’m not naming any presidents’ names), take the initiative and do something – whether that’s approaching the person with ideas, moving on to another company, seeking out those who are actively searching for a solution, or working to elect someone else, you’ll at least feel more empowered. Starting from a state of empowerment and action is much more useful than starting from a state of victimhood. Complaining makes the problem loom larger, which actually perpetuates it, but accountability and action put you in the driver’s seat of your own life, and that’s a simple mental shift we all have the power to make.

When you ask yourself, “Who’s to blame?” What action can you take based off of that, other than blaming?

Now ask yourself, “What’s one step I can take?” or, “What’s one thing I can do?”

That shift has the power to change everything.

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.

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:
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Share with your friends.
And most importantly, enjoy!

Thank you!

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?

Conduct Your Life With Exuberance

Imagine being 80 years old with more energy and life than you had in your 40s, 30s, and even your 20s…

Seem impossible? Meet Benjamin Zander, the musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, who will have you second-guessing your perception of age and energy from the moment you meet him. At the end of April, I will be hosting the Akron Symphony Orchestra’s annual charity gala, and one of the auction prizes is a visit to Zander’s home in Cambridge, a trip up the Charles River in his pontoon boat, and VIP treatment at a Boston Philharmonic concert. Since I was already in Boston to perform comedy, I decided to reach out to see if I could arrange a meeting.

The moment he swung open his front door, I knew I was in for a treat: “THERE YOU ARE!” he exclaimed in his sing-song British accent, arms joyously in the air as he wrapped me in a warm embrace. It was as though he was reuniting with a long-lost friend, and I went from being nervous to meet the world-renowned conductor, to feeling like we had known each other for years.

As we spoke with one another, his eyes sparkled, reminiscent of Sir Ian McKellen’s as Gandalf at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, and he smiled from ear-to-ear and nodded along as he listened to me talk about why I’m passionate about bringing more laughter to the world. Unsurprisingly, he shared my value of humor as he spoke about the fun he and his musicians have during orchestra rehearsals.

“Having fun at rehearsals is so important, even though the symphony is supposed to be serious,” he shared. “The world is much better off with more laughter.”

Though I only spent about ten minutes with the incredibly busy conductor, it felt as though time stood still, and we connected on much a deeper level. The zeal with which he approaches others is evident in his TED Talk, which I HIGHLY recommend watching – even if you’re not into classical music – because his message transcends music:

“I have a definition of success. For me, it’s very simple – it’s not about wealth, fame, and power – it’s about how many shining eyes I have around me… It really makes a difference what we say – the words that come out of our mouth.”

He goes on to quote an Auschwitz survivor:

“I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever say.” 

When I reach 80, I can only hope to have half of the spirit that Zander has, but he left me with powerful questions to ask myself: do you leave people with shining eyes? Are they happier and filled with more energy that they were when you met them? How can you leave every interaction inspiring others to live with energy and exuberance?

Ask yourself these questions every day and find that life becomes a little happier, more exciting, and  more fulfilling.

Check out Benjamin Zander’s TED Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion#t-1197578

Check out The Art of Possibility, the transformative book he wrote with his wife: https://www.amazon.com/Art-Possibility-Transforming-Professional-Personal/dp/0142001104/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+art+of+possibility&qid=1555090828&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Engage Your Creativity: Change Your Scenery

Ah… Portland, Maine: the Portland of the northeast.

This is my second time visiting this eclectic city bursting with personality – even on the grayest, snowiest days. Looking at the overcast skies and slush-soaked streets, you wouldn’t think there would be an explosion of ideas going on in my brain. But alas, I’m writing this right now because I can’t stop my brain from spitting out new ideas and I need an outlet for them. Every time I travel, I’m overwhelmed with new ideas, new spins on old ideas, and most importantly, I leave writer’s block in the dust. Why is this?

It turns out, working in a new setting can engage our creativity in ways that racking our brains for ideas inside the same four walls can’t possibly hope to achieve.

Here are two key benefits to working in new locations:

Open-mindedness: Working in the same environment means stronger connection to previous ideas, rather than open-mindedness to new ones.

New connections: You may see something that inspires an unrelated connection to an old idea or project that ignites the spark of creativity you’ve been looking for.

“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility (the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas) and depth and integrativeness of thought; the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School. – https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/03/for-a-more-creative-brain-travel/388135/

Exposure to different environments actually changes the neural pathways in your brain. This means that exploring new places can boost your ability to leap between diverse ideas and make richer mental connections between ideas. https://blog.join.me/change-scenery-can-spark-creativity/

You don’t need to drive 600 miles to get a fresh perspective, simply leave your usual workspace and head to a new coffee shop, park, or someone else’s house (particularly a stranger’s that you’ve broken into. Try on their clothes and glue pictures of your face onto their family photos and get out before they get home for EXTRA creativity),* and get to work!

Where’s somewhere new you can work on that project you’ve been struggling creatively with to engage your brain’s creativity?

 

 

 

 

*Please don’t actually do this