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

Rejection is Feedback and Feedback is an Opportunity

“[We are] going to rescind our request to have you speak to [us].”
I stared blankly at the text of the email, mouth agape.
“This has never happened to me,” I thought aloud. “What did I do?”
I kept reading.
“Eight members of our chapter were in attendance and all were offended by your presentation,” the email continued.
“Offended? I was trying to make you laugh!” My fight-or-flight response had kicked in, but before I found myself going off on a tangent, I decided to continue reading to learn more.
“Specifically, you told a ‘dick’ joke.”
Ah… that’s fair. Using my character, Perspective Detective Dick Ransom’s first name strategically for laughs is admittedly juvenile, but it’s something that people remember. The premise of the bit is based around the fact that when we blame the circumstances or other people when we fall short of our goals, so we should “become a Dick” because “we all have a little Dick inside of us.”

Later in the email, he writes “I won’t comment on the rest of your presentation.” This is what hurt me most, not because they didn’t enjoy my presentation, but because once the Dick joke was on the table, they missed out on the message of the rest of the presentation.

That’s on me.

My talks aren’t your standard HR presentation because the current business climate is mired in complacency, so I take some risks – some pay off and some don’t, which I live with. The key, though is to analyze where I am and ask, “Is where I am better than where I was before this?” To get a more accurate answer, it’s vital to consider all feedback from other perspectives. I only have one way of looking at my reality – my own – so I admittedly have a bit of a bias. However, when other people say to me, “We were offended by your presentation,” that’s a sign that, instead of resisting their POV and getting hostile, I have an opportunity to consider another perspective.

I can’t possibly follow through on all feedback given to me, but I can at least listen, appreciate the fact that someone is willing to take a risk to even give me the feedback, and consider what to do next. My aim is to always improve in some way after every presentation I give, and in order to do that, it’s important to listen. This is as true for me as it is for all of you – even if no one approaches you and says, “Hey, here’s my feedback,” if you listen to the world around you by
-evaluating where you are vs. where you want to be
-paying close attention to the nonverbal clues of others
-considering the perspectives of those who do offer explicit feedback
you’ll learn more than you ever would simply looking through your own eyes.

Though another group approached me after the presentation about speaking at one of their upcoming meetings because they enjoyed the presentation and felt motivated (proof that multiple people can see the exact same thing but get something completely different out of it), my aim is to leave everyone feeling better when they see one of my talks. I don’t expect everyone to leap out of their seats and change the world when they leave, but at the very least, I want people to have laughed and felt good. To have not been able to do that for one group leaves me in a state of self-examination where I realize that “I too have a little Detective Dick in me,” now it’s up to me to figure out how I can do better next time, and it’s all thanks to feedback.

“Rejection is just feedback designed to show you how to be better.”

The Secret to Learning to Work Together With Others

There are five types of people living among us on Planet Earth. Each has their own place in our culture and should be respected for their perspectives:

1. People who like Creed

2. People who like Creed, but don’t like some of their songs

3. People who don’t like Creed

4. People who don’t like Creed, but like some of their songs

5. People who have never heard of Creed

The world is large enough for each of our perspectives, so it’s okay that everyone has their own Creed preference. Because someone doesn’t share your perspective doesn’t mean they’re wrong because to them, their perspective is perfectly fine. Instead of attacking someone else’s point of view when you disagree with them, you have an option that can help you come to a consensus and actually work together:

Ask questions

Just because someone blindly loves Creed doesn’t mean that’s the full story. There’s more to life than what we see on the surface – there’s more to the story than that. There has to be a reason why: upbringing, life experience, or a friend of a friend did crack with Scott Stapp. We don’t know unless we ask questions instead of making judgments. We all have a reason for doing what we do, and no matter who we are, we’re doing it because we think it will bring us the results we want, and the results we want are always happiness. We strive after money, success, power, or to listen to “My Sacrifice” on repeat because we think it’ll make us happy. Here are some questions that can create a connection, and who knows, if you ask the right questions and find value in learning about the other person, it may inspire the other person to ask you questions too.

· What is it about Creed that you love so much?

· What kind of life-changing moments have you had while listening to Creed?

· How has listening to Creed improved your quality of life?

· What did your parents teach you about music that inspired your love for Creed?

· Are there other bands you listen to that inspire the same feelings as Creed?

After displaying a genuine interest in the other person’s Creed interest, you have proven that you’re not challenging their perspective, and it’s now a good time to introduce them to other music. We don’t know what we don’t know, but by asking questions we can learn and grow our understanding of others. When you leave your arms wide open to other people and imagine them as human clay that can be inspired to mold themselves with the right prompting, the feeling can take you higher.


David Horning

http://www.davidhorningcomedy.com
http://www.tumblr.com/blog/horningcomedy
http://www.twitter.com/THEdavidhorning

Create Your Year

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s a brand new blog post for a brand new year! Enjoy =)

What does a year mean to you? A year in the past, some year in the future, or this year, each means to us what we decide for it to mean. The story we tell ourselves about our year and how it impacted, is impacting, or will impact us is really what determines our perception of that year, not the year itself. We’re all excellent storytellers in this way. Think of your favorite movie, play, or TV show. Each and every one of these stories has several stories contained within it. Individual characters each have a story they’re telling themselves about their lives and the situations they find themselves in. “I’m going to avenge the death of my father,” is the result of one character telling himself a story about loss, anger, and vengeance. It’s not the death of his father that inspire his actions, it’s the story he tells himself about the event. This story is different from the person who actually committed the murder: “He needs to be killed to keep me and my family safe.”

When we say, “F you, 2016,” and sit behind a computer, telling ourselves a story about how bad the year was for us, we miss out on the potential to tell a story centered around opportunity. When we look at past years, months, weeks, days, or moments, we can create something that grows us, rather than something that confines us to a singular choice. It all begins with the question: “In what ways was this experience an opportunity?” Which can very easily inspire follow-up questions such as, “What did I do well?” “What can I get better at?” “What are some things I learned that I can use, knowing what I now know?”

When we look at future years, it’s self-defeating to say, “I hope this is going to be a good year,” because the year itself has no control over how your year goes. That’s like blaming your ex-girlfriend’s apartment for the fact that she broke up with you while you were both inside of it. True, events are going to happen outside of our control, but it’s our response that determines what happens next, or whether it’s a “good” or “bad” year. For you to have a “good” year, what would have to happen? What does it look like? What goals would you have to achieve?

Now, look at this year, month, week, day, or moment and say, what can I do in this timeframe, knowing what I learned from the past to create what I want in the future? No matter what obstacles, roadblocks, or tragedies mar your path, an awareness of how to consciously take a step back, assess your past, future, and present to tell a more helpful story will help ensure your power over an arbitrary unit of time created by our ancestors to learn when to plant crops. Create your year. Create your day. Create your moments. Create your story. Create your life.

 

Words, Words, Words

*This blog uses language that is NSFW… or does it?

Fuck.

Just 4 letters put together to make a sound, given a definition by some shadowy council, and given meaning by anyone who uses it or hears it being used.

verb
1. Have sexual intercourse with (someone).
2. Ruin or damage (something).
noun
noun: fuck; plural noun: fucks
1. An act of sexual intercourse. A sexual partner.
exclamation
exclamation: fuck
1. Used alone or as a noun the fuck or a verb in various phrases to express anger, annoyance, contempt, impatience, or surprise, or simply for emphasis.

(I’m not going to include the Urban Dictionary definitions because it muddles the meaning of the word even more.)

Who decides whether or not a word is vulgar? Who decides whether or not they are offended by someone’s words? Who’s to stop me from re-defining the word in my own life?

“I’ve been fucking all day.”
“Watch your mouth, David!”
“What!? I didn’t get much fuck last night, so I thought I’d take a nap!”

Words are arbitrary. The number of definitions given to this word, largely considered profane, prove it. If someone says something that we may be offended by, it’s because of the meaning we give what was said, and not what was actually said that determines our response. Words mean nothing, yet. for some reason, such a high value is placed on them. One person could listen to a racially charged, profanity- laced tirade, get offended and try to get other people to get offended, while another could hear the same tirade, think, “What an idiot,” and move on. 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.

Art is the same way: one person may see a painting of a bowl of fruit while another may be moved to tears because of their family’s history of scurvy. Or they’re offended by pears. While watching The Departed with my parents, my mom would gasp every time someone said “fuck,” and, in turn, hated the movie because she missed out on the story to count “fucks.” What we draw from an external experience depends solely on the meaning we give it. No one actually likes to be hurt by words – negative emotions don’t feel good – but it’s the thoughts we think about what was said that impact our beliefs, which determine our attitude, which generates our feelings, which influence our actions, which directly define our reality. People who use hateful speech aren’t worth your time – giving them attention by criticizing their words just adds fuel to their intended hate. If words really hurt, take action by softening the blow. How? Swear with character and cuss with kindness. Since words and their definitions are man-made, change their meaning. Redefine fuck. For example:

-When someone says, “Fuck you,” define it as, “You embody the person I wish I was.”
-When you’re called an idiot, look at it as an opportunity to learn how to do something better.
-When someone calls you a “motherfucker,” assume they’re using “motherfucker” in place of the word “friend”, give them a wave and a smile, and go on with your day. Even if they mean to accuse you of fornicating with mothers, they’re not worth your time. Sticks and stones, right?

You can do it with your own words too! For example:

-Say, “Your dick is showing,” if you see someone’s tag peeking out from their shirt.
-When you see someone wearing a cool hat, say, “Nice hat, asshole,” then flash him a smile. You just said, “Nice hat, handsome.” Now that’s polite!
-When you see a couple with a newborn baby, tell the parents, “Oh, what a cunty baby girl!” Of course their newborn daughter is beautiful, and you complimented them using an adjective appropriate for the miracle of childbirth because that’s what “cunty” means to you.

No one likes being angry or feeling offended, but these feelings are a choice based on our programmed thoughts about something external that really has no value until we apply value to it. There’s more than one way to view a situation, so why not attach the meaning that makes you happiest?

Fuck you (have a great day)!