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If you like my eBook and have a group you think would want to hear me present this message as an hour long talk, book me. The talk is based on the book, but funnier and more interactive, as I’m a stand up comedian after all.
If you read my goals for this year, two goals mentioned a motivational speech and an eBook, which probably didn’t make any sense. Well, my opinion piece in The Stamford Advocate (my hometown paper) should clear things up a little.
I’ve finished writing, and will shortly be releasing an eBook called “How To Find Your Passion.”
Anywhere you look, there is talk about how America is falling behind in science and technology. And a lot of pundits say it’s all the fault of education. “We need more education.” “We need better education.” “We need better schools.” The list goes on and on and on.
We don’t need more education; we need more students to develop a passion for science. We have plenty of universities (and primary schools) that teach science, but they teach it in such a boring manner that only those who already want to become a physicist or mechanical engineer get through the drudgery of those lectures and problem sets.
Most of everyone else studies psychology, communications or economics. We can either make “hard science” classes more interesting, which wouldn’t hurt, or we can make sure that by the time students get to a university, they love science so much that they’re willing to get through those hard classes.
I’m not simply making a theoretical argument: I enrolled in a PhD program in Neuroeconomics at a top five university (Caltech), and five weeks into the first semester, when the workload was a lot more intensive than in undergrad, I realized I didn’t have the passion to continue graduate school. I never enjoyed biology and I tried avoiding math as much as possible because I never found it interesting. I wasn’t scared by the work, but I couldn’t force myself to work so hard for something I didn’t love. While I have the passion for figuring out why people do what they do, I was missing the passion for neuroscience and the passion for math.
My two months at Caltech weren’t all for naught, however. Being there helped me realize my passion is comedy. (I’m still studying human behavior: Instead of asking, “Why do people give money to other people?” I’ve started asking, “What makes people laugh?”)
My passion for comedy has helped me tolerate standing in Times Square in zero degree rain and snow passing out comedy flyers for three hours in order to get seven minutes of stage time. Passing out fliers never fazed me, as I viewed it as part of the process that I need to go through to develop as a comic. On the other hand, I viewed math and biology as part of the process to avoid.
When you love doing something, you run through the walls that stand in the way of achieving in that area. But when you don’t love doing that thing, the walls make you turn around and do something different.
In India, China and Japan, science and technology are keys to a “good job,” so even people without much passion for it will throw themselves into it. In America, science and technology aren’t the only (or the best, or easiest) ways for striking it rich (see: Banker, Investment), so you actually have to like science to study it. (This is also why there are so many undergraduate economics majors in this country who hate economics.)
So how do we get someone to be more passionate about science? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s genetic. Maybe it’s determined before a child enters kindergarten. But I have a feeling this isn’t true. I had zero interest in philosophy until I took a philosophy class my senior year of high school. After that class I liked it enough to major in philosophy.
Interest is the reason a seven-year-old can figure out a baseball player’s batting average but doesn’t know how to divide regular numbers. If a teacher makes a subject more interesting, there’s a higher likelihood that a student will start to develop a passion for that subject. We don’t need more education, we need more teachers who know how to make students passionate about science and technology.
Ben Rosenfeld is a New York City comedian and author of the forthcoming e-book “How To Find Your Passion.” Before becoming a Caltech PhD dropout, Ben graduated from Stamford High School in 2002. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s the second portion of quotes from The 50th Law. You can check out the first part here.
“You are building the foundation for something that can continue to expand. To make this happen, you will have to serve an apprenticeship. You must learn early on to endure the hours of practice and drudgery, knowing that in the end all of that time will translate into a higher pleasure – mastery of a craft and of yourself. Your goal is to reach the ultimate skill level – an intuitive feel for what must come next.” (203)
“Master the instrument, master the music, then forget all that shit and play.” (205) (Charlie Parker quote)
“Most people can’t handle boredom. That means they can’t stay on one thing until they get good at it. And they wonder why they’re unhappy.” (210) (50 Cent quote)
“There is another possible relationship to boredom and empty time, a fearless one that yields much different results than frustration and escapism. It goes as follows: you have some large goal that you wish to achieve in your life, something you feel that you are destined to create. If you reach that goal, it will bring you far greater satisfaction than the evanescent thrills that come from outside diversions. To get there you will have to learn a craft – educate yourself and develop the proper skills. All human activities involve a process of mastery. You must learn the various steps and procedures involved, proceeding to higher and higher levels of proficiency. This requires discipline and tenacity – the ability to withstand repetitive activity, slowness, and the anxiety that comes with such a challenge.” (212)
“Once you start down this path, two things will happen: First, having the larger goal will lift your mind out of the moment and help you endure the hard work and drudgery. Second, as you become better at this task or craft, it becomes increasingly pleasurable. You see your improvement; you see connections and possibilities you hadn’t noticed before. Your mind becomes absorbed in mastering it further, and in this absorption you forget all your problems –fears for the future or people’s nasty games. But unlike the diversion that comes from outside sources, this one comes from within. You are developing a lifelong skill, the kind of mental discipline that will serve as the foundation of your power.” (213)
“To make this work you must choose a career or a craft that excites you in some deep way. You are creating no dividing line between work and pleasure. You pleasure comes in mastering the process itself, and in the mental immersion it requires.” (213)
“Before it is too late we must wake up and realize that real power and success can come only through mastering a process, which in turn depends on a foundation of discipline that we are constantly keeping sharp.” (214)
“They are gifted. We could never reach their level, or so we think. But we are choosing to ignore that telling period in their lives, when each and every one of them underwent a rather tedious apprenticeship in their field.” (216)
“The real secret, the real formula for power in this world, lies in accepting the ugly reality that learning requires a process, and this in turn demands patience and the ability to endure drudge work.” (220)
“Too often our concept of learning is to absorb ideas from books, to do what others tell us to, and perhaps to do some controlled exercises. But this is an incomplete and fearful concept of learning – cut off from practical experience.” (222)
“You experiment, you take some hard blows, and you see what works and doesn’t work in real time. You expose yourself and your work to public scrutiny. Your failures are embedded in your nervous system; you do not want to repeat them. Your successes are tied to immediate experience and teach you more. You come to respect the process in a deep way because you see and feel the progress you can make through practice and steady labor. Taken far enough, you gain a fingertip feel for what needs to be done because your knowledge is tied to something physical and visceral. And having such intuition is the ultimate point of mastery.” (222)
“The social process is just as important as the legal or technical one.” (226)
“Ask for more, aim high, and believe that you are destined for something great. Your sense of self-worth comes from you alone – never the opinion of others.” (233)
“Moving towards such self-belief does not mean you cut yourself off from others and their opinions of your actions. You must take constant measure of how people receive your work, and use to maximum effect their feedback. But this process must begin from a position of inner strength. If you are dependent on their judgments for your sense of worth, then your ego will always be weak and fragile.”(244)
“Their opinions are merely helping you shape your work, not your self-image.” (244)
“Understand: people will constantly attack you in life. One of their main weapons will be to instill in you doubts about yourself – your worth, your abilities, your potential. They will often disguise this as their objective opinion, but invariably it has a political purpose – they want to keep you down.” (247)
“At any moment we could let go of the fear and leave the job, not really certain where we are headed but confident we can do better. In that moment we have exercised free will.” (249)
“What prevents you from taking such action is not mommy, daddy, or society, but your own fears. You are essentially free to move beyond any limits others have set for you, to re-create yourself as thoroughly as you wish.” (250)
“Whenever he felt as if he had too much to lose and he held on to others or to deals out of fear of the alternative, he ended up losing a lot more. He realized that the key in life is to always be willing to walk away. He was often surprised that in doing so, or even feeling that way, people would come back to him on his terms, no fearing what they might lose in the process. And if they didn’t return, then good riddance.” (271)
“If we are afraid of death, then we are afraid of life.” (288)
I just finished reading The 50th Law by Robert Greene and 50 Cent. It’s a strategic book about being fearless and I found a lot of the quotes apply to stand up. I highly recommend this book (especially the last 150 pages) to any comedian or anyone looking for ways to improve themselves, as well as Robert Greene’s other strategy books The 48 Laws of Power and The 33 Strategies of War.
I’ve bolded the quotes I feel most important and applicable to comedy.
“Your fears are a kind of prison that confines you within a limited range of action. The less you fear, the more power you will have and the more fully you will live.” (x)
“The greatest fear people have is that of being themselves. They want to be 50 Cent or someone else. They do what everyone else does even if it doesn’t fit where and who they are. But you get nowhere that way; your energy is weak and no one pays attention to you. You’re running away from the one thing that you own – what makes you different.” (18) (50 Cent quote)
“Dependency is a habit that is so easy to acquire. We live in a culture that offers you all kinds of crutches – experts to turn to, drugs to cure any psychological unease, mild pleasures to help pass or kill time, jobs to keep you just above water. It is hard to resist. But once you give in, it is like a prison you enter that you cannot ever leave.” (59)
“A lower paying position that offers more room to make decisions and carve out little empires is infinitely preferable to something that pays well but constricts your movements.” (63)
“The only way to gain self-reliance or any power is through great effort and practice. And this effort should not be seen as something ugly or dull; it is the process of gaining power over yourself that is the most satisfying of all, knowing that step-by-step you are elevating yourself above the dependant masses.” (68)
“Even the worst shit that happens to you can be converted into gold if you are clever enough.” (73)
“Every negative is a positive. The bad things that happen to me, I somehow make them good. That means you can’t do anything to hurt me.” (75) (50 Cent quote)
“Negative energy that comes at you in some form is energy that can be turned around – to defeat an opponent and lift you up.” (86)
“If bad publicity comes your way, think of it as a form of negative attention that you can easily reframe for your purposes. You can seem contrite or rebellious, whatever will stir up your base. If you ignore it, you look guilty. If you fight it, you seem defensive. If you go with it and channel it in your direction, you have turned it into an opportunity for positive attention. In general, obstacles force your mind to focus and find ways around them. They heighten your mental powers and should be welcomed.” (86)
“Move before you think you are ready. It is as if you are making it a little more difficult for yourself, deliberately creating obstacles in your path… When you feel that you must work harder to get to your goal because you are not quite prepared, you are more alert and inventive. This venture has to succeed and so it will.” (87)
“Remember: as Napoleon said, the moral is to the physical as three to one – meaning the motivation and energy levels you or your army bring to the encounter have three times as much weight as your physical resources. With energy and high morale, a human can overcome almost any obstacle and create opportunity out of nothing.” (88)
“What you must do instead is accept the fact that all events occur for a reason, and that it is within your capacity to see this reason as positive.” (90)
“If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.” (93) (Miles Davis quote)
“By a paradoxical law of human nature, trying to please people less will make them more likely in the long run to respect and treat you better.” (132)
“Any titles, money, or privilege you inherit are actually hindrances. They delude you into believing you are owed respect.” (159)
“Only your actions can prove your worth.” (159)
“Your own level of excitement and self-belief will convince people that you know where you are going and should be followed.” (168)
“The public is never wrong. When people don’t respond to what you do, they’re telling you something loud and clear. You’re just not listening.” (183) (50 Cent quote)
“If you feel superior at all, part of some chosen elite, then this seeps out in the work. It is conveyed in the tone and mood. It feels patronizing.” (191)
“To interact closely with the public and get its feedback might mean having to adjust your “brilliant” ideas, your preconceived notions.” (191)
“In this day and age, to reach people you must have access to their inner lives – their frustrations, aspirations, resentments. To do so, you must crush as much distance as possible between you and your audience. You enter their spirit and absorb it from within.” (194)
“Any kind of group tends to close itself off from the outside world. It is easier to operate this way. From within this bubble, people will delude themselves into thinking they have insight into how their audience or public feels.” (196)
“The goal in connecting to the public is not to please everyone or to spread yourself out to the widest possible audience. Communication is a power of intensity, not extensity and numbers. In trying to widen your appeal, you will substitute quantity for quality and will pay a price. You have a base of power – a group of people, small or large, which identifies with you.” (198)
“Our egos can inflate to any size. But when we produce something that fails to have the expected impact, we are suddenly faced with a limit – we are not as brilliant or skilled as we had imagined. In such a case, our tendency is to blame others for not understanding it or getting gin our way. Our egos are bruised and delicate – criticism from the outside seems like a personal attack, which we cannot endure.” (198-199)
“Beware of feedback from friends whose judgments could be tainted by feelings of envy or the need to flatter.” (199)
“When your work does not communicate with others, consider it your own fault – you did not make your ideas clear enough and you failed to connect with your audience emotionally. This will spare you any bitterness or anger that might come from people’s critiques. You are simply perfecting your work through the social mirror.” (199)
You’re waiting your turn to go up on a show and suddenly you hear a bit that sounds real familiar. You’ve never seen this comic before but you know the next three punch lines. Hell you don’t just know ‘em, you wrote ‘em. “Hey, I’ve been doing that joke for weeks. What the hell?”
Many comic fear having their material stolen. I think it’s more rational to fear the microphone exploding in your eyes and blinding you than it is to be afraid that your precious jokes will be stolen. Sure this happens occasionally, but it is not as often as some comics like to think. Two of the most ridiculous statements I’ve heard over the past year are: “I don’t do open mics because they steal my jokes” and “LA open mic comics go on youtube, watch NYC open mic comics and take their material.” Both statements are excuses. The first is to excuse a comic’s laziness or lack of motivation to get on stage as much as possible. (Although I do think open mics become less valuable after you’ve been on stage a few hundred times.) The second quote is an excuse usually said by someone who doesn’t have a good video to post. It’s much easier to say “I’d post a video but I don’t want my material being stolen” instead of saying “I don’t have a video where the audience is laughing for five straight minutes, I need to get funnier.” Which of course begs the question, why are you worried about your unfunny material being stolen? If you’re afraid of getting your jokes stolen, you should put ALL of your videos online. What could make for more convincing evidence that you did a bit first?
If your jokes are being “stolen” something else might actually be happening: You’re writing hacky material or are being too topical. There’s only so many ways to do a marijuana joke and every comedian and their mother has written a Tiger Woods, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton joke. Your punch line about “eighteen holes” or “a hole in one” wasn’t stolen, it was just so obvious that five other comics thought of a very similar joke. I remember reading Lisa Lampenelli’s book and she mentions how at the Comedy Central Roasts she’d have a pen with her to cross out the jokes on her set list that the other comedians had already done about the guest of honor. Did all those professionals steal each other’s jokes? No! There’s just only so many Pamela Andersen fake tits and Tommy Lee has big cock punch lines one can think up.
So how do you solve this joke overlap? Make your material more personal. Very few comedians can steal my Russian family material because it would be inauthentic and make no sense to their stage persona. So focus on your life and find the funny in it. Hint: It usually involves pain. A comic, I forget who once told me, “comedy = pain + time” and “until you’re at George Carlin’s level, nobody gives a shit about your political opinion.” I agree: focus on your unique life situation and figuring it out how to get the audience to connect with it. Should you still write Tiger Woods jokes? Yes, because that’s still working on writing a joke, and if you get picked up by a TV show, you’ll need to be able to generate topical jokes daily. Just don’t be surprised when you hear three very similar jokes from comics you’ve never met. (And yes, I know I need to make my material more personal too, it’s a work in progress.)
Ok, let’s say your jokes are personal and they’re actually being stolen. In a fucked up way, it’s an honor to get your jokes stolen, that means you’re getting funny! And you should only be afraid of getting jokes stolen if you’re not planning on developing as a writer and performer. Fear of jokes being stolen means your jokes are coming from a place of scarcity, not of abundance. It shows you believe there to be a limited amount of jokes you’ll be able to write and that one of the 10 or 12 jokes you were able to come up with has been taken away. This usually means you’re not writing enough.
Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Conan and all those guys deliver ten to fifteen minutes of new jokes every show (sure they have a whole writing staff, but that’s not the point). If you’re trying to be around the comedy business for a long time you’re going to need write hours and hours of good material. Having one bit stolen here or there won’t make a huge difference. If you’re so funny that all your material is being stolen, start lifting weights, then say something. A comedian may have had your joke go into his subconscious and come out months later as a similar joke. Talk to them first and figure out who’s been doing it first. Comics don’t want to be known as joke thieves because once they have that reputation, everyone avoids them and 95% of your gigs are through other comics.