Episode 212 – Dave Gilbertson

Dave is an Accountant & Comedian

Dave Gilbertson returns to the podcast from episode 8 to talk about his latest ventures as a stand-up comedian and speaker, including his latest Tedx presentation and opening for Louie Anderson! John and Dave discuss what compelled John to get into comedy.

Episode Highlights

‘Leading with Laughter’ Ted Talk
Opening for Louie Anderson…again
Less stage time, more kids
The science behind comedy
Barriers between hobby and career
Tracking vacation time at Kronos
Importance of experiencing failure
What got John into comedy

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Dave Gilbertson on stage tying together stand-up comedy and leadership


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    Welcome to Episode 212 on What’s Your “And”? Follow-up Friday edition. This is John Garrett. Each Friday I follow up with a guest who had been on the show a few years ago to hear what’s new with their passions outside of work and also hear how this message might have impacted them since we last talked.

    I’m so excited to let everyone know my book is being published in a couple of months and will be available on Amazon and a few other websites. So check it out at whatsyourand.com. All the details are there. Or sign up for my exclusive list. You’ll be the first to know, and you’ll get a few tracks for my comedy album for free just for doing so. Please don’t forget to hit Subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episode because I love sharing such interesting stories each and every Wednesday and now follow-up Friday. It’s no different with Dave Gilbertson. He’s the VP Strategy and Operations for Kronos out of Boston. Now, he’s with me here today.

    Dave, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Dave: John, I will show up anywhere you ask me to.

    John: Oh, you’re too kind, man. You’re too kind. We’ve known each other way too long. Back to the PwC days when you were fresh out of school, and I was a year out of school. I’m the wily veteran here.

    Dave: Exactly. Yeah, you are the one I looked up to.

    John: Which is scary for everyone, including me, mostly me actually. Fun to have you back. But right out of the gate, we do the rapid-ire questions now. It’s been almost four years, 2015 when you were on with Episode 8. Some different questions to throw at you here. So the first one, if you had to choose, Harry Potter or Game of Thrones?

    Dave: Harry Potter.

    John: Okay.

    Dave: I had never understood Game of Thrones.

    John: Okay. I’ve actually never watched either of the movies or shows, whatever they’re called. Do you prefer more hot or cold?

    Dave: Hot. I grew up in North Dakota.

    John: Okay, you’ll take anything.

    Dave: End of story.

    John: End of story. Good. How about favorite ice cream toppings?

    Dave: Peanut butter cups. Anything with peanut butter, honestly. Anything with peanut butter and ice cream, I am in.

    John: Nice. I like it. How about cats or dogs?

    Dave: Cats. I know it’s not going to be a popular opinion. I’ll apologize up front. Yeah, I’ve never been a dog person.

    John: How about when you fly, I know you fly a lot, window or aisle seat?

    Dave: Aisle, always. Need a quick getaway. Not totally comfortable. I usually do exit rows. I’m not totally comfortable with the responsibility with the window seat.

    John: Just recently, I was on a flight and the flight attendant on the way in where they scan your ticket and they’re like, “Oh, you’re exit row. Are you okay with that?” And the guy in front of me goes, “Sure, I guess.” And I was like, “I’m not sure I’m okay with that answer.”

    Dave: I was on a flight where they gave the same question. Everyone was seated and the guy said no and they moved him.

    John: Oh, wow. That’s crazy.

    Dave: I’ll never forget like, wait, you actually said no to that?

    John: No one says no. It’s your first time on an airplane? Yeah, that’s funny. Two more. Least favorite vegetable?

    Dave: Least favorite, that is a long list.

    John: Man, rattle them off.

    Dave: I’m a vegetable rights activist. The senseless squatter of innocent vegetables. I think rutabagas are probably at the top of the list. Again, it goes back to roots where vegetables are forbidden.

    John: Right. They don’t even grow.

    Dave: Exactly. Yeah, I know my wife is appalled because she is a vegetarian.

    John: Well, then it’s more for her. You’re actually looking out for her.

    Dave: That’s what I tell her is that I’m always just kind of saving stuff for her, and she doesn’t buy it at all. And now my oldest is eight. I got three kids. And now they’re starting to complain that if dad doesn’t eat it, I’m not going to eat it.

    John: That’s a tough one.

    John: Right, right. That’s hilarious. And the last one, last one. This one is an important one. Toilet paper, roll over or under?

    Dave: By law, it has to be over.

    John: Right, by law. There you go. Exactly. Exactly. That’s awesome. So yeah, so last time you’re on, I know we’ve talked about your dallying and stand up, if you will, and opening for Louie Anderson and cool stuff like that. What’s new with that? Or it sounds like it’s gone to another level here.

    Dave: It has, yeah. I feel really grateful for Kronos. I feel like I’ve been able to explore kind of both sides of myself. I have three kids — two but one was a baby when I first came to Kronos. We now have three kids. I feel like I’ve been able to have a real and a life outside of work and it’s pretty strongly encouraged. I think part of that has been both my family but also continuing to explore comedy.

    Last summer, I was invited to give a TEDx Talk at an event back in North Dakota, actually. The TED Talk was called Leading with Laughter: Seven Leadership Lessons from Stand-Up Comedians. It was an idea I’ve been thinking about for quite a while to tie together stand-up comedy and the leadership that you see comedians display on stage to be able to move an audience coming from all different backgrounds, all different kinds of stresses in their own life, and for an hour or 75 minutes move them anywhere the comedian wants to take them. It’s a really me amazing display of leadership because they’re doing it with nothing more than words and a microphone. So I was kind of able to explore that with this TED Talk. It’s out there on YouTube and a lot of great feedback from it. So that’s been a lot of fun.

    I also have been able to open for Louie a few more times. I opened for him at a really historic theater in downtown Boston, the Wilbur Theater, and then I opened for him again last summer at another kind of old-time theater in Western Massachusetts, but that’s been really fun as well. As the kids have accumulated, my time on stage has gone down. It’s definitely harder to get time to do it. I so enjoyed giving the TED Talk because I could kind of still explore that side of it without having to go to a bar for an open mic night after the kids go to sleep.

    John: The TEDx Talk is fantastic. We’ll have a link at whatsyourand.com for everybody that just wants to go there. What a great parallel that not a lot of people are talking about there because most people wouldn’t think of all the stuff that goes behind the scenes of a good joke or a good stand-up set. There’s some science to it all. With the room, the lighting, the temperature of the room, all this stuff, it’s amazing how fragile comedy really is.

    Dave: Yeah. So that was one of the lessons from the talk was control the audience, not the venue. As a leader, you have full control over the experience that your customers have or the experience that your employees have, but there are a million things outside of your control. So the parallel is, as a stand-up comedian, you have no control over the venue, you have no control over the size of the crowd, but you’ve got 100% control over how entertained they are once they get there.

    As a manager and a leader inside an organization, there’s a lot of truth to that because it’s easy to get distracted by things that are truly outside of your control. We can all create a great experience for our customers. We can all create an inspired experience for our employees.

    John: Yeah, totally, which is exactly what the message is with this is just finding out what genuinely people are passionate about. If it’s not work, then that’s totally okay. Just because you’re good at it doesn’t mean you love it, and that’s okay. I guess the more people that I talk to, it’s been interesting how they hesitate to call themselves a runner or a comedian or whatever their thing is. Did you ever hesitate on that of like, well, I’m a comedian and an accountant or operations or whatever? Did you hesitate on that label?

    Dave: I did. I’ve thought a bit about it. It’s mostly because I’m not that good.

    John: I didn’t mean right like I’m agreeing with you. I’m just saying that makes sense.

    Dave: I know exactly what you’re saying because so many are people doing what you look at as a hobby that have put their life’s work into this, and there’s so much respect you have. You and I are exactly the same. We’ve spent countless hours talking about how much respect we have for some of the big name comedians out there and the folks that really break through, the folks that take the risk early in their career to not have a safety net beneath them. That’s not me.

    I’ve had a great career business wise. I’ve got a great family. I’m not taking a risk to go do stand-up comedy full time. In that world, it is a pretty critical distinction like, is your paycheck coming from telling jokes, or are you doing that for fun? I don’t know that that distinction necessarily needs to be out there because although I consider myself kind of a work in progress in terms of being a comedian, there’s also a credibility that anybody who’s tried it gives you just for stepping on that stage, the fact that you’re willing to put yourself out there in that way. You and I both know, the first couple times you do it, it’s not going to go well.

    John: The first couple of years you do it, and everyone is a work in progress. I mean, everyone, even Louis. You’re always getting better and honing.

    Dave: Yeah, I know. He’s 40 years into it, and he’s still got a lot of new material. I’ve questioned myself, why hesitate to call yourself that? There really isn’t a good reason. I think the barriers we put in place between hobby and career are pretty artificial at the end of the day.

    John: Yeah, it’s just which one you say first. It’s like comedian comes second because that’s not how you’re making a living. That’s not whatever. But that’s the What’s Your “And”? concept. You’re and a comedian. Well, that’s much more interesting conversation than VP of operation. Riveting. Tell me more.

    Dave: I could talk cancellations all day long.

    John: Right, right. That’s a totally different episode of the podcast, Dave. Just Kronos do something specific, that makes you feel like you’re able to explore both sides of yourself, or is it more of a tone at the top sort of a thing?

    Dave: It’s mostly a tone at the top. So our business is HR software, payroll, workforce management software. So our business really goes to the heart of enabling our customers to have a great culture in a really engaged workforce. There’s this sense here, and I kind of talked about this on the earlier episode that you better be genuine about living that as an organization and culture if you’re going to sell that as kind of our lifeblood.

    So I found that to be very true. Kronos is about a billion and a half dollar company, 6,000 people worldwide, so it’s a big company. I think we’ve done a really nice job of having culture travel. So a couple things we do specifically to encourage it. One is, for a company that sells software that tracks company’s vacation, we actually have no vacation policy. There’s a bit of irony there. It’s worked really well for us because the message sent to all the employees — and this is one I fundamentally agree with and I would do it at any other company I went to as well — the message sent is we’re hiring you to do a job. We have certain results that we expect you to achieve. The amount of time it takes you to achieve that really is up to you. If you need to take four weeks, a year, or two weeks a year, that’s up to you and your manager. You got to work that out. We want you to take as much time as you think you need to recharge. But if you need to take a little bit more time than that, don’t worry about how much vacation you’ve accrued or not accrued. You know the job that you needs to be done. That’s how you keep your job.

    John: Is there a minimum amount that everyone needs to take?

    Dave: There’s not, but it’s actually tracked. I don’t necessarily agree with HR on this. Where they feel it’s really important to track it, not to see if people are taking too much but actually exactly to make sure that people are taking enough because there is the worry that if it’s not tracked, it’s not formal, then they’re just not going to take enough vacation. I’ve always viewed that as part of the job of manager and leader is make sure your people are coming to work recharged. They’ve taken the amount of time that they need to recharge. We do track it, but it’s not the reason that people expect. It’s all to make sure that people are taking enough vacation.

    John: Right. That’s fantastic. One thing that would be really neat is when the people go and take their time off or it’s a week or two weeks, what did you do with that time? Maybe a short presentation that you give to your department or your group to let people know like, oh, wow, that’s what you would spend your free time doing. That’s cool.

    Dave: Yeah, that’s a great idea. We do a little bit of that informally on our internal chatter page. Our PR team actually reaches out and says, “Send me the most fun example of what you did with your My Time.” We call it My Time. They’ll put it all together, and then they’ll send out a summary of like, these are some of the amazing things that our 6,000 Kronites have done with the time away from work. So it’s a little bit more formal, and it’s not as personalized as my specific team but it is a good idea. I’d love to evolve there.

    John: No, but that’s cool because then it’s letting people see there’s another side to everyone. There’s a human side to everyone. That’s really fantastic. Those are two excellent examples that people listening can easily take away to their company. Do you have any words of encouragement to others listening that think that their hobby or passion has absolutely nothing to do with their job?

    Dave: Something I’ve gotten to feel a lot more strongly about, my biggest piece of advice is to fail. Go out there and fall on your face because really it’s a strange thing. I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of why this is, but I think it’s universal with all of us that as we get to a certain age and I think a certain level of success in your career, you start to get narrower and narrower and narrower in what you spend your time on. When I was going up and doing open mic nights, honestly it was not going well. It was hard, and it was painful. The audience response was not what the audience response was when I was alone in my living room.

    John: Silence is better than like a room-full-of-people silence. That’s loud.

    Dave: The recordings of all those open mics were crystal clear. There really is a lot of value in failing because as a kid, if you go out and you try baseball for the first time, it’s going to be bad. And then you try it for the second time, and it’s a little bit less bad and a little bit less bad and eventually become pretty good. That’s how you learn. But once you get to a certain age and you’ve achieved a certain level of success, you stop putting yourself out there in that way. That’s where I think it’s critical for you not to get completely hemmed in and honestly personally defined by what you do in your career. You got to put yourself out there and fail, much more often we typically do. And it’s hard. Again, with three kids, my youngest is one. My wife and I are in the thick of it like. We are just every day with the full physical sport of just parenting. It’s really hard to put yourself out there and find that time, but I think it’s critical. For me, comedy has been that thing — that I have gotten comfortable up on stage and I’ve gotten better at reading an audience. I don’t mind being in front of a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean that it goes well every time.

    John: Especially with having a family, three kids and all that and on top of work. It doesn’t have to be every day or every week. Once a quarter, once every six months, just whatever it is, be intentional about setting time aside to do whatever your and is. It’s only fair that I turn the tables and allow you to maybe rapid-fire question me if you have have two or three that you’d like to fire away on. I’m super nervous because you know way too much about me.

    Dave: Well, I’ll give you a sample right out the gate. The biggest thing you fail at recently?

    John: Well, it would probably be writing this book. I feel like I’m failing at it just because I’ve been talking about writing it and actually writing it for a year and a half, talking about it for even longer than that, and it feels like it shouldn’t take that long but it really, really does. It’s been grueling. It’s really hard. Everyone listening, if you ever pick up a book and you’re like, whatever, that person worked really, really hard writing it, whoever wrote it, and maybe not the person whose name is on the cover. Writing a book is definitely hard. That’s for sure.

    Dave: And then what do you say to a five-year-old girl, hypothetically named Lily, asked what they can be anything they want to be when they grow up?

    John: For sure, you definitely can. You can be whatever you want. But I think more importantly, it’s not like the title of what you want to be, it’s what difference do you want to make in the world or what impact do you want to have? Because you can have that impact in many, many different ways. It doesn’t have to be through your work. It can be through your passion or your other things. So I think that’s probably the bigger question.

    Dave: I think that’s good advice. That’s exactly where I went when she asked me that question and her response was, “Does that mean I can be a daddy when I grow up?”

    John: Oh, well, yeah. Yes, it is, 2019. I mean, you know.

    Dave: Last question for you. The Improv, Los Angeles, late 1999, you’re not particularly funny at that time.

    John: Very true.

    Dave: So what was it about that night when there was, I think, four of us that went to the comedy club, all going to the comedy club for the first time that night, what was it about that night that sparked your and for the first time?

    John: I think it was just seeing live comedy up close. The Improv in Hollywood is a small club. There were probably 12 comedians, and then the Whose Line group, that Whose Line is in anyway taped and then would come down and do a live uncensored set, just seeing the really good, really funny, but then also seeing some of the people that not so much. I was like, well, I could be as not funny as that person and like, this is Hollywood.

    Dave: One of the top of the top.

    John: Yeah. So you’re like, well, what do I have to lose? I lived in St. Louis at the time, and let’s give it a go. Who cares? So of course, I didn’t realize that you could move to any city and say you’re a comedian. Anyone can do that right now. Move to LA and say you’re a comedian. You can. It was just something about that why not? I needed a little bit of a creative outlet. I needed something that was maybe a little bit of a challenge. I don’t know why, to be honest. I think it chose me, honestly. It’s kind of how it happened. I’m forever grateful.

    Dave: Do you remember the comedian you talked to at the bar?

    John: Yeah, Vince Morris. We since hung out and worked together even because we talked and I said, “How do you get into comedy?” He’s like, “Well, you just go up and do it at an open mic and bring a recorder to record yourself, listen to it, and tweak it, and go up and do it again.” It was so funny because he’s like, “So what’s your job now?” And I was like, “Oh, I’m a CPA with Pricewaterhouse Cooper.” He’s like, “Well, you got to do something,” like I’m really slumming at delivering pizzas or something. Really nice guy. Very, very funny. It’s been a wild journey. That’s for sure.

    Dave: I’ll never forget that we’re walking out and you saw him sitting alone at the bar. I remember we all just kind of kept walking out, mostly looking to see what kind of car Drew Carey drove. Actually, we’re doing something with your time. And then the whole way back in the car, the four of us in that old beater car, you’re just talking about your conversation with Vince Morris. It always stuck with me. I think it was an impactful night for both of us.

    John: Yeah, that’s for sure. Well, thanks, Dave. This has been really, really fun. It’s so great catching up with you again. Thanks for being a part of What’s Your “And”?

    Dave: Absolutely. Happy to do it. Thanks, John.

    John: Everyone listening, if you’d like to see some pictures of Dave outside of work or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there, including to his TEDx, Leading with Laughter. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture.

    So thanks again for subscribing in iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends, so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, that who you are is so much more than what you do.


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