Sullivan is an Accountant & Comedian
Sullivan Finlay, a Senior Accountant at Salesforce, talks about his passion for comedy, how it has improved his skills in his career as an accountant, and why it’s so important to have a work culture that is open to people expressing their passions!
• Getting into comedy
• Chicago Conservatory Program
• Skills from improv that applies to his career
• Talking openly about his comedy at work
• Why it is both on the organization and the individual to create an open culture at work
Please take 2 minutes
to do John’s anonymous survey
about Corporate Culture!
(click to enlarge)
- Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close
Welcome to Episode 443 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett, and each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and”, those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiate you when you’re at work.
If you like what the show is about, be sure to check out the book. It’s on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. The book goes more in depth with the research behind why these outside-of-work passions are so crucial to your corporate culture. If you want me to read it to you, that’s right, this voice reading the book, look for What’s Your “And”? on Audible or wherever you get your audio books. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s reading it and listening to it and then writing such nice reviews on Amazon and more importantly, changing the cultures where they work because of it.
Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast, so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week, and this week is no different with my guest, Sullivan Finlay. He’s a senior accountant with Salesforce in Indianapolis, Indiana, and now he’s with me here today. Sullivan, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Sullivan: Hey, John. Happy to be here.
John: This is going to be so much fun, so much fun. I have my rapid-fire questions. Get to know Sullivan on a new level here. Here we go. I’ll start you out with probably an easy one. Favorite color.
John: Blue. Mine too. All right, we can keep going.
Sullivan: All right.
John: How about a least favorite color?
Sullivan: Chartreuse because I don’t know what it is, and I don’t think anybody who ever says it actually knows what it is either.
John: Right, I don’t even know how to spell it. It’s just one of those words where you’re like purple pink. Never mind. How about more suit and tie or jeans and a T-shirt?
Sullivan: Oh, jeans and T-shirt. I’m jeans and black V-neck kind of guy.
John: Oh, okay. All right. There you go. Oh, this is going to be tricky. Do you have a favorite comedian?
Sullivan: Oh, okay. I have a Mount Rushmore of favorite comedians.
John: Okay, okay.
Sullivan: That entails John Mulaney, Will Ferrell, a double bust for Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele.
John: Yeah, absolutely.
Sullivan: And then Shaq.
John: Shaq is hilarious actually.
Sullivan: Absolutely. Yeah.
John: He’s a giant eight-year-old boy. He’s just a child, and he can be. Those are all good, all good. I love Shaq. It’s good you had it last. You do know comedy. That’s how that works. There you go. How about a favorite day of the week?
Sullivan: Ooh, Friday, looking forward to the weekend. Yeah. Always fun energy, for sure. Plus, Apple TV Plus shows have just started coming out on Fridays, so that’s usually a double win there.
John: It’s a win-win. That’s for sure. How about more chocolate or vanilla?
Sullivan: Chocolate, all the chocolate.
John: All the chocolate, right.
Sullivan: All the chocolate.
John: There you go. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Sullivan: Star Wars. Although I haven’t seen Star Trek, but I do like Star Wars a lot.
John: No, that counts by default, I think.
Sullivan: Oh, yeah.
John: There you go. Your computer, more of a PC or a Mac.
Sullivan: I’m an accountant, so, PC.
John: Right. That was my default.
John: Once in a while, there’s a cool — or one that likes to act like they’re cool anyway.
Sullivan: Right. Yeah.
John: How about a favorite Disney character?
Sullivan: Buzz Lightyear. I actually still have a sign in my room that says, to infinity and beyond, that one of my friends made for me after I graduated high school. It’s sitting right above my bed. Every day when I wake up, roll out, and it’s like, hey, let’s go to infinity and beyond today.
John: I love it, man. That’s actually a great mantra for life. Really. Why not? I love it. More talk or text.
Sullivan: Talk, for sure.
Sullivan: Yeah. Text, I always send one-word responses to get people to talk.
John: I’m the guy that just straight calls you. This is going to be seven texts. I’m just calling.
John: You bait them into it. I love that.
John: That’s awesome.
Sullivan: Yeah, totally.
John: That’s great. Since you have the accounting background, balance sheet or income statement.
Sullivan: Balance sheet and specifically, assets. I want us to own this. I’m not paying anyone.
John: There you go. Assets with no liabilities.
John: It’s just straight cash, and I don’t owe anybody.
John: I love it. How about your first concert?
Sullivan: Oh, really obscure, kind of, Christian contemporary music band, Casting Crowns.
John: Oh, I do know Casting Crowns. I know who you’re talking about.
Sullivan: I was ten years old. We saw them at this random fair in Mount Sterling, Illinois, super small town, probably 1000 people at the concert. They had a drawing for a Casting Crowns jacket and two CDs, autographed CDs. Of the drawing, I won the jacket, and my sister won one of the CDs, over 1000 people that were there.
John: That’s crazy.
Sullivan: It was insane. Yeah.
John: That’s crazy.
Sullivan: Always indebted to Casting Crowns.
John: Right? That’s a collector’s item now. That’s for sure.
John: That’s incredible. Four more. A favorite ice cream flavor. I know you said chocolate, but is there something beyond that?
Sullivan: Just more chocolate.
John: Just chocolate fudge brownie swirl.
Sullivan: Oh, yeah, brownie batter, chocolate extreme, whatever, all that
John: There you go. It is awesome when they put extreme in it. It starts with the X. They just drop the E. They’re like, that’s how extreme this is.
Sullivan: Right. Including, being an accountant, I don’t think anything else I’m doing is overly extreme, so chocolate extreme is the way to go.
John: That’s hilarious. You know how extreme I get? I get extreme with my ice cream. That’s what happens.
Sullivan: Yeah, chocolate extreme.
John: That’s what happens. Right, and you’ve got to lower the voice. I love it. That’s awesome. How about a favorite number?
Sullivan: It’s a four-way tie between 7, 8, 14 and 37, all for different reasons.
John: Yeah. Is there one that’s more of an intriguing reason? 37 seems pretty random.
Sullivan: I grew up on a farm, and we had sheep. I grew up on a farm where we had different sheep. I had one named Buddy because when I was three years old, this thing would follow me all around. Naturally, Buddy had a kid. I named it Buddy, Jr. When you’re four years old, that’s what you name it.
John: Yeah, totally.
Sullivan: I remember that sheep was number 37. I don’t know if that’s where it starts from or not, but that’s just a random connection.
John: No, no, that totally is, totally is. How about when it comes to books, audio version, e-book or real book?
Sullivan: Oh, real book. I held out on audio books for a long time and just started getting into it, and I’m hooked. Because I love podcasts and I love reading, and I was like, I’m going to commit way too much time to this. That’s how it’s turned out.
John: There you go. Okay. Okay. The last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.
Sullivan: Besides my rugged good — no.
John: Besides your pint of chocolate extreme.
Sullivan: Right. I think a lot of written things. I journal a lot, so, all my journals. I have a Bible from my parents that I have a lot of notes in. All those things that you can’t really replace if things went ablaze, I’d have to say.
John: That’s awesome, man. Very cool. Very cool. I’m sure the journals lead right into your “and” of sketch comedy, improv comedy, comedy in general. How did you get started with that? Is this something that you’ve been doing for a long time, opening for Casting Crowns? Or did you just get into later?
Sullivan: Oh, I wish that was the origin story. I was thinking about this the other day. It might be around that same time. I remember in the second grade, we put on this Thanksgiving play in my class. I remember that in the Thanksgiving play, I think I was like pilgrim number four or something completely unnecessary. I remember wanting to commit so hard to this pilgrim number four and loving it. I was involved in music, growing up. I played trombone and baritone throughout —
John: Nice. A little brass. What’s up, yo?
John: I played trombone too. There you go.
Sullivan: All right. We’re probably the only people who were trombone players, CPAs from Indiana and then did comedy.
John: You had to get into comedy. It was just an event, so tell your parents you had to.
Sullivan: Yeah. Growing up, I always thought I love performing, and I’m ever looking at theater or choir things like that, being, like, man, I think that’s really maybe it. About a year ago, one of my friends and I, we listen to the same like random NFL podcast, and two of the hosts on this podcast were talking about how they’re going to take an improv class together. Last second, one of them bails, one of them takes the class. I told my friends, dude, improv sounds so fun. We’re always joking around together. He’s like, “Yeah. I’m 90% in. Let me just check on some things.” Two days before the class, bails. I am stuck as a Midwestern accountant going to this improv class by myself. I’m like, oh, gosh, all this is made up?
Sullivan: Came out of it totally terrified but had so much fun. I was like, this is the thing.
John: That’s awesome. Yeah. Once you get bit by the bug, it’s fun, and it’s engaging. It just expands your horizon. Especially improv, so many people don’t — stand-up is very rehearsed and written and polished over time, and in sketches like Saturday Night Live, where it’s pre-written. Improv is Whose Line Is It Anyway. Here’s a couple of parameters, work these in, go. It’s like, what? It’s funny though because improv is what we’re doing right now. It’s what we do in life. People always think that it’s so hard and so crazy. I’m like, we’re all improv-ing, really, but it is difficult to do well.
John: That’s for sure.
John: How was that first show then? At the end of the workshop, were you able to do one?
Sullivan: First show was scary but so much fun. We were doing online shows for a while. That was kind of weird. You can’t get feedback, besides a bunch of people typing, LOL, a million times on the chat.
John: Right. Which does not fuel your soul.
Sullivan: No. Yeah. When you’re onstage and you tell a joke, you hear the laughter. That’s the greatest feeling in the world. Seeing LOL is a little bit different.
John: That’s not going to do it. That’s just not.
Sullivan: Yeah. The first show in person, I remember after the show, my friends and I were like, that was the greatest rush. It’s so fun.
John: That’s super cool. You’ve gone on since then, and explored it some more. Now what are you working on or have you gone onto?
Sullivan: Yeah, I just started, I got into the conservatory program at Second City up in Chicago.
John: That’s awesome.
Sullivan: Yeah, thanks. Up in Chicago, it was around June that we started. I’m in the second level of that program now. It’s a yearlong program. It’s just been performing improv, perform and write more sketch, which is also a ton of fun. It’s cool because every time I’m in there, I’ve major impostor syndrome because I’m like, these people are hilarious. I think I’m moderately funny, but these people are so good. It’s where a bunch of people from SNL and a bunch of people have come from.
John: Colbert, Colbert was an understudy there.
John: He wasn’t even like the guy. Yeah, there’s so much of that.
Sullivan: Yeah, it’s crazy, but it’s just cool because you’re learning from some of the best and performing with some of the best. Yeah, it’s great.
John: Yeah, and creating. It’s a collaboration of sorts. In stand-up, it’s very much solo. It’s a different game. When you’re collaborating on a sketch, what about this? What about that? Some people are really good at the dialogues. Some people are really good at the scenes. It takes all of you to create this really great sketch.
Sullivan: Totally. Yeah.
John: That’s super cool, man. Have you guys been able to do any shows up there in Chicago?
Sullivan: Yeah, yeah, we’ve done a couple. We just did pretty much an all-sketch show, few weeks ago, and then throw in a little bit improv at the end, to get the people excited.
John: Right. He said my word. Yay!
Sullivan: Yeah. Every other time, it’s pineapple.
John: Oh, Lord.
Sullivan: All right. Yeah, it’s so fun. We’ve gotten to perform on a few different stages there, which is just, again, it’s cool to be like, oh, I’m doing Steve Carell’s part on this stage right now. That’s something I wouldn’t have imagined, a few years ago. Yeah.
John: No, that’s great, man. Kudos. It takes some guts to just throw yourself out there. Also, just keep in mind, it’s something that you enjoy.
John: You’re paying for it. Once they start paying you, that’s when it becomes different.
John: You enjoy it. Embrace it. I think that’s awesome, man.
Sullivan: Totally, yeah.
John: Do you have a favorite story or something from a show or something that’s come up, where you’re just like, man, that was really cool, or that was really weird, or something?
Sullivan: Yeah. Something really weird, for sure, I can think of this last show. It was the sketch portion of the show. I was in a scene and had to rush offstage. In the next scene, for a reason, I was shirtless. That 30 seconds of just taking your shirt off before you have to sprint onstage. It was like, this is probably the same high that people get, skydiving, which I’m okay with avoiding. The adrenaline rush behind stage, just doing all this stuff, running around, people are going crazy, that was a lot of fun.
John: Yeah. That’s awesome. Because, to make the magic onstage, no one realizes the behind the scenes of what’s going on behind that curtain. That’s part ridiculously hilarious because we’re goofing around. The other part is super serious. I’ve got to get back out there as a totally different character with my shirt off and then this. You’re like, what is going on? Yeah, that is not something that you do every day.
Sullivan: Oh, definitely not.
John: Do you feel at all, there’s a skill set from when you started comedy that translates over to your career?
Sullivan: Yeah, I think so. Especially in improv, there’s the whole concept of, yes and. You are taking whatever somebody is saying and building upon it. For me, being the accountant, perfectionist type, being able to just go onstage or practice with a group of friends and just being able to fail is so cool. Where else can you just do that and be okay? To me, it helped me realize, in my career, the world’s not going to end because I flipped the signs on a journal entry or something.
Sullivan: It’s still going to keep clicking. I think too, feedback, being able to accept that, especially in stand-up. There’s no worse feedback in the moment than just bombing and nobody laughing at all.
John: Oh, no.
Sullivan: The other day, my manager was pinging me. He’s like, yeah, sorry, man, if that’s really harsh feedback or whatever. It’s like, dude, this is nothing. You can say whatever you want.
John: Right? Just as long as you laugh when I say something funny, we’re all good. Other than that, you can say whatever you want about my work.
John: If I crack a joke, you better laugh.
Sullivan: Oh, my gosh, yeah. He messaged back. I think it was just like, boo. I was like, okay.
John: Okay, now it’s over. Now you’re dead to me. That’s such great insight, and it’s cool that you’re able to recognize it in the moment. I mostly didn’t until after the fact. I was like, oh, wow, what do you know? That actually did make me better.
Sullivan: Yeah, definitely.
John: Is this something that you talk about at work or coworkers know about or maybe have a small circle?
Sullivan: Yeah, definitely grew, over time. At first, especially I was in public accounting at the time when I first started, I was like, well, this is the complete opposite thing of what I do professionally.
John: Right, right.
Sullivan: I was like, I don’t know how people are going to respond to this, and was almost embarrassed by it, at first. Then I started talking to people, and they’re like, dude, that’s so cool. Also, this makes sense. It makes sense that you’re the one doing this. I’m like, yeah, I guess I am always just doing bits and messing around in those clients’ conference room.
John: Why not?
John: We have to be there for so long.
Sullivan: Right. Yeah. This audit is pretty serious, so we need to spice it up a little bit.
John: Right. That’s hilarious.
Sullivan: Yeah, so, over time, it just became more and more people that I told. Suddenly, I was like, oh, he’s the guy who’s doing improv or writing or things like that. I’m like, oh, this kind of grew, and people are okay with it and even like it. That’s weird.
Sullivan: Yeah, it’s cool.
John: Yeah, and it’s cool to hear that that’s what happened because I feel like so much of that is in our own heads. 99.99% of it isn’t our own heads.
John: You start to share, and then it’s cool, and then it’s a little bit of wild — I don’t even know who you are. How do you know? type of thing.
Sullivan: It’s funny, talking with both groups too, where comedian friends, I’m like, oh, I’m an accountant professionally. They’re like, okay, this guy.
John: Right. They’re going to ask you all the tax questions from February and March.
Sullivan: Literally, one of my friends, early this year, almost committed tax evasion. I was like, why are you talking to me about this?
John: Comedians are like, I got paid in cash. It doesn’t count, right? If you don’t put in your bank account, then maybe.
Sullivan: That’s one side. Then when I tell my accounting coworkers that I do comedy, they’re like, oh, dude, you’re so brave. Thanks, I guess. Yeah, I’ll take it.
John: Actually, yeah, the comedians are probably say the same. They’re like, you’re so brave. You get up at 7am to go to an office and put on an ironed shirt. What is going on?
John: Yeah. That’s cool, though. That’s cool that you shared a little bit, and then the feedback. That’s encouraging for everybody listening really. Also, too that people started to then know you. People maybe didn’t even know who Sullivan was, or they kind of did. Now, it’s going to be like me where, 12 years later, they’re going to be like, aren’t you the guy that did sketch?
John: It’s like, actually, I am. Yeah. I think we all deserve that because you put in way too many hours to be forgotten.
Sullivan: Oh, my gosh, yeah. It’s just such a big part of who I am. This is something I love. I try to encourage friends all the time, be like, yo, chase after this thing and tell people about it because it will encourage other people too.
John: Yeah. No matter what level it gets to, even if it’s just a hobby, and you’re paying to do it, so what? You enjoy it, and that’s awesome. How much do you feel like it’s on the organization to maybe encourage that and foster that? Or how much is it on the individual to maybe just create it in the small circles, like, I guess, how you did?
Sullivan: I think it’s a mix. I’m at Salesforce, and I think they do a really good job of taking this work-life balance and being serious about it. My coworkers and I have different hobbies, and we encourage each other to keep doing it.
John: That’s great.
Sullivan: Which has been awesome, yeah. I think it’s on both the individual and the organization. I think the organization should be like, yes, this is work-life balance, and it’s not just a buzzword. The individual too, like, hey, I’m going to turn off my computer at this time. Especially working remotely, that can be really hard. I’m getting offline. I’m going to go do this thing. I’m not in Excel anymore. I’m just going to go improv or whatever. There’s ownership on both sides, I think, for sure.
John: Yeah. You’ll get the work done. It’s not that. It’s just, I have something else that’s important to me also. That’s cool to hear that they make time for that, and then just how you’re each encouraging each other to live your best life really, which is great because some places, it’s the opposite. It’s, hey, I’m going to go do this; and it’s like, why? You should be, rah-rah. Oh, Lord. It’s encouraging to hear that that’s what you’re experiencing.
John: Which is very cool. Is there anything specific that Salesforce does? Or is it more of just leading by example, from leadership positions?
Sullivan: I think a lot of it is leadership by example, from different leadership positions. I know my manager and my manager’s manager are, like, hey, as long as you get the work done, we don’t really care what you do. It looks at the individual, holistically, being like, you have all these different parts to yourself. Make sure you’re prioritizing each of these because guess what? We’re going to get the best employee at the end of the day because of that.
Sullivan: I think it’s been really, in my team’s at least, my different managers have been really great about leading at that.
John: That’s awesome. Before we do wrap this up, do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening that maybe their hobby has nothing to do with their career, or in your case, it was almost the opposite, or how you felt?
Sullivan: Yeah. I’d say just, if you have even the slightest itch to do something, just do it. Who knows? It might not even be a passion. I know when I came out of school, at first, I was just working a lot. That’s what I was doing, and I was like, this isn’t sustainable. I started to learn guitar. I started to learn Spanish. Spanish lost out to improv, and it’s been improv ever since. I was like, oh, this is what I’m passionate about. It took a couple of times trying to figure out what do I like, what do I like to learn, and just pursue learning, no matter what. We’re all here to be nerds. Lean into that.
John: No, exactly. Don’t act like you’re not.
Sullivan: Yeah, totally.
John: That’s so great, so great. I love how you said it was guitar, and then it was Spanish, and then it was improv. You don’t have to hang your hat on this forever. It’s just like, that’s what I like doing now. I enjoy this. Then it’s something else. That’s cool.
Sullivan: It’s one of those, for fellow accountants, you can’t just plug it into Excel and figure it out. There’s no VLOOKUP for improv. You just have to go out and do it.
John: Yeah. In all the things, you have to go out and just do it. If you’re in a sketch where you’re singing in Spanish, then you’ve brought it all together, and I will be very impressed. That’s awesome, man. Well, before I do wrap this up, I feel like it’s only fair that I turn the tables and make this the first episode of the Sullivan Finlay podcast. Thanks for having me on. I’m all yours. If you have any questions, fire away.
Sullivan: Absolutely. I’m going to call this What’s Your Yes, And?
John: Oh, I see what you’re doing there with the improv side. Okay.
Sullivan: Absolutely. Okay. This is a question I ask everyone. There’s no wrong answer. What is your favorite color of STOP sign, and why?
John: Oh, my favorite color of STOP sign. I’m just going to go red, yes, and…
Sullivan: There it is.
John: Because that’s the one that most people know. I feel like if we change the color, then idiots will just drive through it.
John: I wish that it was another color, but I think just out of practicality and how much I’ve been around the general public in my life and having done comedy in front of strangers, let’s just go simple.
Sullivan: I like this, prioritize safety.
John: Well, it’s more of just, I’m going to hit you if you don’t stop because I’m not stopping.
Sullivan: Right, right. Okay, we connected on low brass. What is your favorite trombone slide position?
John: Oh, that’s a good one. Third is good because you can cheat because you can grab the bell.
John: It’s third position is probably the cheat one for me.
Sullivan: I was thinking third as well, for the same reason. Or like the ones that have the little F attachment, like the trigger.
John: Oh. Yeah, I never went to that level.
Sullivan: You can play in first, but it’s actually sixth.
John: Right. Yeah, exactly.
Sullivan: However you can cheat, that’s what we’re learning.
John: Pretty much. Pretty much. Yes.
Sullivan: Okay, we’re both accountants or past accountants. What is your favorite tax deduction?
John: Oh, wow. Okay. This podcast does not provide tax advice, but when I was doing comedy, mileage, easily.
John: Because I was driving my Honda Civic everywhere.
John: 50 cents a mile, I was actually negative for a lot of the gigs that I did, from a tax perspective, because you get 100 bucks and I just drove so many miles. It’s like, well, that actually nets out to pretty much zero for the tax man. Yeah, that one or also Netflix because I’m doing research for the things that I’m writing. That was a good one too, for comedy, as well.
Sullivan: Oh, yeah.
John: Yeah, totally. Those were fun ones and totally legit actually, totally legit.
Sullivan: I would hope so. We’re also not providing a legal tax advice.
John: Right, statute of limitations has passed for me though, I’m pretty sure, on that mileage. It’s all good. That’s awesome, man. Well, thank you so much for being a part of What’s Your “And”? and for just being awesome and for shattering that stereotype. It’s been so much fun having you be a part of this.
Sullivan: Absolutely, John. Yeah, pleasure’s all mine. Thank you.
John: Everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Sullivan onstage or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. Everything’s there. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about firm culture, and don’t forget to check out the book.
Thanks again for subscribing on 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.