Episode 503- Sam Staley

Sam is an Economist & Alpine Skiier

Sam Staley talks about getting into his passion for alpine skiing, shifting over to teaching, and how his skills in skiing apply to his career!

Episode Highlights
• Getting into alpine skiing
• How moving to teaching helped him realize his skiing skills were relevant to his career
• Embracing the “What’s Your And” message in the classroom

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Transcript

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    Welcome to Episode 503 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. And 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.

    And normally. now is when I plug the book, What’s Your “And”?, it’s on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, a few other websites. But I’d like to let you know about Michael Puck who was a guest on What’s Your “And”? and has created globaldogart.com. He’s a dog photographer on the side and loves doing that. And he teamed up with a bunch of other dog photographers all over the world to create globaldogart.com. Research has confirmed that pictures of dogs increase our well-being, reduce stress, and promote trusting relationships in business settings.

    So if you like to check out what’s available there for your office or your home office, go to globaldogart.com. And the best part is is that 100% of the proceeds go to save 1 million dogs by 2030. 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 weekend. And this week is no different with my guest, Sam Staley. He’s the director of an applied public policy research center in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University and the author of several books. And now, he’s with me here today. Sam, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on what’s your end.

    Sam: Oh, thank you for having me on. This is actually gonna be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to it.

    John: This is gonna be so great, but I do have 17 rapid fire questions to get to know Sam out of the gate here, so here we go. I’ll start you out with maybe an easy one. Favorite color?

    Sam: Green.

    John: Green. Nice. Okay. How about a least favorite color?

    Sam: Oh, probably purple.

    John: Oh, yeah, yeah.

    Sam: Yeah.

    John: That’s kind of there. Yeah. Yeah. Ooh, here’s a tricky one. Brownie or ice cream?

    Sam: Oh, man. Brownie, but it’s close. It’s close.

    John: Okay. All right. All right. That’s why I was like it’s a tough one. It’s a tough one.

    Sam: Depends on if it’s good ice cream or not. That’s the answer.

    John: Right.

    Sam: Good ice cream—

    John: Some Graeter’s. I know you’re an Ohio guy. There you go. How about a favorite actor or actress?

    Sam: Oh, that’s tough because as you know, I watch a lot of movies and they’re just so many of them.

    John: Oh, yeah!

    Sam: Right?

    John: Right. Or you can have more than one if you want. I’ll give you more than one ’cause you know way too many.

    Sam: Yeah. I am continually astounded by Meryl Streep.

    John: Oh, yeah.

    Sam: No matter what character she’s playing, I can fall into that character and not even know I’m actually watching Meryl Streep. So I’d probably say yeah.

    John: Yeah. She’s amazing. Totally amazing. How about more jeans or khakis?

    Sam: Oh, jeans.

    John: Jeans. There you go. Or shorts I guess in Florida.

    Sam: Yeah. Which is tough for a jeans guy ’cause you really need to be in shorts.

    John: Right? Right. There you go. How about puzzles? Sudoku, Crossword, or Jigsaw?

    Sam: I don’t do them.

    John: Oh, okay.

    Sam: So yeah. the puzzles are interesting because I’m not sure I have the patience to really do them.

    John: Right. There you go. So it’s like why do I this all at all?

    Sam: Yeah.

    John: Like just forget it. There you go. How about a favorite TV show of all time?

    Sam: Oh, you know what? I don’t have one and that’s because I’m a movie guy rather than a TV guy.

    John: Oh, okay. Yeah.

    Sam: And so, all of my TV watching has really been with other people, so I kinda let other people guide me through that.

    John: Okay.

    Sam: So there have definitely been some memorable ones, but not a favorite one.

    John: Okay. Yeah. That’s interesting. Yeah. ‘Cause, I mean, I know that you were way into movies, but I figured it would— but it doesn’t transfer over. That’s amazing. Okay. Fair enough. Fair enough. I know these are movies. Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Sam: Star Wars.

    John: Star Wars. Yeah. Me too.

    Sam: Yeah.

    John: Same.

    Sam: Yeah.

    John: There you go. How about your computer? More of a PC or a Mac?

    Sam: Oh, PC definitely.

    John: Yeah. I’m the same. There you go. This is a kind of a fun question on your mouse. Right click or left click?

    Sam: Never thought about it. Must be left click.

    John: There you go. Make the decisions. That’s the picking of the stuff. There you go.

    Sam: Yeah.

    John: All right. How about a favorite season? Summer, winter, spring, or fall?

    Sam: Oh, I love them all. That’s what I miss about not living in Ohio, is that we don’t have four seasons. As one of my former students said, she learned when she moved north that Florida just has two seasons, hot and less hot.

    John: That’s awesome.

    Sam: Yeah. So I love all four seasons, and I really find joy in each one of them.

    John: Okay. All right. Fair enough. Yeah, absolutely. Since you’re in Florida, I’ll ask, favorite Disney character?

    Sam: Oh, man. You know what? I just like Disney World. I’ve never connected with the characters. I guess that’s it. But the aesthetic and the world building that Disney has done, I’m just in awe of. And when I go into those theme parks— and I used to work at a theme park in high school and a little bit in college. And so, I’m just in awe of the world building that goes along with it. So I’m more of a ride and an attraction person as opposed to a character person.

    John: Okay. What amusement park?

    Sam: Kings Island, which is just north of Cincinnati.

    John: Yeah, totally.

    Sam: Yeah.

    John: Absolutely. No. I, as a kid, lived in Dayton, outside of Dayton. And so, yeah. So we went to Kings Island all the time.

    Sam: Yeah.

    John: Oh, here we go. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?

    Sam: Early bird.

    John: There you go. Yeah, that figures. Getting it done. Getting the writing out of the way. Yeah. Early and all that. Yeah. Yeah. How about a favorite number?

    Sam: Probably 8 and that’s only because it just popped into my head when you asked.

    John: Okay.

    Sam: I’m a social scientist, so we use numbers all the time. It’s really serves a very utilitarian purpose. So, you know, having a favorite doesn’t really mean much in an aesthetic sense. So it’s probably all that favorite stuff has probably been purged from my brain.

    John: Right.

    Sam: From all of my graduate work and my academic work.

    John: Right. ‘Cause favorite seems awfully extreme.

    Sam: Yeah.

    John: So like I like all of the positive numbers, whole numbers.

    Sam: Question is what does that number do? That’s what I wanna know.

    John: Right. Right.

    Sam: Right?

    John: Right. Exactly. Exactly. We got three more. Oh, here you go. Oceans or mountains?

    Sam: Mountains.

    John: Mountains. There you go.

    Sam: They’re close because—

    John: Yeah.

    Sam: Yeah. Alpine skiing, but I’m picking up sailing as well, so—

    John: Oh, nice.

    Sam: …oceans are definitely up there. But at the end of the day, if I had to choose a place, mountains with skiing.

    John: There you go. Yeah. Snowy mountains. How about when it comes to books? Do you prefer audio version, e-Book, or real book?

    Sam: Oh, hardcopy versions.

    John: Yeah. Real book. Yeah.

    Sam: I’ve tried digital and I’ve tried audio. I’m not in a car long enough for the audio to work. I mean, to really be effective. And I find that even with my Kindle, I’m going to my print version of the book.

    John: No, I totally agree. Yeah. It’s just more familiar. And then the last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.

    Sam: I would have to say right now, the favorite thing I own are my skis.

    John: Sure. Yeah. Is it a certain brand?

    Sam: I mean, the Rossignol skis. Oh, no, I’m sorry. They’re K2s. Previous ones were Rossignol, but I think it’s part of what I hold on to that really connects me to something that I find a tremendous amount of joy in. And I, over the last several years, have been trying to purge my world of physical things, but those are the things that I keep. Then they are a physical connection to something I find joy in, but there’s also just the aesthetic part of just carrying these skis around. And yeah, it’s just all part of the culture.

    John: That’s awesome. No, no, which ties right into your end of Alpine skiing. And because you live in Florida now, you have to clarify the Alpine versus whatever other kind of skiing, water skiing, or who knows what else type of thing, but yeah. But is it something that you grew up doing?

    Sam: Uh-huh. Yeah. So what’s interesting is that I probably, like most kids, took it for granted because my family is big skiers, but our pedigree in the United States goes back really, really far. I have a picture of my mother in 1948 on skis in New Jersey where she was growing up.

    John: Oh, wow.

    Sam: And we grew up in Dayton, Ohio as I mentioned earlier. And my father was president of the Dayton Ski Club in the 1950s and was a ski bump at Aspen for a year before he settled down after moving back to Dayton, Ohio. And he owned a ski resort, a small ski resort depending on how far back you go in Dayton, Ohio. Sugarcreek Ski Hills. I still stay in touch with a lot of people that grew up there and skied there. And over the years, it’s become more and more embedded in my culture and in my identity as well. And it is a great escape. So really second generation. My kids are third generation skiers. And my dad’s whole approach why he invested in the ski area was he just thought there was so much in skiing. And he grew up poor in an urban area in Dayton, Ohio, which, by the way, is not where you could find a lot of skiers.

    John: No, not at all. Right.

    Sam: Yeah. So his purpose for starting the business in part was to introduce people to the sport that he loved. And it was actually the common bond that brought my mother and my father together.

    John: That’s awesome.

    Sam: They met in the Dayton Ski Club.

    John: That’s so cool. I mean, you grew up on skis pretty much and then just stayed with it?

    Sam: I probably didn’t really connect to skiing until high school because it was just sort of there, but then I was active in the National Ski Patrol at the ski area. And my sister also ended up going to Killington Mountain School and was a competitive skier for 5 years, freestyle skiing afterwards. It is all from Ohio by the way.

    John: Right, right, which is amazing. It’s like a Jamaican bobsled team kind of thing.

    Sam: Yeah.

    John: I mean, it’s almost to that extreme.

    Sam: That’s the way you’d think about it.

    John: Right. Right.

    Sam: But what we found is that— I think the reason I enjoy it now when I’m much older is that growing up and learning how to ski in the Midwest, as well as in New England, your fundamentals get really strong. And so, you find that you can ski anywhere, and you can find joy in skiing anywhere. And because I grew up on a very small ski area, we used to call it Sugar Feet Ski Hills, but that was a very ambitious name. Most of us finally call it Sugar Bump. That’s how small it is. But I can ski any area no matter how big or small or where it is. And I can find joy in being on the snow on skis and find a way to do it. And so, for me, that’s a great escape. It’s a great way for me to release my brain, sort of think differently about different places and different people, and sort of appreciate the different ways in which we connect with not only each other, but the natural environment, as well as the constructed environment.

    John: That’s so interesting how much that plays out into work like you were just saying. I mean, you’re skiing because of the joy of it, but there’s so much of that that spills over. Like you can’t cut it off. You can’t not bring this with you to work or to life sort of thing and how many connections you’re able to make with that.

    Sam: Yeah. And as I was thinking about this interview, it’s really got me to think more deeply about this, which is it’s like a hobby. So how many people think deeply about a hobby unless you can be on What’s My “And”? podcast? And then you say “Oh, I gotta take this seriously, you know, at this point.” Right? But one of the things I do at Florida State is I teach and my pedagogy—In other words, the way I teach and the kind of skills and the kinds of courses I teach require a lot of vulnerability on my students ’cause I’m really trying to take them outside their comfort zone, prepare them for the professional world, and really get them to recognize that there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world.

    But if they have the right tools and the right attitude, they can begin to manage that uncertainty and really begin to be effective no matter what they’re tasked with. And skiing actually has turned out to be a really good analogy in part because I’m an expert recreational skier. I’m not going to be at the same level as my sister who is competitive on the freestyle circuit, but there’s very little that I can’t handle no matter if I’m in the Rockies or in the Alps or wherever I might be. And what that has done is that allowed me to understand how confidence interacts with skill and then understand where full heartiness is and where that line is between courage.

    Those are things I bring into the classroom and I also bring into managing my center because we’re kind of on a creative edge. And in order to be creative, you have to be able to step into uncertain spaces where you think you might have an idea, but you’re not sure. And I try to create these spaces where you can fail without getting hurt. Now, if I’m jumping into a shoot in the Rocky Mountains, very small margin for error. And actually, that’s one of my areas I’m very reluctant to do that. I tell people I have things I will do on the first day of skiing and things I will do on the fifth day of skiing. Most of that fifth day of skiing stuff I’m not doing on the first day because I know I’m not ready.

    John: That’s such a great parallel and, like you said, analogy of when you’re on the edge of a double black diamond or you’re free skiing or who knows what, you know, that backwards skiing type stuff. And it’s just like “Well, I don’t know where this goes. And we’re going really fast and zero margin for error. Like this is it.” But there’s that uncertainty in a lot of things in life really that we don’t really think about anymore, but that’s, yeah, one step at a time. Just you don’t have to take 20 steps. You don’t have to be the fifth day skier when you’re on your first day.

    Sam: Yeah. I use this analogy. I actually have a picture. There’s a really steep— probably steepest terrain in Vail that’s off of a place called Lover’s Leap. There’s a lip on it, so you can’t really see what’s on the other end. And I have some pictures of that. And I actually used it in class as an example of where you could go and understanding what your tolerance is and your skill level is at different times because now, remember, I’m teaching kids in Florida.

    John: Right.

    Sam: I mean, it’s about as flat. I live at 180 feet above sea level and it’s the second highest place in Florida. Part of using these images and sort of these experiences is to, one, I’m old. You know, I’m 61 years old. And to show them that even at 61, I can still do things that they can’t even imagine. And part of it is preparation. Part of it is being understanding where I am at a particular time and recognizing what skills I have and I don’t have.

    And then if I don’t have the skills and I actually talk about this ’cause sometimes my friends will say “Yeah, let’s do this”, I’m like “No, this is Day 1. I’m not ready.” I mean, to both a mental and a skill level, I just don’t have the leg strength to be able to do really, really steep stuff in a way. And I like to be able to ski well. Just getting down is not good enough. I wanna be able to link my turns and like I really am in control. So it’s actually served as a very useful analogy that helps take the whole conversation outside of a space where they are familiar with, which allows them to think more broadly.

    And so, yeah, it served as a really powerful way to sort of talk about important questions about what we’re doing professionally and where we’re trying to go even though you might not think that thinking about going off a lip under this really steep terrain has anything to do with whether or not property development in College Town Tallahassee is significant. I say, “Well, no, let’s think about the perspective here. Let’s think about where we are ’cause not everybody steps into this space. Only some people do.” So the question of what’s going on I found is really helpful.

    John: And the feelings that they’re having as they’re getting ready to go over the lip, if you will, of this project, or of this course, or whatever is exactly the same feelings that you would have if you were on these skis in this picture, you know, type of thing. And I’m here to tell you you can do it. I made it. And if you get a little over the tips or if you’re, you know, whatever, then you can ask for help. You’re in a safe space to be able to do that, and that’s awesome. And so, like have you always talked about the skiing or even the writing fiction as well that you do? Is that something that has always come up or— ’cause sometimes people think “Well, it’s a hobby, I’ll just keep it outside of work, no one cares” sort of thing.

    Sam: I would say when I started teaching. So part of my background is that I came to Florida State in 2011, but I came from the professional world. I didn’t come from the academic world. And what I found is when I came into the academic world and I was teaching, I found these much more relevant, these sort of experiences much more relevant. And also, I began to realize that a lot of what I was doing in my hobbies was actually helping me in my management even in the professional world. But I found it became far more tangible and relevant when I was in the classroom, when I was working with young adults. So I really started bringing this in explicitly when I started back at Florida State. And I found it was also a very useful way to start conversations. So that helps me get to know the people I’m working with. That helps me to understand where they’re coming from so I can think about if it’s classroom creating a transformative experience for them because all my students are also upper division undergraduates. So they’re going to leave what I call the bubble. And so, I want them to be prepared for that. And it’s not what they’ve been trained to do for the previous 2 years or 3 years.

    John: Yeah. Because college life is optional. Like you know what? I’m not going to class today. I’m just gonna stay home and play video games or whatever, sleep. Like you can’t do that once you’re working. Like it’s not optional anymore.

    Sam: Nope. And my classes are setup in a professional environment. So I wish I’d brought more of this into my professional life than I did before, but I really just didn’t and for a variety of reasons. One is, to some extent, the hobby is my escape from work. So the idea of mixing them is just like, okay, I just wanna go put my skis on or I just wanna go right. But I found over the years, I began to appreciate more and more of that. I mean, the fiction writing has been helpful because that’s really helped me understand what story means, how to create a story, and how do I communicate to my staff important issues that we’re grappling with. You know, what’s the story behind it?

    And if we understand the story, we understand the human connection, and understanding the human connection is the key to unlocking a lot of problems organizationally and in management. And I think we underestimate that. So both of those have become more and more important as I’ve gotten older. I’ve also found that just having the confidence to bring that into the professional space has been crucial too. And part of what I do is, you know, you have this great thing about What’s your “And”?, and I am really trying to bring that into the culture of the DeVoe Moore Center, which is the center that I operate. So I just found out one of my students who, again, she’s involved in politics and policy, she sings opera.

    John: Nice!

    Sam: Yeah.

    John: Yeah!

    Sam: And so, I’m like that is awesome.

    John: Right?

    Sam: And not only that, she’s self-taught in opera.

    John: Whoa!

    Sam: Now, that is non-trivial for a number of reasons. But including the fact, Florida State has one of the best fine arts programs in the country in part because of its legacy as a woman’s college. But our fine arts and music programs are among the top 10 typically ranked, if not higher. So here we have a political science major who sings opera and then you’re listening to her and you’re like it adds a whole new dimension to life. And I’m not a fan of opera, but I appreciate opera as an art form.

    John: Totally.

    Sam: And to completely recognize the passion that comes through with trying to sing well, and she’s got a decent voice, I can’t say what great it is that I’m not a singer.

    John: It sounds good to you and me, you know. It’s like “Wow. I could do that.”

    Sam: Can you feel it coming through in the tape? Yeah. So we try to do that. And I think our students like it when we sort of highlight. Another one of our research assistants plays the flute in the marching band. And they all have something they can bring in and that helps build the culture of the organization, and it makes it easier for everyone to relate and yeah. So I am completely bought in or completely sold. I’m completely all in on this idea of What’s Your “And”?

    John: Oh, thank you, man. That means so much. Yeah. And it’s cool too because I’m learning from clients. And what I’m hearing you say even is it crosses generational differences. It crosses DEIA differences. It crosses like all kinds of differences that most people would look at on the surface as well. I have nothing in common with this person, and it’s like “Actually, maybe you do.” And if it’s not the same, it’s still awesome. You know, like it’s a cool other dimension to them that they’re able to bring to the program, and it’s cool.

    Sam: Yeah. One of the things I started doing in my classes, I break my classes down into small group discussions. And I do more and more of that all the time. And what I found happening, as I was observing these small groups, is that the conversations— there’s a bonding that happened. So it’s not just the academic component. It’s the way they interact. And they begin sharing stories. “Oh, well I was doing this.” “Oh, why were you doing that?” That ended up creating this team environment that relaxed the entire exercise that then allowed them to explore more deeply and more substantively the questions that I really wanted them to as an instructor. At the end of the day, we’re human and we’re social animals. So the and is really important because that’s what gives us that human dimension that allows us to say “You are not a robot. You are not just an economist. You are not just a statistician, or whatever, or a CFO. And what else are you doing? Let’s find out about that. Let’s talk about it.”

    John: I love that so much, man. That’s so awesome to hear that it’s even in the classroom and just it organically happens, you know. If you told them you can only talk about like the academic thing that I handed you and you have to talk about that, then they wouldn’t go as deep. They wouldn’t get a better solution. They wouldn’t create those connections. But by letting the human happen, you’re able to get a little bit deeper, and it just happens organically, and just let it go. And I love that. Build the sandbox and let ’em play, you know, sort of thing.

    Sam: And I have to have the discipline to stay back, which, by the way, that is work because they’re— I don’t know. This is the way it should be or this is what you need to be talking about. Right?

    John: Right.

    Sam: I’ve been doing this for 40 years. Right?

    John: Exactly.

    Sam: But I’ve really had to work on the discipline of standing back, and sitting back, and observing because what I’ve found— I try to coach my new faculty on this as well. If you let them work through it themselves in an organic way, they will get to the same place. If we structure the exercise the right way, if we have— And I haven’t lectured in 6 years and I’m a full-time faculty member. But if we structure the exercise in the right way, they will get to where we want them to go. But the more organic it can be and the more that it’s grounded in the relations that they develop with their peers, the deeper that learning will be and it may take longer. It definitely will take longer, but they’ll get there, and they’ll learn the lessons more fully and completely, and in a way that they can apply. So it’s really fun to watch.

    John: That’s so awesome to hear. Yeah. ‘Cause I mean, you know, when I wrote the book, the message, it was never in a classroom or in academia. It wasn’t that. So it’s just so cool to hear and thank you so much, man. That means so much. Absolutely. And yeah. So I feel like before we wrap this up, do you have any words of encouragement for anyone listening that maybe has an and that they feel like no one’s gonna care about ’cause it has nothing to do with my job?

    Sam: Oh, yeah. I think when you embrace your and, you’re embracing the full you. And it will be scary at first. But the more you do it, as long as you’re not like hitting someone with a sledge hammer over it, you’ll find with practice and as you talk a little bit more about it, that people will connect with it.

    So there aren’t very many students in Florida that Alpine ski, but they all are very intrigued by it. We certainly don’t have a lot of students that sing opera that are outside the major, but they really think it’s cool. And so, I think it’s worth the leap. And I think you become more fully multidimensional and people appreciate that. And I think it’s particularly valuable these days. I think it’s so easy with social media to become one dimensional and project yourself in a certain way. But in the real world, we need to be authentic, and we need to be complex, and humans are inherently complex. And your probably is a demonstration of that complexity, which creates long-term bonds.

    John: Yeah. Totally. Yeah. ‘Cause, I mean, there’s certainly other complex things about you, but the and is like the first step. It’s a simple thing. It’s an easy thing. It’s something that you can start to create those connections. You can get to more complexities later if you want, but that’s just a little bit below surface level that’s just like “oh, okay” type of thing. And I love that so much, man. That’s awesome.

    Sam: Yeah. It’s also a great conversation starter at a party if you’re shy.

    John: Right.

    Sam: Right?

    John: Exactly.

    Sam: So yeah. And then you’d say “Oh, well, what’s your and?” And then you’re “What do you mean what’s my and?” “Yeah. What hobby are you interested in? Why are you here?”

    John: One day, it will just be “What’s your and?” And then everyone will know what that means.

    Sam: That’s right.

    John: And then they’ll be like “Oh, it’s this.” And then it’s just like part of the vernacular. But I feel like it’s only fair that I turned the table since I so rudely peppered you with questions at the beginning that we make this The Sam Staley Podcast and I’m your guest. So whatever questions you got, I’m all yours.

    Sam: Yeah. Well, I’m actually intrigued by your standup comedy. And what I find interesting— ’cause I think it takes a tremendous amount of courage to get up and do standup comedy. And I’m curious as to when do you know your comedy is working? And then a second part to that is when it’s not working, how do you respond?

    John: Oh, wow, those are good questions. Well, I guess you know it’s working when people are laughing and that’s within a 10th of a second. You can tell. And also, the more you do it, the more your antenna, I guess, are— Like when I’m on stage, even now keynote speaking at conferences, I have antenna in all parts of the room. So I can sense within milliseconds if something’s off. This side of the room is not quite getting it or I said something that applies to this particular table or whatever. So like it’s exhausting really to do, but you can just get a sense for it.

    And yeah, I mean, I guess you know it’s working when people are laughing ’cause that’s really at the end of the day what comedy’s for, is making people laugh. That’s how I looked at it. I looked at it always as people’s lives are maybe not totally awesome, so they’re coming to the comedy club or the show as an escape. And so, if I can be a part of a show that makes you forget about time, forget about everything else and just laugh— And you know, most of the jokes are about me anyway. So, you know, like it’s self-deprecating, but then slowly over time, it did become just observational stuff about the world, about the McRib or crockpots, or all kinds of silly things that are just in our world.

    And then I guess when it’s not working, yeah, you’re just sort of like “Well, I guess I’m the only one that thinks that’s funny. That’s cool.” But eventually, you tell the joke and you polish it, you tweak it, you know, and you record, and you listen, and then certain words are funnier than others or the cadence of how you deliver it, and then you just start to dial it in. And then if it doesn’t work 1 out of a 100 times, well, you know what, that’s on the audience. That’s not on me. That’s on you. And also too, this is also something that I was talking to somebody about recently is audiences don’t always know that they’re not good. Some audiences are just quiet. They think they’re killing it. They think they’re laughing as hard as can be.

    And I’m like “Oh, you guys are about a 5 out of 10 maybe tops.” But they don’t know when they come out after and this was the most amazing thing ever. And I’m like “Well, I don’t know. I’m glad you think so.” And so, that’s the other thing, is audiences don’t always know ’cause there isn’t a comparative audience on the other side laughing harder for them to then “Oh, okay. We gotta step it up here.” So, you know, you just learn to dial it to them and then meet them where they’re at and be like “Okay. Well, that’s what we’re gonna get. You know, the 5 is gonna be the max and that’s cool.”

    Sam: It’s interesting because what you’re saying about and sort of the pivoting that happens, I mean, we forget how much we have to pivot all the time.

    John: Oh, my gosh.

    Sam: The importance of being able to let it go. In other words, if it’s not working, let it go. Don’t get tied into that, but then begin to think more forward thinking, all right, how do I, one, not get pulled down by either the energy of the audience or a joke that just went flat or maybe three jokes that went flat? And it always struck me that live entertainment has to do that. And that’s a really good skill to develop. And that’s something that we work with a lot. So this idea of trying to always not get too mired up in the past and stay in the present. Right?

    John: Yeah. And I mean, it’s pivoting every second, I mean, when you’re doing comedy. I mean, there’s almost a fork that happens on some of the jokes where you’re like “Oh, you really got that joke. Cool. You just unlock the magic new level that I only bring out for audiences that deserve it.” Or if you didn’t like that one or you didn’t respond as well to that one, then there’s one coming up that I’m just gonna skip because it’s just not gonna work, you know, type of thing. But it’s a lot of trial and error, and error, and more error. You learn the hard way. If you’re singing, or if you’re in a band, or if you are skiing or running, you have to do it, but you can do it kind of not in the public eye.

    Sam: Right, right.

    John: But in comedy, like I can practice all I want in my garage, but you don’t know if it’s good or not until you get in front of strangers. And that’s the hard part about it.

    Sam: Is there a difference between comedians that do the one liners versus the ones that try to work on a theme?

    John: Sure. I mean, not really a difference. I mean, I do find that jokes that are shorter don’t necessarily have to be as funny or pack as much of a punch because you didn’t make the audience wait as long. So a one liner, you know, from like Steven Wright, or Mitch Hedberg, or Demetri Martin, or comedians like that, they’re all very, very, very funny. But the amount of shock, or turn, or twist to that joke that’s necessary is less than a joke that’s longer because you’re making them wait. And now, they’re like “Well, this better be really freaking good because you’re making me wait.” But even then, that longer joke is still dissected into a bunch of jokes that in a minute, you know, there could be 10 punchlines in that 62nd joke. You just don’t know it because of the rhythm of it or the way it’s more of a story or something.

    Sam: But the comedian would be aware of what that trajectory of those— that layering of the jokes or—

    John: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. The common thing would be there’s the buildup and then there’s that first punchline. And then right after that, another one or another one. So then, it’s like bam, bam, bam. It’s kind of like a boxing sort of a thing. Like you just can’t come out swinging like haymakers every time I would imagine. I don’t know, I’m not a boxer clearly, but there’s a little bit of a dance to it. But then once one lands, then bam, bam, bam, bam. Then it’s I’m coming in for some more and then you back off a little bit and then it’s “All right, we’ll get back into the new one” type of thing. But it’s so great. The fact that like you can say words and then the immediate reaction of a group of strangers, it’s an emotional reaction. They’re not thinking. Like I was listening to an Alan Watts thing recently. And he was talking about like if you have to explain the joke to somebody, they laugh out of courtesy.

    Sam: Yeah.

    John: But it’s because like the magic is lost now, you know. But the fact that you can say words and then people laugh and like a group of strangers that don’t know each other, you don’t know them, and their immediate response is laughter, it’s awesome and mind blowing. There’s been so many times I’m on stage where I’m literally like I don’t even know how this happens. Like I don’t even know what the magic is behind this. And it’s awesome to me. It’s really interesting.

    Sam: Strikes me how comedy is so culturally contextual. I mean, it’s like in Ireland, your comedy is gonna be very different—

    John: Oh, yeah.

    Sam: …than it is here.

    John: Oh, yeah. Very.

    Sam: Actually, I’ve spent a fair amount of time traveling back and forth from China. It’s like our humor does not translate well into Chinese humor or Japanese humor and just so different.

    John: So different. Even within, I mean, when I moved to New York City from the Midwest. You know, in New York City, they don’t cook. They don’t have crockpots. They don’t have college marching bands ’cause they’re all about the pros. Or you get a group from Norway that happens to be in the— And you’re like “Well, I don’t have a lot of Thor jokes. Like I don’t really know.” You know? So it just makes you write more and to be more accessible to more people and just try and find those common bonds and the common denominator between us or you’d go the other extreme where I’m the animal in the zoo that’s freaky and you don’t know anything about me.

    So I’m just gonna make you laugh about how crazy I am and my world is. It’s one or the other type of thing. And that’s why like a lot of people that wanna do that do comedy or whatever that ask me, I’m like “Well, get a job because everyone in the audience has a job.” If you’re working at fast food or delivering pizzas, yeah, sure, but I don’t know what that’s like. So for you to tell jokes about delivering pizzas, I’m not gonna get it and neither is the audience. But if you have a job and you can make fun of the world that they’re in also, then you’re more relatable. It’s just finding that connection and then taking ’em on a ride.

    Sam: Very cool.

    John: Awesome, Sam. Well, thank you so much for being a part of What’s Your “And”? and introducing it to so many students at Florida State and for being a part of this. Thank you so, so much.

    Sam: Oh, thank you, John. This has been so much fun.

    John: And everybody, if you wanna see some pictures of Sam on the slopes or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there, as well as links to his books. And while you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. So thanks again for subscribing on Apple podcast 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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