Natalie Shure Doesn’t Ruin Everything

INJ 24 | Educational Comedy

 

Natalie Shure is a writer and researcher. Her work appears in The Atlantic, Slate, Daily Beast, LA Times, Pacific Standard, Salon, and BuzzFeed. She is head of research for Adam Ruins Everything on TruTV.

Listen to Episode #24 here:

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Natalie Shure Doesn’t Ruin Everything

Our guest is Natalie Shure. Natalie’s a writer and researcher. Her work appears in the Atlantic, Slate, The Daily Beast, LA Times, Pacific Standard, Salon and BuzzFeed. She’s the Head of Research for Adam Ruins Everything on TruTV. Welcome, Natalie.

Thank you.

Natalie, if you weren’t a writer, a researcher, what would you be doing?

I think part of the perk of being a writer and researcher is it allows me to cover a pretty broad swath of territories. I didn’t have to make that decision in the first place. I thought pretty seriously about law school, but that has some writing and research elements to it. I don’t know if that’s a fair answer or not.

It’s hard to imagine you as a lawyer. What would your lawyerly life be like do you think? Who would you be suing?

I tried to work some political or social angle, some public interest law of some kind. It depends on what specifically I ended up doing, but who knows if I would’ve made that decision if I had gone to law school. I think that it probably beats that impulse out of people pretty effectively. It’s hard to say.

How close did you come to go into law school?

I took a ton of practice LSATs, a few dozens of them probably. I was pretty serious about it for a time. This was when I was 24 probably.

Did you score high on those practice LSATs?

Yes. It would have all gone pretty well.

Why not? You would have gotten into a good school.

I was sick during the Peace Corps when I was studying for these things. I was just incredibly ill. I was quarantined.

I actually have a question about it, so I’m glad you brought it up.

To recap, I did the Peace Corps right after college. I then got a super drug-resistant form of tuberculosis. It was traumatic. It lasted for a long time. I had to go through a lot of treatment, around nine months of chemotherapy and two years just different antibiotic drugs. It was during that time that I was supposed to take the test. During the initial phase of that illness was when I was hospitalized. The LSAT wasn’t an option, things got busy. I didn’t have the bandwidth to think about it for a while.

Did the illness change your perspective in some way? Were you changed by that? People talk oftentimes about those kinds of experiences.

They talk about those experiences in ways, at least in my experience, tends to ring somewhat false. I understand that. I think that people have this impulse to make themselves sound noble and to make themselves sound like people who are facing something really bravely. Certainly, I think that people are or can be like that. I think that that obfuscates a lot of the other staff. I think it can be very frustrating. It can be very confusing. I think that for some people, there’s a darkness to it that’s not particularly enabling. Overall, of course, it’s changed my perspective. It’s made me a kinder person overall. I’m more patient with people that I might have been. I don’t know how I’ve been changed in ways that would be fit for an airport bestseller.

There’s work on what they call post-traumatic growth, which I think is quite interesting. The normal narrative is you expose someone to something horrible, war, disease, addiction, abuse, and it ruins them. They spend the rest of their life battling and dealing with these demons. Obviously, that stuff happens. There’s been a lot of attention on post-traumatic stress, but there’s a flip to that, there’s the reverse of that, which is growth. I don’t think that it’s characterized in a noble way per se. The stories around it go something like, “It created a change in perspective so my values changed as a result of it.” That’s what someone might say. “I was too focused on my career and I decided to shift it to the family. I hated this job and I wanted to do something that was more in line with my beliefs.” The other reaction in the literature is that it often brings people closer together. It makes them more communal, more connected. They reunite with parents. I think some of it is a search for meaning or just the value of recognizing the value of relationships and so on.

It’s a little hard. When I got this, I was 23 years old. It’s a little harder to pin down what your beliefs and focus might be before that. I just finished college and then I was in the Peace Corps. I have a family, I have a sister and parents, but I didn’t have a spouse or kids. I still don’t. I think it would have been hard to make that particular decision. I think that moving away from wanting to do law wasn’t necessarily a value choice. I think that I just had this catastrophe, I had to stop studying, I had to shift focus by virtue of the fact that I was going through treatment more than having an emotional epiphany. I think that maybe it changed. Maybe it is the case that I ended up not going back to it because I had changed. I did end up wanting to do more writing and that that’s when I got into doing that professionally. It’s hard to say if those are connected or not. I’m sure they are in some way.

What I wanted to ask about this is something that I’ve noticed about you. You’re an incredibly honest person, both privately and publicly. I think your public honesty is incredibly refreshing because I think we’re living in a world where private and public discourse is quite different. There are two things, one is related to this. You wrote an article that’s actually in BuzzFeed. It feels like the weightiest thing that I’ve ever read in BuzzFeed. It’s called Inconspicuous Consumption. I remember reading this, and you basically open the story. People should read it, but you opened the story with this very honest moment in your life. I just remember at the end of the first sentence I was like, “I need to read this article because it was so vulnerable.” We’re friends on Twitter and so when I met you, maybe you had 3,000 or 4,000 followers and now you have 24,000 followers. I think that part of the reason for that largely organic growth has to do with just how real you are on Twitter.

[bctt tweet=”Honesty is the cousin of bluntness or distilling of point effectively.” username=””]

I’m not sure about real. I’m not a memoirist by any means. I’m honest in that. I don’t think I lie to people. The TV intro was definitely something that was a response to what I was talking about before, disease writing tends to feel very dishonest to me. I thought if you’re going to write something about your own experience, you can’t try to make yourself look good and so I didn’t. I just opened on a moment of darkness. I think on Twitter, I do write about myself and my life to a certain degree on Twitter playfully. I don’t know how related, honesty is like a cousin of bluntness or distilling a point effectively. I’m not necessarily diplomatic on Twitter. I would say I’m definitely not. That’s a form of honesty.

You’re honest in a way on Twitter that I’m not. I don’t tell lies on Twitter. I just omit. There are lots of things that I don’t post. I don’t use it for politics, for instance. To me, Twitter is a playful thing largely. I’ve tried to keep it that way even as it’s turned dark. I think the issue is I know where you stand on a lot of things. I know who you like and I know who you don’t like and I like that you’re not afraid to say that you don’t like something. Also, you’re funny and that’s why you’re on this podcast.

I write about politics too. Having political opinions on Twitter is probably more an aspect of my professional life than it is of yours and in many people’s. In that sense, it is personal opinion but it’s also professionally melded at least partially.

I think that’s fair. No one wants to hear the humor research directors’ politics. That’s how I feel about it. 

Maybe some people do. I think that if we’ve learned nothing else, I think it’s no one gets to be apolitical anymore.

You have to choose a side. Do you think that’s true?

I think you have to choose a side. I’m not going to give away your politics here and I have a pretty good idea of them. That plays into your research, anyone’s politics plays into everything they do. I don’t recommend tweeting about politics all the time because it’ll ruin your life.

[bctt tweet=”Writing for a popular audience is writing for an academic one.” username=””]

Speaking of which, you’ve definitely had a shift where you’ve moved away from comedy and into this world of politics, but they still overlap. Speaking of ruining your life, you’ve had a rough moment when you made what I thought was a funny joke on Twitter.

Katie Rich was this writer on Saturday Night Live who tweeted something. She basically tweeted that Barron Trump will be the first homeschool shooter. I think it was her joke, which is a funny joke. People thought it was in very poor taste. There are persistent rumors that Barron Trump is autistic. I don’t know whether or not those are true, but people took it to mean that and so she got fired. That was the allegation. She got fired for that. A lot of people were super mad. I think people are pretty unified that it was a cowardly move of Lorne Michaels to fire her from Saturday Night Live.

A lot of people are posting responses and Ivanka Trump posted some tweet about putting her baby to bed. I wrote a joke in solidarity with Katie Rich, “I’d like to point out that this baby also sucks,” which was a joke. Of course, no one feels that way. It’s just a complete a sarcastic comment about how seriously people have taken the Katie Rich thing. No one was actually offended by Katie Rich thing either. They’re just looking for things to performatively point to and say like, “How dare the liberal media do this.” I should have anticipated that they got mad at my tweet too.

For a few days, I was completely inundated with thousands and thousands of tweets and emails and Facebook messages. I got a few LinkedIn messages. Someone posted my address. I got a lot of scary attention to that for a few days. A couple people emailed my boss. I deleted my bio right away, right after some people started tweeting about this. I figured there was some confusion about where I worked. If you just Google me, I’ve written for so many different places. Some people were adding BuzzFeed, asking them to fire me. They will definitely fire a freelancer that’s written for them twice. It was definitely an unpleasant experience.

INJ 24 | Educational Comedy
Educational Comedy: Politics plays into everything people do.

 

Scary?

A little bit, yes. I can handle someone calling me a cunt, that’s fine. Go ahead, but posting phone numbers, address. Some people are posting things like photos that they had to go through like eleven pages of my Google search results to find. It’s just the feeling of someone obsessing over your life and looking for details on it. I changed my name on Facebook, I haven’t changed it back.

Did that experience change the way you behave publicly? Obviously, you wouldn’t tell that joke again.

That experience taught me out absolutely nothing in terms of right or wrong. I’m still pissed. Those people are full of shit. I still don’t feel like I did anything wrong. It was a sarcastic remark. If anything, I’ve learned a little bit about if you’re going to go through that much shit, make sure it’s for a good tweet. I wouldn’t do it all again just because it was silly. I didn’t need to post it. It’s not like I think I’ve grown as a person or learned anything about right and wrong because they’re still wrong.

I can imagine this is funny. You just fire this thing off. Twitter’s often not like that in many ways. This idea of moving away from comedy, is it just a natural response, something you thought about, made a decision? How’s that happened? How would you characterize your comedic chops?

For one thing, I moved away from comedy in terms of I don’t do standup anymore like I did in my mid-twenties. My day job, I do work for a comedy television show. It’s not as if I’ve completely abandoned it. I think I moved to a different role within it. When I was living in New York City in Washington, DC in my mid-twenties, I did some stand-up. I was never trying to be a road dog. I was never trying to getting onto Conan or be a professional comedian. I liked the fact that there were different roles in comedy that could be blended with something more academic or more journalistic, whether that’s working for certain shows. The show that I am working on didn’t exist yet.

When I got a job as a researcher, I knew one of the writers in the first season and they were looking for a researcher and I had these academic qualifications. That’s when I moved to LA and have been promoted since. I think it just felt like I was scratching the comedy itch in my day job. I didn’t intend to. I thought in my head that I would keep doing standup, but I just stopped craving it, stopped wanting to work on new material. The idea of embedding myself in a new city scene felt exhausting and I was enjoying going to sleep at a normal hour.

[bctt tweet=”I do think that people need to be tougher. I know that is so unpopular.” username=””]

That stand-up thing is a grind. Those late nights and shitty open mic experiences.

The opportunities that I was hoping that standup would open up, I already had that job. I realized that I had outlasted its utility for me personally. I think that the 2016 election had something to do with it. I think that it did change my headspace. It started to feel that makes it sound like I’m above it and I’m not. I felt like it wasn’t engaging with things that I thought were the most pressing issues in society and I lost interest.

I use the word frivolous because as someone who studies comedy, I find it an uphill battle at times because that’s what people’s first reaction to research on humor is because so much of comedy is just entertainment. It’s designed to entertain. It is less important than some other things in life in some ways. In some ways, it’s actually incredibly important, if that makes sense. To me to think of comedy is just entertainment is to not think about the true breadth and power of comedy.

Frivolous is the word you used. That’s not what I would’ have said. I can’t quite articulate it. Great comedy is still amazing. There are things that I love about it. A couple of years before when I was first doing stand-up I would miss it when I’m not doing it, I would feel driven to do it. I would think that people were grappling with interesting questions with comedy. I think that the comedy was at one point a way for me to say and think about things that I cared about. Then I think maybe the things that I cared about most have shifted or the things that I felt were the most important things to consider and grapple with have shifted. I just felt like comedy was coming up short as like a tool to a grapple with those things specifically.

I think a good comedy is an art. I do believe that. Most comedy is not art.

At its best, it’s incredible.

Art grapples with life and it just tries to understand all this. When it does it well, it’s provocative, it creates emotion. Obviously, comedy does that and it creates a delightful emotion, which is an added benefit. It doesn’t have to change perspective, but it what it does is it makes you work on your perspective. I think any art does that, it has this emotional response and it makes you think about, appreciate and consider the world, life, whatever that thing is. My use of the word frivolous is that there are times in the world that things change. They get more serious. There are real tangible problems, there are always problems but they just seem more pressing. If people are just telling dick jokes, they are missing an opportunity. It’s a missed opportunity as an art form. 

This is my own personal experience. I’ve largely stopped watching sports. I’ve given up watching sports and I did it in part because I got very clear that it’s just entertainment. It’s not a very good form of entertainment. I actually didn’t want to consume as much entertainment because I wanted to work on creative pursuits more. I wanted to be more physically active. When I wasn’t doing creative work, I wanted to be out and about not sitting in front of a TV or sitting in a room somewhere. That wasn’t like a moment in time that there was like, “I have to do something better with my life,” but it does fit that idea. I just slowly came to this thing that removing sports from my life was going to be doubly beneficial.

It sounds somewhat similar. In one moment, I didn’t decisively reject the amount of comic. I still work in comedy and I still watch a decent amount of it. I scaled back my participation as opposed to I went cold turkey and it wasn’t one single decision. I just noticed that I hadn’t been involved in it or pursuing it and this is me retrospectively thinking about why.

I’m now old enough that I have a number of examples in my life where I think of it as like ending a chapter where I make a decision that it’s time to put this part of my life behind me. One of the nice things about that is that it opens up time, space and energy to do something else. Seventy-five years of sports watching, that’s not a good use of my time. It’s time to end that and then open up something else. I want to talk to you a little bit about your day job. How would you describe Adam Ruins Everything as a show?

It’s been a great experience. It is an educational comedy. Sometimes we call it a liberal arts comedy. It examines misconceptions and aspects of everyday life that have crazy backstories or are a lot more complicated than people realize. We illustrate those things in a humorous way. It’s a very visual comedy.

It’s smart, though. That’s one of the things I like about the show is it treats the audience as intelligent. 

We try to. I run the research for it. We’re in the third season starting that off. It’s been a couple of weeks and we’ll be in production until the fall.

What does it mean to do research for a show like this? Is it a lot of Google searching?

Any scholar will tell you in Google is a great way to find things. It’s a very academic job. My role would be more similar to a job at a Think tank or a legacy print publication than it would be to any other TV show. It is deeply researched and deeply considered. Our arguments I think have a lot of nuances. We’re not just reading one cracked listicle and then throwing it on screen regardless of whether or not it holds out. We’re going into academic journals and sometimes we even go to the library and we pick up a physical book. It’s an extensive process for sure.

[bctt tweet=”I don’t recommend tweeting about politics all the time because it will ruin your life.” username=””]

I’m supervising all of the researchers this season, so I’m not working directly on my own episodes but I’m working on pretty much every episode, guiding and giving notes and helping them through argument drafts and things. It’s a partnership between the researcher and the writer. The researcher is filling out different planks of an argument and saying, “This statistic best supports this piece of the argument. If you could bring this in, that would be good,” then the writer is trying to translate that into dialogue. The writer’s room pitches jokes on those things and it’s definitely a back and forth process.

I make a joke when I was studying humor when I come across the question of what makes things funny. I typed, “What makes things funny,” into Google. That was minute one of day one of starting my process. There was a ton of information that I had to digest as a result of that. That was actually the perfect place for me to start. If I had just picked up a journal article, I was probably not getting the full breadth of all the stuff that’s out there.

A lot of the times if something has been reported in the popular press, they link back to journal articles. You’re able to pretty quickly glean what should be in your literature review as you’re tackling this topic and trying to orient yourself within it. I can’t imagine not using Google and it’s one of those things like Wikipedia, it’s useful. They’ve got a very extensive list of citations, which tends to lead you to popular press articles, sometimes scholarly research. These are tools that I think are so democratized that people disparage them. They have pretty explicit academic uses.

You’re a good writer. I wish I could write like you. When you read these journal articles, what is your critique as a good writer?

I’ve done academic writing, I’ve done PhD coursework and stuff as part of my MA degree, so I’ve had to write journal-style articles before. I think it would be so much easier to write if you just got to make whatever point you wanted without any care about word count or how good the prose is. That would be excellent. I think that academics disparage popular writing for catering to the least common denominator and not capturing these complicated academic like, “Fuck you, no.” They just have to figure out how to phrase it in such a way and how to shape it in such a way that doesn’t bore people. I don’t buy the argument that there are some added nuance and headiness to something by virtue of the fact that it’s written in an academic style versus whether it’s not. I think obviously some writers capture more nuance, but that’s not limited to academics. Being someone who captures a lot of nuances can happen in writing for a popular audience or writing for an academic one.

I re-read The Big Short by Michael Lewis and I did it because I was trying to figure out how he does it because he regularly writes about complex technical things. The Big Short is a very nice example of that. Flash Boys is another one and he does it in a way that’s incredibly compelling. It’s a great story. This stuff gets turned into movies, like even technically difficult topics finding our way. I think that’s a perfect example. I don’t know what to do with this idea. I’ve been kicking around I was saying what I like about Adam Ruins Everything is that it treats the audience as smart. Michael Lewis treats the audience as smart. When you’re communicating ideas, of course, you want to communicate them in a way that’s pleasing. Finding a way to do this both pleasing and respectful of both the idea and the audience.

You definitely have to do your homework. I’m not saying that people should just simplify academic ideas beyond recognition.

INJ 24 | Educational Comedy
Educational Comedy: Putting a part of your life behind you opens up more time, space, and energy to do something new.

 

The opposite of that is academics should think about trying to please their audience.

I think that’s true. I think if people think that they have such a complicated nuanced point that it can’t be simplified at all, then that probably reflects more on their argument. If you can’t simplify something, if you can’t possibly capture this nuance in a more simplistic way, perhaps you don’t understand the argument. Perhaps it’s not logically cohesive. I’m very skeptical of people who say that the nuance and complicated ideas are the problems and you can’t possibly distill this. Maybe revisit some of your content.

The most powerful ideas in science are simple. They’re actually not complicated. A foundational idea of science is parsimony. All things equal, we choose the simpler theory. The nice thing about being an academic and I don’t know how much this existing in your world presently, I think what happens is when someone has an argument that feels too complex, they haven’t done the work on the question. I feel like I have such a great job because I get to design both the solution and the problem. Whenever a solution seems too complex, it’s probably because I’m asking the wrong question. I can change the question in a way to make the solution simpler.

It’s making a point more cohesive by changing its parts.

I don’t know if journalists get to have that luxury because sometimes the question is given to them. 

It depends on what piece you’re writing and for whom. That’s a complex question that I can’t possibly simplify.

In Adam Ruins Everything, the show has a say on the topic.

We definitely pitch and reshape.

The way you asked the question associated with that topic, that’s part of it.

Usually, it’s the way that we ask questions on that show or the way that we encapsulate arguments on the show.

What’s an example?

We try to evoke a misconception in a lot of cases. One segment that we did the first season was trophy hunting is good, not literally. That was the pitch, and the argument is basically when that lion got killed by that dentist a few years ago, people just lost their minds. They got so furious. I think that a lot of people agree that the existence of trophy hunting is unsavory and they’re not crazy about it and most individuals, including myself, wouldn’t want to go trophy hunting themselves. In a lot of cases, countries that sell just a few medallions a year up into the six figures for a few of these animals, that creates an incentive structure by which the country or community protects the animals because they have a lot more value to them. Otherwise, there’s little incentive to stop poachers. What you see in a lot of cases is like they’re being a regulated bounty hunting initiative in a given country for a given animal actually improved their populations.

[bctt tweet=”Comedy and politics could engage with the pressing issues of society beyond the entertainment value.” username=””]

I think that the classic example, I could be wrong, I think it’s Tanzania that they’ve had legal regulated trophy hunting and that it’s been beneficial to their elephant populations for all of those reasons. I think it’s super exciting to a counter-intuitive, interesting argument. When you do the reading, it’s pretty difficult to refute. We ended up I think structuring that act, it’s very sensitive obviously. People get upset about these things. It ended up being shaped around the idea that if you care about these animals, you should support trophy hunting something like that, and then try to lay out the case very sensitively.

That lends itself to comedy. The reversal, the tension. 

I think that’s why a lot of the acts work. We tend to try to start from a shared cultural assumption that we can flip. Not every act has that sometimes in the act is just about some crazy backstory of a blasé aspect of life that you haven’t thought about a lot. Other times there’s just some super fascinating connection that people haven’t thought about or like an issue goes way deeper than people realize. We suss that out. It depends on what topic we’re exploring and what we’re trying to say about it. The shared cultural assumption, in that case, being trophy hunting is monstrous.

There are these two competing beliefs about what they call consequentialism versus deontological thinking. Deontological stuff is in some ways very religious like, “Thou shall not kill.” It’s very rule-based. Consequentialist is tradeoff-based. It becomes okay to kill if there are benefits and so on. It’s costs and benefits. This is a nice example of that. Trophy hunting is wrong, that’s deontological, that’s the shared cultural belief. What you show from a consequentialist perspective is actually that’s not clear.

At the end of the day, if your moral goal is to have fewer elephant deaths, then support the thing that results in that. That seems like the better way to make moral judgments in most cases.

[bctt tweet=”The most powerful ideas in science are simple.” username=””]

I think the interesting part of the research that’s been done is the flexibility with which people can move back and forth between these two beliefs. It’s a way to think about moral dilemmas in a way to provide guidance. What’s interesting is you can move someone from a deontological perspective to a consequentialist or vice versa, which is fascinating. It just shows how morally flexible we are. There are a couple of things I want to cover. You’ve alluded to moving more into politics and into being more active. I have to ask this question because I actually think it’s an important question. The difference between being liberal and being a leftist or being left, what is that?

It is a very contentious question. People would disagree. These words are mapped out against a bunch of political tendencies, perhaps fairly or unfairly. I think in terms of how I think about it roughly the difference is that if you look at all of the societal problems that we have social, economic, political, that a leftist would basically analyze a lot of those and say, “Capitalism is the problem. We have to confront it, change it. We have to grapple with the problem of a capital and capitalism.” I think that liberalism would argue that. If harnessed properly, capitalism can be part of the solution. Market solutions versus public entitlements, public-private partnerships versus robust public sector that under which the private sector operates as opposed to alongside of it. I think ultimately it has to do with their relationship to and critique of capitalism.

They may have similar values but different solutions or goals.

I personally would argue that someone who wants to solve a lot of these social issues through capitalism doesn’t necessarily hold the same values. I think that inherently by saying, “We can make this better by harnessing the power of the market,” I do think that that betrays a priority system. I think that the way that you decide what should be protected and who should be protected and why both of those things do end up influencing priority systems in a way. I think that there is plenty of common ground and I think that a lot of people who haven’t broken these things down or a newer to these things or take common arguments in good faith.

The idea that everyone who voted for Hillary in the primary is a liberal versus everyone who voted for Bernie in the primary is a leftist, I don’t think that’s a fair dichotomy because there’s a lot more going on and you don’t know why people vote. I can’t speak to other people’s value systems or goals. I also don’t think it’s fair to say that liberalism and leftism as ideologies are in service of the same things.

INJ 24 | Educational Comedy
Educational Comedy: Academics should think about trying to please their audience – to an extent.

 

What are the Neoliberals?

Neoliberalism is capital striking back after labor gains. It’s a process that took place over the course of a few decades from the ’70s through the ’90s where a lot of public sector gains and more closely related to leftist programs are basically privatized and shift toward market fairability. In 1973, that’s when average American wages basically freeze and that’s when we see since then this climb in capital income that’s been climbing ever since. We’re at levels that are just as equal as they were during the gilded age. Neoliberalism is a way to in general refer to the pro-market movements. It’s a rightward shift but specifically toward privatization, deregulation that happened on a global scale, not just in the US.

How is it out there being more politically active than you probably have ever before in your life?

I’m happy to do it, I do it as much as I can. Sometimes it’s tough, it gets busy.

You knock on doors, you canvas and you did a congress. What was this thing?

I spoke at a panel in Tempe, Arizona. We’ve done events in Los Angeles. I am glad to do those things. I would feel very powerless even more so if I didn’t. When I am doing freelance writing, so when we’re on hiatus with the show, when I’m able to work on my own projects, I try to gravitate toward political topics, especially healthcare and write a lot about those things from a leftist perspective as I can. I don’t think they were necessarily super close to the world that I want. There’s no wood near me to knock.

What are you reading, watching or listening to that stands out that you go, “This is superb?”

INJ 24 | Educational Comedy
Debt: The First 5,000 Years

For someone who works in TV, I barely watch any of it. I don’t have a TV, not necessarily for personal, cultural, more like my living room is shaped in such a way that there’s no intuitive place for a TV to go unless I completely changed my furniture around. I live alone and I don’t like watching things alone. I prefer watching them with other people. In terms of reading, I’m reading a book called Debt: The First 5000 Years.

I have that book. I haven’t started reading it yet.

It’s great. That’s a book by David Graeber and it’s a book about the history of the idea of debt. The history of markets and how they emerged and whether they came out of political systems or vice versa. How we got to a point where our moral language is about debt. Owing someone a debt, owing someone something and all of those things are market-related aspects of our lexicon that we don’t think about. It’s a history of that. It’s fascinating. It’s a broad overarching history.

You read books, you actually get the physical copy?

I do. I’ve tried eReader. I like paging through the physical book and I write and I ended up researching for segments and stuff. I go back through books I’ve already read a lot more than some people do.

I like books too. They’re a pain when you’re on the road to carry around. I have a world class library that will basically deliver books to me. I love getting piles of books and flipping through them and I’m writing down notes. I haven’t been able to get into an eReader, I tried and I couldn’t do it.

I’m not crazy about it either. We use them at work because sometimes it’s helpful when rebuilding the citations. The control F function is something you don’t get on a physical book, which they should fix, that would be great. Besides that, I think it’s having a physical book is almost always what I’ll choose to do.

Last question, I always ask people this. What is the secret to success everybody knows but can’t seem to do? Tell me what is it.

If this is supposed to be an advice for me like I did this thing, the thing that I wish I could do is I wish I could stop procrastinating. I spend way too much time on Twitter, Facebook, just everything on the internet becomes more important than the thing I’m supposed to be doing every time I sit down to work. I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to solve that problem. If I could solve that problem, I’d solve my whole life.

It’s the self-control problem.

Yes, I personally lacked that.

You’re not alone. Even people who have high self-control suffer from self-control problems. 

We should fix it.

[bctt tweet=”To think of comedy as just entertainment is to not think about the true breadth and power of comedy.” username=””]

I can give you a hint as to how to fix it. There’s a surprisingly little advice in this vein. It actually comes from the literature on habits. I think that the researcher who’s doing some of the best work, her name’s Wendy Wood, she’s actually a USC psychologist. I pray that she writes the popular press book for the world. I think that the self-control problem is not just to beef up your self-control is actually to create habits that remove decision-making. That ends up being the key. The problem is creating a habit is incredibly difficult to do because you need some self-control at first to do it and often what you need is a situation that lends itself to breaking your existing habits. Sitting down to work and firing up Twitter is a habit for you. The only way to change that is to create a new habit around it all.

I’m on Twitter once or twice a day to twice a day is the limit. How have I done that? I actually make it incredibly difficult to use Twitter. It’s off my phone. If I want to go on Twitter, I have to open up a browser, go to a login page, type in my name, and go to a key pass, type in a password, get this incredibly long difficult password, copy it, paste it into the browser and open Twitter. What was interesting about that is that I still do that sometimes because I still value that experience enough. What it has done is it’s broken me in the habit of just opening up my computer and the first thing I do is check this playland.

If I’m writing a rough draft or something, leaving that piece up to be the first thing that I see when I open my computer I think helps sometimes. I waste incredible amounts of time.

The most elite writers and producers in the world have the same struggle about how hard it is.

I’m supposed to go to a cafe and get some stuff done. I’ve got some books and a laptop in my bag, so wish me the best of luck.

Natalie, this is so much fun. Thank you for doing this. 

Thank you so much. This was great. Thanks for having me.

Resources mentioned:

About Natalie Shure

INJ 24 | Educational ComedyNatalie Shure is a writer and researcher. Her work appears in The Atlantic, Slate, Daily Beast, LA Times, Pacific Standard, Salon, and BuzzFeed. She is head of research for Adam Ruins Everything on TruTV.

 

 

 

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