Welcome to a special dual taping of I’m Not Joking and Here We Are, Shane Mauss’s science podcast. This episode coincides with the launch of Peter’s new book, Shtick to Business, which you can find out about on at PeterMcGraw.org or buy directly from Amazon. Shane is a special contributor to the book, and Peter and Shane talk about the serious lessons you can glean from the genius and madness of the world’s funniest people.
Listen to Episode #98 here
Shtick to Business with Shane Mauss
Welcome to a special dual episode of I’m Not Joking and Here We Are, a science show hosted by comedian, Shane Mauss. We’re going to introduce each other to our respective audience. This episode coincides with the launch of my new book, Shtick to Business: What the Masters of Comedy Can Teach You about Breaking Rules, Being Fearless, and Building a Serious Career. You can find out about it on my website, PeterMcGraw.org or go to Amazon and give Amazon your money.
They need all the help they can get.
Since there will be more audience for Here We Are, maybe you should start with the introduction of who I am.
When I got obsessed and wanting to integrate science into my comedy, I started reaching out to some authors that I liked. They were like, “You might be interested in talking with some people researching humor.” Through a series of emails, I eventually got connected with Peter McGraw and we happened to be both at the same comedy festival. Peter himself was getting into the world of studying comedy. I was trying to put science into comedy. We met and it would have been an unjust world if we never would have met. Peter is a business professor and he is also a humor researcher. He wrote a book called The Humor Code, which I like more than he does. This book, Shtick to Business, he asked me to contribute some sections such as business lessons from the world of comedy. I have little anecdotes and observations I’ve made in the course of my career that are applicable to some of the lessons that you’re learning in the book. That’s why we’re doing this dual episode.
When we were prepping for this, I was trying to figure out how long I knew Shane. I was like, “When was it that you were fat?” You were like, “I was never fat. My face was fat.”
My face was bloated from alcoholism. I weighed the same as I do now, which is too little. If you have a big, red, fat alcoholic face, then you take your shirt off and you’re skin and bones, it exaggerates both in a negative way.
[bctt tweet=”Most comics will, more often than not, make fun of something that’s wrong with them.” username=””]
Your face is nice and thin, thankfully. As Shane said, we’ve known each other for many years. He’s a standup comedian who specializes in science. He has two touring shows. He is a homeless road comic. He’s home free by choice.
I live in Airbnbs. I’m an in-your-home comic. Where do I live? I live with you, our audience.
One of the shows is called Standup Science. I’ve done it and it’s fantastic. It’s a half-comedy, half-science show. It’s like the world’s funniest TED Talk.
It’s a half-comedy set and a half-science talk that’s blended together.
The second one, which is a special version of Standup Science is called Head Talks.
It’s the psychedelic version.
You can find Shane in the documentary film, Psychonautics and that’s on Amazon Prime.
It’s a comics exploration of psychedelics. We talked with all the top psychedelic researchers and then did a bunch of drugs.
You tried to do all the psychedelics.
It was cut short by doing too many psychedelics.
More than half of you will know that he hosts Here We Are, the science podcast. My book is launching on I’m Not Joking.
I realized that you’re bad at self-deprecation. When you self-deprecate like, “More than half of you will be listening to the Here We Are podcast.” It’s sad and real comedians use self-deprecation. It’s like, “Look at me. Aren’t I a dummy?” Everyone’s like, “It’s funny.” Cheer up.
That’s a perfect segue. The way the book is laid out is Shane has these sections we called Shtick with Shane. We have a little stick figure of Shane in there. Each chapter is built around the lesson and then in it are comedic anecdotes and stories, as well as the takeaway for the business person, and then business cases that illustrate this principle in action. One of the things that I write about is turning a bug into a feature. Some of that came from my observations of self-deprecation. I go to a lot of standups shows less than I used to. I’m a little bored with it all.
Comedians don’t go to comedy shows. I went to see my friend, Rachel Feinstein, because we happen to be in the same town and I hadn’t seen her in years. We’ve had a special connection. We’ve recorded our Comedy Central Presents on the same night. She used to stay in my extra room back when I was living in Malibu sometimes. That is to say that it takes a very special circumstance for me to go and see a comedy show when I’m off the clock.
I’ll give you an example. I don’t attend my colleagues’ lectures. I get it. I do enough lecturing. What a comic will do more often than not or among the first things that they will say is they will make fun of something that’s wrong with them. They’re too tall, short, fat, skinny, hairy, bald, pretty or ugly.
I used to have a joke. I know the punchline but I’m not recalling the setup. It was something like, “I’m freakishly skinny because there’s a hole in my butt.” It’s so stupid. The point is that was my single biggest insecurity growing up. I got mocked for being skinny. I didn’t think any girl was ever going to like me and all of these things because I wasn’t a big, strong, tough man.
I had the same issue.
When I got called names and things, it was always related to that. I was the skinniest kid in my class. That was something like this traumatic issue and big insecurity for me. As silly and dumb as it was, which is the point, there’s still a lot of bravery in there. Most people when they’re insecure about something, they mask it.
They avoid it. I remember I used to wear clothes that were much too big for me. Part of it is because if you’re long and lean like we are, it’s hard to find shirts that have a long enough sleeve. You end up buying an extra-large shirt and it swims on you. It’s not like that disguises the fact that you’re lean.
I used to get baggy pants thinking that would make my legs look bigger. People see the lack of fill space and they see all of that empty draping cloth hanging off of your bones. It does you no service.
I don’t miss the ‘90s either when those pants were all the rage. I think this is a neat idea because as I’ve studied in the Humor Research Lab, we say that humor arises from benign violations or from things that are wrong yet okay. Self-deprecating comedy has both of those elements. You’re pointing out something that’s wrong, but what makes it okay is you’re the one who’s pointing it out on yourself. It’s an easy path to a laugh until I do it. It also has this licensing effect, which is if I’m willing to make fun of the most insecure elements of myself, then I can make fun of everything else.
I made fun of me first. That’s an interesting take.
I call it a licensing effect. What’s fascinating is comics are honed in on this idea of what are my bugs, what are my problems and how can I turn them into a feature into something that works for me, not against me? I encourage people in business and businesses themselves to be on the lookout for their bugs and say, “Can you turn them around into a feature?”
What a breath of fresh air to see any marketing that isn’t like this upsell and self-aggrandizing. It’s like the banner blindness or whatever on the internet when every banner used to flash. That would at first get people’s attention, then that flashing, Pavlovian training, people learned to completely ignore any flashing banner. It did the opposite effect. We’re in that world by saying, “The best, the greatest,” but that thing doesn’t work or mean anything to anybody anymore.
I think there’s an opportunity. Looking at your bugs, they may remain bugs but sometimes it can be turned into a feature with a little bit of creativity.
Do you have one example from a business that used this?
I’ll give you my favorite. I have a whole bunch in the book, but my favorite is Buckley’s. It’s Canadian cough syrup.
I’m a Patriot. I only drink American cough syrup. I have a new business plan. I’m going to start making hyper-patriotic cough syrup to sell in America. That’s a market that hasn’t been cornered yet. Go on. Buckley’s, what are they doing?
Buckley was sitting at number nine in the Canadian market.
How are we going to get it up there? It’s nine. We’ve got the best syrup on the market here. What are we doing wrong here?
For our audience that doesn’t know this, Shane is from Wisconsin, so he’s half a step away from being Canadian. If you’re number nine in the Canadian cough syrup market, you’re not doing well. Buckley’s had a problem and that is the cough syrup tasted terrible, like truly awful. You could say maybe that’s keeping people away because it’s already aversive to have a cough and then have to take your medicine and throw some sugar on that or add cherry flavor. What Buckley did is they leaned into the bad taste. They changed their slogan to, “It tastes awful and it works.” The implication being it works because it tastes awful. Cough syrups are supposed to be murdering these germs and viruses. The things that are doing that for you should taste like medicine.
I wonder if this was a fun clever idea and that was that or they also knew how the placebo effect works. The more intrusive and the harder it is, the more the placebo effect.
It’s more believable. Essentially, bitter pills work better than sugar pills. They had sayings like, “Not now, not improved. Our largest size is 200 milliliters. Any larger would be cruel.” It ended up becoming number one in the cough syrup market by leaning into that bug and turn it into a feature. That’s a nice example of that thing. As a quick aside, speaking of that, there’s a paper on placebo surgery. Have you heard about this?
Is that the opening up of the heart?
This is the meniscus one that I read. This is in one of these Northern European countries that have socialized medicine. They randomly assign patients who have a meniscus tear to either the typical meniscus surgery. They do one where they go in there and they bang around but they don’t do the surgery.
They cut you open so you’re right back up.
It’s the same result.
The heart one that was similar that they did. They couldn’t tell if the new valve or something was working or hurting matters. They had the control group of doing nothing. They had the surgery group and then they had the fake surgery group cut you open so you’re right back up. The fix surgery group did better. The placebo effect is not to be discounted. It’s incredibly powerful what the body can do when you believe you’re fixed. The attitude is important. I can’t believe I’m alive with the attitude that I have.
I should live until I’m 100 with my attitude. It is interesting how we are such good friends but are different in complementary ways.
It’s like yin and yang. You don’t believe in yin and yang.
You have a blank sheet of paper in front of you and I have three sheets of paper in front of me filled with writing.
First off, if I think it’s something interesting to say, I’m not going to wait until you’re done talking. I’m going to spring it out there. If you want this episode to be nice, organized and flowing in a structured way, I’ve got some bad news for you, Pete. I’ve got to throw wrenches and those pliers.
Why don’t I let you do that?
All kidding aside, I love the idea of going through from start to finish. One of the many ways in which you benefited my life is by showing me the power of organizational habits. The first thing is reversing it. Comedians use reversals all the time and usually, they’re better. There’s a little self-deprecation on top of that and I’m tagging things. The idea is you build an expectation. The rule of three is a good example of a comic. First is set the premise, then the second example builds an expectation, then the third example, you talk about your genitals. Sing and a little twist or rue there, that’s what you’ll want to do. You get people expecting something and then you turn the other way. It’s a classic comedy technique, “Take my wife, please.”
I have a Henny Youngman example in the book. I’m going to give the audience a chance to see if they can be a comic. The setup to the joke is when I read about the dangers of drinking, I gave up reading. It’s a good joke. It holds up more than ever because alcohol is much more dangerous than it used to be.
Comedians use this in the first year of comedy. You better have the reversal figured out within the first month of doing comedy. Our business is able to use this same technique. A lot of this stuff is about divergent thinking and thinking outside of the box. This reversal is one example of it.
In comedy, it’s everywhere. It’s punchlines and premises. The movie, Trainwreck, is a reversal and premise, which is you take the typical rom-com roles and then you flip them. You make the female roles the typical male role and vice versa. I’ll give you an example of this that I liked, which is Patagonia, the outdoor gear company. They’re living in a world where sustainability matters. Their customers care about sustainability. These are people who loved the outdoors, loved the environment and are concerned about climate change and so on. All of these companies are trying to be sustainable companies. It’s hard to be a sustainable company because you’re making stuff and you’re shipping stuff. Patagonia ran this campaign called Don’t Buy This Jacket. They had a picture of one of their popular jackets with, “DON’T BUY THIS JACKET.” They’re telling people the cost to the environment in making the jacket and only asking them to buy the jacket if they truly need it.
I don’t know why I’m thinking of this, but I want any female audience out there to know that if you come to one of my shows, please don’t hit on me after the show.
I’m so glad you made that joke and I did not. The idea is thinking in reverse. First of all, I think the average comics naturally does it, but if they didn’t naturally do it, they learn to do it very quickly and learn to internalize it. I think the average person as they think about their career, their business or their problems, they don’t naturally think in reverse. It’s not guaranteed that thinking in reverse is going to cause you to come up with a creative idea, but when you do, it’s likely to be highly novel. Because if the whole world is always thinking, “How do we lower prices?” You think, “How can we raise prices?” It gives you a chance to start thinking differently than you would otherwise. It should be clear that this is not a book about being funny. You might learn some tips or tricks.
It might be funny. There are some laughs along the way and it’s entertaining, but it’s not at all an instruction manual on how to be funny. It’s lessons about the world from the world of comedy. You say it’s business lessons. I think a lot of this is stuff people could use in their individual lives in terms of thinking outside of the box. Even like everyone wants to stand out. They want their lawn to stand out. They want their wardrobe to make an impact. A lot of these divergent thinking and reversing things can be applied to many different aspects of life, not just for the small business owner out there.
I agree with that. I’ve pitched it as a business book because I’ve been trying to bring my day job as a business school professor and my night job decoding comedy together. I could have come up with a different shtick to something idea.
What can’t this book do? It can be a coaster. You could use it for self-defense. You could warm yourself in a distressing situation. When you’re done with it, you could start a campfire with it. This is exactly what comics do. They are seeing lots of other uses for things and businesses could benefit from this too. Aren’t there a lot of academic tests like this, giving someone a paper clip or something like that? You’re asking them to name the different alternative ways in which that they can use this and children are good at it and adults suffer from this.
One of the things that Shane did for me as he pushed me to put more science into the book. There’s something called the alternative uses test. It’s a test of creativity. What you do is you take an everyday object like a brick or a paper clip. You put it in front of a person and you give them two minutes to come up with as many uses for this beyond the obvious, clipping paper together or building a wall. You have judges who judge the number of ideas, their complexity, and creativity. You can give someone a score at how good they are at this. It essentially simultaneously measures persistence. If you work harder, you get more uses and then divergent thinking. What’s fascinating about this is that comics, as change has demonstrated, are good at this.
Also, prisoners might get your book and they’re using it to hide the Shivan. Maybe you have LSD on one page. You could tear out a page and turn it into a paper airplane to send a note across the hall to the next.
What’s fascinating is this graduate student at MIT does a Doctoral dissertation on creativity, in particular, looking at comedians’ creativity. In his study, he pitted comedians against professional product designers in the alternative uses to test and the comedians won. Part of this is because they did come up with more examples. Not only did they come up with more examples, but their examples were also more creative.
This is somewhat funny and somewhat serious thought that I’m having. I wonder how much of this is naturally creative or a person that has developed their creativity over the years. I don’t get into nature and nurture stuff as a false dichotomy, but I wonder how much of it is desperation. Comics are pretty broke and when you’re broke, you’re living within these strict constraints and by nature, you need to think of some creative solutions. My friend, Steve Gillespie, has jokes about why you should steal food from airports because they’re ripping you off and stuff. I don’t remember how the joke goes. It is very funny. It’s also something that was derived from real-life being broke on the road and whatnot.
I have a bunch of lessons that didn’t make it into the book and I don’t know what to do with them. I like to say it’s a good sign because you get the best stuff. One of the lessons that didn’t make it into the book not because it’s bad, but it didn’t make it into the book because I couldn’t decide if I agreed with it or not. It was originally called “No plan B.” It’s not for comedians who don’t use condoms.
I get it. I was one of those guys. My plan B was to go back to factory work, which I was not going to do. That was not the plan B or make it work. You’re then working within these constraints.
We should be clear for people who haven’t picked up on it yet. The idea behind “No plan B” is I have talked to many comics who said if I hadn’t made it as a comic, I might be dead. I didn’t have anything to fall back on. If I didn’t make it as a comic, I wasn’t going to make it as a human being versus the person who does have a plan B. They’re working in an office and then they go out and do open mics. They have something to fall back on in terms of career, money, lodging, housing, opportunity and so on. I couldn’t make up my mind about it. You clearly are a no-plan-B person.
To my detriment in a lot of ways. The opposite point would be I met this comedian and this is what I would tell every comedian to model their career after. I met this comedian who featured for me at this club. It is a good club in Grand Rapids in Michigan. I’ll be going through their headlining. The guy featuring was a guy is a digital nomad. He has a great computer job that he can work from anywhere. He’s a pretty funny comedian. He doesn’t need money from comedy and has the freedom to go and only takes the gigs that he likes. He’s at this club and featuring the gravy spot. The easiest way to get laughs is that middle spot.
There’s an opener, a featured act and then a headliner.
Opening a show is hard. Closing a show and being the main event is a lot of pressure. It’s hard and there are a lot of expectations. Featuring is a gravy spot and you can experiment a lot.
You write about this in your Shtick to Shane in the book.
I didn’t remember that part.
When you became a headliner, you said that you stopped taking big risks.
The pressure is on if you don’t get asked back. If you take a few chances in the feature spot and the club owners are looking and it doesn’t do well, they might be amused by it and respect that you took chances because they know it’s not killing their show. Whereas the headliner should better be funny. This is what people are going to come back for. Do you want to work at that club again? It’s easier to be safer and take fewer chances. This is all related to the book that I wanted to bring up but we didn’t talk about it. I think that the person buying this book is not like Warren Buffett. Bill Gates does keep up with most of the things that I’m doing. We go back ways. It might be a lot of people that are interested in starting a small business or something and are working within the constraints of having not a lot of resources. With that, it creates an opportunity that you’re going to be better off taking a lot of chances. You as a small business person can take way more chances than Coca-Cola can in many regards.
I wrote the book for two styles of readers. One is the person who’s working in traditional corporate culture and looking for an edge. They’re looking for a way to be better to enjoy their work more or maybe pivot out of it. The other one is for a startup founder type. Someone who’s entrepreneurial and who wants a different perspective. This issue of “No plan B” came up in the world of entrepreneurship on my other show called Solo: The Single Person’s Guide to a Remarkable Life. I talked to two entrepreneurs. When do you decide I’m quitting my day job and I’m going all-in, which is the opposite. What they said, which I thought was correct is you should be paying attention to the market. When the market is responding favorably to your product or service, you can’t ignore it anymore. That’s the moment versus, “I’m going to quit my job and I’m going to start this candle business.” It’s fine to start a candle business but do it on your nights and weekends.
The demand for your candles is much that your work is interfering with it.
That’s a good time to do it. There’s probably a parallel of it in comedy.
I went from doing open mics and starting to showcase and stuff. I could feel like things were going well for me and moving in the right direction. I was starting to get those first pay gigs and I was maybe making $500 a month pretty quickly. I hope this gives you a pause before getting into the world of comedy. It is record-setting to be making $500 a month as early as I was. Many people were jealous of me. I immediately then went to temp work because some of these gigs were traveling for two hours for a Wednesday night show or what have you.
Opportunities started popping up where I could fly somewhere and do a Thursday through Saturday gig. I went from full-time employment to temp work that allowed me the flexibility to be able to be mobile. Here’s something that I told you about in writing the book, but it wasn’t applicable to anything for the book, but it’s a fascinating story. I was working as a security guard at a construction company. I’ve told this story a few times that I’m sure my listeners haven’t even heard it. I was working temp for a construction company. I saw these security guys doing nothing. I was like, “How do you do that?”
They were like, “We’ll give you a job.” I was like, “That’s great. Sign me up.” It’s a sham security job. It was for this construction company to offset their liability costs contractually with the insurance company. They needed to technically have security there. The money that they saved on insurance was more than the money they’re paying for security. They got it for that. My instructions were to not get caught sleeping. It’s not to not sleep but not get caught sleeping. They didn’t even want me to talk about it. They’re like, “If you happen to see someone maybe stealing something, let the supervisor know but don’t even bother these guys. Stay out of their way.” It was as simple as that. I would write and I’d also drive often and do comedy shows and stuff because I pick my own hours. I’d take the overnight shift.
I don’t want to lose this point because I know you’re going to get to a punchline here. This is part of one of the lessons in the book. It’s the idea that comedians not only are humanoids that they see things differently, but they’re also willing to break rules not only to make things funny but in order to make a comedy.
All of the government, legal systems and stuff like that don’t make sense to comedians. All of it is a joke to us.
I have this story and it’s a fascinating story in the book. One of my previous guests named Claire Downs is an LA-based comedian, writer and so on who hasn’t made her big break yet. She takes these temp jobs also to make ends meet, but she will not let the temp job get in the way of her comedy. She has all these hacks that she has come up with that allow her. First of all, she gets to work and she does the temp work as quickly as possible. She then starts her real job, which is writing a comedy.
A lot of these temp jobs, they’re retaining you there in case something comes up and they need another body. You’re mostly twiddling your thumbs waiting for an emergency situation to arise.
[bctt tweet=”What a breath of fresh air to see any kind of marketing that isn’t like self-aggrandizing.” username=””]
My favorite example of this is she has this thing she calls her go-bag. When she packs for work, she takes a big backpack. She puts a small backpack in the big backpack. In the small backpack is her comedy stuff. She gets to work and she does her temp work. She leaves the backpack on the back of her chair. She puts a coffee on her desk that’s half full. She strews some candy wrappers, then she takes the go-bag. She goes somewhere and does her comedy work. She tells some story where she’s like, “I once pitched a meeting in Beverly Hills and everybody at work thought I was in the bathroom.” Your story is reminiscent of that, “I got this job where I didn’t have to work and so I could do my real work.” That’s even better. You don’t even have to be deceitful.
This construction site had all these big apartment buildings and it was also on an old haunted insane asylum. All these kids used to sneak up there and drink. This is before the construction project. There was some movie made about how this place was haunted. This was a big party area before the construction moved out there. The first night that I’m making my late-night debut, I’m still working this temp job at the time, but I took off to go down and do Conan. I go and I’m on. I find out the next day what happened was some kids snuck onto the property. They were partying and having beers and stuff. They ended up going into one of the unfinished buildings. They turned all of the gas on a three-story building and it exploded. Not only did it explode but across 100 feet away, all of the siding, all of the windows and stuff on the next building and another building. It was a monster of an explosion.
A cop sees this explosion because it’s up on a hill. He puts on his lights and comes flying up there. He’s radioing it in, calling the fire department and everything else. He gets up there and a security guard is sleeping in his car with this huge fire going on behind him. That would’ve been me. They looked into this security company and they didn’t have the proper licensing after all. They dissolved and we’re no longer a company. I found myself out of work after my first Conan’s set because of that. That’s when I became a full-time comedian. It’s not just the market, sometimes there are these right opportunities that arise. In an age where you might have a side gig going on and then one day you get laid off, that’s sometimes the perfect opportunity. They can collect unemployment for six months or whatever and get their baby off the ground.
I’m not a religious man. I don’t believe in fate but I do believe in paying attention and sometimes it seems like the world is speaking to you. We can thank those rowdy kids. This idea of breaking rules in order to be successful to make it work is not a theme in comedy.
There are some companies that have employed this.
I think you find it more on the entrepreneurial side. When you think about the failure rates of new business, they are so high. How high are they? It depends on how you measure it but 90%-plus failure rates. As time goes on, those failure rates go even higher. It’s easy to stay in business for a month but to stay in business for three years is hard to do.
If you break even in your first year as a company, isn’t that considered tremendous?
I think so. How long have people complained that Amazon was losing money and Uber still loses money? You think about how hard it is to be an entrepreneur, how hard it is to come up with a great idea, how hard it is to escape the competition, how hard it is to make enough money to survive. You get into these situations where you might have to bend the rules a little bit. You have your own version of the go-bag. For example, Sara Blakely was a door-to-door fax salesperson. This gives you an idea of how long ago this was going on. It sounds like a pretty terrible job. She had one of those classic “There’s got to be a better way” moments where she had a pair of pants that would show panty lines. In order to avoid this, she took a pantyhose and she cut the feet off of those. It was smooth to look for her. That turned into Spanx. It’s these compression-style undergarments.
It changes my life. My figure is so much better since the invention of Spanx.
To give you an idea of how valuable Spanx is as an idea, Sarah Blakely is a billionaire. As genius as it all seems, it wasn’t easy for her to do. For example, she got lucky. All of the producers of pantyhose, hosiery were all men. She couldn’t get anyone to make it for her because they didn’t see the value in it. They had been doing hosiery a certain way for so long. One of them was at dinner one night and has three daughters. He was like, “I had a meeting with this entrepreneur.” Of course, no one used the term entrepreneur back then. That’s a new term. He asked his daughters, “What do you think of these?” The daughters were like, “You need to do this.” There’s your dose of luck. When Spanx was launched, she contacted everyone she knew, even people she hadn’t talked to since fourth-grade. She asked them to buy the product and then she would send them checks in the mail to reimburse them for their purchase, just to create some velocity in the eyes of the retailers.
I think it was Neiman Marcus, which is a great store to get into, but they put Spanx in the pantyhose department. She was like, “My customers don’t buy pantyhose. They’re not even going to go to that part of the store.” When no one was looking, she took the product and she moved it to the cash registers of the store where people would happen upon it. What happened was the people working the cash register assumed that she must have permission to do that. You put it in front of the cash register and people saw this. You might imagine these women were like, “This is genius. This solves this problem.”
For the audience, what you should be learning from that whole story is if you want to help us out, go to your local Barnes & Noble, find the Shtick to Business, take those and bring it to the cashier and arrange them in front a little bit.
I don’t think I’m going to be in Barnes & Noble. What we need to do is have people bring it in and try to buy it. It’d be like, “We don’t have this in stock.” “You need to have this book in stock.” I’m curious, I don’t think I’ve asked you this in private, Shane. Aside from the ones that we’ve already talked about, did you have a particular lesson that you liked?
It was the email response of saying, “How to tell somebody no.” It was incredible because you are great at phrasing things in a way that’s bordering on deception but putting it in a professional way. “I can’t argue with that.” This might change a lot of lives. This had an impact on me and I need a refresher too because this is a good reminder for me to start implementing this.
I’ll give you the lesson and then I’m going to give you a little bonus lesson that didn’t make it into the book. I have these things called act outs. These are mini-lessons. They weren’t big enough to make a chapter out of but they weren’t small enough that I felt like I could overlook them. The last act out in the book is called Getting from Yes to No. In it, I talked about how when you’re young in the comedy or in business, you’re carrying a spear. You’re looking for opportunities. Everything’s outbound. It’s like, “Shane, do you want to be on my show? Shane, do you want to be on my blog?”
I’m begging to get on an open mic. I’m signing up and I’m waiting for the slight chance that maybe I’ll get picked to be on this horrific show.
What happens is you’re there in your career. You get successful enough that now things start becoming inbound. You started getting lots and lots of requests, questions. My argument is you have to trade in your spear for a shield. One of the best shields is simply saying no. The problem is the average person is terrible at saying no. The way the average person says no is they say something like, “I’m terribly sorry, but I’m way too busy these days. Maybe you could try me again in a month or two or something like that. I can’t do it.”
There are multiple problems with the way you’re saying no. One is you’re inviting the person to ask you again. Secondly, you’re inviting the person to judge you negatively because you’re saying, “I’m sorry,” which suggests that you’ve done something wrong. When you say, “I can’t do it because I’m too busy,” and you blame your busyness, it seems to the person like you’re out of control like you don’t have control over your life. It hurts you in multiple ways. My suggestion is you acknowledge that this is a good opportunity in the eyes of the person requesting it. You say, “Shane, thanks so much for thinking of me. I’m flattered. Unfortunately, I’m unable to do it.”
You’re recognizing that you know for them this is bad news.
I’m giving you bad news. I know it’s unfortunate. I’m acknowledging, but not apologizing and I’m unable to do it. It means we’re not negotiating.
Here’s one thing we have in common. I’ll sometimes break something down like that. It’s a trick that I use to someone and then they’ll say to me what I’m going to say to you which is, “I’m glad that you use your powers for good.” That is clever. There are a lot of people that have a lot of clever tricks like that to deceive people or for nefarious purposes.
It’s doubly good.
It’s benefiting everybody.
You leave with a no but feeling good about it.
I have things like this because I have listeners that might be like, “I’m starting a podcast. I sure would like Shane to be on my podcast.” I love hearing them on the podcast. What a great guest. This would be a big get for me, unfortunately, I’m not actually saying no. I’m saying I have some ground rules. You need to have been doing your podcast for at least a year. You need to have at least 50 episodes. You need to have experience under your belt. I need to listen to it first. This is an example of a shield that I have put up because otherwise, as I’m sure any audience can imagine, there are some people out there that have taken advantage of my time.
I have a hard time saying no to people. I’m like, “Sure, you seem well-intended.” I go okay and then I end up having an exceptionally awkward conversation with this person that it’s clearly their first year. It’s one of their very first podcasts and they were not ready for this. I’m trying my hardest to pull all the weight for them. It’s making them look bad and it’s making me look bad. This shield is protecting them as well. Peter, one of the lessons or one of the act outs is started strong and stronger. What a stronger way to finish the episode than by having a bonus that isn’t even in the book.
This special bonus is built off of getting from yes to no. It goes something like this. If you feel bad for this “I’m unable to do it” response, what you say is, “Thanks so much for the opportunity. Unfortunately, I’m unable to do it. I’m spending my extra time on my secret project.” I believe everybody should have a secret project.
I have many secret projects. I wouldn’t be lying in saying that.
I had launched one. I worked on that secret project for a year. Get a secret project. You owe it to yourself, especially if you have even the touch of entrepreneurship in you. You lean on it because when you start saying no to things because you’re working on your secret project, that makes you work on your secret project.
To our audience, you are welcome. This is a terrific episode. This is the third time we’ve been on the Here We Are.
I don’t think you’ve been on I’m Not Joking.
This is my very first time.
I had to get 50 episodes before you would say yes.
Thank you, Peter, for joining me and also letting me join you on this cooperative and dual show. This is a lot of fun.
It was fun, I’m glad we did it.
Thank you, readers, for being such wonderful, curious people.
- Here We Are
- Shtick to Business: What the Masters of Comedy Can Teach You about Breaking Rules, Being Fearless, and Building a Serious Career
- Shtick to Business on Amazon
- The Humor Code
- Standup Science
- Head Talks
- Rachel Feinstein
- Steve Gillespie
- Solo: The Single Person’s Guide to a Remarkable Life
- Claire Downs – Previous episode
About Shane Mauss
Shane Mauss is a comedian with two touring shows. The first is Stand-up Science which is a half comedy and half science show. The second is called Head Talks (which is a special psychedelic version of Stand-up Science). You can find him in the documentary film Psychonautics. He also hosts the science podcast, Here We Are.
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