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What Do Joan Rivers and Charles Schulz Have in Common? They Worked Hard and then Hardly Worked.

The following is adapted from Shtick to Business: What the Masters of Comedy Can Teach You about Breaking Rules, Being Fearless, and Building a Serious Career.

(Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank)

It sounds like the set-up to a joke: what do Joan Rivers and Charles Schlulz have in common?

But the answer is serious. They were both masters of the grind, able and willing to put in the hours of practice and preparation it took to make their work look easy. 

Committing to the grind is the secret to many comedy masters’ success, whether we’re talking about Jerry Seinfeld, Anthony Jeselnick, and Iliza Shlesinger, and pretty much every successful comedian I know. But their habits hold value in the business world, too.

Let’s dig into the habits of some of the world’s most successful comedians and consider how they can help you become a more focused, productive business professional. 

The Grind as a Way to Succeed

Joan Rivers is the epitome of the comic who walked her own path. For example, when critics railed at her for doing QVC, she told them to shove it. The Joan Rivers Classic Collection brought her a $10 million annual profit for many years. 

Another reason for her success was her work ethic. At seventy-five, Joan Rivers worked like a twenty-something start-up founder. Having open days on her calendar filled her with angst. To avoid it, she would crisscross the nation doing shows and events, taking red-eye flights in a way that would wear out the most energetic traveler. Her documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, documents this.

Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, drew every single one of his nearly 18,000 Peanuts comic strips by himself, without assistance, for over fifty years. He would write a daily strip and a Sunday page, week in and week out. This was clearly no easy task. How did he do it? 

Monday through Friday, five days a week, he would drive his kids to school. Then he would go to his studio and work on his strip until about 4:00, when the kids came home from school. That was his day. Between 8:30 and 4:00, day in and day out, he worked on the comic strip. He would not break the chain.

Notice a pattern? Rivers and Schlulz didn’t grind out their work on Mondays only or strictly from nine to five; they made the grind their daily way of life.  

Cut Down on Distractions

One caveat: you can’t commit to the grind and make it your way of life if you’re constantly distracted. This is a truth Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David understood well while working on the television show Seinfeld. 

You can imagine their world. As lead writers (and for Seinfeld, the star) of a hit show, everybody wanted their attention. Approvals for this and opinions about that. The calls. The quick question that turns into a ten-minute conversation. 

Their distractions were worse than anything you get in your inbox. 

Seinfeld and David created a rule: when they were finalizing a script that they got from the writing staff, they would go into their office and close the door. As Seinfeld said, “The door was closed, it’s closed. If somebody calls, we’re not taking the call. We’re going to make this thing funny.”

In order to ensure their best work, Seinfeld and David established a place and time that protected the most-important part of their job from every other aspect of life. Now, that might not be entirely possible for you, but consider what you can cut from your distractions—maybe it’s turning off your phone or putting the kids to bed or escaping to a coffee shop for an hour—and commit time to grinding out your work. 

Does all that work sound exhausting? It is. Avoiding burnout takes us to a comic’s next habit: de-stressing.

After the Grind, Unwind

To some business-minded readers, “meditation” might sound like a bunch of hippy talk typically reserved for goat yoga or animal horoscopes, but the science of meditation is very promising.

There is a long list of funny people who meditate that includes Howard Stern, Ellen DeGeneres, Russell Brand, John Mulaney, and Kristen Bell.

When you look at highly successful people, they have their daily habits working on their creative work. Then at some point, they release themselves from their work and go do other things. They all have activities where they can unwind and enjoy themselves.

One problem is that too many people don’t create space between their grind and their release. They’re trying to work all day long and simultaneously enjoy themselves all day long. But the world’s most productive creative people have a distinct space between those two things.

Focus then Relax

Now you have the secret formula of the rich, hilarious, and famous: live the grind, reduce distractions, and release. Whether you’re prone to burning out or more of a lounger, make a commitment to intentionally show up fully present to whatever mode is called for in that moment.

To release, you don’t need to go far. Get some sun, walk in the sand, move your body, or take a nap if you need it. Simply enjoying a meal with family and friends can be enough of a break to regain your stamina so you can dive back into the grind tomorrow. 

That is the path to lifelong success. The fact that those legendary creatives committed to the grind and prioritized their careers is the reason you know Peanuts, and Joan Rivers, and can quote a dozen lines from Seinfeld. These artists knew the price of success and didn’t shy away from it. If you want to reach equivalent heights in the business world, it’s time you start to emulate the masters of comedy.

For more business advice from the genius and madness of the world’s funniest people, you can find Shtick to Business on Amazon.

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