Because, growing up, I was never the life of the party or the class clown. My senior year — my senior superlative, I was voted teacher’s pet. And this is going to surprise many of you, but it’s because I am a nerd.
And if you’re wondering what type of nerd, the answer is yes; computer, math, sci-fi, Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars, Star Trek, Starbucks — all of them.
But most specifically, I’m an engineer. I went to the Ohio State University, got a degree in computer science and engineering. And after I graduated, I started working at Procter & Gamble as an IT project manager. And that’s what people expected me to do, because based on my personality assessment, that’s what it suggests I should be as a computer science engineer.
But I’ve learned that we’re not a personality assessment. Because my assessment is I’m a Type-A, blue square, conscientious, INTJ with the sign of Aquarius. That means I’m an ambitious, stubborn introvert who likes long walks on the beach, but I’ve learned we’re not our personality assessments.
They might give us insight into our behavior or tell us what motivates us or tell us which Disney Princess we would be — Pocahontas — but they don’t define us; instead, we are defined by our actions.
So I started doing comedy in college. My best friend there in the middle wanted to start an improv comedy group. He needed people and forced me to join. And as you can probably tell from this picture, we were not very good. At least to start out, we had no idea what we were doing.
We watched “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and tried to repeat what we saw. And what I didn’t have in comedy skill I made up in comedy project management. “If we’re going to do this for real, we’ll practice three times a week, we’ll have a business meeting every Monday, and we’re going to go back and watch our shows as if it was game tape.”
And over the course of two years, we got better. We went from performing in the basements of residence halls to performing twice a week at a theater on campus, never really learning how to take a good picture. But that’s how you learn the skill of humor. It’s through practice and repetition. And anyone can do these things.
And you don’t have to become a professional comedian to use comedy, but we can learn from the professionals. For example, from stand-up, we can learn about how to share your point of view, because Louis C.K. has a very specific way of seeing the world, which is different than Ellen DeGeneres, which is different than Tig Notaro, Dave Chappelle or Chris Rock. Everyone has their own perspective.
Some people tell me that I kind of look like the intersection of Hugh Jackman and Conan O’Brien. Other people are like, “Ah, I kind of see David Tennant from Doctor Who.”
One woman told me, ”I think you look like Justin Timberlake but from here to here.”
And we’re going to ignore the guy that told me I look like Clay Aiken. Right, just completely. Everyone has their own perspective.
And we can use that perspective as a way to connect with other people, right? We can use it to say, ”Oh, we’re alike.” How many people here like desert? People love dessert. I love desserts. I am obsessed with milkshake. So it’s the most efficient form of dessert because of the deliciousness of ice cream in an easy-to-consume form.
But I don’t understand mint chocolate. I don’t know if we have any mint chocolate fan. I’ve never been eating chocolate and been like, ”You know what would go great with this? Toothpaste.”
We can share a perspective as a way to connect. We can also share a perspective as a way to make a point. Because I will tell you that I have always understood computers much more than I understand humans.
Because when something goes wrong with the computer, you get an error message. When something goes wrong with a human, you get feelings. Things would be so much easier if humans came with error messages, wouldn’t they?
Say you’re overworked, overwhelmed, a little bit stressed out, it would just pop up: “Warning! System overload. Please restart by taking a nap.”
Because we all know naps are the human version of, “Just turn it off and then turn it back on again.”
Some error messages you wouldn’t even have to change. Say, you’re out flirting with a waitress, she’s not really feeling it. It would just pop up: “Error. Unable to establish connection to server.” Things would be so much easier.
But the reality is that humans aren’t computers, no matter how adorable they are when they pretend to be. Because we, as humans, not only have to manage time, we have to manage energy.
Because it doesn’t matter how much time we have if we’ve never had the energy to do anything with it. From improv, we can learn how we can explore and heighten a point of view.
Because the fundamental mindset of improvisation is “Yes, and…” It’s how improvisers at UCB, Second City and ComedySportz make things up off the top of their head. And we can use that same thing, take what they do, accept and build, explore and heighten and say, ”If this is true, what else is true?”