Home » The Skill of Humor: Andrew Tarvin at TEDxTAMU (Transcript)

The Skill of Humor: Andrew Tarvin at TEDxTAMU (Transcript)

And one of the other speakers at that conference was this gentleman. His name is Kevin Richardson. He’s also known as the lion whisperer. If you’ve ever seen that YouTube video of a lion hugging a dude, that’s this guy. He lives in South Africa, he raises lions from when they’re really young, and they treat him as one of the pride. He’s basically the human version of Rafiki from The Lion King.

But Kevin and I were talking before the event. He found out that I did stand-up comedy, and he was like ”Huh, I could never do that, it’s too scary.”

I was like ”But you live with lions!” As if telling a joke is somehow scarier than living with lions.

But so many people have this perception as if the ability to make people laugh is somehow encoded in our DNA.

But the reality is that humor is a skill, and if it’s a skill, that means we can learn it. Because I am someone who has had to learn how to use humor. Because I’ve done over a thousand shows as a stand-up comedian, improviser, storyteller, spoken word artist. I’ve spoken and performed in all 50 states in 18 countries and on one planet.

I have fans in more than 150 countries, based on people who have accidentally come to my website. I’ve been called hilarious and smart, at least that’s what my mom says.

And I’ve been seen on The Daily Show with John Stewart, in the audience. I recently went to my high school reunion though, and when people found out that I did stand-up comedy, they said, ”But you’re not funny.”

And in some ways they’re right because I would tell you that this is not the face of funny. There’s a lot that’s funny about this picture; none of it is intentional.

And I have the blonde tips up top like I wanted to be in a boy band. The theme was ”Into a Dream,” I am no one’s dream — in this picture.

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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.”

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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.”

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