Posts

best of 2012

2012 was a great year. Here are the Best of the Best moments for me. (See previous Best Ofs years.)

Best Achievement – Focus on Humor That Works Full-time

Based on my goals, I had a pretty productive year, completing 8 of the 10 things I set out to do. But the number one achievement was something I had thought about for a few years. In 2012, I finally decided to leave my job at P&G to focus on Humor That Works full-time. It’s only been 6 months, but I love what I’m doing and am excited to take my business to new heights in 2013.

Runner-Up: Publish a(nother) Book

Best Personal Development – Create / Consume

Thanks to Matt Shafeek, I decided to try the create / consume challenge and started tracking how I was spending my time. The goal was to spend more time creating (writing, researching, performing) than consuming (playing games, watching TV, browsing the Internet). As a result, I’ve not only been able to amp up my productivity, I’ve also been able to see exactly “where” my time goes.

Runner-Up: How to enjoy eating baked potatoes with skin on them

Best Business Decision – Focus on Humor That Works Full-Time

I know it’s repetitive from above, but it really was the best business decision I made all year. Publishing my book on humor in the workplace was a very close second.

Runners-Up: Publish a book, Attend AATH, Humor Project, TEDxEast, AIN Conferences

Best Personal Decision – Visit Cincinnati

At the time, it was a no-brainer, but it was a decision to return to Cincinnati when my dad had a stroke. We’re incredibly fortunate that he’s been able to bounce back quite well, but it was important we were all home as a family as we were still learning what was going on and getting through those initial days.

Runner-Up: Play Halo 4 (yes this seems silly but it was important for a few reasons)

Best Speaking Engagement – AIN Conference 2012

I was fortunate to deliver a number of talks and trainings this past year to a wide variety of clients, covering some great topics, including Strategic Disengagement, Productivity, and Stand-Up Comedy. My favorite engagement was probably my 2 AIN talks as I enjoyed the subject matter (Improvising the 5 Steps of Problem Solving and Defining Improvisation) and loved the audience (fellow passionate applied improvisers).

Runner-Up: Presentations at the Humor Project Conference

Best Personal Performance – Corporate IT Stand-Up

With 133 performances this past year, I was fortunate to partake in some great shows (and some not so great ones). My favorite was a corporate stand-up show I did for a group of IT managers–not only was it just me on stage (which is always a little intimidating), but it was for IT geeks like myself where I can get away doing jokes about wireless adapters and math.

Runners-Up: A number of Mint Condition shows, All of Silver Fox’s July Shows, CSz Championship, 8th Floor Alumni Show

Best Travel – San Francisco / Chicago

I traveled quite a bit in 2012, including: Pensacola / Gulf Shores, Baton Rouge (2x), Quad Cities, Chicago (4x), Atlanta, Columbus (2x), Silver Bay (NY), Dallas, Louisville (OH), San Francisco, Richmond, and Cincinnati (5x). While I enjoyed all of those trips, I have to go with the extended trip of San Francisco (for AIN) and Chicago (for a radio interview and general hang-out) as my favorite.

Runner-Up: All the other great trips.

Best New Restaurant – Kumas

I went to a number of new restaurants this year, but my favorite was probably Kumas (in Chicago). They make a delicious burger with some solid fries. It’s a bit of trek to get to, but it’s certainly worth it once you’re there.

Runners-Up: Veselka, Stand4, Cincy Steak & Lemonade

Best New Food – Womlette

I had a few “new” foods for me this year, but the best was most recent with a “Womlette” which is a waffle covered by an omlette. It’s at the Comfort Diner (walking distance from my apartment) and I never knew it existed. I know it exists now and it is delicious.

Runner-Up: Rice-Kripsies-Treat-covered ice cream cone

Best Live Show – The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler

I saw a decent number of live shows in 2012, mostly improv and sketch, but also some theater and plays. While I enjoyed such shows as Ye Elizabeths, Jersey Boys, Madama Butterfly, and a good number of great improv/sketch shows including the hilarious One Nation Under 1%, the winner for me this year was EPBB’s The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. It was well-acted, well-written, and performed in an incredibly intimate setting.

Runner-Up: One Nation Under 1%

Best Movie (I Saw) – Django

I saw a decent number of movies in 2012 including new releases like The Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Argo, Skyfall, and Jack Reacher; the Best Picture nominees of 2012 (The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, The Help, Moneyball, War Horse, and The Tree of Life); and a few “new-to-me” films like The Big Lebowski, Footloose, and Rob Roy. The best film for me was also the most recent: Django. It’s not for the faint of heart (there’s violence, adult language, and more), but it is a great tale that mixes comedy, action, and drama together.

Runners-Up: Argo, Skyfall, The Avengers, Hugo

Best Book (I Read) – I Am America and So Can You

I didn’t read a ton this past year, but I did read some good books, including The $100 Startup, Ant Farm, Habibi, The Sales Bible, and Value Based Fees. But the best book I read was I Am America and So Can You by Stephen Colbert. I’ve never laughed out loud while reading a book as often as I did with that one.

Runners-Up: The $100 Startup, Habibi

Best Tweet – Good at PowerPoint?

I know it’s a bit weird to have your own favorites of what you create, but that doesn’t stop me. Below is my favorite of all my tweets from 2012 (You can read 24 other favorites in my 2012 Review: 25 Best Tweets).

“How good are you with PowerPoint?”
“I Excel at it.”
“Was that a Microsoft Office pun?”
“Word.”

There you have it, my Best of the Best from 2012. Here’s to a 2013 that’s able to top this list.

Enjoy this post? Sign up below and receive the latest updates from me on an inconsistent basis.

performance review 2012

For the second year in a row, one of my goals was to perform at least 100 times. Last year I hit 119 performances, this year I hit 133.

Here are some stats regarding the performances:

  • 41% of shows were shortform improv, 36% of shows were traditional longform improv, 18% were musical improv, and 5% were stand-up.
  • I had 19 shows in July (my highest) and only 5 shows in both September and October (my lowest). I averaged 11 shows per month or 2.5 shows per week.
  • I performed for roughly 5,000 people in 2012. My biggest audience was in front of 400 people (our CSz Championship Show in Chicago); my smallest was in front of 4 people (at a stand-up open mic).

And finally, a show breakdown by team:

  • ComedySportz – 51
  • Mint Condition – 29
  • Silver Fox – 18
  • Grappler – 18
  • Stand-Up – 7
  • Other – 10

Enjoy this post? Sign up below and receive the latest updates from me on an inconsistent basis.

Note: I’ve shared some of these things with people before. Some people think it’s cool and give it a try themselves. Others learn how truly devoted I am to my planning / productivity. And a handful consider me somewhat of a psychopath (in a good way I think?). So I guess read at your own risk of your opinion of me.

As some of you may know, I’ve developed my own productivity system where I shoot to do 5 habits every single day. I track whether or not I complete each goal; if I complete 3 of the 5, I consider it a “Quality Day”; if I complete all 5, I consider it a “Perfect Day.”

(Read more about the system here: How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions).

My 5 goals this year are shared below, along with number of days I completed them:

  1. Wake up without hitting snooze. 273 days (74.6%)
  2. Write at least 100 words. 358 days (97.8%)
  3. Exercise for at least 20 minutes. 298 days (81.4%)
  4. Eat at least 3 servings of fruits or vegetables. 313 days (85.5%)
  5. Monthly Focus (See below). 303 days (82.8%)

The last one I gave myself the option to switch it up every month. Towards the middle of the year I found a habit that I wanted to stick with for most of the rest of the year.

  • January = Exercise voice at least 5 minutes. (23 days / 74.2%)
  • February = Play guitar at least 10 minutes. (22 days / 75.9%)
  • March = Improvise a song. (18 days / 58.1%)
  • April = Exercise voice at least 5 minutes. (15 days / 50%)
  • May to July = Reconnect with a friend / family member. (87 days / 94.6%)
  • August to September = Connect with someone old or new. (61 days / 100%)
  • October to November = Connect with someone new. (47 days / 77%)
  • December = Connect with someone old or new. (30 days / 96.8%)

As I share in the write-up, my goal really is to just hit a Quality Day (aka it’s ok if I don’t do something). Ideally these 5 habits are challenging enough that it’s not easy to do (my thinking being that if it was easy, then I wouldn’t need a system to help me do it).

Even though there were days that I missed individual habits, I did succeed at reaching a Quality Day for all 366 days of 2012 (for those wondering, I hit 193 Perfect Days, or 52.7%).

All in all, I was proud of 2012, and thanks to this system, I accomplished many of my goals. Here’s to an even more productive 2013 with renewed habits and motivation.

If you’re interested in trying this system out yourself, check out How to Set Up Your Quality Day System or send me a message and I’d be happy to help you out.

Enjoy this post? Sign up below and receive the latest updates from me on an inconsistent basis.

best tweet 2012

It’s no secret that I love puns and wordplay. At this point, it’s almost exclusively what I tweet, with 2012 being no exception. Over the course of the year, I had 319 tweets. My favorites are shared here.

  1. “How good are you with PowerPoint?”
    “I Excel at it.”
    “Was that a Microsoft Office pun?”
    “Word.”
  2. You should buy stock in Altiods because their can fits well into a 3-piece suit. It’s a good in-vest-mint.
  3. Windshield wiper fluid is the most gangsta part of a car. It’s from the hood.
  4. I asked a man “is that a cigarette you’re smoking?” He said, “Close, but no, cigar.”
  5. I sold a 50 cent lollipop to a guy for a $1. Haha, sucker.
  6. “Hey Sherlock, what’s that grade before middle school?” “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.”
  7. Flight agent: “Your son is quite unruly. Do you want to check him with your bags?” Man: “Thanks but I think I’ll carry on my wayward son.”
  8. Did a winter activity last night while listening to 90’s rap. Yes, I went Ice Ice Skating (bun dun dun da da dun dun).
  9. A friend of mine is addicted to dressing like a nun. It’s such a bad habit.
  10. I’m waiting in line to get some ribs. Sometimes I hate barbequeues.
  11. At a slushie party for judges: “just ice will be served.”
  12. Too many grammar errors make me [sic].
  13. Better “late” than “never” unless you’re playing Scrabble.
  14. If you want to get a job catching lobsters, you have to be good at networking.
  15. A friend of mine was wearing a hideous looking pin on her shirt. I wanted to tell her but didn’t know how to broach the subject…
  16. My friend is going to marry a soccer player. I guess she’s a keeper.
  17. I rank playgrounds on a sliding scale.
  18. A man was accused of stealing cement but was released due to lack of concrete evidence.
  19. Before you criticize a British person, try walking 1.60934 kilometers in their boots.
  20. Deals that offer 60 of something for only 50 cents are a dime-a-dozen.
  21. In a rap battle, it’s one man verses another.
  22. Quasimodo? I don’t know who that is but the name rings a bell.
  23. If you think about it, shouldn’t “trial size” mean enough to serve 12 of your peers?
  24. If we talk philosophy at an Italian restaurant, I’ll give you some penne for your thoughts.
  25. Call me paranoid but ever since I joined twitter I’ve had this weird feeling that people are following me.

Enjoy this post? Sign up below and receive the latest updates from me on an inconsistent basis.

50 improv tips

Starting in 2002, Billy Merritt (of Ninja, Robot, Pirate fame) started writing what he called “Billy Merrit’s Improv Party.” It started as a story to share his thoughts on improv and turned into a full-blown thread of awesome improv tips.

I definitely recommend reading the entire thing (though it is a bit lengthy at 50 posts). It was originally posted on the Improv Resource Center. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s probably the most active forum on improv out there.

Note: I’ve fixed some spelling and grammatical errors, but everything comes from Billy. I’ve bolded tips that particularly resonate with me.

50 Improv Tips from Billy Merritt’s Improv Party

  1. Every scene has a sound track to it. All scenes have rhythm. Some scenes rock out like Rush. Some scenes hit you like the Call of the Valkries.
  2. The Harold is a musical in a sense, You have the Overture, three songs that you revisit and a couple of rousing dance numbers.
  3. You cannot effectivly play any GAME in any scene unless you know who you are and where you are.
  4. Don’t sever your connections to the outside world, don’t become totally isolated in the community we have created, if you do, you will implode. We are conduits. We observe, take in, and record into our sense memory. We then take that information and release it on the stage. Using our improv skills we make that information dance, sing, and jump through hoops. If you stop collecting information you just have hoops.
  5. It’s a lot of work only if you make it alot of work. With each line of dialog your character’s history becomes more clear, the more clear it becomes, the easier the choices become.
  6. Wit is not something you just have, it is something that you must earn. You must earn it everyday [by continuing to learn].
  7. Everybody has an opinion, so every character you portray should have an opinion. You start with an opinion and eventually it grows into a philosophy.
  8. When in doubt talk about philosophy.
  9. You become an improviser, once you feel you have it down enough that you can improvise with anyone at any time.
  10. You can’t eliminate all bad habits. Sometimes you have to break the rules in order to further the scene and go where you never thought you could.
  11. Don’t be afraid of the unknown, don’t play it safe. How else will you make discoveries. 
  12. When a scene is started you tend to ask yourself who are these people, where are these people, and what is happening? But do you ever ask when are these people?
  13. There is no heightening from blue, just more blue.
  14. The most important thing is the Moment. You do all that work so that you can be in the “Moment.”
  15. We need to check in with each other every now and then so that we all know what is going on, but we don’t need to do it all the time.
  16. You can have a plot, but you don’t need to talk about it.
  17. How can you expect to do an improvisational scene without really knowing the people in the scene. Once you know the people, the information flows all over the scene.
  18. Not knowing where you are going to go in a scene yet knowing that it is going to come out all right is the core of great improv.
  19. Having said all that, of course there is plot in improvisation, and most of the time it works really well. But when it works well, it is not because of the players playing to the plot. It is because of the players playing to each other and to the scene at hand.
  20. Let the story come to you , don’t go looking for the story.
  21. Any chance that you can place personal items into the scenes with you, do it. Make it personal, it grounds you to the scene, and it grounds you to the truth.
  22. You should always walk away from an improv session and ask yourself, what have I learned, how can I use this information, how can I keep this information with me until I need it.?
  23. Improvisation is an art form. Anyone can paint a picture, a good picture. But it takes more than being able to paint, to be a great artist, it takes patience, it takes observation, it takes an ability to learn when there is nothing left to learn.
  24. Performing is art, it is about a sense of play, it is about growing and being allowed to fail. Producing is about business, it is about attendance, advertising, financial success. Get your art down first, develop confidence in your art , then focus on the production. Never let the production override your art. That is bad business.
  25. You repeat back to your partner what you feel is important in what they just said, then both of you know whats important in the conversation you are having.
  26. In acting you are told that your “being” comes from 4 places. The Head, The Heart, The Stomach, The Groin. Acting from the groin, that it is all about taking action. To find something in your scene to fuck, to engage, to become a part of. Coming from the gut, what does that mean? It means to react, to listen, to be affected. To act from the heart, is to act with emotion. To act with emotion is to feel the words that you are saying.
  27. It is all about being observant, seeing things and always in the back of your head saying to yourself, I can use this in a scene.
  28. To act from your head is to get in touch with your inner Robot.
  29. Getting your brain programmed for “Don’t Think” takes years of preparation
  30. An edit is not the end, it is the beginning of something new. 
  31. The key to improvisation is patience. You will not learn everything in a year, two years, 10 years. You will never learn all there is to know, once you realize that, it becomes easier to enjoy the ride. Enjoying the ride shows patience, patience is the key.
  32. Relationship and game are one in the same.
  33. Your relationship is constantly defined with each exchange of dialog. Knowing your relationship defines what you will say next, the more you know the more you have to say.  Your relationship with the location will also dictate what you will do in the scene. Relationship also has to do with object work.
  34. Finding the game is finding the pattern. All scenes have patterns. Patterns are structure. Structure is Game. 
  35. It is important to remember to look for the first unusual thing within the reality of the scene, not the reality of the actors.
  36. Words are the least important thing when it comes to communicating.
  37. It is the struggle to survive that makes living so much fun. 
  38. Rage is not about anger, it is about passion.  Never lose your rage, keep it inside like sushi. Eat it when you need to. Rage drives you, pirates make you alive, minjas make you take action, and The robots make sense of it all.
  39. What your character believes to be true can only be heightend if the oppisite is true for someone else. Philosophies must be compared with each other so that we the audience can decide for ourselves.
  40. You must constantly look for the balance in everything you do onstage, once you find the balance, then unbalance it. Create a pattern then break it. In that you will find the truth.
  41. I don’t have talent, I earned talent. 
  42. Success is Talent meeting Opportunity.
  43. Every scene you improvise should have a Rosebud in it. Something that grounds your character into the scene, makes you take notice of your life, allows you to evaluate yourself in the place that you are at.
  44. The moment you step on that stage, you own it, you are meant to be there and they were meant to watch you. That is the meaning of Stage Presence.  Stage Presence is simply the confidence to be where you are. 
  45. “Humor is not jokes. It is an attitude toward being alive without which you would long ago have jumped off the 59th street bridge. Humor is not being funny. It is the coin of exchange between human beings that makes it possible for us to get through the day. Humor exists even in the humorless.” – Michael Shurtleff
  46. The scene is already there before you do it. The characters have been living their lives, going to work, playing, falling in and out of love. You are just showing one moment in their lives, hopefully the funny ones. But it may not be funny to the characters at that time. You must play that real. If you play it real you will discover the humor in these peoples lives.
  47. Yesing a scene does not make a scene go further, it is the “And” that breathes life into the scene.
  48. There are over 100 performers that play on the UCB stage every week, of those 100 how many have given back to the space? Have painted anything? Repaired something? Lit an incense?
  49. What is a moment in scenework? The moment is something that the characters, created in the scene, will remember for the rest of their lives.
  50. Discovery = Truly not knowing were the scene is going to go, taking your idea and your scene partner’s idea and creating something both of you had not intended. Don’t drop your idea, meld it into another.

Enjoy this post? Sign up below and receive the latest updates from me on an inconsistent basis.

vegetarian for a week

I made a bet back on New Year’s Day that the Bengals would beat the Ravens. They did not, and, as a result, I had to be a vegetarian for a week.

The bet didn’t take effect immediately, so I had time to prepare. I picked last week as the time to do it, strategically starting Sunday early evening on January 29th so I could start eating meat again on the evening of February 5th–just in time for the Super Bowl.

Incidentally, my last meal before starting vegetarian was Skyline Chili Dip. My first meal back–Skyline Chili Dip as well. I could go on for days about how delicious that is, but let’s get to the vegetarian week.

Here’s what I learned:

  • You don’t have to eat vegetables to be a vegetarian. I could have survived all week on PB&J, Ring Dings and ice cream. I didn’t, but I could have.
  • While it’s not that hard to cut out meat for only a week, it’s not something I want to do. I love chicken too much.
  • Being a vegetarian is more expensive (especially meal-time). It’s either expensive with regard to time (cooking / preparing food) or money (veggie burgers are more expensive than regular burgers).
  • Being a vegetarian can be inconvenient. If you choose to cook the food, you have to have the time and energy to cook it, eat it and clean it (‘it’ being the dishes in the last case). If you’re on the run, it’s harder to find hearty vegetarian meals at fast food places and bodegas.
  • Vegetarian dishes that try to pretend to be meat are upsetting. My preference for vegetarian meals are those that have a unique flavor or style of their own. Trying to cook tofu or seitan like chicken or beef just makes you angry because you’re eating tofu or seitan and not chicken or beef.
  • I tried to use the week as an excuse to try new foods. Here’s what stuck out from the week: despite my previous bullet point, vegetarian chicken fingers are good; pierogies are awesome; steamed broccoli isn’t as bad as I remembered; seitan is meh; peanut butter is delicious on everything.

Here’s what I ate:

  • Monday 1/30: OJ and Frosted Flakes; Celery with peanut butter; PB&J with potato chips; Carrots; Baked potato with butter and cheese; Black raspberry chip ice cream.
  • Tuesday 1/31: Banana and Frosted Flakes; Carrots; PB&J with potato chips; Vanilla cupcake; Granola bar; Chocolate milk; Pita and hummus, seitan with mashed potatoes spinach and green beans; 4 Reese’s PB Cups Miniatures.
  • Wednesday 2/1: OJ and Toasted bagel with butter / cinnamon sugar; Grapes and protein bar; Chocolate ice cream and cookie/pudding dessert; Cheese pizza rolls; Banana; Peanuts, veggie burger, cheese fries, Doritos and 2 Reese’s PB Cups Miniatures.
  • Thursday 2/2: Banana and Frosted Flakes; Protein bar; Carrots, PB&J with potato chips; 3 slices of cheese pizza; 6 Reese’s PB Cups Miniatures; OJ.
  • Friday 2/3: Pastry; Carrots, PB&J with potato chips; Granola bar; 3 Reese’s PB Cups Miniatures; Celery with peanut butter; Salad, pierogies, mac n cheese and chocolate custard.
  • Saturday 2/4: OJ and bagel with butter and cinnamon; Vegetarian chicken fingers with green beans, 2 Reese’s PB Cups Miniatures; Banana; PB&J with Doritos and Chocolate milkshake; Slice of pizza; 2 S’mores cupcakes; Slice of pizza.
  • Sunday 2/5: OJ and Eggo waffles; Celery with peanut butter; Vegetarian chicken fingers; Carrots/cucumber slices… FINISH!

Final Thoughts

Overall the week wasn’t that difficult. I won’t be going vegetarian anytime soon (ever probably), but it was a good challenge and I learned a thing or two. I’ll probably try veggie burgers more often and every now and then choose a vegetarian option over a meat one.

I do think I’ll have to try eating vegan for a week (in the distant future). Not for any health reasons, I just apparently like to torture myself.

For a good vegetarian only restaurant, check out Candle Cafe (1307 3rd Ave, at 75th street).

For a good vegetarian friendly restaurant, check out Veselka (9 E 1st St, between Bowery and 2nd Ave). Go for the pierogies, stay for the chocolate custard.

Enjoy this post? Sign up below and receive the latest updates from me on an inconsistent basis.

A friend sent me two recent NY Times articles related to comedy and I thought both provided interesting perspective on current comedy trends.

The first, Take My Comedy Influences, Please, talks partly about the influx of comedians talking about comedy, something of which I’m a fan. I’m always fascinated by how other comedians approach their work, and reading / seeing a few pieces going meta on comedy helped me a lot when I was first starting out.

I’ll be interested to see the show in the article, “Inside Comedy” and admit I still have yet to see “Talking Funny.” It’s also no surprise that Seinfeld is a part of the new show as he’s shared a lot of his perspective on being a comedian. He’s also the center of the best documentary I’ve seen on stand-up, something I recommend all stand-ups (and other comedians) watch.

The second article, Plotting To Make Their Audience Laugh, covers sketch comedy. In it, the writer suggests that sketch is growing in importance. I agree with the sentiment of the article that, especially for New York, improv seems to be in the spotlight right now, but it doesn’t mean sketch hasn’t been around and incredibly important for years. You can look at what SNL, Second City, UCB (the show) and countless others did for comedy and comedic actors.

What does seem to be growing in New York is the teaching of sketch, with UCB, Magnet and The PIT all having sketch programs and regular slots for sketch comedy shows. Of course the challenge for live sketch shows will always be what can be found on TV or even YouTube. Whereas improv almost has to be seen live, and stand-up certainly benefits from it, sketch doesn’t seem quite as reliant on a “live” feel. Of course that could just be me.

What’s the point of all this? I’m not sure, but I thought I’d share some interesting articles from the NY Times.

Enjoy this post? Sign up below and receive the latest updates from me on an inconsistent basis.