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best of 2013

365 days is a lot of time to do a lot of things. Here are some of my favorites from 2013.

Best Achievement – 100 73 Speaking Engagements

One of my biggest goals for the year was to do 100 engagements for Humor That Works. While I only hit 73, I still think it was my biggest accomplishment. More than 2500 people got to hear the things I train on and even if just a small percent of those people are better because of it, it was a good year.

Runner-Up: Publish an App.

Best Personal Development – OKRs

Although this is more recent, one of the best videos I watched on productivity this year was how Google sets goals. The idea of creating stretch goals and still being satisfied with .7 or .8 has helped me frame my thinking for both goal setting and success.

Runner-Up: Broccoli isn’t that disgusting.

Best Business Decision – Go to Norway

Early on in 2013 I had a chance to go to Norway for a speaking engagement plus some stand-up. Not only did I learn that what I teach about humor in the workplace is relevant in other countries, I learned that I can make people laugh even if English isn’t their first language.

Runners-Up: Publish an App, Present at GA.

Best Personal Decision – Go to Norway

The trip to Norway was both a professional and personal decision. Personally it reminded me of the wonders of international travel and how limited I am when I can’t use English. I also tried reindeer burger.

Runner-Up: Convince Pat to make Banana Pudding.

Best Speaking Engagement – CSz Talk

There were way too many engagements this year that I thoroughly enjoyed. It I had to pick one (and I do because I’m making me), I would choose my CSz Talk on Efficiency vs Effectiveness. It was my first TED-style talk and balanced humor and message.

Runners-Up: LSU, GA, OSU, WSJ, WNO, P&G, TGP

Best Personal Performance – Gilda Club Event

This was one of the hardest “bests” to choose as I had so much fun in the 100+ shows I did this past year. But the Gilda Club event takes the cake for a few reasons: 1) It was for a good cause. 2) It was in front of 1,200 people. 3) I performed with Rachel Dratch.

Runners-Up: Stand Up Bergen, Mint Condition Last Show

Best Travel – Norway

I was traveling for more than 100 days in 2013, with trips to: Baton Rouge, Norway, Cincinnati (x6), Napa, San Francisco, Columbus (x2), Tyrone (x3), Yulan, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Westhampton, Boston (x4), Norwalk (x2), and Epsom. But it should be no surprise (based on the Best Business and Best Personal Decisions) that my favorite was Norway. A very very close second was Westhampton, followed by all the other great places.

Runner-Up: All the other great trips.

Best New Restaurant – Amy Ruths

It was a good year for fried chicken as I tried both Amy Ruth’s and Pies N Thighs this year. Though both were amazing, it has to go to Amy Ruth’s because their chicken and waffles is incredible.

Runners-Up: Pies N Thighs, Gott’s Roadside, What’s Up Dog?

Best New Food – Pancake Snack

One of the best things about Norway was their midday snack of a fresh pancake and jam. I don’t know what they call it but I call it delicious.

Runner-Up: Banana Pudding, Max Brenner Hot Chocolate.

Best Live Show – Eddie Izzard Workshop

I didn’t see as many live shows this year as I did last year, but I hit quite a variety. While Vanya and Sonja and Masha and Spike was funny, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark was interesting, and Punderdome is exclusively puns, my favorite was seeing Eddie Izzard workshop material for his new tour.

Runners-Up: Punderdome, Vanya and Sonja and Masha and Spike, Big Dumb Music Festival.

Best Movie (I Saw) – The World’s End

Sadly I missed the Best Picture Movie Marathon so I was limited on what I saw, but I’d say The Worlds End was my favorite. Also a special shot out to Last of Us; it’s a videogame but the story is so good that if it were a movie, it would easily be the best I saw this year.

Runners-Up: Star Trek Into Darkness, Last of Us.

Best TV Series (I Saw)  Breaking Bad

I’ve watched some great series this year, including Sherlock and Archer (but they aren’t eligible for Best Series because they aren’t complete yet). I really enjoyed Luther but I think the last season of Breaking Bad makes it a great watch all the way through.

Runner-Up: Luther.

Best Book (I Read) – Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

I’m nowhere close to an avid reader, having only read Count of Monte CristoThe Sport of BusinessThe Challenger SaleLead with a StoryThe Sea-Gull, and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Of all of those, Hitchhikers was my favorite because of it made me laugh out loud multiple times.

Runner-Up: Count of Monte Cristo.

Best Tweet – Good at PowerPoint?

While I’ve selected my 20 best tweets from 2013, here’s my top pick:

I thought I could sit on a bench. Some guy told me I couldn’t. I stood, corrected.

There you have it, my Best of the Best from 2013. See you next year!

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performance review 2013

For the third year in a row, one of my goals was to perform at least 100 times. Last year I hit 133 performances, the year before 119. This year it was 102.

Here are some stats regarding the performances:

  • 54% of shows were shortform improv, 5% of shows were traditional longform improv, 23% were musical improv, and 17% were stand-up.
  • I had 14 shows in July (my busiest month) and only 4 shows in September. I averaged just 8.5 shows per month (3 less shows per month than last year).
  • I performed for approximately 6,100 people in 2013, including 1200 people at the Gilda Club benefit and 5 at an early ComedySportz show.

And finally, a show breakdown by team:

  • ComedySportz – 56
  • Mint Condition – 23
  • Stand-Up – 17
  • Other – 6

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If you’re wondering, yes I’m still doing that Quality Day thing. Have no idea what I’m talking about? Here’s the write up from last year:

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 for 2013 are shared below, along with the number of days I completed them.

  1. Wake up without hitting snooze. 283 days (77.3%)
  2. Publish something for HTW. 289 days (79.0%)
  3. Exercise for at least 20 minutes. 305 days (83.3%)
  4. Eat at least 4 servings of fruits or vegetables. 290 days (79.2%)
  5. Reconnect with someone. 360 days (98.4%)

I finished with 365 Quality Days (100%!), with 183 of them being Perfect Days (just over 50%). That said, I dropped in each of the categories except snooze and reconnecting, so there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

I’ll be continuing the system in 2014 but switching up the daily habits. More on that to come (maybe).

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.

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best tweets 2013

Ignoring retweets and direct messages, I tweeted 323 times in 2013. 99% of those tweets were puns. Here are my 20 favorites from the last year:

  1. Composers are unsung heroes of music.
  2. I bet Ford Mustangs get stolen a lot. It makes sense for a muscle car to get jacked.
  3. In highschool I was like butter on bread because I was honor roll.
  4. When deciding between a life of poetry or a life of crime, you have to weigh the prose versus the cons.
  5. Yo momma so FAT her max file size is 4gb.
  6. I got kidnapped because I was too lazy to try to get away. If only I had ran some.
  7. If I perfected cloning, I would be beside myself.
  8. I overcharged a man for a fishing rod that I claimed was magic. He bought it hook, line, and sinker.
  9. “Does this abacus work?” “I wouldn’t count on it.”
  10. I’m so hip, old people break me.
  11. Age before beauty, alphabetically speaking.
  12. I can’t believe I didn’t win that essay contest; I’m at a loss for words.
  13. I can’t stand when my legs fall asleep.
  14. Do you buy used prosthetics from a second hand store?
  15. A girl called me at 3am last night, drunk, wanting to go look for treasure. Just another booty call.
  16. Sure worldwide is impressive, but what about worldlong?
  17. “Whatever, you’re not my real ladder!” -What I say whenever I use my step-ladder.
  18. “We should become pathological liars.” “Let’s not and say we did.” “That’s the spirit!”
  19. I’d like to cancel my trip to this restaurant but I have my reservations.
  20. I thought I could sit on a bench. Some guy told me I couldn’t. I stood, corrected.

Want to read new puns as they come out? Follow me on twitter.

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Congratulations! You’ve finished your first level of improv classes. You have 8 weeks of training under your belt, a new group of improv companions, and a rocking show that you did for friends, family, and strangers.

So, now what?

Here are 5 things you can do after you’ve finished your first improv class:

1. Take Another Improv Class

The most common next step after finishing Level 1 is to take Level 2 at the same school / theater. You’ll pick up right where you left off and start learning more advanced techniques.

Another option is to take a Level 1 class at a different theater. This can give you a different perspective on how to approach improv, as well as give you another chance to work on the basics.

2. Start a Practice Group

Unfortunately you may not be able to jump right into the next level of classes (because of scheduling, availability, or financing), or you might find that you want to improvise more than once a week.

If you’re in either boat, starting or joining a practice group can be a great way to keep practicing improv outside of the classroom. To get started, all you need is a group of people, a rehearsal spot, and a coach.

3. Find a Way to Perform

If your favorite (or least favorite) part of class was the show, then you may want to get on stage more frequently. In NYC there are a number of free jams / mixers around the city where you can show your stuff.

Or, if you do create a practice group, you can find venues where your Indie team can perform. Either way, getting on stage will help you apply the things you learned in class and help improve your confidence on stage.

4. Try Another Art Form

Trying improv might have sparked a passion for comedy or performance that isn’t limited to just making stuff up. You might be interested in taking a sketch class, trying stand-up comedy, or even giving acting a try.

These art forms all benefit from having strong improv skills and can be a great outlet for performance that’s not improv.

5. Take Your Knowledge Out into the World

Whether you continue on formally with improv training or decide to hang up your improvised boxing gloves, you can take the concepts of improv out into your everyday life.

Ideas like Yes And, supporting your scene partner, and really listening have tremendous value in the corporate world, in education, and in day to day life.

Applying these concepts can be as simple as keeping them in mind as you go about life, or may include deliberately using the concepts in what’s called applied improvisation.

Regardless of what you do next, congratulations! You’ve experienced the first level of improvisation; go out and use your new found knowledge for good, humor, and funny.

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survive first improv class

So you finally decided to sign up for your first improv class? That’s awesome, congratulations.

Over the years I’ve taken a number of classes; some of have been incredible, others not so much. Here are a 10 tips I’ve learned on how to make the most out of your maiden voyage into classes on improvisation.

#1) Have an open mind.

Let’s be honest, some improv exercises are weird. Organic openings, honest emotional monologues, and even Bunny Bunny can seem weird at first. But they all have a purpose in making you a better improviser.

Keep an open mind and allow yourself to truly commit to the exercise.

#2) Don’t try to be “right.”

I like to be right. I also like to do things right. As a result, improv can be a challenge. When doing improv exercises or scenes, I used to have a mentality of “I want to do this exercise correctly” or even figure out the purpose of it and then do it “perfectly” to impress the instructor.

Improv doesn’t work like that. First, the exercises are not meant to be done perfectly. You’re going to forget a word or two when jumping into Hot Spot–that’s more than fine. Second, the beauty of improv is that there is no wrong choice, but that also means there is no right choice either. There’s only the choice you make in the moment and what you do with it afterwards.

#3) Leave your judgment at the door.

You’re going to do bad improv scenes. Your classmates are going to do bad improv scenes. Heck, your instructor may lead you into bad improv scenes (or “stupid” exercises or “dumb” sidecoaching or countless other things you may want to criticize).

In fact, if you aren’t doing any bad scenes or exercises that challenge your style of play, you probably aren’t pushing yourself.

The point is, leave any type of that judgment at the door. If you want to critique your own play later, after class (as I often do as a way to see where I need to make improvements), fine. Just don’t do it in class. It takes you away from the moment and distracts you from what’s important–being present for your other classmates.

#4) Be confident but humble yourself.

Some people enter into an improv class with loads of experience. Maybe they were in an improv group in college or have performed in theater or have done a number of shows as a stand-up comedian. Some people enter class never having done any type of performance before.

Whichever group you fall into, be confident in your ideas (they’re already awesome, they may just need to be tweaked as you go), but also be humble about your skill.

This second point is especially true for people who have improv experience. You may start to think “I’m too good for this” or “I already know all this.” Sure you might already know concepts like “Yes And,” but it can be hugely beneficial to take a step back and review the basics from time-to-time.

Use a return to basic improv as an opportunity to work on a new style or challenge yourself in a new way. Be confident in your abilities but humble yourself and do all of the exercises with 100% commitment.

#5) Get to know your classmates.

In all the classes I’ve taken the one thing more important than the instructor has been my classmates. And I don’t mean who the people are, but what’s my relationship to them, how well do I get to know them.

The classes that I’ve hated or were ambivalent about were the ones where I didn’t get to know the 15 other people who I’d be spending 8 weeks with. They were just acquaintances I saw once a week.

The classes that I’ve loved have been the ones where I got to know the people I was learning with. We would go out together after class, see shows together, or even just do bits over email. Not only does it make the class more fun, it also makes the improv scenes better.

And a bit of forecasting for you: it’s the people you stay connected to that will likely make up your first Indie team (an important next step after your first few levels of classes).

Note: The first 5 tips were more on the mindset and attitude to have while in class. The next 5 are more practical in nature.

#6) Bring a notebook (and pen).

You don’t have to take extensive notes (like I did), but write down key phrases or ideas that your teacher says that you like. Some of my favorite improv quotes include:

  • “Treat your fellow players like geniuses and poets.”
  • “Be more brave than impressive.”
  • “We want to see the t-rex with the backpack.”

#7) Bring a bottle of water.

It’s always good to stay hydrated and you’ll likely be talking and/or moving around a lot.

#8) Eat something before class.

You don’t want to be distracted by hunger while you’re focusing on becoming a better improviser.

#9) Wear appropriate clothing.

While you may look great in that suit or stunning in that dress, it will likely restrict your choices as an improviser. You want to wear comfortable clothing that you would be fine rolling around in–you never know when your improv scene is going to require demonstrating “stop, drop, and roll” or re-enacting an army “crawl-through-the-trenches” scene.

If you’re coming directly from work (as I so often did), either bring a change of clothes or be willing to spend a little more on dry-cleaning in case you get dirt on your business attire.

#10) Most importantly, have fun.

No matter what your reason for taking an improv class, you should have fun. Not just because, “yay, fun!” but because it will make your improv scenes better. When you’re enjoying your time on stage with your classmates, you’ll make moves that excite you and your fellow players. And isn’t the whole point of improv to have fun? I think so.

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