The Skill of Humor | Andrew Tarvin | TEDxTAMU

six years ago I was sitting out with some friends in New York City when I got a notification on my phone and I was surprised to find that I had a text message from my grandmother a surprise because my grandmother at the time was 78 years old and she had never sent a text before and I will tell you the first text was adorable it read dear Andrew trying out texting love your grandma it’s like all she thinks it’s a letter so I sent her a message back I was like hey grandma wants a text you don’t have to include all that her response was dear Andrew okay love your grandma my favorite part is that as always love your grandma like if Phil’s love grandma I’d be confused it was like dear Andrew have a good time in Texas love grandma I’d be like grandma who’s grandma but my grandmother’s still figuring some things out a couple of years ago I went to Switzerland for some work came back send a message to my grandmother I was like hey grandma just got back from Switzerland her response was dear Andrew Switzerland question mark WTF okay so I called my grandmother up and I was like grandma what do you think WTF means and she’s like oh well someone at bridge told me means Wow that’s fun I was like that is exactly what it means I’m not going to explain that to my grandmother but over time I’ve come to realize that I think the world would be a happier place if more people thought WTF if more people were like my grandmother and thought wow that’s fun because in 2012 I left my corporate job at Procter and Gamble to teach people about the value of humor I’ve worked more than 35,000 people at more than 250 organizations on how to be more productive less stress and happier using humor but when people hear what it is that I do they are a little bit skeptical because no one thinks of humor is a bad thing is there anyone here that doesn’t like to laugh anyone that’s like no I hate feeling joy in my body no right people think of humor is a nice to have oh if I enjoyed my work more if I had some fun it would be great but if not oh well three is that humor is a must-have and today’s overworked underappreciated stress filled sleep-deprived culture humor is a necessity because humor gets people to listen it increases long-term memory retention it improves understanding aids and learning and helps communicate messages it also improves group cohesiveness reduces status differentials diffuses conflict builds trust and brings people closer together it does these things and this stuff and on and on and on and it’s all backed by research case studies and real-world examples and these are some impressive benefits right humor can help you to look better live longer and make it rain right because the people who use humor are paid more and anyone can learn these benefits maybe cuz when I talk to people about humor or comedy sometimes they’re intimidated that event that I went to in Switzerland a couple years ago that made my grandmother say WTF it was to speak at a conference 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 right as if telling a joke is somehow scarier than living with lions but so many people have this perception is it 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 are performed in all 50 states in 18 countries and on one planet I have fans in more than 150 countries based on people 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 seeing 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 right 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 right the theme was into a dream I am no one’s dream this picture because growing up I was never the life of the party of 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 and 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 a personality assessment that’s what it suggests I should be as a computer science engineer but I have learned that we’re not a personality assessments 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’re 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 project management I was like I write if we’re going to do this we’re going to do it for real we’re going to practice three times a week we’re gonna 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 and performing twice a week at a theater on campus never really learning how to take a good picture but that’s how I learned the skill of humor was 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 like some people tell me that I kind of look like the intersection of Hugh Jackman and Conan O’Brien other people are like I kind of see David Tennant from Doctor Who one woman told me one she was like I think he looked like Justin Timberlake but from here to here and we’re gonna we’re gonna ignore the guy that told me I look like Clay Aiken right just completely right 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 like how many people here like desert people love desert like I love deserts I am obsessed with milkshake so the most efficient form of desert right because if the deliciousness of ice-cream in an easy to consume form right but I don’t understand mint chocolate I don’t know if we have any mint chocolate pay I don’t understand mint chocolate eating chocolate and didn’t like you know what would go great with this toothpaste right 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 when things would be so much easier if humans came with error messages when they like say you’re overworked overwhelmed a little bit stressed out it would just pop up warning system overload please restart by taking a nap right because we all know naps or 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 like say you’re out flirting with the 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 have 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 comedy Sportz 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 because it took me going to the state of Florida to realize that the rapper FlowRider got his name from his home state of Florida and he put a space in it right that blew my mind it’s like that is incredible when you say if this is true what else could be true we could say you know I think there should be a Hispanic factory in Dover that goes by Delaware or like there could be a female internet detective and Biloxi who goes by mrs. IP P I and if this is true what else is true and we can use yes in to create you can also use yes and as a way to connect with other people we can think of that stereotypical small talk conversation where people are like how about this whether you say yes and if you weren’t at this event right now how would you be out enjoying the weather and we can turn an awkward conversation into something that’s more meaningful where you learn about the person where it’s like Oh what beautiful weather I go outside or I go hiking or swimming there if you’re me you stay inside because you’re very pale and I like to use SPF building its best protection right we learn about people through yes and we can also use a yes and mindset to have more fun because the reality is that the average person will work 90 thousand hours in their lifetime 90 thousand hours that’s the entire length the entire discography of Netflix that is a lot of time and we can say yes I’m going to work 90 thousand hours and I might as well enjoy it between my junior and senior year of high school I worked in a factory and I will tell you what was not a very exciting job and at the time I thought at that I might in the future want to become an international hip-hop superstar so the past a time I would think of rhymes in my head and then I’d write them down in a notebook a little bit later and I recently found one of those notebooks and discovered why I never became a hip-hop superstar it was one of the Rhymes was hydrogen plus hydrogen oxygen too bonded together with covalent glue what do you get just a thing called water yeah it’s teaming up and it’s only getting hotter the reason why I never became hip-hop superstar right but it still helped me to pass the time to create humor to create fun and finally from sketch we can learn about the importance of commitment to performance because the characters from Saturday Night Live key & peele Monty Python they’re so enjoyable because the actors are committed to the performance and they’re confident in their presentation because it’s kind of like dating right people tell you that they want to date someone who is confident right a couple years ago I was hanging out with some friends at a bar and I saw this beautiful girl at the bar and they’re like oh you should go and talk to her I was like I can’t do that they’re like why not I was like I don’t have a game they’re like you don’t need game you just need confidence but where they don’t tell you is that they want that confidence in certain areas because no woman wants a man who’s confident in math that’s what I got so I was like alright well I’m gonna try it I’m gonna try math pickup line so I went up to the girl and I was like hey girl are you a vertical asymptote cuz your beauty has no limits she was like what did you just say so I tried again I was like hey girl are you opposite over hypotenuse cuz you’re making me want to send she was like I think you should probably leave right so I left right but then a few hours later I was like oh how would I should have said what I should it was hey girl you’re way above average don’t be mean and has that ever happened to you where you like thought of something like four hours after the event that’s actually a good thing it’s something called staircase with the idea of like oh this moment happens here and then you think of this idea in the staircase and that’s a good sign because that means you have comedic instinct and through practice and repetition you can shorten the time that it takes to have that haha moment from being four hours later to only three hours later only 2 to 10 minutes – then happening in the moment because a reflection on the past leads to action in the future and so we become more comfortable more confident using humor the more that we actually do it it’s like Amy Cuddy says fake it until you become it now I know there’s a couple of people that are like alright Justin Timberlake eyes what if I’m not funny the truth is if you have ever made someone laugh even if it’s because you like tripped up the steps while like going up the steps like you would still use humor but even if you’re not ready to try creating humor you can still benefit from humor by being a shepherd of Schumer right you can share quotations out you can share a TED talk that you enjoyed or you can use images in your presentations because I will tell you I did not take this picture I did not go to Sri Lanka I do not know this Shepherd or any of these goats instead I found it on Flickr under a Creative Commons license and shared it with all of you because I enjoyed it alright so we can do that but even if you’re not ready to create humor and you don’t think that you can find something interesting on the Internet you can still use humor if you know how to smile because when we see someone else smile we are primed to mirror that behavior with mirror neurons in our brain and when we smile nay smile we create a human connection other people are like ah but what if no one lasts what if I try humor and there’s an awkward silence what’s really only awkward if you spend time on if you dwell on it and the reality is that no one has ever been fired because of the bad joke in an appropriate one maybe but not a bad joke because a bad joke is something like I once had to miss class because of hypothermia I was too cool for school that’s a bad joke inappropriate joke is one that has an inappropriate subject has an inappropriate target or comes at an inappropriate time but as long as we are positive and inclusive we’ll be okay because then if no one laughs at our joke it’s just now a positive inclusive statement finally people are like how about what if no one takes me seriously what if people think of me as a gesture or a clown well if you’re going to use humor at work recognize that humor doesn’t replace the work right humor is like the salt of a meal you want it 1 mean entire meal of salt would you does that make you a horse do you want to be a horse I say nay right but no I’d be like you can still use humor as long as you’re making it more productive managers actually won it because they know that you’re going to be more engaged and get better result but let’s say you work for an organization that says no fun whatsoever the reality is that no one can control how you think no one can prevent you from listening to a comedy podcast on your way home from work so that you relieve stress and show up more present for your family no one can stop you from creating a Twitter account – to write puns no one can keep you from coming up with chemistry raps while you’re working the reality is that job satisfaction your outlook your way of managing stress is entirely your responsibility and is the choice that you make and this is a skill of humor starts by sharing your point of view and then we explore and heighten that point of view and we yes and both our work and our life and finally we practice perform and repeat because that’s how we get better and people can take an improv class or you can try stand-up comedy but we can also just be more aware of how we create humor every single day and anyone can do these things because I would tell you the funniest person I know is my grandmother one that texts me right and she’s elevated her game from texting to Facebook she’s now on Facebook and she comments on every single one of my status updates and I can’t tell if my grandmother is the nicest most sincere grandmother in the world or if she is secretly trolling me because a couple of months ago I posted I’m trying to decide if I should become an athlete or a criminal so I made a list of pros and cons my grandmother’s response was one word funny it’s like I don’t know does she think it’s funny or she messing with me a couple weeks later I posted I think a cozy bar that serves FIGS would make for a plum date spot my grandmother’s response was ha , ha and there’s like something about the comma and I like messing with me then a couple weeks ago I posted converting the numbers 51 6 and 500 to Roman numerals makes me live in my grandmother’s response was hey this one is actually good trolled by my own grandmother it doesn’t matter your age your income your perspective your personality assessment your senior superlative or your celebrity doppelganger anyone can learn to be funnier and it all starts with a choice a choice to try to find ways to use humor a choice to be like my grandmother to look at the world around you and think WTF wow that’s fun thank you [Music] [Applause]