April 4, 2016

13 Things I Learned from Louis CK about Being Human.


“People are going to think you’re gay,” my elementary school teacher told me. I laughed a lot in class and she told me to watch out.

“If you keep laughing in high school, people will think you’re flaky.”

I was scared to go to high school.

Kids laugh, on average, 300 times a day. Adults? 15. What happened?

Somewhere along the road, the fun was squeezed out of us and put into a time-box. Buried under the earth until we excavate it in some mysterious future.

We think, “Once I have a great job, then I’ll be happy!”

Or, “Once I move to Paris I can start painting!”

Or, “Once I retire, I’ll finally start to relax.”

We have to pay bills. We start worrying about so and so who doesn’t like us. And on and on. When really, the only time to be happy is right now. People ask me, “But shouldn’t I strive for success?” Of course you should! But be happy today. Every tomorrow is determined by every today.

The other day, I wrote some of my favorite jokes from some of my favorite comedians on a small strip of paper and gave them out to random people walking on the street.

Like this one by Mitch Hedberg: “I once saw a forklift lift a crate of forks. And it was way too literal for me.”

Or this one by Louis CK: “I’ve never gotten laid ’cause of the way I look. I’m the guy that women see and they go…’eh?’ And I’m like, ‘I know, but let me just talk to you for a minute.’”

I try to watch stand-up comedy every day. It makes me laugh. Laughing releases endorphins and oxytocin and it makes me feel good. It makes me feel like a kid again. Sometimes I look at people walking on the street and they look miserable. They’re walking quickly because they’re late. They’re going to a job they hate. Maybe they just got fired. Maybe they just got cheated on.

I’m sometimes that miserable person walking on the street. Searching for a “why?” in the faces of all the people who don’t seem to care.

So I passed around jokes all day to brighten people’s days.

Most of the jokes were from Louis CK. I once saw him perform live in Milwaukee. I’ll never forget it. I’ve seen everything he’s ever created. As a result, I’ve learned quite a bit from him. From his jokes to lessons on life.

Here are 12 things he taught me about being human. And I hope you laugh today.

1. Always be experimenting.

One of the things that makes Louis CK great is his love for experimenting. In an interview, he said, “I like to think of myself as a scientist. What would happen if I do something differently?”

One of the ways he experimented was selling his stand up special for $5 straight on his website. He said, “I made it easier to buy it than it was for people to steal it.” No one had done that before.

And he made over $1 million in a few days.

A lot of times, I’m afraid to try new things. Afraid to experiment. What if I fail? I have to give myself permission to experiment. Experiments are what turn uncertainty into magic. And loneliness into love.

2. Go where your customers are. Ignore everybody else.

When he has something new he wants to share with his audience, he simply sends an email to his email list. He doesn’t put up a commercial or ads interrupting everyone who doesn’t care or know about him. He doesn’t really do any other type of promoting. He’s successful because exactly the people who care about him know what he’s doing.

And they spread the word for him.

I once tried to cold call 10 people and ask them if they wanted to buy a subscription to Times Magazine. They all said no. One even yelled at me. When you interrupt someone without their permission, they’ve already judged you before you’ve even said “hello.”

3. Purple Cow. Don’t be like everyone else.

A great marketer named Seth Godin wrote a great book called Purple Cow. He talks about how if we are to survive in business, we have to be remarkable. When you’re driving down the road and see cows, you hardly notice them. But if there were a purple cow, you’d notice it. A purple cow is remarkable.

Louis’ show Lucky Louie was canceled. That’s because it was too much like every other sitcom out there. It even had that annoying laugh track after every joke. We can figure out the jokes for ourselves, thanks. His new show Louie on FX was different. He wrote, edited, directed, and starred on the show.

Because he had so much freedom with it, he decided to do it his own way. It’s now onto its sixth season.

Fitting in feels safe. To do things like everyone else, feels safe. But that’s the most dangerous thing to do.

4. Connect with people.

Louie was about to give up. He had been doing stand up for 10 years and it wasn’t going anywhere. It wasn’t until he started talking about his family and personal problems on stage that he started finding some success.

“It connected with people in a big way,” he said.

We’re all human. We all just want to be loved. Life is hard, lonely, and cold and we all want to feel a little bit warmer when we go to sleep at night.

5. Choose yourself.

We wait to be picked. We wait for someone to publish our book. We wait for someone to hire us. We wait for someone to tell us when we can be happy.

I don’t like to let people have too much control over my own happiness or success.

Louis CK knows that. Instead of letting Ticket Master sell his tickets (and raising its prices) he sold them on his site instead and kept prices low. Some venues don’t allow you to perform if you don’t use Ticket Master because they have a deal with them. But he didn’t let that stop them. He instead went to the venues that would accept him.

He also recently filmed and created a new show called Horace and Pete and released it right to his email list.

Many people would say they need a big production crew, lots of money, and the best cameras. Louis just picked up a camera and started filming.

No more excuses. Stop waiting for someone to pick you. Pick yourself.

7. Keep creating. Keep sharing.

Louis had been performing the same material for over 10 years. He had just kept repeating his jokes over and over. He wasn’t going anywhere and was about to quit. He sat in his car depressed after a show and was listening to George Carlin on the radio.

George Carlin said he threw out his old material at the end of every year and started from scratch the next.

“When you find something that works, it’s hard to chuck it and start fresh,” Louis said.

Social media wasn’t made so that you can share pictures of your dessert. It was made so that you can share your work.

Start creating. Keep creating. Never stop.

6. Fail a lot.

When he’s creating new stand-up material, he doesn’t know what’s going to work and what is. So he tests it by failing.

He goes into many comedy clubs and just fails until he knows what works.

Then he takes what works and uses it for his new stand-up special.

He says, “A comedian is the oddest job in the world because you only succeed by failing.”

“People that need to feel like a star and like they’re succeeding every time will not ever get better. But if you are willing to feel bad, do badly, have a stale, boring version of yourself out in front of everybody, you can find this stuff in the muck that’s very useful,” he says.

Failure has made me cry. It’s given me bruises, scars. It’s made me question. But it’s never killed me. I have to remember that. I live to fail another day. And if I’m lucky, I’ll succeed as well.

8. Say “No.”

The TV network, FX, approached Louis. They wanted him to make another show. He said, “I’ll do it, on one condition.”

“What’s that?” they said.

“I don’t want to tell you what the show’s going to be about. Just give me the money and I’ll make the show.”

They said, “That’s unreasonable.”

“Of course it is! So let’s not do the show.”

He was doing stand-up on the road and loving it. He wasn’t really interested in making another show. So he had all the confidence in the world to say “no.”

Eventually, FX gave in and gave Louis complete control over the show. He tells FX what the episode is going to be about hours before it goes on the air. They don’t even know who’s going to be in it.

I’ve often said yes to bad relationships, bad jobs, bad people. And all the time, I knew I should have said no. We live in a culture where we think we have to say yes to everything.

Sometimes, things turn into magic when you say “no.”

9. Be persistent.

Louis says, “It takes about 20 years to make a good comedian. The first 10 years is just you bombing and learning how to tell jokes. The next 10 are you honing your skill.”

Many people quit as soon as things get tough. They quit writing when no one’s reading right away. They quit painting when no one’s buying them right away.

Isaac Asimov wrote 400 books. The movie iRobot, starring Will Smith, was based on one of his books.

Most of the other 399 books no ones’ even heard of. But the key is that he woke up at sunrise and started writing every day until noon. He was persistent.

What is it that you want to accomplish? Just show up.

10. Live in the present.

Many of Louis’ jokes are about how much we like to complain. We complain about how much we’re bored. Or about how our phone is too slow when the technology is amazing. Or about delayed flights when it’s a miracle that we’re sitting on a chair in the sky.

When things go bad, I tend to be anxious about the future. Or I often regret past mistakes.

That’s time travelling. Do your best today. The past is gone and the future is uncertain.

11. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

We live in a culture now that gets offended by everything. We have to constantly watch what we say because a word might be offensive to some group. Louis runs into this in his stand up all the time. But he doesn’t care. He talks about whatever he feels needs to be said.

He says, “It’s a positive thing to talk about terrible things and make people laugh about them.”

In the end, we’ll all be dead. Much better to laugh at what hurts us than to pretend it doesn’t exist.

12. Don’t let fear control you.

When he was 17, he tried stand-up for the first time. He bombed so badly that he went into hiding and didn’t try stand-up again for years. He was letting the fear control him.

When he tried stand-up again at 19, he bombed again. Until he got a little better on his third try.

We have to learn to dance with fear. Because it will never ever go away. Everyone says not to be afraid. That’s bullsh*t. You can’t make it go away. So better to learn to dance with it.

13. Embrace tension.

We feel a lot of the time that we have to know everything. We have to know if something is going to work out or not.

When a kid sees a magic trick, he stays in wonder. When an adult sees a magic trick, he has to know how it was done—because he can’t handle the possibility of magic being real. Just like we can’t handle the possibility of uncertainty.

Louis CK embraces tension by going out and risking bombing every show. They could not laugh at his jokes. And there were times when no one did. But it didn’t matter to him. He learned from the times it didn’t work and bettered his chances the next time.

Embrace the tension. It’s okay to not know if a project will fail or not. It’s okay to not know if a relationship will end badly or not.

Once you embrace tension, magic becomes a possibility.


Author: Efrain Martinez

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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