Yesterday Jerry Seinfeld stopped by Reddit for one of its famous Ask Me Anythings. In spite of the low profile he’s kept after the show that bore his name ended; the comic has a well-documented work ethic, performing regularly and heading up side projects like his low-key YouTube series. As such, his responses had a lot of practical insights for getting things done, because, in Seinfeld’s words, “comedy is no joke.”
Run with the critics. Just like every comedian has to deal with hecklers, your new business or creative venture will have its share of critics. There will always be someone who believes that they’re cleverer than you or that what you’re doing isn’t a very good idea. So set them off guard by taking them seriously.
“Very early on in my career, I hit upon this idea of being the Heckle Therapist…Instead of fighting them, I would say “You seem so upset, and I know that’s not what you wanted to have happen tonight. Let’s talk about your problem” and the audience would find it funny and it would really discombobulate the heckler too, because I wouldn’t go against them, I would take their side.”
Energy is vital. Enthusiasm is contagious, and it’s important to maintain momentum on a project. But it will also carry onto your finished work. When commenting on the chemistry of Seinfeld‘s cast, the comedian noted just how vital it was to the show’s success that everyone believed they were funny together:
“In fact I would go so far as to say that was the key to the entire show, was that we really felt like together we were funny, and then the audience felt it, and that’s how you can somehow catch lightning in a bottle.”
Know when to step back. One sharp Redditor noticed that, while Seinfeld was a show about a comedian, the lead character was often quite serious. Seinfeld notes that this was a secret weapon of the show’s success:
“The reason I would play straight was it was funnier for the scene. And very few people have ever remarked on this, because it was a conscious choice of mine, only because I knew it would make the show better, and I didn’t care who was funny as long as somebody was funny and that the show was funny.”
There’s a lot of pressure to be brilliant at what you do in order to perform well, but being a sounding board for those around you to shine is equally valuable. If you’re on a team and one person scores, you all score.
Remember you’re not a big deal. In one particular anecdote, Seinfeld talks about a club he performed in during the peak of his show’s popularity where the owner treated him like just another performer. It served as a reminder to stay grounded, and helped him cope after the heady rush of Seinfeld came to an end:
“That’s why I wanted to go back into doing standup comedy, because as the star of your own TV show you don’t get treated like that but as a standup performer you do get treated like that. It was hilarious, and absurd, but standup is a life of just brutal reality which is the opposite of the life I had been leading in LA and that I missed.”
Similarly, it helps to get out of your depth every once in a while, to be somewhere you’re not an expert; where you’re just another nervous person trying to figure things out.
Writer’s block is a sham. Although there are a wealth of resources available to help you when you feel stuck with a creative problem, nothing will solve it like getting back to work. “Writer’s block is a phony, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work.”
Your dream job is still a job. But you can dictate the terms with which you meet it.
“I chose comedy because I thought it seemed much easier than work. And more fun than work. It turned out to be much harder than work, and not easy at all. But you still don’t have to ever really grow up. And that’s the best thing of all.”