“You’ll never know what you’re capable of until you start horrifying yourself and leaping expecting the net to appear.” — John Fugelsang
I am so excited to share with you my recent interview with comedian, actor, pundit and SiriusXM host, John Fugelsang. John is one of my dear dear friends and one of my favorite comedians. John has been murdered on CSI, he’s interviewed two beatles on separate continents in the same week, and he famously once got Mitt Romney’s advisor to call Governor Romney and etch-a-sketch on CNN. He hosts “Tell Me Everything” on weekdays. We talk about about improvisation, comedy, politics, spiritual life, the improv of parenting and more.
K: So, six years ago… would you have predicted this shit show?
J: You mean in our political system or the culture in general?
K: Well, both, actually.
J: Six years ago, we would never have imagined a Kardashian would become president, but it happened!
K: I will admit I’ve slightly checked out 20%. So I’m 20% less educated than I was six years ago.
J: But you’re happier.
K: I’m a little bit happier… but the problem is every morning when you go to read the paper –and I’m really trying not to read it first thing in the morning, that’s my new thing, too–
J: I have the same policy with Twitter.
K: It just screws you up. But it used to be all day, and now I’m trying to contain reading the paper. It’s a life hack.
J: Yeah, I’m at a place where I’m telling listeners you have to stay engaged and informed, but you also have to unplug every day for a little while. I’m telling people it’s never been more important to read books, have hobbies… one thing we can say is that the internet may have killed hobbies. See theatre, socialize, have sex, see live music, do things with people.
K: All at once!
J: Yeah! All at once if you can pull that off. It is so important to feed the other hemisphere of your brain and then come back because when we’re old and dying it’s really going to be a drag to look back to those days we really cared about what Michael Cohen had to testify about.
K: So, you have the gift of gab, and I’m sort of curious in terms of improv. You obviously prepare massively day to day when you have a guest on. But it’s an improvised form. How do you prepare? How do you handle all of that?
J: Well, improv, I think, is maybe the greatest tangible manifestation of the power of faith, and I’m really big on faith. Improv is about believing in yourself (or God if you want to see it that way), but knowing that if you do the work and you are alert, relaxed and concentrated, that when you open your mouth the words will come. I’ve always said the best training you can have for acting or broadcasting or any public speaking is to do improv training because you have to do all the prep so you can just drop it all and play.
You will never know what you’re capable of until you start horrifying yourself and leaping expecting the net to appear, and that’s really what faith is. Faith is many times believing in something you can not see whether it’s a creator or love or something inside of you. So to me, improv skills are indispensable. It’s something you have to approach for all levels of life from dying parents to raising kids to being funny on demand to being able to be in a political debate or manage a round table and keep all the balls in the air of humor, facts, argument, keeping it entertaining. So for me faith really implies less work and more trust.
K: So, what is the meaning of life to you?
J: Wow. Meaning of life. Don’t pass out at a frat party? No, I mean, I think it’s something very subjectively different for everyone. It’s all love, whatever that means to you. And what are you going to do with your time on earth and how are you going to balance the joy you feel and the joy you give.
K: And one thing I’ve heard you do is that you are speaking love to people who are speaking hate, especially in the religious realm. One of the things that you and I have always had good late night conversations about is putting together creativity, love and connection with meaning and purpose. What I’m teaching now is how to use the tools of improv comedy in everyday life, but the point is to have your work driven by purpose. And when I coach people on having a creative life, so much of what I have to undo with them is about success and achievement. I was just wondering if you have any thoughts on that.
J: For me it’s just about being myself, learning what I am, trying to get a sense of what I’m here do to, what really matters to me.
K: I was thinking as I was walking here that there is a certain kind of Creative that does so many things. Why are we so crazy? Why can’t we just do one thing?
J: I think some of us just wantto do a lot of things. If you’re good at a lot of things why wouldn’t you want to do it? I used to think I only wanted to be an an actor and then I began doing other things when I wasn’t getting auditions and soon the passions of the other things took over and then I was an actor then I was a stand-up, then I was an actor/stand-up/broadcaster, then I was an actor/stand-up/broadcaster/writer/solo theatre guy, and then suddenly political pundit? I’m writing a book, I’m putting up a couple of tours, I’ve got an album and a special I’ve been developing, I do the SiriusXM show every day, I’m putting together a podcast touring thing, and I’m trying to raise a six year old!
K: Yes, that’s the ultimate improvisation exercise, I think, because you absolutely can not predict what’s going to happen!
J: It is a great metaphor for life, because you have to be aware, you have to try but not try too hard. You have to make mistakes but you have to forgive your mistakes. I mean it’s all about forgiveness and compassion and patience for the horrible little sexually transmitted parasite you’re raising. And for yourself as well. Especially if you’re a freelancer, you have a lot of balls in the air, you’re doing a lot of different stuff, but it’s like, if that’s what gives you energy, great!
K: A lot of people, especially women in the self-help field, are always talking about balance. I think it took a lot of us to figure out what that actually means.
J: I call it sexy: S-E-X-C. Which is sleep, exercise, creativity. And I find that if I make sure that all three of those things are fed, I don’t worry about balance. I know that I’m going to be strong enough and focused enough and tuned-in enough that you just do what you gotta do.
K: Did parenting change your material? I know last time we talked you said you were going to start doing diaper jokes, and it was all going to go downhill very quickly.
J: Yeah, I couldn’t wait to be a hack! I never wrote about myself much, because for a long time I didn’t understand myself and when I was young I wanted to be an actor so I didn’t have to be myself, and then I learned that being an actor is learning to be your most authentic self. With a child you really have to write about yourself and your point of view.
What I’ve been doing now is sort of a story about how I was raising a toddler while my country was electing one.
K: Just to wrap it up, back to the improv thing. I was on a podcast called Inflection Point with Lauren Schiller recently, and she is doing a whole podcast season on how to have a radical thought. And what we were talking about was the tools of improv, how to train our brains (and this is not just for creatives this is across the board: science and people working in climate change and particularly people working in politics and law) and just after having seen the RBG movie “On The Basis Of Sex”, where the improvised idea that her husband had come up with to use tax law as opposed to what they had been doing that hadn’t been working so far. It was not just “give women the vote”, it was going back to the constitution and looking at the word Citizen, what does the word “citizen” mean? So these are all improvised, creative, outside the box, radical ideas that are making changes.
J: When what you want to do fails, how can you make mistakes turn into gold?
K: And not just the mistakes, but how do you shake yourself out of doing something or thinking the way you’ve always thought. I think that’s the most difficult part.
J: You have to be able to view yourself from a different point of view. You gotta have Robin Williams make you stand on the desk.