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Expect The Net To Appear: My Interview with Comedian John Fugelsang


JohnFugelsangFB2“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.

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I Brushed My Teeth with Tap Water in Mexico Again


episode4IG

I Brushed My Teeth With Tap Water In Mexico Again…

 

Coming at you today from Tulum Mexico! I want to tell you this story about my husband, Soren, and his tooth brushing adventure.

So, Soren’s standing at the sink, and he KNOWS you don’t use tap water in Mexico to brush your teeth. He’s standing there, with his toothbrush in one hand, puts the toothpaste on it, reaches for the sink, turns it on, then stops because duh Mexico water. So, he turns off the sink, opens the bottled water, pours it over his toothpaste covered toothbrush, and brushes his teeth. Then, 30 seconds later, reaches to turn on the tap to rinse, and stops because duh Mexico water. He pours the bottled water on his toothbrush to wash it off, then reaches for the tap AGAIN to get water to rinse his mouth! He starts to crack up, and then finally uses the bottled water for time #3 because BIG DUH, Mexico water.

This is your mind at work. You are one giant, walking mass of worn-in neural pathways. Unless you’re, say, 6 years old.

Now this is great news if your habits are good! If you get up, go to the gym, don’t really fight yourself on it, then fabulous! If you go to work, know how to knock out a few organized emails or use your complicated software to edit your studio’s TV show—great! Or if you start each day with some creative time, call your aging mom every day while you walk to the train, cook a dinner where everything comes out at the same time, and work through a great list of to do’s without stress —awesome. All these are terrific habits if they serve you in an efficient way, and  accomplish the things you want to get done.

But what about all the conscious or unconscious habits you do every minute of the day? These can screw everything up. Let’s start with an obnoxious example. Let’s say every day you get on a scale, feel terrible about it, and then unconscious sabotage yesterday’s plan to cut back on carbs or whatever. Is that working for you? Do you even know that your habitual thought is undermining you? What if every time you go home to visit family, you prepare yourself for a fight. You see the driveway, your body goes into fight or flight. You walk through the door, smell the familiar smells and you immediately think you’re less than your father wants you to be. You see your sister and have a million habitual thoughts about what she could be doing to get the man of her dreams and within the hour you lay into her with criticism and wreck your weekend together.

Your habitual thoughts can sabotage everything. We have to fight them all the time. Or rather we have to stop our unconscious habitual way of going through our days long enough to even SEE these habits. This is the really hard part. That’s why going to new places vacations, adventures, moving, any change really is so helpful because it allows you to suddenly see how you’ve been thinking and doing things.

One of the things I love the most about teaching my improvisational self-discovery workshop is that most people there are doing something they’ve never done before. And immediately, when people are a little unsure or nervous, they go to their what I think of as lowest common denominator – they cling to their habitual bag of tricks. You’ll hear me say “the way you do anything is the way you do everything” and that’s what happens. If you’re a leader, and you get into a new setting, you’ll LEAD. If you’re a hanger-backer, you’ll hang back. You won’t even know you’re doing this perhaps, because the habit is so ingrained. Your entire being will just DO it. What I do in my workshop, is help you NOTICE this. For example, I’ll see someone who’s a really nice person (not a diva, but just totally over-manage a scene, and say, “Hey, you’re taking over the scene and not letting your partner get a word in. Why do you think that is?” I’ve had this particular one happen with a very famous and self-aware self-help writer and even she was totally startled at her own habit of taking over. She laughed and said, “Oh my god, that’s my family! They were all so dysfunctional I had to take responsibility for everyone!” So voila, she took over for everyone everywhere she went. It was incredibly helpful for her to identify her habit. Only after seeing it come out like that are we able to create a mindfulness practice – which ironically is actually also a habit! But a good one we want to create. And slowly over time you’ll be able to catch yourself more easily.

Now back to my husband’s remarkably good looking teeth, which by the way never had braces and I’m jealous of. One of the reasons that he was able to catch himself whereas lots of people would now have dysentery, is that he’s a practicing Buddhist. The dude is MINDFUL. And it’s an even stronger example of how insidious habits are BECAUSE he’s so mindful. I mean, damn, if the Buddhist mindfulness guy gets caught 3 times in 45 seconds, then are we all doomed???

No. The good news is that no matter how old you are the mind is remarkably flexible in these ways IF YOU PUT YOUR MIND TO IT. Which is an interesting saying. Put your mind to it.

So let’s try this:

First, just let this sink in and start to watch your more obvious habits: morning routines, work routines, communication with others, how you go about your day and get things done.

Second, (and this is harder), watch your thoughts and projections on other people. What are you assuming about them? Try verifying. Hey, I’m thinking you’re not enjoying this project or Hey, hon I’m thinking you are stressed and worried about work, is that true? You may be surprised to find your habitual assumptions about other people are wrong.

Third, (even harder maybe), is watching your own thoughts. Why are you pushing some particular boulders uphill? Like say at work, you always go and do email first because you want to “get it out of the way” and yet it always distracts you from looking at the big picture and planning your day well. You get side tracked. You get annoyed and upset by so many things pulling you in different directions. After an hour you’re worn out and have created more work and more problems and haven’t really gotten done the things you need. What was the thought that made this happen? “Oh I’ll get email out of the way so my mind and day is freed up to be creative or to work on the projects I never get to.” Okay, did THAT work for you? Not at all. So, NOTICE THAT! And next time, try a new habitual thought which will lead to a new habitual action. Tomorrow I do creative work first. Tomorrow I tackle that project before I even open email. Do it for a week. Look back on the week and see if it changed things. Of course it may take more than a week for a new habit to really take hold, but see what you need.

Some of my life changing habits just took a day (like starting yoga everyday for a year when I started my Kripalu certification program – but that’s because I agreed to doing that very consciously). And some took a year to really get into my life, like putting every single thing I’m working on into my calendar and getting it out of my head. Some things just take a decision and some take hard work to incorporate.

I’m going to leave you with this story. My uncle was at the hospital with his wife who was having a mastectomy and he was in the waiting room with my father. My uncle was around 50 years old and a life long smoker. My dad turned to him and very simply and not harshly said, You know, your wife is in there having both her breasts removed so she can live a long life with you, and you’re out here smoking.” My uncle looked at his brother, took his cigarette, put it out in the ashtray and literally never picked up another cigarette again in his life. Now that is a remarkable story, but it tells you who’s in charge of the habitual brain: your conscious self.

And here’s my final story. After sitting down and thinking about writing this blog, knowing I wanted to write about the Mexican tooth brushing experience, I went back inside, went to go brush my teeth, and yes, I turned on the tap. So there’s that. That’s what we’re up against! Take your time and be easy on yourself. Changing habits can be hard and let’s not make this an opportunity for self-hate, as my mother used to say when we’d go bathing suit shopping together. Okay? Just know it’s how your brain was designed to work to make you efficient and to protect you and help you quickly run away from dinosaurs if you happen to be one of the Flintstones. If you had to think about every single thing you did all day long it would be a disaster. So the goal is to learn to create habits and use them to our advantage. But we have to be mindful of what they are first. So, start a new mindfulness habit today – being habitually mindful of your habits! Start there.