351 – Sherrod Small: The Benefit of Starting at The Bottom (You Get to Rise)

I’d abuse Chris Rock if I could. But I can’t. He’s not family.

I interviewed Sherrod Small, a comedian, actor, and all around personality. He’s done everything (and still does). His next show will combine food with comedy. A new intersection. He also writes, produces and hosts a podcast called “RaceWars.”

“Do you ever ask Chris Rock, something like, ‘Can you put in a good word for me here or there?’ Does that ever happen?”

And then I asked, “And is it awkward?”

I guess I just assumed he’d say yes. I figured he’d lean on his connections. I was dead wrong.

“Ahh no,” he said. “We wanted to start from the bottom of the bottom. We wanted to know every aspect of this business. And we wanted to grow our own voice.”

“What drove you to it then? It’s a hard life,” I said.

He started to tell me reason after reason. And I felt a little jealous. Because his conviction was beautiful. It was mixed with enthusiasm. And I want that. I’m excited about stand-up. But I’m also afraid sometimes.

And I know I’m not the only person afraid of their own potential success (or failure). So I took notes from Sherrod.

And he told me how to go for it.

 

1. Discover the “Path to Success”

Every career has a different ladder up, different gatekeepers and different shortcuts. But Sherrod didn’t want to take shortcuts.

“You want to taste and feel and see and experience all of it,” he said.

He saw the path to success early on. But not everyone has this. And I think sometimes we wonder about our dreams, “Is this even possible?” Because we really don’t know.

Sherrod had Chris in his life. He saw him rise. That helped prevent self-doubt.

“We saw Chris coming home with hot girls. Every night, he’d come home with a hot one. And we thought, ‘What the hell? Don’t they know he’s a dork?’ And we said, ‘That’s what we’re gonna do.’”

It wasn’t just the women, though. He also saw Chris enjoying himself. And struggling to get into this club or that club and then finally one day…

H saw the crowd grow. He saw the path.

 

2. Borrow & Share Enthusiasm

I don’t know the life cycle of enthusiasm. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people. Many of them know a thing or two about diet and nutrition. So I usually take their cues when it comes to cultivating energy.

But Sherrod didn’t talk to me about food. He talked to me about enthusiasm as the breeding grounds for energy.

“I was hungry from the beginning. I remember Greg Giraldo (the comedian) used to always see us so excited at the clubs just because we got a spot. That was a big thing for us. And he was like, ‘Man, I hope y’all never lose that enthusiasm.’ Because just to see somebody that excited to do a spot reenergized him in his comedy, too.”

I took two lessons away from that:

  1. a) If you’re not excited, find someone who is.
  2. b) If you’re excited, share it.

 

3. Know What You Want

Sherrod went to the clubs. He tested out the scene. And every night, he heard himself say, “I want this.” That voice was loud.

Sometimes I experience the opposite. I’ll be in a business meeting or I’ll see something on my calendar. I’ll say, “Oh no, not this.” My energy deflates. Other business meetings leave me full of ideas.

I don’t know if there will ever be a time where I look forward to every part of the day. Maybe if nothing was planned. And if it was all happenstance. But for now, I’m doing a little bit of what I want and a little bit of what I don’t want.

But at least I know the difference. And that awareness is a step toward change.

—-

I kept asking Sherrod questions:

“What’s your process?”

Sherrod: “Write 10-15 minutes a day. Then try it on stage, because we wanted to grow on stage.”

“How long did it take you to find your own voice?”

Sherrod: “Maybe remnants of it, five years in. I really got the hang of it I think around 10 years in, lost it 12 years in, got it back 13 years in.”

“What do you mean lost it?”

“Nah, I’m joking. But you know, those things change. Your voice develops and matures and you build layers on top of it. Plus, we all start with other people’s voices. Whoever your favorite comedian is, you’re going to have a touch of that in your stand-up. But gradually, you’ll get out of that and find you. But we all use each other as crutches to go up. You use whatever you know to get to where you want to go.”

We also played a game. Just on the spot. Nothing planned. I would name something going on in the news and Sherrod would make it funny.

 

  • Bitcoin
  • Kanye West
  • Stormy Daniels

 

I was really laughing. And I saw what Sherrod meant when he said, “You don’t want to take shortcuts.” I could see what starting at the bottom did for him.

 

It’s the root of his confidence. And the root of other people’s confidence in him.

 

And now I want to climb down the ladder a peg. Or at least stay at the level I’m at for a little while. And let learning be my motivation.

 

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