Mike Reiss made it to the top. He created his own TV show, “The Simpsons.” And had boss status.
Co-founder = boss status.
People came to him with questions, problems, ideas. They want answers. They want praise.
But Mike did NOT want to be the boss.
“It was the worst job I ever had,” he said. “It nearly killed me. I worked hundred-hour weeks. Fifty weeks a year.”
It was too much.
People write to me. They say, “I don’t know what I like.”
“I don’t know my purpose.”
“I need help.”
Mike had the opposite problem.
He knew what he liked. And he was good at it.
Which is rare.
“I can make jokes. I can’t really do much else,” he said. “And thank god it’s a job. I’m the luckiest man in the world.”
But being “lucky” takes hard work.
I’ll give you an example.
Mike wrote this line in an episode of “The Simpsons”:
“It’s a raining day in Springfield.”
It was chaos.
It had never rained in “The Simpsons” before.
“The animators immediately come to us. ‘What does rain look like on The Simpsons? Is it yellow? Is it drops? Is it lines?”
Then Mike had to direct the actors. And edit the audio tracks. He did the storyboards. And sat with the writers to go over all the lines.
“Everything has to be invented when you’re doing a show,” he said.
1 joke = 100 hours of work from 8 people.
“I did the math,” he said.
And people still complain.
Mike went online one night after a new episode aired. He saw a strange comment…
“We did an episode about Homer smuggling snakes,” he said. “We put that on the air and said, ‘Well you don’t see that too often.’”
Then he goes on the website.
The comment says, “You had Homer smuggle beer on another episode.”
He looked it up.
“It was 22 years between smuggling beer and smuggling snakes. And the guy who was complaining was only 14 years-old.”
So after two years of show running, he quit.
But he still writes for “The Simpsons.”
Every week, he flies to LA.
People freak out.
“You fly once a week!”
Everyone wants the photo that says, “My life is better than yours.”
Mike doesn’t want that. Because he knows the truth.
He said, “I don’t deserve any honors for being able to sit in a chair all day. It’s really easy.”
Mike started out as a joke writer for Johnny Carson. He wrote 60 jokes a day. Now he gets calls from Al Roker and The Oscars when they need jokes.
He’s done being the boss. And he’s happier that way.
“I like writing for people,” he said.
He gets to avoid office toxicity.
Maybe you’re reading this thinking, “That’s easy for him. He writes jokes. I can’t do that.”
Here’s how to avoid office toxicity:
1. Reject the ladder
Mike was the boss for two years.
Now he doesn’t want that. He does what he likes.
And he calls the kids “boss.” He likes it better this way.
2. Don’t try to please anybody. It’s a waste of energy.
Mike gave me an example.
He was working on “The Critic.” When the show got canceled, they moved to another network. The show aired and “the ratings were huge,” Mike said.
But the Vice President of FOX hated the show.
He’d call Mike in the middle of the night just to insult him.
Then he’d have these meetings where he brings everyone into a room. He’d put the show on and say, “I’m going to show you why this show is terrible.”
But then everyone in the room would laugh. Because the show was funny.
And the boss would yell at everyone. “Why are you laughing?!”
“ I can’t mention his name,” he said.
Then he told his name. And we laughed. Because Mike freed himself from the fear of punishment.
“But it was John Matoian.”
The crowd laughed.
“Did you ever got depressed about the situation?” I asked.
“No, I really didn’t,” he said. But his co-writer was upset.
He tried different things to impress the boss. But that didn’t work.
It never does.
3. Expect people to be what they show you.
If someone is mean, expect it.
If they’re nice, expect it.
Put it on paper. “Carl is aggressive, likely to insult you, pushy…” etc.
Then look for the good. This is a trick I learned from Lori Gottlieb, a therapist who sometimes deals with difficult people. She said she always looks for the good in someone.
This takes away fear. Which is important.
Because fear blocks creativity.
4. Break the rules.
Most people only spend 39% of the work day working.
There’s bathroom breaks, office chats, compaining, etc. I played chess on my work computer. And switch screens when the boss walked by.
I traded the negative downtime for something I actually liked.
5. Practice the ridiculous muscle
Offices are hypocrisies. The rules apply to some.
And it can make you mad.
“Why do we have to do it this way?”
Next time something stupid happens at work, use your imagination. Try to make the situation more and more ridiculous. Until it’s funny.
It will always be funny.
Just keep exaggerating.
6. Decide what you can live with.
Whatever corporate structure you’re in existed before you. And it will exist after you.
Make a list of everything you hate about work. Then everything you like.
Then look at the first list. And ask yourself. “Can I live with this?”
7. Say “yes.”
8. Say “no.”
Figure out which one you say more. Then do the opposite.
One will be freeing.
The other will be empowering.
9. Think less of yourself.
People always ask, “What do you do?” as if that’s who you are.
Mike wrote 60 jokes a day for Johnny Carson.
He’d write for 12-14 hours straight.
But this didn’t inflate his self-image. Or take over his identity like it would for people today.
He said, “I sat in a chair and wrote jokes. It’s what I do.”
Separate ego from work. Work = one of two things. Either freedom. Or sacrifice.
10. Pretend you can read minds
Pretend you’re the boss. And you get mind-reading powers.
You know what everyone’s thinking. And it’s awful. What would you want them to think? How would you want them to feel?
Give yourself the freedom to leave your own mind.
Links & Resources
- Read “Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons by Mike Reiss
- Watch “The Simpsons“
- Follow Mike Reiss on Twitter
- Listen to my first interview with Mike Reiss – Ep. 368 – “Yes! You Should Take Chances With Your Career”