Godfrey’s 20 years old in comedy years. (Your age = your experience). He might’ve been born in 1969. But that doesn’t matter. He learned this from Jerry Seinfeld.
Seinfeld asked Godfrey, “How long have you been doing comedy?” At the time, his answer was 9 years. And Seinfeld said back, “That’s your age in comedy.” And it’s true for most skills. Or any pursuit. It’s not true for riding your bike because we all started young and a lot of us haven’t cared to step on a bike in 10 years. But if you’re trying to perfect a skill and become a master at something, then years dedicated = your age.
This perspective has helped me in more ways than one.
I always catch myself comparing my performance and ability to the guy who went on before me or the woman going onstage after me. I compare myself to the MC. And to the Netflix specials I watch. Godfrey might be younger than me in life. But he’s older than me in career. And I have to respect that.
2. Respect Your Elders
A lot of the time, this advice is bullshit. Someone can be a lot older than you and a lot dumber, too. We all have different values and practices and ways of being in life. Your way is your way. My way is pickles. It’s objective. But I feel this goes back to the comparison thing. If you replace comparing and self-doubt with respect and appreciation, then envy become admiration. And anger becomes love. And then (this is the most important) that love transforms into motivation, which is what I need to get 1% better every day.
3. Years give you time to change
Some people “pivot” from career A to career B. One day you’er a lawyer and 3 years later you’re a comedian (Paul Mecurio). I have hundreds of examples from all my podcast guests. Sara Blakely: 5 years of selling fax machines door to door later becomes the first self-made female billionaire and the founder & CEO of Spanx. Daymond John: he worked at Red Lobster and started selling hats on the street outside busy train stations, which he later turned into the international brand FUBU.
Years give you time. That’s obvious and true.
Godfrey started doing comedy in college. “That’s when you start free-thinking,” he said. His first time on stage was with a friend in Chicago at an open mic. They wrote sketches as a team
“Scariest shit I’d ever experience in my life.”
People demand to be fed. “Make me laugh.”
That’s hard in any job. To try to do well AND live up to people’s expectations (your boss, your wife, your husband, your kids, your in-laws, yourself…)
And so we manipulate ourselves to get better. We try to new material. Or improve communications. Get better at skills. Become idea machines or just learn to take better notes.
I remember working at HBO and feeling like there was one person I had to please the most. Because I needed them to say MY ideas were great. And we should make them happen.
So I walked out. In the middle of the day, I got my things, pressed “lobby,” walked to the park across the street and quit. I didn’t get the approval.
So I gave it to myself.
And over the last 20, 30, 40, 50 years, I’ve reinvented from baby, to student, to website developer, entrepreneur, hedge fund manager, loser, divorcee, boyfriend, writer, podcaster, comedian, and that list is still going.
And I don’t know what the next 50 years of that list will look like.
When Godfrey started out, his material was angry. And it still is (at times). But he’s also added new elements. Time plus desire to improve guarantees reinvention.
4. “Rinse and repeat”
I kept asking Godfrey how he improved over the years. What did he do differently that helped him move up in the ranks?
“There’s not that much,” he said. “It’s just doing it a thousand times.”
5. Face your fears every day.
I one time asked one my employees, “What do you really want to do in life?” He was scared to tell me. There’s 2 reasons why he could’ve been afraid to tell the truth.
- A) Either because I owned the company, started it and operated it. And he was an employee of that organization doing X job. So if his answer doesn’t match up to his job, he could’ve felt insecure.
- B) It’s scary to tell the truth about what you really want in life.
He ended up telling me.
“I want to make documentaries.”
He developed websites… I was glad he told me the truth. Because I was able to introduce him to someone I used to work with at HBO. Maybe he won’t leave in the middle of the day. I’ll have to ask him.
Godfrey took the biggest leap as soon as the idea came to him.
He got up on stage. He didn’t wait. And he didn’t give fear the ability to wiggle into his psyche.
Then he rinsed and repeated. He went on stage more. He tried new clubs, new material. He tested his crowd. He held the mic with his left hand or didn’t touch it at all.
Every day he faced his fear. That’s the only way to get 20 years of a life you want to live.
And so I’ll go back on stage tonight.
6. Face your fears (PART 2)
Godfrey’s met a lot of amazing comedians. He had a conversation with Eddie Murphy. He asked Eddie if he’d ever come back to stand up.
Eddie wasn’t sure. And then he started to tell Godfrey that he didn’t know WHY he wasn’t sure…
So Godfrey said, “I know why… You’re scared!”
And he laughed. Because it was obvious.
Eddie stopped flexing his comedy muscle. It atrophied.
This is true for anything anyone wants to get good at. You have to flex every day. Because it’s harder to start a second time than it is to start at all.
7. Milestones and micro-milestones
Every skill has micro skills. There’s no one skill called “basketball.” There’s dribbling, shooting, and so on. I asked Godfrey, “How long did it take to figure out what your voice in comedy is? When did you become truly authentic?”
If he quit before 10 years, he wouldn’t have found that piece of himself.
I also asked him “What was the difference between your jokes pre vs post 10 years?”
And he said, “Risk-taking.”
Can you imagine never experiencing the nuances of the skills you love? I can’t. Or at least, I don’t want to have to.
8. Get your own opinion and use it.
“Comics will never show up at your job to tell you what to do.”
“Everyone has an opinion about comedy because everyone has their own sense of humor,” Godfrey said. “It’s an innate thing, we all have the ability to laugh…”
So people tell him how to do his job. His girlfriend one time gave him advice to stop heckling the hecklers. He took her advice. But all the other people, he had to learn to ignore.
He had to get his own opinion of his work and value it more than anyone else’s.
I wanted to ask Godfrey about failing. Sometimes I’m on stage and it feels like I’ve lost everyone. Other timers, their laughter is the wave that carries me further. But when the current dissipates, I feel like puking.
Because it feels like I’m failing in the moment… and I told this to Godfrey.
He said, “But are you failing?”
Is anyone actually ever failing? Or is there another “end result” that matters more than one step in a series of acts.
10. Embrace 2018
I don’t make new year’s resolutions. Because I think they’re an excuse to not do anything the rest of the year.
I always say there are two good times to start something new. Twenty years ago and today.
This year, more crazy, inappropriate and unpredictable stuff has happened than any other year (and maybe I’m only saying that because I’m alive today).
Godfrey talked to me about the landscape of comedy and the world. And I’m going to take it to heart:
“The beautiful thing about this time is that you can be anything you want.”
Links and Resources
- “Regular Black” (Godfrey’s special on ShowTime)
- Follow Godfrey on Instagram (and watch his sketches)
- And follow him on Facebook, Twitter + YouTube
- “The Village Idiot”
- Seinfeld’s joke that people would rather be in the coffin then giving the eulogy
- Soul Plane
- Adam Sandler
- Eddie Murphy
- Saturday Night Live
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Jim Gaffigan
- Comedian (Jerry Seinfeld’s documentary)
- George Carlin
- Richard Pryor
- Jackie Gleason
- Johnny Carson
- Jonathan Winters
- Mantan Moreland
- Pigmeat Markham
- Slappy White
- Timmie Rogers
- George Burns
- Gracie Allen
- Laurel and Hardy
- Steven Wright (Godfrey’s example for a guy who demonstrates “energy” on stage)
- Tony Robbins – NLP (here’s a training video on it)
- Jean Perret (famous comedy writer) – he talks about “the law of 3’s”
- Godfrey’s yoga bit on “Just For Laughs”
- Comedy Cellar
- David Attell (Godfrey says he’s one of the funniest comedians living)
- Colin Quinn
- Dave Chappelle
- Mitch Fatel
- Mitch Hedberg
- Bill Cosby (in “The Cosby Show”)
- Tim Allen (“Home Improvement” “Last Man Standing”)
- Ray Romano (in “Everybody Loves Raymond”)
- Kevin James (in “The King of Queens”)
- Chappelle Show
- Kevin Hart
- Dane Cook
- Steve Harvey (Family Feud, The Steve Harvey Show, The Big Shots)
- Black Panther (in theaters now)
- Marlene Dietrich
- Greta Garbo
- Robert Mitchum
- Clark Gable
- Spencer Tracy
- Katharine Hepburn
- King Bach
- My interview with Amanda Cerny
- Zach Galifianakis (in “Between Two Ferns”)
- Greg Giraldo
- Patrice O’Neal
- Bernie Mac
- Collin Quinn
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