Comedian’s Mindset

⇒ APRIL 2015 ⇐

When we lost George Carlin in 2008 I was sad.

When we lost Robin Williams in 2014 I was distraught.

These seemed like extreme reactions and my surprise deepened when these feelings did not fade.

It really got me to thinking. I mean, I hadn’t watched a movie containing either actor in years, nor listened to any of their standup. So, why the shpilkes?

Some of it is the whole living-vicariously-through-celebrities thing, but that wasn’t the whole picture.

I needed closure, so I started listening to their standup again (with my daughter, don’t worry she’s profanity savvy) and it all clicked. These men did not represent entertainers to me. These were my beloved teachers; my mentors, my role models. Their words had shaped my thinking and opinions; their logic became part of my own.

Why was there so powerful a relationship and how had I missed it?

It was the comedian mindset.

For those of you familiar with Carol Dweck theories on mindsets they are a delightfully easy metaphor for interpreting human behavior. Essentially, does a person see new ideas as an opportunity (growth) or threat (fixed)? That mindset effects how we react to their world.

This got me thinking.

Is there a comedian mindset? Is there a way of consuming and reacting to the world which is shared by the kinds of comedian’s who become teachers?


Here’s how it works. You take keen intelligence. Open it up to the humor that is a byproduct of the absurdity of all existence and then throw in a healthy dose of indignation at anything that smacks of hypocrisy. Now remove all inhibition and bam! You have comedian mindset.

So what?

Fair question. Remember that my aforementioned heroes were not just entertainers; they were beloved teachers. Why did I love them while learning from them? Why did their lesson have such a profound impact?

Quick cop out → Whatever the answers are, they could be a goldmine for instructional design.

Maybe, we can’t all be off-the-charts extroverts with a keen wit and Olympic level improvisation skills, but there is useful wisdom here. It involves reversing the usual instructional design to entertainment ratio.

In a typical instructional design scenario the designer’s figures out what content needs to be delivered and then drizzle on just enough layout and detail to make it slightly better than dry swallowing a horse pill. Perhaps a spoon full of humor would help the meta-lesson go down in a more delightful way. Maybe we need to try designing brutally honest content (authentic, not just politically correct) maybe we could try presenting learners with the reasons why something is a problem (case studies) rather than lots of independent facts. Maybe comedian’s spend a lifetime honing the craft of getting people to listen, laugh and learn.

So, what is the call to action? More teachers PD (professional development) delivered with the ethos of Ricky Gervais, Keenan & Kel or Monty Python than by Principal Bob and Consuela the consultant.

I know, it sounds crazy… unless you’ve got a comedian’s mindset.

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