One comedian tells a story about another comedian and it’s a metaphor for everything in life.
“I was on stage and it was getting kind of hot. I was doing ok but I decided to unbutton a button on my shirt. The crowd laughed a little and so I unbuttoned another button. Like I’m about to take my clothes off. People were chuckling.
“Then the MC comes out and he’s got three buttons unbuttoned, making fun of my half-attempt at a strip tease. The crowd is laughing now. It’s a joke.
“Then suddenly Robin Williams walks onto the stage and he is totally naked except for his boxer shorts.
“That’s why Robin Williams is a great comedian and I’m not.”
I learned a lot from that story. The guy telling the story is Orny Adams. He co-starred in Seinfeld’s documentary about standup comedy.
In the documentary, Orny is not really successful. He’s struggling. He still is. He might be funny. He might be persistent. He might love what he does. But he unbuttons two buttons instead of going naked.
Every day we wear a uniform. If you go to work you might have to wear business attire or business casual. If you go to a Memorial Day barbecue, you’d dress casual.
Somewhere there is a book of lists: situation…dress code, situation…dress code.
But it’s like that for everything. There’s a book: situation…appropriate things to say. situation…appropriate things to say.
Like, I made a mistake when I first started dating after divorce. On a first date one girl was drilling down on my net worth and all of my opportunities. “How much do you have in the bank?”
She wanted to find out if I would ever be able to match her ex-husband. I probably gave too much information.
And on my first date with Claudia, I DEFINITELY gave too much information. But I survived that.
Clothes are a big comfort zone thing. Claudia bought me some pajamas the other day. I haven’t had pajamas since I was a kid.
I have to tell you something.
Pajamas are REALLY COMFORTABLE. I loved them. So I wore them all day. I wore them when we went out to eat. When we went to the movies. Then I wore them the next day. They were just so much more comfortable than regular clothes.
My kids were over and they had a singing recital. Kids are always afraid to go out of the comfort zone. They’re not sure yet what dangers are outside. They were afraid I would wear my pajamas to the singing recital and embarrass them. “Please don’t!”
Which was my plan.
But instead I decided I would impress them and look my best for a casual Saturday afternoon singing recital with a bunch of 12 year olds and their parents.
I wore a tuxedo. Inspired by Robin Williams but perhaps not brave enough to go in my underwear.
I was walking down the stairs and Mollie was saying, “You better not be wearing your pajam-NOOOOOOOO! No Daddy. No Daddy. PLEASE!” When she saw me in the tuxedo. “Change back into your pajamas!” she said.
But I wore the tuxedo. I liked looking good in a tuxedo. It gave me self esteem while I proudly watched my two kids sing.
I went only slightly outside the comfort zone. I wasn’t wearing the proper uniform (casual) but I was fully clothed.
There’s a line where you can take off enough clothes and suddenly you are WAY outside of the comfort zone.
Robin Williams did that. He did it without thinking for more than a few seconds. He instantly knew the most extreme he could take a joke, the most shocking he could be for that moment, the most stretching of all boundaries he could do to get a laugh and go way beyond the two comedians before him.
That’s what makes him the most unique in the world at what he does.
Everyone broke out into laughter. Everyone knew the king had arrived. “This is why Robin Williams is great,” Orny Adams repeated.
I like idea sex. Where you take two different ideas and combine them to create something new and unique and even magical.
Imagine doing something out of your comfort zone but combining it with the simple idea of “kindness”. Often we are too busy in our lives, living our normal straight lines, to do either.
We’re like blind people, feeling the edges of walls so we don’t hurt ourselves.
But some people find the door, they look outside, the sun is bright, brighter than it’s ever been. Their gut instinct is to shield their eyes but then suddenly they adjust to the new world and all the lines, shapes, lights congeal into place.
They walk out and feel the wind against their face. They smile and take a deep breath. It’s a new day.
They fly away into the burning sun.