The “Thank You” Itch

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Well-raised individuals are instructed from an early age to say it. It can be heartfelt or empty ritual. But rarely do we think of saying “thank you” it as a form of self-expression, like an unbearable itch that has to be scratched. Not merely an obligation but a primal urge to convey one’s feelings.

We should recognize that “thank you” can be fraught with so much meaning from time to time. And such instances aren’t engendered only by surgeons who save our lives or soldiers who do our fighting.

This came to mind tonight as I popped into Starbucks to get one of their free Pick Of The Week apps for my young son, which are normally displayed next to the cream, sugar, napkins, etc. No sooner did I realized that none were on display that a barista called out to me from behind the counter.

“May I help you?” he said. I explained what I was looking for and he had one of his colleagues assist me (it turned out they didn’t have any at that time).

What impressed me wasn’t so much that he volunteered his assistance so much as his lack of hesitation. He was like the person who doesn’t wait to see how much someone struggles opening a door before lending assistance.

I returned to my son impressed with this barista but also feeling the need to express to him my gratitude for his proactive approach.

Sometimes thank you should represent more than a friendly way of saying “this conversation is over”. More, even, than “I’m grateful to you”. Sometimes “Thank you” should mean “There’s something I have to tell you”.

Thoughts or comments? Leave them in the section below.

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You Look Better Than You Think

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You look at a photograph of yourself from a decade ago and are startled and depressed by how terrific you looked. At the time the photograph was taken you didn’t realize it – perhaps you we’re feeling old even then – but now you are a little taken aback by how you great you looked. Not even young, necessarily, but fantastic.

Similarly, ten years from now you’ll look at photos of yourself from the present and be flabbergasted at how terrific you look(ed). In twenty years you’ll ache to look as good as you will ten years from now and in thirty years to look as good as you will in twenty.

And so it goes: the present only appreciated through the lens of the future, whether it’s your looks, finances, marital status, health or whatever.

Consider this the next time you’re anxious about the future – or depressed about the present.

Think this is great or that I’m clinically insane? Leave your thoughts, whatever they may be, in the comment section below.

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Whipping The Audience Into A Frenzy Is Your Job, Not The Audience’s


There are two ways to get the response you desire of an audience: earn it or demand that they fake it. The latter is characterized by the badgering of the audience over their insufficient zeal.

I understand you need energy. But why not energize the audience by doing something energizing?

I recently performed in a show emceed by a very nice guy who constantly reminded the audience the urgency of being whipped into a frenzy at all times.  I’m not complaining about the rote “Please give a warm Jacksonville welcome to…” I’m talking about the show business equivalent to North Korea’s forcing its citizens to out-wail one another over the death of Kim Jong Il.

“How you doing, everybody?!?! C’mon, you can do better than that, people! Let me hear you say APCA!” The college students gamely supplied what the emcee was desperately seeking: empty cheering which vanished the moment they were directed their attention to the next bauble.

One of those baubles was me. My approach was not the emcee’s: I believe that if the if the audience has shown up, shut up and given you their full attention then you can’t ask more of them. My job, as an entertainer, is to evoke a certain response and then to shape it, be it laughter, applause or even nervous silence.

By the time I came to the stage the audience had been participating in this showcase/social experiment for several days and were now downright Pavlovian in their response. There might as well have been digital Applause signs flashing on each side of the stage. I had anticipated this (even the most obstinate can’t help learning a thing or two over time) so I knew long before taking the stage that my task was to get this Ticonderoga-class ship to stop on a dime and begin responding more naturally: that is, without prompting.

Audiences are you like you and me, though: if you do a thing worth watching then they will tend to watch it. The key then becomes maintaining their engagement.  My philosophy is that whether you’re a teacher, sword swallower, speaker or comedy juggler, you must strive to be be interesting every moment from beginning to end.  Some things naturally make doing so more difficult (a drunken heckler) while others make it easier (a 4-year old drunken heckler).

Am I nuts? Let me know what you think in the comment section below.

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Happiness Is Hard

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In my home there lives a baby who loves taking a bath but who often must be dragged kicking and screaming to take one. There’s also a boy who eagerly anticipates his reward for completing his homework yet must be goaded into actually doing it. There’s a woman whose mood is boosted by exercise yet sometimes goes days without it. Finally, there’s a man who finds sharing ideas with others enormously gratifying yet often lacks the wherewithal to do just that.

What’s wrong with us?

Our problem  – most people’s problem – is that we think in terms of ease and comfort rather than happiness. Happiness takes an energized body and an engaged mind. Comfort requires only a decent-size sofa.

I know that preparing a new dish for my family will greatly increase my happiness. I know that shopping for the ingredients and working in the kitchen will increase my happiness. But I also know that there’s a yet another frozen pizza in the freezer which can be rendered delicious in less than 20 minutes. And that I can check out my latest Facebook post while I wait.

The next time you consider engaging in any activity, ask yourself “Will it make me happy or will it make me comfortable?”

Comments? Leave them in the section below.

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3 Steps To Defeating Your Inner Defeatist

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Even if you’re fortunate enough to have grown up before the unhappy advent of helicopter parenting you know that when it comes to creating something new and sending it out into the world, most of us have our own internal helicopter parent sitting on our shoulder, telling us to go only so far and no further.

Like its real-life counterpart, your internal voice’s raison d’être seems to be to cage you. Not in a cocoon of physical safety but a cocoon of convention, imagination and self-limiting preconceptions. Failure is The Voice’s kryptonite and it will say anything to prevent you from risking failure.

And it never rests.

These three straightforward steps will go a long way to helping you adopt the mindset required to push back against The Voice and enjoy the ineffable feeling of having winds to your back while you work.

Step 1: Acknowledge It

Given that you’ve made it this far, I assume you’ve already got this step down pat: acknowledging that you have such a voice inside you. As taught in 12-step programs, you can’t lick it until you acknowledge it.

2: Hear It In Order To Ignore It

The first step is acknowledging that you have such a voice manipulating you. The second step is familiarizing yourself with it.

By familiarizing yourself with it you are well on your way to ignoring it and doing remarkable work thereby. For too many people, this voice is so familiar as to be virtually undetectable: they aren’t even aware of it. Such people require that the voice shout in order to hear it. Alas, for these poor souls the voice needn’t ever shout because they immediately cave to its every whim.

Fat, drunk and stupid may be no way to go through life, but neither is being in thrall to a self-limiting, self-defeating demon of which you aren’t even aware.

Step 3: See How Loud And Irrational You Can Make The Voice

When threatened, the voice tends to produce more heat than light. Realizing this enables you to use the voice as a map to help you determine if you’re on the right track. When you begin flirting with leaving your comfort zone, the voice speaks in the well-modulated voice of a true-blue expert who only has your best interests at heart. “What a cadence! How self-assured!” you think. It’s hard not to be impressed.

The more you ignore it and push back against it, however, the more the voice reveals itself to be a poseur – and a cynical, infantile one at that. Over time you’ll learn to plow right ahead while disregarding the voice altogether. But if you’re new following your own lights instead of your inner defeatist, make a game of seeing how much you can exasperate it.

Ignoring The Voice will not inoculate you from failure. On the contrary – when you learn to ignore it you’ll find that you begin failing thick and fast. This often causes The Voice to take on a less paternal and more self-righteous tone: “See what happens when you ignore me?” At this point you’re at a vital crossroads: resume caving to it or seamlessly transition to work on your next project for the world to consider.

The Voice feels threatened by those who start and finish things but it’s terrified by those who serially repeat the process.

Thoughts? Comments? Leave them in the section below.

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Small Coffee Shops Adopting The Fee-Based Business Model?

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Look around most coffee shops and you’ll see two types of customers. Let’s call them the Cuppa Coffees and the Cappuccinos.

The Cuppa Coffees are older and more likely to be male. They use terms like “tall” and “skinny” to describe their ideal secretary, not their coffee-based beverage. Even the term “coffee-based beverage” is alien to them. They drink coffee – and they’re lifers.

The Cappuccinos are younger and more likely to be female. Their favorite coffee-based beverages are more likely to be short stories with calories. They use terms like tall, grande, venti and skinny and are more likely to have an unhealthy relationship with caramel.

Lately I’ve noticed several small, individually-owned cafes try to increase their revenues by transforming the Cuppa Coffees into Cappuccinos. How are they going about this? By serving first-rate cappuccinos, world-class lattes and the kind of drip coffee one expects at a rural gas station. The message is loud and clear: if all you want to do is have a cup of filtered coffee you are not welcome here.

Starbucks – and larger coffee franchises generally – understand that most of the people who make the transition from filtered coffee to pumpkin spice latte have already done so. The small coffee shops I describe, on the other hand, seem to be adopting the fee-based business model of airlines: lowering the overall quality of their product in order to incentivize customers to pay fees (for carry-on bags, extra legroom, etc.)

Will it work? Leave your comments in the section below.

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Thoughts or comments? Leave them in the section below.

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