You Look Better Than You Think

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 4.22.17 PM

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.

Return to or watch me perform bad magic.

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.

Return to


Panic vs. Professionalism

When it comes to life or death decisions, your monkey brain does a far better job than your conscious mind. If you’re in a car skidding out of control, it can save your life. It causes your eyes, ears, hands and feet to focus and function maximally, thereby preventing you from allocating precious mental energy mid-skid to such potentially-deadly thoughts such as “I’m such a loser for driving so carelessly on ice”.

Such thoughts – if thought at all – are best reserved for such a time when survival is assured. Unfortunately, our monkey brain never shuts up, treating every decision we face as a life-changing, if not potentially life-ending.

Being a professional means learning to ignore your monkey brain.

Some time ago a particularly talented and accomplished friend arranged to attend my show. I felt honored by this and told him so. I was honored even more when he announced his intention to attend my return engagement at the same venue just ten months later.

Shortly before the show I was walking on the sidewalk outside the venue and there was my friend! “Hey, are you doing any new material?” he asked. “I’ve got some new stand-up” I said, meekly. “Just new stand-up?” he said. “Plus I kick a coin into my eye socket now” I added, now more desperate than meek.

“But haven’t you always done that one?” he wanted to know. I explained that it was never a staple of my act and now it is, thanks to a new context I found for it.

“Well, I may not stick around for the entire show”.

It would have been easy to listen to what my monkey brain was chattering at me: “You’re a loser! Why would you ever think he’d want to see the same show he saw just ten months ago?”

At that moment – less than two hours before taking the stage – my job entails, among other things, being in a positive frame of mind. If circumstance did not quickly place my friend in the company of others, I would have had to politely excuse myself from his presence.

In other words, although not yet onstage I was already work and I wasn’t going to let anyone prevent me from finishing the job.

I often think of the movie Apollo 13, in which the astronauts and their support team on earth must show tremendous creativity and work ethic in order save the astronauts’ lives. As professionals, they know that frustration is deadly. A sense of being overwhelmed is deadly. Reflecting on the unfairness of it all is deadly. Wondering how it will all turn out is deadly.

Such subjects are appropriate over beers once the mission is complete, but when you have a job to do they serve only as distractions. When saving a life means saying “You’re going to build a filter out of duct tape, nylon and a coat hanger”, it doesn’t help to add “Does that frustrate you?”

If it’s not part of the mission, it compromises the mission.

Not long ago I would have thought that my friend’s boorish behavior came at the worst-possible moment. But as a professional, I realized that his timing was perfect: after all, I had a job to do and was therefore free to politely ignore him, which is what I did by focusing on the task at hand.

Do you have thoughts on professionalism? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to or wach me juggle in fast motion on The Tonight Show.

Funny vs. Not Funny: A Primer

Extreme shortness: funny

Height extremes: funny

Well-defined abs: unfunny

Well-defined abs: unfunny










People ask me all the time: “Mr. Deeble, can you teach funny?” I always say the same thing: “You will address me as Dave or David: I believe I’ve earned it”. Which brings me to tip #1: be funny right off the bat.

Let me save you some time: despite proliferation of books, workshops and comedians which purport to teach you how to be funny, comedy cannot be taught. No one considers a particularly funny person and thinks “Boy, she’s really well-taught”. Why can’t comedy be taught? Because comedy requires comedic instincts and great comedy requires great comedic instincts. And you can’t teach instinct.

Take an example: well-defined abs. Few things in the world are more unfunny than a chiseled pack of six-pack abs. A thought experiment: recall of one of the funniest people (famous or otherwise) you are aware of when you were witnessing him at the height of his hilarity. Was it your co-worker at that time at the Christmas party? Was it Brian Regan talking about how great it’d be at parties to be one of the men 12 who’s walked on the moon?Whatever it was, remember what it was like to experience in real time what this person said or did that struck you as so hilarious. Recall what it felt like, both physically and emotionally, to engage in that wonderful thing called uncontrollable laughter. Got it? Good. Now imagine once again but this time imagine the hilarious person with chiseled, six-pack abs. He just got considerably less funny, didn’t he?

Probably it has something to do with the discipline, vanity and low-fat diet that great abs connote. If possessing one or even two of these attributes makes being funny an uphill battle, then great abs are the trifecta of unfunny.

Let me be clear: merely having great abs is not disqualifying. But like a medical doctor educated in the Caribbean, it’s best to keep it to yourself. In other words, don’t be this guy.

As long as we’re talking about physical attributes, being a “little person” is about as funny as you get. And not just because the term “little person” seems more offensive than the term it replaced, though that helps (offensiveness is funny. We’ll call that tip #2). And though I’m not a “little person” in the clinical sense (I can drive a car and stuff) I’m sufficiently diminutive to get away with jokes like these.

Which brings me to one of the great things about comedy: good looks are hindrance (call it tip #3 for maximum clickability). If you’re regular-looking, you’re ahead of the game. You may even be able to get away with slightly-above average looks. But people with aggressive good looks have a hard time of it, especially when they first come on stage. It’s distracting! The sooner the audience stops looking at you and starts listening to you, the more success you’ll have.

If you want to be a success at comedy but suffer from inordinate good looks, take my advice: give it a couple decades.

Thoughts? Comments? Leave them below.

Return to or see why I’d make a lousy magician.

Generating Buzz And Power Of The Unexpected

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 5.23.46 PM

Some time ago I was thinking of ways to increase my post-show merchandise sales. I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable when watching other performers attempt to reach into the pockets of their audience before the conclusion of their show and I had little desire to follow their example.

But then an idea occurred to me: what about thanking my volunteer during each show by giving him a complimentary edition of my dvd Look What I Can Do! (Not available online or in stores!) That way I could at least make audiences aware that I have merchandise without doing any kind of onstage hard-sell – or any onstage selling at all, for that matter.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 4.45.14 PM

I kept it simple: after inviting my volunteer to return to his seat (to the audience’s applause, of course), I would produce my dvd and point out the following: “Now, Steve, here was sitting in the audience just like the rest of you folks, but then I plucked him out of the ether, as it were, and he found himself onstage in front of everyone with spotlight in his eyes and so forth. And I think he did a great job assisting me. So I’m going to give him a complimentary dvd of my entire show.”

Having performed thousands of shows throughout my life, I thought I had encountered every kind of audience response, from utter indifference to nervous laughter to hanging onto every word that comes out of my mouth in anticipation of more hilarity. But I had never encountered the response of audiences to giving something away unexpectedly.

I’ve given away countless dvds in this manner over the last couple of years and audiences always respond in the same manner, yet it never ceases to amaze me. How to describe it? They react to this unselfconscious act of thanking my volunteer (while making them aware of a thing) with… a gasp. No, not the kind of gasp that’s triggered by performing a dangerous stunt or boarding an airplane wearing shorts. It’s the kind of gasp that results from witnessing the unexpected.

It’s important to note that it’s the unexpectedness of the gesture rather than the magnitude of its generosity that generates the buzz: after all, though slick-looking, each dvd cost me only a couple of bucks to mass produce. (But even there, my volunteer discovers more unexpected surprises inside, such as a blooper reel and commentary feature in which I describe how I dreamt up each routine and so forth).

I always thought I should be able to create and sustain buzz by simply doing  great work. But great work my audiences and clients expect. A little gift for a volunteer for briefly helping me out onstage? That’s unexpected.

By thinking up ways to improve my merchandise sales I accidentally discovered a way to generate the kind of joy and excitement that every performer and salesperson seeks.

Naturally, if my volunteer so desires I’ll sign the dvd for him after the show. How’s that for a great way to start a conversation?

Thoughts? Suggestions? Leave your comments in the section below.

Return to or watch me try out new jokes on a baby.

Outwitting Your Inner Perfectionist

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.45.00 PM

If you have children you know that they can sometimes be unflattering reflections of yourself.

“Put your pants on, Luke”, I often tell my 6-year old son, adding “Put down your Transformer and put your pants on”.

“Put your shoes on, Luke”, then “Set down your biscotti and put your shoes on.”

Oftentimes I have to explain to myself what I explain to Lucas: you save time by doing one thing at a time.

For children, of course, saving time isn’t a priority because it’s one thing they have in abundance. For adults, though, this tendency to do more than one thing at a time is a result of run-of-the-mill perfectionism.

I call it “run-of-the-mill” perfectionism because many of us think perfectionism is an attribute solely of artists or surgeons. Worse, many of us think of perfectionism as a positive thing, spurring us to higher and higher levels of achievement.

Real perfectionists know that the most-common side-effect is difficulty getting anything done. Those truly in thrall to perfectionism try to do everything at once because, well, what’s the point of trying to do one thing at a time when perfection is always beyond reach?

Blogs, as a medium, have helped me to see that if you take something seriously, doing it consistently is infinitely more important than doing it perfectly. But only by doing it consistently was I able to learn this.

Even on the most popular blogs, after all, it isn’t unusual to find misspellings, grammatical mistakes, etc. We readers don’t interpret such mistakes as failures as such. Blogging has evolved into a conversational medium, where the most successful ones tend to be personal, helpful and free, none of which requires that every i be dotted and every crossed.

What does this mean for you? It means that people – readers, audiences, bosses – respond to openness and authenticity more than to perfection and panache. (I learned this the hard way).

It means that if you’re intimidated by the prospect of writing book, commit to writing three books. Instead of updating your resumè, consider replacing altogether with your story. What do you wish to accomplish? What have you started? Captaining your high school chess club is pretty cool.. Founding your high school chess club is even cooler and tells us something about you. (This is great advice to give your children, by the way. If your child’s school has no German club, encourage him to start one and help him every step of the way. Imagine how transformative it is to be reminded of your power – even as a child – to start things).

So take a chance and start something, finish it and send out it out into the world. If you can do that, you’re ahead of the vast majority of others who wish they had the courage to do the same but substitute it with the unfulfilling rewards of anonymity. 

Will your thing fail to set the world on fire? Probably. But you’ll learn firsthand that you had much less to fear than you thought.

But what if everyone hates it? That’s the perfectionist in you again, telling you, in effect, that you’ve got one shot and that it has to be perfect. But you don’t have one shot: you have a new shot everyday. In fact, each moment provides you with an endless supply of new opportunities to say “Let’s see what happens”.

When you fail, tell yourself “Well, at least I got that out of the way”. You’ll find that your inner-perfectionist, for once, has nothing to say.

So use both your hands, pull up your pants and see what happens.

Did this blog suck? Let me know in the comment section below and I promise you, there will be a lot more.

Return to or watch me fail on stage in front of hundreds of people.

Eyes On The Prize: How Best To Avoid Distractions

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.06.58 AM

Many years ago a head injury caused neurological damage to my right arm, costing me my ability to juggle. This would have been hilarious to me, too, were I not a professional juggler at the time. Instead, I became preoccupied with regaining my lost ability.

Years passed with no progress. I tried everything: doctors, strength training, a makeshift rubber sling. Toward the end I was attempting to juggle by simultaneously pinching a throw pillow under my armpit.

It was then that my friend stepped in.

An accomplished performer and also a trained pilot, my friend printed out for me the transcript of the last conversation between the doomed pilot and co-pilot of Eastern Airlines flight 401. Like me with my arm issue, these pilots had allowed themselves to become distracted with something which ultimately had no bearing on their objective (the bulb of the landing-gear indicator had burned out).

If the pilots had focused on the task at hand – landing the aircraft safely – they would have noticed that the autopilot had been disengaged and that the plane was losing altitude.

My friend had taught me a profound lesson which has served well me ever since: by thinking of myself as a juggler, I had lost sight of the fact that I still had every tool necessary to do my real job, which is to entertain.

Similarly, if Smith Corona had realized in the 1980s that it was in the word processing business rather than the typewriter business, they may not be making thermal barcode labels today.

It was this realization that allowed me to greatly expand my skill set to include stand-up comedy, catching olives on toothpicks and even slow-motion juggling with plastic grocery sacks, to name three things which turned out to be more hilarious than anything I had dreamt up before my injury.

Sometimes keeping your eyes on the prize is simple. Shooting out a flaming candle with a gun at night is impressive to the layman, but an experienced shooter knows it’s actually quite easy because the flame is the only thing there is to see.

Oftentimes, however, distractions abound. And the best way to ignore them is by focusing on your objective. This sounds axiomatic, but too often we fixate on distractions in our attempts to avoid them. During an emergency landing it’s tempting for a pilot to focus on the myriad things she must avoid: water, telephone wires, mountains, other planes. But experienced pilots are always focused on one thing: the runway.

What is your runway? Focus on it incessantly and don’t let distractions like fear of failure cause you to come up short.

Do you have thoughts on avoiding distractions and achieving goals? Leave the in the comment section below.

Return to or watch me kick a coin into my eye socket.

There’s Nothing Like Telling A Joke For The Second Time

How I work is I write down my thoughts, edit them down to size and then tell them to audiences as if they had just occurred to me. It’s sort of like acting in a play which you also wrote.

One of the challenges of performing new material is maintaining the same demeanor (i.e., feigning the same confidence) as those jokes which are time-tested. It’s like suddenly bluffing in poker after a long series of hot hands.

It’s very gratifying to try new material which receives the desired response. But in stand-up comedy the real rush comes from a new joke’s second telling because you know the audience will place a coda of laughter at the end. As a result, my anxiety is replaced with anticipation, uncertainty with confidence. Instead of anticipating and observing the audience reaction my mind is free focus on my delivery, which enhances my confidence, which increases the audience’s enjoyment, and so on.

It’s a virtuous cycle.

Thoughts, comments or angry retorts? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to


“May I Help The Next Customer?”

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 4.25.13 PM

I begin most transactions with people in the customer service industry with “Hi, how are you?” It’s a pleasantry that takes only a moment. Sometimes the service rep gets this look on her face like a deer caught in headlights. It becomes immediately obvious that nothing in her experience taught her to be prepared for it.

And why should she be prepared for it, given the signal she sends by initiating our interaction with “May I help the next customer?” Oh what a joy it is to be referred to as “The next customer”. That’s how I think of myself: the next customer. Sure, it’s four more syllables than “May I help you?” but it’s worth it, given that it sends the unmistakable message that our transaction will lack the tiniest trace of authenticity or humanity.

Frankly the DMV’s greeting of “Customer 372” is more personal. After all, everybody is at one time or another “The next customer”. But only I am customer 372.

Do you have customer service grievances? Share them in the comment section below.

Return to

Airport Security vs. Being Admitted Into Prison: A Comparison

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 9.47.48 AM

Passing through airport security seems more and more like being admitted into prison. First they confiscate two categories of things: anything remotely sharp and… your belt. Then you’re standing in line with a bunch of barefoot people holding up their pants with one hand and their sole possessions in the other. The travelers who passed through security hours earlier are looking on and chanting “Fresh fish! Fresh fish!”

Upon reflection, that last part doesn’t sound plausible enough to deem reliable memory. But you get the idea.

Air travel stopped being something to dress up for more than a generation ago. Tank tops, shorts, fish with slacks are now commonplace.

The airlines have contributed greatly to the deterioration of their product, as evidenced by U.S. Airways commitment to protecting the rights of men to wear nothing but lingerie on the plane.




Just because the culture made air travel more difficult to enjoy doesn’t mean the government had to ensure it could never be so.

An example. Last week while flying out of LAX they tried to confiscate my hair gel because I had six ounces of it in my carry-on bag. (I didn’t let them take it – I just put it in my hair where, apparently, it’s legal.)

Contrast this with the much more sensible protocols in Europe (where I lived and flew around for five years) where “Guilty until proven innocent” is not policy. And yet they get the job done better than our punchline TSA.

This reflexive risk-aversion is evident everywhere, from the flimsy plastic forks which are no match for the partially-frozen lasagna to to the peanut bags which warn us that “These peanuts were processed in a facility that produces nuts.”

The overall effect on passengers is a chilling one. Contrast how exciting it once was to board an airplane to how silent and… funereal it is now. Recently I was boarding a plane in Burbank when I politely asked the gentleman in the seat behind me if he would mind swapping seats with me so that his wife and I could sit together.

Like I said – no sense of humor.

Return to