Life Lessons From Famous Comedians

One of my favorite books from last year was Judd Apatow’s Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy. I was recently going through all of my Kindle highlights (a very useful feature of reading on a Kindle) and noticed that I had done quite a bit of highlighting in this book. Most of it had nothing to do with comedy.

These were some of my favorite passages from some of my favorite comedians.

Albert Brooks on generosity:

Be generous and you can be the best person who ever lived.

Brooks on the rat race and learning to be content:

If I’ve learned anything—anything—getting older, it’s the value of moment-to-moment enjoyment. When I was young, all my career was “If I do well tonight, that means that Wednesday will be better. That means I can give this tape to my agent and…” It was this ongoing chess game. And that is a really disappointing game, because when you get to checkmate, it never feels like it should.

Amy Schumer on how everyone’s situation is relative:

I think that beautiful people are not any happier than people who are not as beautiful. Even with models—there’s always someone who is more beautiful or younger. So no matter what realm you’re operating in, it’s all relative.

Harold Ramis with a simple life lesson:

Life is ridiculous, so why not be a good guy?

Ramis on the importance of balance and perspective in your life:

There’s a great rabbinical motto that says you start each day with a note in each pocket. One note says, “The world was created for you today,” and the other note says, “I’m a speck of dust in a meaningless universe,” and you have to balance both things.

Jerry Seinfeld on how less is more as both a writer and comedian:

Oh, I was a minimalist from the beginning. I think that’s why I’ve done well as a comedian. If you always want less, in words as well as things, you’ll do well as a writer.

Seinfeld on staying grounded:

You look at some pictures from the Hubble Telescope and you snap out of it. I used to keep pictures of the Hubble on the wall of the writing room at Seinfeld. It would calm me when I would start to think that what I was doing was important.

Louis CK on failure:

I’m glad for every single thing I didn’t get.

Louis on enjoying the moment:

Oh yeah. I remember the first time I did Letterman. I had all these thoughts reeling in my head that I had to do this or that, and then when I got on, right before I got onstage, I thought, Don’t forget to enjoy this because you’re going to f*cking kill yourself if you don’t enjoy this. And I’ve always remembered that. It’s all very fleeting, you know.

Louis on incremental progress:

I’ve never had all-at-once successes. I’ve never had any big leaps, the rags-to-riches thing. Everything has been one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. So many times I heard, You’re up for this thing, this is the one, and it’s going to be huge. And it never happens and then it’s back to coming down to earth.

Judd Apatow on the learning curve for young people:

I was just the guy trying to figure out how to not have Ben [Stiller] realize I didn’t know how to do anything but write stand-up jokes. So I’m just keeping my mouth shut and listening to Ben because he was already brilliant and had a vision for what this was, and slowly I figured out how to run a writing staff and edit, but I was faking it. I was faking it for a long time.

Apatow on the benefits of finding a good mentor:

I’ve always thought that mentoring comes from being in a place where you want to learn. When you [Gary Shandling] hired me at The Larry Sanders Show, you said, “Oh my God, you’re going to learn so much.” You didn’t say, “You’re going to be so helpful to me.” You said, “You’re going to learn so much.” And I took that seriously. I’m here to make as much of a contribution as I can, but it’s just as important for me to take as much from it as I can.

Steve Martin on the long game:

To me, there’s like three levels of knowing if a movie is good. One is when it comes out. Is it a hit? Then after five years. Where is it? Is it gone? Then again after ten–fifteen years if it’s still around. Are people still watching it? Does it have an after life?

Jay Leno on the importance of experience (even if you have to work for free):

I would drive hundreds and hundreds of miles to work for free for four or five minutes.

Chris Rock on success and longevity:

It’s almost impossible to keep success going because you have to stop at some point to rest and learn something new.

Jon Stewart on the importance of process:

…in some ways that is the challenge of a show. It’s to create a factory that doesn’t kill inspiration and imagination. You try to create a process that includes all the aspects of a mechanized process that we recognize as soul killing, while not actually killing souls.

Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy

Further Reading:
World Class Comedy or Investing: Are They Teachable?




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