Seinfeld Can Help You
Updated: Jan 9, 2021
In December 2012, the New York Times interviewed comedian Jerry Seinfeld. They wanted him to describe his joke writing process. Jerry was reluctant. He, like E.B. White, believes "analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested, and the frog dies." Thankfully, he got over his reluctance. During the interview, he described how he wrote a joke about Pop-Tarts (my favorite, by the way). Listen to what he said:
"I've probably been working on this for two years…It's a long time to spend on something that means absolutely nothing. But that's what I do. That's what people want me to do. Spend a lot of time wastefully. So that I can then waste their time."
TWO YEARS!?! It's a funny joke. His delivery of it is flawless. But two years? I think there's something for us to learn. Jerry can help us all communicate better. Seinfeld has been one of the most popular comedians for over thirty years. For thirty years, he has been writing new jokes and making people laugh. It's an impressive career. One of the keys to Jerry's enduring success is his clarity. Audiences are rarely confused by his jokes. We understand everything he's saying. Comedy is his gift, but clarity is his skill. If you remove clarity, he's not funny. Seinfeld is an excellent example of what clarity can do for you. He is famous for saying his sit-com was a show about nothing. He's lying. His TV show was about ordinary life, and it was clear. We all understood it. We all related to it. No one was confused. Clarity inspired us to keep tuning in. Clarity also kept his bank account full. The secret behind Jerry's success is clarity. And the secret behind his clarity is work. Years ago, Jerry resolved to sit down every day and write. Not a full joke. Not a comedy set. Not an episode for his TV show. He decided to sit down and write one funny line a day. That's it. After he does that, he puts a big red X on his wall calendar. His goal is simple: don't break the chain of red X's. He's not necessarily trying "to be funny." He's trying to "not break the chain." He puts in the work. He makes it look easy, but that's because of the hard work. Jerry is a gifted comedian, but he's a skilled communicator. Resolving to do the work is the first step to becoming a clearer communicator. That's what we can all learn from Jerry. No one has the "gift" of clarity. Everyone's brain is naturally chaotic and unorganized. You work for clarity. One day at a time. One conversation at a time. How do you start? How do you begin to "not break the chain" in your own life? Here are five questions designed to help you take small steps towards clarity. Think about a conversation you need to have and ask yourself...
Is there any background information that will be helpful to the listener?
What metaphor, schema, illustration, or story will be helpful to the listener?
What might cause me to talk for too long?
What ideas are not crucial for me to communicate?
In one sentence, what am I trying to say?
A little work goes a long way. You don't find clarity. You work for it. Little by little. Every day. Don't break the chain!