Ted jokes his way to better coworker connections
Ted Barton first stepped on a comedy stage as a junior at the University of Central Florida. Since then, he’s even followed an acoustic set at an open mic by the lead singer of “We The Kings” and recently did a show in New York City.
In this episode, Ted and I talk about how doing comedy allowed him to be more creative at solving problems, have better analytical skills and, most importantly, develop his true self. He worked in several internships through college and noticed a common denominator of people not sharing their personal lives for fear of appearing less professional. But Ted feels the culture can be improved, started with the firm leadership, “but it can stop with the individual if they have some bad preconceived notions.”
Ted Barton is currently an independent contractor for financial firms.
He graduated from the University of Central Florida with an Accounting degree. He participated in Younglife College, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, and the IMA Accounting Honor Society.
Please take 2 minutes
to do John’s anonymous survey
about Corporate Culture!
Other pictures of Ted
(click to enlarge)
- Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close
Welcome to Episode 118 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday, I interview a professional known for a hobby or a passion, making them stand out like a green apple in a red apple world.
To put it another way, it’s like helping people find their “and”, as in my guest today, Ted Barton, is an accountant and does standup comedy. As you’ll hear, his passion for doing comedy has allowed him to connect with many, many people in his career. There’s a lot of science behind why this is, because there’s chemicals in our brain that are released when you meet interesting people, one of them being norepinephrine, which creates engagement, and another one called oxytocin which creates trust and bonding. Both of these are really, really crucial to developing a positive corporate culture.
I’ve got a quick favor to ask. If you like the show and are listening on iTunes or your favorite Android app, please don’t forget to hit “subscribe” so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I just love sharing such interesting stories each week.
This week is no different with my guest Ted Barton, another accountant who’s crazy enough to get on stage and make people laugh, just like me. Ted, thanks so much for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Ted: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.
John: You know, I gave everyone a little bit of your background in the introduction, but maybe in your own words, a little bit of where you’re working now and kind of how you got there.
Ted: Yeah. I graduated from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. I got my bachelor’s in accounting. I’ve always kind of just gone internship to internship, but now that I’m graduated, I’m not really ready to get tied down in one area, so I’m doing some sub-contracting work for a consulting firm, and I like it. Flexible hours and it allows me to really work on other stuff in my life.
John: Right. That’s awesome, man. That’s very cool. One question that I love to ask everyone is how did you choose accounting?
Ted: I think it’s a similar story to most people going through college now where accounting is just killing it. There’s jobs everywhere. So many opportunities. That’s always been appealing to me. I never wanted to be one of those people that got a creative writing degree and then is like “I can’t get a job with this.”
John: Right, with a minor in philosophy…
Ted: Right. My dad’s an accounting professor. I knew that that would be a good resource for me in my professional career. He’s an expert on it. That was a huge leg-up. I kind of just fell into it.
I was like most people where I didn’t have one thing. Some people are like “I love marine biology. Since I was a kid, I wanted to be a marine biologist.” No. I mean, I never had anything like that. So I fell into it, and here I am.
John: That’s awesome, man. I guess doing the subcontracting work is interesting, because that allows you some more flexibility. But when you have some free time, what sort of hobbies and passions do you love to do when you’re outside of work?
Ted: I’ve gotten involved in standup comedy. I got involved when I was a junior in college. Ever since I started, it’s kind of like a love-hate relationship where I would do something with it and then fail and then lose sleep, and then I was like “Hey, I’m still kind of interested. Let me get going.”
John: Yup. That’s a normal progression there. For those of you listening that have never done comedy, that’s pretty much how it works.
Ted: Yeah. I started very late in life. I didn’t really know that I liked it as much. I liked being funny in social settings, but this is different. Standup comedy was a place where I could develop my creativity, I could develop myself as a person and an individual, and I could develop my analytical skills where I can go over old recordings and say what happened there. There’s all this human psychology. It’s very deep in the way that I perceive it.
John: That’s really interesting, especially how you bring up the analytical skills, because most people wouldn’t equate that. For you, it’s taking recordings and then listening to sets that you’ve done and figuring out how to make things funnier or what to do more of or less of?
Ted: Yeah. It’s like a puzzle to me. I think it has a lot of comparisons to accounting where things can be analyzed and can be altered and changed and played with. Definitely, doing comedy has sharpened my analytical skills. But it’s a different kind of analytical. It plays into the job that I’m doing now where I’m supposed to optimize this company’s Excel situation. There’s no right way to do it. It’s creativity matched with analyzing the problem.
I don’t think I’d be able to do this job that I’m doing right now had I not done standup originally.
John: Right, or not as well, that’s for sure.
John: That’s really interesting. Certainly, in accounting, most people equate creativity with usually going to jail. But certainly, when you’re dealing in like a consulting space, it’s all about creativity, because there’s a hundred different ways to get to that solution. It’s trying to think of what’s the fastest, most efficient, best way?
Sometimes, you need 75 different options to really filter that out, as opposed to just three that normal business school types would think of.
Ted: Yeah. I think there’s a huge thing that happens with processes that companies can have where they’ve been doing it for 15 years the same way. For me to be a new lens in a process and say “Hey, you’ve been doing this one way, but the way that I’m changing it – it used to be three pages of steps. Now, it’s three steps.”
I think that’s the benefit creativity can have, and that saves the company thousands of dollars a year.
John: Absolutely. Had you not pursued this comedy side passion, you would not be as good at your job, which is awesome, because no accounting program in the US is telling kids to go do standup comedy because it’ll make you better at accounting.
Ted: Yeah, definitely not.
John: That’ll be something for your dad to tell the kids.
Ted: It’s interesting, too because I realize that. That’s what makes me afraid of embracing this huge half of my life and my personality at the workplace. I’ve had numerous professionals or mentors to me say “Yeah, don’t tell them you do standup. Who knows that they might think?”
John: Wow. That’s interesting. That is interesting that people have told you that. Have you shared this with others in the office?
Ted: My last internship I was doing some auditing, and I knew it was an internship and it wasn’t going to materialize to a fulltime position, so for the first time in a while, I kind of opened up to my team about doing standup. They were interested, but I did get a vibe that it was something along the lines of they look at me a little bit differently now.
I don’t know if that was on my end or reality, but there’s definitely hesitations, because a lot of people don’t know what that means. Am I going and telling dirty jokes and being insensitive? No, I’m not. They would never know that.
John: Right, because that certainly is the stereotype for comedy. It’s the same as what people think of the stereotype of accountants. It’s equally wrong. That’s not how it works. The really good ones, they’re doing work. That’s how they get there.
That is fascinating. I wonder if part of it too is that they either don’t have something to share so they’re slightly jealous or they do but they’re scared to, so they’re kind of like “What are you, crazy? What do you think you’re doing?”
Well, no. I did it on accident, because people asked “What did you do this weekend?” So I would share. “I went to this comedy show and did a set.”
That spreads like crazy. I’ve had people 12 years later remember me because of that. I would encourage you to do it. But it certainly takes some fortitude and some people that are going to be jealous or look at you in a weird way, but those aren’t the people you want to be talking to anyway, no matter what.
Ted: I’ve done four internships during my time in college. I got to go to various types of companies and various workplace environments and seen a culture. There is a pretty big common denominator that not many people will share their personal lives. It’s almost like a shying away thing where they see it as “If I share my passions or I’m honest about who I am, then that might make it less professional or I might expose a weakness.”
There’s a lot of conversations about lunch and about the weather.
John: Gas prices. Yeah.
Ted: How about that? Current events. You know. There is a portion of that professionalism, but it doesn’t mean you have to completely shy away from yourself.
John: Right, certainly. Not anything that’s illegal or really controversial. Clearly, that’s one thing. But if it’s, hey, I really like to do standup comedy. I did this show with this person or something like that, or I like to play a sport or I like to ride my bike or whatever it is. I like to raise chickens. Who knows. Whatever it is that you love to do –
Ted: Is that your secret passion?
John: Well, you know, I want to get into it, it’s just in Brooklyn they kind of frown upon that so I’ve got to work on it. It’s just trying to let people see that side of you – it is a little bit scary, I guess.
At first, I did it on accident and blindly. I guess I was a little naïve and didn’t really think it through at all. That is certainly a tough thing. Do you feel like that’s something that some of your peers as well feel?
Ted: Yeah. Most people. I think it’s especially prevalent in the field of accounting or just any kind of business place environment that is business casual and people feel like they have to be a different version of themselves half the day at work and then a different version of themselves half the day at home.
That’s always been kind of an envy of mine as far as picking a career is that why can’t I do a career where I can feel like I can be myself? I think accounting can be that if there is a little bit of more of an understanding for what’s going on.
John: Or in the right place. The right place with leaders that understand that and peers and coworkers that celebrate that.
John: There are some firms out there that are doing it, and it’s fantastic to see them in action. What’s even better about it all is their bottom line has significantly improved once that starts happening, making culture a focus. It’s really a cool thing.
When you shared that standup comedy, did anyone else – did you ever find out anything else that anyone does, or was it just kind of like you were out there on a limb all by yourself?
Ted: I was out there on a limb all by myself. It wasn’t one of these Footloose moments where everybody’s like “Hey, I love raising dogs.” “I’m a painter.” They were like “Oh, cool. So how about that football game Saturday?”
John: “Yeah, let’s go back to work. There isn’t a charge code for this, Ted. Why are you talking about something not work related?”
I guess going back to the comedy – you’re relatively new to it, I guess a couple of years in. Do you have a coolest, most rewarding show that you’ve done?
Ted: Coolest and most rewarding are different. Coolest was when I followed the lead singer of a band called We the Kings. He was doing an acoustic set at a hookah lounge that I was doing an open mic at. He shows up. I didn’t know who he was. I’ve heard his music, but I didn’t know what he looks like. I was like “Wow, there’s a lot of people here. There’s a lot of young girls here. This is weird.”
He’s the first one up. He says “Here’s my name, and I’m from the band We the Kings. This is where I started my career at, so I’m just going to do a little acoustic set to pay homage to this place.”
I was like “No way.” I look him up. A million followers on Instagram. The whole nine. I was like “Woah, that’s awesome.” His set ended, and they said “All right, Ted Barton. Come on up to do comedy.” And I bombed.
John: Did people stick around?
Ted: Well, they stuck around for one more, which was me, because you know, it was a fluid transition.
John: Okay. Give it a shot.
Ted: Fifty people weren’t going to get up and leave as soon as the next person came up. They wanted autographs and stuff, so I performed to a bunch of teenage girls, uninterested people.
John: That’s a brutal crowd right there to begin with. Nobody’s making teenage girls laugh when they’re waiting to get an autograph from the singer of the band.
Ted: But it was a cool experience. I took a lot away from it.
John: Is there a more positive one?
Ted: I just had a set two weeks ago where – I’m very hard on myself, and this set went extremely well. I was getting big belly laughs. People were feeling happy and stuff like that. I know when something goes well or doesn’t, and I left that just on cloud nine, like “All right. This is possible to get good at this thing.”
John: Right. That’s great. Yeah. I love it, too. You have a podcast, too. For those listening, it’s Unaccounted For, right?
John: People listening, you can go listen to that. I think it’s crazy, but it’s cool how you break down your sets that you’ve done recently and you talk about “Here’s why this joke worked. Here’s why this one didn’t. Here’s one I’m going to try to do better on this one.” You really pull back the curtain on that and let people see how hard it is to write this stuff and to get it really funny. Check that out.
Ted: Thank you. I embrace the concept of “You have to fail to grow.” I fail a lot, over and over.
John: So you’re like ten feet tall right now. No, man. But that’s how you get good. That’s how everyone’s favorite comedians started. That’s how that works, man.
Ted: Yeah. It’s fun to be kind of objective and analytical in an art form, because you think it’s all knee slapping and kind of whacky voices, but it’s like “Nah, this goes very, very far in depth.”
John: There’s definitely a science to it. That is for sure. There are certain words that are funnier than others, certain number of syllables, and there’s a rhythm to the punchlines and all of that. It just seems to easy and it seems so natural, but yeah, when you’re in the process of trying to work it out, it’s tricky.
Ted: Yeah. I use my accounting degree to help me out with that stuff. I’m a lot better at analyzing things now, trying to pick the pieces apart and removing my sensitivity from the whole process.
John: Right, that’s true, too. Removing yourself from it, making it more of an object, makes it hurt less when you’re analyzing it and breaking it down. That’s for sure, man.
Yeah. But I love how you said how the comedy has helped you develop those skills, that you’re able to bring the work. I think that’s really cool that you’re able to see that in the moment. It certainly makes you a lot better.
I would imagine that as you get older and as you prove yourself more in the working world, then your hobbies and passions don’t matter as much. You’ve proven yourself type of a thing.
I guess one thing that I like to think about is how much do you think it’s on the organization to create that culture, and you’ve been in places that are kind of both, it seems like, versus it’s on the individual to just be like “Hey, this is what I did” and kind of create your own little circle and lead from no matter what level you’re at?
Ted: Just personally, I think it’s the vibe and the attitude that the workplace can create that will then put the individual on a spot where they feel like it’s wanted or appropriate to embrace who they really are. I do think it starts in the workplace, but it can stop at the individual if they have all these preconceived notions.
It’s weird kind of how it ebbs and flows with that, but yeah. I worked at one place where we would take an hour off of work and they’d bring everybody into this conference room and they’d play different games. I remember one time they had people do their best WWE impression at work at something or other.
John: Nice. It’s a hustle.
Ted: That was a lot more abrasive. That was a much smaller company than the places I’ve worked at in the past. Stuff like that is really cool and is encouraging. I went back to work like “Let’s go!” It’s a cool environment.
John: Just once a week, taking an hour to release and to unwind and get to know each other on a different level – on a silly level – I’d have to imagine that the relationships at that place – how do they differ in your eyes, your coworkers there versus your coworkers at the firm where no one really shared anything? Did you have a different level of a relationship?
Ted: I think there was a lot more respect involved, because when that silliness kind of happens, it’s silly, but it takes courage for the person to do it and to step up and to let themselves be seen by a lot of people as silly. It’s kind of counterintuitive, because you would think, no, people would lose respect, but you gain a lot of respect, because it gives people an opportunity to put themselves out there.
When you have deeper respect for somebody, then you want to get this assignment to them on time. You want it to be done with the best of your ability. You want to be productive so that they can be productive. It all flows to that.
But when you have a one-dimensional kind of professional view of an individual, you can respect them professionally, but it’s a different respect when you have a workplace that allows the person to come through more.
John: Right. It almost sounds like even almost to a level of trust.
Ted: Yeah, there’s trust involved.
John: For sure, because you get to know the real person and who they really are when they’re not hiding behind a fake veneer of “This is what I think an accountant should be.”
Ted: On an even higher level, I think some of the places I’ve worked there’s really high employee turnover. I think this plays into people not wanting to stick around so long. They kind of go job to job, and they try as long as they can to surface level make a way for themselves there.
But when you have a place that allows you to be you, you’re going to have employees sticking around for much longer, much better work product, they’re passionate about their job, they have something to look forward to. There’s a lot of counterintuition going on where somebody might say “If they’re not working for an hour, then we’re losing x amount of dollars, but it’s an investment for the future that is not a tangible dollar amount but it flows through everything.”
John: Yeah, certainly. Turnover is expensive. To recruit and hire a new person, some studies say it’s two to three x the salary before you get somebody up to speed and back to what the level of output was from the first person. That’s certainly very expensive where somebody taking one hour of not billable time – well, I have to believe that unless they’re a genius, their billable hour is not that level. Even the biggest partner is not billing that rate.
It’s cool that you see that, and it’s cool that you’ve been some places that do that and even in your short career, you’re able to see different sides of it. That’s really neat.
This has been awesome, Ted, but I feel like since you run your own podcast, I should at least give you the option to ask me a question. I’ve never done this before, so I’m a little bit nervous, but you just give it a whirl. Do you have a question for me?
Ted: Yeah. I think my question is if you could go in and just kind of tweak one cultural norm in all businesses where you could say “Hey, this is how you’re going to do it now; let’s see what happens”, what would you change about the current climate of let’s say American corporations?
John: Yeah. I think it would be awesome if you allowed all your staff to have let’s say a half day off a month. Four hours a month to go do their hobby or their passion and go out and go do what you love to do. Then you have to come back to the office and tell us what you did with your half day off.
Ted: I love that.
John: I think that that would be huge, because let’s face it, when I worked, I was mailing in four hours a month for sure. It’s an hour a week of us just goofing around but still banging it to a charge code. That happens all the time.
Let’s say you give permission to use that and have a code that you assign it to that isn’t necessarily frowned upon. It’s not like an admin code; it’s actually a code that’s tracked. The people that use their full four hours a month are rewarded, and the people that you use those and you come back and share with us what did you do with that?
I think that that would force people to open up and to share, and it would reward them for that, because that’s the thing is people fall into line with the rewards system that we’ve put in place. Just start to reward that behavior and people will start doing it. Those that don’t will be not as far ahead as those that do. It’s not just financially. It’s also in your career.
I firmly believe that by sharing what you do outside of work, really great connections happen between people. I think it would be a great idea.
Ted: Oh, I love it.
John: It would be a fun little experiment to try. Anyone that’s like “Well, that’s four hours of non-billable work” – it’s already happening.
Ted: Yeah. That four hours is going to be somewhere else.
John: Right, exactly. They’re going to make it up and it’s going to be a lie where now you’re actually celebrating it and shining a light on the human side of us because these companies and these firms hired all of Ted Barton. They didn’t hire just the accountant part of Ted Barton. They hired all of you. Let’s nurture and cultivate and celebrate all of you.
Ted: The reality is that the technical skills are going to be there with most people. Most people can do accounting if they get the degree and they keep going. Some people might be really incredible at it, but the thing that differentiates us is I think what you’re hitting on where we have various hobbies that makes us different, and it differentiates us in the workplace to make us that much better at something specific.
Who knows? If what you’re saying, somebody comes back and they say “Hey, yeah, I did so-and-so. That’s my hobby. I love it.” Then the boss might say “Wow, we have untapped talent that we’re not utilizing here. Maybe somebody could be a great public speaker. Hey, we’ve got a presentation we need you to give. Corporate whatever whatever. Let’s see how that works.”
You’re maximizing efficiency out of these human assets that you’ve employed.
John: That’s exactly it, man. There’s a lot of really cool skills that are out there that not a lot of people know about. Let’s get them out there if just for the sake of it kills the stereotype, which is my favorite. That’s all that matters.
This has been so great, Ted. Really, really fun, mostly because you’re funny and I also got to answer questions. That’s my favorite. But I do have my rule where we can’t really hang out when I fly down to Florida and go do a comedy show with you until we do my 17 rapid-fire questions. Put you on the hot seat and we flip it back onto you now and we have some fun.
I’m going to fire this thing up here. Here we go. I’ll start you out easy. Start you out with an easy one.
Do you have a favorite color?
Ted: We’re going to say lime green.
John: Lime green, wow. That’s a first. Normally, that’s a least favorite color. Good for you, man. Do you have a least favorite color?
Ted: I don’t like orange. I don’t like orange anything.
John: That’s awesome, because usually, they go hand-in-hand, the lime green and the orange. But one of the other. That’s great. Are you more ocean or mountains?
Ted: I’m a mountain person through and through.
John: That’s good for you, man. That’s good for you. How about are you more pens or pencils?
Ted: Pens. I love a good pen.
John: Okay. How about more Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
Ted: I’m obsessed with Sudoku. I play it all the time.
John: That’s awesome. Between that and the comedy, there’s your analytical skills right there. How about being a comedian I have to ask, do you have a favorite comedian?
Ted: Yeah. Louie CK is the all-time favorite. He’s great.
John: Sure. Yeah. Absolutely. Really good. Really good. Would you call yourself more of an early bird or a night owl?
Ted: I’m a night owl.
John: Sure. How about are you more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Ted: More Star Wars, but I’m not interested in either of them too much.
John: No, totally. We’ll let it slide. When it comes to computers, are you more of a Mac or a PC?
John: PC. All right. When it comes to a mouse, more left-click or right-click?
Ted: Left-click. I’m left handed, so I guess that carries over.
John: Okay. All right. Yeah. That’s the reverse. Super. How about are you more suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?
Ted: Jeans and a t-shirt. Casual.
John: Okay. All right. Fair enough. Do you prefer more cats or dogs?
Ted: I’m allergic to cats, so by default, dogs take the cake.
John: That makes it easy. That makes it super easy. How about when it comes to financials, more balance sheet or income statement?
Ted: You got me there. I think my first gut said balance sheet.
John: Okay. How about what’s a typical breakfast?
Ted: I’m not much of a breakfast person, but I like bacon and eggs.
John: Okay. Yeah. All right. That’s solid. How about do you have a favorite number?
John: Nine. Why is that?
Ted: My birthday is on the ninth, but I don’t know. It’s just always been – I get a feeling about it.
John: That’s a good answer. Two more. Do you have a favorite band or musician?
Ted: I like Linkin Park a lot.
John: Okay. That’s a solid answer. Then the last one – the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Ted: I have a poster in my room that says “The only road to good shows is bad ones. Just go start having a bad time. Don’t give up, and you will get better.” I look at that all the time. I love it. It’s in my office here.
Ted: Yeah. Inspiration.
John: Yeah. That’s very cool, man. That’s perfect. That’s how to live life right there. Well, thanks so much, Ted. This was really awesome. Thanks for being with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
Ted: Yeah. And thank you so much for having me. I had a great time.
John: Well, that was so great. I love how Ted said culture starts with the workplace, but it can stop with the individual if they have some bad preconceived notions. That’s so true, because most of the barriers to not sharing our hobbies and passions are in our own heads. Get out of your own way and share your “and”.
If you’d like to see some pictures of Ted in action or engage with him on social media or check out his podcast Unaccounted For, be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com. All the links are there. While you’re on the page, please click that big green button and do the anonymous research survey about firm culture.
Okay, thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so that they got the message that we’re all trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.