Andrew is a Humor Engineer & Comedian
Andrew Tarvin, the World’s first Humor Engineer, returns to the podcast from episode 38 to talk about his transition from improv to stand up comedy, how your emotions impact your productivity, and his new book!
• Why he transitioned to stand-up comedy from improv
• The difference between stand-up comedy and improv
• Some of his favorite shows he has done
• How emotions can impact your productivity at work
• The gradual growth of the ‘What’s You And’ message
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Welcome to Episode 236 of What’s Your “And”? Follow-Up Friday edition. This is John Garrett. Each Friday, I follow-up with a guest who had been on the show a few years ago to hear what’s new with their passions outside of work and also hear how this message might’ve impacted them since we last talked.
I’m so excited to let everyone know my book’s being published very soon. It’ll be available on Amazon and a few other websites. Check out whatsyourand.com for all the details or sign up for my exclusive list. You’re going to be the first to know when it’s coming out.
Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future episodes because I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. This Follow-Up Friday is going to be no different with my guest, Andrew Tarvin. He’s the world’s first humor engineer. Now, he’s with me here today. Andrew, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Andrew: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me. Man, this is quite a follow-up because I was on when it was pre What’s Your “And”? What’s Your “And”? is such an incredible title.
John: Well, thanks, man. I appreciate that. I mean as a friend, we hang out all the time. It’s kind of weird that we actually have to record it but now, we’re going to let everyone in on our magic and they’re going to be all disappointed. It’s going to be like, “Oh, that’s what they talk about? What?”
Andrew: Yeah. Two comedians get together and it’s this? Yeah. I mean especially those comedians are former accountant, former engineer, this is what we talk about. We’re numbers people.
John: Totally. As long as there’s milkshakes, we’re both in. That’s how it’s going to be.
Andrew: I mean yeah, last time we hung out together in person, we had that amazing milkshake in Denver.
John: Oh, yeah. That was so good. That was so good at the Dessert Bar restaurant. Yeah, that was really good.
I’ve mixed up the format since you were on Episode 38 eons ago. We’re going to do rapid fire questions out of the gate.
John: Here we go. If you had to choose, Harry Potter or Game of Thrones?
Andrew: Oh, man. If you asked pre-season 8, Game of Thrones all the way. Man, this is a hard question. I’m going to go Harry Potter because people tell me I kind of look like Harry Potter and I don’t look like anyone in Game of Thrones.
John: Yeah, right. You just need more blood on your face or whatever.
Andrew: Yeah, maybe a White Walker because I’m pale.
John: There you go. There you go.
Andrew: We’re going Harry Potter. That’s better.
John: How about a favorite sports team?
Andrew: The Ohio State Buckeyes in football.
John: There you go. That’s what I figured. Prefer more hot or cold?
Andrew: I would rather be hot. Yeah. I was going to say cold because you can put on more layers but I don’t like cold-cold. That’s why I could never live in Chicago because the cold gets you to the bone.
John: Yeah, yeah. Okay. All right. How about a least favorite vegetable?
Andrew: Beets. Beets are a vegetable, right, or is it just — it tastes like dirt. I think of beets, it tastes like dirt. I don’t know if I consider that a vegetable but it would be beets.
John: You might need to wash them before you eat them but either way.
Andrew: Is that the issue?
John: It could be. Here’s one. Brownie or ice cream?
Andrew: Can I go ice cream on top of a brownie? I mean if I had to choose one, it’s ice cream but I like the combo.
John: That works for me. No, no. the combo works for me. It’s a trick one.
Andrew: Specifically, an 1870 Tower from Graeter’s Ice Cream. If you’re ever in the Cincinnati area and you’re a listener, get that. It’s black raspberry chip ice cream on a brownie.
John: Yeah. That’s amazing. Okay. You fly a lot. Airplane seat, window or aisle?
Andrew: Aisle all the way. I go to the bathroom way too much to be in that window seat.
John: Okay. The last one. Maybe the most important one. Toilet paper, roll over or under?
Andrew: Over. I’m a human being not a savage.
John: Okay. All right. Fair enough. When we chatted on Episode 38, it was a lot of the improv and when you were in your P&G days in engineering and project management stuff doing the improv and how cool that was, are you still performing improve? Is comedy still part of your life?
Andrew: Comedy is still a huge part of my life, still kind of teaching people about the skill and value of humor but on the side, doing a lot less improv just because I’m travelling a lot more and doing a lot more stand-up, doing a lot more of that solo kind of on stage pre-planned things and yeah, so still, comedy is a big part but just a different lens through that comedy.
John: Yeah, yeah. For people listening that think that improv and stand-up are similar, they’re so different. But in your words, how are they different since you spent so many years doing both now?
Andrew: Yeah, people will say that if they hear you do improv, they’ll be like oh, tell me a joke or I’ve seen stand-up before. Stand-up is that single person on stage with a microphone, what you see like on Netflix comedy specials so you think Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle, Tig Notaro, Jerry Seinfeld, those are stand-up comedians. Improv is typically with a group, not always with a group but typically, more than one person but it’s made up on the spot and it maybe follows a framework.
If we watch Whose Line is it Anyway? or you go to a comedy sports show that’s short-form where it’s game-based improv or you might see a long form show at UCB or IO in Chicago where they get one suggestion and then they perform for say, 30 or 45 minutes off of that one suggestion but the big difference is that improv is all made up in the moment, typically with a team. Stand-up is typically one person and it’s usually kind of pre-planned and stand-up for me, I don’t know, you can tell me if you felt the same but stand-up is harder than improv.
John: So much harder. I’ve done both as well. I did some comedy sports in Milwaukee. So much harder because the audience, you’re asking them for the ideas so he said shovel and that was what I said. People are excited to be part of the show. Whereas, stand-up, it’s very much like you got to get them where they’re at and take them to where you want them to go.
Andrew: There’s a weird expectation difference. Improv, it’s kind of like hey, they know it’s going to be made up on the spot and you said it’s referencing something that everyone just heard, and they’re like, oh, wow. That’s impressive. I could never think of that kind of thing on the spot. Whereas, stand-up is okay, you think you’re funny, prove it.
John: Very much so. You had all this time to think of that. Whereas in improve, it’s oh, wow, you thought of that in 30 seconds even though when you’ve played enough, you understand that how there’s certain formulas that won’t work, and the same works for stand-up as well. But yeah, it’s certainly is. What made you want to make that transition?
Andrew: It was a function of time. As I started speaking more and more, so in that time since we’ve last talked, I did a TEDx Talk on the skill of humor which have been fortunate enough to now is that go over five and a half million views and just speaking more and more of like lots of referral and things like that.
I’m on the road a lot more. Improv, when it’s good, it tends to be you do it with kind of a group of people pretty consistently because you get to know kind of how they think, you create a group mind and can build off of each other. That’s a lot harder to do when travelling.
I’m going to, in the upcoming year, I’m probably going to be Singapore and maybe to Austria and so it’s hard for me to reach out to someone in Austria and be like, “Hey, I’m going to be there. Do you want to improvise together?”
John: “Hey, weirdo.” Delete.
Andrew: Versus as a stand-up, I can be like, hey, I’ve done these shows. I can show them a set that I’ve done. Then they can give me ten or 15 minutes spot and be like, okay, you own this ten or 15 minutes. We don’t have to do a bunch of like it doesn’t require us to have a very close relationship for this to go well.
I love both. Stand-up, I really have been getting more and more into of like how do I control the thoughts in the audience of how do I set them up and think of one way and then give them something else? Then also, the nerd in me of how do I inject a little bit of message or some interesting ideas to think about in the content.
It’s not just making them laugh but then hopefully, them laughing then a little bit later, them thinking about like that was interesting what you said about this saying and maybe it plants a seed in their head about something they want to do differently.
John: Give them some homework to do.
Andrew: Exactly. I love people who have to fact check and go home. I mean a simple example, and I think it’s working because a friend of mine who saw me recently was like, okay, that was a very Drew Tarvin joke that you just shared. The joke — I can’t remember how I get to it but like I’ve been talking about ghosts and it’s crazy to me that more people believe in ghosts than like what they do for a living.
John: That’s hilarious. That’s such a Drew Tarvin joke right there.
Andrew: Yeah, and then I can also talk about the average person then would like if you talk with them, they’re going to be like, I want to kill my boss but I can’t because then he’d come back and haunt me.
John: Because then he’s a ghost and then I’m going to have to like —
Andrew: But that idea that in that information is kind of me like talking about that’s crazy to me that 55% of Americans are unsatisfied with their jobs and I’ll sometimes share that specific statistic. That means more believe in ghosts than what they do for a living, et cetera.
Not only it’s hopefully funny, it’s nerdy, but then also it’s like that is kind of crazy. There’s a little bit of like truth in that. I’ve clearly done my research for my jokes.
John: Right. Yeah, that’s awesome, man. What are some of the more fun shows, stand-up shows that you’ve done in the last couple of years because I know you’ve done some around the world, even.
Andrew: That’s what I really enjoy is doing stand-up when I travel and going to international places and so I’ve done some really fun shows. I did a great show. I mean this was a few years ago. I did Boom Chicago in Amsterdam which was really cool. It’s a pretty well-known club there and it was like 200 people which was super fun. I recently did some shows in Singapore that went really well.
What’s interesting is like you go there and you go to these different places and you try to figure out culturally, what are they going to laugh at? How do I change my material so they resonate? But then it’s also interesting because everywhere you go has their version of what New Jersey is to New York or what Kentucky is to Ohio.
Every group that you go to has like, we kind of like — we think we’re a little bit better than this place. If you go to Singapore, everyone there jokes about Malaysia. That’s their version of New Jersey to New York. If you have your own version of New Jersey to New York type jokes, you can then just replace the names to Singapore and Malaysia to map it correctly and people will laugh.
The specifics are sometimes different but the universal nature —
John: Yeah. That’s awesome, man. That’s really cool. Really cool. Is it something that you’re seeing more professionals sharing hobbies and passions when you’re speaking at these conferences and with these corporate events?
Andrew: I mean a little bit more partially because as I said, we know each other and when you started talking about What’s Your “And”? That’s something that I’ve started bringing up to a lot of people because it’s such a great articulation of that idea that you’ve said is that you are more than what you do.
To help people — that’s part of you know, I speak on humor in the workplace and part of that is being authentic and being a human in the workplace not bring your authentic self because humans do humor. If you’re at home, you make jokes with friends and things like that. I still think it’s slow. I think they’re still a lot of people that need to hear that message but I think it’s gradually starting to grow.
People are starting to recognize and that research is coming out too, showing it like the research with Project Aristotle and psychological safety and all the work and authenticity and vulnerability and the impact that’s having as a positive work place. Importance of emotional intelligence and that being a stronger career predictor than IQ. EQ is stronger. All this research coming out, people are starting to be like, oh, yeah. I guess when we try to pretend like we’re a robot, we’re not very good robots and so embrace the human element of what we do, we’re going to get the results.
John: I mean there was a study done in 1918, I like to bring this up when I speak that Carnegie Institute found out that your financial success is based 15% on technical skills. That was over a hundred years ago. Yet, all of our education and all of our continuing education, all of our charge codes, all of how people are promoted, all of how people get bonuses, technical skills, technical skills, and it’s like what are we doing? It’s just crazy how we don’t learn from — I mean it’s like what do we need to do?
Andrew: Right. It’s that recognition that — this is the thing that as all the listeners know, your emotions impact your ability to get work done. If you are stressed out because of something that happened at home or whatever, when you go to the workplace, you’re not as creative, you’re not as engaged, you’re not as productive.
Same thing is if you are stressed out at work, you are not as engaged at home. Work-life balance doesn’t exist. It used to be like in the Industrial Revolution, you could not take your home with you.
What are you going to do? Drag a factory machine with you and do some plating at home? No. Impossible. You had that kind of set time but now, in today’s world, people are constantly — maybe they leave work a little bit early, they take their kid to soccer practice, they have dinner and then they’re hopping an email before they go to bed.
On Sunday, they’re starting to plan the week and maybe they’re sending out a couple of things because they always constantly have meetings. You hear this from people all the time. It’s like, the only time I can be productive is like when I work from home because I’m constantly like pulled in other directions at work.
There is no distinction between work-life balance anymore. It’s more that integration and so part of that is why we need to bring the entire person to work because we’re constantly in that mode. There’s no light switch moment so it’s like yeah, be your authentic self and bring those moments.
I love a lot of your messaging around this because like you said, it’s what people are going to remember. They’re not going to remember your résumé, they’re going to remember who you were as a person and your hobbies, your passions are a big part of what determines that. It’s going to constantly change. I’ve gone from improv to stand-up.
The other thing is like stand-up is kind of related to my work. The other kind of hobby thing that I’m starting to pick up is I’m trying to learn German. That’s because my girlfriend is German and so I’m trying to learn German and just like any skill, it’s taking time. It is not easy. I am failing miserably sometimes, trying to remember words and everything. I have terrible pronunciation.
But it’s another thing for me to work on. When I share that with people, they connect because so often, people are like oh, you know, I’ve never learned another language. What’s it like? I know three languages. Here are some tips. It just creates an instant connecting point that again, you’re reminding people that hey, we’re human beings.
John: Right. That’s awesome, and hopefully pig Latin counts because now, I’ve got two. We can do that and then like —
Andrew: Well, I mean if you’re counting pig Latin, and if we can count C++, HTML, PHP.
John: Okay. You’re a savant. That’s awesome. That’s so funny. If you start doing comedy in German, that’s going to be next level because they’re certainly not known for their humor that’s for sure.
Andrew: I will say that my girlfriend is very funny. I’ve done a couple of speaking engagements in Germany now. They have laughed. They love efficient humor.
John: Yes, yes, yeah. Probably more puns like two, three lines, then we get to laugh. Yeah, yeah. That’s awesome, man. That’s awesome.
Well, this has been so great catching up and hearing what you’re up to, and also the new book that came out this year.
Andrew: Yeah, so it’s a book called Humor That Works: The Missing Skill for Success and Happiness at Work, and it’s basically the culmination of what I’ve been working on the last ten years on that what, why, and how of using humor in the workplace. So yeah. It came out in April and has been a great resource. I think it’s been resonating well with people as an actionable guide for if they wanted to get started using humor to bring a little bit more fun into the workplace to give a starting point for them.
John: Yeah, no. It’s awesome. I read the book and it’s great for regular people to see. You don’t have to be a comedian to bring some humor. It’s less degree of difficulty and there’s plenty of examples that you get on the book of ways to do that and for people to learn how to do that and encourage them. So yeah, it’s definitely a good read for people listening.
Andrew: Yeah, so they can read that while they’re waiting for your book to drop, then they can read yours right after.
John: There you go. We should do a buy-one package deal sort of a thing. I might’ve just accidentally advertised something but who knows? But before we wrap this up and bring it in for a landing, it’s only fair that I allow you to question me and I might be the most nervous I’ve ever been since you probably know me better than anyone else who has been on the show. This interview might never see the light of day, everyone. We’ll see.
Andrew: All right. Rapid fire questions from me? I’ll keep it safe and keep the more pointed questions for our next milkshake conversation but first question, what’s the first thing you remember buying with your own money?
John: Oh, buying with my own money, and I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be a Bruce Springsteen Born in the U.S.A. cassette. My dad was a member of the BMG Music Club, kind of like Columbia House. I remember saving up for my paper route to buy that Born in the U.S.A. casette. I think it was in third grade.
Andrew: I like it. What was your favorite and least favorite subject in school?
John: That’s pretty good. I guess favorite subject in school — I mean in high school, I enjoyed physics, even in college. I wasn’t good at it in college but clearly, because I’m not an engineer anymore, but I thought it was cool because we were doing this stuff that was in the textbook like in the physics lab especially. It was like wow, this is freaking cool stuff. I don’t know why this is happening but it’s neat. It’s really interesting.
Then least favorite yeah, was probably something like English or something like that, which is probably why it’s taking me forever in a day to write a book. Actually, I just realized what the problem is.
Andrew: Yeah, there you go.
John: It’s not my fault. Probably like English or something like that, that involved reading. I don’t know. After the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! clubs stopped, I was done reading.
Andrew: You’re like, why read if I don’t get pizza out of this?
Andrew: That should be another promotion for the book is a little coupon for pizza if they read it or something.
John: There you go. You get a little personal pizza at the end of the book. That’s hilarious.
Andrew: Last question. Who’s your celebrity doppelganger?
John: Oh, wow. Okay. That’s a really good one. I used to often get Tom Cavanagh. There was a show called Ed on NBC where there was this lawyer guy that went back to a small town and bought a bowling alley, and so I used to get him a fair amount, but he still has dark hair and I have gray hair, so maybe not that as much. I don’t know if there’s anyone that’s had the misfortune of accidentally looking like me. You know who it is.
Honestly, now that I guess he’s a celebrity, Ryan Hamilton, stand-up comedian, he’s got a Netflix special. We used to get missed up in the city all the time. People would be like, “Oh, I saw you at so and so.” I go, “Was I wearing a tie?” They’ll be like, “No.” I’ll be like, “Well, that was Ryan Hamilton.”
Andrew: I like that that was the primary distinguishing feature.
John: Totally, because we’re both just tall, lanky dudes but yeah, he’s absolutely hilarious and on fire right now, so yeah. I guess Ryan Hamilton’s a celebrity now, so him.
Andrew: Yeah. How nice you get to pick that. I like that.
John: Yeah, and I have his number. It’s like oh, my friend’s a celebrity.
Andrew: Quick side note. I just recently did a Facebook live with a guy purely because I did a podcast, someone commented on the podcast, hey, you look like so and so, that person reached out to me. We’re like, we do look a lot alike. It’s like he looks like me but with long hair. We did a live interview together just because we’re like, we look the same. We should talk about it.
John: That’s awesome, man. Well, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”? This was really great, Andrew.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me.
John: Everyone listening, if you like to see some pictures of Andrew in action or maybe connect with him on social media or the links to his book, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com, it’s all there. While on your page, please click that big button and do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture.
Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends, so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, that who you are is so much more than what you do.