Shaun is a Technical Editor & Comedian
Shaun Hunley talks about getting into comedy and how it helped him overcome shyness in the office. He also discusses how he overcame the fear of what other people in the office thought of him as a comedian and differentiating yourself in your profession and hobby!
• Getting into comedy
• How his experience in comedy has helped his career
• People’s expectations on and off stage
• Skills he has brought to the office through comedy
• Overcoming what people think of us
• What helped him open up about his comedy at the office
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Welcome to Episode 271 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and,” because you’re more than one thing. There’s parts of you that are above and beyond your technical skills and there are things that actually differentiate you when you’re in the office.
I’m so excited to let everyone know my book is being published in just a few months. It’ll be available on Amazon and a few other websites. So check out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show and changing the cultures where they work because of it. And the book will really help to spread this message.
Please don’t forget to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes of the podcast. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. And this week is no different with my guest, Shaun Hunley. He’s a Senior Technical Editor with Thomson Reuters and prior to that, was a Tax Manager in Public Accounting. And now, he’s with me here today. Shaun, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Shaun: Hello, John. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
John: Oh, of course, man. A tax person, I don’t even know what you guys do. So God bless you, man. I got a C plus in that class in accounting and never did it again, even my own taxes.
Shaun: Well, it can be very dramatic and tragic as what you probably experienced in that class.
John: Exactly. I was like, “Isn’t this make belief? We should just do this like a Sudoku puzzle and just put numbers in random columns and it’s all good.”
Shaun: Yeah, absolutely. That’s how it works.
John: Well, good for you man. Good for you. But I always start my episodes with rapid-fire questions. So it’s getting to know Shaun right out of the gate here. I’ll start you with a pretty easy one. Favorite color?
Shaun: Believe it or not, it’s gray.
John: Gray. Okay. That’s a very tax person answer.
Shaun: I don’t think I’m really depressed or sad, but I do love gray and it goes well with almost everything.
John: That’s true. That is an excellent point. And it’s not as dark and jaded as black.
Shaun: It’s a step up. Yes.
John: How about a least favorite color?
Shaun: Least favorite color? I’m going to go with the purple.
John: All right. That’s a solid answer, solid answer. Are you more pens or pencils?
Shaun: Definitely pens.
John: Yeah. Nice. Okay. How about Sudoku or crossword?
Shaun: Definitely crossword puzzles.
John: Crossword. Okay. All right. All right.
Shaun: I don’t like Sudoku. I don’t want to learn that. No.
John: Right. Because then you’ll start doing taxes that way. That’s why.
Shaun: That’s right.
John: Right. How about oceans or mountains?
Shaun: Ooh, I’m going to go with ocean because I was born in Hawaii, so I’m partial to the beach. I do love mountains as well, especially where I live in Georgia. There are some beautiful mountains. Though people in the West would call them hills. They’re not the Rocky Mountains, but they’re beautiful anyway. So I’ll go with ocean though.
John: Okay. All right. Oceans it is. How about a favorite band or musician?
Shaun: Oh, my gosh. I was going to say Bon Jovi because that was the first cassette tape I purchased in the early ‘80s. It was Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi. I’m surprised my parents let me get that one, but they probably didn’t know any better, but I’ll go with Bon Jovi.
John: That’s great, man. That’s awesome. Very cool, very cool. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?
Shaun: Definitely an early bird. I can’t stay up past 10:00.
John: Okay. That’s awesome. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Shaun: Star Wars for sure.
John: Yeah. Okay. And your computer, PC or a Mac?
Shaun: Right now, a PC. I used to love Macs. Then I converted back to a PC.
John: Absolutely. So then on your PC, on your mouse, right click or left click?
Shaun: Left click.
John: Okay. Making decisions. That’s where it’s at. That’s like clicking on stuff. Yeah. Absolutely. How about a favorite animal? Any animal?
Shaun: A whale.
John: A whale?
Shaun: It’s my spirit animal.
John: And it’s your spirit animal. Okay.
Shaun: It is. I have a lot of whales in my house and on my clothing. It’s a little strange, but that’s just how I feel.
John: And is it a specific whale or just all of them?
Shaun: Just all of them. Just a nice, big, fat whale.
John: Okay. I love it, man. That’s awesome. And they’re great usually, so that’s great. Or that’s how they are in cartoons anyway.
Shaun: It’s my personality. Sure.
John: That’s unbelievable. Okay. How about a favorite place you’ve been on vacation?
Shaun: Oh man, that’s hard. I was going to say Hawaii, but I’ve already talked about Hawaii. I’m going to go with Trinidad, the island of Trinidad.
John: Yeah. Not so much Tobago, but the Trinidad part. Yeah. I’ve never been.
Shaun: Well, Tobago is also beautiful, but it’s a little harder to get to and it’s more expensive, so go to the Trinidad.
John: Okay. All right. Yeah. I’ve never been to either. I’ve always just heard them lumped together. All right. Very cool, very cool. How about — this is a tough one — cheeseburger or pizza?
Shaun: I’m going to go with pizza because I used to live in New York City and I love New York City pizza. Nice thin, crisp crust baked in a wood burning oven.
John: Oh yeah, a legit pizza. Absolutely. How about a favorite number? Any number?
Shaun: I’ll go with 12.
John: Oh, okay. Is there a reason?
Shaun: I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because that’s the day I was born, but it’s a nice number. I like even numbers. Yeah.
John: Absolutely. How about more suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?
Shaun: Jeans and a t-shirt. Absolutely. I work from home so I never dress up.
John: You didn’t even have to think about that one. That was awesome. Two more, two more. More Balance Sheet or Income Statement?
Shaun: I’ll go with Income Statement because I don’t like when things balance to be honest with you. And me, myself, I’m not very balanced, so let’s go with Income Statement.
John: I love it. Okay. Just in the name alone, it drives me — yeah, that’s hilarious. And the last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own?
Shaun: The favorite thing I own is a small painting by a local artist here in Georgia. He signs his paintings with the name Cornbread. That is not his real name. Everyone asks me, “What does this mean?” It’s his nickname. And he paints a lot of birds. I have a painting he did call Guineas. I just really love it. It’s a folk art type of painting and I love that.
John: Very cool. That’s fantastic. Yeah. You’ve got to get him to do a whale.
Shaun: Yeah. That’s right. Sure.
John: Your worlds are colliding.
Shaun: Yeah. I’d have to include that part. That’s right. That’s right.
John: That’s very cool, man. Yeah. Let’s talk. Yeah. I mean sketch comedy and improv and all that, I mean how did you get started with that?
Shaun: It’s interesting because I’ve loved comedy since I was a little kid. I remember in the early ‘80s watching Saturday Night Live, which, again, I don’t know why my parents let me do that, but I mean maybe back then, it was cleaner. I don’t know. But I remember looking at people like Jan Hooks, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, all these classic comedian.
I remember watching this one skit with Jan Hooks. She was playing the Sweeney Sisters. I don’t know if you remember that. There were two women, sisters who would sing at this nightclub act type thing. And I remember watching that and thinking it was hysterical. I was like, “I want to be like that. I want to be a performer and make people laugh.” But as a kid and as a teenager, I was extremely shy. So I did not get up in front of people. With my friends, I was funny, but not with strangers. I was too shy.
When I got into college, believe it or not, I just had this desire to perform. I remember telling my roommates in college, “I am going to be in a comedy troupe at some point. So what happened is I took an improv class from the founder of one of the improv groups that was very popular at the time. I did it just to get noticed. I was like, “Oh, I want him to see me so when I try out, I can make it.” It went okay. But honestly, improv is very hard. You’ve got to be quick on your feet. There are some rules to improv. I had to learn like you always say yes, for example, which I like to say no to people a lot. So it was tough.
John: Right. That’s not what I was thinking. We’re going over here. Why are you in the garage?
Shaun: Let’s change course.
John: Right. Exactly.
Shaun: Yeah. It was a good experience. He said, “Yeah. You did a good job. Go ahead and try out.” But when the tryouts came, the group actually had disbanded. So I was a little bummed that they were no longer around, right? But then my roommate said, “haven’t you heard of this other group? They don’t do improv. They do sketch comedy.” And I said, “Hey, why not? Let me go ahead and try out for that group.” That’s how I got interested and that’s how I got into performing. It was in college.
John: That’s awesome. I mean I also grew up with that SNL class. I mean the Dana Carvey and the Mike Myers and Phil Hartman. Then Tim Meadows was there forever, I think. Then later on, it was the Adam Sandler and the Chris Farley and the David Spade group. I mean just all amazing. Then In Living Color came around and Jim Carrey and all of the Wayans family basically. That was awesome. I mean that’s what I grew up on as well and watching all that. And even The Kids in the Hall from Canada. Those guys were hilarious. Just seeing all of that. But I didn’t think it could be like, “Wow. You do that for a living? That’s crazy,” type of a thing.
Shaun: Exactly. Yeah. And I always thought that that’s something I would never do because everyone on those shows, they seem so fearless and extroverted. Whereas I did not feel, as a kid, like I was very extroverted. I was very introverted. But now as an adult, I would say that if I need to put it on and be extroverted, I can do it. And that’s how I’ve got through my career, by teaching and presenting at conferences and doing things like that. Comedy has really allowed me to tap into that extroverted side of me and also to overcome some of the fears that I had getting up in front of people and thinking, “Oh, no. They’re judging me. They’re going to make fun of me,” things like that. So it’s been a great experience leading into this career I have now.
John: I hear you. And the ironic thing is that most people that do comedy for a living are pretty introverted. We really are. I mean Adam Sandler is insanely introverted. I mean even when he’s on stage doing his stand-up a lot of times he’ll just be looking down and not — it’s a different thing. I mean Chris Farley, of course, was just an animal all the time. But for the most part, they’re just quiet, introverted people. What we think of people isn’t always the case because I thought the same thing. It’s like, “Man, these people are hilarious all the time.” No. They’re just regular people. Doctors don’t go around with a stethoscope checking people’s hearts everywhere they go. It’s like just dial it down. So kudos to you for giving that a shot, man. That’s really brave.
Shaun: Yeah. It’s interesting you mentioned that about people’s expectations because when I was in college, all my friends, sometimes, they’d look at me and say, “Why are you not smiling? Why are you not jumping up and down? Why are you not making us laugh?” I was like, “Well, I’m a human being. What you see on stage is not necessarily me all the time. It’s just a facet of me. It’s just a part of my personality.” So it’s interesting you mentioned that because that was hard overcoming people’s expectations at times.
John: Yeah, I know. I mean I get the same thing. When I started doing stand-up, I would go to whether it’s the networking thing or even just a party at someone’s house or whatever. And people would be like, “He hasn’t said a funny thing all night.” “Well, yeah, because I don’t have to. I’m not getting paid. I’m not on stage. This isn’t — I mean we’re just hanging out.” The person that’s always on I find is exhausting. That’s just an obnoxious jerk. It’s like you’re actually probably not very good. If we threw you on a stage in this show, you’re going to not probably do very well. I’ve seen that happen so many times. And it’s kind of satisfying to be honest when you see that person and it’s like, “Oh, yeah.” Then the quiet shy person gets up there and just lights it up. But that’s really brave of you to do that. And that’s really cool.
Shaun: Thank you.
John: So sketch comedy being like Saturday Night Live where it’s written scenes and a full-on show that’s kind of improv based but it’s written and performed.
Shaun: Yes. Everything was written down. Everything was scripted. There were times where I would write the scripts. But I would say most of the time, I did not write them. I was better at performing than writing, which now in my career I’d say has flipped, definitely better at writing now. But we used to do two hours shows of pure sketch comedy. We didn’t do it every week like SNL does it. We would do maybe four or five shows a month.
John: Oh wow, that’s impressive.
Shaun: Yeah. It’d take about a month to write all of the original skits. Then at the end of the semester in college, we would do like a “best of” which would be all the best skits that people liked and we put that into one show.
John: That’s pretty awesome man. Did you do it for just one year or —
Shaun: I did it for two years. After my undergrad, I went to law school. I thought, “I can’t be funny anymore, right?” I’m in law school. But there were times where I would go back and do guests performances with them. So I did it consistently for two years. Then probably another year, year and a half, I’d go back now and then to perform with them.
John: As an alum.
Shaun: Yeah, like as an alum. Yeah.
John: That’s really fantastic and a lot of work. I mean people have no idea. I mean to write a sketch, it’s hard. And to act it out and to get everyone on the same page and that it’s funny and legit and it rolls into maybe what the next sketch is going to be so it’s a seamless show, that’s a lot of work.
Shaun: It really is. I’ll never forget one of the guys who had been at the troupe for a long time, he would tell me, “There’s a difference between being funny with your friends and then being funny on stage in front of an audience.” And that’s something I really had to learn, especially that first year in writing skits, that I was not making my friends laugh. I was trying to make a large group of people laugh. And it’s just so much different.
John: Oh yeah. In the inside joke kind of references sort of thing.
Shaun: You can’t really do that with them necessarily.
John: Exactly. Yeah. Or strangers won’t go along with you if you’re off on a tangent. Then you come back, your friends are like, “Oh, okay. Well, whatever.” The general public will be like, “What the hell? I don’t even know what he’s talking about anymore and what the funny is. Just forget it. I’m done.” That’s awesome, man, and what a great skillset I would imagine that applies to work. I mean through law school and then you get into the the tax world, did you find that that gave you a skill that you brought to the office? I mean you already said that you’re able to turn it on when you’re speaking or teaching. But did you find it in the corporate world as well?
Shaun: Absolutely, especially with clients because I am usually introverted. But most clients I would say don’t necessarily appreciate that especially when you have a first meeting with them. They want to see that you’re passionate about what you’re doing and that you can answer their questions correctly. So I think the performing side of me would show through when I would meet with clients. It just helped me be more personable with them and I guess more animated. And I think it was good because a lot of people think tax people are boring, very introverted as well. A little dry, I guess you would say.
John: Yeah. Or just no personality.
Shaun: Just, yeah, lacking personality, which is not true. It’s definitely not true. So I think clients were surprised sometimes when they met me because I wasn’t that stereotype of a tax professional, right?
John: Yeah. And come to find out from doing the podcast that you’re right. I mean the stereotype is actually you. The stereotype is people that have multiple dimensions to them and other interests than a real personality and they’re normal people. And that’s encouraging to hear that, I mean, clients gravitate to that. They already assume that you’re good at the tech side because you work for a firm. I mean it’s got to be done right. It’s just it’s going to be done by somebody that is a normal person that I can relate to and have a normal conversation with.
Shaun: Absolutely. I think clients appreciate obviously when you’re technical and you know the answers. But what they appreciate even more is when you can talk to them like a normal human being and say these technical things in everyday language where they can understand their situation. And that’s what comedy has helped me with. It’s taking these technical things that maybe they don’t need to know all those details but I can then translate that for them where they can understand.
John: I mean that’s it right there. That’s so powerful because I’m going to bet that at no point in your business education or law school, did anyone ever tell you, “Go do comedy because it’ll make you better at your job.” And yet it clearly did. I mean it clearly did and you just nailed it. I mean clients don’t need to know how you did the tax return or what line item this goes to. I don’t even care what’s the end result and what are you saving me. Yeah, if you know the answer, that’s great. And if you don’t, you know who does. So you’ll help me because you’re a normal person. That’s really powerful. It really is. Did you ever share this side of you with clients or co-workers, that you had this sketch comedy gene that you developed in college?
Shaun: At first, no. Honestly, I felt — like I said earlier, when I went to law school, I felt like I can’t be funny anymore because lawyers are not funny, they’re serious, which is not true. That was the stereotype I was thinking about.
John: Totally. Yeah.
Shaun: So when I got into my first job, especially at a Big Four firm, I just felt like I couldn’t share that with others because they would think that I was not serious enough. They wouldn’t take me seriously. But I did have a few close coworkers that knew and I would share that with them. And they loved it. I think they really relate to it. So it took me a while to share that with more and more people at these firms.
John: Yeah. No, I hear you. I mean I was the same way. For the most part, it was just if people asked, “What did you do this weekend.” “Oh, I drove to the city and did a comedy show.” They’re, “Wait, what?” Was I supposed to say nothing? I didn’t know what I was supposed to say. I didn’t do it on purpose but it accidentally led to really cool things. Then when people find out, it’s always a positive experience. There’s follow-up questions. Then you can have conversation. There’s something that you have in common there. So it’s cool to hear that once you did, it was positive.
Shaun: Absolutely. And even at my current job at Thomson Reuters, I don’t think a lot of people know that’s what I used to do unless they look at my Twitter handle for example. They don’t really know, “Oh yeah, you did sketch comedy. Tell me a little more about that.” And it surprises them. But what I’ve been telling people lately is, “I used to be funny and I’m not funny anymore, so don’t expect me to make you laugh because I’m not going to do it.”
John: No, no. This podcast proves you wrong right there, buddy. You’re hilarious.
Shaun: But then they laugh, so, yes, I did make them laugh.
Shaun: It’s interesting overcoming, I guess, what you think people will perceive you as if you say you like things that are traditionally not associated with a tax professional.
John: Which is pretty much anything except for more tax work.
Shaun: Right, or setting the code. I mean I’ve known people at Big Four who they would read the tax code on the weekends and that was fun for them. That’s fine. Go ahead and do that. But for me, that wasn’t me. That wasn’t the essence of me.
John: Right. And the important thing is that both of you are okay. It’s totally okay to be all work all the time if you want to be, but it’s also 100% okay to have other interests and other passions. I think for too long, in our own heads or professionalism or whatever it is, one side has bullied the other. Then it’s the smaller percentage that has bullied the vast majority of us and just conforming to something that we’re really not. And it’s so powerful to hear you say that, that overcoming what people think of us. It’s really the hardest part of all of this, I think. And even for the two of us, of which I’ve done something that most people would consider to be the hardest thing on the planet, which is getting in front of strangers and making them laugh, even we were scared.
John: We’ve faced down some scary stuff and not blinked. Yet you put us into an office, talk about your hobby. “Ugh, I’ve got to go.”
Shaun: Yeah. Head down, eyes down. You don’t talk about it.
John: Yeah. Was it just confidence and your own technical skills or you were there long enough? What do you think it is that helped you to open up?
Shaun: That’s a great question. When I started proving myself to my co-workers that I knew what I was doing, that I was technical and once they thought, “Ooh, I can go to Shaun for questions,” then I thought, “Okay. I’ve proven myself and now, I can open up about this passion that I have.” And I think that they responded well to that.
John: No, and that makes complete sense. I mean especially something that’s like comedy where they’re going to have a predisposed, “It’s foul mouth. That’s dirty. It’s inappropriate. It’s a clown show. He’s not serious about anything.” Something like that is definitely — it’s important to let people know that that’s just a piece of you. There’s all these other pieces of you as well that are not that. And you’re not even that anyway. I think that that’s the hardest part. It’s people having to overcome themselves really. It’s the biggest barrier. Awesome, man. Well, do you have any words of advice to anybody listening that might have a hobby or a passion that they think has nothing to do with their career?
Shaun: Absolutely. Just go for it, right? That fear because when you let fear go and you overcome it, then you progress as a human being and you become successful not only in the hobby you’re pursuing, but also the job that you have, your normal job. So just do it. Overcome that fear. Don’t worry about what your co-workers think because all of us have different interests and hobbies and we can all be good at something. So just go ahead and do it. It’s my advice.
John: That’s so great. It’s only fair to let you be the host now and turn the tables because this has been so much fun. But before I wrap it up, to let you rapid-fire question me if you like, since I so rudely fired away at you at the beginning.
Shaun: Oh, okay.
John: So you’re now the host of this show, Shaun. Here we go.
Shaun: John, what do you prefer? A sketch comedy or an improv type comedy?
John: That’s really tough.
Shaun: You can answer with what you like to do versus what you like to see.
John: If it comes to those two — because stand-up’s a whole different animal. I think sketch is really great in the sense that really well-written sketches that weave together like what you guys did. You can see at The Second City in Chicago, Upright Citizens Brigade in New York, UCB and The Groundlings in LA where a piece of one sketch either is a thread through the entire show or bleeds into the next sketch which bleeds into the next sketch. I mean that’s just brilliant, well thought out. There’s some homework done there. That’s really impressive. Yeah. So really great sketch comedy is really funny to me.
Shaun: This might not be quick fire, but what is your advice to people who want to get out of a traditional career path? For example, someone in tax, if they want to do something in alternative career, what would you advise them to do?
John: Yeah. Well, I would advise them to keep the career that has the steady paycheck and the benefits and do it as a hobby. To do something that is creative or whatever is really, really, really, really, really, really hard. I mean I can’t stress how hard it is to make a living at something like this. So do it as a hobby and bring it in to work with you because you’re good at the traditional job but you also have this other side to you. So keep that going because that lights you up and that gives you that energy.
I had Mark Windburn on a couple of years ago on the podcast. He referred to singing as him breathing in happy. So breathe in that happy and share it with others. But can you make a living at it or maybe your life circumstances are different? Probably not. Probably not. That’s why it’s a hobby. But you don’t have to be amazing at it. You don’t have to be world class at it. You’re still that. I mean there’s no difference.
Then at some point, you just do it as long as you can, both. Then at some point, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to have the opportunity where circumstances come up and you think you can give it a go, then, yeah. I mean you just — but I think do it as long as possible as a hobby. Don’t just go quit your job because you did one — “Well, somebody bought one of my paintings, so now, I’m a professional painter.” It’s like, “No, that’s insane.” Do not do that. So definitely keep it as a hobby as long as possible. I don’t know if that’s the answer you wanted, but I’m very careful to make sure that people don’t, despite — how my career panned out? I was very fortunate. A lot of things have to go your way to get that to happen. But I also did it as a hobby for years. I mean years. And now that I’m out here, I mean it’s hard. It’s a hustle every single day. You are your own business and it’s difficult.
So I’m very careful to not tell people, “Just quit and follow your passion,” because that’s crazy talk. And anyone that tells you that is a jerk because they’re not being honest. Because for that one person that made it, there’s another 9,999 that didn’t. And I don’t want to be the person that tells you to go do it and then you find me one day and punch me in the face. “You told me I could make it.” “I don’t even know who you are.”
Shaun: You’re right. Right.
John: And that hurts like, “Aw.” Well, thanks, Shaun. I really appreciate it. This has been so much fun catching up with you, having you be a part of What’s Your “And”?
Shaun: Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much. It’s been a great time.
John: Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Shaun when he did the sketch comedy or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there. While you’re on that page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture that I’m doing.
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.
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