Looking to Comedy for Process

Regardless of political affiliation, regardless of Red or Blue, one thing I know is true for everyone – we all like comedy.  Everybody likes to laugh.  Comedy has been around, arguably, since before politics, since before government.  So in our studies of how we can improve the systems of government, I thought it might benefit looking at a system which has withstood the test of time – comedy.

One comedian immediately came up in my mind, Louis CK.  Louis has been around the comedy world for decades, but only in the last few years has really taken off.  What’s his secret?  Besides brutal honesty, he has a process which forces his creativity, which is not his process.

Here Louis talks about where his process came from – the late George Carlin.  What George would do, after every special or CD he put out was throw away all his material.  Every year he would do a bit, and as soon as it was done, out with it.  Time to rewrite new material.  Louis reflected on when he heard about this:  “This idea that you throw everything away and you start over again. After you are done telling jokes about airplanes and dogs, you throw them away. What do you have left? You can only dig deeper. You start talking about your feelings and who you are. And then you do those jokes until they’re gone.You gotta dig deeper. So then you start thinking about your fears and your nightmares and doing jokes about that. And then they’re gone. And then you start going into just weird shit.  It’s a process that I watched him do my whole life. And I started to try and do it.”

One of the reasons comedy is still funny year after year after decade after century is that you don’t know what’s coming.  That’s the punchline.  So starting fresh makes sense in the process of keeping jokes fresh and therefore, funny.  Couldn’t we apply this to our lawmaking process?  Our methods of developing innovation?

I think when we talk about fixing government, when we talk about changing parts of the system, I think too often we just talk about airplanes and dogs.  We end up using “soft language”, as George would put it.  If something isn’t working, let’s try something new.  I don’t think we should throw away our constitution, but maybe we can throw away and start over on some of our processes.  We could throw away some of our processes of developing innovation.  We can throw away our incomplete projects and start again.  We can try again, we can do better.

Innovation is a verb.  It needs to be moving, to be changing, maybe we need it to be reset every once and a while.  We amend and amend and amend, when have we ever thrown away our material and started fresh?  It’s a terrifying concept, but maybe we need a little fear.

“We citizens are the users. What we’ve always lacked is a well-designed user interface. That’s not a surprise when you consider the era in which our system was invented,” comic strip “Dilbert”‘s Scott Adams wrote.  “Perhaps what we need is a fourth branch of government, smallish and economical, operating independently, with a mission to build and maintain a friendly user interface for citizens to manage their government.”  Great idea.  But let’s make sure comedians are in charge of that branch.

By: Asher Novek


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