Tim Washer. Keynote Speaker + Event Emcee


Cheeseburger Tour
The Gaslamp Peanut Butter Cheeseburger

The Gaslamp Peanut Butter Cheeseburger

It wasn’t the first time I allowed peanut butter to ruin a love affair.  Asking the waiter to smear it on my cheeseburger — without being coerced — nearly killed my passion for the delicacy.   It simply wasn’t a good choice for me despite a plethora of online rave reviews from a diverse set of professional, anonymous food critics on Yelp.

On most of these comedy & cheeseburger blog excursions, I’m more interested in soaking in the ambiance of some hole-in-the-wall joint, like at a burger barn.  This place had kind of a diner vibe, which, on the interior design aesthetic scale, I’d rank somewhere between a coin-operated carwash and an abandoned building.  Of course, the experience in any location is always partner-dependent, and since I was joined by my kids, Martin Jones and his family, we ended up having a crazy fun time.  I assume that would be the same case for an abandoned building.


Cheeseburger Pro Tip:  Skip the Skippy

I appreciated the diner’s “safety first” approach.  They installed a fire escape immediately outside the front door, so in the event of a kitchen fire on the street level, we could safely finish our meal on the rooftop.

fire escape

Thanks to Lyft for sponsoring #SMMW16 and providing transport to the San Diego Gaslamp district.  The ride-hailing app companies created a brilliant business model, even though they are mired in controversy around hiring practices, skirting taxi regulation, and selecting a mustache for a logo.  Marketing experts say the ‘stache is a reckless choice for the brand.  Possibly, but when I’m in vendor-selection mode evaluating product attributes,  I’ll always choose reckless.  Although maybe that’s not the best criterion when deciding on a driver.

More from the blog: 

The Headless Horseman Cheeseburger

I can always rely on my improviser pal Amanda Pensack when I’m looking to end a healthy eating streak.  She’s an accountability partner in crime.

PIT_NYCI had been successfully substituting kale salad for red meat consistently for almost two days, enough to establish a lasting habit.  But we decided it would be better to resolve to revive the Comedy & Cheeseburger blog.  I argued that the salad had fewer calories, but she assured me that the burger post would be better for my social footprint.  Who am I to argue with 37,000 Instagram followers?

Our decision came merely hours before the federales issued the new “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” loaded with unreasonable mandates such as “kids should no longer smoke cigars at the breakfast table.”  Thanks, Obama!  These are the same folks who encouraged us to eat butter daily, so maybe a haunted cheeseburger won’t hurt.

During her last visit we explored the Smallpox Hospital Ruins on Roosevelt Island, NYC’s most haunted landmark, and we committed to continuing the ghost hunters theme in 2016.  Only two venues met our criteria of offering a horrific dinner experience:  The Headless Horseman and the Times Square Applebee’s.

Smallpox Hospital, Roosevelt Island

The menu offers a kale caesar, but I wasn’t able to retain any other information once the waitress mentioned that the cheeseburger is made with brisket.  It was scary delicious.

Headless Horseman (photo: WSJ)

After the burger, we headed to the People’s Improv Theater (PIT) to pose with founder Ali Farahnakian.   He can be spotted here frequently, and also on 30 Rock “The Head and the Hair” episode on Netflix.

The Headless Horseman.  Located one block east of Union Square, 119 E. 15th Street.  More on Yelp.

Contagious. Why Things Catch On

Contagious.  Now Available in the large print edition.

Last month I visited The Wharton School to speak about the benefits of using humor in corporate social media. While on campus, I had the chance to interview Dr. Jonah Berger about his book, Contagious:  Why Things Catch On.  The video interview is posted in my BtoB Magazine blog.  We discussed how he’s applied science to understanding what will go viral, how B2B content marketing folks can apply his STEPPS model to improve the success of their campaigns, and how humor helps content marketing be more successful.  FastCompany posted a few excepts from the book.

Jonah also connected me to his friend Dr. Peter McGraw, author of The Humor Code and professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder.  Ann Handley and I will interview him on Better Marriage Through Big Data this summer.

Photo: Andrew Hetherington, in Wired

After the gig, Steve Aguiree and I celebrated over an outstanding cheeseburger at 500 degrees.  On my next trip to Philadelphia, I’ll check out Lucky’s Last Chance, winner of this year’s Burger Brawl.

Comedy at @Wharton cheeseburger. Go with the wild boar bacon



The Marquette Beer Runner

My first visit to Milwaukee far exceeded the expectations, probably because most of my knowledge of the town comes from watching Lavern & Shirley. Tim Blair, a good friend and mentor from IBM now at Grant Thornton, invited me to speak at the PR + Social Media Summit, hosted by his alma mater, Marquette University.  Tim is still a mentor, but we’re no longer friends.

The event’s first speakers was Olympic sprinter Nick Symmonds who turned to eBay to auction real estate on his deltoid for a tattoo of a corporate twitter handle.  Creative agency Hason Dodge narrowly outbid Nick’s mom.  Before I try to sell tattoo space to raise funds, I’ll need to shave a few seconds off of my time in the 400 hurdles.

Molly McKenna, social media director at McDonald’s, masterfully blended humor, candor about taking risks, and  fascinating stories from the trenches, including a recent twitter battle  between two prominent mayors over a beverage ban, as an example of standing up for your brand on twitter: “RT @McDonalds .@MikeBloomberg We trust our customers to make the choices that are best for them.”  She’s one of the best speakers on social media I’ve ever seen.

After speaking on The Business Case for Nonsense and showing a few comedy videos and a clip from our documentary, Tim  Blair and I headed over to Sobelman’s, a burger legend featured on the Travel Channel’s Food Wars.   An excellent choice, as was our dinner the night before at the Iron Horse Hotel.

Custom Motorcyle

In addition to the speaker lineup that included some social media rockstars like Kathryn Janicek from NBC Chicago, Augie Ray from Prudential and Mary Henige from GM, one element that made this conference stand out was the host, Tim Cigelske, aka The Beer Runner.   Not only did he help everything run smoothly and was a fun guy to work with, but he’s an established SM leader as well. Check out his interview in Wired Magazine on combining his passions for craft beer and fitness.  I hope to return soon to spend more time at the river walk and tour the Harley Davidson Museum, but as Cigelske suggested, I think I’ll wait until after the Wisconsin winter, when conditions aren’t the same as Ice Station Zebra.

About the Comedy & Cheeseburger blog.

Gesu Chapel

Comedy @ WSJ CMO Event

Comedy @ WSJ CMO Event

I shared a few comedy videos at the Wall Street Journal Digital Download event Wednesday.  My buddy John Havens discussed his recent Mashable article on Accountability Based Influence.  Then, the traditional celebration after a corporate comedy performance — a cheeseburger. DigitalDownload_WSJ_733

There are a few burgers so luxurious that they require you to wear cufflinks.  DB Bistro Modenrne’s sirloin burger stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffle demands such reverence.  Its price is $32, and that doesn’t include cheese.   But since it’s served on a Parmesan bun, and certainly the most decadent burger I’ll savor in my lifetime, I’ll count this experience for the cheeseburger blog.


After the show, I went with the WSJ gang to indulge and laugh too loudly for a swanky restaurant.  A sentimental time for me as it was the same crew I was with when I launched the Cheeseburger & Comedy blog series at the New York Comedy Festival in 2009, sans Ricky Gervais.  Sometimes I feel like adults shouldn’t have this much fun.  But that feeling soon passes.  Thanks Melissa for setting this up!  (Pics below are from our first soirée)

Ricky Gervais backstage at Carnegie Hall

Ricky Gervais and Nancy McDonald, backstage at Carnegie Hall

NYCF After Party

NY Comedy Festival After-Party

Pershing Square Cafe

One of my first post-college roommates Bruse Loyd texted asking if I wanted to meet for lunch while he was in NYC this week. After some internal debate, I accepted hoping to finally get reimbursed for the October 1994 cable bill. No such luck, but at least I enjoyed the visit with Nick and Reese, who took me to Pershing Square Cafe located directly across 42nd St from Grand Central Station.

Pershing Square Cafe

My first job out of college was in sales with Xerox Corporation.  I’m pretty sure having that much fun on a job is not allowed anymore.  The job introduced me to corporate comedy as I used to write sketches and emcee the sales conferences.   Sales is an outstanding place to start a career as it forces you to learn the art of communication and negotiation quickly.

Pershing Square, NYC

After each copier sale, we were required to spend two hours training the customer on how to use the equipment.  Here’s a clip of my buddy Bruse :

And approximately 80% of our sales leads came from this commercial:

About the Cheeseburger & Comedy blog series.

Comedy at SXSW

I presented at SXSW Interactive about the role of comedy in corporate social media, and was amazed at how productive the conference was.  I had the chance to meet with quite a few social media leaders — when possible, over BBQ — including Jeff Pulver, C.C. Chapman, Guy Kawasaki, Pam Slim, John Jantsch, Erik Qualman and David Meerman Scott. I managed to squeeze in some comedy, kicking things off with Conan O’Brien’s  documentary premier.



Rainn Wilson and director James Gunn dialed in the flight-delayed Ellen Page and put her on speaker to talk about their new dark comedy feature Super.

Super team.  Photo: Austin360
Photo: Austin360

Director Todd Phillips shared the backstory of some of his comedies like Old School and talked a bit about The Hangover Part II.

Todd Phillips.  Photo: Austin Chronicle
Photo: Austin Chronicle

Dined with Vince Thompson, comedian Matt Kirsch and the LA crew at the Salt Lick BBQ.


I wrapped up the visit with some classic Austin trailer food at Trey’s Cuisine for an amazing New York Strip burger stuffed with mac and cheeses served on a croquette.

Trey's Cuisine

Trey’s Cuisine chef Cowden Ward.

Trey's Cowden Ward

Finally, dessert at Amy’s Ice Cream with my favorite NEW YORKER cartoonist, Matt Diffee.


Backstage with the Rockettes

Saturday our family went to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.   One of my friends from the improv community Stacey, is in the show.  We performed together in a troupe at Magnet Theater, and after our shows we’d grab a cheeseburger at the  Triple Crown Ale House, an improv hangout.   It was always a blast to be in a scene with Stacey — she’s a brilliant improviser, and if I remember correctly, she had the best high kicks in our troupe.

It’s hard to find the right adjective to describe the Christmas Spectacular.

Radio City Christmas Show - Rockettes-2photo: Bob Jagendorf

The “Missouri Rockets” were founded in St. Louis in 1925, long before the very first Christmas.    They opened at  Radio City Music Hall in 1932, followed a few years later by Conan O’Brien.


We had such a blast watching our kids light up.  Stacey took us backstage after the show to see all the props and costumes, and the camel’s dressing room, who is a bit of a diva and constantly demanding San Pellegrino.

Stacey couldn’t join us for lunch as she had to get ready for her second performance (on some days, she dances in four shows.)  We headed out to Petite Abeille to tackle the Banana Split Brussels Waffle, as seen on the Travel Channel’s “Breakfast Paradise.”   No celebrity sightings, but the last time my daughter and I dined there, we sat close enough to Aaron Eckhart to eavesdrop on his script writing session for his next feature.

Yelp gives Triple Crown 3 out of 5 stars.

About the Cheeseburger & Comedy series.

Haunted Cheeseburger @ The Stanley Hotel

There was a time when I didn’t believe in ghosts.

My tour of the Stanley Hotel’s room 217 provided more eerie confirmation in changing my opinion.  While I was filming a comedy documentary short about the inspiration behind Stephen King’s The Shining, we had a few paranormal encounters, yet I found the courage to stick around and have a cheeseburger at Cascades Restaurant.

Stanley Hotel

King, seeking sanctuary from some friends’ harsh criticism of his first draft  — initially about an amusement park where rides came to life and devoured visitors — escaped with his wife toward Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountains National Park.  Snowfall had closed the road, and the Kings headed back down the mountain and spotted a dilapidated Stanley.  King was willing to check-in on the last night of operation for the season, even though the hotel looked pretty spooky.  As they were the only guests, they were given the Presidential Suite, room 217.  (Photo: Justin Balog)

Room 217

Mrs. Wilson, one of the first chambermaids employed when the hotel was built by F.O. Stanley in 1909, is said to still clean and sometimes haunt guests in 217, particularly if they’re messy.  Mr. King had a frightening experience that night, awoke the next day and wrote a new outline for The Shining.


What I love about this story is that it was Mr. King’s failure that played the muse for his masterpiece.   A few days before my visit to room 217 in Estes Park, CO, I had received some harsh criticism on a comedy project.  That same week, I heard a story that gave me hope, just down the road from the Stanley at Hyde Chapel.

Hyde Chapel

Rev. Dr. Stephen Wende shared a fascinating research study from the book Art & Fear.  In short, a class of art students was divided into two groups.  Group 1 was told they would be graded on making a perfect clay pot, while Group 2 was directed to make as many clay pots as possible, regardless of how they looked.

The researchers were stunned to discover that the  absolute best pot was produced by the “quantity” group, not the “quality” group.  In fact, the last two dozen clay posts produced by the quantity group were far better than the one pot produced by the “quality” group…. The researchers realized that all the time the quality group was sitting around thinking and theorizing about how to make the exact the perfect post, the other group was just churning them out.  And they were pretty bad at first, but they kept making them and making them and making them, and they got better as they went along, until by the time they finished, they were making wonderful, excellent pots.

Dr. Wende concludes, “Have you ever thought of the power of being willing to fail and learn and keep on failing until you begin to get it right?”  I guess to some, this seems obvious, but in that period for me, with a bruised ego and overwhelmed with doubt, it was an epiphany.

Like I imagine Stephen King might be, I am grateful for spirits unholy or otherwise, who guide us through the creative process, encouraging us to complete what we’ve been called to do.


Cascades at The Stanley Hotel: 3 out of 5 stars on Yelp

About the Cheeseburger & Comedy blog series.

Chicago Cheeseburger Classics

What must have happened is when I entered Chicago airspace, my Lose It! iPhone calorie counter was scrambled.  Oh, well.  I gained a few pounds during my week in the windy city as I managed to visit three cheeseburger joints. My buddy Kurt told me about the Billy Goat Tavern, which inspired the classic SNL sketch “Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger.” Kurt warned me, “you don’t go there for the cheeseburgers.” He was right, but it was a blast to dine in the icon.
Billy Goat Tavern

I always check in with Hamburger America author/filmmaker George Motz when I’m traveling for advice on joints I shouldn’t miss.  (Thanks Sean Amore for the intro).  He noted three, including M Burger, next to the hospital, which is frequented by doctors — mostly cardiologists.  I’m not sure, but the guy hiding next to me behind a dyed beard may have well been Dr. Richard Kimble.

M Burger

Finally, I visited Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse and grabbed a burger in the bar.  Holy Cow.
Harry Caray's Steakhouse

But hands-down, the best meal I’ve had in recent memory was at Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House. No cheeseburger here, I went for the fish.  Outstanding, and almost justifies a trip back to Chicago, for the goat cheese appetizer.  Don’t miss this if you’re in town!

About the Cheeseburger & Comedy blog series.