Tim Washer. Keynote Speaker + Event Emcee
  • "Meet the Actor" w/ VEEP's Tony Hale

  • James Corden @ IBM Think 2019

Podcast:  Using Humor to Connect with Customers

Podcast: Using Humor to Connect with Customers


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Carlos Hidalgo and I had a fun chat about connecting with B2B customers through empathy and humor. Or at least that’s what we were supposed to be talking about.

We veered off-course a bit in discussing a war story from my IBM days, when I first used a comedy video as a sales enablement tool for the mainframe salesforce, cira 2004. I called the project, “the funniest mainframe video ever produced.” My manager called it “a fireable offense.”

It was one of those moments that I was absolutely certain would get me fired. I had a lot of those at IBM. Thankfully, my bff and director/editor of the video, Scott Teems, talked me off of the ledge. He’s done that so many times. And thanks to Scott’s encouragement and genius talent, the video launched a new career for me.

Career tip: Find a friend who will push you to explore fields outside of your comfort zone, especially the ones that scare the heck out of you.

Del Close, the father of long form improv, preached, “Follow the fear.” He taught improvisers that when ideas for possible responses to their partner would pop into their head during a scene, they had an obligation to choose the one that scared them the most. Close posited that the reason for the fear was because that specific idea was a new frontier to them that they had yet to explore, and therefore, it would bring the richest creativity. It took me several years of performing improv at Upright Citizens Brigade theater before I became mildly comfortable with this principle, but now it’s how I make all major life decisions.

I hope you’ll tune in to this podcast. Carlos and I chat about how to apply some of these improv rules to the wonderful world of B2B marketing, including an example we produced together for a data governance company.

All-Hands-squirrel

The Hole in Whole Foods Market’s “Whatever Makes You Whole” Campaign

The Hole in Whole Foods Market’s “Whatever Makes You Whole” Campaign


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I like overpaying for groceries just as much as the next guy.  I’m a big fan of Whole Foods, especially the Austin location’s taqueria, but a few of the new campaign ads are missing something.  I’m always grateful when any brand invests to bring laughter to its audience, but it feels like the brand didn’t fully commit.

Preexisting Conditions 

In one of my early classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater,  I opened a scene as a pool guy who was meeting the homeowner for the first time.   It fell flat.  My instructor Armando Diaz told me that the scene would have been much more interesting if I had made the choice to reveal a history between the two characters.   We could have explored a universal truth of how two different points-of-view need to work together through conflict, or how they avoid conflict.   Otherwise, we’re stuck in a transactional scene, which is boring.

In “Meat Santa,”  the first half of the scene is the Whole Foods butcher preparing the customer’s order.   The customer creates the awkward moment, then the butcher calls him “weird.”  I’m no marketing expert, but I would avoid ending a commercial by insulting your customer.   Instead, we could have witnessed a playful conversation with inside jokes that reveal the butcher remembers that this customer used his grandmother’s recipe to brine the turkey for Thanksgiving and anticipates what the customer might need to prepare the Christmas meal.

Here are the winners of the series, and the comedy approach that makes them work so well:

“Just One Item”

A pain point anyone over the age of 35 can relate to.   The setup fills the frame with an overpacked grocery cart and is paid-off perfectly.   I would have ended the spot at the :10 mark since the follow-on joke isn’t as strong as the feature bit, but no one asked me.

“Backup Thanksgiving”

Another very relateable pain point, as we’ve all suffered through a turkey day at the crazy in-laws’ house, where they’ve tried to be overly innovative with the stuffing recipe.  The backup concept is hysterical, and I love the direction and the actors’ performance.

“Pastabilities”

This one hits a little too close to home.  I receive this exact same response from my daughter at least three times a day.  I love, love this young actor’s performance — she cracks me up.  Bravo!

Whole Foods wouldn’t even need to advertise if they would bring back breakfast pizza.

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Pizza for breakfast! Thank you @WholeFoods

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Improv Rules for Storytelling – CMWorld 2017

Improv Rules for Storytelling – CMWorld 2017


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Links for Content Marketing World 2017 presentation:

Why Van Damme’s ‘Epic Split’ Was the Perfect Storm for One NYC Creative Director http://adweek.it/2wv9hZ7

Meaning > messaging.  Don’t change how people talk; change how they think

Improv rule #1:  Support your partner

Documentary:  Phone company in a box https://youtu.be/OaZWkpOVtlY

Improv rule #2:  There is order in chaos

RT @BrianCurtisNBC5: Convoy of @HEB disaster relief trucks staged near Goliad, TX today. #Harvey http://ow.ly/MUXA30eZnhk

For juxtaposition exercise for inspiring creativity, try https://randomwordgenerator.com/

Juxtaposition: How Circuses and Bacon Can Boost Your Creative http://ow.ly/O1ro30eZqjx via @CMIContent  @MarciaRJohnston   #cmworld

Improv rule #4:  There are no mistakes, only gifts

Haunted Stanley Hotel: The Ghost Behind Stephen King’s The Shining, Room 217 https://youtu.be/XqvaL5d37Gc

Improv rule #5:  “Follow the Fear” – Del Close

Mainframe: The Art of the Sale, Lesson One https://youtu.be/MSqXKp-00hM

Filibuster Cablevision iO TV commercial  https://youtu.be/scTFsGQ78qs

More nonsense:

Mockumentary:  Mystery Solved: The Rescue of Helen of Troy http://ow.ly/5Psj30eZoAt

Movie Trailer:  Improv with the CIO https://youtu.be/cL5bjJCpJIY

The Perfect Gift for Valentine’s Day… from Cisco https://youtu.be/Z1xKpm0nURk

#CMWorld

The Headless Horseman Cheeseburger


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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.

Tony Hale Talks Veep, Arrested Development and Chicken

Tony Hale Talks Veep, Arrested Development and Chicken


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tony

Tony Hale asked me to moderate his interview on Apple TV’s “Meet the Filmmaker.”   Here’s some of the wisdom he shared (not all of this made the final cut of the show.)

Gracious Leaders Inspire Creativity

Armando Iannucci, creator of HBO’s Veep, built a brilliant team of genuinely friendly and supportive people, which gives the cast a great deal of freedom.  The actors don’t need to be cautious to tiptoe around egos.  This fosters a fun, relaxed environment that encourages risk-taking.

I would imagine that kind-hearted actors are also required for the show, since much of the comedy comes from hilarious, caustic insults, certainly to be true to life inside the beltway.  One of the first audience questions was “What’s your favorite Jonah insult?”  Turns out it’s a barb from Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character, speaking to Matt Walsh about Timothy Simon’s character: “You let that unstable piece of human scaffolding into your house?” Critics agree — that berating ranked #3 on Hollywood.com’s list.  If you’re still considering your favorites, reference the research from the Chicago Tribune and Rolling Stone (headphones are suggested for this video).

Bloom Where You’re Planted

Early in his career, Tony was acting in plays and  TV commercials in NYC as he focused on his dream of working on a sitcom.   After he finally landed the role, he realized it didn’t offer the satisfaction he had anticipated, and later reflected that there was no way the experience could ever live up to the expectations he had imagined.  He had missed out on being in-the-moment and truly enjoying some of his earlier experiences.  This lesson of contentment inspired him to write a children’s book, Archibald’s Next Big Thing.

Follow the Fear

Tony shared insight into some of the scary moments in his life.  One was on the morning of the 2013 Emmy awards, when  Julia Louis-Dreyfus called him with an idea for a comedy bit to use in an acceptance speech.  A last minute, unrehearsed live routine in front of 18 million people — what’s scary about that?

The other fear that controls Tony’s life:  Claire Underwood.  BuzzFeed documented the brutal Twitter threat-down.

ClaireUnderwood

Watch our discussion on Apple TV or download via iTunes “Meet the Filmmaker” episode 25.  https://itun.es/i66n8RD

For more on the poultry theme, watch Tony as the mustachioed video store owner-turned detective and Andy Richter sidekick in one of the best ever TV comedy episodes in the history of the world.  Andy Barker P.I., produced by Conan O’Brien.  “Three Days of the Chicken, available on Hulu+, Amazon or iTunes.

Andy Barker P.I.

Catch Veep on HBO, Sundays at 10:30 PM ET.

UPDATE:  Tony Hale on The Hollywood Reporter’s Roundtable

, on being content where you are.

Veep_Tony_Julia

 

Improv with the CIO

Improv with the CIO


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Our Voice of the Customer marketing team has been exploring creative approaches for our customer interview videos.  At a recent CIO conference we asked a few adventurous executives if they would be willing to try something a little more entertaining.

Dinner with the CIO

At any C-level executive event, there is a lot of pressure on the events team to make sure everything goes smoothly.   The agenda is managed very closely, so we only had about 15 minutes for these interviews.   Thankfully, it was one of those wonderful occasions where everything went our way.  Our amazing events team worked with the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel staff to get us access to film in one of the restaurants during the day before it opened for dinner.   All of the CIOs were fabulous!  We had created just enough structure to the scene to make it easy to improvise, and they all seemed to have a fun time and enjoy the experience.

Ann Handley shares more of the backstory in her post, Humor and B2B Marketing:  A Love Story.

 

Sunset at Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

Improv Rules for the Conference Call – #INBOUND13


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I studied improv under Amy Poehler at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater for two  years before she joined SNL.  While she’s the most brilliant improviser I’ve ever witnessed, she’s also one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, following only Ms. Reed, my sophomore Latin teacher in the stack rankings.   She has the gift of encouragement, and when you’re learning to perform The Harold — a long form improv format where a troupe perform a 30 minute show based on a single audience suggestion — encouragement is needed.

Some of the most terrifying moments in my life occurred in my early days of improv.  After learning a few simple principles, I began to feel comfortable stepping out on stage in front of a full audience with nothing but trust for my team and an empty mind, ready to discover the show.  I reluctantly began to understand what Del Close meant when he preached, “Follow the Fear.”

In the world of corporate communication and content marketing, it’s fear that keeps us from our best.  Fear to be different, fear of not getting promoted, fear of failure.  When I’ve applied the rules I learned in my corporate life, it’s lead to my biggest successes.   I’ll talk about three of these rules at #INBOUND13, Wednesday 12 noon, at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.  Swing by if you’re in town.  I’ll post the video when it’s live.

 

 

The Work Talk Show:  Humor at Work and Being Unqualified

The Work Talk Show: Humor at Work and Being Unqualified


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As with most worthwhile projects I stumble into, when DJ Waldow and Nick Westergaard invited me to be on The Work Talk Show, I felt unqualified.  But I said yes anyway.   To avoid sounding unqualified, I scrambled to come up with anything that sounded like a step or a process or an iPad app that I use to get work done, but we never really got around to those bullet points.  Like a good improv show, we started out with a little structure, and found ourselves on a much more fascinating path.

The Work Talk Show

I confessed to the hosts that I have no idea how I get work done, and it seems like most of the time I am not getting work done.  My projects usually start with a request like, “Hey, can you produce a funny YouTube video to amplify our marketing message for the upcoming product launch?”  I’ll say yes, then block off the next 4 -5 hours to feel unqualified.  Day 2 in the project schedule is usually dedicated to self-loathing, and by EOD, I’ve concluded I shouldn’t even be in corporate comedy and should apply for a lateral move into Accounts Payable or Procurement. The following morning I’ll stop at a coffee shop and write the script in seven minutes on a napkin and ATM receipts.  And the video comes out okay.

But instead of discussing work process on this show, we discussed how more comedy and humor in the workplace can improve creativity, productivity, and make us all taller.  And, as with all business podcasts, we covered Del Close and  The Harold.

I’m only just not coming to peace with this way of working.  And I was comforted after listening to the first Work Talk Show episode of this year.   Seth Godin proclaimed that the industrial economy has been replaced by the Connection Economy, which rewards surprise, grit, delight and ridiculousness.   What we get paid for now is by standing for something, and by overcoming the fear of being remarkable and ridiculous.

Being ridiculous?  Now that is something I’m qualified for.

How Many Stephen Colberts Are There?


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The New York Times Magazine article suggests there are three Stephen Colberts.  I’d submit that there are four, considering the hip-hop Colbert who performed Empire State of Mind with Alicia Keys. (thanks Matt McMahon!)

A few years back Tom Purcell, executive producer of The Colbert Report (pictured next to Dr. Colbert ) taught a writing class at the P.I.T.  He spent six Saturday afternoons with us reviewing how the staff approaches writing The Word and the other classic bits, and generously offered to extend the class a few more weeks to help us develop our writer’s packet.  I managed to write a few pieces I was happy with, including one for the Threat Down segment, but struggled with insecurity to finish a strong packet.

I’ll accept David Meerman Scott’s challenge to make 2012 the year of courage.

Backstage with the Rockettes


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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.

Nativity

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.