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Ravishankar Iyer

Seinfeld on the Craft of Comedy (3-2-1 by Story Rules #64)

Published about 1 month ago • 5 min read

Welcome to the sixty-fourth edition of '3-2-1 by Story Rules'.

A newsletter recommending good examples of storytelling across:

  • 3 tweets
  • 2 articles, and
  • 1 long-form content piece

Let's dive in.


𝕏 3 Tweets of the week

If someone takes the time and effort to (constructively) criticise your work, consider yourself lucky.


Learning a new skill needs reinforcement. The most effective way in my personal experience has been a senior consistently reviewing my work and pointing out improvement areas.

(Read Navin's entire thread for some wise insights on how learning happens)


We are in a golden era for those "smart" students who can game the system. Teachers - the ball is in your court!


📄 2 Articles of the week

a. '10 ways to be more creative: My interview with actor, writer BJ Novak' by Ann Handley

Ann's newsletters make for lovely reading - she almost always starts with a relatable personal anecdote:

Last Tuesday I walked into my hotel room in Cleveland. The television was blaring and set to the Welcome screen.
You know the one. It reads: WELCOME GUEST NAME.
Beside it, on the split screen, was playing an endless loop of promotions for vacation packages at various hotel properties all around the world. Marriott, in this case.
The problem was... I couldn't change the channel or turn the television off.
I pointed the remote at the screen and clicked. NOTHING. Screen ON; volume HIGH.

Read the post to see how her issue gets resolved. It's actually not got much to do with her interview, but I love how Ann converts even mundane events into a compelling story.

She then shares some advice from her on-stage conversation with actor-producer BJ Novak (Ryan the Temp from The Office)

1. Prepare for inspiration; plan for execution: BJ’s creative process has two components: inspirations that he captures in a small notebook he carries everywhere (he pulled it out of his breast pocket onstage); and execution.
Every few weeks he blocks time to review the notebook, transferring the richest observations from his hand onto his computer—grouping and expanding ideas as he goes. That becomes the peat moss where insights and ideas take root.

So I keep capturing my ideas and thoughts on my Evernote app on the phone. But I desperately need to do more of the second step (blocking time to review my notes!).

I loved this bit about the power of observation and breaking of the pattern:

2. Artists notice things; then we notice that we’re noticing. Many people notice curiosities as we go about our daily trips to the post office or airport or coffee shop. We notice when a repairman named Russell talks about Betty Jean. But only artists record it. Only we use it. Only we notice that noticing.
3. Pay attention to what doesn’t fit an expected pattern: Dialogue, signs, behaviors. Notice the moments that make you pause.

b. '30 Useful Concepts (Spring 2024)' by Gurvinder

Modern-day philosopher Gurvinder Bhogal shares some useful concepts and mental models in the post.

Some that I found interesting:

  • The 'rise of dopamine culture' image:



This one:

Naxalt Fallacy: Smart people tend to use qualifiers like “generally” and “most”, and dumb people tend to ignore them.

“Most people who are pro-choice are also pro-gun-control.”
“Wrong! I’m not!”

“Men are generally taller than women.”
“False! My wife is 7 feet tall!”

The road to hell is paved with good intentions:

Noble Cause Corruption: The greatest evils come not from people seeking to do evil, but people seeking to do good and believing the ends justify the means. Everyone who was on the wrong side of history believed they were on the right side.

A bit harsh, but true of many media houses today unfortunately:

Postjournalism: The press lost its monopoly on news when the internet democratized info. To save its business model, it pivoted from journalism into tribalism. The new role of the press is not to inform its readers but to confirm what they already believe.

📄 1 long-form read of the week

a. 'The Scholar of Comedy' by David Remnick

I loved this long meandering conversation between comedy legend Jerry Seinfeld and New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick. It is peppered with great insights about mastering a craft.

Seinfeld has this great insight about why, instead of material pleasure, it's the endless pursuit of mastery that should be driving us:

David: It’s possible that you’ve made a dollar or two from “Seinfeld,” and yet you still work hard. Why?

Jerry: Because the only thing in life that’s really worth having is good skill. Good skill is the greatest possession. The things that money buys are fine. They’re good. I like them. But having a skill—I learned this from reading Esquire magazine in the sixties. They did an issue on mastery. Do you remember that?

David: I don’t.

Jerry: I’m surprised. You definitely read Esquire.

David: Oh, yeah. Of course.

Jerry: I loved Esquire in the sixties. “A magazine for men,” remember?

David: Yeah, I do.

Jerry: Yeah. And they did one issue—in fact, I gotta get this issue. I’ll get it on eBay. I’m sure it’s there. It was a very Zen Buddhist concept: Pursue mastery. That will fulfill your life. You will feel good.

I know a lot of rich people. So do you. They don’t feel good, as you think they should and would. They’re miserable. Because, if they don’t master a skill, life is unfulfilling. So I work because if you don’t, in standup comedy, if you don’t do it a lot, you stink.

If you, like me, were curious about the Esquire issue on mastery, here's the archive edition!

Jerry about how the writing is everything in comedy performances:

David: So you became disciplined right away?

Jerry: Not right away. It was after I saw a comedian do a couple of “Tonight Show”s and get bounced that I realized—

David: Who was that?

Jerry: I don’t want to mention the name. He went on, he did well. The second time he went on, he did less well. The third time, he struggled, and they never had him back. And I went, “Oh, now I get how this racket works. This is a writer’s game. If you can write, you succeed. If you can’t, you will not make it.” The performing, being funny onstage, that’s great. Any comedian can be funny onstage. But the bullets are the writing.

About how Stand-up comedy is one of the most raw forms of art:

Every artist is only showing you his best. When you watch a movie, every scene—they only show you the one take that worked. Seventeen times, they missed it. You’re only seeing the peak of it. But in standup you gotta make it happen every night. That’s the difference. That’s why actors, I think, like to do the theatre. They want to be honest. They want to be held to account. And only a live audience holds you to account.

The balance between familiarity and novelty:

If I love a bit that somebody does and I go, and they do the bit, I love it. That comedian—if you see ’em after the show, you go, “You did the peanut bit. I love the peanut bit.” And they go, “I know. I’m trying to get it out of my act and do something new.” You go, “No, I love that bit!” Who’s right? There’s no answer. There’s no answer.
I think if you go see a comedian and he does some great stuff that you know and a bunch of stuff that you don’t know, the audience is happy. I think comedians now try so hard to be all new, all the time. I think the quality suffers, because none of us are really that good. Chris Rock and I have determined that a great comedian working his ass off his entire career writes two good hours.

That's all from this week's edition.

​Ravi

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Ravishankar Iyer

A Storytelling Coach More details here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ravishankar-iyer/

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