Serving the Audience vs. Doing Your Thing (and Other Links)

Talking Funny is a four-way conversation between Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Ricky Gervais, and Louis CK on the craft of comedy. Here's Part 1 (and embedded below). One bit jumped out in Part 1: Gervais argues that you shouldn't care about the competition or the customer or the market — you should just be you, tell your jokes. Rock and Seinfeld respond that you have to be thinking about the customer and the competition. You have to be at least as good as whoever performed previously in the venue. Both sides are right, of course. It's interesting to hear them talk about how to navigate the tension.

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Other links:

  • Robin Hanson riffs on "morality porn" and the "X porn" construct more generally.
  • The always-interesting Christopher Caldwell writes against excessively gruesome warning labels on cigarette boxes, calling it "more about class than compassion" (i.e., rich people against poor people).
  • A fascinating piece in The Atlantic called The Triumph of New Age Medicine. Here's the debate about the article. I'm sympathetic to the author of the piece. If it works, it works. Some of the harder core people opposed to alternative medicine remind of me hard core atheists who attack quiet, religious folk taking comfort from their faith.
  • Bill Simmons says Will Smith does not take creative risks by doing the same sort of movie over and over and eschewing opportunities to take on new roles. Yet, Simmons does the same thing over and over. We don't expect him to pump out fiction or other sorts of non-fiction. Why do we frown upon actors who don't dabble within their broader profession, yet we think no less of writers to stick to a shtick, be it non-fiction/fiction, academic vs. narrative, etc.? One theory: we think acting is easier than it is; we think acting is acting and there is no sub-specializing.

12 Responses to Serving the Audience vs. Doing Your Thing (and Other Links)

  1. I really don’t care what these comedians have to say, but I agree with Rock and Seinfeld you have to be thinking about the customer and the competition in their business, as in others, even in medicine.

    So my comment is in response to David H. Freedman and his question “What’s eating the small, loud band of alt-med critics?”.

    You don’t have to be Warren Buffett to surmise that some of those critics might, just might, be mightily concerned about their profits, beyond any altruistic desire to combat fraud and quackery.

    I agree with your sentiments about hard core opponents of alternative medicine. Some of them, like Stephen Barrett writing at the otherwise useful site Quackwatch about alternative medicine, sound rather harsh compared to the measured tones of one of their favorite targets, Andrew Weil, the integrative medicine proponent, when he writes about regular medicine.

    I must say that after reading A Trip to Stonesville: Some Notes on Andrew Weil by Arnold S. Relman, I felt more sympathetic to Weil than to Relman.

    It would be nice if even non-scientific articles like Freedman’s in the Atlantic used footnotes or links to point to the studies they reference, rather than using the frustratingly non-specific “studies show” or “studies have shown”, as in:

    “Studies show that visits average about 20 minutes, that doctors change the subject back to technical talk when patients mention their emotions, that they interrupt patients’ initial statements after 23 seconds on average, that they spend a single minute providing information…”

    This passage, however, does neatly summarize my own frustration with regular medicine in the US.

    Not once in my life has an allopathic doctor here ever asked me any questions about my lifestyle:

    What do I eat, what kind and how much exercise do I get, how stressful is my everyday routine– do I drink alcohol or smoke tobacco or marijuana, do I use any other recreational drugs– much less any questions about my emotional state or whether or not I’ve been in counseling, seeing a psychiatrist, or taking any prescribed psychoactive drugs.

    In fact, whenever I try to get information beyond a snap diagnosis, the doctor usually seems irritated. The visit invariably concludes with a prescription for some drug I’ve likely not heard of, and no information about it is offered.

    The last time I went seeking treatment for an ailment was to a local practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, who gave me a very detailed form inquiring about all the lifestyle behaviors just mentioned.

    He spent at least twenty minutes discussing my answers to those questions, with humorous and insightful commentary.

    He then prescribed a mixture of various Chinese herbs and roots which he prepared himself and I picked up later.

    Frankly, they didn’t seem to have much effect, but I was so grateful for being treated as a whole human being rather than a pesky consumer of services that I actually felt better.

    Thus, like Andrew Weil, David Freedman, and other reasonable people, I believe that the placebo effects of otherwise harmless treatments do have value.

    I’m not convinced that Stephen Barrett’s motives are entirely altruistic.

  2. A says:

    On your Simmons comment — I think that’s a little unfair. Sure, he has a schitck that can be somewhat predictable (e.g., Godfather allusions), but he’s actually taking risks too. A few examples are his new cross-cultural website (where he brought together young talent) and his podcast.

  3. Ben Casnocha says:

    I totally agree. I admire Simmons a lot. I'm saying, he does his thing and
    he does it well, nothing wrong with that. What seems unfair is that he
    would hold Will Smith to a different standard.

  4. A says:

    But Simmons was criticizing Smith for *failing to take risks*, which is different from “doing what you do well.” But Simmons, unlike Smith, is actually taking risks, which makes charges of hypocrisy a little off the mark.

  5. Ben Casnocha says:

    Ah, well Simmons may be taking risks in terms of business or platform
    moves (you mentioned podcasts and managing a new web site with a staff of
    writers), but in terms of style of creative output, I don't find it
    particularly "risky." He wants more creative variety out of Smith, but as
    far as I can tell, Simmons doesn't have a lot of creative variety himself.
    He wants Smith to player a gangster sometime in a movie. I'm not sure what
    the analogy would be for Simmons' writing, but I don't think he's shown
    that range himself.

    The point is, we always talk about actors who have creative range or don't
    have range, but we don't talk about that standard as much with other types
    of artists.

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