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You’re Not Being Funny Enough

May 14, 2011

A couple weeks ago I read an interview in the New York Times with comedian Will Ferrell. The journalist asked him about his move from big screen film to a temporary stint as the main character in the TV series, “The Office.” Despite a decade-long run of mega-blockbuster hits (five of his action-comedies have raked in over $100 million each at the US box office), Mr. Ferrell confessed that he still felt uncertain about his career trajectory.

Well, gee, you’re thinking, what does a big star like Will Ferrell have to worry about? Just this: he’s afraid that he won’t be funny in whatever he does next.

You would think that notching all of those accomplishments under his belt might dispel that fear, but when asked about it, Mr. Ferrell exhaled audibly and said, “Oh, jeez. It’s very much a treading-water feeling. I don’t think there’s any amount of success that would ever make that go away.”

Sound familiar? Not that making people laugh is something you need to worry about, but I’m sure you have your own version of “not being funny enough.” It looms over your head no matter what it is you do, or whatever stage of your career you are at. It could take the form of landing the next new customer, closing the next deal, writing the next book, leading the team to complete the project on time and on budget, or beating Wall Street’s estimates for next quarter. 

We are judged, by all accounts, by our future performance.

Or are we? What if I told Mr. Ferrell to chill out and just be himself, pray about it, release it, do his best and let the universe take it’s course? Would he be better off?

Would you be better off?

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2011 4:18 pm

    Neither of my kids thinks I’m funny. Anyway. This morning I was just re-reading some notes I had taken on a retreat. They were full of good, theologically sound admonitions to find contentment and security in one’s identity in Christ. Probably good advice for Will Ferrell or any of us who continue to measure ourselves against our accomplishments, especially those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus.

    • May 16, 2011 5:59 am

      Well, I think you’re funny.

      I think you are right, in that we need to be grounded in who we are rather than what we accomplish. But that doesn’t take the pressure off, does it?

  2. May 14, 2011 6:25 pm

    Wonderful.

    I never knew I was supposed to be worrying about this.

    Sigh.

  3. May 14, 2011 8:23 pm

    I love Will Ferrell! I can’t imagine him ever not being funny. And the office? Is that not the coolest place to be on the small screen? Ok, so I’m missing the point. Just deliberately ignoring, I guess. I hate to think of feeling like treading water forever.

    • May 16, 2011 6:01 am

      Yes, it was a little depressing reading his comments. You almost feel sorry for him for having achieved so much success already. I think this is a common theme among public figures or artists who have made a big mark in the world. Everyone expects them to keep doing it even better.

  4. Bob G permalink
    May 14, 2011 8:25 pm

    Not sure. But one thing I’m sure of is that it needs a little more cowbell.

  5. May 15, 2011 9:12 pm

    I can relate all too well. My law partners and I have a running joke — we complain when we’re swamped, but we complain more when we’re not. Everyone is always worried about how they are going to perform “next year.” And this type of mindset is just utterly exhausting. But it doesn’t stop us from worrying!

    I firmly believe that the higher you go in your work (i.e. the famous Will Ferrell) the greater the pressure is to keep performing. Where do you go when you have no where to go but down?

    I’m learning slowly to let tomorrow worry about itself. I do better when I chill out and have fun. But it’s harder to do than it sounds.

    (Hey, I may be in Boston next month and if so would love to grab Starbucks!)

    • May 16, 2011 6:05 am

      It is harder to do than it sounds. To some extent, this is the reality for any of us who are in business careers – there are performance expectations, and that is that. How we manage ourselves through it is another thing. Like you, I have good days when I surrender and trust, and then not so good days when I worry and obssess.

      Boston would be great, except I live in the Philly area! You must think I’m up there alot because my daughter goes to school there and I am travelling up there quite a bit. Any time, Susan!

  6. May 16, 2011 3:40 am

    Yes it will bring freedom to be allowed to be myself, but there is something nagging a little deeper: What about excellence… should I not always be striving for that improvement on my last best? Or is that God’s problem? Where do I get in the way of His best? I think it is such a fine line. Paul admonishes us to run the race so there is a part for me to play but there is also a larger part that God plays.

    Excellent thoughts for this Monday morning.

    • May 16, 2011 6:09 am

      It’s the old adage that your friend Malcolm Gadwell puts forth in “Outliers” – that in order to be excellent, you need to put in 10,000 hours or whatever it is. We become excellent by continuing to practice and do our best over and over again. I don’t think most of us would be happy doing lackluster work without putting much effort in. But we can not control the outcome – if it gets the job done, or wins the prize, or gets acknowledgement. We can only control our own preparation and delivery. Then we have to let God do the rest, I guess.

      Thanks, Claire, for the good thoughts here.

  7. May 16, 2011 8:33 am

    There’s a book called Mindsets (http://amzn.to/mO2bv8) that addresses this topic. Basically talks about living up to expectations and avoiding fear of failure in the very manner that WF seems to be struggling with. I’d highly recommend the book if anyone runs into this type of fear. It certainly helped me out a lot.

    Thanks for sharing this tidbit this morning!

  8. May 16, 2011 9:42 am

    As the chief writer and editor for one of the largest employee magazines in the U.S., I’m paid to perform — period. I always think about the next issue. “What if I don’t have any good ideas?” It’s the same haunting that Ferrell experiences. People expect things out of us — but they don’t realize is that “past performance is not a guarantee of future results.”

  9. May 16, 2011 11:31 am

    This is hogwash.

    True performance does not emerge from bickering or commiserating. It comes from an unrelenting commitment to kicking butt.

    If left in isolation long enough, the human mind begins to hallucinate and create its own new stimuli. If you want new and creative material, isolate yourself.

  10. May 16, 2011 12:00 pm

    I feel exactly like Will Ferrell. Every month I send off my articles, and every month I think, “Will they still want me next month?” And I’m the freakin’ editor!

  11. May 18, 2011 2:43 pm

    Such an interesting parallel for the rest of us in “the real world.”

  12. May 19, 2011 9:32 pm

    Susan mentioned nowhere to go but down….I used to worry about that. I hated being up on a pedestal because I know it was a long and hard fall when you get knocked off. It’s exhausting.

    I left the corporate world and now I have my own practice. God has been good, because I used to work 60-70 hours a week and my world was my work. Now I try not to even work 40. I may not be getting rich, but I am doing better than I ever imagined, and I have balance now. Plus, I know the work I do as a Christian coach and counselor is more kingdom building than my corporate work – so hopefully God is able to work through me and be glorified. I used to worry about that too, until a good friend reminded me that God doesn’t really need me. If I mess up He will find another way. That really helped take the pressure off.

    Plus I recite Matthew 6:26-34 often!

    I love the open discussion here!
    Thanks.

  13. May 19, 2011 10:27 pm

    I don’t watch TV very often, so I don’t know if Will Ferrell is funny in his role in “The Office”. But, have you read this theory of management dynamics according to “The Office”? It doesn’t seem very funny: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-or-the-office-according-to-the-office/

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