I teased the featured subjects of this post- Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler- late last week, and not just because we are just about a month away from the one year anniversary of Late Night with Seth Meyers’ premiere, or just over twenty four hours away from the final season premiere of Poehler’s vehicle Parks and Recreation (which, by the way, has me feeling despondent, as shown below)
A series of conversations I’ve observed and been a part of over the past few weeks, combined with some reading I’ve been doing, compelled me to think about Seth and Amy as a comedic pair, and something they have in common besides their New England roots and great comedic timing: their natural and beautiful inclination to help beginners on their way up.
In a great thinkpiece about Meyers’ departure from SNL, columnist Mike Ryan espouses his theory that despite significant comedic talent, Seth’s true gift lay in encouraging the writing and performance of the people around him:
One of Meyers’ greatest talents is making others look good. He reminds me of my favorite editors: the ones who have everything to do with making a piece great, but relish in watching others get all of the accolades. I posed this hypothesis to Bobby Moynihan: “One-thousand percent,” he said. “He’s the guy you hand the script to and without even opening it, he’s like, ‘It’s a little heavy’ –- he’s just been here so long, he can almost edit by weight.”
His helpful demeanor didn’t stop at professional endeavors either- cast members reminiscing about his departure remembered early trips to comic book stores and basketball games as a means to bring new members of the troupe into the fold.It wasn’t anything that was expected of him as a head writer, and for that the effort truly stood out. Ryan nears the end of his piece by sharing this musing from Will Forte:
His comedy brain is certainly something that will be missed, but his heart, also – there’s this energy that he brings and a positivity that is such a wonderful thing to have. And there are a lot of the people at the show who have it, but it starts at the top … it’s a really amazing thing to have at a place that can be a very stressful place at times.
Speaking of outstanding, Amy Poehler has a similar reputation among her contemporaries, both on SNL and off. She mentioned while doing press for her frank and hilarious memoir/scrapbook (as she terms it) Yes Please that part of the pressure to write was fueled by her mentions in the books of other comediennes who have written about her in their books- Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, and Mindy Kaling to name a few. Their assessment of Poehler is unanimous- she is at once incredibly tough (Fey’s anecdote features Poehler asserting herself in a meeting where the nature of her humor was questioned), and incredibly loving (she laughed heartily at jokes to show newcomers that their concerns over being talented were unfounded, and is noted for being collegial at parties). Consider this testimony from Kaling in her book, preceded by the sentence “Everyone has a moment when they discover they love Amy Poehler.”:
As a teenager, I tracked her career as best I could without the Internet, and was overjoyed when I saw she had become a cast member on Saturday Night Live. I loved when she played Kaitlin, with her cool stepdad, Rick.
But when this popular, pretty genius made this kind gesture to me? That’s the moment I started adoring Amy Poehler. She knew I was going to be a coward, and she was going to have to gently facilitate me into being social[…] When I said something even a little but funny, Amy cackled warmly.
And as her stock has risen, she’s given a leg up to comedians like Billy Eichner and the Broad City duo Abbi Jacobsen and Ilana Glazer.
Even Meyers himself made a point to highlight the sort of graciousness that Poehler has extended to him in the chapter he authored for her book:
[referring to a text she sent him when her water broke before she was to perform with him on SNL] And that text is all you need to know about Amy. Instead of focusing on any of her fear, her excitement, or the anticipation that comes with giving birth for the first time, she sent me words of encouragement […] Doing comedy for a living is, in a lot of ways, like a pony and a camel trying to escape from the zoo. It’s a ridiculous endeavor and has a low probability of success, but most importantly, it is way easier if you’re with a friend.
For my part, I’m of the belief that this pair consistently, if largely separately, pulls off the daring and ridiculous escape. It’s been noted that Meyers and Poehler clicked as a team in a way that few other Update duos have, and their approach to working with people and amplifying the talent around them likely had something to do with that.
So my question is, if two people with the star power and clout of Meyers and Poehler can incorporate this into their routine, shouldn’t we all?
We all have our moments where we’re challenged to be helpful. Explaining something that seems second nature to us can be difficult at times, and we sometimes struggle to complete these tasks without a hint of frustration (at best) or condescension (at worst). I know I’m guilty of this now and again when I receive an email from a student or colleague asking for help with something that seems easy. After reading Liz Wiseman’s Rookie Smarts, a highly recommended read and my first of 2015, I would strongly recommend reconsidering that knee-jerk reaction. What do you replace it with? Something Wiseman calls “returning to the rookie mindset:”
Perpetual rookies are skilled at toggling between states of mind, between their veteran savvy and rookie smarts […] The real skill of the perpetual rookie is knowing when to play the role of veteran and when to don the rookie cloak.
Whenever you’re approached in earnest with a request to learn, the response shouldn’t be tinged with incredulousness at not knowing the skill, or judgment as to the size of the task at hand. Genuine interest at becoming better is all too rare in our classrooms and workplace, and doesn’t need to be discouraged. To help you get past those initial moments where that may be an ingrained response, remember your early days in the area of discussion. From all the testimony that has been shared in reference to Seth and Amy, they seem to be able to easily bring themselves back to those early moments when they needed support and reassurance. We should work to do the same. Think about your early days and consider the questions below:
How did it feel to be a novice? How hard was it to ask for help? How did the person that helped you respond? Or, if you didn’t ask for help, what held you back?
One of my goals for the year ahead is to take on the perspective of a learner more often. As I introduce initiatives and issue challenges in my work, I want to look at them not from just my perspective, but also those of the students and professionals I work with- what knowledge gaps exist that my “veteran” brain might be skipping over out of habit? Am I truly making myself approachable if questions do arise? How can I keep the rookie in mind as Seth and Amy so consistently do? I encourage all who read this to join me, and keep me posted on your results 🙂