Thursday, January 5, 2012

Would you rather be funny or likeable? A coffee shop conversation

This is you and me having an imaginary conversation about the choices we make and the ones made for us.
Come sit and shoot the breeze with me. We don't have to rush; we're not at the water cooler. We are people of leisure and deliberation—at least while you're reading my post. We can look around Queen Bean, this pretty little cafĂ© in downtown Modesto that I've beamed us both into on this unseasonably dry and sunny winter day.

Have you ever watched "This American Life"? My friend Noah of The Rambling Ark turned me onto it. I recorded and watched all the back episodes I could find. As an expat who has lived slightly more than half my life here in California, it asks just the sort of questions about life that I find intriguing. It's my cup of intelligent quirky.

One episode shows young male adolescents practicing stand-up at a kids' comedy camp. Boys at that age are about as familiar to me as a curling iron would be to a walnut farmer. What the helipad do we do with them? I raised three daughters. I wouldn't know how to talk about the interests of a man-in-the-making without resorting to pseudo-maternal pithyisms. So right there, the show had me captive. But that was just to start with.

One young man is flapping his just-hatched funny wings at the mic with some success. He reflects in voiceover mode, "When you're a different kind of kid, or even a different kind of person, it's sometimes hard to find people who think like you. And so the stage just becomes the highest ground, a place to stand out and look out over your friends, family and classmates, and say, 'Anyone out there? Anyone get me?' "

"And for some kids, being on stage isn't scary and awful. It's a relief."

"I feel like I'm taking OFF the mask. Like this is the real me. What I like to do for fun. I think it's like God's handicap: 'All right, well if you've been tortured your entire life, then I'm gonna make you funny.' Which will get you pretty far."

One of the adults there, I guess you could call her the comedy camp counselor, went all harsh on another one of the aspiring comics after his spiel. She commented, "It is better to be likeable than to be funny. That's one of the top rules of comedy."

"You have to act warm and inviting so we like you and we wanna hear what you have to say," she elaborated.

Now let's rewind and substitute creative for funny. Heck, let's do a few substitutions and see where that leads.

"All right, well if you've been tortured your entire life, then I'm gonna make you funny creative," God says in my version of this. I'd say that's a fair deal, wouldn't you? Almost explains the torment of your misfit years.

"It is better to be likeable than funny creative. That's one of the top rules of comedy success by the world's definitionYou have to act like you're not too hungry for approval, and be self-effacing so we like you buy what you create/hire you and pay you to do what you're told."
What do we conclude?

  • Likeable=Successful. If you are naturally likeable, it makes it a lot easier for people to want to help you succeed. The rest of us slobs have to work at being likeable. Because being creative is not enough. Being a genius, maybe—at the Steve Jobs level of genius.

  • Creativity=God's consolation prize for the not-always-likeable misfits who must forever strive on the treadmill of success, getting nowhere until someone decides to unplug the blasted thing, maybe you yourself, maybe your circumstances. Sounds like a glum prognosis for our disease, doesn't it? Maybe I just need another cup of sinfully whipped mocha.

The show's host, Ira Glass, comments toward the end, "I don't think you get to choose between funny and likeable. If you could just decide something like that for yourself, wouldn't everybody just choose both? Funniness chooses you." Just as creativity does. But not, apparently, likeability.

What I want to know is, does success choose us? Do we then strive to be likeable first? Is that what it really boils down to, all these tips about social networking and cultivating engagement?

Now that I've bummed you out without meaning to, the least I can do is send you back out to the non-cozy world with God's email to me (and you) today. It reached my inbox via my friend Christine. I suspect that when people ask, "God, are you listening?" half the time it's really they who aren't.
"God has set up seasons in our lives. It’s easy to get frustrated when our dreams aren’t coming to pass on our timetable, but every season is not harvest season. There are plowing seasons. There are planting seasons. There are watering seasons. Sure, we would love for every season to be a time of increase & good breaks but without the other seasons, we wouldn’t be prepared. For example, it’s during the plowing seasons that God brings issues to light that we need to deal with. He’s getting us prepared for promotion.

If you’re not making as much progress as you would like, the key is to not lose any ground. Don’t go backwards. Hold your position. Keep a good attitude and do the right thing even when it’s hard. When you do that, you are passing the test, and God promises that your due season of harvest is coming. Be encouraged because your appointed time of increase, favor and promotion is on its way, and He will fulfill every dream and desire He’s placed within your heart!"
This post wouldn't be complete without your half of the conversation in the comments below. Would you rather be funny or likeable? Creative, or successful at something you're not passionate about? Cluelessly happy, or mindful of life (and prone to analyzing every detail)? OK, that last question is my seed for a future post.


  1. Hmmmm, can't be both, huh? Well, I think I've spent my life being pretty likable, so if I could, I'd choose to be more creative at this point in my life. I'd love to be able to write a great (or even tolerably good) novel, paint a really fine picture, or sing like a canary. In the meantime, I'll have to settle for being a so-so knitter, an average cook, a middling gardener, and a likable gal. Fun post to read; thanks!

  2. You give yourself too little credit! And see, even in being self-effacing, you continue to be likeable. Would you willingly be less likeable if it meant you could soar to new heights in writing, painting or singing?

    Always a pleasure to have you visit and comment, Sweet Posy!

  3. I choose to be how I am, likeable, funny and creative. LOL

    I think we can each only strive to improve our creativity, likeability and humor.

    God is always listening. It is all in HIS time.

    I enjoyed your blog.

    Have a wonderful day!

    Stopping by from Blogging Buddies

  4. That's true. The best we can do is strive, and definitely listen more.

    Happy to see you, Christie Cottage!

  5. I couldn't imagine not being creative at this point in my life. I tried that a long time ago -- in jobs my brain has since shielded me from remembering clearly. :) As for likability... you'll never please everyone. I wasted way too many years upset because one person in the room gave me a dirty look -- that I didn't fully appreciate all the others who readily smiled back. I try to celebrate and expect the good -- though I've been known to occasionally relapse. ;)

  6. Kenya, is the drought truly over? Have you returned to the blogosphere or is this a mirage?

    What you said reminded me of advice given me in school, when I was puzzled over how a clique had been shunning me. "There are three of them, and hundreds of the rest of us. Don't let those three ruin your day permanently."

    Now if only the balance were just as favorable in blogging and business! More commenters/followers than not; more customers/supporters than not. One can dream!

  7. Love this part especially:
    "Creativity=God's consolation prize for the not-always-likeable misfits who must forever strive on the treadmill of success, getting nowhere until someone decides to unplug the blasted thing, maybe you yourself, maybe your circumstances."
    Negative but apt. I do believe though, on a somewhat positive note, that likeablilty can be learned, once we creative types figure out that it doesn't come naturally!

  8. This post is giving me lots of food for thought. It came along right a one of my low points in my cycle of creativity. I like your friend Christine's quotation. It's reasuring and a reminder to step back from highly emotional reactions to situations.

    Would I rather be creative or likable? Well, I guess mostly I want to be around people, feel loved, be able to love them. So that's most important.

    Very thought-provoking post.

  9. "likeability can be learned..." Lisa, boy I am counting on that!

    Hope, this post shows some of the influence your posts on success have had on my inner workings. I'm glad it spoke to you at your moment of need.

    Both your comments have gotten me thinking. Would I rather work at being likeable or at maintaining creativity? In other words, if there were only so much energy to expend, what would I focus on?

  10. Very introspective post, I enjoyed it very much. Just be you, without trying too hard at being anything. We are all a little of everything, aren't we?:) I go through phases of being creative and then not; sometimes likeable then not:):)

  11. Now there's an answer I can live with! It's the "trying too hard" that wears us down, and it stems from never feeling good enough—which I understand is an artist's weak spot, according to another blogger.

    Thanks for stopping by, Amithigirl!

  12. It's all in the attitude isn't it?...the perspective. I loved that part though saying that not every season is harvest season. We often forget that....I know I do, lol! As for the likeable debate...well, I have always thought I was likeable...until I migrated and found it utterly hard to find new friends. Apparently, I'm not so likeable after all! The good thing is, now I care less about this and have realized that I don't really need to be liked by many...just by the few who truly matter in my life, the few who are like-minded, kindred souls. That's where my happiness lies. Thanks for making me think about this Marie! :-))

  13. Joy, you bring another dimension into the discussion, that of being uprooted from all that is familiar and then plunked into a sink-or-swim situation. How can anyone like us when nobody knows us (yet)? That's exactly what it was like for me, too, oh so many years ago. Back then I didn't know the creative side of me, so there was nothing to fall back on to make the waiting more tolerable.

    Absolutely, the few who are like-minded are to be treasured, and the masses out there...well, I simply must stop pursuing their approval (in terms of blog readership and shop customers, that is.)

  14. I DID visit your blog today... while I had 2 minutes at work. Just read this lovely post and all the great thoughts and questions.

    I'd rather be me. I'd rather have freedom. I think freedom is likeable. I think 'me' is creative. I think sometimes I'm likeable and sometimes I may seem arrogant. Like most artsy peeps, I'm can be moody and opinionated.

    Oh, and I love Ira Glass and This American Life... the podcast is definitely a rockstar of podcasts!

  15. Mark this day! Andrew Z actually left a comment!

    Hmm, you made me think. I hadn't realized, but of course it's true, what you said—it's a trap to constantly try to court favor. I like freedom too!

    Maybe I'll just work on being considerate, on not letting fly with my opinion before I consider how best to word it. Like my opinion or not, at least I would've expressed it politely. Which is how my mother raised me. Okay then!

  16. I definitely think some are marked for success, but that doesn't mean their road ahead won't be difficult.

  17. I find that very comforting, Donna. Maybe the road IS difficult, and long, but we cannot doubt we're on it!

  18. Great post. Thanks for sharing. I couldn't decide between the two. Can't creative just come with being likable =)


  19. I think everyone's creative in their own way. My wife continually insists that she's not, yet comes up with the most creative solutions to problems all the time.

    Can everyone be funny? Sometimes. But there's varying degrees of funny and it also depends on what someone else's definition of funny is.

    Can you be likeable? Well, there's a million self-help gurus that will make you think so, but I think that one's built into your DNA. For me, I like to help people. I like to teach people. I like to leave people feeling better about themselves than before I came along. God knows most of the time that probably doesn't work, but I try.

    Don't know where I'm leading to, other than, great post. You got me thinking, so that makes me feel better about myself than before you came job!

  20. My Mini Bag, you summed it up so well: Life!

  21. Tobinator, you are funny down to the bone marrow, I hate you. : ) Also your comments sound exactly like your blog posts, whereas I tend to be slightly schizoid.

    Funny is in the ear of the hearer, true.

    I like to teach and help and encourage, too, so I feel most likeable when I'm teaching dance. It's the times I'm not that I have to rein in my acidity. Ack.

    A confession: I chafe at the definition of creativity as "problem-solving." It's so widespread and homogenous. Almost like everybody in kindergarten getting a little star on their paper because the teacher doesn't want to hurt their self-esteem. So while I have no doubt everyone is creative in their own way, creativity, like being funny, has varying degrees. The degree I refer to with the term "creative" borders on neurotic/dysfunctional in the sane world. Alas.

  22. Great question. I'm just getting through my list of holiday blogs that I had neglected. I think that I'd rather be likeable as a default position. It is the best way I know of to weed out those I can be funny/creative with. Therefore, I'm likeable because I have to be, funny/creative because I want to. If I had to pick one, I'd have picked likeable prior to my 40s, funny/creative now. I just don't feel the same need to please people who don't connect with me.

    If you love TAL and Ira Glass, might I suggest you listen to the Marc Maron interview of Ira Glass on WTF? It was brilliant.