How to be perfect (with Mike Schur) (Transcript)
How to Be a Better Human
How to be perfect (w/ Mike Schur) (Transcript)
September 19, 2022
[00:00:00] Chris Duffy:
You're listening to How to Be a Better Human. And I am your host, Chris Duffy. When I was in college, I signed up for an intro to philosophy class. And at the end of the first lecture, the professor said, “If you feel happy and content in your life, if you don't want to question all of your values and assumptions and relationships, then this is not the class.”
And so, I walked outta that lecture hall and immediately dropped the class. I was like, “Questioning all of my values and assumptions and relationships? No, thank you. That does not sound fun at all. I would prefer to remain ignorant.” And so I did, I dropped it, and yet here I am years later, and I finally realized that understanding how and why we make decisions, particularly moral and ethical ones, well, it's kind of very important. Luckily for me, understanding the philosophical underpinnings behind our decisions doesn't have to be a dreary tear-inducing slog. And that is the quest we have today for the TV showrunner and writer, Mike Schur, to make confronting moral dilemmas funny and interesting.
Now you may know Mike Schur from his work on The Office, Parks and Rec, or The Good Place, but he's also the author of a new book, How To Be Perfect, which examines the history of moral philosophy and how we can apply it in our day to day lives. I'm an enormous fan of Mike's work. I love the fictional characters he's created and the jokes that he's written, but today we're gonna get even deeper than just his hit TV shows and his thoughts on comedy. We're gonna talk about his journey to understand morality. Here's a clip from Mike’s TED Talk:
[00:01:33] Mike Schur (recording):
If I told you that you were gonna be on jeopardy, how would you prepare? You would read some trivia books and flip through a World Atlas. If I told you that you were going to take a half-court shot at an NBA game, for the chance to win $50,000, how would you prepare? You would get a basketball. You would go to the YMCA you would practice hucking up half-court shots. Well, you're probably never going to be on Jeopardy. You are probably never going to take a half-court shot at an NBA game for a chance to win $50,000, but you will, I guarantee it, at some point become embroiled in a complicated, confusing, ugly, gut-wrenching, moral dilemma.
That is just a fact of life on earth. There will be a dilemma in which there is no clear rule to follow. There is only a kind of vague investigation and everything you do seems like it might be wrong. So how do you prepare for that?
[00:02:38] Chris Duffy:
We're gonna talk all about how to prepare for that and so much more in just a moment. But, first, prepare yourself for a quick ad. It's starting right now.
[00:02:50] Chris Duffy:
And we're back on today's episode, we're talking morality and ethics with Mike Schur.
[00:02:55] Mike Schur:
Hi, my name is Michael Schur. I'm a television writer and producer in Los Angeles. I am also the author of How To Be Perfect, my first book, which came out in January of 2022. And I've worked on TV shows like The Office, Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn 99, The Good Place, and Hacks.
[00:03:12] Chris Duffy:
You can relate, I imagine to something that probably none of our other guests have, which is working on a project called how to be a better human. You constantly have to give the disclaimer that you are not the better human from the project. And I imagine you have this to an even higher degree, which is you wrote a book called How To Be Perfect.
[00:03:29] Mike Schur:
Yeah, that, that was a huge fear of mine that, you know, the book is intended to be a journey through the history of moral philosophy and ethics. As I come to understand it from working on the show The Good Place and from just my own reading. And my single biggest fear was that anyone would think that I was seriously presenting myself as the exemplar of morality or ethical behavior.
So the, the book has a number of disclaimers in it at the beginning and all throughout and at the end that I am in no way, suggesting that I have actually figured this out, that the point of this book and the point of, I think life on earth is to be in continual search of answers to that question, not actually to achieve them, which is obviously no sort of reasonable goal for anyone.
[00:04:15] Chris Duffy:
It's one of the only books I've ever read where I took quotes and wrote down quotes, both from Kant and from the Insane Clown Possee to be like, “Wow, that's a quote I wanna remember.”
[00:04:26] Mike Schur:
My approach to this is that of a complete amateur. Like I, I knew nothing about the subject when I got interested in it. And as I learned, it was to just relate philosophy to things that I knew of already: music or novels or movies or whatever. Like I would read something and think like, “Oh, that reminds me of this thing in Cheers or Casino or whatever.” And I found that the more that I could put these sort of difficult ideas into a frame of reference that I understood, the more they stuck and the more that I tended to kind of engage with them.
And so that was a natural thing to do when writing the book was to say like, “Hey, if you're like me and you knew nothing about this stuff before you picked up this book, I'm going to help you with analogies and pop culture references and ways in which these ideas have leaked into the world that we do inhabit, which is the world of film and television and novels.” So it's a lot easier for me to come across an idea and then think like, “What does this remind me of? Oh, this kind of reminds me of Breaking Bad or whatever.” Like, then it tends to take hold instead of it remaining in the realm of the purely academic and theoretical.
[00:05:37] Chris Duffy:
Well, I'm curious actually, to get into how this all started for you, because at the beginning of your TED talk, you talk about how you've really been a rule follower for as long as you can remember, like all the way back to kindergarten. And yeah, I wonder where that comes from for you?
[00:05:52] Mike Schur:
I have no idea. I don't know, for me personally, where the rule-following thing came from, it just always was who I was. At the beginning of the TEDTalk, like you mentioned, I tell an anecdote, which is true, that I, one of my earliest memories of school is of a teacher telling me to line up everyone to line up, you know, to go inside. And I immediately did. And then I was deeply confused by the fact that everybody wasn't doing it right away. Like I looked around at the other kids and were like, “I don't understand this. What are you doing? Like she told you to line up, how could you not line up when the grown up tells you to line up?”
So it's, that's not something I learned. That's something that was innate. And I think that's a fascinating thing to learn about yourself as you get older is like, there are things that define who you are as an adult that were present in you when you were five years old and that were not the result of learned behavior or observation.
And then like, you know, if you extrapolate, then you say like, “Well, what kind of career does that person go into, a person who's a rule follower?” You might say, like “That person's gonna be like an accountant” or “that person's gonna be a, like an engineer”. But I had no interest in that. I, I’m, I've always been a creative person and I got interested in acting and writing and stuff like that.
How does that square? We're all a product of these bizarre influences that are genetic, that are environmental, that are—relate to our, our families and our friends and trying to untangle them is kind of impossible. I think it's just every one of us is this specific combination of inherited character traits and then also learned behavior from our environment
[00:07:34] Chris Duffy:
As someone who also comes from the world of comedy as a, a comedy writer and a comedian, I find that those duelling passions of “I want to figure out what the rules are” and then “I'm furious at the people who don't follow what I perceive the rules to be”, that drives so much of comedy. It drives so much of great jokes is like, that's the rule and how dare you not follow it. And also did you all realize this is a rule? People don't necessarily realize that.
[00:07:58] Mike Schur:
Larry David has made a career out of getting annoyed and bristling at people who don’t do things that I think he thinks you're supposed to do, whether it's like how you park your car or how you wait in line at a deli or whatever. Like all of, not all of, but most of Curb Your Enthusiasm and a great deal of Seinfeld is just people getting angry at people who break those little rules of propriety, because comedy's also about anarchy at some level, right?
It's about like, it's about picking apart and destroying rules and norms and everything else. Then, then the final piece of the puzzle is that what is wonderful about comedy writing as a discipline is you learn all these rules about story structure and joke structure and all that sort of stuff. And then the joy is figuring out ways to subvert them or break them.
[00:08:47] Mike Schur:
So it's almost like you have to learn the rules of the discipline before you can then be experimental and sort of try to break the form. So, you know, it's a big, messy soup. There's no like one path through. About my own life, I do sometimes kind of marvel at the weird way that I arrived at my job, which is not, I don't know if it's more or less typical than anyone else, but it's just…
I guess anyone who ends up being a professional comedy writer has a weird story, right? Like it's not, it's not a normal job. There's no obvious way to get into it. So, I just enjoy kind of trying to unpack it and trying to like trace my steps backwards to figure out how it all started.
[00:09:24] Chris Duffy:
Yeah. And you actually have, there's a whole long sequence in the book where you just lay out all of the luck that it took for you to get to the position you're in, in relation to ethics and philosophy. I think we don't often think about luck and the person's privilege or setting that they were born into as being related to making ethical choices. But you make a very compelling case that it is.
[00:09:44] Mike Schur:
Yeah. Luck is the thing I have thought about my whole life. In fact, when I got married, my, my speech at my own wedding was about the kind of like, uh, daily musing that I did about how lucky I had been to get to this point in my life, as it related to meeting my wife and all of this, the weird steps that we had gone through that led to this point. So I've been thinking about it forever.
And then I read a book by a social psychologist or a social analyst—I don't know what you would call him—named Robert Frank, who teaches, I think at Cornell. And he had this really interesting story. His story was that he was playing tennis with a friend and had an enormous, massive heart attack. In fact, a kind of cardiac event that he suffered from the actual medical term for it is sudden cardiac death, which is like the scariest thing I've ever heard of life.
[00:10:39] Chris Duffy:
That's not what you wanna hear a doctor say ever.
[00:10:40] Mike Schur:
No. Like you could make a list of things you'd like to suffer from. That would be toward the bottom. Right? It's a thing that's I think 98 or 99% fatal. And as it happened on that day, the nearest ambulance in a normal day, would've been like 20 minutes away.
But two ambulances had both reported to the site of a car crash that was, like, a minute away. So when they, his friend called 9211, one of those ambulances was able to get to where he was in one minute, instead of 15 or 20, they resuscitated him, and he survived, and he had this incredibly lovely observation upon recovery, which was that essentially from that point on every single thing that happened to him was due to luck. Because if he hadn't gotten lucky in that very specific, way then there were no more moments of any kind in his life. He was gone.
And that led him to hypothesize that the average person greatly underestimates the degree to which luck has played a role in their lives. And it really crystallized this thing that I had been thinking about for a long time. And so I decided as an exercise for myself to go back and kind of trace the steps that had led to me having the career that I have now. And what I found unsurprisingly is it's 50 incredibly lucky things.
[00:12:01] Mike Schur:
Acknowledging that luck is a factor in everyone's life doesn't take away from you. Part of his hypothesis is that the reason that people underestimate the role that luck plays in their lives is because what it seems to do when you do that is suggest that you don't deserve what you have. And his point is no, you still deserve it. Like if you work hard at what you do, and you have a lot of talent and ability and, and a work ethic, you can still absolutely state for the record that you deserve your success. And you also got really lucky because no one who has to achieved success in history has ever been absent, has worked outside the role of luck, right?
So like Bill Gates, for example, is a genius and a visionary and all of those things. And he's, you know, the, one of the richest people in the world and he deserves all of what he has. And he got really lucky. He happened to, to have a high school, I think, that had one of the first computer labs in the country.
[00:13:01] Mike Schur:
And he went to Harvard, which had just instituted a computer lab at Harvard when he got there. And he met certain people along the way who helped him. And there were other people who were about to do business deals, but then didn’t for some reason, which allowed him to do a business deal. All successful people and all people, all non-successful people have benefited or suffered from luck to one degree or another in their careers.
And it's okay to acknowledge that once you really start thinking of your life as a series of steps that include your decision-making, your work ethic, your acumen, all that stuff, and random rolls of the dice from people you have no control over. That's what gives you the whole picture of how you get to where you are.
[00:13:49] Chris Duffy:
Okay. We're gonna take a quick break, but we will be back with more from Mike in just a moment.
[00:14:04] Chris Duffy:
And we're back with TV writer and author of the book, How To Be Perfect, Mike Schur. Here's another clip for his TED Talk.
[00:14:11] Mike Schur:
I have been a television comedy writer for almost 25 years. I have written sketches and animated shows and sitcoms, but for the last decade, my real passion has been the study of ethics. It's a classic cautionary tale, right? You move to Hollywood, you get seduced by the bright lights and the fast cars. And before you know it, you’re reading 18th-century German philosophy.
[00:14:36] Chris Duffy:
We've already been talking about your career as a, as a TV writer and comedy person in the midst of this, you have, uh, a moment that kind of starts you on the path of considering ethics and moral philosophy.
[00:14:49] Mike Schur:
I had just moved out to LA. It’s 2005. My wife gets into a, a fender bender, not even a fender bender, a fender barely-contact-er with a guy in going about one mile an hour. A cop looks everything over, doesn't see any damage. They exchange numbers and go on their way. Then the guy contacts us and says that the entire fender needs to be replaced, ‘cause there's a crease on it.
And he asks for $836. So this is during Hurricane Katrina, and my wife and I had just been to New Orleans on a trip and had a great time. And we were horrified about the city maybe being lost forever. I just was sort of uncharacteristically riled up. I went and looked at the guy's car and if you strained really hard and got very close, you could just see this really thin little line on his bumper.
So I told him that, I thought this was ridiculous, that how… don't replace this entire, you can't even see it. What are you doing? And he was sort of dug in his heels and was like, “You did damage to my car. And I want this fender to be replaced and it has to be replaced entirely.”
[00:15:53] Mike Schur:
I don't know where this came from. I just said like, how about this? “I'll donate $836 to the Hurricane Katrina relief fund in your name if you agree to just let this go.” And he was like, “I don't know, I'll think it over.” So I went back to work. I was at the show, The Office, at the time, and I just told everybody I worked with, you know, what happened, and then they were also annoyed on my behalf and they started pledging more and more money. Tell this guy we'll donate, you know, $3,000. If he doesn't get his car fixed, 5,000. It went, it's the first thing I've I was ever aware of that kind of went viral in the way that people talk about things going viral.
I, and I started a blog and I solicited donations and it exploded. And this whole time the guy has no idea this is happening. He's entirely in the dark. And I started getting media requests and I started, like, getting all of this attention and suddenly, because of that, my wife and I were talking about everything that was going on.
And at the same exact moment, we both kind of felt like, “Oh no, this is bad.” And we didn't know why. We couldn't put a name to it. Or we had no sort of scaffolding or structure to explain to each other why this was bad. We just felt like it was bad. And for lack of a, any other better idea, I was like, “I think this is a, like a ethics problem.”
[00:17:12] Mike Schur:
And I started reading ethics and I cold-called or emailed a bunch of moral philosophers all over the country and said, “I have this weird problem. Can I talk this out with you?” And I ended up talking to a bunch of them and learned the basics of all of these theories that I ended up writing about in the book and exploring on The Good Place.
And at the end of the day, like I realized I had a name now for why what I was doing wasn't ethical, and I called the guy back. And I was like, “I cut you a check. It’s in the mail.” He said he might donate some of it to the Red Cross. And I said, “That's great. You're under no obligation to do that. But if you do, that's wonderful.” And that was the sort of origin story of how I got interested in the whole subject.
[00:17:54] Chris Duffy:
And there's a bunch of those in the book that you talk about, and obviously, The Good Place is full of like every episode has people examining all sorts of times where they’re like “Something's wrong”, but they can't quite figure out why.
[00:18:04] Mike Schur:
Yeah. That's what was sticky about it to me is… it was two things. The first was man, stuff like this happens all the time, right? Like maybe not this exactly, but situations in which you encounter another person, you have some kind of minor disagreement or difference of opinion. If it's the case that this event can cause this kind of moral dilemma, ethical dilemma, then it must be the case that all of these other things are also creating those ethical dilemmas in a way in which I haven't really examined.
And that suddenly started to seem intolerable to me. It started to seem for lack of a better word uncool to allow these dilemmas or these go unexamined. But the more important part of it, I think for me was I was so sure that I was right. I was so a hundred percent confident in my own position at the beginning of it unfolding that it was outrageous that he cared this much about this tiny little mark on his car. That $836 was an unreasonable amount of money to ask for. That the car company was acting unethically. That the entire insurance market was, was behaving unethically by demanding that much money. That the priorities of all of humanity were way out of whack if we could care this much about a fender that had a crease on it versus the, an entire city being lost forever.
[00:19:33] Mike Schur:
And then in a flash, I became 100% sure that I was wrong. It, it's a very disconcerting and sort of disorienting thing to have happened to you to believe so deeply in something. And then to have your entire world inverted, like in an. A lot of my burgeoning interest and ethics at the time was self-interested.
I'm still gonna be wrong about a bunch of stuff in my life. Like, I'll be wrong tomorrow. I was wrong yesterday. I'll be wrong next week. But at least I want to have some kind of structure that it helps me come to the conclusion in the first place and helps me reorient my conclusions if I get to the point where I feel like I'm actually wrong.
If we are indeed confronted with, with ethical decision-making every day of our lives, which I believe we are, then I felt like I owed it to myself and to everyone I share the earth with, to have some kind of basic understanding of ethics so that I didn't just go around like loudly wrong all the time without knowing why I don't wanna feel as embarrassed as I currently feel about how stupid I was. You know, like that was as much the impetus to learn as anything else.
[00:20:49] Chris Duffy:
I wonder what are questions that you would recommend that people listening to this ask themselves when they encounter, uh, that weird feeling or a type of moral or ethical dilemma.
[00:21:00] Mike Schur:
Oh, there's a lot. I mean, the major philosophers that I have read about, and then I wrote about in both the show and the book all ask different, but related questions. I would say the questions are in their most basic essence are “What should I do?” And “Why?”
Or, in the case of someone like Aristotle, it's “What kind of person should I be?” And I think that one barrier that people encounter that prohibits them from really spending the time and energy and resources to investigate their decision making… The most common barrier I would say is that people think like, well, “What does it matter?”
Like, should I leave the water running while I brush my teeth? It makes it slightly more easy to leave the water running because then you don't have to turn the water on and off every time you finish rushing and spit and whatever. And then there are people that say like, “Yeah, but we're in a drought, at least in California, in the Southwest and in many parts of the country. And so like, turn your water off.”
[00:22:00] Mike Schur:
And a thing that people will say all the time about small things like that, small decisions, is: “What difference does it make if I do this little thing? It’s not gonna actually fix the problem.” The question that Aristotle asks is my favorite question. What kind of person should I be?
Do you wanna be a person who cares about the drought and the environment and the city that you live in and the state that you live in, or do you not wanna be that kind of person? And if you wanna be that kind of person, then turn the water off. And regardless of whether your action will fix the problem or not, which it probably won’t. It’s very rare that any individual action fixes any kind of large-scale problem. That’s not the right question to ask.
The question to ask is, do you wanna be the kind of person who, when you go to sleep at night thinks “I, I was a conscientious person who thought about other people and thought the fact that there's a drought and cares about the fact that there's a drought and has a certain amount of concern for and respect for the other people who live around me, or do I not wanna be that kind of person?”
And if you wanna be that kind of person, then do those small things. When you just pose that question, actions one way or the other become for me, at least a lot more clear in terms of what's right and what’s wrong.
[00:23:17] Chris Duffy:
I think that we're hitting on one of the things that is the hardest for me about philosophy, moral philosophy, is that sometimes these questions, it does seem like, well, the problem is not an individual problem. It's a systemic problem. So we need to change the whole big picture.
And then other times it doesn't seem like it's systemic. It just seems like there's no clear answer as to what the right and moral thing is. And so you can get stuck in, you know, you literally created a character in The Good Place that’s constantly—Chidi is constantly stuck in the question of “Is this right or wrong?”
And I think a lot of people, as a result, get turned off by moral philosophy and are like, “I just don't wanna play this game.” So for someone who's listening, I wonder what are, like, three practical ways you can put ethics into your life or put moral philosophy into your life?
[00:24:01] Mike Schur:
Well, the first one is to simply care one way or the other about it as a discipline. And that doesn't mean go to the library, check out, you know, an enormous tone that covers, you know, the entire history of thought and memorize it.
It just means as you go through life on day to day basis, when you encounter one of these little problems, whether it's, uh, unimportant or important, just take a second to acknowledge and recognize the fact that it has an ethical component to it that needs to be untangled and adjudicated by your internal ethical mechanism. Just say like, “Okay, hang on. This is an ethical problem. What's the right thing to do? What's the wrong thing to do?” Try to think of what the right answer is and try to get as close as you can to the right answer.
The second thing that you can do is you can pretty easily read a book about the differences in the ethical theories that have been presented to us over the last 2,500 years. Mine is pretty easy to read. I think the audiobook is about nine hours, and it's got a lot of famous actors in it. You can hear Ted Danson talk to you. That's always fun.
[00:25:14] Mike Schur:
But there's plenty of other ones. Michael Sandel, who’s a Harvard professor, wrote a book called Justice where he covers much of the same ground that I covered. There are dozens and dozens of books like this, that will give you a pretty simple, straightforward overview of the different structures or theories that, that different philosophers have suggested. And find one that you identify with or that you think makes sense and then try to follow it.
And I mean, a third way to do it, I would say, is be more solicitous of friends and loved ones’ opinions about things. Like there are people in everyone's life who you respect and admire and think are smart or street smart or both, or just have a good moral compass or seem to have a life that is generally an ethical life.
Talk to them about whatever the problem is, right? Like if you take a second to question what you're doing before you do it, you will very likely save yourself an enormous amount of pain and anguish and embarrassment and suffering. If you just talk it out and tease out the problem and kind of analyze it out loud there, the chances for success are much greater. And all I mean by success is that you come up with an idea, a reasonable idea, a levelheaded idea of what to do before you do it. Instead of blindly stumbling into a situation that you haven't thought through.
[00:26:38] Chris Duffy:
One of the other places that you identified in the book is where you kind of have this feeling of like, “Ugh, I'm participating in something that's not right, but I'm participating in a small way.”
So like, this is an actual true example for my own life, which is, I won't say the bank's name, but at one point several years ago, I read an investigative report that pretty conclusively to me proved that the bank where I had my main account was laundering money for literal terrorists. And so I called up, and I said “I'm going to cancel the account”, and this very nice person on the phone helped me through it.
And then they said, “And why are you canceling the account?” And I said, “Because you fund terrorism.” And they said, “That is not an option on my list of dropdown menus. Can I say it's because the fees are too high?” And I said, “No, it's not fees. It's not an acceptable substitute for funding terrorism.” Obviously, there's something funny about just her trying to find a dropdown menu that says we fund terrorism, which they don't have.
But I think there's also a piece there of like, “I'm trying to do something right”. But it mattered so much to me that they also knew. Partly maybe because it's like a protest, but I also wanted to feel like righteous in that moment. And I think you get into that in a lot of the chapters of the book of like, sometimes we wanna do things because it's the right thing to do, and sometimes we wanna do things because people see us doing it.
[00:27:54] Mike Schur:
This is a real tricky one, right? Because nothing wrinkles me more than, like, performative behavior. I really don't like it when people are showy about the things that they're doing, when they stand up and put a spotlight on themselves and say, “I'm doing this for this reason, because this is the wrong blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
Like it's a real turn-off to me. And yet there is also an argument to be made that says if you find out that your bank is openly laundering money for terrorists and you change your bank and you cancel your account. There is a real argument to be made that says, “Hey, go on Twitter or Instagram or whatever megaphone you have at your disposal and say, ‘Hey, anyone who's money is at this bank. I just want you to know they're laundering money for terrorists.’ And I canceled my account and you should too.” There's no good reason to stay quiet about it. Like that's an incredibly harmful thing that bank is doing and it mattered a great deal to you. And there's nothing wrong with you saying to anyone who will listen.
[00:29:05] Mike Schur:
So there's a really fine line between performative ethics and just good positive reinforcement of good ethical behavior in a public setting. And I don't know where that line… I don't think anybody knows where that line is. And I think that different people would draw it in different places, very reasonably.
But I do find that there is a, an incredibly common scenario that emerges in all of our lives is especially now you find out a certain fast food restaurant is treating its employees badly. And you say, well, “I'm not gonna eat at that restaurant anymore.” Or you find out that a, a sports team’s, owner who you follow is, has been sexually harassing his employees for 30 years.
And you think, “Well, I don't know if I'm gonna root for that sports team anymore.” Like, we all have to decide for ourselves what we're going to do and when and why, and for what reasons. And then we have to decide whether we should do so in a public forum or in a private forum. In some cases, it's gonna be the case where you're just like, I can't do this anymore. I'm not gonna support this team or whatever. And you just keep it to yourself or you talk about it with your friends.
[00:30:16] Mike Schur:
And in some cases, if you are a person who has influence, or if you are a person who has any kind of network of people that you, that share a similar passion for the team or the actor or the institution, or the fast food restaurant, I think it's often the right thing to do to say, “Hey listen, just so everyone knows I'm doing this. And for this reasons, and I encourage you all to do the same, because I think this is the right thing to do.” There's no one playbook to run here. It is a specific scenario each and every time that we all have to kind of navigate for ourselves.
But I, I do applaud people when they make a stand like that. Oftentimes in these situations, I think a lot of people might be willing. But they're a little bit nervous about like, “Is this okay, should I do this? Should I not do this?” And sometimes when other people announce that they're doing it publicly, then it makes it easier for those people to make the same decision.
[00:31:09] Chris Duffy:
Obviously the main part of your career has been working in television, and you've worked on all these shows that kind of pretty explicitly deal with questions about what does it mean to be good, to be a good leader, to take care of other people. And you're also in this real position of power where you can give people a job that can change their lives.
You are in charge of millions of dollars of budget. You, I assume, have had to fire people. And, and also I ask this coming from the place of you have a reputation as one of the best bosses and one of the, like most thoughtful people in Hollywood around this. So I wonder, how do you like look at those questions on-screen in a fictional comical way and then also think about how you put them practically into the day to day of essentially running a, a small to medium size business?
[00:31:53] Mike Schur:
Well, first of all, thank you for saying that. That's nice to hear. These are the things and questions that I care about. I care about the way that people behave and treat other people.
I aim to treat people well, respectfully, and conscientiously in every phase of my life. I fail at that sometimes, as everyone does. And when I fail at it, I feel terrible, but there's a way in which the issues that I'm concerned with in my regular normal life and the issues that I'm concerned with in my professional writing life are no different.
[00:32:29] Mike Schur:
And I'm trying to make the characters that I write about or create or co-create with other people care about those same things one way or the other. And that doesn't mean that every single character and every single show that I've ever worked on has the same set of beliefs or the same approach to life.
I think that would get very boring and probably repetitive and probably preachy. I tend to like comedies where people are respectful of each other more than comedies where people are cutting and negative and, um, cruel. And that's not to say that I've never enjoyed cruel comedies. Like there are certainly, there are comedy shows, like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is something I think about all the time. ‘Cause the characters in It’s Always Sunny are monsters. They're just nightmare people who are vain and shallow and sarcastic and borderline psychopaths. And it's one of the funniest TV shows that's ever been made. And I love it.
[00:33:27] Mike Schur:
It’s not the case that, that you have no ability to access the other mindset or something. My love of comedy came from what I have loosely classified as “suburban boredom”, which is the, a class of comedian that I would include like Monty Python as like a classic example. It's a lot of like silliness and goofiness where everybody has crazy names and there's a lot just like, it's very, it's gentle. It's not cutting or incisive in its investigation of the human condition. It's more silly than anything else.
So I think that was my origin story. And then over time, I have taken subject matters that I care about, like the role of government in people's lives or the ways in which marginalized groups of people have tended to be ignored or overlooked or whatever, and I have merged those two things with the help of other people, who-who are coming at things from a different angle. And that what ends up happening is like an ensemble show that has a message behind it, or a, or a theme or an idea, but where the comedy itself tends to be sort of friendly. It's the result of like who I am, what I care about, and the people that I tend to work with.
[00:34:37] Chris Duffy:
Well, Mike Schur, thank you. It has been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much.
[00:34:41] Mike Schur:
My pleasure. I'm happy always to have conversations about how we can be better humans.
[00:34:51] Chris Duffy:
That is our show for today. Thank you so much for listening to How To Be a Better Human. I'm your host, Chris Duffy, and a big, big, big, thank you to today's guest Mike Schur. His book is called How To Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question.
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