ReThinking with Adam Grant
Jim Gaffigan on how comedy leaves an aftertaste
August 8, 2023
[00:00:00] Adam Grant:
Hey everyone, it's Adam Grant. Welcome back to ReThinking, my podcast on the science of what makes us tick. I'm an organizational psychologist, and I'm taking you inside the minds of fascinating people to explore new thoughts and new ways of thinking.
My guest today is comedian and actor Jim Gaffigan. I've seen all 10 of his standup specials, gone to see him perform live, and laughed so hard I could hardly breathe. If you haven't seen his Hot Pockets routine, it's my favorite. Jim has racked up numerous Grammy nominations and won an Emmy for his commentary on CBS Sunday Morning.
He's doing a tour with Jerry Seinfeld this fall, and in the meantime, he has a new comedy special out on Amazon Prime: Dark Pale.
[00:00:46] Jim Gaffigan:
Sometimes when people find out I have five kids, they think I'm good at parenting. Which is kind of like assuming people with lots of cats are not crazy. I have no idea what I'm doing, and there's no learning curve.
It's not like when you learn from one child you can apply to another one 'cause kids are annoying. They're like individual humans with their own interests. I encounter this constantly. I'm like, “All right, you wanna play basketball, you want to do parkour and you wanna do karate? Well, you're all doing basketball. Because this guy's only making one trip, and if you don't like it, you can blame your brother, whatever his name is.”
[00:01:30] Adam Grant:
I couldn't wait to talk to Jim about the psychology of comedy.
There is a rumor on the internet that you slept on the job so much, uh, pre—your comedy career that you had to be woken up to get fired.
[00:01:45] Jim Gaffigan:
I did. I did have to be, uh, woken up to be fired. And the greatest, I think the greatest irony outside of the fact that, uh, my boss, she had to wake me up and say, “Jim, we gotta let you go,” is that a friend of mine, Dave Attell, had that as a joke before it even happened, so I couldn't, I can't even claim that as a joke because someone had already done it.
[00:02:13] Adam Grant:
That's amazing. What happened? Like, did somebody literally just tap you on their shoulder and be like, “Jim, wake up, you're fired”?
[00:02:19] Jim Gaffigan:
It was, well, I worked in advertising. I was a copywriter, and often what happens, I don't know what advertising is like now, but during that time when the agency would lose an account, they would kind of trim the fat and I was lucky 'cause I was never on an account that had been lost. But I used to nap at lunch. And I was asleep at lunch, and my boss, she had to wake me up and say, “You're part of the n-new round of cuts.” Other people would've probably quit. But I wanted to hold on to the health insurance.
[00:03:02] Adam Grant:
Well, that, that I think goes to, I guess, a little bit of your upbringing. Upbringing. So I know your dad was a bank CEO. Uh, security was a big deal in your family.
[00:03:12] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:03:12] Adam Grant:
And yet you embarked on this extraordinary risk of choosing a career that Jerry Seinfeld famous-famously said is not even a job.
[00:03:20] Jim Gaffigan:
Yeah. It is. I grew up in a small town in Indiana. My dad worked at a bank that had a couple things, but he was the president of the bank, and he was the first one to go to college. I didn't know anyone in the entertainment industry. It was, you know, seeking security. Which was wearing a coat and tie was the most practical thing you could do. I think that my family had been in the country for maybe a hundred years. We had finally made it into the middle class, so it was not realistic to pursue anything that didn't involve wearing a coat and tie. Even when I switched to advertising, my, my dad was like, “I don't know. There's a lot of risk in that.” And of course, once the financial crisis happened, all my siblings that worked in, uh, banking got laid off. And, you know, comedy’s kind of recession-proof in some ways.
[00:04:23] Adam Grant:
So I'm curious about where you found the courage to, to choose this non-conforming path. A while back I was reading some evidence on birth order, and as you do when you're a psychologist and you like gathering data, I started looking at different careers, and I found that on Comedy Central's list of the greatest comedians ever, there were more than twice as many last borns as firstborns.
[00:04:47] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:04:47] Adam Grant:
And they were especially likely to come from large families.
[00:04:50] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:04:51] Adam Grant:
And you are last born from a large family.
[00:04:53] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:04:54] Adam Grant:
What is going on here?
[00:04:54] Jim Gaffigan:
Uh, I think that's interesting. There is something about the youngest kind of being a mascot. There is something also about, in larger families, a certain fatigue and the, the parental skillset has improved dramatically. So the reactionary kind of parenting style is probably adjusted.
But I think for me, the most dramatic impact in my life was probably the death of my mother when I was in my early twenties, and I think I was a very compliant kid that people told me to do this, people told me to do that, and I would do it. And then with the passing of my mother, it was, oh, this is, uh, I started questioning things.
[00:05:45] Adam Grant:
What was it about losing your mother that, that led you there? Was it “life is too short to waste my time on this”?
[00:05:52] Jim Gaffigan:
Yeah, and I think the injustice of things are not fair and, and there is some “life is too short” but also I was raised to bel—you know, you work in a job for 20 years, and then you play golf for five and that's a great deal. I was lucky enough, my parents paid for my college, but they kind of steered me away from things that I was interested in. Like I remember I wanted to study, uh, sociology and I wanted to study psychology and, and they were like, “No, don't do that.” So I think I, I was a slow, not a late bloomer, but I was kind of slow to get my own point of view on things.
[00:06:39] Adam Grant:
So tell me, tell me a little bit about your, your early days in comedy.
[00:06:42] Jim Gaffigan:
When I started in standup in the early nineties, there wasn't the education, where the common knowledge surrounding standup or how it should be consumed. It was you either saw a standup on The Tonight Show or in a nightclub. Essentially, standup was much more of combat. People were culturally kind of confused by it. People that did standup were usually far more eccentric.
Standup is now much more of a middle-class occupation. Now, standup is something that people consume regularly. And you know, with YouTube and satellite radio, and you know, Comedy Central is not as big as it used to be, but you know, people could sit at home and just consume standup comedy and get an education on it. And so, a 13-year-old today knows more about standup than a 40-year-old did in 1993. And so starting off, it was… New York City was a bit of a different place. So when I walked on stage, I looked like John Tesh. Some of this is also my insecurities, but I was this guy who always wanted to get out of the Midwest.
And then when I got to New York, I realized how truly white bread I, I am. So the early nineties standup scene was, I don't know, it was combat. And you can see it in comedians of that era that are, you know, there's a greater importance on the substance of the material. It's more substance than style.
[00:08:26] Adam Grant:
So you described it as combative. Uh, what did the early hecklers look like?
[00:08:30] Jim Gaffigan:
Oh my gosh. I think I went on stage and I came across as slow and weak, so people would interject. I came to the realization that I had to just keep talking. And so what I would do is I would speak for the audience and kinda like, “Oh, that's weird. You know?” And some of it is I would kind of heckle myself, and that's something I had done as a teenager.
If I had shown up late to a, you know, a meeting, I would, or, you know, or to meet someone, I would just speak for them, and it would kind of disarm the situation. But, so the inside voice was an effective tool for me to keep talking and also for me to disarm an expectation in the audience. And even if it was a, a paranoid view of mine that an audience member wouldn't have, I was giving voice to it, and hopefully it was providing some humor.
[00:09:30] Adam Grant:
Wait a minute, you started doing this, making excuses as a teenager?
[00:09:33] Jim Gaffigan:
I was always aware that speaking for other people, not assuming what they would think, but if you're late to meet someone, if you, you can either say, “I'm sorry I'm late,” or you can speak for them and be like, “I can't believe you're late.” You know what I mean? It's like, “I'm treating you to lunch and you're late.” And so if you articulate that, uh, it can disarm how that person perceives the situation. It's, it's kind of a step beyond an apology and an acknowledgment that you've done something wrong.
[00:10:13] Adam Grant:
So the next time I'm late to a meeting, I should just walk in and say, “What a jerk. He’s late.”
[00:10:15] Jim Gaffigan:
Yes. Yes. I can't believe that. Yeah. There is something, I think there is something strangely empowering about that, and you know, I guess people just want to be, people wanna be understood. That's why I think standup is so interesting because often when an audience turns on a comedian, it’s, it’s not just that they're not funny, it's that the audience feels misunderstood.
So when they don't understand what they're saying, the, I think the audience might even leap to like, “Are, are, are you saying we're too dumb to understand this?” So like it's, it's miscommunication to the point where it can turn into a hostility.
[00:11:07] Adam Grant:
It’s a really interesting take on self-awareness to say that.
[00:11:10] Jim Gaffigan:
I think so.
[00:11:11] Adam Grant:
Yeah. If I, if I can speak for you and show you that I've an—I’ve anticipated what you're thinking and feeling, then it's more meaningful than me just telling you how I feel about what I've done.
[00:11:22] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:11:23] Adam Grant:
I love that. It reminds me a little bit of, of something Danny Meyer said to me a long time ago. He said, “The most important lesson I've learned in my life is that your interactions are like you're driving a boat and you're leaving a wake behind you, and most of the time you can't see it 'cause you're not looking in your rearview mirror, and you've gotta be aware of your wake.”
[00:11:40] Jim Gaffigan:
Yeah, I mean, I've been doing standup for 30 years and that's not to say that I always follow this, but I believe that comedy has an aftertaste, and people never think about this. The reality is is that we can laugh at things that surprise us. We all have that friend that's kind of bitchy and mean that we might laugh at what they say, but afterwards, we might feel guilty.
It's not about it's inappropriate. It's kind of like, “That was a little bit the wrong thing to laugh at.” How someone feels about what they're laughing about is pretty important. People love put-down humor. People love kind of “us and them” stuff, but it's not the best aftertaste. It's kind of like eating McDonald's. It's like it tastes good, but afterwards, you're like, “Why'd I do that?”
[00:12:36] Adam Grant:
What would a, a Jim Gaffigan conversation be without a McDonald's reference?
[00:12:40] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:12:40] Adam Grant:
You’re really speaking to something that I've, I've thought a lot about when teaching leadership, which is a lot of leaders learn that they can command a room's attention and also engage people with humor, but it often sort of ends up excluding someone or offending someone. And so I've, from time to time, I've told my students that if there's a cardinal rule of humor at work, it's that you should make fun of yourself, not other people.
[00:13:05] Jim Gaffigan:
There is something really interesting. 'cause you know, you and I, we both do these corporate events, right? And they're different from a show. Uh, they're different from when you're touring with your books. They serve a different master, right? The, the whole thing is, is this corporation wants to provide insight entertainment, but they also don't want to alienate anyone. But I also feel as though it's easier for you and I to say things in a corporate setting than someone that's, well, “I'm gonna go into a review with this.” You know, “She's going to review me, so I'm not gonna piss her off. But I'm glad that this guy is pointing out this thing.” So there is a fine balance of where I think they do seek some irreverence, but they, or some questioning, but they also don't want you to burn down the house.
[00:14:05] Adam Grant:
Yeah, I think, I think that's exactly right. As, as an outsider, it's safe to poke fun at the people in power because you actually have no power.
[00:14:13] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:14:13] Adam Grant:
Like you're, you're, you're gonna leave today and you're not gonna influence anything that happens in the organization, but if you're the boss, a lot more dangerous.
[00:14:20] Jim Gaffigan:
Yeah. Yeah. I think at corporate events, It is such a unique thing in that it is not, obviously it's the real world, but it's from like a writer's perspective, it is not a true sampling, so I can't give it too much weight.
Whereas like if I try a joke at a comedy club in New York City, that is a true sampling. Five outta six are amazing. And then the sixth one, I won't get the reaction that I think I should get, and then I'll get off stage and they'll be like, “That was great.” And I'm like, “All right.” Um, but I've been doing it long enough to know that, yeah, that's what they wanted. And it's not about me. It's not even about my writing process. I don't know if they stayed up late last night. I don't know if they're realizing that they're not gonna make their quarterly earnings, and they're kind of in a business setting. And so, I would not give it too much weight because there's too many variables that can, I don't wanna say poison the well, but stack it against you.
Whereas I think the most important thing is I'm always touring and, and so when people come to a show at a theater that I'm performing in, my goal is to make sure that when they leave, they're like, “That was good. I'm open to, to the idea of coming back and seeing him in 18 months.” That's, that's what I wanna accomplish because I also think that with people, it's the value of their time more than even money.
[00:16:09] Adam Grant:
You’re making me rethink, think something, which supposedly I look forward to. I claim to really enjoy rethinking things.
[00:16:15] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:16:16] Adam Grant:
I, one, one of the things I've always appreciated about audience humor, unlike other emotions, is that it's so objective and clear.
[00:16:22] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:16:22] Adam Grant:
Like you, you don't know usually when you've changed somebody's mind or when you've inspired them, but you know when you made them laugh.
[00:16:31] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:16:32] Adam Grant:
And yet as you say this, and you say your goal is that you know that people enjoyed the experience, and they would see you again, you're reminding me that sometimes, like, I don't hear the audible laughter, but people will write like, oh, like, “I thought that was funny,” or “That was entertaining,” and for whatever reason they didn't express it. So do you even have to discount the laugh as a signal of success?
[00:16:51] Jim Gaffigan:
The best compliment is like, “I had a hard time breathing.” You know what I mean? But, there is something about the aftertaste of the experience, right? Like are they laughing? Do they feel a sense of community? And this is gonna sound insane, is that it's, there are different types of laughter.
With comedians, it’s like, some of it is the editing. You have to hear what they're laughing at and why they're laughing. So like, there's so many levels of sarcasm at play. You don't want them laughing at something, and their takeaway is an endorsement of misogyny. You know what I mean? You, you want them to get the right understanding.
You know, like for me, if I'm complaining about my kids, I don't want people walking out of there thinking, “This guy hates his kids.” What I want them to think is like, “This guy's in the shit with his kids. So am I. I'm not the only one dealing with this crisis of parenting, which is pretty universal, and maybe I don't have his viewpoint on it, but at least he, he acknowledges something that I'm going through.”
Every comedian has that thing where they're like, “Oh, that's the wrong laugh.” And, and it's usually a misinterpretation of what you're trying to communicate, and you're like, “No, no, no. I'm not trying to say that.” You know what I mean? I'm not trying to be bigoted or, you know, hateful. That's just, you know, it's part of the editing process.
[00:18:38] Adam Grant:
Are you ready for a lightning round?
[00:18:39] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:18:40] Adam Grant:
Okay, here we go. Do you have a favorite comedian?
[00:18:42] Jim Gaffigan:
I would say Jonathan Winters. Dave Attell’s an amazing comedian, Brian Regan is amazing, and I also think Nate Bargatze is a great comedian. Uh, Margaret Cho is a great comedian, like seeing her live, and I opened for her, you know, many times. It's like she's really talented.
[00:19:06] Adam Grant:
What's your best advice for boring humorless people to be funnier?
[00:19:10] Jim Gaffigan:
Uh, seeing live comedy is really important 'cause there's, you can't replicate and something is lost when it's put on TV or you even watch it on Amazon. I think a comedy club environment or in a theater is pretty special, and I think we, not everyone's done that.
[00:19:31] Adam Grant:
What’s the worst advice you've ever gotten?
[00:19:33] Jim Gaffigan:
When I released my first album, uh, someone was like, you know, you might wanna add some curse words 'cause people in their twenties wanna hear some irreverence. And I think I added some, so.
[00:19:46] Adam Grant:
And you regret that?
[00:19:48] Jim Gaffigan:
No, it's just, well, authenticity is pretty important, and it's an ongoing process of discovering who you are and stuff like that. But, and, at that time I had some curse words, but like, it was just kind of like a cheap and easy thing. Like I think kind of working on your authenticity is always a good idea.
[00:20:10] Adam Grant:
What is something you've rethought in the last year or two?
[00:20:14] Jim Gaffigan:
Oh wow. I would say that I, I'm constantly reevaluating the balance of work and family. It's, I would say, every three months I have to do that because I have to plan so far in advance and I try to plan, construct it around a balance, but inevitably, I get it wrong. I have to, you know, for my mental well-being, I need to have creative fulfillment. So there is that balance. But you know, I'm an actor and a comedian, so sometimes acting things come up that thankfully my wife understands that, uh, she's an actor too, so she understands that you have an opportunity to play Smee in Peter Pan, that you don't turn it down.
[00:21:09] Adam Grant:
Speaking of your wife, Jeannie.
[00:21:10] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:21:10] Adam Grant:
What have you learned from working with her? I imagine there's some marriage lessons that come outta that experience.
[00:21:15] Jim Gaffigan:
You know, when I talk about being lazy in my act, it's often in comparison to her, right? 'cause she is so truly tireless. There's so many things I learned from my wife.
I mean, I learn patience. I learn forgiveness. I learn a guilt trip. You know, it's, it's ongoing. You know what I mean? We've been married for 20 years, so we both have a Ph.D. in each other, and I also know, I mean, it's weird. I, I am constantly learning how to communicate with her in a, an effective way, and then I'm relearning it.
[00:21:53] Adam Grant:
That was, uh, the least lightning answer for the lightning round.
[00:21:57] Jim Gaffigan:
Sorry, sorry, sorry.
[00:21:58] Adam Grant:
You’re fired again. Let me wake you up.
[00:22:01] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:22:01] Adam Grant:
What’s a question you have for me?
[00:22:02] Jim Gaffigan:
Alright. I would say, what do you typically get out of these podcasts? I don't have a podcast, but friends, also, the podcast can loom over them. So what is the, a positive thing and what's the negative thing about agreeing to do this ReThinking podcast?
[00:22:27] Adam Grant:
So originally, five years ago, I decided to start doing this because I found myself on stage a lot saying things I already knew.
[00:22:34] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:22:35] Adam Grant:
And like my, I'm not a, I'm not a professional performer. That's not my job to perfect my material and then deliver it over and over again. I wanna keep learning.
[00:22:42] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:22:43] Adam Grant:
And it, it's, it struck me that podcasting was a great way to, to have an excuse to learn that was part of my job. And that, I would then kind of be learning with my audience.
[00:22:52] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:22:52] Adam Grant:
As opposed to just sharing what I'd already learned with them after the fact. Uh, so that, that was the original hook. And I, I still, it's probably my favorite thing about podcasting is I get to ask, “Okay, who's the person I wanna learn from today?” And then the conversation I would've wanted to have anyway, I get to claim it's work.
[00:23:08] Jim Gaffigan:
Right, right. Yeah.
[00:23:10] Adam Grant:
How cool is that? That's the highlight.
[00:23:12] Jim Gaffigan:
It’s great. It’s great. I am very jealous of people that do have podcasts because there is this source of information, but there's also part of me, it's like I'm already drowning, so I can't add anything. I can barely stay awake for four hours straight. You know what I mean? Like I did this and an interview before and I'm like, I gotta nap.
[00:23:36] Adam Grant:
Well, I think that that speaks to the, the challenge for me, which is I think the, the real-time nature of it is tricky. It's, it is not quite, quite like being in the news real-time, but there's a little bit of that. Like we, we're, we're expecting to release content every week and that isn't always how my life is arranged.
[00:23:53] Jim Gaffigan:
Yeah. By the way, there is two sides to it, right? Because I think a, a thing that's really interesting about standup and acting, and I think it applies to both of them, is the general understanding.
It's like, “Oh, that's not work. Oh, you get to talk and you get insights from these people.” But the reality is there is work involved in that. I remember, I, I had done this television show and two episodes had aired, and I was at some breakfast buffet and I, I was the lead actor, and it was so exhausting. It was the hardest thing I'd ever done.
And this guy came up to me, he goes, “Hey, I saw your show. That beats working.” And I was like, “But it's, it's a lot of work.” But I couldn't say that to him 'cause in his mind he's like mixing cement for a living. So it's like it is a vacation compared to what he does. You know what I mean?
[00:24:50] Adam Grant:
That doesn't mean it's not work though, just because it's also fun and meaningful.
[00:24:54] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:24:55] Adam Grant:
Speaking of, uh, of things that are fun, but also potentially work, I have to ask you about Hot Pockets.
[00:25:01] Jim Gaffigan:
All right. What do you wanna know?
[00:25:03] Adam Grant:
I think one of the things I always loved about Hot Pockets in particular was it's one of the few comedy routines that truly appeals to any age.
[00:25:12] Jim Gaffigan:
Never really see that on a menu when you go out to dinner, you know, let's see, “I’ll have the Caesar salad and the Hot Pocket.” Is your hot pocket cold in the middle? It's frozen, but it can be served boiling lava hot. Will it burn my mouth? It'll destroy your mouth. Everything will taste like rubber for a month. Hot Pockets, you know, they haven't been around that long, like 10 years.
How'd they come up with that? Was there some kinda marketing meeting? Like, “I got an idea. How about we fill a Pop Tart with nasty meat?” There is the vegetarian Hot Pocket for those of us that don't want to eat meat but still would like diarrhea. Hot Pocket. Pocket, pocket, pocket. Recently they introduced the Breakfast Hot Pocket. Finally, I can't think of a better way to start the day. “Good morning. You're about to call in sick!” Hot Pocket.
[00:26:14] Adam Grant:
I remember the first time I saw it, I ran and showed it to my grandma, and then a couple years later we were showing it to our kids and then discovered, like, they had never tried a Hot Pocket, and then you were responsible for our kids eating Hot Pockets.
[00:26:28] Jim Gaffigan:
Some of that's lucky and some of it is also, you know, there's the initial idea for a joke, which is essentially the, the commercial for the Hot Pockets was so bad that it felt like a sketch. I was like, “Hot Pockets.” You know, like it was just a cliche of a commercial. I thought it was like an SNL sketch. I was like, this is, and so I started that as the observation, and then I started adding more and more elements.
You know, like the Hot Pocket jingle thing. It's like the same reason it probably works as a commercial is why it would appeal to a kid. And then the fact that it causes diarrhea is appealing to a teenager 'cause you're being irreverent. And then it's the criticism of it, uh, uh, appeals to somebody that is kind of like, “I can't believe I'm eating these.” But it's also what every college student was eating. So I got lucky on a lot of different variables.
[00:27:32] Adam Grant:
Yes. I’m just thinking it's, it never hit me until now. But it's ironic that this bit came out of a commercial because a little-known fact about you is you were once upon a time Salesman of the Year because of your commercial performances.
[00:27:43] Jim Gaffigan:
Yes, yes. I mean, I was a copywriter and then I, I ended up being in a bunch of commercials and the great irony is my dad was still alive, and my brothers and sisters were very successful in finance and stuff like that, so I was, you know, for a six month period, I was that guy that was in a bunch of commercials. And so Business Week kind of did this article, Salesman of the Year, and so I just kind of hung that over my brother and sister's heads. And my dad.
[00:28:18] Adam Grant:
[00:28:19] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:28:19] Adam Grant:
Another maybe unexpected role for you was in the experimenter. For anyone who's not familiar, Milgram was studying obedience to authority in the aftermath of the Holocaust. He famously found that a surprising number of people were willing to deliver what they thought were painful electric shocks to someone in another room just because the experimenter ordered them to. How did being the actor, um, in the Milgram experiments shape your thinking about human psychology?
[00:28:47] Jim Gaffigan:
So like there's the psychology behind the Milgram Effect, uh, made me realize that, you know, people are susceptible to things that are kind of, they might be predisposed to. The, the Milgram thing, that’s, that was also a reflection of how people will just do things because they're told to do it.
You know what I mean? Like even though I, I was playing the guy yelling in the back room, but, like, people were, like, essentially torturing someone, which kind of ties into what was happening in World War II and all of this and just how human beings, we just rationalize stuff.
[00:29:30] Adam Grant:
Actually, it's really interesting because in the last decade or so, a lot of psychologists have been reinterpreting the Milgram experiments, uh, digging through the unpublished data and trying to figure out what else can we learn that he didn't see. And one of the big findings is that a lot of people didn't believe they were really inflicting pain—
[00:29:48] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:29:48] Adam Grant:
On the, the learner. And that I think in 18 out of the 23 experiments where they measured it, um, the people who said, “Hey, you know, this, this isn't really happening,” were more likely to disobey. And what you just made me wonder is maybe there's a different interpretation of that. Maybe to rationalize and justify their behavior to deal with the cognitive dissonance of thinking, “Wait a minute, I might have just tortured somebody.” They then tell themselves after the fact, “Nah, that wasn't real.”
[00:30:15] Jim Gaffigan:
It's also one of those things where I think people compartmentalize things a lot more than they think. Like, they did this experiment, whether they did it for money is not really important, but like, “Hey, I gotta do this experiment,” and then they move on.
Like I would've loved to have seen, like, they did that. They have to keep going back there and experiencing it. That's where I think people do things on social media and on the internet. People say things to strangers. And they don't have to see their facial reaction. They don't have to really see the impact of it.
I think the interesting thing is people did that experiment. They failed or they did the behavior they did, but then they never had to revisit it. No one came up to 'em and go, “Hey, aren't you the guy that, that kept punishing me for getting an answer wrong?” But maybe that is, uh, the cognitive dissonance, right, that you're talking about?
[00:31:22] Adam Grant:
It's fascinating. You, you just synthesized half a century of research on moral disengagement.
[00:31:27] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:31:27] Adam Grant:
[00:31:28] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:31:30] Adam Grant:
How has raising five kids made you rethink your views on parenting?
[00:31:34] Jim Gaffigan:
There is this commonly had, held belief that if a teenager's messed up, the parents are responsible, and I think that's ridiculous. Now, that's not to say that I don't look at parents of other,of my kids' friends and be like, “You suck at this.” I'm saying that. But I'm also saying some of it is, it used to be that parents had influence, then the peer group has influence, then the society has influence.
Well, with social media, we have abdicated that all. I think we're in the middle of a tidal wave and we don't even realize it. It's so much harder to be a teenager today than it ever was. I mean, I'm not saying during colonial times it was a cakewalk, but I'm saying it's hard. It's like psychologically, it's really hard. And then the pandemic was just gasoline on the fire. So it's like the only way kids could socialize was on screens. It's just this toxic mess. Anyway, everyone ha—it's gonna be great.
[00:32:54] Adam Grant:
Things to look forward to. One, one of the things that I do wanna put our, on our kids' screens is your new special.
[00:33:00] Jim Gaffigan:
Oh, well, thanks.
[00:33:00] Adam Grant:
So give us, give us, uh, a little bit of a, a taste of what to expect. And, uh, is there anything on the cutting room floor that you didn't get to work at?
[00:33:08] Jim Gaffigan:
So, I talk about Starbucks, but I didn't really capture how, like, Starbucks among kids and teenagers holds this weight that is very peculiar. It's like the Starbucks experience, and they're just drinking sugar, which is fine 'cause that's what kids, you'd rather have them doing that than drinking scotch, but like, it is just garbage and it's surface and it’s profoundly American, you know what I mean?
[00:33:42] Adam Grant:
Oh, we have a, we have a teenager whose idea of planning is like, “let's go to Starbucks.”
[00:33:46] Jim Gaffigan:
[00:33:47] Adam Grant:
Like, what are you gonna do there? We don't know.
[00:33:49] Jim Gaffigan:
Can we go to Starbucks? Can we go to Starbucks? Let's just, oh, here. We're just going to Starbucks.
[00:33:55] Adam Grant:
Love it. Jim, thank you. This was such a delight and so fun. Really appreciate you taking the time and we want all of our listeners to go and check out Dark Pale immediately.
[00:34:04] Jim Gaffigan:
Thanks so much. It was great chatting with you. Now I'm gonna go and nap. I gotta nap. This is hard work. Alright.
[00:34:18] Adam Grant:
I love Jim's point that comedy leaves an aftertaste. Whenever we make a joke, it's easy to over-index on the laughter in the room and under-index on how we leave people feeling afterward. It reminds me of that quote, often misattributed to Maya Angelou, that people will forget what you said, they’ll forget what you did, but they'll remember how you made them feel.
I think what Jim has added to that is how you've made them feel is not just something that occurs in the moment. There's a delayed reaction, and that's the one that ultimately matters. And I'm pretty sure you don't want the aftertaste to be anything like Hot Pockets.
ReThinking is hosted by me, Adam Grant, and produced by TED with Cosmic Standard. Our team includes Colin Helms, Eliza Smith, Jacob Winik, Aja Simpson, Samiah Adams, Michelle Quint, BanBan Cheng, Hannah Kingsley-Ma, Julia Dickerson, and Whitney Pennington Rodgers. This episode was produced and mixed by Cosmic Standard.
Our fact-checker is Paul Durbin. Original music by Hansdale Hsu and Allison Leyton-Brown.
Do you send yourself a lot of emails that you don't receive?
[00:35:26] Jim Gaffigan:
I feel like I do. Uh, I, you know, like the reminder, you know, like the, there's different things that you use as reminders, but I usually forward things to myself and then sometimes they don't send, and then I'll see them in my outbox in six months, and I'll be like, “Oh yeah, that's right.” I'm all about organization.
[00:35:49] Adam Grant:
It has to be a funny experience to like, “Yeah, that jerk never, he never even answered my email. Wait, that was me.”
[00:35:53] Jim Gaffigan: