"All I ask is one thing... Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it's my least favorite quality. It doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen."Someone once asked Garry Shandling when his delivery changed from traditional joke/punchline to the conversational style he's now known for. Shandling responded that it started in a moment of personal crisis -- he was having relationship problems and for once, "the event of breaking up with the woman was bigger than the event of being onstage."
This quote spoke to me at a time when I was engaging in classic comedian double-think. That's when you think you're saying what you want to say but you're actually saying, "what will they think of this? How can I get them to laugh?" And your jokes come out some lame corruption of whatever made them laugh last week. And it's not your voice.
Comedy isn't just about getting people to open up their mouths and laugh. You can have the last word on something simple, or you can communicate things you really care about. It's the difference between winning the conversation and actually having one.
Last night, Conan used the close of his show as an opportunity to communicate, not to win. And he reminded me that some comic writers approach their work from a place other than "output of funny."
Conan ended his tenure on the Tonight Show on an intimidatingly high note, but it was also an inviting one. Keep writing. Amazing things will happen.