Start right away. Like tonight. Cancel your plans (I’m sure they were uninteresting any ways) and start immediately. I’m serious. Not tomorrow, or this weekend, or after you really clarify what your authentic voice in the universe is. Start tonight and put something down on paper.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Norm Laviolette, author of The Art of Making Sh!t Up, co-founder and CEO of Boston comedy institutions Improv Asylum and Laugh Boston. Norm has been working in comedy for over 20 years, performing, directing or producing over 10,000 performances, workshops and talks from Boston to Beijing. In his new book, Norm explores how the same techniques that improv comedians use to overcome self doubt and fear to create on stage can be applied to every day life.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I come from a family of funny story tellers and yarn spinners. Being funny was probably the most prized asset you could have in my family. If you could make people laugh, whether you were the blowhard uncle or slightly racist aunt, you had a seat at the table. I think that, more than anything led me to comedy, which in turn led me to writing.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
There really are too many to recount; having an audience member throw a jar of KY Jelly at me while on stage, the Great Fecal Flood of ’98 where the entire theater flooded three weeks after opening, performing in Belfast and being paid in some crazy back room of an old airline hanger with a big plastic baggie of cash at 2:00 am while I drank White Russians with an Irishman, an Aussie and an actual Russian. Because my line of work requires that I put myself in somewhat odd and vulnerable situations, it lends itself to some interesting experiences. And I think that is the key, get out and experience things. At this point in my life/career there really is no good or bad experience. If things work out positively, great, if things become a shit show, even better! That’s where the best stuff comes from.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
On stage, continually bumping my mouth into the mic and being startled each time. Back off the mic! In writing, thinking the publisher particularly cares about what you are writing. They don’t. They just want it done. That’s OK by me. One less opinion to stress about.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We have opened an Improv Asylum in New York City, so that is exciting. I will be in Shanghai working in conjunction with Harvard Business School delivering one of our business based improv workshops in Mandarin. Not me, of course. I sadly am only capable of communicating in one language. But I will be overseeing the workshops.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
You are making a wild assumption in throwing around the term “great”, and I thank you for it. For me it has been the dedication to mastering the command of language and communication. While it has been predominately oral in my case, being able to develop and hone that skill has allowed me to transfer it to writing. Doing improv and comedy for the better part of my adult life has exercised my brain and expanded my ability to communicate like nothing else I could ever imagine. So if you want to write, go take an improv class. It is a gym for the mind. We exercise our bodies to get in shape, be healthy and be able to perform better. We need to do the same thing for our brains.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
I like the story about how we originally discovered the theater that became Improv Asylum in Boston for over 20 years. I think it illustrates perfectly the philosophy of getting out and making your own opportunities happen. We had been doing an improv show in the basement of the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston on Clarendon Street, and got in our heads that we should open up a professional improv and sketch comedy theater in Boston. I was 25 and living a pantry, mind you, and there was no cause to believe I would be successful at this or anything else. But we believed it and more importantly hit the streets looking for a place to create our own thing. This led us to the North End of Boston (Boston’s Little Italy and oldest and most beloved neighborhood) and to a theater that was vacant. Called up the number on the “For Rent” sign and started the process of leasing the theater (Full disclosure the theater was vacant because the whole building was vacant, the previous owners having been forced out because they had been stealing electricity off of the buildings behind it for 20 years or so!). Good luck? Perfect timing? Maybe. More importantly we were out LOOKING for our opportunity. By getting out and being proactive you allow things to come into your orbit. Then you just have to have to guts to take the leap once it is presented to you.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
Take control of your own destiny and don’t wait for others to give you some kind of “Magical Tap” thinking they will invite you in to a secret club. They won’t. They are not going to. The club is closed and accepting no more members. Take steps to do it yourself, it really is the only choice you have. Oh, and stop giving a shit about what others think about you. It is the biggest thing that holds people back from doing or trying anything. And here is a news flash, people don’t think about you any where near as much as you think they do. We are all horrible narcissists who mostly just obsess over ourselves .
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
Questioning if I have anything to say. Writing can feel like an exercise in self importance. The feeling of showing off or somehow “I think I’m more special than others”, and that can be an uncomfortable feeling. Of course it isn’t true, and goes back to what I said earlier, which is not giving a shit what others think about you.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I love history and biographies. Does that count as literature? Oh well, that is what I enjoy most. The stories from history and what actual people have done inspires me to do some interesting shit before I’m gone.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
Cut down more trees? I don’t know, I don’t really think like that and don’t find it particularly helpful. My assumption is that it won’t and that isn’t why I write. I write or create mostly for myself. Writing, to me, is like opening your back door and screaming at the top of your lungs; most likely no one will hear you, and if they do they probably will be annoyed. But it feels good some times to shout out loud.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Start right away. Like tonight. Cancel your plans (I’m sure they were uninteresting any ways) and start immediately. I’m serious. Not tomorrow, or this weekend, or after you really clarify what your authentic voice in the universe is. Start tonight and put something down on paper. Remind your self that the first step to greatness is sucking, so the sooner you start sucking the sooner you will be great (Cant wait to see that on a motivational office poster ).
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
People love numbered lists and will always ask you for them.
When the publisher asks if you can deliver a book in 6 months you don’t have to automatically say yes. When they asked me, coming from comedy, improv no less, I was like “Six months? Sure! that is a life time!”
I would have to help edit the book. What the hell, I don’t want to look for all my crazy mistakes and typos, that is someone else job. Turns out, not so much.
That I like to write in a room with the heat cranked up as high as possible. I don’t know why anyone would tell me that, as there is no way anyone could know that, but I wish someone did tell me sooner.
It is a good idea not to forget your bag with your computer, which has your entire manuscript on it on the luggage x-ray machine in Newark. Would seem that goes without saying, but I’m just saying…
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would start the “Keep It To Yourself” movement. In a world where everybody can instantly share their thoughts and feelings about anything conceivable, I’d like to start a movement where we keep it to oursleves. Don’t like somebody’s article? Keep it to yourself. Think the majority of humanity are dullards because they don’t believe what you believe? Keep it to your self. I think if we kept a bit more to ourselves and didn’t constantly rip people and ideas down under the cover of “I’m just speakin’ my mind” the world would be a kinder, or in the very least less toxic place. Tact and restraint are good social skills. Use them on occasion.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
linkedin Norm Laviolette
book web site www.theartofmakingshtup.com
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.