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  • Francisco Mahfuz

E105. How the Best Comedians in the World Tell Stories with Stuart Goldsmith





Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors.


Francisco Mahfuz 0:05

Welcome to The Storypowers Podcast, a show about the power of stories, the people who tell them and why you shouldn't be doing it too. I'm your host keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco Mahfuz. My guest today is Stuart Goldsmith. Stuart's an award winning comic podcaster and business speaker specialising in resilience and authenticity. In his podcast, the comedians comedian, he has interviewed more than 400 of the world's greatest standards, and has reached over 20 million downloads, which is just a little bit more than what I've got, as a speaker here supercharged the resilience of clients including Deloitte, Lego eBay, the BBC and many more. And as the standard has performed on the Conan O'Brien show in Russell Howard's Comedy Central and has been the studio warmup for The Graham Norton Show for the last seven years. Now, that's all very impressive, but I have it from a very credible source that he cries singing the Moana soundtrack. He has watched a Ken Reeves movie Constantine multiple times. And one of his favourite Cognitivists ever is about him pretending to be a French chef and torturing a frog. So I think it's important we keep some perspective in here. All right, ladies and gentlemen, Stuart Goldsmith.


Stuart, welcome to the show.


Stuart Goldsmith 1:23

Francisco I think I can honestly say that's one of the best introductions I've ever been given. Thank you. It was so I mean, all the first half of it all the technical stuff was very credible. There were all these proof elements there. I was thinking, Who is this guy, he sounds great. And then you humanised it and also showed me that you've done research into me and care about it. I'm thrilled to be here. And what a lovely start to a podcast. Thank you for having me.


Francisco Mahfuz 1:48

You're welcome. And I don't I don't even know if you realise these if you connected those dots. But do you know that the reason you and I are talking is because of shame? Do you know that? Because of shame?


Unknown Speaker 2:03

No, I'll catch on. I'm sure during the record,


Francisco Mahfuz 2:07

this is something you might or might not have, as a human being right. But I have this thing where if I feel that someone has gotten the wrong impression of me, or an impression that is positive, then then I think it should be I just have this urge to correct it. And in our case, I stumble upon one of your posts on LinkedIn, I don't remember who was the mutual connection. And I made a really lame mothering law joke. And you said something like, the 1980s called they want their jokes back? And I'm like, oh, no, there was no good. And then I and then I went into real profiles like, oh, maybe there's a reason for me to talk to this guy. And then I can fix it.


Stuart Goldsmith 2:57

Yes. Oh, wonderful. Wonderful. Well, I think in a and you're, I know how fluent you are with storytelling. And it's going to be very hard for me not to notice you doing this? Well, throughout this interview. I know that I'm already thinking, Oh, this is good. If I was a listener, what a great hook into the episode. What a great story. Should we not leave? Should we not leave the resolution of this story until the end? But yes, of course, I'm very happy to tell you that I also suffered. I'm not quite sure if it was shame, I do have a relationship with shame. I have a great deal of social anxiety. But I had to rebuke you. Because the joke that you made was a kind of mother in law joke. And it was it. On one level, it was a completely harmless joke. But as someone who deals with jokes, and kind of on a day to day basis is part of an ongoing conversation about the sorts of jokes we should be telling. I thought, Oh, that's a bit sexist. I've got to come back to this guy. And and so I made a gentle I thought a gentle friendly review, and I think I'd probably probably and this is the worst elements on it. I probably pressed the curious button, you know, thevarious is brutal. That one, why would someone say that? I don't like you make no sense. So So I the only thing I can give you is curiosity, or not so sure.I was using it in the second far more passive aggressive way to say, Oh, you went with that did you


Francisco Mahfuz 4:33

in Well, yes. In my defence. I have a pretty good relationship with my mother in law in general. But as has happened in around the world, the political situation in Brazil, which is where I'm originally from, has gotten somewhat strange in the last few years. And I I think this exchange with my mother in law explains my relationship with her might make the joke a bit less bad. She wasn't My house a few years ago here in Barcelona, and there was a whole bunch of protests in Barcelona going on because of the whole independence movement here. And, you know, the army came in the Spanish army came in and started cracking heads. And I was kind of horrified as most people were, and we're looking now this is this is not good. And he and she said, this is exactly what they deserve. You know, this is what you need. In in Brazil. That's what we needed to we need a bit of a dictatorship to come back to clean up that country.


Listen, you know, we're in Barcelona, you were in my house here very far from your house. But if we both lived in the same country, this will be the moment that I would be asking you to leave instrangely took some offence to that. And that made the relationship somewhat strained.


Unknown Speaker 5:55

Well, good for you. Good for you that you had to say something. And you did. It sounds like you said something very deftly, Lord.


Francisco Mahfuz 6:02

Yeah. So we do. We do have some things in common. Outside of a sense of humour that actually works. In our case, you have it I don't usually. And I think your kids are very much similar age to mine. Mine are six and almost three. And yours.


Unknown Speaker 6:21

Yes. six and four. Okay. Yeah, we're almost been four. So about a year down the road. Yeah, yeah. But


Francisco Mahfuz 6:25

there's something I heard you say, think in one of your podcasts, where you you describe this as as a good thing or a lucky thing that you know, that your boys could really swim, that, you know, you just left with your wife or girlfriend at a time or whatever, and said, You are now pregnant. And I think you described this as a very positive thing. And I heard and so now, Stuart, it's the other way around, because my boys had great technique, swimming, but they were lazy and Slow as hell. So it didn't work for me and my wife to begin with, and carried on not working for a long time. And then the doctor said, Listen, I think you're gonna have to, like, have sex every other day, until it happens. And we did for a year, that law was terrible. And we were such such pain and suffering. And when I heard you, I thought, I think I might actually forgot to the bathroom. Quite possibly,


Unknown Speaker 7:27

quite possibly, yes, no, we were very lucky. We fell pregnant very quickly on both occasions. And, yes, I, it's one of those things that I've probably been glib about in the past. And you'll know as well, after you've been a parent for a few years, you can kind of come to this understanding that a lot of people find it very hard to become parents and may never become parents. And the glib way in which you and I have been certainly me on stage, I've spent the last five or six years writing hours of comedy material where I complain about how wonderful my life is. So I need to be very careful about that. So that I'm not too too casual about this, this phenomenal blessing that we've had. Yeah, it's an


Francisco Mahfuz 8:07

interesting point that because I think this is one of the things that perhaps as we grow older, or more mature, or we just more exposed to this environment, it's the type of thing you would perhaps never realise that it's a sensitive subject until you realise it is. And I, I've had this experience, as you mentioned, where I know a lot of people who have struggled a lot to get pregnant, I know a lot of people who are still struggling to get pregnant. And up until I had those experiences and those conversations with those people. I never thought that this was a thing that I had to like tiptoe around in how improper and improper is on the world. But like how wrong it was for people to ask, you know, so you guys are planning on having any kids or whatever?


Unknown Speaker 8:54

Well, the thing is that that's something I think people have been saying for hundreds and hundreds of years. But it's one of the consequences of how digitally connected everyone is. One of the ways in which the internet has given voice to the voiceless is not even necessarily the voiceless it but it's simply made people aware that other people share the same circumstances as then they feel empowered, then to say, Hey, listen, could you stop pointing out that you've got children? Or can you stop asking me if I've got them because we've had something horrible, we've had a miscarriage or something terrible has happened. A lot of those things would have been skirted over certainly in British society. There would be a kind of don't ask, don't tell, just press on, don't talk about it. And I think that's one of the many enormous benefits of the internet, which we can pitch against all of the tremendous downsides. But I've been I was doing a show in Glastonbury in the town of Glastonbury, not far from me a few years ago, and I was on stage you know, making a meal of how hard I was finding parenthood and how much stress I was feeling about my son how rude he was to me earlier that day. And someone in the audience who was they were quite an alternative. And it's classic greens, lots of very alternative people there. He was a very kind of what I would call a sort of yoghurt weaving type person, which is a disparaging term, but I mean it warmly. But this particular guy stood up and heckled and shouted, it's a blessing. And I said, What do you mean? And he said, children are a blessing. And I couldn't disagree with him. I felt kind of criticised and attacked in the moment. It's not the first time something like that happened in a long stand up comedy career. But I had to kind of say to him, yes, of course it is. But if I come up on stage and tell everyone about all the brilliant things and how wonderful it is having kids, you know, it's gonna sound smug, and not crucially, not very funny. He was later escorted out of the venue where he threatened to wait for me outside. But little did he know that, at that point, in the evening, I could very reliably asked for several huge men from the audience to walk me out to my car. Fortunately, nothing else happened. But it is it's one of those ways in which stand up comedy clashes with real life, it represents certain elements of real life. And there's an awful lot of my expectations for parenting were built on, or sort of extrapolated from other people's stand up comedy routines that I've heard, you know, from friends of peeking over people I don't know, over the last 20 years, I've sort of known what to expect, because that's a story that comedy tells us about ourselves. There aren't you know, we hear a lot of the, this is what you can expect. This is what you can expect from this relationship with your wife. This is what you can expect from your children, your relationships with your children, that dynamic with other parents in the playground, stand up comedy is just kind of constantly weaving a shared narrative now, whether whether that narrative is based in truth, or whether that narrative is inherently flawed, because the desire of comedians is to tell us all about the worst bits and try and make them funny, maybe the narrative is kind of corrupted. So we end up telling ourselves a story about ourselves, which is based, less in truth, and more based on the funniest failure, and the funniest thing to share. So that we all end up telling ourselves a story, which is kind of inherently skewed. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz 12:25

now that you were talking, I thought about something that might be a parallel with some of the ways I look at storytelling, because I have often talked about how this habit I've developed, and I try to encourage everyone to develop of, you know, writing down potential stories from from everyday life. And I do that every single day, and then actually telling them, you know, putting them together, and if you using stories, the right way, the stories, you know, not with your friends, but instead of a business context or on social media, whatever, the story is going to have some sort of point. So you have to figure out what is the point? What is the meaning in these things that happened to you. And it also gives you the opportunity to rewrite the meaning. Because if you if you're looking at it, and it just looks like a negative thing, you know, I'm sure that there was something positive here, how can I reinterpret what happened and put it in a positive spin to it? So in a sense, you're rewriting the story of the things that happened to you. And by definition, rewriting the how you feel about your life. And that I think, is a very powerful and positive thing. But thinking of comedy. I mean, yeah, it's children are blessing are plenty of things are a blessing. But if you can't complain about things that in the grand scheme of things are not big issues, then it's very difficult to do a lot of comedy, not all comedy, there's plenty of comedy, that's probably still would work if you had the world's most positive outlook on life. But my question here is this. Is there a risk that by constantly tuning yourself or for comedian certain themselves to watch, you can complain about that.


Unknown Speaker 14:09

But even though you're going to laugh about these things, you might develop a particularly sensitive eye for all the things in your life that aren't that don't feel like a blessing, even though maybe they are.


Unknown Speaker 14:20

That's a really. Yeah, that's a really interesting question. Speaking as to my personal experience, I've always found comedy very therapeutic. I think as soon as I had children, I had something far more rare. I had a lot more to complain about. I think I had a profoundly easy life through a combination of luck, privilege, and I suppose a certain amount of daring. I, you know, I've never had a real job. So I was a street performer as a teenager and I kept doing that for years. I briefly became an actor, which was not a difficult job, despite it certainly it wasn't the way I did it. So I was still a street performer and So I would go out at Covent Garden in London and make money by just improvising and doing circus tricks and telling jokes and stuff. And then I became a comic. So I've always been very, very privileged to, to have a very, very easy, fun life, there has been fear. And there have been challenges I had to overcome. But it is absolutely not digging holes or, you know, saving people's lives in any capacity. When I had children, I sort of the way I would describe it at the time is I felt that I had further to fall than a lot of people, like people are like, Oh, you have to get up early. And look after the kids. Yeah. And I had been getting up at 10am Every morning, because I was a comedian and I could so I think the the structures that parenthood places on your life I found particularly hard. As a result, not only did I have more invested in the world, because of my you know, the legacy of children, what have you caring about then, I also had a much tougher life, I had a lot more to complain about, I had a lot more reality to share with people I had, I think that thing I don't want to end underestimate the value of having things to complain about. Previously, I've done a lot of shows about my mental health because I suffered for anxiety. And I tried to write a show about suffering from anxiety whilst suffering from anxiety. And that was a very painful torturous process, which created a product which was good in some ways, but not a not the show of which I'm most proud. So being able to get up on stage every night and say, Oh, God, I've been awake for so long. And I have this one precious moment with my son today. And he became furious with me for no reason, blah, blah, blah, JoJo, I found that very, very therapeutic. And I did, I did actually feel very sympathetic towards my wife, who was undergoing a similar but probably much harder version of parenthood than I was more sleepless and all those kinds of things. And she wasn't afforded the opportunity to complain about it, and be praised for complaining about it to receive a huge dopamine rush from other parents going. I mean, one of the on my Conan set, one of the jokes I've written I'm most proud of, and I hope you may need to trigger warning this, let's have a general content warning. But one of the one of the lines is looking at my son, and saying you don't understand you have stolen from me, even the luxury of suicide. And that, I think, is a joke that really resonates with other parents, because that's the truth. You can't even kill yourself, no matter how hard to get. And I'm very pleased to have boiled that down to the right words, it's a tiny story in a sentence. And it's an observation that resonated with very many people. But to be able to say that on stage, it's like, inside, I'm howling, carved, this is hard, isn't this hard, and other people agree and laugh and clap and ultimately pay you. So that is an enormously positive experience that I that I would get out of, out of forging that not pain, but forging that frustration forging those, those worries, those, those those sorts of things.


Francisco Mahfuz 18:09

So on your Conan show, you know, given how much oatmeal I have been stirring in the last few years, because my kids have gotten back to liking oatmeal, then I particularly like the bit where you are staring oatmeal and staring away the memories of a better life three children.


Stuart Goldsmith 18:30

Thank you. Well, it's very much rooted in truth. And I think to try and find like, it's, as you know, it's useful to take something visual, I find, particularly if it's physical, if it's an act out, that puts me in a good funny state of mind. But to take sort of an I just found myself stirring a lot of I mean, we'd call it porridge, I changed it to oatmeal for the sake of America, but to be stirring the oatmeal, and I just found myself doing that a lot one winter, the I and I just did on stage. And I remember, that's all I do now. And then it just came to me because I was inhabiting the physicality, stir away the memories, and then kind of focusing on pleasant memories of going no, stir them away. So I think that's something again, it's it's, it's a very resonant gesture, you know, and so like, there is this thing, and it's it embodies, and physicalize is the idea of having to kind of drudgery, but also a process of drudgery, which inherently destroys your old life. Thank you. I haven't thought about that a bit for a while and I'm very pleased to remember it. I'm very proud of it.


Francisco Mahfuz 19:40

Yeah, I mean, if a match who if I had met you earlier, I would have pointed out that you can actually do oatmeal in the microwave, and that does away with all the staring. But


Unknown Speaker 19:52

you know, and the thing is, you could look at that from a from a kind of a craft point of view and go in there is something about the river thing of the bowl in the microwave. Yes, that could I could do something with that. But I don't think it would be it wouldn't.


Francisco Mahfuz 20:07

It wouldn't. And I think that leads me to an interesting segue into or to a segue into what one of the things I really want to talk to you about, which is how storytelling works in comedy, particularly if we compare it to other types of storytelling. So I think one of the most basic questions is how true you feel it needs to be when it's in comedy. Because outside of comedy, I tell everyone, I mean, if you can, quote a story from the tale story from a movie, or from a book, or something, which is not anywhere near as powerful as a as a real personal story, but if you're telling a story, it needs to be very, very, very close to the truth. There's very few liberties you can take with a story other than, you know, or meeting certain things. So the story flows a little more smoothly. But how does that work with for comedy, at least for you, or for the people that you spoke to? Is there any type of consensus


Unknown Speaker 21:05

in there, I would say that the consensus is on and my idea aligns with this, it's the truer the better. And the reason for that is that the more you zero in on the details of a subject, the more universal you discover. The The idea is. So if I, for example, if I say it is really hard to be a parent, then people go, Sure, okay. But if I say I was carrying my infant son at the top of the stairs the other day, and I briefly considered hurling him down the stairs, then that that is quite a shocking kind of image. But the detail in that means anyone who is a parent who has held their child at the top of the stairs will enact it's a risk. Will anyone else have thought that? Or am I just mad and I should be visited by the social services. That the detail is what resonates. So in that example, they're about you stir the oatmeal, or you put it in the microwave, it's the detail of staring it we can, we can see that detail. And those things are most of the time those things come from a real thing that you did, I could I could make up. Yeah, I could say when I first had a child, I used to go on these long walks, I used to take my dog for walks. And I would take my dog for longer and longer walks until my dog clearly didn't want to be on the walk. But I was doing it. Because I didn't want to go home. Now I don't have a dog. I've never had a dog. So I don't, I could, I could invent the creaking of the leather on his collar, I could invent the breed of the dog and something happens to him. I've observed dogs, I guess I know what it must be like to walk a dog. But I'm unlikely to hit upon a resonant truth, that is innately tied to dog walking, because I have no experience of it. I've played with other people's dogs, I've heard things about dogs. And I could imagine I could take a truth of my own life. And this is something people do in comedy, I can take a truth about what it's like walking a baby in a push chair, and the contact you have with other parents of babies in push chairs. And I could transcribe that to my imagined world of walking a dog. But a Why would I it would be more meaningful for me it would be a more engaging and it's a more invigorating experience for me if I'm actually talking about something true. And also I would be unlikely to get those little, the minutia, the little details that really make a story come to life. So I would say in comedy, the truer the better. But if you are if you have to disguise a detail for some reason, and you want to put a story, you want to make the story wear different clothes, as long as the the element of truth as long as the central feeling if there is a truth or kernel of truth, how you felt, if that's true, and you're being honest about that, then it doesn't matter whether you're walking a dog or a baby.


Francisco Mahfuz 24:14

I think that's interesting because your your explanation is not what I would have expected to hear, in the sense that what you described is almost exactly what I think most people that work with storytelling will tell other people you can as long as the truth of the story is preserved. Some minor details can be changed, you can streamline some stuff, you just you know, you still have to tell it and it's not just an outpouring of information. But we I didn't think that that would be the case for comedy. And I still have a bit of a question in the sense of okay, I get how meaningful or more meaningful it is for you. If you are sticking to something that's true, how it makes it easier to craft it with meaningful and relevant and relatable. It's tails. But the is there, to the best of your knowledge, any sense of an ethical obligation or anything like that, or if anyone is doing a stand up, and it's like, you know, 90% of that is just made up stories, but it works and people laugh and all that. Is that any would anyone think, oh, no, no, you can't do that.


Stuart Goldsmith 25:17

No, no, I would say to that it's a very broad church, I would say some people will only tell the truth. And some people will not have any relationship to the truth whatsoever. They simply won't care. And now they're happy to grab a detail of something that happened to someone else, or something will happen to their friend and they go, that's funny. But it'd be funnier if, if I tell that it'll be funnier if I put me in it. So yeah, so the first one, my first answer was a very personal response, broadly speaking across comedy, that you will find all sorts of responses, there's a thing that people often do, which is to raise the Jeopardy. So you know, if you want something to be funny, you can you tell a story. And And let's remember as well, that comedy isn't just about stories. Comedy is also about premises angles, one liners, short jokes. Absurdism. So it's a very, very broad church. But for those comedians, who are storytellers, you might find that people are artificially increase the Jeopardy or change the order of events in order to make it more shocking or more satisfying, when when the kind of the secondary to concealed narrative. Because really, a lot of jokes a lot of stories are, there are two narratives happening at the same time, the audience is allowed to understand narrative A, but actually, the point of Revelation is when they realise that narrative B has been true.


Francisco Mahfuz 26:42

You just talked about exaggerating the truth. And what happened. There's a joke from from Lucy Kay that I thought was one of the funniest jokes overheard, but in light of what came out about him and his behaviour towards towards other comedians, that joke became really uncomfortable, and I probably would shouldn't be sharing it on air.


Unknown Speaker 27:01

And that's, that's absolutely, that's understandable, because a huge part of the context in which stories are told is what we know of the storyteller. So what's fascinating what happened to Louie CK in that, and this, I don't think this is an original observation on my part, but because his foundational motive was as a comic, his foundational premise was shame. He was constantly telling us the things he was ashamed to think and the things he was ashamed to feel and to do. And then when it came out, that actually, there was a reason for that, and he did some stuff that he should be ashamed of. And I think it's fair to say the wider world, maybe the wider comedy community is not satisfied that he has recognised and apologised properly. For those shameful events. It's very, very difficult to listen to his new material, even his old material, because it is put in a different light. Now there is another central, there's another element to the context in which we hear a man exploring his shame. Now that we know more information about the storyteller. Another joke of his that, for me, personally, is, I think an incredible observation about parenthood is when he took on some special many years ago, he talked about how you don't get a holiday as a parent. And when you put gas in the car, and you go around the back of the car, you finish putting gas in the car, and you go round the back of the car to get back in the door. He says that is nine seconds when he's walking around the back of the car. That's my holiday. And that is an extremely resonant observation for me because it like you know, he's absolutely nailed it like a Jerry Seinfeld one. And we're getting into talking about observations here, which are a big component of some standards. The what I think of with Jerry Seinfeld is putting his he has a drawer in his fridge, it's called the crisper to keep things crisp, but he doesn't keep anything crisp up at what he does is he puts vegetables in there, closes them away, and leaves them to rot. And that are another Seinfeld bit where he he talks about realising he always washes his body parts in the same order. Every morning in the shower. Like that, to me is like I had never even knew I hadn't noticed that I had noticed that is a perfect observation. He's noticed something that we all do. But we haven't noticed that we've noticed it. So that's element of, of the storytelling of, of, I don't know if that is a storytelling element so much as maybe it's a platform for a story or a component of a story. Or maybe those are all tiny stories in themselves that we are all doing the same things over and over again, thinking that we are unique, and yet so many of them are universal. And that's what I mean about drilling down. If you drill down into the the minutiae of the detail of something that you consider, this is just a thing I do. And you take the risk to say it on stage and say, I do this and if you get it right and the risk pays off, and you say it in the best the best way in air quotes, then you the payoff can be tremendous because everyone laughs and the laugh means me to me. too, and I had no idea. So those moments are incredibly satisfying.


Francisco Mahfuz 30:04

Yeah, the way the way you think about the exam, the Seinfeld example we just gave is that well, first, I had noticed that but I noticed that about drawing myself how it's exactly exactly the same idea that every single time. But in sometimes you're asked people so in which order do you draw yourself in? They will not be able to tell you that it is just that I would hate to mine it. Yeah, I would need to physicalize it to remember. Yeah.


Yeah. And anyone, anyone listening to this? Now, just think about in which order do you draw yourself and this is like baffling even I know about it. It's just, I can still


Stuart Goldsmith 30:39

inundate this podcast with emails. hundreds of emails.


Francisco Mahfuz 30:46

No, so the Seinfeld part that you mentioned, what I think of that as a story element in that is the relatable detail, which is, you know, the story needs to be relatable to work. And sometimes it's that one detail that you put in there, that absolutely tells people I'm just like you, and you know, you can you can use that in a in a human level with anyone. And I think this type of detail that we just shared now would apply to most people. But this is something that I try to teach people when when you're talking about a very specific audience. So if you're speaking to a whole bunch of people that are into, say, you know, the I have a conference coming up in the in the whole Agile world. So what are those things that the people that work in Agile will relate to? That? Is that like a term that you can use? Is there a specific situation that they come up with all the time? Maybe it's a bad joke that people make with them, you know, something about like being a scrum master and some sort of rugby crappy joke. In the moment you you can put that detail in, they will immediately go, ah, you know who we are. Maybe we're not even one of us, but you know who we are. And


Unknown Speaker 31:57

that's absolutely I had an experience doing. I was doing, I was hosting some awards, I think for a marketing organisation. At the time. I didn't know much about marketing. But I knew there was a thing called a call to action. Like a CTA. That's a big part of marketing. I was I think it was marketing. And at some point, at one point, I got heckled, and I dealt with the heckler I said something funny, it got a laugh. And then I topped it off by saying, so here's your work in marketing, right? Well, here's a call to action sit down and shut up. And that the room just exploded for exactly that reason. They go this guy gets as he's using our stuff against us, you know, it's very, very satisfying moment. But it is hard, isn't it? That's one of the harder things for me is to feel like I have the right to not it's not it's not quite the same as the right to speak. But because I'm often speaking in environments, in which I am not to which I'm not a native, you know, if I'm speaking to software engineers, and I, you don't know that much about software, I will do a briefing call beforehand to go what's going on what a bit. This is before a speaking gig rather than a stand up gig. What are the problems? What what problem are we trying to solve? What do you think? What is what's everyone muttering about? What are they? What do you suspect they're worried about that they're not telling you? Then I'll go in. And before I begin, I'd give this piece on resilience from the perspective of comedians, I'll try and work out what is the shared language? What are those things? And but it's one of the hardest elements for me is to think, Okay, I've never worked in software never had a real job, how can I authentically show that I understand them? Even if I don't understand the ins and outs of their industry? So that's, that's often a an interesting challenge, I think.


Francisco Mahfuz 33:41

Yeah. And it is one that I was just, I think it was in a book I read very recently. And they, they had an interesting spin, because the whole premise of the book is that the really top speakers in the world, they're not customizers, you know, they're not the people who spend lots and lots of time on a discovery call trying to figure out the best way to tailor their speech to that particular audience. They will be people that might have one or two speeches. And after people watch that one, they say, after the gig, I want you to come and give that exact speech in my company. And I think maybe this might be to the very high, very high level of speakers, and it's not one that a lot of people are going to reach. But his point was, yes, people want to know that you have some clue about the challenges that they're going through. But at the same time, if they want to hear from someone who's from their tribe, who understands their usual problems and in the usual approach to those problems, then they're not hiring you. They're hiring you because you bring an outsider's perspective. So there was that that angle as well to work out.


Stuart Goldsmith 34:57

Yes, that was a key thing for me. If A few years ago was when someone said to me, don't, don't try and dress up like them. Don't drink your domain don't like you're not one of them. Use that as an advantage use to your advantage. The fact you've never had a real job, you've come here. I mean, I'm, I don't have a title like this, but I am the CEO of my own company, I've created something myself, I was created several things myself, and to remember actually, that those things are valid. There are people who are in employment who have very high level jobs who have never done that, because they've always been in salary positions within a bigger organisation, and to remember to use as a benefit, the fact that I'm coming to it from outside, all of those things are absolutely true. I just think what I do when I have a briefing call is I always insist upon having it with just one individual from the company, because you need to hear what's really going on. And because I'm sure you find the same, you're an interviewer, you have the ability to get people to warm up and say what they really mean, I think it's very useful to go in knowing that even if I'm booked to speak somewhere, because they want to, they want to help their people to cultivate their own resilience, if the subtext is that they've recently been acquired, and it's a bit frosty between the people in the new organisation and the people in the old organ and the acquired organisation. It's really useful for me to know that I certainly not anything, I'm going to say out loud, but to know what's going on. Under people's breath, as it were, is just the same as if I were to walk into a stand up comedy club, and it's in Liverpool. And if I know that Liverpool have just been knocked out of the I don't even I don't know anything about football, I don't even have been knocked out the Champions League


Football conversation exactly. I need to know that you need to know a little bit of the context. You don't need to, but it can certainly help if someone heckles you, or interjects or refers to something obliquely. And you go, I know what this is. So it is I don't think you know,


Francisco Mahfuz 37:04

I think it just missed an opportunity to tell you that the competition you're looking for is the World Cup, just say Liverpool has just been knocked out of the World Cup. And then I would just say that's what countries do. You're just getting a torrent of abuse. And you go Francisco dammit.


Unknown Speaker 37:23

I'm pleased that I guess that I avoided that particular pit trap. I think I don't think they can have won the World Cup. I don't think yes. Yeah. So no, I


Francisco Mahfuz 37:33

completely agree. Yeah, you need to you need to have that context. And there is a, there was something often saying, when I do when, when I'm making notes, which is that there's that quote from Jeff Bezos, which is that your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room. And what I think believe is that your culture are the stories that people tell about you, when you're not in the room. And I think, you know, if you're a leader in an organisation, or you are a speaker being brought in, to talk to a whole bunch of people, you do need to have some knowledge of what those stories are. Otherwise, you can complete completely oblivious and talking to a context that is just not the right context. And that's going to, that's going to cause you a problem. Now, there is a, I don't want to forget this. But you said earlier about the hole being on the top of the stairs of the baby and thinking about throwing throwing him down. And if it makes you feel any better, I think I've heard the worst one, from a worst one from Michael Lewis, who is the guy who wrote Moneyball and the blind side and the short and all these movies. And he has a book called home game, that's about being a parent. And he said that, you know, this is that's horrible stage in the beginning of being a parent where you barely sleep. And he said, you know, in one, in one of his worst moments, he realised that, you know, all this mystery that has still still plagues parents, about the you know, when babies just don't wake up, you know, and they just seem to forget what it's called. But it's seen as a cause of death, or some of those horrible things like that, where the baby just, you know, for no apparent reason just stops breathing. And he said, I don't think this is, you know, a mysterious illness that is attacking babies, I think is just underslept parents having enough and suffocating them with a with a pillow.


Stuart Goldsmith 39:26

I think that's a lot worse than yours. Yes, yes, absolutely. And, and I chose my example from the many bad thoughts that I've had, because I thought it would be appropriate in tone, cast material on stage, because you again, it happens in context, not simply the context of the storyteller, the context of the audience. And this is something we are becoming very, very aware of as comedians, which is that if you Yeah, what's a good example the only example I can think of is isn't nice to talk But if you obliquely refer if you have a joke, which refers likely to anything to do with sexual assault, yeah, we didn't we, as comedians, as male comedians didn't use to realise the extraordinarily high likelihood of people in the audience being survivors of sexual assault. So, knowing like, do you mean it's you're constantly unpeeling your brain and going, what's going on? I think this is very positive, I should say, I know lots of comedians who have specials with names like triggered, would disagree, but I don't really believe in, in what cancelled culture means everything to everyone. It's so broader term as to be meaningless. But a lot of the things that are attributed to cancel culture, I think are about accountability. And I think there are bound, recognising that now people speak to each other an awful lot more than they ever did. And they are able to group together and find comfort in each other and find strength and honesty and each other and say, whoa, whoa, whoa, this is a huge problem to a huge number of people. And I feel very, I don't know what I feel very interested and very engaged to have been a comedian, sort of before I think, I think I was a comedian just before YouTube existed. I think I started in 2004. So I have been a comic over the those of us of this generation, over the existence over the outbreak of the internet and over this incredible period where we're working all these things out. Because you, yeah, the context of the audience is ever changing, and requires sensitivity. And I think a lot of people, if you look at someone like Bill Burr, who walks you up to the precipice of an awful idea, and then very deftly justifies it in such a way that it kind of breaks open the comedy within it. I think there's a lot of people copying that badly. And simply saying that you have to say the worst thing you can think of, and if anyone's offended, then there is no flake, you know? Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz 41:59

I think I'm on your side on this one. I


Unknown Speaker 42:01

know about what's happened with you and Buber on your show, and how there's a clip of that during the rounds.


Stuart Goldsmith 42:10

Well, I it was a really, it was a very invigorating conversation, where I talked to him about privilege, and the nature of privilege and how it doesn't mean that you drive around in a golden car, it just means that there are certain things in your life that that you don't have to think about, you know, if you're if you're white, you're in the UK, you don't have to really worry that the police are going to pin something on you that you didn't do that just it's not in your sphere of reference. That's a privilege. Even if you don't notice it, if you ever feel like when it was a conversation along those lines, Bill got pretty het up about this. And he said, that sounds like a load of really vague horseshit to me, and the conversation moved on. And I remember thinking, if he walks out, it'll make good tape. And if he punches me, I'll get famous fine, but it didn't, you know, I never thought he would actually sort of go to that extent at all. Interestingly, that short clip then got massively copied and released along lots of kind of red pill channels along and it was one of those clips, which is like Bill Burr destroys male feminist. And that was quite did play Whack a Mole with those clips for a bit. But I was very pleased to see and I don't claim any even partial responsibility videos, but only have like, a year later or so. A bill was on Conan talking about privilege and seems to have changed his position on it. I'm absolutely not taking credit for that. But I do think it's


Unknown Speaker 43:34

I know, that lots of people, this was this was a long time ago when I think our ideas about what privilege were seemed a bit more, a bit less entrenched than they are now in some people's minds. So, yes, I don't remember being destroyed. I do seem to have some physical presence. So I think I'm okay.


Francisco Mahfuz 43:54

I think that, you know, this is a this can be a very nuanced conversation, but it's not normally had as a nuanced conversation. But I find it difficult to resist the feeling whenever I hear people say stuff like, you can say anything anymore. To me, I immediately imagined a very big baby going. Things have gotten harder for me. I don't like it. I have to change something.


Unknown Speaker 44:24

And the truth is, there are and I wish I could find it. There is a hilarious thread somewhere on Twitter. I must find it before Twitter implodes any second now. But there is a thread of photos of news articles dating back over the last 100 years where comedians of various sorts variety entertainers, musical entertainers, are saying exactly the same thing. You just can't say anything anymore. You know, it's so funny to go. No, this is a perennial man baby conversation. Besides, what is it that you wanted to say that you don't feel you can add you know, I think that's a harder Questions? Well, I


Francisco Mahfuz 45:00

mean, I, you know, just because I have only thrown my mother in law under the bus, it's only fair I throw my father in law, as well. But I've had a conversation with him, and I am not exaggerating for comic effect at all. But he made a really, really off colour joke about about homosexuals, right? And I said, you know, listen, you can say stuff like this anymore. And it's like, um, but but it's just between, you know, as the feminists like, No, you can say this even to us. And it says, Well, you have to understand that when I was growing up, we would go to the park, which at night, which is where, you know, the gay guys would get together, and we would throw rocks at them, to just stop them doing what they were doing. So you know, it's not fair to expect me to just not be able to even make the jokes anymore. I'm like, That is the worst possible justification to racist jokes that I have ever heard. Right? I used to stone them. Now. I just mocked them.


Unknown Speaker 45:59

Yes, is a terrible justification. But I say Yeah, absolutely. I do. I do sort of at the very limited my empathy, I do understand his point. And I would say that what it tells us is that culture change happens too quickly for some people, but it does happen. So that is an awful thing to hear and a terrible justification. But also, hey, it's it's not like I'm throwing rocks at them anymore. Well, that's


Francisco Mahfuz 46:28

the one thing that wasn't gonna and I heard this as well on you're talking about the Buber incident, if you want to call it that, was that? That that type of point of view, is that the one about privilege is super associated with the with the men's rights movement. And I always have this idea that this should be the best argument ever any doesn't seem to be unfortunately, which is, whatever idea you have, and you think it's a valid one, and you get all hyped up about it. Who else has that idea? Who else is getting really riled defending that idea?


Unknown Speaker 47:06

If those people are not people, you would probably like, you know, you would want to be associated with me, you need to examine the idea a little deeper, and find out why that is happening. Because there might be something that you're you're not quite getting.


Francisco Mahfuz 47:23

Now, just before because we were coming to the end of the time we had together and I want to I wanted to talk very briefly about the resilience work you do. And how how storytelling fits into that. And how those stories because I imagine there will be some element of that, how those stories are different than then the types of stories you would share in in a more comedic environment?


Unknown Speaker 47:48

Thank you. That's, that's a great question. Certainly storytelling plays a part, the resilience thing that I do is a 45 minute piece, which I do in person or remotely. And I talk about how people can learn to cultivate their own resilience through the paradigm of comedians, and how our defining characteristic is resilience. Because it's, it's not possible to do our job without the ability to sometimes have a terrible time on stage and come off thinking, let me get back up there. And what I talk about is how that isn't an innate characteristic is learned. And here are some strategies through which you can learn it, how we do and so forth. I would say that the stories I tell in it have punch lines. So they are similar to my comedy stories. But the punch line is not the most important element. So when I perform them, I always have to remind myself just before I go on, I have to recalibrate because I'm calibrated for a laugh every 20 seconds. And so if I don't get a laugh every 20 seconds or less, I cannot help a warning light go off on my sort of internal dashboard that says, You're bombing, you're dying. This isn't funny enough, and I have to recalibrate that because it isn't about that here. And I'm not here to make them laugh. So although there aren't jokes, and those jokes often take the form of tiny stories, this is the worst heckle I ever had. This is a public mistake I made when I was doing some stand up at Wembley Arena. And then there's a another key story is, towards the end of the session, I have a story about the single worst experience of my life on a stage. And it's really the story, not just of the experience, but the car journey that I underwent, where I have to drive half an hour to the next town and repeat the experience. And so I tell a story about taking those kind of negative thoughts, dragging them into the light and trying to attack them with logic. So those all take place within the structure of stories and there is a very satisfying payoff to all three of those stories. But the satisfying payoff is like it's the icing on the cake, as opposed to the cake itself. You can't tell a story in a standard. Well, you can but it becomes a different sort of a show or difference sort of a moment within a show, I think you would not customarily as a stand up, go on stage and tell a story where the only funny bit was the very end, it needs to be funny throughout and funny. And it needs to serve the sort of the thrust of what you're doing on stage. Where is this really the goal is different. You know, it's nice that people laugh at the end, there'll be a little joke in the beginning to get them on board. But really, we're here to talk about, you know, the what we can learn from the story. Because if I do a resilience gig, and I go, resilient session, if I come away, thinking, Well, I was really funny, but I don't think any of them are going to remember that. That's not great. Having said that, I think it's possible to kind of apply that paradigm retro actively to stand up and go, well actually, is the job simply to make them laugh, is the job is the only goal to make everybody bend over crying laughing. For some people some of the time that is the only goal. Increasingly these days. If you look at comedy shows like obviously, the obvious example is Nannette. But there are hundreds of others, you know, the Hannah Gadsby show, there are many, many others where the sole goal of that performance is not simply to make them cry laughing. It's also to make people think or to make people feel or to to be polemic, to have people change their minds based on what you're doing. So as I said, it's a very broad church, all of those things are available. All of those things are options. And in many ways, that's one of the most exciting things about comedy is that you decide what the parameters are for success for what your idea of success is.


Francisco Mahfuz 51:30

There is something you said now that I think it's evidence that either you've gotten a lot better as a comedian over the last few years, or your how demanding you are of yourself has changed. Because a couple of years ago, I heard you say on a show that if you don't get a laugh every 30 seconds, you're bombing and this 20 seconds.


Unknown Speaker 51:54

You know, there, there are comics like Reginald D Hunter, Jim Jeffries, who's a good American example. Maybe there's a section in Kurt brown olas latest show perfectly stupid, I've just had him as a guest on my podcast, where they are the sorts of comics who can just come out and murder bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. But they employ a dramatic technique of telling a longer story, which isn't, you know, they can play Chappelle does this as well to play with that tension, the elastic tension, of tension and release that that elastic property, the experts can really play with that. And it doesn't simply, you know, a laugh every 20 or 30 seconds is a good rule of thumb for a commercial Comedy Club on a Friday night. But when you have the space, and they're there to see you, then it's increasingly something I'm starting to play with now is it doesn't need to be a laugh every 20 seconds, it needs to be real, every single second. And the laughs will serve it when the laughs should you said


Francisco Mahfuz 52:53

in a in a I think the episode where you get interviewed by a whole bunch of people. And this was a question by I think St. Louis, if you could choose between being yourself on stage, but less funny, or be yourself or be super funny all the time, but the not yourself at all times, then what you'd prefer in your answer was you'd prefer to be yourself on stage, even if that made you less funny. One thing just on the on the resilience point that I think is interesting. And again, you can tell me from if I'm talking nonsense, but I because you're not a you're not a scientist, you're not an academic study, studying resilience in as you said, you're not from the world that most of these companies are. So I the way I see it is maybe you can claim some level of expertise, because you have spoken to all these comics, and you'll learn from them as well what their techniques are and what they do about it. But But I would think that the your personal stories about the struggles you've had, and how you've learned resilience through them, is what's carrying if not all of the of the credibility, you have to be talking about that subject, but it must be carrying a whole lot of that weight.


Stuart Goldsmith 54:04

Thank you. Yeah, thanks. I think. Yeah, I Yes, the here's the thing. I'm not a famous comedian. I'm a I'm a moderately successful comedian. And I can point to some nice prizes and trophies and things like that. But I'm not a famous comedian. The show the podcast is more famous than I am. It's had 20 million downloads. I don't think as a comedian, I've had a million anything. Even if even if you added it all together, you might be hard pressed to find a million. So I suppose the premise gets me through the door. And that'll get me in a meeting. And then in a meeting, I can prove that I am articulate, articulate, articulate what a terrible


Unknown Speaker 54:55

I can prove particularly meticulous, and I've got a good from Cavalia room and So I think I am interested and insightful to a degree and engaged. And I think I do have a lot to say about what I've learned from comedy. Now, I can back that up with numerous examples from other people who are more famous and successful than me. But yes, I think the moments in my speech, when I've put people right into that car journey, I've got to drive half an hour, I just walked off to the sound of my own footsteps. And I have to drive half an hour and do it again. And there's a moment I really enjoy performing in that where I remember very vividly, I stopped at the traffic lights, I touch my hand to my face, and my hand feels cold on my face, and my face feels cold on my hand. And for a moment, I wonder whether I have medically gone into shock. So bad was the experience on stage. So those might I can put people in there in my story. And I can talk about the highs and lows of my moments on stage, my career things like that. So yes, I think that is doing that. That's, that is the majority of the, the the offering that I'm talking about.


Unknown Speaker 56:10

If this wasn't clear to you, or to anyone, I wasn't having a go. I'm also not an academic or a scientist to talk about storytelling.


Unknown Speaker 56:20

This is a this is an hour long. Gotcha. I understand.


Stuart Goldsmith 56:25

You get out of that


state. Exactly, exactly. This,


this is the interview, I've been dreading the imposter syndrome interview.


Unknown Speaker 56:33

That's a good idea. One of us should do a podcast called impostor syndrome, where we have guests on we agree with their imposter syndrome. And no, I do I do get what you mean. And I think I think it's, I totally understand what you mean. And I think that the clothes that this story wears of the session are that I'm a comedy expert. I've spoken to all the comedians, and I can tell you how they all cope. And that is kind of true. But also, I will tell you more richly, how I apply things that they've said to me things that I've discovered myself, I've learned myself interpreted myself over the years, I can apply those to my stories and to the stories of the people watching. Now I want


Francisco Mahfuz 57:17

to finish with this, which I think is terribly appropriate to you, particularly given your famous frog bit that I'm going to try and link in the show notes because I love that bit. I actually I got my delicate my wife to laugh, and she laughs at almost no standard. But there is this quote, which there's this quote that you might be familiar with from eBay, which says analysing humour is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested in the frog dies of it. And I think, I think you know, hopefully today, but also in your podcast, you've you've proven that more than a few people are interested in analysing humour. And it's substantially more interesting than making a frog suffer. as entertaining as that can be.


Unknown Speaker 58:00

Thank you so much. I had never before drawn the line between that quote, which I know very well, and my bit of stand up about making a frog suffer. In my mind, there was no link between those things. But once again, you're very good at your job. And you have really put those two things you juxtapose them just perfectly


Francisco Mahfuz 58:20

right. So as to where do you if people want more of your stuff? What's the best way for them? What's the best place for them to go to


Unknown Speaker 58:26

Best Place is Stuart goldsmith.com. If you are a normal human being and you would check out a podcast without first going via a web page. I mean, who do that then just get whatever thing you listen to podcasts on and search for the comedians comedian.


Francisco Mahfuz 58:42

Okay, perfect. And in your website, you have all the information as well on the on the speaking of do and resilience, and all that other stuff.


Unknown Speaker 58:49

Yeah. So I've got a whole when I tell you what I'm I tell you what I'm excited about at the moment. I've just come back from Estonia, where I did a very unique, very unique, that's bad English. I did a unique thing, where I attended a tech conference sat at the back of the room writing jokes about the speakers and about the conference itself. It was all about the Latvian banking system and greenwashing in Lithuania or what have you. And then I got up and presented a 25 minute comic summary of the day that I had written on the day, furiously typing at the back of the room. It's one of the most challenging things I've ever done. And I'm just later today going to put some footage of that on the website. So if you would like to see that horrifying challenge, go to Stuart goldsmith.com. And, and people can catch up with that there. I'm so excited about that as a concept. I want to do it all over the place.


Francisco Mahfuz 59:38

Perfect, Stuart I am I'm happy that my shame and feelings of inaccurate inadequacy have motivated me to reach out and make this stuff happen because this was a lot of fun. Thanks for your time, man.


Unknown Speaker 59:52

Well, thank you very much. Thank you so much for having me. And the reason I said I would appear on this as you know, I get approached for lots of things I want To do a shout out for people who will not necessarily yet on this episode, have heard episode 100 of your show, which I thought was absolutely brilliant. I listened to it whilst travelling to a show. And there is it's one of those ones and this is high praise. It's one of those episodes that I thought I should share this with all comedians, and then I thought, no, I should keep it for myself and not let them know. There is so much so much to learn from that episode. I was really excited about that. And I'm very excited to have appeared here. So thanks for having me.


Francisco Mahfuz 1:00:31

Well, thank you very much. That was unexpected and very much appreciated. All right, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves. And until next time.


I hope you enjoy the show. And if you did, I'd love for you to subscribe and leave us a review or rating on the Apple podcasts app. It's very easy. You open the app and find this show and scroll down a little and when you see the stars tap. I'd really appreciate it and it does help other people find us. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website story powers.com





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Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors. Francisco Mahfuz 0:05 Welcome to The Storypowers Podcast, the show about the power of stories that people who tell them and wh

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