The Art of Doing

Alec Baldwin and Robert Carlock on What Made “30 Rock” So Funny

We went to Silvercup Studios to interview Alec Baldwin and Robert Carlock (show runner and co-head writer) of the recently deceased and already acutely mourned “30 Rock” for a chapter in our book on “How to be Funny (on TV).”

Alec Baldwin and Robert Carlock on the set of "30 Rock" on "How to Be Funny on TV" for the book, "The Art of Doing"
Alec Baldwin and Robert Carlock on the set of “30 Rock”
We went to Silvercup Studios to interview Alec Baldwin and Robert Carlock (show runner and co-head writer) of the recently deceased and already acutely mourned “30 Rock” for a chapter in our book on “How to be Funny (on TV).”

Alec Baldwin, who plays Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock,” described his relationship with the show’s writers as a “singer songwriter thing.” He told us:

“[The ’30 Rock’ writers] have ruined me. When someone who wants me to host a show pitches me with, ‘Soooo…you’re a Cub Scout Master and you get stuck in…’ I want to tell them, ‘I work with the funniest people in the business, and you guys don’t know what funny is.'”

And Robert Carlock told us about what it was like to write for actors like Baldwin:

“Comedy is musical, the timing and the pitch. And you’ve got people like Alec Baldwin doing the acting, you can only blame yourself when it doesn’t work.”

Read our exclusive interview with Baldwin and Carlock excerpted from our book, “The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well,” on The Daily Beast here.



Get Smarter About Your New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions often seem most attainable in the rose-colored imaginary future that will begin just after the confetti has come down: It’s a new year, it will be a new you. But according to a survey conducted by the British psychologist Richard Wiseman 88% of all resolutions end in failure.

We’ve all been there, I’m going to join a gym and get fit this year. The first few days, even weeks, may go well. But after the initial enthusiasm wears off you no longer want to get out of bed an hour early to make it to the gym. Five days a week seems too much. So does four. Then three. By May you’re not going at all. Your original optimistic goal seems not only unattainable but a stinging rebuke.

But why do the majority of resolutions end so ignobly? Continue reading “Get Smarter About Your New Year’s Resolutions”

Want To Find Love Online?
Flaunt Your Eccentricities

Image via Casais Tatuados

This advice may seem counterintuitive. When presenting yourself in the online dating world, isn’t the goal to reach the largest pool of possible matches? So you hide your quirks and put forth what you think will be the most widely appealing, least offensive version of yourself. Right?


The founders of OkCupid

When we interviewed the founders of OkCupid (the hippest online dating site with 7 million members) for our upcoming book, they told us this kind of thinking is an online dating “fatal flaw.” And they should know. These four math nerds from Harvard are the Nate Silvers of finding love online—number crunching their teeming mass of statistical data to provide insights into what really works in digital dating.

Sam Yagan, OkCupid’s CEO, enlightened us: [Expand ]

“Getting people to kind of like you is a waste of time.You’re looking for the two or three people who will love you as you really are. If Dungeons and Dragons is your thing you want that person who will say, ‘Oh my God! You love D & D? I do, too!”

In other words whether you’re like the pair above—iPhone-using, Mickey-Mouse-loving, tatted hipsters—or [insert truthiest description of yourself here], express who you really are in your profile and photo. Then your chances are better that someone who will be attracted to the real you can actually find you.

This idea of showing who you really are can also be applied to your work life. Most of us have faked it in a job interview, pretending to be the sort of employee we thought a potential boss was looking for. Predictably the results (if you even get the job) are disappointing to that employer and yourself. And if you’re selling a product or service why try to appeal to every demographic? Instead let people know what is truly unusual about what you’re selling to attract the core group of people that can’t live without it.

OkCupid Fact: The first time an OkCupid-paired couple sent in a baby picture OkCupid’s CEO thought, “We effected the creation of a human life!” But, now, he says, “We’ve done that tens of thousands of time over.”

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What Makes Alec Baldwin Funny on TV?

Illustration of Alec Baldwin, Robert Carlock and the “30 Rock” writers by Josh Gosfield

Alec Baldwin tells us how being funny on one of TV’s most celebrated shows, “30 Rock”—heading into Season 7—owes as much to humility as talent.

When we asked—okay begged—Alec Baldwin to talk to us about how to be funny on TV for our book, he hesitated, telling us, “You know, I’m not funny… it’s them.”

Them is “30 Rock”’s co-head writer and show runner Robert Carlock and the dozen or so geniuses, oddballs and misfits that make up their storied writer’s room. Including, of course, show creator and other co-head writer, Tina Fey. Baldwin wouldn’t hear of discussing how to be funny without one of them.

So in the midst of their harried writing/shooting schedule last spring, we got a twofer, Baldwin fresh from the set and Carlock, looking as if he hadn’t slept in days, for a discussion for our book on just how complicated—serendipitous, precise, demanding and rewarding—TV comedy, really good TV comedy, is.

Given Baldwin’s bombastic image as corporate overlord Jack Donaghy, his sometime mercurial off-screen persona, and the famous egocentric personae of mega-watt stars in general, what surprised us most was Baldwin’s humility. For those in power—and even for the rest of us mortals— it’s not always easy to be humble enough to admit that we depend on other people. But Baldwin, who fell over himself complimenting the show’s writing staff, described his relationship to the writers as,

“A singer/songwriter thing. I’m just getting up there saying the lines they write and giving them everything I got.”

Baldwin’s version of “giving them everything I got” is emphatically not to rework the writers’ words. Instead, envisioning himself as the singer to their lyricist, Baldwin defines his art, as finding all the rhythms of the script “to get the juice out of it”:

“I might choose a word to pop for emphasis. And then decide where to take a pause and why. Bada-boom bada-boom bada-boom. Stop. Emphasis. Feeling.”

Carlock, too, acknowledges their critical interdependence, adding,

“When you’ve got people like Alec Baldwin doing the acting, you can only blame yourself when it doesn’t work.”

Baldwin and Carlock’s ability to park their egos allows them to recognize it isn’t all about them, that others’ work is indispensable. This quality of humility reminded us of the findings of Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, and others who have examined the role humility plays in leadership. It was a quality that we found talking to many of the other superachievers we interviewed for our book. And whether in a high-pressure environment, a factional workplace or even just dealing with a difficult co-worker, we can all apply this quality of humility to our own vocational lives. Without it, we may consider contributions of others to be superfluous or even detrimental to our goals. The workplace becomes an incubator of infighting and inefficiency. After all how much of a success would “30 Rock” and Jack Donaghy be—with millions of viewers and piles of awards—if Baldwin had refused to give the writers’ lines “everything he got,” believing instead he could throw away the script and improve the show by improvising his own lines?

30 Rock Fact: “30 Rock” that was called “The funniest comedy of the past decade” by Newsweek, has garnered 90 Emmy nominations, resulting in 14 wins.

To find out more stories of superachievers like us here, follow us there.

How Debate Moderators Get their Game On

Jim Lehrer, Canday and Bob Scheiffer will moderate the 2012 Presidential debates. Martha Radditz (not pictured) will moderate the vice presidential debates

Imagine being in the position of asking a question—the question—whose answer may decide who will become the next leader of the free world?

There is non-stop coverage of how presidential candidates are prepared for their debates by cadres of political operatives, who advise them on body language, zinger usage, deportment and even substance. But what about the moderators?

Being a moderator of the presidential (or vice presidential) debates makes the job of a NFL replacement ref look easy. The moderators must manage the pressure of appearing in front of tens of millions of people at one of the most pivotal and analyzed moments in the election season, as well as be a tough but impartial questioner and handler of two very forceful opponents fighting for the most powerful job in the world. In today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere, around the clock news cycle and real time Tweeted critiques, moderators who were once respected as journalists, are now considered fair game—as when during the Republican primary debates Newt Gingrich dramatically confronted CNN’s John King for his line of questioning

What struck us in an excellent The New York Times process piece by Jeremy W. Peters in which he digs into the behind-the-scenes preparations of the four upcoming debate moderators, was their two-fold process. The moderators focused as much on managing their emotions as on mastering the subject matter of their debates.

Here are some of their practices:

ABC’s Martha Raddatz (who will moderate the vice presidential debate)

  • Stays off Twitter to avoid reading unflattering things about herself—although she was amused when her son re-posted the message “Who the heck is Martha Raddatz?”
  • When she thinks of questions, even if they wake her up in the middle of the night she emails them to herself on her BlackBerry.
  • Talks to dozens of sources and colleagues “as wide a net as I can cast without making myself crazy and overwhelmed.”

CNN’s Candy Crowley

  • Meditates twice a day to tune out the negativity. And there must be quite a lot as she says, “every morning I wake up, I want to throw up thinking about it.”
  • Jots down thoughts on blue index cards that are scattered all over her home and office. “I even have a stack [of cards] next to my bed and in my bathroom for when I’m brushing my teeth and think of something.”

CBS’s Bob Schieffer

  • Recuses himself from the network’s coverage of the debates he’s not moderating to avoid any appearance of bias.
  • Keeps a 3-ring binder with news clippings of foreign affairs and interviews “smart people” for expert guidance.

PBS’s Jim Lehrer

Moderator of the first 2012 presidential debate, Lehrer acknowledged that it’s a “rough rough world” and and that with it will come “smears.”  On his preparation, he added somewhat ellipitically, “If I’m not physically doing it, it’s in my head.” But perhaps having moderated 12 presidential debates, for him, it’s just another gig.

Although only a handful of people will ever moderate a presidential debate, we all have moments when our success will be determined by a performance—whether it is a job interview, a pitch or a negotiation. To increase the chances of pulling it off, we can look to the simple two-fold preparation of the debate moderators—school yourself in the knowledge you need and manage your emotions. And perhaps even remind yourself if you do have stage fright and slip up, at least you won’t be mocked, vilified and accused of electoral manipulation by political pundits all over cable news and talk radio.

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How a Teacher Learned to Teach by Becoming a Student of her Students

Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP

Erin Gruwell was an idealistic young student teacher when she walked into her classroom at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. Gruwell, who we interviewed for a chapter our book, told us that she approached teaching with a lot of assumptions. She believed that with her good intentions and great enthusiasm she could compel her students to embrace the classics. But arriving that first day in her pearls and polka dot dress she was met with an unexpected reality: a class of apathetic and hostile racially-divided remedial students. No one accorded her respect. A paper airplane of her carefully planned syllabus whizzed by her head and as the bell rang she heard a student say, “I give her five days.” Gruwell told us,

“It became painfully obvious that every theory I had learned in my graduate courses paled in comparison to the raw lessons I would learn in my urban classroom.”

Facing failure, Gruwell could have retreated into apathy herself, like so many of her fellow teachers at Wilson High. But instead she told us,

“I became a student of my students…. I had to learn to speak their language instead of expecting them to learn mine.”

Although becoming a student of her students was not an overnight or painless process, the very simple concept changed everything. Eventually, Gruwell not only won over her class by creating a learning environment designed specifically for them, but helped them become the people that she—and they—never imagined possible. And after she coaxed them into writing about their lives, their stories became the bestselling book, The Freedom Writers Diary.

But we all know that letting go of assumptions can be challenging. Without the comfort of our preconceptions we can feel as if we are in a vacuum. It takes humility to admit that we don’t know as much as we think we know. And taking the next step, learning to understand others, can be just as difficult, whether it’s the retailer learning his customers’ needs, the politician studying her constituents or the manager working to know his employees. But the example of Gruwell’s ultimate success at understanding her students is something that we can all strive for.

Erin Gruwell Fact: All 150 of Gruwell’s students graduated from high school, many the first in their families to do so. And along with Gruwell, several of those students formed The Freedom Writers Foundation dedicated to changing the education system one classroom at a time.