15 Serious Lessons From 15 Very Funny People

Seinfeld, Rock, Rivers and more are here to help. Best listen.

By The Editors

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25 August 2017

Know what they never tell you about the funniest guy in the room?

Ninety-nine times out of 100, he’s also the smartest.

To be a comedian is to be a social critic, anthropologist and philosopher.

And while the great ones don’t often speak sincerely, when they do, you should listen.

Hence, we’ve rounded up 15 (serious) pieces of advice from 15 of the funniest people who have ever walked the earth.

From questioning authority to the truth about monogamy to how to deal with heavy sh*t, these are sentiments you will — and should — remember.

Louis C.K., on listening to your elders …
From Oh My God
“Life is an education and if you’re older, you’re smarter. I just believe that. If you’re in an argument with somebody and they’re older than you, you should listen to them. It doesn’t mean they’re right. It means that even if they’re wrong, their wrongness is rooted in more information than you have.”

Chris Rock, on how to get help from others …
From an interview with O, The Oprah Magazine
“I used to have horrible cars, because I never had money, so I'd always end up broken down on the highway. When I stood there trying to flag someone down, nobody stopped. But when I pushed my own car, other drivers would get out and push with me. If you want help, help yourself — people like to see that.”

George Carlin, on being a nonconformist …
From When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?
“I don't like ass kissers, flag wavers or team players. I like people who buck the system. Individualists. I often warn people: Somewhere along the way, someone is going to tell you, 'There is no I in team.' What you should tell them is, 'Maybe not. But there is an I in independence, individuality and integrity.’ Avoid teams at all cost. Keep your circle small. Never join a group that has a name. If they say, ‘We're the So-and-Sos,’ take a walk. And if, somehow, you must join, if it's unavoidable, such as a union or a trade association, go ahead and join. But don't participate; it will be your death. And if they tell you you're not a team player, congratulate them on being observant.”

Dave Chappelle, on accepting failure …
From CBS interview with Gayle King
“We get these narratives in our mind of how our lives should go and how things should play out, and there’s all this heroic music in it and all this stuff. But sometimes I’m the Keystone Cops, sometimes I’m the idiot, sometimes I’m the fool, sometimes I’m the villain — so you get over yourself, and then you can actually get something done. That’s what I learned from [Hartford, Connecticut], I learned that again on Saturday Night Live.”

Don Rickles, on how to fight ….
“You throw your best punch — otherwise, don’t do it.”

Tig Notaro, on compassion and dealing with tragedy ...
From I’m Just a Person
“Having to comfort someone with a deadly disease is in no way a highly sought-after position and most people are probably doing the best they can. I am certain they were for me. But what I needed to hear most was something that was connected to the moment — to undeniable reality. When I heard, ‘Wow, that sounds really hard,’ or even an awkward ‘I don't know what to say…’ it was tremendously comforting. I felt as though someone was really talking to me and considering what was actually going on, and, most importantly, was willing to succumb to the moment instead of covering it up with a one-size-fits-all platitude. I imagine that most people in my situation, regardless of their religious beliefs, would want the opportunity to express the depths of their fears, concerns, and questions without being showered with blind and deaf positivity.”

David Letterman, on how to be courageous …
From the Late Show with David Letterman
“It’s very simple, there is only one requirement for any of us, and that is to be courageous. Because courage, as you might know, defines all other human behavior. And I believe, because I’ve done a little of this myself, pretending to be courageous is just as good as the real thing.”

Steve Martin, on the banality of becoming successful …
From Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
“I did stand-up comedy for 18 years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four years were spent in wild success. I was seeking comic originality, and fame fell on me as a byproduct. The course was more plodding than heroic.”

Jerry Seinfeld, on the truth about monogamy …
From an interview with O, The Oprah Magazine
“The problem with humans is our heads are just way too big. And one of the greatest appeals of monogamy is the simplification of the mental process. I don't have any friends who aren't faithful to their wives, but if I did, my main question would be, ‘Who's got time to figure all that out?’ It's just too much work. The emotions that have to be disposed of, the values, the ethics ... All I see is this gigantic amount of work for a fleeting pleasure. People should get married because they have finally seen the folly of being single: ‘Oh, this is all just kind of a bad magic trick. I just keep bending over to reach for this wallet on a string. How much longer am I gonna do that?’”

Craig Ferguson, on communication in the smartphone age …
From Does This Need to Be Said?
“There's this idea that people are meaner than they used to be because of the internet. They're not meaner. People are not meaner than they used to be. People have always been assholes ... What happens is the technology is just faster. What happens is, you have this crazy idea, this crazy angry thought ... and then tickety-tick-tick-BOOM. And it's out. And you don't have time to slow down and self-edit and ask yourself the three things you must always ask yourself before you say anything. Which is: Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by me? Does this need to be said by me now? … Three f*cking marriages it took me to learn that.”

Joan Rivers, on comparing yourself to others …
From The Hollywood Reporter
“Ignore your competition. A Mafia guy in Vegas gave me this advice: ‘Run your own race, put on your blinders.’ Don’t worry about how others are doing. Something better will come.”

Dick Gregory, on eating healthy ...
From Dick Gregory’s Political Primer
“I have experienced personally over the past few years how a purity of diet and thought are interrelated. And when Americans become truly concerned with the purity of the food that enters their own personal systems, when they learn to eat properly, we can expect to see profound changes effected in the social and political system of this nation. The two systems are inseparable.”

Robin Williams, on the importance of being crazy …
From Robin Williams – Off the Wall (1978)
“You’ve got to be crazy, it’s too late to be sane. You’re only given a little spark of madness, and if you lose that, you’re nothing. Don’t. From me to you, don’t ever lose that because it keeps you alive … That’s my only love: crazy.”

Richard Pryor, on being vulnerable …
From Richard Pryor: Live in Concert
"You gotta be cool when you're a macho man, because you can't be sensitive and care about someone having a good time in bed, because that's too scary. When you don't use sensitivity when you're having sex, or share some of your soul, nothing’s gonna happen, because men really get afraid. Men really get scared in bed."

Aziz Ansari, on the “real-world self” vs. “phone self” ...
From Modern Romance: An Investigation
“We have two selves: a real-world self and a phone self, and the nonsense our phone selves do can make our real-world selves look like idiots. Our real-world selves and our phone selves go hand in hand. Act like a dummy with your phone self and send some thoughtless message full of spelling errors, and the real-world self will pay the price. The person on the other end sees no difference between your two selves. They never think, Oh, I’m sure he’s much more intelligent and thoughtful in person.”

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