Andrew Tarvin: Professional Corporate Humorist, Author & Keynote Speaker – Ep. 54

About Andrew Tarvin:

Andrew tarvin is a seasoned public speaker and author, with a ted talk called “The Skill of Humor” that’s garnered over 11 million views as of this taping.

He’s the author of 3 bestselling books on humor, and he’s delivered over 500 talks on humor to some of the largest companies in the world.

Why do I love his story? It’s because he exemplifies someone who was on the often path, and then took a sharp detour towards a vastly different life. He was in the heart of the beast, as an IT Project Manager at Procter & Gamble. He worked hard to bring humor into his corporate environment, but it wasn’t long before he set his sights on defining an entirely new career for himself.

He’s perfectly bridged the gap between humor and the stuffiness of business, and that’s why I’m so captivated by his story. 

Full Audio Conversation:

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2:45 – “I’m a type A, blue square, conscientious INTJ with the sign of Aquarius, which means that I am a stubborn, ambitious introvert who likes long walks on the beach.”

4:20 – “[I] ultimately discovered that improv in humor was helping me. So I wanted to explore that intersection of humor in the workplace, improv and business, happiness and productivity, a little bit more.”

6:27 – “We have this perception that being a professional means that we have to be bland—that we have to be a robot—that we have to be sterile or robotic. And I realized for myself that I could start to incorporate a little bit of humor. And it it made my work more fun and I was more willing to show up to work.”

12:39 – “I accidentally did a couple of things that were really beneficial to the point that after two and a half years when I left, it didn’t feel like a very big risk at all. It felt like kind of a natural progression.”

15:55 – “The first question is: what’s the worst that can happen? And the answer is death. But in my case, it was: I would have to get another corporate job. And I figured being a computer science engineer with a slight social skill because of improv and standup and having P&G on the resume, it’s like, OK, I could get another corporate job if I needed to.”

22:23 – “If I were to go back and do things differently and if I wanted to build a business faster, I would not have talked about humor. I’m happy that I did now, but it took much longer to build, because no one cares about humor in the workplace at a high level.”

26:27 – “I don’t have to do this just because it is the beaten path. Instead, I can try something else, and there’s plenty of other people who are trying things as well.”

29:07 – “Part of my message to people is about being happier in the workplace. It’s a place that—you spend ninety thousand hours of your life at work, so you should probably enjoy it.”

36:16 – “Do I actually need to pay rent in New York City if I’m not going to live there half of the time? And so I ended up going to all 50 states in a year. It was like, ‘Oh, I can turn that into a project that can now be a book where I talk about a story from each day’. So that’s where the United States of Laughter came from.”

41:07 – “I’m an optimistic person. I’ve become more optimistic because of improv. And so… I’m always thinking in a ‘yes, and’ mentality.”

49:58 – “Standup is so interesting because you have to be someone who thinks to yourself: ‘You know, who’s funny? Me. You know who has good thoughts? Me. You know who should hear all of my thoughts? Everyone else.’”


How employees perceive leaders with sense of humor 

“Research shows that leaders with any sense of humor are seen as 27% more motivating and admired than those who don’t joke around. Their employees are 15% more engaged, and their teams are more than twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge — all of which can translate into improved performance.”


Written by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas

Effective use of humor 

“One of the more surprising and effective places for humor is around the negotiations table, where humor can make you more persuasive. In a study by researchers Karen O’Quinn and Joel Aronoff, participants negotiated on the purchase price of a piece of art. When the sellers concluded their final offer with the humorous line “…and I’ll throw in my pet frog,” participants in the study granted 18% more concessions than in the control condition, thereby demonstrating that you should not run a psych study with 10-year-old boys.”


Written by Joel Stein

Humor in corporations 

“It is that tension between safety and satire that has traditionally rendered oxymoronic the very notion of corporate comedy. Forward-thinking companies yearn to exploit the genetic links among humor, creativity, and morale, but they cringe at the possibility of lawsuits erupting from off-color E-mail or the odd Seinfeld reference. Consequently, those hoping to season bland corporate cultures with a dash of levity often gravitate toward the most sanitized options: forcing their staffs out to the miniature golf course for some putting at windmills, for example, or hiring humor consultants who urge employees to find the elf in self while pummeling one another with Toobers & Zots.” 


Written by Leigh Buchanan 

Improves group cohesiveness

“Group cohesiveness can be enhanced through positive reinforcement within a group and the reduction of external threats. Humor creates positive feelings among group members by reducing external threats and thereby bonding group members (Francis 1994). For example, individuals who feel the threat of external competition could use aggressive humor by making jokes about their competitors. When group members deride an external threat (e.g., competition), they are placing themselves above the threat and, in doing so, perceive a feeling of triumph over it (Henman 2001).”


Written by Eric J. Romero and Kevin W. Cruthirds

A meta-analysis of positive humor in the workplace

“Results suggest employee humor is associated with enhanced work performance, satisfaction, workgroup cohesion, health, and coping effectiveness, as well as decreased burnout, stress, and work withdrawal. Supervisor use of humor is associated with enhanced subordinate work performance, satisfaction, perception of supervisor performance, satisfaction with supervisor, and workgroup cohesion, as well as reduced work withdrawal.”


Authors: Jessica Mesmer-Magnus and Chockalingam (Vish) Viswesvaran

Benefit of adding humor in leadership style 

“When supervisors integrate humor into their leadership style, they become more likeable, while maintaining respect and influence. One survey study found that employees who say that their manager “makes us laugh at ourselves when we are too serious” or “uses humor to take the edge off during stressful periods” were more likely to trust their manager, and feel a sense of belonging and contentedness at work.”


Written by Jessica Lindsey

How employees perceive leaders who give bad jokes

“New research from Gang Zhang, a doctoral candidate at LBS, shows that although employees admire and feel more motivated by leaders who use humor effectively, they have less respect for those who try to be funny and fail or who make fun of themselves.


Written by Alison Beard

Effect of humor in people’s performance 

“Levity is a powerful bonding agent. A workplace that embraces laughter is likely one that also encourages the kind of creativity, authenticity and psychological safety that allows people to perform their best. Humor is a Trojan horse for humanity — and that, Ms. Aaker and Ms. Bagdonas argue, is the thing that knits people and organizations together.”


Written by Corinne Purtill

Humor nurtures relationships

“This is what makes humour one of our most important forms of emotional expression. It’s a social behaviour that reveals who we really are – at least when it occurs spontaneously. It lets people know that we like them and understand them, enabling us to build and nurture relationships across hierarchies and even cultural divides.”


Written by Christine Laurens

Downside of using humor 

“Although humor unifies, it also can divide by creating in- and out-groups and accentuating power differences,” says John C. Meyer, associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. If you’re not in on the joke, humor doesn’t create a connection. It destroys it. The shared laughter of the in-group says, “We’re cool with each other but not with you.”


Written by Andrew Tarvin 

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