Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

15 Jul 2006, 13:19 p.m.

Towards Less Sucky Management And Standup Comedy

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2006 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Perhaps NYC has more opportunities for beginning standup than I'd thought. My sketch needs I fulfill with Slightly Known People every Saturday night, and once in a while The Whitest Kids You Know (although they have a scatology joke or two that really makes me nauseous) (and no women). But there's enthusiastically mediocre stand-up out there. Aziz Ansari, Laurie Kilmartin, and Ted Alexandro make for wonderful exceptions.

I started doing standup partly because Simon Stow, a fantastic political science teacher, had a background in standup. His example also helped get me into teaching and political science. But I also started because I kept seeing bad standup and thinking, "I could do better than this." You'll recognize this as the same impulse I had when watching bad management at former jobs and during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I reluctantly quote Paul Graham:

I've found that people who are great at something are not so much convinced of their own greatness as mystified at why everyone else seems so incompetent.

I seem to remember this as "the good just think they suck less" but evidently that's not in the original.

The problem of metacognition nags me. It's one of the reasons I waited so long to try booze. One classic work on the topic: "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments" by Justin Kruger and David Dunning (PDF and plain text versions). One way to get people to realize that they lack a skill is to teach it to them. How else can we correct cognitive illlusions? As a future manager, I find this a troublesome and fascinating topic. As a comedygoer and comedymaker, I want to show them how it's done.