Peter McGraw is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, but he’s also been a stand-up comedian, humorist, adventurer, game show host, and author. All this came about when he developed an itch to solve the age-old question: Why is comedy funny? He found the age-old answers problematic, and so embarked on a journey to discover the true answer that entailed traveling 91,000 miles, trying his hand at stand-up comedy, and hosting his own game show Funny or True. He’s written two books about the experience: The Humor Code, in which he and Joel Warner document the journey, and Shtick to Business, in which he presents the value of his findings in a business context.
Today Peter joins me to talk about his journey and what he’s learned from it. He talks about the common denominator of all comedy, what makes a good comic, and the “benign violation” theory. He discusses the previously accepted theories of comedy and expands on his own. He presents comedy as a universal art form, notes its link to both confidence and intelligence, and talks about the comedic tactic called the “Reversal.” He explains his practice of “shitstorming” as preparation for brainstorming, answers a lightning round of questions about himself, and talks extensively about both of his books. He also discusses the applicability of these comedic principles to other parts of life, particularly noting the usefulness of bad ideas and the Reversal. He ends on the importance of writing.
Quotes from Peter McGraw
“The best comics are kind of misfits.”
“Comedy is just like play fighting with words.”
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