IT would be easy for a keynote speaker to stand before an audience and say, “We cannot lose the ability to laugh. If we do, we have lost absolutely everything.”
It would be easy for that speaker to implore the audience to constantly remind themselves, “This is my life. I'm in control.”
But Steve Rizzo did a lot more than that when he addressed the NATM members at Friday's session. In his presentation, “It's a Jungle Out There — It's All About Attitude,” he brought the message home by illustrating how his life has been changed with humor, spinning some uproarious tales that had the room rocking.
Rizzo said he once was in long line at a Kmart checkout. The clerk was in a foul mood, and it was spreading to everyone behind Rizzo. So while he waited for her to finish with the customer ahead of him, he took off his shoe and started talking to it.
“Hello, Chief. It's Max. I'm at Kmart, and apparently the woman behind the counter is a spy. How can I tell? She has a bug up her butt.”
The customers cracked up. Some of them were clapping and shaking his hand. He noticed their mood suddenly changing. One of them even said to Rizzo, “Can I use your shoe? I have to call my wife.”
But how does that translate into a life-changing event? Rizzo told the story of a suffocating, 98-degree day in New York City. He was 30 minutes late for a crucial comedy audition, the air conditioner in his rental car wasn't working, and he was waiting at a toll booth. Oh, and there was one more problem: He had just discovered that he had forgotten to bring any money.
When he reached the booth, he said to the collector, “I'll have a couple of burgers and some fries.” The collector said, “We don't have food here.” Rizzo replied, “Well, you'd better get it, because you're holding up traffic.”
The collector started to laugh. When impatient drivers began honking their horns, the collector stuck his head out of the booth and shouted, “Sorry, we ran out of food! Try the next booth!” The collector gave Rizzo a high-five and said, “This toll's on me. Thanks, buddy. I needed a laugh.”
Planting Positive Thoughts
Rizzo said he drove away from the booth in a totally different state of mind. Instead of allowing stress to short-circuit him, he was able to plant positive thoughts in his head about the audition. That allowed him to be at his zany best, which led to his first Showtime special, which paved the way for all the others, including HBO, Evening At The Improv, and The Comedy Channel.
Rizzo describes himself as a Professional Humor Being. He believes it has never been more important to be a Humor Being. He believes the events of 9/11 have created a “new normal.” Humor is the salve.
He told of how a reporter was interviewing a fireman after the World Trade Center towers came crashing down. He asked the fireman, “How was it that you fell 87 stories and only broke a leg?” Said the fireman in that classic accent, “I'm from New York, and I'm a fireman. That's all you need to know.”
Rizzo, a Brooklyn native, said the world needs a “New York attitude.”
“New Yorkers have a reputation that nothing bothers them,” he says. “I've been saying that way before Sept. 11. Nothing seems to faze New Yorkers. If there were a nuclear war, Brooklyn would survive, because they simply wouldn't take that. They'd be walking the streets going, ‘Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! HEYYYYY! Get outta here, freakin' radiation!’”
Rizzo told the NATM audience that if they want to beat the competition, keep their customers, and increase their orders, they need a healthy attitude. They need to wake up every morning and find something to laugh about.
And when self-doubt creeps in?
“Talk back to your fears, because your fears are constantly talking to you, 24 hours a day,” he said. “Humor nips negative thought patterns in the bud before they blossom into emotional havoc.
“Happiness is a choice. Things do not have to go your way in order for you to enjoy yourself and be happy. Happiness comes from within, not from outside circumstances.
“Everyone in this room has a Humor Being within them. It is of your higher self. It is the part of you that brings out the best in you when times get really tough. What your Humor Being can give you more than anything else is emotional stability.
“We have a problem in this country: We have managed to stifle our laughter genes. We have become so politically correct that we have forgotten what it's like to laugh. We have taken things very seriously. God forbid that you should laugh in the middle of a major challenge at work or at home. God forbid you should find some laughter in between the pain. There is a major difference between laughing at something that's very serious and laughing off the fear that represents it.”