Part of the Humourology series
Season 2, Episode 18
Dani Klein Modisett – Cognition, Connection, and Comedy
Comedian and Founder of Laughter on Call Dani Klein Modisett joins Paul Boross to discuss the act of bringing joy to those who need it most. Modisett shares her stories of her own mother’s Alzheimer’s and how humour can bridge the gap for those struggling to make a connection.
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Paul Boross is joined by comedian, actress, author and founder of Laughter on Call Dani Klein Modisett. Modisett’s company connects comedians with patients in cognitive decline to bring joy and connection to those who need it most. In addition to providing comedians for families looking to bring laughter to their loved ones, Modisett and Laughter on Call also provide training on how to connect through comedy.
“That feeling of belonging and mitigating isolation, like not feeling so alone as we continue to face this situation. How can we use humour to build relationships and build trust?”
Join us this week as Dani Klein Modisett chats about the power of comedy in connection. Learn how to bring laughter to your loved ones and lift them up when life has them feeling low.
To find out more about Dani you can:
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Follow her on Linkedin
Visit Dani’s website
Vistit the Laughter on Call website
Check out Laughter on Call on Linkedin
Follow Laughter on Call on Facebook
Hosts & Guests
Dani Klein Modisett
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Sometimes we prefer to read rather than listen, so here is a full transcript of the podcast for you to enjoy.
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Dan Klein Modisett on The Humourology Podcast
Dan Klein Modisett (00:00):
In terms of an investment in your company, bringing laughter and a sense of levity to your corporate culture. There is no better time to put your energy in this area than right now because people are feeling isolated, anxious. They’re struggling with, you know, depression and laughter as Victor Borge said, it’s the shortest distance between two people.
Paul Boross (00:27):
Welcome to the Humourology podcast with me Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the worlds of business, healthcare, entertainment, and sport who are going to share their wisdom and their use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals increases the value of your laughing stock and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. My guest on this edition of the Humourology podcast has had an illustrious career as a comedian actor, and author, and is the founder of the amazing organisation. Laughter On Call. Her company connects comedians and patients with Alzheimer’s to create cheer and connection to community. She provides top notch, comedy and improv training to healthcare workers and families so that they can bring laughter and lightness to those labouring with illness. Additionally, she provides programming for businesses looking to lead with lightness and bringing connection through shared laughter to corporate teams around the world. Her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and both the New York and London Times as an innovator in the field of comedy psychology and healthcare. She is surely reaching her goal of making connection – one laugh at a time. Dani Klein Modisett welcome to the Humourolopgy podcast.
Dan Klein Modisett (02:12):
Thank you Paul. Thank you so much. I love when I’m ‘lorded’. So I appreciate that you said that I’m ‘lorded’. I like that. I’m an American, so that’s a big deal. Thank you.
Paul Boross (02:22):
Well, it’s all true. And it’s all from the heart, Dani. I know that you started the whole Laughter On Call business with hiring a fellow comedian to work with your mother who had Alzheimers and depression. Can you tell me more about the genesis of the idea and how it worked for your mum?
Dan Klein Modisett (02:44):
Well, absolutely. Uh, it’s actually kind of a quirky story, quirky American story. If I may say , I had moved my mother to Los Angeles from New York city where she was born and raised. She was a total New Yorker, but it got to the point she had, as you said, she had Alzheimer’s and she was depressed. She wasn’t even leaving her apartment and it was $17,000 a month to keep her like not leaving her apartment. So, and I have children, young children, and so it was decided my sister and I decided that we would move her to Los Angeles to be near where I live and the kids could visit and whatnot. And when she got here, I found this like really lovely place with a chandelier. It looked very upper east side. And I think initially she was like, oh, this is okay.
Dan Klein Modisett (03:29):
And then realised she wasn’t leaving. And she became depressed and withdrawn and I felt terrible. I felt really, really guilty. And I was at my dentist and of course, because I live in LA, she’s also like a life coach and I was like crying and she wasn’t drilling. So she was like, what’s going on? And I said, I just feel terrible. I feel so bad for my mother. She’s depressed. And I just wish I could hire a comedian to cheer her up. And she was like, oh, that’s an interesting idea. Why don’t you do that? And the reason I had the idea was because I was a comedian and I couldn’t make her laugh. Cause when she looked at me, she saw a daughter and history and all that. So I wanted like someone fresh to come in and their sole purpose was to make her laugh.
Dan Klein Modisett (04:15):
So I said, oh, I guess maybe I could do that. I don’t know. I thought you should just to go through an agency or something, but I put it up on Facebook that I’m looking for a comedian interested in gerontology paid gig. Cause I wanted somebody to respond and my phone rang almost immediately. And honestly it was Amy Stiller of the Stiller and Mira family. You know, very long-term comedians in New York. And so her daughter very close friend of mine and she was like, I just saw your post. And I know someone in LA who wants to work with seniors. She’s like sitting on park benches, you should call her. So I called this woman and she came over, I made an appointment, she came over and she did what we do now in the training. And uh, she understood instinctively that you get at eye level.
Dan Klein Modisett (05:04):
And she was completely honest with my mother didn’t talk down to her and of course it helped that she had a New York accent. So she sat down and she was like, yeah, I know you don’t want to talk to me. No, you’re probably thinking who is this schmuck? Just talking to me. And there was something about the word schmuck that just like my mother heard the word schmuck and she went schmuck and then the comedian of course went schmuck back and it was like this like schmuck off and they were laughing and I just thought, oh, there it is. That’s, that’s what I want right there. So I hired her on the spot to come eight hours a week to sit with my mother and to make her laugh basically. And within a very short time, it changed my mother’s life. Like she opened up and even when the comedian wasn’t with her, she was engaged now withwith the community and she was eating again and just, it really changed her spirit.
Dan Klein Modisett (05:59):
So I wrote an article about the experience for ARP magazine and I got hundreds of responses from around the world saying, please, can you bring a comedian to London actually is one of the places and Pittsburgh and Florida and Texas. And so that’s when I said, oh wait, I should really do this as a business because there’s always comedians that need money, you know, to just, to tide themselves over. And there’s an endless supply of depressed seniors who could really use that kind of interaction and it was so effective. So that’s how the whole company started.
Paul Boross (06:34):
Wow. That’s an amazing story. And I love the idea of a ‘schmuck off,’ to be honest with you, uh, the producer’s going to have to beep that obviously but it’s a great story, but does it take a comedian to find the moment that helps people to laugh at themselves? Or can anybody do this?
Dan Klein Modisett (06:57):
That’s a great question because ultimately I started getting requests from people running these facilities and from families like, Hey, can we learn how to do this? So there are any tools that you can teach. And I had taught stand up for 10 years at UCLA and I wrote a couple books about the importance of laughter and getting, basically taking comedy out of the clubs and into your relationships. So I definitely had a whole training and started training people. So yes, the answer is it’s great if it’s a comedian because their instincts are to keep going and to, you know, when you’re a comedian and like there’s one person not laughing. Like that’s the person that you are committed. You go, oh, I’m going to get that person. Well, that’s a lot of, can be a lot of what it’s like to work with people in cognitive decline like that challenge.
Dan Klein Modisett (07:48):
So they have the skills to keep going and the perseverance and the joy of the thrill of it. Um, and they’re very easily monologuing, you know, whereas regular people are not quite as gifted or don’t necessarily have the freedom to let themselves just keep talking because a lot of times it can be a one-sided conversation, even though you need to be checking in with the person and reading them, but it’s a lot of,kind of being able to keep going. And so that’s why I think comedians are really well suited to it, but absolutely.I have a whole training that I do with families and caregivers.
Paul Boross (08:27):
Well, you talked about that your background of 10 years at training people at UCLA, what kind of tips can you give people to help find the funny, especially in those kinds of situations when they’re dealing with maybe dementia or, or, or very serious things within the family?
Dan Klein Modisett (08:49):
Yeah, well, I think, uh, authenticity is kind of number one, like having first of all, showing up for it at all, you’re ahead of the game because a lot of people do not even want to be around that kind of illness, particularly like my father, may he rest in peace, died of cancer 25 years ago. And people were there until the day before he died. They were like reading to him from the New York Post and you know, very compassionate. And when my mother got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s pretty much within six months, she was down to like one friend who would visit because people are so uncomfortable with cognitive decline. They don’t want to be around it. And also they’re afraid they’re not going to do it. Right. It’s very, it’s frightening for people. So they don’t come at all rather than risk, not having a perfect experience and not doing it right. So that’s number one, if you’re willing to show up and have the courage to show up with some kind of joyful spirit, because the other thing that we know about people in cognitive decline, excuse me, is that they become emotionally much more sensitive. So they will mirror back the energy that they’re getting. So, you know, beyond being funny and like (hums a tune) like you don’t, if you show up with a joyful spirit you’re already doing, you’re already being of service to these people. So that’s number one. I mean, it was interesting because when I, you know, I know that I called the company Laughter On Call. Absolutely. Initially my impulse was about laughter. But what it came to grow into is this idea of cognitive engagement, you know, but like cognitive engagement on call is like, not funny, nobody wants that.
Dan Klein Modisett (10:32):
So I, you know, I maintain that the goal is shared laughter for sure. But really if you’re engaging with the person and taking them in and not talking down to them, not pretending it’s not happening, not doing this. “Oh, she doesn’t look good today. No she’s not dressed properly” or whatever people do. They talk about the person in front of the person instead of honouring them and honouring exactly where they are. So I think, and that’s the beauty of standup, right? It’s like, it’s the truth teller. And so if you’re able to be the truth teller, you’re giving them such a gift. Now of course there’s parameters around that. Right? We don’t want brutal honesty. Like we believe in honesty, just not brutal honesty. Like I know it sucks here, mom and you’re never getting out. No, you would never say that to a person now.
Dan Klein Modisett (11:23):
Nobody would probably,… although I have heard people say really, really bad things to their parent, um, because of past anger and everything else, which is why hiring an outside comedian as someone fresh is such a good idea. And that’s not a pitch for my business. I’m just saying like you have… when you have a history with the person and they’re in mental decline, it can be very, very challenging. So, uh, so I have heard people be inappropriate. And so you do have to take, if it’s your family member, you do have to kind of do a personal check and leave that history at the door because there’s no place for it anymore. They won’t know it’s not relevant. So…
Paul Boross (12:06):
That’s really interesting that whole thing. And I love the fact that you’re talking about showing up because very often people don’t show up. A friend of mine’s mother died this week and people don’t call. And I’ve learned over the years that you can’t just send a text or a message and have a thing, pick the phone up, however awkward it is because that person needs to talk. And, and if they don’t need to talk, what you do is you say, look, if you don’t want to talk, I, you know, you just put the phone down there. I’ll completely understand. But the ability to show up and the other thing you say was to have a joyful spirit now in psychology, we say , and you know this well, that if you want anyone to go into any state, you have to go into that state first. So showing up with a joyful spirit of course can change the other person as well because it’s a symbiotic relationship.
Dan Klein Modisett (13:08):
Absolutely. It’s mirroring. I mean, what they call in the cognitive world is mirroring, but you know, something that people ask me a lot is like, well, how do you find your comedians? And how do you find these people who can do this? And it turns out there is a whole parallel universe of comedians who either had an ageing parent or worked in a senior community or just have this like love of seniors. But what’s most important. I don’t care about your resume. I don’t, you know, it’s, do you have a joyful spirit? Can you show up and, and, and change the energy in the room, that’s really the job. Can you come in and take, given everything we know, we know it’s sad. Like this is another thing that I say when people say, well, how did you think of laughter and Alzheimer’s laughter. And I’m like that doesn’t…no! And the point is that we know it’s sad, it’s a given, it’s sad. It’s a very long, sad journey, but it’s not sad every moment. And that’s the thing that we’re trying to capture and grab like a comet, you know, those moments that are not sad and to be available to them and to exploit them and try to build on those moments is really the task. And why, you know, I found a professional is really great at that again, because they’re not coming in with any history to the moment.
Paul Boross (14:29):
So, remarkable stories. What do you think the biggest difference that makes a difference is, is it because you touched on it earlier on about listening and, and being connected is I always talk about this because I actually think that comedians, and obviously having grown up working at the Comedy Store and all over, I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds, the really good ones are actually listening because they’re sensing what the crowd is, giving them and they’re working off that energy and that it’s a to, and fro of that. So how important is the listening aspect of what you’re talking about?
Dan Klein Modisett (15:09):
Oh, it’s so key and yeah, I mean, in the book that I wrote, I wrote a book about marriage and laughter called, Take My Spouse Please
Paul Boross (15:17):
It’s a great book. And it actually, but what do you think that that laughter is the lifeblood of any relationship, whether that’s with a parent or with a spouse?
Dan Klein Modisett (15:30):
I do. I absolutely do, but I want to just answer your question about listening because the reason I brought the book up is because chapter two is Listen. So in a marriage, right? It’s like, and I always say, as you learn that as a comedian, that really, as you just said, the best ones, if you’re in a scene and the audience is your scene partner. So if you’re not working off what you’re getting, then everyone feels that the moment is not truthful and they get distracted. So for example, I’m doing my bits and I, you know, I’m going to do whatever bits I do. Okay, I can never make a decision. That was a big part of my comedy persona. And I have my bits and my set list. And then the waitress comes forward and drops a tray of drinks at the foot of the stage.
Dan Klein Modisett (16:16):
But I’m so committed to my material that I’m not going to. Nope. But meanwhile, the whole audience is seeing that like the energy has changed. There’s, something’s gone on in the moment. So if you’re not in that moment, you’ve missed an opportunity. And I think it’s… that is translatable to all relationships. If you’re unable to be present to the moment to really take the person in. And of course, as we know listening, isn’t just with your ears. It’s active listening is body language, tone of voice, words. Yes, of course. But it’s the whole enchilada, shall we say? And, uh, and so that comes right out of standup to be able to listen in that way to take in the whole, I know I feel so California when I say energy, but the energy, you know, in the room, whether it’s one-on-one or a large audience, it’s absolutely essential
Paul Boross (17:16):
And agree more. And I think your work is remarkable and we’ll come back to more of that. Cause I want to know more about as we go along, but, but tell me what makes you laugh, Dani?
Dan Klein Modisett (17:29):
Oh my God, the unexpected people who are willing to say, what’s really going on in a set of circumstances that maybe someone might want to be polite, but instead they say the truth, authenticity, they say the truth of what they’re feeling. That totally makes me laugh. I’m always a sucker for that. Something that doesn’t feel, um, premeditated, you know, the spot, the spontaneous truthful moment. I’m just, I’ll always laugh at that, you know?
Paul Boross (17:58):
Oh, okay. So in a spontaneous truthful way, tell me a true, funny story about something that’s happened to you.
Dan Klein Modisett (18:05):
So this is going to be a little dark, this little Joe Orton-esq if, but I thought, why not? Right. So my mother died like a year and a half ago. And we were all like, it was a long journey as we know. And so we’re all around the bed and like, this is the moment, you know, the laboured breathing and all that. I know stay with me. I know it doesn’t sound like a funny setup. And so she’s, you know, and you have to know that my mother was very opinionated and very high energy and, you know, always right about everything and very fabulous. She was like a fabulous New York woman. So, you know, the breathing there’s like pauses between the breathing and then there’s like a big pause. So I turn to the hospice and my family and I’m like, well, I think, I think maybe that’s… I think maybe that’s a wrap.
Dan Klein Modisett (18:53):
And then you hear *heavy breath* like one more! what she’s like one more. I’m not done yet. And I couldn’t, it was like funny because it was so… The timing of it was so perfect. Cause I had just said, I think that’s a wrap. And then you just heard *heavy breath* I do, I do like that, that kind of dark humour. I, but I thought that was really, really funny. And I, you know, I miss her and it’s kinda, you know, the only good thing is that she died before COVID, you know what I mean? So we got to have a funeral and, and I’m super grateful for that. We were able to fly, but she was a big presence in my life. So, you know, that’s what I like the juxtaposition of what’s appropriate and not judging something as being appropriate or not appropriate. And just, if it, if it tickles you like it’s okay, obviously there’s parameters again around that, but I don’t like making fun of children. I don’t like stuff where anybody’s in danger, like children where there’s a real threat. I don’t like that. I don’t think that’s funny.
Paul Boross (19:59):
That’s a wonderful story. And actually I find that like really moving that you are able to laugh at the situation in its whole context. But isn’t the thing about comedy that you don’t know you’ve crossed the line until you go over it. And so therefore it’s about playing with that line all the time. And I mean, I think that’s beautiful because I mean, when my father died, God rest his soul. We went back to Hungary where he was from. And I walked into a room of all my relatives who were there and you could cut the tension with a knife and everybody was sad and he died, a few months before his 90th birthday. And we were all going to have a party. And, I literally went, oh, typical miserable bastard ruining our party. And there was that gasp, an audible gasp when everybody went, no, you know that ‘too soon’ moment.
Dan Klein Modisett (21:04):
Yes, yes, yes.
Paul Boross (21:06):
Then it just broke and everybody was laughing and they knew it was from the right place.
Dan Klein Modisett (21:13):
Paul Boross (21:14):
But isn’t that the job of the comedian sometimes to, to break that spell so people can have relief onthat level.
Dan Klein Modisett (21:23):
Yes, yes, yes. It is like the court jester. I don’t think that’s really changed. You know, I spent a half a year in London, uh, in college researching the origin of the National Theatre and why we didn’t have a comparable institution in the United States at the time – we still don’t. And you know, when I realised that, well, it comes from the monarchy, like that was like part of the monarchy was the court jester. Like there’s an appreciation for that. I feell But it’s interesting about pushing the envelope and, and what you said about, you know, sometimes you have to go too far before, you know, you’ve gone too far and doing all this corporate work this year – because we’ve done like over 200 corporate events – and there are certain rules. I don’t come from that culture. There’s a lot of rules in the corporate world, you know, about status and respect and all that.
Dan Klein Modisett (22:16):
But the funniest one for me, cause everybody’s trying to do virtual, you know, because we’re all stuck still. Many people are still stuck. So that’s why they’re bringing us in to virtually like how can we create a connection and make people laugh? And so we’ll be in sales meetings and like, I have a thing about escape rooms. So corporations are doing escape rooms as like, I don’t know what, so I do like five minutes every time someone brings it up, I’m like, oh, because we don’t feel trapped enough during COVID we need to, you know, put some trapping icing on our feelings of being trapped. Like that’s a great idea and I will do this and my assistant going to call me. And then the person from HR, I’ll be like, yeah, we did it last week. And you know, I thought it went well. Um, I don’t know. And then I’m like, oh my God, like I just totally alienated this poor woman who probably spend $10,000 on an escape room during a pandemic. I don’t get it. But sometimes my opinions get ahead of me. Like I think something is so funny. Like to me, that is the height of funny, like trapping people when we’re trapped. Like, I don’t know how you don’t see that, but I was so, oh, it was bad. That’s when I,
Paul Boross (23:28):
No, I completely agree. It’s because I do a lot of corporate work myself and everything. I think sometimes that’s our job is to come in and say the unsayable and you make a great point that it is essentially the court jester. You come in from the outside and you can look at it with a different light and, and, and people can go, do you know what they said? That was probably true. Wasn’t it about our company that it’s easier to say through humour.
Dan Klein Modisett (23:59):
Yes. Yes. And there’s, um, there’s a book that just came out. Uh, these two Stanford professors wrote a book called Humour Seriously. And on the cover, I have it here somewhere. It says, you know, where humour is your best weapon, your weapon. They have the word weapon. And, you know, we make such a distinction because of Laughter On Call because of where we come from, that we’re from the healthcare space. And we don’t want to use humour as a weapon. Like we want to use it as a way to build connections and to make people feel included. And I mean, loved is maybe too strong a word for the business world, but that feeling of, of belonging and, and, mitigating isolation, like not feeling so alone as we continue to face this situation, like how can we use it to build relationships and build trust? So that’s something also that colours, you know, I’ve been saying now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with this, but, uh, that, you know, Laughter On Call, basically the Ted Lasso of comedy.
Paul Boross (25:03):
You’re going to have to explain that to our audience.
Dan Klein Modisett (25:06):
Okay. So Ted Lasso is this show on Netflix with Jason Sudeikis from Saturday night live, and it’s super corny. Funny. It’s about this like corny funny guy who is hired to coach a soccer team football for you guys. And, um, and it’s, it’s actually like a revenge thing from this wife. She hires the least talented qualified person for the job. Basically. Who’s like the happiest, most loving, most not competitive guy played by Jason Sudeikis and he’s corny and sweet and he brings her cookies, like the antithesis of what you, you know, competitive sports and it’s incredibly charming. He wins you over. And as opposed to the New York Times did a piece recently, as opposed to the comedy of say, Ricky Gervais. I know, you know who that is, of course. Right. So Ricky, Gervais is edgy and kind of can, can be kind of mean, uh, that’s his that’s his game. So they were doing a comparison of like how in current circumstances, audiences need more of the Ted Lasso of the warm and fuzzy, because it’s, we’re just all so vulnerable right now. So that kind of mean-spirited comedy people are not gravitating towards.
Paul Boross (26:20):
I, I completely agree that we live, but we do need a combination of both don’t we really, because, you know, Ricky Gervais is still selling out arenas all over the world. So, you probably, um, he would disagree, but he would argue, I know that everything should be funny, which you are in agreement for, because the story you just told about your mother and I told about my father is it’s where it comes from. And if it comes from the right place, it can be funny.
Dan Klein Modisett (26:51):
Absolutely. And you know what I think what you’re talking about is like, nothing is sacred, right? To a comedian, nothing is sacred. Like, let’s just go do it. Let’s, let’s call it out. Let’s shed light on it with humour so that we can then have a real conversation about it. I definitely, I mean, that’s the Hannah Gadsby, what she’s doing, like all of that, bringing, you know, because if you get people laughing about something, they will talk about it as opposed to pretending it’s not happening or it’s not there. So I’m a totally big proponent and I’m glad Ricky Gervais is still selling out
Paul Boross (27:25):
Does the truth make go down easier when a joke is attached to it? Do you think that that’s fundamentally what it is?
Dan Klein Modisett (27:35):
Absolutely. I mean, I wrote a show and toured for a year and a show called Two Thin, T-W-O thin. And it was a comedy show about eating disorders about anorexia and bulimia. Cause like north funnier than that?! But we told funny monologues, it was two comedians. We, we went to every college in the United States. It’s a big deal here. Maybe not as
Paul Boross (27:58):
No it’s huge here as well.
Dan Klein Modisett (27:59):
Yeah. So the fact that we were honest and had a sense of humour about our personal experience, again, it opened the door it’s it’s saying like, yeah, this is the truth. And it’s okay to talk about it. So I absolutely believe, I mean, even, you know, when my father died, I was doing another show called The Move, which was about giving up my apartment in New York to get married and the whole, really the story was about grief. That was a play about grief, but I couldn’t go, oh, here’s a play about grief, everyone. No, I opened, I was like eating and had puppets and it was like crazy, funny, single woman who didn’t want to get married basically, who was afraid to get married. But then three-quarters of the way into the show when you’re already laughing and you’re with me, then we see my father’s sweaters that I won’t throw out and that I won’t get out the door. I will not leave the apartment. So it was all really a set up for a conversation about how we grieve, but that, but just to open it with how we grieve, I’m bored. And I’m like, but if I can make you laugh first, then you’re going to engage.
Paul Boross (29:13):
Well, that’s it. It’s you’ve, you’ve created the state change at that point. So people feel free to step in and when there’s that lightness attached to it, which is what the whole Humourology project is about is not everybody thinks, oh, it’s, it’s about gags and jokes. It’s not really, it’s about lightness. It’s about connection. It’s how you make the connection to the important things in life using a lightness or humour, you know, and humanising people because of it.
Dan Klein Modisett (29:45):
Paul Boross (29:47):
So is everyone potentially funny or is it a gift given to the few?
Dan Klein Modisett (29:52):
Um, yeah, I have to think. I, I think everyone, not everybody is funny because I think comedy is music, right? So not everybody can hear the rhythms of, of comedy and timing. And that’s very tough to teach if you can’t hear it. But I do think everyone has the potential to make someone laugh. And that comes from saying the unexpected saying something courageous again, I think like the, probably the most effective tool is saying something unexpected. That’s truthful. I think anyone has some being authentic. Anyone has the potential to do that. If they have the courage, that’s the thing. It’s a courageous act to say, to reveal some personal truth about yourself with perspective, right? Because the great thing that that laughter does and humour does, I think is it lends perspective? It says we can laugh about this because it’s not hopeless. It’s not always going to be like this. Like this is the moment where we can laugh because there’s hope. And so I think that’s my answer. I think not everybody is a gifted comedian or a mimic or has great control of their instrument as a comic performer. But I think people all have the capability to make other people laugh.
Paul Boross (31:15):
Yeah. I completely agree because I consider my job and I think probably your job is to find the moments that help people laugh at themselves. And by doing that, and you said, the perception of the problem is, is lightened. And, and I think that’s what we’re talking about here. Isn’t it?
Dan Klein Modisett (31:35):
Absolutely. Now there, you know, and I mean, this is something that I I’m sure we’ve talked about in the past, like somebody’s ability to have a sense of humour about themselves. I mean, that’s really key. If someone doesn’t have a sense of humour about themselves, that is a really restricting and restrictive dynamic because it often says this better be perfect. You know, it’s got the perfect vibe to it. And if you can’t laugh at yourself, it means you don’t have enough self-awareness to maybe make a change. Like you’re just closed basically.
Paul Boross (32:14):
So I think that’s a hundred percent true, but, and I think that actually, uh, it’s one of the traits that I would say sociopath’s have is that inability to laugh at themselves and have an ego that just won’t allow that. And that’s where the fragility comes in. And I think in order to grow, you have to be able to go, yes, I am ridiculous. I have this ridiculous side. I know that and sometimes that’s a hard place to get to isn’t it?
Dan Klein Modisett (32:52):
Yeah. I mean, often it is, uh, you know the laughter comes out of pain, you know, of facing a frailty. But again, when you face the frailty and you are able to get to laughter it’s because, you know, it’s not the end of the story, you know, that you’ve okay. I have this awareness now and we can laugh. Cause like I’m not always going to be this way, like there’s hope. And I think, you know, that’s when, when things are hopeless, when you can’t, and again, I think that gets back to the very beginning of Laughter On Call with my mother, where it was feeling hopeless, she was feeling hopeless. Like she, so to hear her laugh at that, in that first moment, it was like, ah, yes, there’s hope here. She’s, there’s more life left in her, you know? So it’s such a gift to be able to lend perspective someone by making light of a situation. It’s not to say it’s not dismissing what they’re feeling and like, yeah, whatever it’s saying, Hey, I see you. That is awful. And you know what, it’s not always going to look like this. Like let’s, you know, could be worse, which I guess there’s some controversy about that kind of sympathy. Now it could be worse as is being touted as dismissive or minimising. Um, and not, not good listening, but
Paul Boross (34:15):
Yeah. And then you use the word. I think the first thing that if you have enough connection, if you have enough rapport with the person, and this is, this is true for everybody in business, this is, you know, in healthcare, I used to train doctors at the biggest teaching hospital in Europe. Listening. If you have managed to get rapport with somebody, then you have permission to say things. And it’s, it’s about understanding and, and understanding how connection works. First of all, in order to be funny, you have to have been given permission by the group or by the person to do it. And, and that permission comes from a connection. Are we connected now you can, you can see that I’m joking, I’m teasing. And, and here’s a word that I was discussing with Dr. Richard Bandler, who developed the whole field of NLP.
Paul Boross (35:18):
And we talk about chiding. That chiding is a lovely word. And I’m trying to bring it back as a word because when you’re teasing chiding, playing people love it. Think about the best times you’ve ever had with your friends. They’re not, when they’re telling you how great you are and how brilliant you were in that last movie. You did. That’s nice while it is, but actually your real friends are constantly chiding and playing with you. Aren’t there. And that’s the beauty of life is to do that. And so I think if you can do that in a situation, whether it’s in business or whether it’s with a patient or a relative, that’s a beautiful thing to be able to do. Don’t you think?
Dan Klein Modisett (36:07):
Yeah. And I think one of the best tools for that is something that I refer to as knowing your audience, you know, and doing your homework to earn that trust. So when I started out as a comic, I was flown to Guam to do some, I was an opening for a comedian and, you know, I got there and it was like one of these really macho dudes that I was opening for. And we got there and I got the local newspaper and I was on the beach. He was like tanning himself. And I was on the beach, reading the paper and highlighting and making, you know, and writing jokes about their community. And so when I got out there, there was like some drug scandal with a big political ltype of a leader. And so I may, I was like, oh, you must be relieved to be here and not in *speaks gobbledegook* , the guy who runs your country.
Dan Klein Modisett (36:57):
And so it immediately earned their trust. They were like, oh, look, she cares. She actually did her homework. And then once you do that, yes, then you’ve earned your, and again, it was like that comedian saying to my mother, I know you don’t want to talk to me like, I’m earning your time reading you, I’m feeling you and I’m reading you. And I do think that is one of, I think that’s chapter three in the book, know your audience, you know what I mean? Like, no, take the time to really invest in who you’re talking to so that you can, you know, you’re not going to say anything that’s too hurtful. You know, you’ve got to know what topics are they’re really sensitive about.
Paul Boross (37:36):
I think this is as true in businesses and in sales, I know that you work with sales teams around the world. And I do a lot with sales teams, obviously with my background and the pitching and the, the books, The Pitching Bible. But I always say to people, people buy from people they like, and they trust. And you just mentioned the word trust. And I’m like, well, of course that’s do you know that if you’re going to actually move a relationship along or take somebody to a better place, they have to trust you first before they go there.
Dan Klein Modisett (38:13):
Right. And if you know enough about them, hopefully to handle with care, what they’re sensitive about, then they’re that much more willing to feel safe with you. And that’s another thing, you know, this is very big right now, obviously in business is this idea of creating a psychologically safe, inclusive environment. So that is done by reading the room by knowing who you’re talking to and where their vulnerabilities are. So using humour again, to connect rather than be sarcastic and off putting. And mean-spirited so, yeah, as a tool for creating rapport, I think you used that word earlier.
Paul Boross (38:59):
If I asked you to write a business case for humour, what would you include in it
Dan Klein Modisett (39:05):
In terms of an investment in your company, bringing laughter and a sense of levity to your corporate culture? There is no better time to put your energy in this area than right now, because people are feeling isolated, anxious. They’re struggling with, you know, depression and laughter as Victor Borga said, it’s the shortest distance between two people. So if you want people to feel shared, laughter if you want people to feel connected to each other, this is the time either bring in an outside source or, you know, have some courage to introduce levity yourself as a leader. But now is definitely the time.
Paul Boross (39:45):
I couldn’t agree more and everything, but here’s the issue that it’s all down to the accountants. Now they have to see a return on investment. What is the return on investment when they get Laughter On Call or with Humourology people in what is the return on investment? What changes for the better and the bottom line?
Dan Klein Modisett (40:11):
Well, I’ve definitely read a lot of statistics. Now, if you’re talking about the mental wellness space, which is a booming industry and particularly virtually, but all of it, mental health and mental wellness, billions are being spent now because they do have evidence that it’s, I don’t know the exact figure, but it’s like for every dollar spent, it’s a savings of $2 and 71 cents because people are healthier. So they’re using their health benefits less and they’re not leaving their jobs because they feel welcome and connected. And the cost of replacing an employee is something like $80,000 a year, depending on the level. But, uh, so it is an absolute savings. And I think more and more people are aware of this and I definitely will give credit to that Humour Seriously book. There’s a lot of statistics in there about the importance and value studies on the value of employee retention and health benefits of introducing laughter and bringing companies like Humourology like, Laughter On Call in to help give people tools to create shared laughter.
Paul Boross (41:26):
Well, and you talk about tools. But one of the tools that companies really need is more creativity and what’s the most creative environment. When are people most creative when they’re at play? So, I mean, even on that level, if you can get a sense of, of, of levity, of, of play into the atmosphere at work, guess what I think most organisations have to be creative. In fact, I can’t think even if you’re an accounts company, you have to be creative within that. How can we get more customers?
Dan Klein Modisett (42:05):
Right. And how can we build on each other’s ideas rather than shutting people down in an environment of play and openness and no wrong answers, which is all the exercises that we do, the games that we play, you know, they start with that. ‘Yes and’ game, which I’m sure you’ve talked about. And do you talk it out?
Paul Boross (42:24):
No, it’s very well, very important, but just actually, because you know, w we’ve had great improvisers on her but let’s just go over for our listeners what that’s about because we passed over it, but we shouldn’t presume that everybody knows what ‘Yes and’ means.
Dan Klein Modisett (42:44):
Oh, absolutely. So this is we, when we come in and do programming, this is the one… Cause we do a subscription, you can have 25 events with us. This is the one that’s always repeated and repeated because it’s very important to reinforce and it comes straight from the improv world. It’s this idea of ‘Yes and’ it’s exactly like, it sounds. ‘Yes and’ and it’s, it’s a way of communicating where you start your sentence literally with yes. Whatever comes at you, you start it with yes. Doesn’t mean you agree in brainstorming or in team building or in anything. It doesn’t necessarily mean, I agree with you. It means, yes. I’ve heard you. And have you thought about this or, and I’d like more information rather than yeah. But ah, which immediately throws up a negative kind of like, yeah. I don’t think… or yeah. Maybe which is like, so depressing, like maybe you’re kind of dumb. So the ‘Yes. and’ encourages people to keep the conversation going and to keep moving forward to a solution that you both agree on and can get excited about with each person adding that’s the end aspect. Yes. I’m hearing you and I’m thinking we do this. Yes. And how about we do this? Yes. And have you thought about this? It moves it forward and it creates an environment where people look forward to contributing what they have to say.
Paul Boross (44:18):
I couldn’t agree more. And we had the, the great Neil Mullarkey on here from the Comedy Store Players, who I used to guest with and who are in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest running show in the world. And the whole premise, the ‘yes and’ premise business is really important to create that creativity because ‘no but’ closes everything down and therefore nobody is being creative. So, I couldn’t agree more on that fact. So does humour, in your opinion, aid resilience, does it help people get through life on a real and tangible level?
Dan Klein Modisett (45:03):
Oh, I absolutely feel that humour is essential for resilience. It’s a wonderful way of saying it’s not always going to be like this. Let’s laugh about it. It gives, it literally gives you more oxygen and it literally releases endorphins and serotonin. So yes, it’s a key part of resilience. It’s fortifying. It’s like emotionally and mentally fortifying to have a good laugh, get all that hormone jolt and keep going forward. So, absolutely.
Paul Boross (45:35):
Yep. That hormone jolt – get those endorphins going. Dani, we’ve reached the part of the show, where we’re going to do Quick Fire Questions.
Dan Klein Modisett (45:48):
Oh my goodness. Okay, great. *Musical sting*
Paul Boross (45:54):
Who’s the funniest business person you’ve met.
Dan Klein Modisett (45:58):
Oh my gosh. That’s so easy. Jerry’s, Zaks a Broadway director. I was started out as his assistant when I was 20 in New York city. He has two shows, opening Music Man and what’s the other one? Anyway, two shows opening on Broadway and he is very, very, very, very funny guy. So yeah. He’s the funniest person I’ve ever met and worked with.
Paul Boross (46:21):
What is it about him?
Dan Klein Modisett (46:24):
I mean, it’s great timing. He just has great timing and he’s self-deprecating, but not to the point where you’re worried about him, but he has humility. He’s like a five time Tony award winner, and still has a sense of humour about himself. Great sense of humour about himself.
Paul Boross (46:40):
Great. I’m looking forward to meeting Jerry Zaks.What book makes you laugh, Dani?
Dan Klein Modisett (46:47):
Uh, the book that makes me like I’m reading a book right now called Lady Parts by Deborah Copaken. And it totally makes me laugh because she’s so bold. And it’s actually, every chapter is about like a body part that stopped working for her. And she’s completely bold about it, like with the uterus and the breast and heart. And she’s just very funny in her candour about the experience. And she also, the pacing of the book is so good that you’re like, oh my gosh. And she was really tight with Nora Ephron’s. So there’s really funny scenes in the book with Nora Ephron. I mean, where she writes about these, these meals with Nora Ephron’s. So that’s, that’s the most recent one that has really made me laugh out loud. Like, oh my God, you know, that, that laughter of recognition of like, God exactly!
Paul Boross (47:40):
Well, I’d like to say that your book Take My Spouse Please made me laugh, because… it’s just that, that combination of can we use comedy to sort out our relationships. I thought it was just such a great premise, but actually is laughter the lifeblood of any relationship you think whether that’s in comedy in spouse or in any other world?
Dan Klein Modisett (48:06):
Okay. Well, my opinion, you know, I feel like the opinions here are expressed only of those who said them and not blah, blah blah. That is my opinion. That’s how I persevere. I wrote that book at the 10 year mark of our marriage. And in a month, it’ll be 20 years that we’re married. And I absolutely believe that the, what I learned researching that book and writing that book saved our marriage for me because I, and for both of us, because we recognise what I learned. And this is an interesting thing about the shared laughter. When you go to analyse it, you realise the laughter is actually a by-product of all of these other components being in place of trust of listening, of letting go of the moment before paying attention to timing. Like that’s the thing when you break it down, laughter is a result of all of that. So if you’re doing your work in that respect, the laughter will be the result of paying attention essentially and being authentic. So yeah, I really think all my successful relationships, we have to be able to have a sense of humour together.
Paul Boross (49:19):
So, What film makes you laugh?
Dan Klein Modisett (49:22):
It’s really funny. This is going to sound like narcissism, but I will tell you that the movie that makes me laugh out loud is the, re-make of the Out of Towners with John Cleese. Cause I was, I played John Cleese’s assistant, so it was me and Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn. That was my scene. And I just, it always makes me laugh because first of all, when I saw that, that was my scene, I was like, okay, well I can die now. Like all my comedy legends are around me. That was genius. But also John Cleese was so, so gifted. So it was real. I had to hand him a phone and like, I was ‘it’s for you’. And he was like, “oh no, turn the phone around. It’ll be funnier.” And he was right. And so that’s why I… That just seemed just like that comedy lesson right there just makes me laugh. Plus he’s just the funniest guy. He was a genius. He’s still a genius, but I mean, that moment just totally made me laugh out loud.
Paul Boross (50:19):
Well, four comedy geniuses, and I liked the billing that you started, it was me, John Cleese, Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn!
Dan Klein Modisett (50:28):
Yes, it was me. I was very big. Yes. Oh, another movie that makes me laugh out loud is The Doors with Oliver Stone’s, The Doors with Val Kilmer. Because again, I had a small part in that and I played, uh, a news journalist in Florida and I didn’t like it. It was a really long shoot day. And I did not like the woman next to me. Like she was, she didn’t eat all day. And all she kept saying is I’m so hungry. And so I made this choice when I had my line to go like this. And for those of you listening, I rolled my very big eyes and on a 20 foot by 20 foot screen, I looked ridiculous. I would like a type of board bird. And that makes me laugh out loud when I see that too. Sorry, they’re both about me, but uh, what can I tell you? Those are really funny moments.
Paul Boross (51:22):
Okay, taking ashift to the other side. What’s not funny?
Dan Klein Modisett (51:24):
I think I mentioned earlier anything where kids are in peril. I don’t, I don’t think that’s funny. And I realised recently calves like baby cows, someone, I teach a memoir writing class to 85 year olds here. And one of my people, who’s very smart, wrote this whole story about having dinner with Joan Baez. And he kept singing some song about the sad calves. Is there some song anyway, at the end of the punchline of the whole story was, and then she served calves, liver and onions. Hahaha. It’s like, Ooh, like, I don’t think that’s funny at all. Like the poor little calf. Like I don’t think that’s funny. And then it was like very tense because I don’t, I don’t think that it was funny. And he was like, oh, I’m so clever. And I, and I was like, so I don’t like, I don’t like, um, anything in parallel, obviously. I don’t think incest is funny. I don’t think rape is funny. I know Sarah Silverman’s done wonderful things with rape. I, I don’t think it’s funny. I think there are certain limits,
Paul Boross (52:31):
So everybody’s different, aren’t they? And they have to know, but it’s, it’s very interesting to find where your limits are. What word makes you laugh?
Dan Klein Modisett (52:40):
I can only think of words that make me squeak like moist. I don’t like the word moist, but that’s like, I think a lot of people have a moist issue. Words that make me laugh. I guess schmuck makes me laugh now because it has a personal, personal resonance for me and always have a place in my heart. Didn’t we didn’t. I send you an email about like ‘she bang’, like the whole shebang. Yeah. And yeah. It’s like the whole shebang and how you can’t say that now you’d have to say like ‘they bang’ and that has a totally different connotation. That’s funny. They bang. It would be funny to read. That’s very funny.
Paul Boross (53:16):
Yeah. Yeah. They bang. What sound makes you laugh, Dani?
Dan Klein Modisett (53:21):
One of my comedians, we do a warmup and you have to do, she do like a ho, ho, ho. And then for some reason she feels compelled to have everybody do a bird sound and then she just completely commits. And she’s like, *bird sound* I’m like only you would do that Nikki and, and you got to see all these people look at her, like I’m not doing that. Don’t don’t make me do that. And *bird sound* she’s fully committed.
Paul Boross (53:58):
So, would you rather be considered clever or funny?
Dan Klein Modisett (54:04):
Um, definitely funny. Clever is like a wordsmith and it feels very surface to me. I think funny comes from your soul and it risks, vulnerability and has courage. I don’t think it takes a lot of courage to be clever. Clever is, uh, and clever can be a little mean and cutting. I don’t know. I associate it with things that I don’t feel in my soul, in my spirit. I want to be funny. I want to make people like laugh from their heart and from acknowledgement of something from feeling recognised, as opposed to just stringing words together and very, oh, that’s so clever. How you did that
Paul Boross (54:43):
Beautiful answer. And finally, Dani Desert Island Gags, you can only take one joke with you to a desert island. What is it?
Dan Klein Modisett (54:54):
I’m assuming that we’re going to a tropical island and I’m going to say slipping on a banana peel, come, I’m going to bring an old school. I’m going to hope that my person that I’m sequestered with has a sense of humour. I’m going to eat the banana first so that I am fortified. And then I’m going to just leave it in a handy place and watch them go, boop. But in the sand, see, I have so much heart. I can’t have them slipping and then cracking their head open on a rock. Then I would have to take care of them. So banana peel in the sand, boom, going down,
Paul Boross (55:29):
It’s yours on the desert island, Dani Klein Modisett thank you so much for sharing all that wonderful knowledge with us on the Humourology podcast.
Dan Klein Modisett (55:40):
Paul Boross (55:42):
The Humourology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks music by Steve Haworth, creative direction by Les Hughes and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe like and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a big sky production.
Dani_Klein_Modisett_On_Humourology (Completed 09/24/21)
Transcript by Rev.com