Part of the Humourology series
Season 3, Episode 56
Kevin Cahill – Putting the Fun into Fundraising
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“Laughter is a great way of humanising people, bringing people together, and creating a sense of comradeship and empathy, and solidarity.”
Join Cahill as he covers how to lead one of the largest charities in the country while keeping comedy at the centre. From learning to connect across cultures through comedy to creating the internationally recognised Red Nose Day, Cahill discusses a lifetime of laughter and love only on The Humourology Podcast.
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If you are able to appreciate comedy and make the odd witticism and come across as a kind of as affable and open and, dare I say occasionally amusing, I think it definitely helps your ability as a leader to get people to commit to what you want them to do. And to if you like, where there are leaders there are also followers and to kind of follow the vision and to do the best they can. So I think it’s a pretty crucial quality for any leader.
Paul Boross (00:00:39):
Welcome to the Humourology with me, Paul Boross my glittering line-up of guests from the world’s of business sport and entertainment 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 success and your life. Humourology puts the fun into these 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 is a legendary lifer in the delightful charity Comic Relief, where he served as chief executive for 19 years. He is the creative mind behind the iconic Sports Relief and Make Poverty History. In addition to organising almost two decades worth of the internationally celebrated Red Nose Day, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2016 and was named as honorary lifetime president by Comic Relief for the career he built combining comedy and caring. More importantly, his work has inspired hours and hours of laughter and saved many lives by motivating masses of people to be funny for money, Kevin Cahill, welcome to the Humourology podcast.
Kevin Cahill (00:02:15):
Thank you for that and I’m happy to be here.
Paul Boross (00:02:17):
Well, it’s a real pleasure to see you again. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you and I know that you’ve done so much astounding work. Your extraordinary career centred around tapping the power of comedy to change lives. Now, the Jesuits say, give me a child of seven and I will give you the man; Was the young Kevin Cahill aware that comedy was a potentially powerful tool?
Kevin Cahill (00:02:46):
It depends how young you’re going. When you’re saying was a young,bI certainly wasn’t at birth. I’ve probably been someone who has enjoyed comedy and come across it, but it was certainly, just haphazard and a stroke of luck that I ended up at an organisation called Comic Relief and the power of comedy to change lives and to make extraordinary things happen only really resonated with me properly. Once I stepped through the portals of that, organisation and began if you like living it on a day to day basis,really. Yeah.
Paul Boross (00:03:29):
Well, come back to Comic Relief because it’s such a hugely important part of your life, but was humour valued in your family when you were growing up?
Kevin Cahill (00:03:41):
I had a pretty traditional working class background, Irish father who married and kind of met a young English woman during the war when the Irish came to the UK to run the factories while the British men went to war. And so as such, it was I’d say we managed to have a laugh, but it wasn’t particularly celebrated. And I guess the only manifestation of it would be probably the time we spent together watching television where Morecambe and Wise on television, you know, Des O’Connor, Dave Allen. So, we consumed that together as a small family, but really life was about generally getting by and surviving in a tough world as well. So, I would say, but I don’t think either of my parents were particularly funny, they didn’t tell jokes, but we did manage to have a laugh at times where by, you know, just as most ordinary families would.
Paul Boross (00:04:46):
That’s really interesting because you talk about a reasonably tough upbringing and bmost of the time spent concentrating on surviving. You’ve helped disadvantaged people in both UK and some of the poorest communities around the world. Do you think that humour is more abundant in those poorer communities as a necessity?
Kevin Cahill (00:05:10):
Well, I tell you, I wouldn’t claim be an expert on how necessary it is. I think all communities have their ability to laugh and the things that make them laugh. But I tell you, what’s interesting that just I do think certain types of humour if you take slapstick will generally work in most cultural contexts and for most communities and most people, there’s a difference, I think between wordplay and witticism and ironic observation and slapstick. And so humour, I’m sure plenty of your guests on this podcast, would’ve talked about these type of things, but , I think every community has ways of laughing and that situations that crop up and occur that are funny. I mean I was just thinking that when Richard Curtis who got me to go to Comic Relief he tells this story, which probably relevant to this little strand of the conversation about when he’d had the idea after Live Aid, that the comedians might be able to do something similar to the musicians and the musical community and make a difference.
Kevin Cahill (00:06:27):
So he went on a fact finding trip to Ethiopia because it was post the 1984 famine and he ended up in a refugee camp in the Sudan, just across the Ethiopian border and what was happening there was, there were three tents where sick children were being triaged. So there was one tent where the kids who had little chance of getting through it were being looked after, a middle tent where they had kind of a reasonable chance. And then the third term, where there was the best chance. And he recalls being in that medium tent. And there was this thing that Lenny Henry used to call the flying pants. It was a way of weighing a small child by putting them in these pants that were on a kind of scale and you could, you could get their body weight.
Kevin Cahill (00:07:13):
And this particularly emaciated young boy was put in there and he was so tiny that he fell through and landed on the floor and started crying. And Richard was then kind of with these Western kind of sensibilities thinking, oh, what a terrible thing. And all the women in the tent burst out, laughing. So it was the immensely tragic situation where a moment of slapstick brought out the humour and made everyone laugh. And I tell that story, cuz the Richard says, that’s the moment he realised this thing called Comic Relief could exist because actually it was comedy in the face of terrible tragedy. And the two are able to sit if you like side by side. So, I suppose the point I’m making is that slapstick can be funny for all kinds of people and it can occur in any situation and break the mood and the tension or make kind of tragic things happier, just even if it’s for a fleeting moment. So I’ve never forgotten that story.
Paul Boross (00:08:20):
No, and it’s, it’s such a powerful story, isn’t it? And when you see the kind of suffering that you and Richard Curtis and all the Comic Relief people have, have seen that suffering close up, do you think that that humour actually aids resilience for those people? That laughing the situation, which you can’t do anything about, is part of aiding that resilience?
Kevin Cahill (00:08:47):
I’m sure laughter could always aid resilience. I mean, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to speak on people’s behalf with that, but certainly everywhere I’ve travelled, the people I’ve seen, the places I’ve been laughter is a great way of humanising, bringing people together and creating a sense of comradeship and empathy and solidarity. So I think it’s one of the most powerful emotions in a way that can cut through anything and can can also connect you with people who you wouldn’t necessarily ostensibly on the surface of things, feel an immediate connectivity with, because of the difference in your cultural, economic and you know, situations, but actually humour can cut through and make things work.
Paul Boross (00:09:36):
So you are talking about it, if I’m correct in thinking, in a bonding way that it’s an automatic bonding tool.
Kevin Cahill (00:09:46):
Yeah. Yeah. I, I remember again, a similar thing being, being in Ghana taking a football team in to play and so the sport and the football were bringing communities together and Frank nSkinner and David Baddiel were going to meet this community to do some filming. And as Frank walked into the hut, we were gonna film in, he bashed his head and another piece of slapstick and then all the women in the room, because it was a, was a woman’s project we were visiting, again burst out laughing. And that broke the ice immediately because there was a kind of tension pre-recording, well, how’s it gonna go? Is it gonna develop its own momentum? Will it work for everybody involved? And that just kind of you know, Frank reacting to banging his head meant the people went, oh, well, these guys are okay, cuz you know, they bang their heads like us. And so it’s funny.
Paul Boross (00:10:42):
Well that… it’s one of the few things in the world that everybody can relate to. Isn’t it, it’s a simple sort of hands across the ocean, if you like of a thing we understand, somebody falls over somebody bangs their head. It’s funny as long as the person takes it. Well of course, if the person takes it well, which I know Frank would’ve done, it takes it well and laughs at himself that also eases the tension, doesn’t it?
Kevin Cahill (00:11:12):
Yeah, it does on a similar note, I’m gonna put my glasses on here, but we were with a group and introducing ourselves in the middle of the north of Kenya with a community. And he came round to Steve Coogan athey said, well, he went, uh, my name’s Steve Coogan, I’m a comedian – for those of the people listening to the on audio, he just adjusted the alignment of his glasses. So they fitted askew across his face and a simple gesture as that, as I’ve just done by adjusting my glasses, actually had everybody laughing. So some people are blessed with comedic instincts and creativity and can just do a little thing like that, which, which provokes humour and then the humour brings people together. So I think it’s a fantastic tool for doing that.
Paul Boross (00:12:07):
You must intrinsically understand this because you have been around comedians and funny people, but having to lead from the front, I mean, you led Comic Relief if I’m right from a 20 person startup to a 300 staff and a hundred million a year income. So is leadership enhanced by the ability to… by the ability to allow humour to actually evolve in the business situation?
Kevin Cahill (00:12:41):
Well, it’s interesting asking questions about leadership. I mean, I think that I’ve got my own views on it and I think a leader needs all kinds of things like a kind of a vision integrity ,an openness with people, the ability to own up to things that don’t work well so that you can get things back on track. But I think also when people look at you as a person, your personality and the kind of man or woman you are, then if you are able to appreciate comedy and make the odd criticism and come across as a kind of as affable and open and dare I say occasionally amusing, I think it definitely helps your ability as a leader to get people to commit to what you want them to do and to if you like where their leaders are also followers and to kind of follow the vision and to, do the best they can. So I think it’s a pretty crucial quality for any leader to be able to, I suppose, appreciate comedy and as far as their abilities allow.
Paul Boross (00:13:54):
So in essence, do you think that the humour humanises people and, and leaders need to, to an extent be humanised in order to connect and without followers, the leaders, just a bloke on his own.
Kevin Cahill (00:14:11):
Yeah. or a woman on their own, but I think that …. I think essentially it kind of, it adds warmth and texture to relationships and it helps people therefore feel comfortable in your company. And and also to kind of believe in you more and, and therefore can develop a kind of loyalty and a level of support that you wouldn’t get without it.
Paul Boross (00:14:42):
Yeah. So I think we’re talking about the, whether that leader is male or female, a rapport, that it helps to oil the wheels of business as it were. And if you haven’t got rapport with people, I think it is harder as psychologists to get people, to, to follow you and follow where your vision
Kevin Cahill (00:15:08):
It is. And of course, you mentioned the time I spent, which was a great time running Comic relief, but I call if your company’s name is comic relief, then it stands to reason that the comedy or comic bit of it is gonna be important. Isn’t it? Because actually comedy was operating sphere. It was the thing that made us stand out, Comic Relief sums, it, sums it all up. And we, we were lucky personally, I was lucky because I’m not particularly comedic myself but I had the pleasure and the privilege of working with people for whom comedy was their kind of professional metier and who relied on it for their career and their support and the millions of people who laughed to their jokes or the work that they did. So, um, it was, in that respect, it was fantastic.
Paul Boross (00:15:57):
Well, I I’m interested because you said that I’m not particularly comedic myself, but the whole Humourology project is not just about making jokes and doing gags. It is about the having the humility, it’s about having the ability to humanise people, to let humour flow. And sometimes the most important person is somebody who allows humour to happen, who leads from the top, who lets it happen. Isn’t it. Can you talk a little bit about that thing of, of allowing it rather than… I don’t think you have to be, I think you, one of the things you can do to really aid humour is to be a good audience.
Kevin Cahill (00:16:42):
Basically, people spend a lot of time at work and depending on what their job is, it could be eight hours a day could be up to 12 hours a day or whatever. And I certainly used to say to the new beginners of Comic Relief, that in a sense, because they’re spending such a huge amount of their life then in the office. I mean, now it’s a bit different cuz people are working from home – that, that in a sense it was their responsibility as well to enjoy being there to have fun. I mean, having fun at work was as important in some ways as the crucial nature of the work. Because if you’re in a workplace where you’re bonding with people, you’re having a laugh and you are kind of enjoying what you’re doing, then as far as the company or organisations concerned they’re going to benefit from that kind of vibe and that atmosphere.
Kevin Cahill (00:17:39):
And so I was always you, if you like determined to let people laugh, have fun, enjoy the fact that they were working in a community where that was allowed and they could actually relax and chill and enjoy downtime as well as the critical world that they’re engaged to do. But you mentioned that there was a point at which the organisation was raising a hundred million pounds a year. That’s not an easy thing to do. It’s a very pressurised environment and rising to the challenge of it can be quite demanding and ask a lot of people. Therefore you need that ability to kind of debunk it a bit and to enjoy it and to tell jokes, have fun with your colleagues in order for the community of it, to work in the most efficient and productive way to deliver the best results. So I’d say the comedy or humour – humourology as you call it – is critical in that sphere.
Paul Boross (00:18:40):
I think you’re a hundred percent, right. And it’s lovely to hear somebody who has led such a big operation talk in those terms because a lot of our listeners will be not comedians in business, in other areas. And actually, I think everybody needs to know that it adds to the bottom line that, I mean, if people have a real purpose, if they’re happy at their work, if they, if they feel that they can have a laugh with people, they are going to be ultimately happier and more productive.
Kevin Cahill (00:19:15):
Yeah. And I think that I was thinking as we came into this, of moments, I used to work at the National Theatre before I went to Comic Relief. And we used to produce small scale tours and we were going around the country and having to just get the packaging and the equipment, right to take some actors overseas. And we’d bought these massive bags to see if, if we could get all the equipment and the costumes and stuff in them. And I remember that one of, one of the, my friends from then who was working with me basically we were trying to test out the load bearing couple plastic, this bag. So I persuaded her to get in it and she climbed into this bag. It was a soft bag, not a suitcase and it had a zip. And so I zipped it up.
Kevin Cahill (00:20:01):
So her head and neck was sticking out of the top and as chance would have it, it was the first week that Richard Eyre had taken on the job of being the director. He’d taken over from Peter Hall as the director of the National Theatre. And he happened to be doing a walk around saying hello to people at the moment when I was carrying this bag around the office with one of the team in the bag with her head, if you like sticking out. And we do just had to tough it out, you know, pretend it was like an everyday occurrence and activity. And it was quite proper really that we were, we were load testing this luggage and to give Richard his due, he went along with it, but he could have left that room thinking what a bunch of idiots, you know, this is what I’ve walked into with kind of people like that working for me. But it broke the ice. It made him kind of understand that there were you know, people who had a sense of humour in his team. And we went from strength to strength or all got on with him and, you know, the rest is history. So, so that was just a moment when humour broke the spell, but it was a kind of like, just something I’ve remember fondly actually.
Paul Boross (00:21:19):
Well isn’t that because… you know, there’s a saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And actually, that first impression still sticks with you with Richard Eyre, from those days at the National Theatre. And it could have gone completely the other way. If Richard Eyre had suddenly gone well, what the hell do you think you are doing? I pay you to this, but what are, I mean, I actually think that’s incredibly wise to actually go to those places and go, it’s a bit of fun. This should be encouraged. I think that any business can get better if they do have that lightness in there because I don’t think it detracts from the seriousness you, I think have proved – and one of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you – is that you can take the most serious things in the worlds which you know are poverty through Making Poverty History and Sports Relief and add a lightness of touch and they sit comfortably together because it’s for a good reason.
Kevin Cahill (00:22:37):
Yes. And we used to say, make the claim a bit that Comic Relief help put the fun into fundraising. If you look at fundraising in the period, if you like before it existed, I think there was a greater kind of seriousness about it. It was perhaps about guilt trips and feeling guilty about doing things or doing things for quite kind of serious reasons. And then when you suddenly have things where people are kind of shaving their beards off for Comic Relief or the sitting in a bath of baked beans, which is kind slightly ridiculous, all of it, but it, but we basically said to the British people think of the, you know, most eccentric and amusing and wacky things that you, although I hate the word wacky, but wacky things that you can. And, put them on display and ask your mates and family to kind of in return for you making a fool of yourself to give you some money and that money then will be used for a serious purpose. So I think that notion that fundraising can be fun was in some ways born with the very early Comic Relief, because prior to that, it hadn’t really been a feature of the fundraising landscape. And if you look at the fundraising landscape, now it’s happening everywhere and with all different kinds of people and communities. And so, but certainly the fun element of it encouraged the giving and the charitable aspect. And so they went hand in hand and as a result, it’s been an enormous success story.
Paul Boross (00:24:19):
I actually think that you also did business a huge favour because you allowed, maybe it’s just that one day a year when, you know, because suddenly you saw businesses having, you can come dressed as anything you want in the business. it created a lightness in the workplace as well, and you allowed that to happen. And so I think you probably changed the course of business as well.
Kevin Cahill (00:24:47):
Yeah, it’s possible. I mean, there is certainly the Lord of misrule takes over on that day. I mean, or it did, it was obviously, as we just said, relatively innovative and new, but when you hear stories of, you know, chief executives taking the tea trolly around the offices and job swapping and roll swapping and teachers in schools becoming the pupils and the pupils becoming the teachers and all, all of those things, it’s just a kind of moment where we say, well, normal rules are suspended and let’s see a different side of each other and they can humanise the managers and the bosses who can show that they’ve got a sense of humour and that they’re prepared to fall in with a joke and it can make the teams feel motivated and kind of warmer towards the company because of those things that have happened.
Kevin Cahill (00:25:46):
I remember Justin King who was the chief executive of Saintsburys. Who we did a big multiyear deal with, to be the purveyors of the red nose and to help us promote Red Nose Day. And boy, did they do a brilliant job, but in talking to Justin about the rationale and the reasons why they made the choice to strike up the partnership in the way that they did, the first reason they often quote, or he quoted was more to do with his team – they’re called colleagues at Sainsburys – but the impact it had on the staff team and the staff team’s sense of the company, and their kind of feeling proud and passionate about the good work that was being done with the money that they’d helped to raise over the tills and through their own fundraising activities. And so that bringing of the sense of fun into a serious world of work for a limited period, you can’t do it 365 days a year, but on the days when it happens, it certainly I think brings senior management and teams together in a joint sense of purpose. But the thing that held it together was a sense of comedy or fun or humour, because it was all built around humour. So, I think you’re right in that.
Paul Boross (00:27:07):
Absolutely. I I’ve just realised that maybe unconsciously,, I’ve nicked your idea because you said that Comic Relief put the fun into fundraising. And I said in my introduction that Humourlogy put it’s the fun into business fundamentals. So, I’d like to thank you for unconsciously for giving me that line.
Kevin Cahill (00:27:30):
You’ll be hearing from my solicitors later. <laugh>
Paul Boross (00:27:36):
It’s a fair cop. Society’s to blame,. What makes you laugh? Kevin?
Kevin Cahill (00:27:40):
If you’d asked me that two months ago, I’d give you a different answer to today, but we have recently acquired a puppy called Veronica Merry Legs Bucket Barker or Ronnie Barker for short. And she’s a little kinda Jack Russell Cross. And I have to tell you this dog’s had us hooting with laughter in this household, just because of the big behaviour of a puppy running around when you go out and come back and you go, oh, they’re back. Oh yeah. Where have you been after you’re waiting for you, like just be welcome you at the door, stealing shoes and hiding them. You can’t find things that were there, you know, half an hour ago and you rushing to go out. So, currently in my life, this little thing, which is just kind of five months old is making us laugh, our socks off, actually she’s taking our socks off and hiding them <laugh> uh, so, uh, so that’s the thing that’s making me laugh most at the moment.
Kevin Cahill (00:28:36):
Just the joy of a little kind of creature coming into the household. And then obviously other things, a great sitcom, I mean, Richard used to say that there were two great sitcoms every decade, but certainly I was working in Sweden when Fawlty Towers came out, so I missed the initial broadcast of it. And then when I did see it, there were moments when I had to switch to television off, cuz I thought I was gonna have a heart attack laughing. So laughing so much so great sitcoms, great standup. I mean Victoria Wood as a standup, you just couldn’t beat. And so, you know, you can find humour and laughter everywhere, but currently it’s a five month old puppy called Veronica Merry Legs, Bucket Barker.
New Speaker (00:29:22):
Tell me a true, funny story about something that’s happened to you.
Kevin Cahill (00:29:26):
Okay, here we go. I was on a couple of days break in Stockholm. I’d gone, you know, for just for a long weekend or something. I was in the museum there. But still as this is the modern way working as I went on my mobile and then the message came in about something I’d been working on for a good few months, which was actually to do with Clarence’s House who were then the young Princes. I mean they were probably in their early twenties and and I’d been trying to get them to do something for Sport Relief and we were very, very close to it. So the thing came in that said, unfortunately, this was one of my staff team. Unfortunately having considered it fully. I’ve had this email that says, we’re sorry, on this occasion.
Kevin Cahill (00:30:13):
we’re not gonna be able to get involved. And I was always a very determined person when I was trying to get people to do things – usually for nothing – and so I pinged off a reply and said, excuse a French – Fucking typical, all mouth and no trousers. What are we gonna do now? You know, it was a fairly robust thing to my assistant, but I’d done that terrible thing, a pressing copy everybody. And so the message had gone to the team at Clarence’s House and the moment it had gone, I’m just going, oh my God, what? Like this is it. That’s just ruined my career. There goes my CBE. Luckily I got it later. And my nighthood and so you just left there, standing in this kind of quiet place thinking what, what can I do?
Kevin Cahill (00:31:08):
Cause in those days there was a thing where, if you remember, you could try and recall an email. I don’t think it ever worked. No, I don’t. I don’t think you can do it now. And so I, so like hour later I thought I’d better… So, I sent a thing to Clarence House saying, I’m really sorry. It’s just that I was so frustrated, just kind of my frustration got the beta mean I’d pinged this reply. I’m sure you’ve seen it and read it and all I can do is apologise. An luckily for them, they came back and this would play to your, your themes here. And they said, we’ve been pissing ourselves laughing for the last hour in the office because <laugh>, we realised what a tragic mistake it was. And we wondered how you were gonna deal with it. So don’t worry.
Paul Boross (00:31:56):
Oh, well that that’s so, so lovely that there is a denoument in the story which was actually that it’s a good thing, but also there’s, there’s something from a psychological perspective owning up and just putting your hands up
Kevin Cahill (00:32:12):
And going, well, I couldn’t see any other way out of it. Just say I better take it on the chin and take it before he confessed too long, because he was only a classic mistake. So
Paul Boross (00:32:24):
So you’ve worked with all these extraordinary comedians from all over the world over the years. Is everyone potentially funny or is it a gift given to the few?
Kevin Cahill (00:32:37):
Well, I think it depends on the gradation of it. I think to be supremely funny and have the ability to make millions of people laugh is a gift that is restricted to the few because it’s a definite skill as different bits of people’s brains that have probably developed in a way that lend themselves to that. And even within that, people are funny in different ways. So I don’t think everybody is funny but I think there is humour in situations that everybody finds themselves in. And sometimes they only feel funnyt in retrospect it’s whether, how I’m a person who doesn’t deal very well with practical jokes. And I remembered a couple of situations, friends putting kind of fart powder in a curry that I was eating once and tragically it didn’t sink into the curry. So it was like sitting on the curry. They distracted and I’m looking at this little yellow stuff and thinking what that everyone at the table is pissing themselves laughing, cuz the joke was gonna be on me. and so I didn’t find it fun. I didn’t find it funny at all. But as I tell you this little story, now it’s hilarious. Cause on reflection it was funny. I remember going for like a skinny dip years ago with my partner, Becky and we, and the family took our clothes off in the car and drove away and we were left on this kind of, this, this kind of this Lakeside in the south of France stark bolock naked and I have to say, I didn’t find that funny but actually again, as I recount the story to you, it’s something I’ve remembered in my life because to them it was totally hilarious and it comes up every now and then family events where I remember the time when we, so, so actually I think the there’s humour in situations even though everybody is naturally funny, I think they’re very funny are gifted. I think they go, they get to places that us mere human beings can’t get to in their scripting and performance and stuff, but it’snbut I think it is a gift to be genuinely funny.
Paul Boross (00:35:04):
So do you think it’s essentially a superpower at that point whereby the, the neural pathways are so quick that they can do it because you know, we both know a lot of comedians and there’s something. I always liken it to a really good sports person like a footballer who when they describe, they have lots of time when the ball comes to them. It’s like it’s in slow motion for them. And I always think that comedians, the really good ones, it is kind of like time slows down and they, they see loads of different routes that would be… and see the funny bit
Kevin Cahill (00:35:50):
And look, anyone who was lucky enough to see Robin Williams when I saw him in the west end. And he did this thing is probably a schtick that he does all the time. So even though it felt kind of random and improvised, but he came back after the final encore once the houselights came on and just did this thing, where said, someone give me a word. And people, someone in the audience suggested a word or a thought or a, and he just basically went off on one and he riffed. And in that 30 minutes extracurricular performance at the end of the show, you could see he had the most amazing imagination and fluency and, um, almost an extraordinary, extraordinary human being. And so I think it is a for people like that, it is a superpower, it’s just something that marks them out from people. And thank goodness because actually we get the pleasure from seeing them perform and do that, you know?
Paul Boross (00:36:48):
Yeah. But just so our listeners aren’t completely put off, you know, that this is just a gift from God and everything. From a psychological perspective, I believe that people can get better at this stuff. There are ways… of doing it, having been surrounded by comedians, do you think you’ve got you maybe consciously or unconsciously got better at botting where the funny is?
Kevin Cahill (00:37:20):
Well, I’d like to think so, but it’s not necessarily made me any funnier, but I, I guess the, kind of the areas where I can manage it a bit are around awful puns or witticisms or incongruities. Or if you like observations of funny things that have happened so that’s the only area in which I would give myself credit or walking into glass doors, bashing my nose in the door, not having seen that there was a glass door there in the first place. I mean, I’ve been good at that over the years and nearly knocking myself out, but I wouldn’t claim any kind of conscious involvement. It was just a terrible piece of slap stick.
Paul Boross (00:38:02):
What would the world be like without humour, Kevin,
Kevin Cahill (00:38:07):
In terms of your own wellbeing and sense of self, if you can, if you can laugh out loud and enjoy things that the endorphins that it kind of releases and things like that I think, first of all, make you feel better about yourself. If you have a good laugh with somebody and that’s what everyone loves to do with their friends or their family, it’s the most amazing feeling. So that’s the first thing I think the second thing is that just this ability to connect people and to humanise us, and because we’ve talked quite a bit about slapstick and things that worked on that level, but it, it brings people together. So I think I mean, I know someone says that money makes the world go around. It was in Cabaret, wasn’t it? But, I’d say for me, I’d replace money with laughter and humour that makes the world go. I think it’s a more powerful engine.
Paul Boross (00:39:06):
I think that is such a wonderful point. It’s ike the laughter does make the world go around because you can have all the money in the world, but you may not have the laughs it’s it’s about, I think it’s about connection because, um, there was a very interesting study in America where they thought that they found the healthiest place in America, cuz they lived 17 years longer than anywhere else. And they thought they probably didn’t smoke. Didn’t drink and ate healthy when they got there, they all drank, smoked and ate fatty foods. But what they had was a sense of community. Yeah. A sense of togetherness, a sense of laughing together and bonding together. And actually that was what they discovered the social scientists discovered at actually brought longevity on. And like you said, the endorphins, the serotonin, the dopamine, the oxytocin that’s produced that is life enhancing and laughter is life enhancing.
Kevin Cahill (00:40:08):
Yeah and there’s a book called The Spirit Level? You might have come across it. But they argue that the richest communities in the world are often the are most unhappy because actually it’s,the age old cliche, that money can’t buy you happiness. But because if people who gather together in those communities then feel they need a different level of security and protection, they can’t just walk out onto the street and they have to be driven everywhere. So I think there is a lot of sense in that really too. And the countries where the gap between the richest and the poorest is the narrowest and they often point to countries like Norway where people are happier because the sense that sense of inequality isn’t as pronounced as in other, other places.
Paul Boross (00:41:02):
Yeah. I, I agree. I work in Norway a lot and I agree that there’s something about that equality of life where everybody, it does lift everybody up because nobody feels downtrodden perhaps, and they do laugh easily. The Norwegians,.If I asked you to write a business case for humour, what would you put in it, Kevin?
Kevin Cahill (00:41:29):
Well, again, based on my own experience of running a large organisation, I think that because as we were just saying, if humour can drive a sense of wellbeing, a sense of kind of happiness, so it can connect people. And I think if the, the more humour and, um, connectivity there is in the world work place as a result of it, but harder people are likely to work, the more productive they’re likely to be and the better benefits it’s gonna bring to the business as a whole. So I would argue that a happier, well motivated, fun, loving community is going to be, you know, better set against the bottom line as opposed to one where people are a bit downtrodden, a bit unhappy, don’t feel motivated and, don’t have that same sense of wellbeing that’s brought about by humour. So, that’s what I’d say. That’s how I begin to make the business case.
Paul Boross (00:42:31):
Yeah. So, I mean, that’s a huge return on investment, isn’t it really for people, if, if they’re thinking about why should they do it? Well, people are motivated people, less sick days, less, you know, issues with mental health. I think businesses think don’t think enough about the human level that we are dealing with, lots of individuals who have needs. And, and one of the first things is a need to belong.
Kevin Cahill (00:43:02):
Yeah. And so if you are running that company or near part of the senior management team, I think it’s incumbent on you to try and create a culture and atmosphere where people come to feel they belong, whether achievements get celebrated and mentioned and talked about, but at the same time, if people underperforming anyway, so you have, you have techniques and mechanisms to deal with that under performance because people need to know what their job is, what the brief is and what’s expected of them. So I think clarity of communication and setting of realistic targets, which then can be celebrated when they’re achieved and make people feel better is critical. Really.
Paul Boross (00:43:44):
I couldn’t agree more, uh, you’ve spent years persuading celebrities to undertake gruelling physical challenges. How important is humour in the art of persuasion do you think?
Kevin Cahill (00:44:00):
What I’d say is a lot, depends on who you’re talking to and how up for things they are. You know, so it was interesting when David Walliams, swam the channel for Comic Relief Sport Relief, and it was the first really of these mega challenges. So actually I think I’d argue that it established a new genre that’s been copied ever since by so flattery being, you know, the sincere form of… imitation being the sincere form of flattery. But I’d gone to Ethiopia with David and Matt Lucas who then, you know, Little Britain was at its height actually and on the way back on the aeroplane, I’d said to David, do you like sport? And he said, well, I hate sport. I was terrible at it at school. And just didn’t like it at all.
Kevin Cahill (00:45:01):
But the one thing I did like was swimming and actually weirdly the thought has occurred to me occasionally might try and swim the English channel. At which point I said to him, you’ve just told the wrong person. So if you think I never had humour, I said, because actually in three months time, you are gonna get a phone call from me. And I’m gonna say, you remember, you mentioned this kind of foolish idea that you might the channel. Well, if you, if you’re serious about it, we can put the underpinning of it together, the logistics and the support mechanism, and we could try and get you across the channel. And he was… they were touring little Britain live. So, and he said, yeah, let’s try it then. And, um, and so what we started doing is wherever he was in the country, Bolton Huddersfield, Sunderland, we would book a lane in the local swimming baths at kind of eight o’clock the next morning after a show.
Kevin Cahill (00:46:08):
And he would diligently head down there and swim. Swam for an hour. Swam for two hours, swam for three, and built up the endurance. We had a great guy called Greg White, who was a, a kind of ex Olympian who was, became a kind of mentor and consultant because he was swam in the pentathlon in the Olympics of Barcelona, therefore was a great swimmer in his own right. And as I say, the rest is history he was the first cross dressing comedian to swim the channel in under 10 hours. It put him in the top 50 of all time of having done it. And David will tell you now he is more famous for that than for anything else. And every time if he gets into London taxi they I kind of go, oh, Dave, you been swimming lately? That everyone loves and celebrates the fact that he did that.
Kevin Cahill (00:47:00):
And then subsequently of course, he swam the river Thames from Lechdale to Westminster .But I’m surmising in retrospect, but I guess the ability to turn that innocuous conversation into a kind of little humorous exchange might have played a role in his doing that and he raised over a million pounds. And then when he swam the Thames, I think it was 3 million. And that money went on to do extraordinarily positive things in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals and communities. So, um, yeah,
Paul Boross (00:47:43):
Just from those little acorns of a little bit of humour and persuasion that massive influence, not just one person to swim, but on that influence that pervades your whole career, whereby all these people were affected by that. So just that alone is a reason to improve. I always think of it as good humour, improve, be humorous. Yeah. Rather than, you know, and humourful, and get that into your life because then you can persuade and you can influence and do great things for the world. We’ve reached a part of our show, Kevin, that we like to call Quickfire Questions, *sting* quick fire questions. Who’s the funniest business person you’ve met.
Kevin Cahill (00:48:43):
This is an interesting question about funny business people. Cause I’ve been lucky enough to visit hundreds of projects if you like in the UK and the developing world. And I’ve got a strong memory of when I went to what the Kebera slum in Nairobi, which was a million peoiple. A slum the same size as Bristol, but within it is this incredibly vibrant internal community, cuz people need to get their haircut. They need to buy clothes and sell clothes, get things, cleaned, get food. And so one of the things that you learn early on when you make these visits is that’s just how kind of a alive and vibrant these informal settlements and poor communities are. But within that, and there was a woman called Sister Anne who I’m eferring to her as a businesswoman, cuz she ran this charity, but it was the business of the charity.
Kevin Cahill (00:49:47):
She had to bring in the resources and the money to help keep that community ticking over and to put food onto the plate and get medical attention for kids who needed all schools and lessons prepared and so on and so forth. And uh, and the reason she was funny is she just had the ability to kind of get things out of people. I remember being there and visiting in her project was Russell Brand who had a gorgeous kind of pair of probably brand new Timberland boots that he, he probably bought for the trip because he knew that he’d be doing some walking. And on the last day we were there, when the boots were got mud all over them, cause we’d been walking, it had been raining and her saying to him look, his feet looked the same size as her sons and weren’t they gorgeous boots.
Kevin Cahill (00:50:39):
And five minutes later she had the boots off him and they were being kind of stashed away to hand over to her son. Another friend of mine went to see her. And by the end of the visit, she committed to buying a new cooker and a fridge for the central community centre. So she was funny, not in the sense she was able to tell hilarious stories, but she was funny just because of the determination and the persuasive power she had to unlock things from people who were visiting, obviously from funders, like Comic Relief. But of course all the things that went back into that community helped deliver a more sustainable lifestyle. And there was even one street there, which, is the canny individual she was where through micro a credit programme, people have been able to borrow money to buy initial stock of vegetables for a vegetable store, buy the equipment to do fruit pressing so they could sell fruit juice or, or the scissors and dryers for a hair salon.
Kevin Cahill (00:51:47):
And so there was a street where a lot of the money that had come from the British public had helped establish small businesses, you know, and she of course named the street Red Nose Street. So, whenever we went to visit, we were taken up Red Nose Street made to feel well, well that’s great that there’s a whole place here that’s that we’ve been able to help facilitate through the imagination of one woman, Sister Ann. And so I’d say, so that, so she was the funniest business leader I’d met, but for not perhaps for the reason one might normally have thought about it
Paul Boross (00:52:23):
That wonderful. It just makes me want to meet Sister Ann really. And I, I know I’d turn my inside out as soon… Just cause she sounds the most wonderfully amusing and persuasive person. Wonderful story. What book makes you laugh Kevin?
Kevin Cahill (00:52:41):
Well, there’s a book by the Irish writer called Flann O’Brian who was a columnist for the Irish Times who wrote this book. It short stories, really all pieces called Myles Na Gcopaleen. And I would recommend it to anybody. I mean, basically it’s just these kind of flights of fantasy around moments. There’s a story called A Hoard of Unemployed Ventriloquists. And basically it describes going to the theatre, the Abbey Theatre and the people, because there were lots of social climbers in the audience. They wanted to appear witty and urbane and, you know, be the kind of I suppose the pinnacle of Dublin society. And so they would take a ventriloquist with them to the theatre who would then be able to throw insults around the auditorium to other people in the theatre. But then those people had ventriloquists as well, who would then throw a return insult back. And it’s just the most kind of an extraordinary picture of this like thousand people in a theatre.
Paul Boross (00:53:56):
What film makes you laugh?
Kevin Cahill (00:53:58):
Well, I’m gonna have to say here a film by one of my mentor and great colleagues and friend, Richard Curtis, it would be Four Weddings and Funeral. I mean, it was one of Richard’s early ones, but I think he was at an age where he was being invited to weddings most weeks, you know, you get to a certain age where all your mates and your network are getting married. And he tells a story that going to those weddings inspired him to write that book. And then of course, threw in the funeral as a little additional kind of fraisant. And then he also tells amusing stories about how he had to fight to get the title past the, kind of the, the backers and the producers, because the title of a movie with the word funeral in it wasn’t necessarily, and it was a romantic comedy gonna be the kind of most winning type, but, but he stuck to his gums and actually it’s a play of words now that gets used in a lot of situations. Isn’t it? But so yeah, Four Weddings and a Funeral would be my choice out of both the fact that it made me laugh out loud and also loyalty and solidarity with an old friend.
Paul Boross (00:55:11):
Well, it is genius, it really is taking a shift to the other side. Kevin, what is not funny?
Kevin Cahill (00:55:22):
well I think I’d say jokes that are at someone else’s is expense which actually can be quite painful and difficult. but they might be done in all seriousness not to hurt somebody, but I think humour has that ability to wound and to upset as well. And then of course, without getting… we’re allowed to get a bit political on this, but I think lack of integrity, broken promises, I think I would observe in the age we’re living in that someone like Jacob Rees-Mogg, I’m personalising this now, but when seeing him in his privileged position in the House of Commons, as a leader of the house, trying to duck out of responsibility and shift the blame or not step up to the plate when it’s expected that’s what courage and bravery should make you do.
Kevin Cahill (00:56:30):
I think that’s not funny. I think also the prime minister’s attempts to be funny are often just not funny enough, the way he ruffles his hair to give that kind of impression of a slightly tousled, witty man full of classical illusions. But I think most of the illusions would go over most people’s heads. I mean, they certainly go over mine a lot to them. And so I think, you know, kind of false promises, a kind of lack of moral fibre and a lack of integrity around things that you should be doing because of the position you’ve been elected to in public life are desperately unfunny
Paul Boross (00:57:12):
Hear hear. What word makes you laugh, Kevin?
Kevin Cahill (00:57:16):
Well, this is the word that makes me laugh is kerfufle. It’s used a lot in the Britain. I mean, I’m not entirely sure what it means, exept perhaps it means a bit of a fuss, but it’s a hard word to say without thinking. Wow, that’s a funny word. Kerfuffle.
Paul Boross (00:57:34):
Ketfuffle, it’s a funny word. It’s a funny word. Would you rather be considered clever or funny?
Kevin Cahill (00:57:42):
Well, I’d hope it, this question is non-binary to coin a contemporary phrase and that one is allowed to say they like to be both clever and funny, but I guess sadly, I’d probably, I probably choose clever as a, kind of as a way of living my life, but I hate to think that that means I couldn’t also claim occasionally to be funny.
Paul Boross (00:58:11):
And finally, Kevin, if you could only take one joke with you to a desert island, what would it be?
Kevin Cahill (00:58:18):
Well, this puts me on the spot, cause I’m not a comedian. I’m about to try and tell a joke in public, probably for the first time, but so here’s the joke. There’s a piece of string and the piece of string goes into a pub and says to the landlord, could I have a pint of lager, please? The landlord says, I’m really sorry, mate, but we don’t serve string in here. So can you get out? Piece of string goes but he’s really upset. He likes this pub lot, so he thinks he’ll try it again, goes into the pub next week, says, can I have a pint of lager please? And he said, I’ve told you we don’t serve string in here. Get out. Third time lucky he hopes. The piece of string basically puts a loop around his middle, messes up the end of the string. So he gets into lots of different fibres, goes into the pub and the landlord says, aren’t you that piece of string I’ve thrown out twice already? And he says, no, I’m a fraid knot!
Paul Boross (00:59:21):
<laugh> beautiful. Beautifully told for your first live telling of a joke on a show. Beautiful.
Kevin Cahill (00:59:36):
Thank you Paul. Very generous of you.
Paul Boross (00:59:38):
Oh no, it was wonderful. It’s very generous of you to have taken the time with us and our kerfuffle here at the Humourology podcast. Thank you so much for your comedy and your caring, Kevin.
Kevin Cahill (00:59:52):
It’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much.
New Speaker (00:59:55):
The Humourolgy 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.