Standup Podcasters Do Shakespeare in My Wildest Audio Production Dreams

If I had an unlimited budget to produce my own version of Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing, I would do an audio production and cast my favorite standup comedians, who are also my favorite podcasters. Choosing to do an audio version would make it much more doable, from a production standpoint. You could spend the budget on the talent instead of special effects. I want to record the entire process of the production to release all of that in the form of a podcast, but also to edit it down to a normal length of a Shakespeare play.

II hate to blow my own horn, but this is a great idea. I know when I have no idea, I can tell when I have some idea, it feels nice when I have a good idea, but I am absolutely certain when I have a great idea, and this is among the greatest ideas I have ever had. Even if it never happens, just the idea of it happening is amazing. I don’t want there to be a visual component. None. Just strictly audio. Maybe photos of behind the scenes, but I want to focus all of the available resources on making the best possible audio experience.

Let me explain. I’m a photographer. So much of our culture has been driven by looks. Even when it comes to our choice of a president, their physical attractiveness matters a lot. But, we exist in a time when we have audio mediums and lifestyles that maybe have more time for listening than watching. At least mine has. I can’t watch shit. I study photos but work on my own photography more and maybe watch some very short videos, but I listen to a lot of content. I’ve only watched the first ten minutes of Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado, but I’ve listened to the BBC audio four or five times. I just consume more audio. I want to be doing things. Giving my full attention to someone else’s production by sitting, watching, and listening seems beyond backwards.

What we have done for entertainment over the years speaks to our character. We don’t need to be so submissive. Culture can be more of an accessory than a straight jacket. It can be more of a hike to the summit of a mountain than a roller coaster coated in puke. It can be elevated states achieved through fitness and mental practice instead of drugs and alcohol. It is what we make of it, and the new drug Huey Lewis was asking for in the 80s is here and it is called nutrition, fitness and emotional intelligence.

Because I have been consuming more audio than video for the past however long I have grown to know the work of podcasters more than actors. Stand-up comics have experienced a revolution and a renaissance with the advent of the podcast. It is a better product than an edited film. There is an interesting thing that happens when you listen to a podcast, though. It is such a deeper glimpse into a person’s mind than you get through other media. Because it is conversational and unscripted you have access to how this person thinks and responds to things. Then, if you watch their standup comedy special you have a different appreciation for their craft.

Because the podcast gives creative control to the comic it is an infinitely better product. That is the problem with big budget productions. The higher the risk the harder it is to maintain creative control. At a certain point, the payoff stops being worth the investment. It becomes super expensive junk food. But a couple of comics talking about contemporary culture, discussing their view of their industry, heckling each other and the world, this is a better product. Through listening to them simply talk you gain a much more intimate understanding of who they are. 

Another great thing about this idea is the amount of time it wouldn’t take. To do a visual production, you might need half a year. It is going to be impossible to get that kind of a commitment from comics who want to be on the road working on their standup. Try to get Rogan for 4 months to do a Shakespeare play. Go ahead. But, if it was going to take 8 hours, then that would be a different story. If you could do the entire thing in a weekend, or on a Tuesday and Wednesday then that is a lot more feasible. Great ideas have to live within the realm of the possible. 

For Much Ado, I would want to cast Brian Callen as Don Pedro and Chris D’Elia as Don John. Their famous back and forth would make for fun outtakes and behind the scenes footage. I think that if the play took 2 hours, you would want to break it into two days. Four hours for each act would give you enough time for people to riff and heckle and make jokes that are not in the script. I think that Cheeto Santino might make a great Benedick and Whitney Cummings a nails Beatrice. Ali Macofsky could make a great Hero and Brendan Schaub as a powerful Claudio with Tom Segura as Leonato. Bert Kreischer would crush as Dogberry.

I need to think more about the casting. That is the most important thing. Now that I have had this epiphany, I will be listening to the rest of the comedies with an ear listening for who might be able to play each character the best. This is such an fun idea, it could extend to so many different playwrights and bodies of work. This is an entire industry. It is better than an audio book. It is an audio play. BBC did it, but including podcasters in the mix and having the process of the production also part of the fun of it is new. We don’t need to sit down and buckle up to be entertained and to listen to stories that give us the occasion to start a dialogue about things that matter most. Great literature has the power to lead us, and podcasting comedians are the voices we need to amplify their messages.

Real Men Cry: Jocko Willink, Brené Brown and Emotional Vulnerability

Mastering your emotions is old school. Jocko Willink won’t teach you how to do it, but he will tell you how important it is. He seems to have inherited a respect for emotional control and so he has no recommendation beyond what Nike prescribes. Willink is, however, very open about his emotions and it is not rare to hear him breaking into tears as he is reading something or recounting a story that involves great loss. He is a person who has found the ability to feel deeply and to remain operational. I think that Jocko is a national treasure for the way he devotes himself to teaching leadership skills. His love of literature and his experience in war make him one of the most dynamic speakers and thinkers we have today. I learn things from listening to and reading Willink. He is a very smart guy with a lot of experience to draw from in his discussion of management ideas and all things war. I have learned a lot from listening to Willink, but nothing about how to deal with your emotions, only that you have to somehow some way.

One of the only public intellectuals I can think of who is maybe more badass than Jocko Willink is Brené Brown and it is because of her commitment to understanding emotions. She is an intellectual firebrand, an advocate for feeling deeply, an enemy of shame and a friend to all who struggle with feeling vulnerable gracefully. I found Brené Brown when I needed her most: as a new father struggling to adapt to the new emotional experience of being vulnerable. The experience of having someone you love unconditionally who depends on you for their survival and well-being opened me up to feelings of vulnerability I had never even imagined. 

There is a logic to Brown’s work. You can read it or listen to it in a sequence that will make a lot of sense, but you might need to hear her words more urgently than you need to understand her theory. This is a time for embodying the spirit of her book Rising Strong. We are at a crossroads. We can choose cynicism or caring deeply. Both Jocko Willink and Brené Brown advocate for caring deeply, they just have different techniques for how to do so effectively. Willink prescribes early rising, physical therapy, and doing the work to stay on the path to protect your people and to win the day. “Discipline equals freedom.” There are thousands of techniques he gets into, but the core mission behind all of his ideas is to be there for your people, to do the work. Make good decisions that put you in the position to have leverage. Jocko is a Navy Seal, and he is teaching us about relationship skills. That is the core of his leadership philosophy.

Brown teaches us how to own our emotions. Her main thesis is that shame is a horrible management strategy that has been used over time excessively and has created a culture of shame that stunts our emotional growth and limits our experiences. Through confronting the feelings of shame and giving voice to the experience, she points to a path of greater self-awareness and self-actualization. When people talk about doing the work, they are pointing to the same process. Doing the work, emotionally, is rewriting your own motivations to shift from a shame-based set of ideas to a more human and accepting model of behavior.

I can remember going through my Brené Brown education vividly. I listened to Rising Strong one spring season not too long ago while I would go on these long hikes in Nisene Marks forest. Being in a wild setting is therapeutic to me and so is exercise and I was using the two together to help me to process my feelings. I would eat some edibles, put on my headphones and head out into the woods.

If you listen to Brené Brown, you will most likely have some breakthroughs. What she is teaching us is so simple, but so incredibly important and valid. Our culture has a lot of problems with how we teach people how to be valuable members of society. Brown is especially powerful for people who have been raised to be strong and to avoid showing weakness. Being vulnerable is unavoidable, but lots of us try our hardest to out-maneuver whatever threatens to make us feel exposed. But we are all members of the human family and we will all experience devastating losses. Running from the feelings of vulnerability, hiding behind the armor of shame only makes the whole experience that much more chaotic and potentially dangerous.

It is only when we own our feelings by giving them a place, by voicing them, that we regain the leverage we need to work with and through our emotions. As a proud Texan, Brown offers a wonderfully rich contrast of things. It would be very difficult to mistake her discussion of vulnerability for a watering down of masculinity or toughness. She is not attempting to demonize masculinity or to attack men. Brown is a friend to men. She can teach us how to be more human. Women too, of course. But men need friends in this process of learning how to be more human. If we want men to change, then we should celebrate the people leading the charge.

Through listening to Brown and walking through the woods feeling the grace of cannabis moving through me I have several memories of the most painful epiphanies, of just sobbing and crying with nobody around to see or hear and all of the bottled-up pain inside of me would just come out in these awful roars of grief for what I couldn’t change, for what I couldn’t forget. The loss of friends, the loss of love, the fear of failure, all of it, everything I was ashamed of came rushing up out of me like a stampede of buffalo shattering the underbrush of my heart as I stumbled with tear filled eyes deeper into the dark and wild. 

Some people will try to shame you for who you are. In a world where almost anything we do seems to be criticized by someone who feels superior, it is so important and refreshing to have people like Brené Brown and Jocko Willink who can remind us how to be more human, who can help us to find the courage to continue fighting despite inevitable loss. The human condition is absurdly beautiful and impossibly fragile. We are all walking our own paths through these woods and thankfully there are friends who can help to remind us that it is ok to feel pain, it is ok to feel vulnerable and that the only way to get stronger is by doing both.