If you follow my Lead with a Story blog or podcast, you’ll know that last week I had professional comedian and self-described “humor engineer” Drew Tarvin on to talk about one of the most attractive parts of human nature — courage. This week I’m having him join me on my Parenting with a Story channel to talk about one of the least attractive parts of human nature — prejudice and hatred — or more particularly, how to get rid of them.
Drew recently completed a nomadic tour of the U.S. performing in all 50 States. His book The United States of Laughter: One Comedian’s Journey Through All 50 States details his funny, harrowing, and poignantly insightful experiences in each State. I asked him to join me and share his experience in the state of Michigan.
As always, it’s more fun to listen to Drew share the story himself, which you can do by clicking the play button above. If you’re short on time, below is an excerpt from that section of his book. Enjoy. . .
I HATE PEOPLE FROM MICHIGAN. I have to; I’m from Ohio and went to the Ohio State University. But I don’t hate them because of the rivalry between the schools or the fact that the states once went to war over the city of Toledo.
The real reason I hate Michiganders is that they are in love with the fact that their state is shaped like a hand. You ask anyone where they’re from in Michigan, and they’ll hold up their hand, “Well if this is Michigan, I’m from right here.” People from other places don’t do that. When people ask me where I’m from, I don’t make a makeshift Ohio by curling my knuckles and say, “Well if this is Ohio, I’m from the abductor pollicis brevis.” People from Italy aren’t like, “Well if Italy is a boota, I’ma from the stiletto.”
And so I sat, with disdain, at the top of a slide in Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan, waiting for something tragic to happen so I could justify my hatred of the Mitten State.
I was at the city park on a disgustingly beautiful summer Saturday, the weather a stupid 80 degrees. The sun was shining, and a light breeze made the whole ordeal even more sickening in its joyful perfection. To my right was Jaclynn, a member of CSz Detroit and my Michigan tour guide for the day. Unfortunately, she’s also one of the nicest people on the planet.
It was my first new state in nearly a month. After my brotherly road trip, I spent most of July in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and DC for speaking engagements, stand-up shows, and more calzones at LaRosa’s. But now I was back to my states tour, starting with what I was sure would be the worst state in the union. Much to my dismay, I had already had a good time in Michigan, and the slide would surely only make things worse.
The day before I was in Ann Arbor, where I walked around the University of Michigan, upset that the campus was beautiful and not dilapidated, as I had hoped. That night, I did a stand-up set on a show that a good comedy friend of mine from New York, Nore Davis, happened to be headlining. The jerks had the nerve to laugh at my jokes.
Then there was the monstrosity that was that Saturday. Jaclynn and I started the day by visiting Lafayette Coney Island, one of the two famous Coney hot dog places in the city. Sadly, the food was edible, though it wasn’t as good as Skyline in Cincinnati. At least one thing was working out.
And then we were off to Belle Isle, where things had gone from bad to worse by going from good to great. We walked past an open field with the horrendous sound of kids playing and people having fun. We frustratingly rekindled the days of our youth as we took a turn on the monkey bars. And we had found this dumb, fun slide.
I wish I could say it was a small, measly slide infected with tetanus. But no, it was one of those giant ones where you hike three flights of stairs to get to the top, put your feet into a burlap sack, and push off.
While I sat at the top of what was sure to be a fun experience on a beautiful summer day, I knew that if I was going to hate my time in Detroit, it would have to be because of a bad experience, not because the city was inherently awful like I had assumed. I was hopeful that I might get concussed as we raced down the metal lanes of the slide, or that I’d accidentally wipe out a kid on the way down and get locked up for involuntary child kicking, or that I’d at least get a weird rash or something. None of those things would happen.
I’m sure somewhere in this whole debacle of a day was the realization that it was wrong to hate an entire location because of a sports rivalry and silly to judge an entire populace because they used their hand to show where they lived. But the narrative that Michigan sucked had long been ingrained in me as an Ohio native, OSU grad, and decent human being.
I knew that visiting new places had the ability to change your perspective, challenge your assumptions, and reduce your prejudice; it was one of the things I enjoyed most about traveling. If people traveled more, they might hate others less.
I just didn’t want that to be true about Michigan, and I certainly didn’t want “learning a lesson” to be added to the things this dumb state had provided. Sadly, the lesson was forcing itself into my brain.
A little later we would be going to get pizza from a local spot named Buddy’s—which luckily wasn’t on par with LaRosa’s—before I would begrudgingly play in a fun ComedySportz show. We would follow that disappointment with a night of karaoke with the whole cast where I would, unfortunately, be doomed to having a good time.
But at that moment, a three-story slide awaited. As the attendant gave the go-ahead sign, I scooted forward to let gravity do its thing. I tried desperately to hide the smile this awful joy was providing me. I slid down the metal slope with ease and delight. As I neared the bottom, I hoped for a broken bone or at least a splinter so I could have been justified in hating this place, but I’ll be darned if I didn’t land gracefully.
This truly was the worst thing Michigan could have done: I wanted to hate it, but it wouldn’t let me. Michigan was the worst.
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story, Parenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.
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