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“The ability to define a term in such a way to be cynical or funny is a measure of your own skepticism. Unless you can do this, you don’t understand the weaknesses in what the person is telling you.” Jason ZweigTweet
We are comedy fans, and not just for the laughs. People like Judd Apatow and Jenna Fischer have helpful, interesting, and insightful advice, lessons, and stories about living, working, and thinking better. Penn Jillette does too.
These notes are from Jillette’s August 2019 podcast with Joe Rogan and focus on one idea: The Entertainment / Information Blend.
There’s a tag in my notes called “media b.s.” and it represents the media as a third person view in a first person world. Sometimes the change in perspective helps, sometimes not, especially not when the entertainment/information blend is too much E and not enough I.
In his study on expert judgement, Phillip Tetlock noted, “the more accurate forecasters tend to bore people.” Investors see this with bulls, and bullshitters. Ben Carlson said a lot of media forecasting is about “taking a victory lap.”
There’s a place you’ve might have seen this. Jillette said:
“I want to say this very clearly. I thought he (Donald Trump on The Apprentice) was wonderful at his job. If you had someone who was actually a business person on that show, it would be the worst show in the world because Bill Gates would make proper decisions and there’d be no surprises. You want someone capricious and crazy with no filter.”
That’s a lot of E, not a lot of I. But it’s not just politics.
Richard Jefferson gave the backstory to USA basketball. Ed Catmull gave the backstory to ‘new Steve and old Steve.’ Paul Sonkin said that he reads the WSJ just to find the stupidest story. Sam Hinkie controlled everything but the story. Andre Agassi wrote that image is everything wasn’t a thing until it was.
Why the E stories and not the I stories? The E is so much better, it’s like candy. Penn and Rogan know this because they’ve trained in the comedic arts.
Joe Rogan has a history with conspiracies and he and Penn talk about the moon landing. Jillette wanted to convince Rogan that he was wrong, the landing did indeed happen, so he called in an expert. It would be on Penn’s radio show. He planned it to be a conversation between adults.
Penn reached out to Phil Plait but warned him, “have your ducks in a row because Joe’s really good…your problem is that he’s a comic and he’s better at talking than you.”
Like a MMA fight we have our two corners with different skills. Rogan’s got the E, Plait the I.
Fights have decisions and ‘our team’ influences how we see a game. Teams are a mental shortcut. Joe was ‘team conspiracy’, his identity footprint was (partially) tied up in Plait being wrong.
When Plait spoke Rogan entertained, and because he was “better at talking”, Jillette refereed at the end and reminded listeners we did in fact go to the moon.
Changing our minds is difficult. Sweet-talk stories stick with us, become familiar to us, and nestle into our minds. Jillette commented on the hard work required to change your mind, “Usually when I’m against something it means I don’t understand it.”
The last large chunk of the podcast is about education and life-long learning. What really matters is being curious. For someone who’s curious the spectrum of entertainment to information and back again becomes clearer. Like the twist in The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense, once someone’s aware of the blend they see it everywhere.
Thanks for reading, however there’s caveat to all this. I write an email that exploits our love of stories. They’re the butter on our popcorn, the sweetness in our gum. In the right proportions stories help, so sign up.