When I was in my early twenties, I had a vague notion I could be a comedy writer. At the time I worked as a newspaper reporter in suburban Phoenix covering health care — things like hospital expansions and flu shot shortages. Granted, I once covered a surgery for correcting incontinence and had the honor of witnessing a fully naked 82-year-old woman being relieved of her reliance on adult diapers. But the resulting article was far from humorous.
In fact, I’d never written a joke in my life.
That didn’t stop me when I walked into the local comedy club and saw headliner Kevin Nealon — fresh from his Saturday Night Live stint — nursing a rum and Coke at the bar. I bellied up to him, and brightly said, “Hi, I’m Emma, and I want to be a comedy writer. Have any advice?”
“Well,” he said. “You should perform your material. Have you ever done standup?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t even have any material. I’ve never written a joke.”
Despite the fact that he was clearly dealing with an idiot — who, for the record, happened to be standing next to her then-boyfriend and sporting an unfortunate blonde dye job — he couldn’t have been nicer. Kevin Nealon, celebrity comedian, gave me his AOL email address and invited me to send him some jokes. A few days later when I did, he promptly went through each of the 30 or so one-liners, broke them down, offered some tips and was overall encouraging and entirely professional.
That was hardly the first or the last time I asked for advice from someone way — wayyyyyy — out of my league. Someone much more successful, more powerful than me. I suggest you make a habit of doing the same. Here’s why.