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Josh Lieb On Comedy
Josh Lieb is the former Producer and Show Runner of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. His credits include stints as Executive Producer of NewsRadio and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He won 7 Prime Time Emmys as a producer and writer for The Daily Show. In 2009, he published a young adult novel, I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President, which was a New York Times Bestseller.
Lieb was raised in Columbia, South Carolina, and graduated from Harvard, where he was an editor of The Lampoon, the college humor magazine. After graduation, he found work writing for Twisted Puppet Theater, The Jon Stewart Show, and NewsRadio. He subsequently worked as a producer or consultant on shows including The Simpsons, Drawn Together, Sirens, Nikki, I Hate My Teenage Daughter, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Lieb's tenure at The Daily Show lasted from 2006 to 2010, during which he also served as Executive Producer of “The Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear” and as co-editor and co-author of Earth: The Book.
In 2013, he wrote and directed a series of comedic shorts to raise money and awareness for the charity Water.Org. Stars featured in the shorts included Matt Damon, Jessica Biel, Sir Richard Branson, and Bono.
Penguin/ Random House released Lieb's second novel, Ratscalibur, in 2015.
In October 2016, NBCUniversal announced an exclusive writing deal with Lieb.
Question: Are people fundamentally funny?
Josh Lieb: You know religiously I wanna believe people are fundamentally good. Yeah I think people . . . (a) I think people are fundamentally good; and (b) I think people are fundamentally humorous. And . . . and people fundamentally want to laugh. And you know if someone is not laughing, that’s the exception. That’s perversion, because I think you can’t be turned from someone who likes to laugh to someone who doesn’t; but I think it’s almost impossible to go the other way. I don’t think . . . No one’s ever met a humorless person who became a funny one.
Question: Can humor be learned?
Josh Lieb: No. It . . . it . . . You can learn the forms or whatever, and maybe you could even learn the form so well that you can fool most people. But you wouldn’t be able to fool the genuinely funny people.
Question: Can women be funny?
Josh Lieb: Of course.
Question: Why do people value humor?
Josh Lieb: Boredom, you know? And I think also just the . . . There’s such intense psychic pain just being alive, and all this stuff going on around you and on top of you. And it’s suffocating. You know humor is a release. It is joyful, you know? It’s like sex, but you can have it more often. It’s . . . Yeah, it’s like cheap sex. It’s like . . . You can do it all the time.
Question: Why do people value humor?
Josh Lieb: Boredom, you know? And I think also just the . . . There’s such intense psychic pain just being alive, and all this stuff going on around you and on top of you. And it’s suffocating. You know humor is a release. It is joyful, you know? It’s like sex, but you can have it more often. It’s . . . Yeah, it’s like cheap sex. It’s like . . . You can do it all the time
Question: Is there a connection between humor and religion?
Josh Lieb: You know I don’t know. It’s sort of cliché to have a funny rabbi. You know every rabbi thinks he’s pretty hilarious, or at least they do nowadays. In the . . . in the . . . in the old days, I think they . . . they thought they . . . they were pretty serious. You know I don’t know. I could wax philosophical and say, “Well there is, you know . . . comedy and religion are about some sort of aspiration or something higher,” or you know, “to elevate us. And when we laugh,” you know, “our souls become bigger.” But I don’t think so. I think . . . I think rabbis are smart people, and I think smart people tend to be funny. So maybe that’s the connection. By the way I should have been drinking coffee. But I don’t . . . If there’s any connection whatsoever . . . You know I think there must be some connection between religion and comedy because while . . . because the people I know in comedy are either pretty religious or– and that’s the minority – or they’re . . . they swing the other way completely and are rabidly atheistic. So maybe there’s some emotional switch that gets clicked on either way.
Question: How has comedy changed in the last two decades?
Josh Lieb: That’s a good question. Comedy is a lot more self-aware. I mean _________ audience is a lot more self-aware. You know when I . . . You’re not just making jokes necessarily anymore. You’re making jokes on jokes. And your jokes have reference to other jokes. And it might have been in the old days, only other people in the comedy business would know these things; but now everyone’s . . . We’ve got such a vast cultural backlog on DVD and everything that everyone knows every Monty Python sketch. And everyone knows this and that; that we’re all kind of . . . we and the audience are making references to . . .. . . and winking at them from things that are 40 years old. And that’s it. And comedy probably hasn’t changed as much as we think it has either. I mean that’s . . . that . . . that . . . I can say, “Okay, we all have that reference point,” but it’s probably in a small way not that big a deal. And . . . and . . .That’s a good question, because I would say we still laugh at slapstick, but we don’t as much. It would be very hard for, you know . . . to get away with something that’s like as primitive as like an early ‘60s, Jerry Lewis movie right now. You just . . . You know even the kids aren’t laughing at that anymore. I mean you got Mr. Bean. And that’s nice, and that’s nice slapstick; but it sometimes seems more sophisticated. But that . . . that . . . that might just be because of more of modern style. If you lived in a village and you didn’t have TV, and a clown came through you thought that was the funniest damn thing you’d ever seen in your life. You know if he fell on his butt? Amazing. If you got, you know, eight hours of TV everyday and you could see amazing . . .you know you could see Marcel Marceau, and you could see Lenny Bruce, and you could see whatever whatever. The exposure makes you more of a critic, you know? If you’ve only eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches all your life, you think those are pretty great. But you know once you’ve tasted caviar, forget about peanut butter.
Question: Where is comedy headed?
Josh Lieb: I don’t know. There’s a . . . There’s an awful lot of it being produced. I think what we’re doing now, you know, is an area where we’re going to see a lot of comedy produced just in smaller . . . just with the Internet, sort of the powers given to people just to produce things. I mean we’re going to see things on YouTube. You know we’re going to see people have a funny idea and shoot it on their TV camera and get it out there that afternoon. But people are always also gonna wanna see bigger, you know, more expensive things. And they’re always gonna wanna see sitcoms, I think; or big, funny movies. You wanna see something nice, you know. It’s like okay, YouTube. That was a funny video that guy made, but I . . . I want a . . . I want a compelling story, too. You know people like stories. We’ve always liked stories. So I . . . I . . . I don’t . . . I don’t think comedy is gonna change. Okay here. I don’t think the foreign comedy __________ is gonna be all that different in the future. Now you know I . . . I don’t know which way the world is gonna go; but if the world gets darker, then the comedy will probably become more darker or become more violent. We might be seeing some of that now.
Question: Whose work are you watching most closely?
Josh Lieb: You know I don’t . . . I tend not to watch any comedy. Otherwise it would be my whole life. And also you know, it’s so critical . . . It’s impossible just to watch anything and enjoy it, you know. So I . . . I tend to keep away from it as much as possible.
Question: How is technology changing comedy?
Josh Lieb: I think it’s changing it for . . . It’s changing it. There’s really no telling. Yeah it’s better. It’s . . . It’s . . . It’s nice to be able to have a DVD of funny stuff. And you know it’s nice to be able to go on YouTube and watch these funny guys. But you know I saw these funny guys doing a David Blaine impression the other day. That was funny. You know I got to watch that and now I don’t have to see it anymore. But it’s . . . it’s . . . it’s out there. That R. Kelly trapped in the closet. Like that’s all great stuff, and it’s there. And so that’s all for the good. As a, you know . . . This isn’t strictly about computers, but you know as a . . . as a visual agent, you know, written comedy is being non-existent. You know there’s . . . there’s a couple of pages in the front of the New Yorker and that’s really it. So that’s kinda sad. But you know there’s plenty to read if you want to.
Question: Is ethnic humor ever out of bounds?
Josh Lieb: I can certainly make fun of my people, and others can too. I mean it . . . it’s . . . I feel like I’m . . . not I’m, but I think as a Jew it’s sort of a specific case, because there are a lot of Jewish writers. And we tend to go to the Jew well a lot in comedy. And to be honest it’s really easy, and I don’t love that. And to be honest it’s really easy, and I don’t love that. I think it’s a little too easy. You know ethnically, I think I find a lot of comedy writers are Jewish and a lot are Irish. I’m not sure why those two streams sort of came together, but you know it’s a . . . we tend to get along, so it’s nice. Can . . . I think some Jewish jokes are very funny, and I think others are, you know, are just . . .are just as . . . just saying the word “Jew” and expecting a laugh. You know and . . . and that’s easy. As far as other ethnicities go, I don’t feel like anything should be out of bounds, you know? I just . . . You know I’m stridently, you know, First Amendment . . . certainly Second Amendment, too. But I like all those amendments, you know? And then again . . . But that said, if you say something offensive, you you know, you can expect to get your ass kicked. You should have the right to say it, though.
Question: Do you self-censor?
Josh Lieb: I think everyone self-sensors. I mean you think awful things. I’m sure you’re thinking awful things right now; but you know we all think terrible, terrible, terrible things. So sometimes the terrible things I think of are jokes. And so I don’t always say those out loud. I’m actually . . . I probably self-sensor a lot less than a lot of people. And I’ve certainly said some terrible things which I regret, but that’s okay.
Question: Has it become easier to self-censor with time?
Josh Lieb: I . . . You know I can’t say I think about . . . You know I would ask you . . . Or I’d ask anyone is it easier for them to self-sensor? Sometimes . . . You know do you walk around saying, “I’m censoring myself right now?” No. But you aren’t telling to every beautiful woman how much you’d like to have sex with her, or every attractive man the same thing if you find both of them equally attractive, you know? You know has it become easier to self . . . I don’t know. I guess when you’re a kid, yeah, you say anything you want. I’m an adult. Now I don’t. I . . . I . . . I would say it’s not any different for a comedy writer or a writer in general than it is for anyone else. I . . . I think we are afforded more freedom. I think I don’t . . . I think writers and comedians don’t have to sensor as much, I think. You know we’re . . . we’re given that latitude. We don’t always use it that well, but we have it.
Recorded On: 9/04/07
Boredom and humor are intricately connected.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Paul Krugman on the Virtues of Selfishness<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7ZtAkm6C" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="828936bf6953080e9018307354c0c02b"> <div id="botr_7ZtAkm6C_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7ZtAkm6C-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> The Nobel Prize-winning economist on the virtues of selfishness.
Evolution Is Moving Us Away from Selfishness. But Where Is It Taking ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cyeqmYCb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="6c5efecb56456e9acc25cf36935b1826"> <div id="botr_cyeqmYCb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cyeqmYCb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.
Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?
Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.
Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.
Hollywood has created an idea of aliens that doesn't match the science.
- Ask someone what they think aliens look like and you'll probably get a description heavily informed by films and pop culture. The existence of life beyond our planet has yet to be confirmed, but there are clues as to the biology of extraterrestrials in science.
- "Don't give them claws," says biologist E.O. Wilson. "Claws are for carnivores and you've got to be an omnivore to be an E.T. There just isn't enough energy available in the next trophic level down to maintain big populations and stable populations that can evolve civilization."
- In this compilation, Wilson, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, and evolutionary biologist Jonathan B. Losos explain why aliens don't look like us and why Hollywood depictions are mostly inaccurate.