business news in context, analysis with attitude

I just finished one of the best business books I've ever read - "Sick in the Head," by Judd Apatow.

To be honest, I don't think you'll find "Sick in the Head" in the business section of any bricks-and-mortar or online bookstore. Apatow is a the prodigious writer/director/producer who has given us such comedy films as Trainwreck, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Funny People; lately he has gone back to his roots as a stand-up comedian, finding new energies from audiences on Tv and in comedy clubs.

But that does not mean he doesn't have plenty of business lessons to teach.

"Sick in the Head" is a collection of interviews that Apatow has done with a wide range of funny people, including Mel Brooks, Amy Schumer, Mike Nichols, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Albert Brooks, Garry Shandling, Steve Allen, Larry Gelbart and James L. Brooks. He started doing the interviews back when he was a teenager with a comedy obsession; he got himself a column in his high school newspaper and used the credential to get to meet comedians he idolized. As he has gotten older and carved out his own comedy turf, Apatow has continued to do the interviews, sometimes doubling back to talk with people he first interviewed 25 years ago.

(By the way, I totally relate to this. Essentially I used the same kind of scam to meet people like Anthony Quayle, and Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara when I was a kid, and have used it as an adult to meet Robert B. Parker, Ace Atkins, and Reed Farrel Coleman.)

While most people don't think of comedy as business, one of the things that "Sick in the Head" makes clear is the degree to which it is a business. Jerry Seinfeld, for example, makes it clear how important it is to write every day, to treat comedy like a job; you can't just wait for inspiration to strike, though, as Steve Allen says, you have to be loose enough to go with the moment when it presents itself.

"Sick in the Head" is very funny, but mostly I was impressed by the degree of craft that goes into the art of making people laugh. These people care deeply about their art, and understand both how ephemeral their careers can be and how lucky they have been to enjoy varying degrees of success and longevity.

I think there is something there for the average business person to absorb, especially those in consumer-facing businesses. After all, "audience" is another word for "customers," and it is up to such businesses to figure out how to touch these consumers in ways that are differentiated and sometimes even profound.

I heartily recommend "Sick in the Head." It made me laugh, I learned a lot, and my respect for these comedians is even greater than when I started.

To be honest, I did not really really know the work of mystery novelist Randy Wayne White until I recently read "Deep Blue," his 23rd novel featuring Doc Ford, a Florida-based intelligence agent/assassin.

Twenty-third novel? How did I miss this series? (I'm an enormous fab of John D. Macdonald and Bob Morris, who have worked similar terrain and marinas. And I've actually eaten and gone drinking at Doc Ford's saloon on Sanibel Island in Florida. How this happened beats the hell out me.)

"Deep Blue" is a breezy piece of genre literature, which to my mind is high praise, and it makes me want to go back to the beginning to find out more about the eccentric cast of characters that populates its pages. This one has all the elements of an old fashioned revenge thriller, with modern touches of cyber warfare and surveillance drones thrown in for good measure. Good stuff ... and I'm glad to have made Doc Ford's acquaintance.

Had a lovely beer this week ... Amnesia Red Ale, from Portland, Oregon....which was fresh and wonderful.

That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

KC's View: