Jen Lehner: Hey, hey, it's Jen Lehner here, and you are listening to The Front Row Entrepreneur Podcast, episode number four.
James Altucher is an entrepreneur, writer, and podcaster. He's founded 20 companies, has had huge successes and equally huge losses. Going from $15 million at one point in his life to $143 in a matter of months, he lost his house, his friends, everything, so he started a blog, [00:00:30] where he wrote honestly about his experience, and the blog became a huge success with post titles like "I Want My Kids to be Drug Addicts," and "I Want to Die." Today, he's the author of a dozen books, including Choose Yourself, which Business Week named one of the 12 best business books of all time, and a podcaster with guests like Seth Godin, Coolio, and Wayne Dyer. I cannot believe he's on my podcast.
He's actually the reason [00:01:00] that this podcast exists. If you listened to episode one, then you heard the whole story, but it went down like this. I was out for a walk, listening to James interview Gary Vaynerchuk on his podcast, when, out of the blue, Gary says this.
Gary Vee: Listen, honestly, left turn. Here's what we're doing. I'm going to do something wild right now, because I can feel it. It just bubbled up. If you are listening right now, [00:01:30] and you actually start your first two episodes of a podcast because of this, around whatever--I don't give a fuck--jelly, sneakers, buying ... If you start this, I'll definitely love it, going to garage sales, buying stuff, and flipping it, whatever it is, if you do it off of this, because we know the date this will air, and I can see, and I'll do the homework, hit me up on Twitter, say hashtag I started Gary Vee, right? I want James in it. Gary Vee and [00:02:00] James, I started, long hashtag, because I need to filter them, but if you've actually taken the first step and have done two episodes of your podcast, I will come and make surprise five-minute appearances on all of them.
James Altucher: All right, I will match you on that, as well.
Jen Lehner: I did already have plans for launching a podcast, but in several months, not that day, but what kind of front row entrepreneur would I be if I didn't seize on this opportunity. I ran home. I locked myself in my office [00:02:30] to create a podcast. I learned how to record and edit and publish. I got it up on iTunes and Stitcher and all the places. Then the hard part started. I had to get their attention, so I tweeted the announcement of my podcast to each of them several times, and I enlisted the support of my audience to retweet me every time that I tweeted those guys. James was the first to respond that he was on board, and yesterday Gary Vee announced that he's in, too. I get to interview [00:03:00] him in January. Here it is, my interview with the brilliant and very kind James Altucher, the first interview of my entire life.
Let's just get right into it, okay?
James Altucher: Let's go for it.
Jen Lehner: Okay. James-
James Altucher: But before-
Jen Lehner: What?
James Altucher: Jen, first-
Jen Lehner: What?
James Altucher: Tell me about yourself. What do you do?
Jen Lehner: [00:03:30] I'm a digital marketing strategist is what I call myself, and I just basically teach people how to use social media and digital marketing to grow their businesses, but my big message is ... That's why, when you had Gary Vee on your podcast, it was so cool and so meant to be. Everything that transpired at that time is because what you guys were talking about is definitely the message that I bring to my audience, which is ... My online community is called The [00:04:00] Front Row. My podcast, that I started because I was inspired by your podcast, is called The Front Row Entrepreneur. It's really ... The message is not new. It's just carpe diem. Seize the day. Don't squander all these incredible tools that we all have at our fingertips to be remarkable, if you want to be remarkable, if you have a message to share with the world. If you have something to teach people, these tools are out there, [00:04:30] and the playing field is, more or less, leveled, and there's absolutely no reason why you can't go after your dreams and really and truly have a chance to grab the brass ring.
When I was walking along, I'm listening to the podcast, had no intentions of doing anything other than walking my dog. Then, out of the blue, Gary Vaynerchuk says, "Hey, I have an idea. Anybody who starts a podcast right now, does two episodes, and can [00:05:00] prove that they did, then I'll be on their podcast." Then you chimed in and said, "Yeah, me, too," so-
James Altucher: Here I am.
Jen Lehner: Here you are, and it really is truly incredible. I started the podcast, and you are episode number four, because I had to practice doing it and just the technology and all of that, and so, yeah, so I could not be more thrilled. It really is exactly, exactly the perfect [00:05:30] example of being a front row kind of a person, taking an opportunity when you see it and making it happen. It was basically, what? Twitter ... I tweeted you and I've sent you a couple of DMs, and, yeah, so here you are.
James Altucher: You were very polite. I had to reschedule, I think, at least once, and you were very gracious about it. I really appreciate it, you being respectful about the time and everything.
Jen Lehner: No, of course. [00:06:00] I mean, I can only imagine how busy you are. We're going to get into that, because I need to understand how you do all that you do in just a regular human day, and, yeah, you have a lot going on, so, of course. I'm just thrilled to death to have you here. I listen to your podcast. I've read several of your books, but, for the listeners who are not familiar with your work, can you catch us up?
James Altucher: Yeah, sure. I mean, I do a lot of different things. I write books. I do a podcast. I run some [00:06:30] businesses. I'm invested in a lot of businesses. I'm really ... I have kind of an in the weeds view of business, and I hate to use the word self-improvement, so let's call it peak performance instead, and also a bird's eye view, because I get to talk to so many fascinating people on my podcast about what it takes to achieve peak performance. Then, of course, in all of my activities that I do, I try to improve every day, [00:07:00] and I try to do the best I can every day, and it's difficult. It's hard to do good things, but, at the same time, that's an important thing to know, because I think people think, "Oh" ... People don't realize how difficult it is to do great ... to do the things that it takes to be successful.
At the same time, I always like to think that no one is going to ... I don't like to think this, but this is the reality. No [00:07:30] one is going to pick me for success. I have to pick me for success. I have to earn it, and part of earning it is ... So many times, I didn't earn it, and whatever money or success I gained, I squandered away. I ended up broke and frustrated and alone.
I had to start from the basics, which was just taking care of yourself, almost [00:08:00] like an extreme kind of self-care. That involved being at the basics, physically taking care of myself, emotionally taking care of myself, meaning, don't be around toxic people at all. Not being around toxic people is even more important than being around good people. Even just as important is my creative health, so I have to be creative and try to even be better creative every day. Then, my [00:08:30] spiritual health, which doesn't mean necessarily ... I mean, everybody has their own definition of spirituality, but it could mean something as simple as just simply taking care of, just being respectful of the things you can't control, and that's an easy way to move through obstacles. If you understand which obstacles you can control and which obstacles you can't, you save a lot of time and energy. Everything's about conserving energy, so that the hardest parts of success [00:09:00] you have the energy for. I would say that's a message that I like to share, and then from that flows everything that I do.
Jen Lehner: What are the hardest parts of success?
James Altucher: I think there are many things. Let me ask you, Jen. What's your favorite hobby?
Jen Lehner: I guess cooking, exercising, running.
James Altucher: Well, take cooking as a great example. What [00:09:30] are the different skills you need to know in order to cook a great meal?
Jen Lehner: I mean, there's so many skills.
James Altucher: That's just it. It's not just putting two pieces of bread in a toaster and making a ham sandwich. I mean, that will feed somebody, but to actually make a great meal, you have to understand all about all the different kinds of ingredients and meats and portions and how to use [00:10:00] all the equipment and timing and how you let things ... the difference between letting things marinate and not marinating, how to follow the instructions in a cookbook and when not to follow them, all the different extra things great cooks do. I don't even know.
I was reading recently, a great chef can tell another great chef by simply how they cook eggs. There's all these different subskills involved in success. There's no [00:10:30] one skill. There is-
Jen Lehner: Yeah, so, let me, so, on that note, you are ... I'm sure I'm not the first person to call you a Renaissance man, but it really is astounding to me. Obviously, the people who read your work, who listen to your podcast, I mean, we're not seeing your whole day. I don't know how you carve out your month, and I don't know how you carve out your day, but you're a master ... What do you call it when ... the chess master. What is the actual title?
James Altucher: Yeah, [00:11:00] a chess master.
Jen Lehner: Yeah, so you're a chess master. You're an author. You're just, you just, you know all this stuff about finance, and you've built and sold companies, and now you're teaching people about cryptocurrency, and you know all these things, and you don't just know a little bit. You seem to be an expert on all these things, and now technology and podcasting, and you're becoming a comedian, like a standup comic. Oh, yeah, and how many books do you read [00:11:30] a day or a week? I do want to know that.
James Altucher: Probably like five or six.
Jen Lehner: I don't understand. Can you just walk me through your day, like, you wake up at what time, and then walk me through just a typical day.
James Altucher: The problem is, it used to be very set. I used to have a very set routine, so I can tell you that. I used to wake up at around 5:00, 5:30. I would read for two hours, and I would start writing for about four hours. By then, I would have written something that I thought [00:12:00] was good, and I might publish it at that point, and then I would deal with business, because I think writing is harder than business. Business is just calling people up and saying, "Hey, how's it going? What help do you need from me?" Then, I would try to relax and do things that are fun and improve skills or maybe read some more and spend time with people I love and respect.
That used to be my day, and [00:12:30] I did that kind of day for many years. Now my day is a little different, because, like you said, I am trying to get better at standup comedy. For instance, this week, at night I'm doing standup comedy six out of seven days this week. In fact, tonight's the only night I'm not doing standup comedy. Last night I got home at 10:30 p.m., which would be, since I like to sleep ... Sleeping is extremely important for health and for energy. Since I like to [00:13:00] sleep eight hours a day, if I don't get home until 10:30, and then I'd need some time to wind down, I'm probably not getting up until 7:00 or even 8:00. Then that throws off my schedule completely.
I think this year has been a little bit more challenging for me to do all the things that I want to do and as involved ... I'm also involved in five businesses that are all ... I've invested in a lot of companies, but there are five that I'm actively involved in, and they're all [00:13:30] picking up this year, so it's taken a little bit more of my time. My podcast ... I've gone from one podcast a week to three podcasts a week, so that's taken a little bit more of my time. I had to sacrifice a little bit on the writing, although I'm trying to figure out how to gain that back a little. You have to make some trade-offs if you want to live a healthy and successful life, so I'm just trying to figure out the trade-offs I can do to get the writing back, or if I even need to do those trade-offs.
Jen Lehner: All right, [00:14:00] well, other than the sleep ... I want to ask you something about that, too. Other than the sleep, what is the one non-negotiable for you every single day, like this has to happen in your day or you're just going to be very upset or very uncomfortable?
James Altucher: Well, in terms of the being very upset, I'd say, I have to be creative every single day. It used to mean I had to write every single day, but now it's I either write, I podcast, [00:14:30] or I do the standup comedy. I've given myself permission to not be upset with myself if I don't write. I'm okay if I do a podcast or if I do standup comedy, which is extremely creative and extremely difficult. It's the most difficult skill I've ever had to learn, and that includes business, chess, writing, public speaking, and so many other skills.
Jen Lehner: I can't even imagine. There's nothing, there's absolutely nothing, I can think of, other than maybe jumping out of a plane, [00:15:00] that would be more terrifying than that, but you do some crazy stuff. I want to know what it is that allows you to walk up to complete strangers and do these experiments. You walked up to people in one experiment and offered them a $2 bill in exchange for a $1 bill. I bet you loved Candid Camera when you were a kid.
James Altucher: You know, Candid Camera was kind of trailing off when I was around, but, yeah, I mean, I like that kind of stuff, and I always [00:15:30] liked original reality TV kind of stuff, like in the 90s, like Taxicab Confessions on HBO, things like that, things that kind of pushed the envelope a little bit, in terms of media.
Jen Lehner: How do you do that? How are you not afraid that they think you're insane, or go up on stage and if they don't laugh, how do you not die?
James Altucher: I am very afraid. I do die. I mean, that's what I'm saying, is that [00:16:00] to be ... Look. Standup comedy sounds frivolous, oh, just telling jokes on stage, but it's not. Here's an interesting thing. I've been doing public speaking for 15 years, and I thought, oh, it's the same thing, going on stage and talking to people who don't know you. Public speaking does not translate, even 0%, to better standup comedy, but standup comedy has made my public speaking probably 10 to 20 times better and more effective. [00:16:30] I mean, standup comedy translates to so many different activities that it's actually a really worthwhile skill to learn.
Like you say, it's scary to go on stage. It's scary to deal with a crowd that's not emotionally responding to you. It's scary to figure out what kind of crowd this is. It's scary to try to figure out how to be likable to different types of crowds and then to write things that create this visceral response in them, where they can't even help themselves and have to biologically laugh. [00:17:00] It requires writing, confidence, charisma, crowd control, for a better word crowd work, reading a crowd in microseconds, so reading. You can imagine that helps, obviously, in negotiating or if you're on TV or if you're on a podcast. All these things ... There's maybe 50 different micro skills in standup comedy, and I would say humor is probably the third or fourth most [00:17:30] important skill, not even the first, second, or third most important skill in standup comedy. To master it, or to try to get better, you have to get better at all these subskills at the same time. That's why people like Louis C.K., or any standup comedian, who you see on Netflix, they've probably been doing it between 15 and 30 years.
Jen Lehner: Yeah, so, you were just about to mention Louis C.K., and I was going to ask you about that. I know that you like his work, [00:18:00] and it's funny, because I really ... My 17-year-old really loves him, too. Between him and you, and listening to your podcast and reading your stuff, I downloaded the whole series of Louie, and then the next day all that stuff broke loose. What do you think about all that? How are you compartmentalizing that?
James Altucher: It's hard to compartmentalize, because now I watch ... After the news, I watched some episodes of Louie, [00:18:30] and it's hard to take the humor out of the context of the news. At the same time, though, it doesn't mean you ... The guy's clearly one of the most skilled comedians in history, so if I could take one of those skills, then ... I'm sorry. Hold on one second.
Jen Lehner: Sure, are you playing chess?
James Altucher: No, I'm not playing chess. I don't have a mouse, so that prevents me from playing. That's my discipline. I never got a mouse for this laptop, so that prevents me from playing [00:19:00] online chess.
Jen Lehner: But you play chess every day, don't you?
James Altucher: No, not anymore. I've stopped doing that, because I just need to do other things now.
Jen Lehner: Right, right.
James Altucher: I've really gotten. I've had to make trade-offs this year on what I can do, in part because of the standup comedy. It takes a lot of time and energy. Now, you could say, "Well, why do it then?" It doesn't make me any money at all, but again these skills translate to so many [00:19:30] things.
Jen Lehner: Do you have ... I mean, how far do you want to take it? Are you doing it to just, because you're proving to yourself that you could slay this fear or you could become better, and then that will be enough, or do you want to have an HBO Comedy Special?
James Altucher: I definitely don't want ... I definitely have no goals for it. I don't want any particular special or anything, but I just want to ... I've always loved it so, and I was always afraid to do it, so this [00:20:00] past year, I've started obsessively doing it. Like I said, this week I'm going up six times a week. I really ... It's just fascinating to me to take a new and difficult skill and learn it, because, again, it translates. It's like learning the language of learning. If I could learn this--I shouldn't say "if"; I have been learning this--it helps me to learn other things. Every time I learn one thing, it makes the next thing easier to learn. This one is so difficult to learn that it translates [00:20:30] to learning other things so quickly that it stuns me how much it translates.
Now, that's not the case for every standup comic. It just so happens, I'm really fascinated by the process of learning, so I try to figure out how to learn. What it takes some people maybe 15 to 20 years to learn, I'm trying to figure out how to learn it as fast as possible and try to improve as fast as possible.
Jen Lehner: Are you enjoying it, for the most part, or is it a lot of pain [00:21:00] and hurt feelings combined with a lot of bliss?
James Altucher: You know, it's hard to say enjoying. What does enjoying mean? Nobody ... For instance, business is really hard. When I was starting my first business or second business or third business, I didn't really enjoy them. They were really painful, and I enjoyed some aspects of them, [00:21:30] but I think, again, to do ... It's what I've been saying. To do very difficult things you have to get through a lot of pain, and you can't really expect joy from them.
For instance, I might have fun playing chess, but I certainly never enjoy losing, and, yet, if I'm playing someone equal to me, I'll lose 50% of the time. I like playing the game, and I like getting better at it, but it doesn't [00:22:00] really seem to be about joy. It's more about, oh, I've enjoyed ... It's like I want to do this and I want to get better. It's something that pulls you to do the things that you love doing. I might love doing something, but I don't always enjoy it.
For instance, having a baby is certainly something I love. I love my baby more than anything, when my wife had a baby, and I was the father, but [00:22:30] I didn't ... There's almost nothing that's really enjoyable about it. I didn't like waking up at 3:00 in the morning and making some warm milk and walking around with her while she was crying, until she fell asleep. Nobody really enjoys that. I mean, maybe you enjoy that for a second or two, but then it's really tiring and painful and annoying.
Now, there's things about fatherhood that I love. I love being a father. I've never once not loved being a father, [00:23:00] but large periods of time I certainly did not enjoy. It was really hard.
Jen Lehner: Okay, so I want to pick up there on you being a father, because I do have a parenting question. My oldest is 17, and I had no idea that this junior year in high school thing even existed, the chaos and the intensity, not from him. I mean, just the whole college process, looking at colleges and all that stuff. [00:23:30] You talk a lot about how ... I mean, and if I'm paraphrasing this incorrectly, please let me know, but you talk a lot about how, basically, school's a waste of time, like a soul-crushing, money-wasting endeavor. What did you do with your kids, because you have one who's older than 17, right?
James Altucher: Yeah, I have one who's 18, who's a freshman in college, against my every objection, despite [00:24:00] my every objection.
Jen Lehner: Were you completely vocal about your thoughts, and she had different ideas?
James Altucher: Yeah, I was very vocal, but I learned a lot about fatherhood through that. For instance, kids don't have to listen to you. Most of the advice people give anyway is really bad advice, let alone the advice they give their children. The best you can do is be a good person and [00:24:30] live by example. There was one point, I wanted to talk to her about the college thing when she was--I don't know--a junior in high school, and she just turned around and walked away, while I was talking to her.
I was thinking ... I told her that's not really a polite thing to do to somebody, but, at the same time, I was forcing her also to listen to my opinions about college. I had to figure out a way ... It was my challenge to figure [00:25:00] out a way to talk to her, so that she would listen to me, so that I would be an effective parent. We were able to have the discussion, and she didn't agree with me, and I didn't want to make this the pivotal point of our relationship together, so I still don't think she should go to college. I still don't think kids should go to college, but she's going to college.
Jen Lehner: What if the kid doesn't have an entrepreneurial gene in their body, that you could see?
James Altucher: Well, [00:25:30] I don't recommend that they be an entrepreneur. I don't necessarily think that's ... Let's say you wanted to be an artist, okay? People think artistry is ... being an artist is the opposite of an entrepreneur. That's why I picked that, or let's say you want to be an actress. All right, don't go to college, and learn the most important beginning skill there is for an actress, which is learn how to audition and take acting lessons on the side, which is much less time consuming and leaves you time for auditioning, [00:26:00] and you can make some money and not get into debt or spend all the money on that college class. The acting lessons you'll learn in independent acting classes will be at least as good, or, if not, better than what you learn in college.
Well, okay, then they won't learn math in college. Well, you don't learn math anyway in college. How many of us remember calculus from college? How many of us ... I mean, I was on a podcast recently, with a very well known podcast, and the guy told [00:26:30] me he had majored in European history. I said, "Oh, great. Tell me when Charlemagne was born, the most important emperor in European history in the past 2000 years, the guy who united all of Europe?"
He said something like ... He thought about it for a second. He said, "Oh, I think in the 1350s." I said ... Sitting here now even--I've given this in a talk a thousand times--I can't even remember. I think was around in the 750s.
Jen Lehner: I sure don't know.
James Altucher: [00:27:00] He was 600 years off, and he majored in European history. It's not like college really ... Oh, people say, "Oh, well, they learn culture and everything." I don't know. I majored in computer science. I went to graduate school in computer science, and I didn't really learn the art and beauty of reading and then writing until I was in my 20s. That's how I built my career. I think college really slows [00:27:30] people down.
Now, where is college good? Well, college is good if you feel you need another four years spending time with people exactly your age, exactly your demographic, but that's the last time you ever do that in life, so it's not even a skill that you use later on in life. It's not like you build social skills that you use later on. I mean, when I was in college, all my friends were 18, 19, and 20 years old, and 21 years old. I never, since then ... [00:28:00] I don't think I have any friends my age right now. They're all ... I have friends from 20 years older than me to 20 years younger than me. I don't know of any of my close friends that are exactly my age, so it never really happens again after college.
Jen Lehner: Yeah, but what about the idea of you don't know what you don't know, so if you go to college and if you do the liberal arts thing, and you take sociology 101, you take an advertising class, you take psychology, you take Spanish, you take an art class, a theater class, whatever, [00:28:30] then, all of a sudden, there's somebody there that inspires you and leads you in a direction that you never would have gone in if you didn't do that. If you thought you wanted to be an actor, and so you started waiting tables and you started taking acting classes, but that's all you're doing.
James Altucher: Yeah, I agree with that, but is that the optimal use of one hundred or two hundred thousand dollars or whatever, is you're going to [inaudible 00:28:57]. I mean, you can also do that for free, by taking courses [00:29:00] on Coursera and some other online ... There's just so many online education sites. By the way, I live four blocks from a bookstore. I could just go to the café and read a book for free, or go to the library and spend nothing. Maybe you need to spend $200,000 or $100,000 to get those skills, and by the way there's cheaper ways to do it, too, and maybe you need to get into debt to get exposed to those things, but there's also ways to get exposed to all those things without spending that kind [00:29:30] of money.
Jen Lehner: Yep, okay, I hear you. It's just, we're having a lot of this conversation now, so I thought, wow, I'm going to ask. I definitely wanted to ask you that while I had you on the call. Now, I would be so dumb if I didn't ask you some podcasting stuff, since I just started this podcast. You're an expert and I have you here, so, if you don't mind, I'd love to ask you just a few podcasting questions.
James Altucher: Absolutely. Congratulations on [missing audio, inaudible 00:29:57].
Jen Lehner: Thank you. Thank you. I'm quite [00:30:00] enjoying it. I think that, I mean, I definitely have a lot to learn, but I just think this is really just such a cool thing. I want to know, how do you prepare for your podcast, specifically? Do you have an outline? Do you have notes? Do you just wing it? Do you do a ton of research? How do you pick your guests?
James Altucher: I do a ton of research, but let's start off with how I pick my guests. I pick guests who are peak performers [00:30:30] at what they do. A lot of times people come to me and say, "Oh, I've started a business out of nothing, and I was broke just like you, and now my business makes five million in revenues a year. Can I go on your podcast?"
My answer to that is no, not because they're doing anything wrong. They're doing everything right, but that's just not what I pick ... That's not the focus of my podcast. My focus of my podcast is not business. The focus of my podcast is peak performance, people who are the best in the world [00:31:00] or who are close to being the best in the world or who, at some point, were the best in the world at some field or activity. Then, I want to simply learn.
My goal is I don't want to interview them for everyone else, although that's certainly a side effect, but my goal is I want to learn how to be better at the things I love doing. I want to learn again the language, almost like the metalanguage of learning. How did they get so good at ... It's one thing to be talented, but to be the best [00:31:30] in the world at something, you have to take that extra step, that extra level that a billion other people don't take, and I want to learn what those steps are. For the things that I'm trying to get better at, I can apply what they say and really listen to them, and do it. I pick guests that fall I that category. It might be Sara Blakely, which is a business example. I think she's the only self-made female billionaire [00:32:00] on the Forbes list, her and [crosstalk 00:32:02], but Sara Blakely made Spanx.
I had Garry Kasparov, who was the world chess champion. I had Tony Hawk, who was the world skateboarding champion. I had Arianna Huffington. I've had on everything from athletes to writers to artists. I had on Amanda Palmer. I had on Jewel. I had on all these astronauts. I had Judy Blume, one of my favorite writers as a child. She came on my podcast, [00:32:30] has sold 150 million copies of her books.
To prepare is very hard, because I want to be really respectful of their time and what they do, and I want to ask the right questions that no one's ever asked them before, so I read everything they've written. I try to. I mean, if they've written 50 books, if their job is a writer and they've written 50 books, I can't read 50 books, but I try to read what I can. I watch any TED talks that they've given or other talks. I listen [00:33:00] to them on other podcasts. Sometimes I hire other people to make lists of questions for me, just so I can compare those lists with questions that I might have. I take very detailed notes, and then I try to do it as close as possible to the podcast as possible, so that everything's in--literally all the things about this person--is in the frontal lobe of my brain, in my short-term memory, and so then it's very easy to access from that point.
Then, sometimes it's weird. [00:33:30] Sometimes right after the podcast, it gets flushed from the short-term memory and hasn't had time yet to move to my long-term memory, and I won't even be able to remember who it was I had a podcast with an hour earlier. It's weird how the brain works. I try to take notes during the podcast of what I learned or what I'm learning during the podcast, so that I can then apply it to my life, or else I'll forget completely the podcast, unless I listen to it later.
Jen Lehner: What if you have a podcast with someone who's super boring, [00:34:00] just did not give you what ... Maybe you didn't get what you wanted, had hoped to get, or they just really weren't a good interview. Do you just air the episode anyway, or has that never happened to you?
James Altucher: No, no. Out of 300 interviews, it's happened three times.
Jen Lehner: Did you use it?
James Altucher: No, I don't air them.
Jen Lehner: Have you had any guests that just had really weird, any weird diva requests, like don't look at me in the eyes or I want green tea?
James Altucher: Yeah, and then I usually don't have them on, because [00:34:30] part of being a peak performer ... Usually the best in the world are very kind, nice people, because part of being a peak performer is garnering the support of an entire community of people around you to help you, and you have to have a certain charisma to do that. Usually the very diva people don't qualify for my podcast. I'll give as a great example, a great counterexample, Seth Godin, who is a well-known [00:35:00] business writer and great business writer, I would say the best in the world at what he does. We sit down to do the podcast, and then he gets up and he asks me, "Hey, can I get you a glass of water?" That's the kind of podcast guest that I like.
Jen Lehner: That's so nice, and it's nice to hear that somebody I like so much is nice like that in real life, as well.
James Altucher: That's right. He's a very good and nice person. He's been on my podcast, I think, three times.
Jen Lehner: Yeah, and you know I love Seth and I love you, and [00:35:30] I think people would put you both in similar ... You're similar in a lot of ways. You're both menschy, but we're able to get to know you. I would say I feel like I know you so much more than Seth. Seth doesn't really talk much about himself, personally.
James Altucher: I've noticed that, too, in his writing. I think he focuses on principles and things he'd like to teach. I sort of feel like he's smarter than me, and so he should be teaching, and I [00:36:00] just can teach through story. What story is ... Sometimes you tell stories about others, but most of my stories I tell about me and things I've learned and things ... not even things that I've learned, because you don't ever really know if you've learned something, but just things that I've gone through and what I tried to learn.
Jen Lehner: Yeah, well, we're just lucky that we have both of you. Now, I want to ... The people in my community, The Front Row, had a few questions for you, so do you mind [00:36:30] if I throw some of their questions your way real quick?
James Altucher: Absolutely.
Jen Lehner: Anthony wants to know how do you deal with the haters? You don't have any haters.
James Altucher: Oh, my God, I have so many haters. Oh, oh, let me see. I'm going to just go on Twitter right now and-
Jen Lehner: Read mean tweets?
James Altucher: Yeah, I get mean tweets. Oh, oh, actually, the last set are pretty good. I just get mean stuff all the time, but I ignore it. I usually block people right away. Even if someone's a friend of [00:37:00] mine, if they send something to me, and then it's like, oh, that's odd that he would send something so mean and cruel, I'll just block them. I don't care. I don't need that in my life. Life's short.
Jen Lehner: Yeah, I think that about ... Sometimes I'll notice when I'm scrolling through the Facebook feed. If anything makes me feel bad at all, I just block it. I turn it off, and that really works.
James Altucher: Yeah, people are allowed to have constructive criticism. I mean, well, people are allowed to do whatever they want, but, [00:37:30] for me, people are allowed to have constructive criticism and have a dialog with me. I'll always engage in a dialog with people who disagree with me, but if someone's just going to say, "Oh, James Altucher is a cancer on Twitter," then that person's just blocked. Obviously, they've got their own mental problems, to say such a thing, and they're just projecting whatever problems they have onto me, and I don't even know the guy. Why would he say that? [00:38:00] I have to admit, it might bother me for a second, but then I just block and don't ... I block it in my head, too.
Jen Lehner: What about reviews of your comedy? What if somebody says something bad about your ... Do they? Are there reviews that come out from people that see your standup or is it just sort of verbal feedback?
James Altucher: You know, it's not like people write a Yelp review about your comedy or anything, and I have no YouTube videos of my comedy, because, [00:38:30] while I'm learning, there's no point in me ... Again, because I'm not trying to go on the Colbert show or anything, there's no reason for me to put up YouTube videos yet. I mean, maybe at some point in the future there'll be a reason. Also, I use the same ... I don't change. If I'm going up six times this week, I'm going to use probably most of the same jokes each time. I'm trying to perfect a joke, instead of perfecting 10 [00:39:00] different jokes every single time, so I don't want to, what's called, burn my jokes by having them on YouTube. Then, people will know in advance what I'm going to say.
If I bomb in comedy, like if an audience doesn't laugh, or if they're talking, or, worse yet, if they heckle me, which has happened but is very rare, I'll get upset, yeah, of course. It doesn't feel good, but you have to always remember, those are the only times you can really learn. [00:39:30] For instance, last night I went up and everybody laughed at every joke I had, which actually is sort of frustrating, because how can I learn from that? There's nothing I can learn. I can maybe guess how I could be better, but that's just a guess. Everybody already laughed at everything I did, so what can I do better.
I was even saying to a friend of mine, "I'm kind of disappointed, because I feel like I'm not taking enough risks if people are laughing right now at every single joke," [00:40:00] so I have to push myself a little more, and I'm having a problem with that. I don't know. I don't know where ... I mean, I've been doing this a year, so I've ended up where I'm at right now, and I have to figure out the next step to push myself. I push myself really a lot, in a lot of ways, and I've almost gotten back in my comfort zone of, okay, here's the part of comedy, where I know I'm good, [00:40:30] and now I've built up the skill, so I'm comfortable. Now, I have to figure out what's the next way to get out of my comfort zone with this.
Jen Lehner: Are you going to have a whole bunch of your favorite comedians come on the podcast, so you can ask them-
James Altucher: Oh, I've already done that. I've already been doing that. I'm on the case.
Jen Lehner: Who do you want on your podcast that you had a hard time getting on, or do you not want to share that?
James Altucher: No, I mean, everybody's been pretty easy to ... I don't want to say easy to get on. For instance, some [00:41:00] comedians I can't get on. I asked Amy Schumer on. I asked Jim Gaffigan on, but they don't need to go on my podcast. They have very ... They're busy right now. I'm not saying the comedians that have been on my podcast haven't been busy. They've also been extremely busy, but if someone's about to promote a Netflix special, it's a little easier to get them on my podcast, because it's promotional for them, and it's learning for me. If someone's not promoting anything, it's much harder to get them on my podcast.
Jen Lehner: I'll bet Sarah Silverman would like to be on your [00:41:30] podcast. Has she already been on?
James Altucher: She hasn't been on, but I know my producer is figuring out how to reach out to her. I've had lots of great comedians on. I had on Jim Norton, Adam Carolla, Marina Franklin, Gary Gulman. Some of these might not be common names, but I consider them among the best comedians in the world. I've had on many, many comedians who are great, great comedians. New York City alone has 1000 working comedians. In the U.S., there's [00:42:00] probably 5000 working comedians.
Now, not all of them are great, but let's say some percentage of them are great. Netflix is only going to do 50 comedy specials, so there are a lot of really great, talented, funny people, who might not fit the mold of a Netflix special or a TV sitcom, but they're super funny, and they have great skills, and there's great things that I want to learn from them, and I'll always invite them on my podcast, and they can come on again and again and again, because I'm always learning.
Jen Lehner: Yeah, I was about [00:42:30] to say, I bet that you're just learning tons from them. I listened to one of your podcasts. You had a woman on, and she told the funniest joke that I tried to retell, and it didn't come out as funny, but it was like I can't stand my therapist.
James Altucher: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Jen Lehner: She's a refugee.
James Altucher: Bonnie McFarlane, first off, is a great, great comedian, one of the best comedians in the world. She's also married to Rich Vos, who is one of the best in the world. They have a podcast together. The podcast is called My Wife Hates Me. Her [00:43:00] point there was, before you even think about making the punchline funny, why don't you try making the premise funny? Her premise is that her therapist is from Beirut or her therapist escaped from ISIS, and so when she says, "I'm feeling really depressed. Where do I put my couch?" The therapist is just ... She doesn't even have a punchline yet, right? It's just these premises about this therapist [00:43:30] who escaped from ISIS, but just almost anything you could think there sounds funny.
The reason you can't think of the joke to say is because she actually doesn't have a joke around it yet. That's the next step, but it shows you how important it is. To even just have a funny premise is really difficult, and then to come up with a funny punchline off a funny premise ... It will work, because the premise itself is funny. It's just, but that's how much time she puts into writing three or four lines with a funny premise, and then a funny punchline. Then [00:44:00] her delivery has to be good. Her voice has to be good. She has to be kind of whiny, her way of playing with the crowd. She has to make sure ... Because she's so annoying in that persona, she has to make sure the crowd still likes her after the joke, and that's extremely difficult. Having someone like Bonnie McFarlane on, even just those two minutes where she was talking about that one particular premise--which again is not a joke; it's just a premise--that was [00:44:30] fascinating to me.
Jen Lehner: You know, hearing you talk about all the technicalities of it, I wonder if you can watch comedy now and enjoy it in the way that you used to, without dissecting it so surgically.
James Altucher: Not at all. I can't watch comedy the same way, which is great, because it's like playing chess. When I was a little kid, I could see two people playing chess, and, oh, who's going to checkmate the king. I would think about very few things. Now, when [00:45:00] I watch a game of chess, I'm looking at a hundred different things, and it makes the ... The pleasure of watching chess has gone up so much for me, just because I'm good at it, and I learned all the subtleties and the nuances, and it's a pleasure for me for the rest of my life, because I did the hard work of getting good. It was really, really hard to get good at it.
It's the same thing with comedy. When I watch ... You know, I watched Aziz Ansari do a special [00:45:30] the other day, and I'm like, oh, okay, he's setting up a broad premise. Then he's citing a specific example in his life. Then he's acting out her voice, then his voice, and then ... It's funny, the act out is funny. That's kind of where the punchline is, and then he does something even extra absurd. I noticed every single one of his jokes had that format. You kind of pick up on, for each comedian, what format [00:46:00] are their jokes and what they are trying to achieve with their humor.
Jen Lehner: Well, I am reading Reinvent Yourself. I'm almost done with it. It's outstanding. It's so inspirational. It's so funny. You are so funny. I guess, you're really walking the talk. You are reinventing yourself, as we speak, in your comedy club. What's next that we can consume from you that you want to tell our audience about. Do you have a new book out? [00:46:30] Is that the latest one? Your cryptocurrency course ... Where can we find you and what you're up to next?
James Altucher: I think if you go to my website, jamesaltucher.com, it has links to everything, but my book Choose Yourself or Reinvent Yourself are both good. Choose Yourself is probably a little more popular. If you type into Google, I want to die, I'm usually the third or fourth result, so that's one way to find me. That's kind of the easiest way to find [00:47:00] me, and my podcast, The James Altucher Show. I have lots of things, lots of places where you could find me. I'm definitely not hiding.
Jen Lehner: That's for sure. Hey, I've got to ask you on the "I Want to Die," I was wondering. I got lost in the comment thread. For those listening, who haven't read it, it's about how you were feeling pretty down and out, and the people who commented ... I mean, I was in tears reading the comments, and I wondered, [00:47:30] do you feel a sense of responsibility now with that thread that you need to keep an eye on it, because there's some heavy stuff in there.
James Altucher: There is some heavy stuff in there, and I've got to be careful, because I am just telling my story. I'm not a suicide prevention expert or I'm not a therapist. I'm not a life coach. I'm not any of these things, and I just write about what I do and what's happened to me. People maybe [00:48:00] relate to some of it, so they put stuff in the comments, but then, if it's serious enough, they should really seek help from people who are trained to help in those things. I think that's why ... I used to be number one for "I Want to Die," and Google manually changed their algorithm to put the National Suicide Prevention Hotline above me.
Jen Lehner: Yeah, thank goodness.
James Altucher: I think it's the only time they ever manually changed their algorithm.
Jen Lehner: That's amazing.
James Altucher: [00:48:30] Yeah.
Jen Lehner: All right, well, you have been beyond generous. Thank you so much for keeping your word. You certainly didn't need to do my tiny little podcast.
James Altucher: It's my pleasure, Jen. Thank you so much. I'm glad you started this podcast.
Jen Lehner: Thank you. Thank you, James. We're headed into a new year. I wish you a really happy 2018, and I just can't wait to see what you're up to next.
James Altucher: Yeah, thank you so much, Jen. You, too, and let me know if you need any [00:49:00] help with anything, so thanks.
Jen Lehner: All right, thank you. Okay, bye-bye.
That wraps up episode number four. I hope you enjoyed that episode as much as I did, and make sure, if you aren't already a member of my free online community called The Front Row, head on over to jenlehner.com/frontrow and join today. It's free, and we really have a great time in there, so I look forward to seeing you. Also, if you have [00:49:30] an Alexa app, or I should say if you have an Alexa in your home, open up your Alexa app and type in front row entrepreneur, and you'll see my little logo pop up. What you'll do is add that as a skill in your Alexa app, so now you could go, walk into your living room or your kitchen and say, "Hey, Alexa,"--or you don't say "hey"--"Alexa, play my flash briefings," and you'll hear me giving you a short, [00:50:00] two- to three-minute update of all the latest, greatest things that are happening in social media marketing and online business. See you next time.