Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Aisha Tyler (@aishatyler on Twitter, Instagram, and Vimeo), an award-winning director, actor, comedian, bestselling author, podcaster, and activist. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Why, hello, my darling little Mogwai. This is Tim Ferriss. And welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss show where it is my job to deconstruct world-class performers to tease out the habits, routines, experiences, life lessons, frameworks, etc., that you can hopefully apply to your own lives. My guest today is someone I’ve known for quite a few years now. She’s incredible. Aisha Tyler. That is A-I-S-H-A-T-Y-L-E-R on Twitter, Instagram, Vimeo, and beyond. She is an award-winning director, actor, comedian, bestselling author, podcaster, and activist. She does just about everything. And if you’ve enjoyed my episodes with, for instance, Brandon Stanton, Debbie Millman, or Adam Robinson among others, you will love this one. Whether you do creative work, wanna be too complex to categorize, want to overcome rejection and beat the odds despite the fears and insecurities we all have, this will have something for you.
Aisha voices superspy Lana Kane on FX’s Emmy award-winning animated comedy series, Archer which won four back-to-back Television Critics’ Choice Awards. She is a regular on the hit CBS show, Criminal Minds, now in its 13th season, for which she has also directed. Aisha continues to host the CW’s hit improv show, Whose Line Is It Anyway? And she’s launching a line of bottled cocktails she created, Courage + Stone in summer of 2018. Take a breath. Sit back. That’s not all. Let me get a little bit more in just to give you a taste. And man, this doesn’t even capture a small fraction, but here we go. Aisha was a co-host for seven seasons of CBS’s Emmy winning daytime show, The Talk, which she departed in September 2017 to focus more on acting and directing. She’s also very well remembered for her character arc on Friends where she was the first African American to have a longstanding role on the show.
Her feature film debut, the thriller AXIS, all caps, A-X-I-S premiered 2017 and won the outstanding achievement in feature filmmaking award at the 2017 Newport Beach Film Festival and then had a theatrical run at ArcLight Hollywood, Landmark, NYC, and Drafthouse in my home of Austin, Texas. Alamo Drafthouse. So much fun. A San Francisco native, where I also spent a very, very long time, Aisha graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in government and environmental policy which you might not have known. She is an avid gamer and passionate advocate and occasional adversary of the gaming community. And her voice can be heard in video games like Halo: Reach, Gears of War 3, and Watch Dogs. Aisha is a bourbon and hard rock fan, a snowboarder, and a sci-fi obsessive.
And we cover so much ground in this episode. It’s very wide-ranging. She’s hilarious. And I really, really, really enjoyed the twists and turns in this particular podcast episode. So, without further ado, please enjoy – and you can find more to enjoy at aishatyler.com, of course – the namesake of aishatyler.com, Aisha Tyler.
Aisha, welcome to the show.
Aisha Tyler: Tim, hello. Thank you. I’m super excited to be here. This is our away. It’s a very long home and away for us.
Tim Ferriss: It is. It is. And you are partially to blame/credit for me having a podcast in the first place because I recall when you interviewed me for Girl on Guy podcast in San Francisco at my place. And I had so much fun speaking with you and fielding some fantastic questions, one of which I’m gonna bring up, and then we’ll backpedal. But the question will not be surprising to you I don’t think. And I’m gonna ask you to bring it up. But the conversation that we had in part contributed to me deciding to take a break from writing books which had completely burned me out and, in turn, helped birth this show. So, thank you for helping to send me on this path because it’s become one of the most gratifying and fascinating things I could possibly imagine doing. So, thank you for that.
Aisha Tyler: It’s so thrilling to be here and really, really gratifying. Yeah. It’s amazing. I think podcasts are wonderful and terrible beasts but really satisfying, even when they’re punishingly difficult to manage. They’re still so satisfying. So, I’m really happy. I’m happy that you’re enjoying it.
Tim Ferriss: We’re not gonna get into this right now, although we can. You have a book titled, Self-Inflicted Wounds, subtitle: Heartwarming tales of epic humiliation. And can you maybe repeat or even paraphrase the question that you would always ask guests on your show?
Aisha Tyler: Oh, absolutely. The name for that book came from this part of my show, Self-Inflicted Wounds which was, “Tell me a story about something that’s gone wrong in your life that’s your own fault. You can’t blame anyone else, not your ex, not the bullies in your school, not the man. You did it to yourself.” And it was really a way of initiating a conversation about risk and failure because I feel like people see people who are successful and assume that a part of that success or a reason for that success is that they haven’t made any mistakes and they haven’t failed, that they’ve got a charmed life in some way or they figured some kind of formula out. And the most successful people are people who don’t just manage risk but engage in risk and court failure actively.
So, I always love to have people listening see that someone that they admire and they think is really accomplished has really shit the bed seriously at some point in their lives, maybe multiple times because I just think it’s instructive. I think people don’t start because they’re afraid they’re gonna fail. And there’s just no way around – the path to success is through failure. You just can’t get around it.
Tim Ferriss: So, there are so many different directions I could go with this. And I want to go way back as maybe a montage flashback that we could have as a visual overlay as you’re saying some of these things. And that is to your dad. And I’ve, in the process of doing homework, read about your dad’s favorite saying or question that he would ask. And I was hoping you could explain this or share this with people who are listening because I think it’s amazing.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. Well, I was raised – my parents divorced when I was ten. And my parents, I always joke that it’s only rich people that can afford to fight about custody. You know what I mean? Poor people just do whatever they have to do to manage. And my parents, neither of them could really afford two kids. And also, neither of them could afford to pay child support. So, each of them just took one of us. And I was older, so I went with my father. And he was like, “Which one can wash itself?” And that was the one that he took. It was me. And my father is the king of the very terse and pointed motivational speech. So, I would leave for school in the morning. I grew up in San Francisco. And at one point, we lived upstairs in a Victorian.
So, I’d go down these very steep stairs. And he’d lean over the railing, and he’d go, “Whose day is it?” And I’d have to say, “It’s my day.” And then he’d say, “What are you gonna do?” And I’d have to say, “Grab it by the balls.” Then he’d say, “And then what are you gonna do?” And I’d have to say, “And twist and twist,” as I was going out the door. But it was funny because my dad was just – he was such a great dad. He was a really engaged guy. But he was a single father and relatively young. So, maybe there were a few boundaries of propriety that he danced along. But he just encouraged me to be aggressive. I think it’s very hard for single parents. Period. And I think it’s very hard for fathers and daughters because I just think if you’re a dad, the world just looks like a field of broken glass and potholes and molten lava.
And then you’ve got this little kitten. And you’re just so terrified to put the kitten down. So, either they grip very tightly, or in my father’s case, they throw you up in the air and expect that they’ve given you the skills to land. And that was definitely his strategy.
Tim Ferriss: Now you mentioned the divorce which I have read was amicable. And it ended up resulting in you going with your father. And you have one sibling?
Aisha Tyler: I have a younger sister. And she stayed with –
Tim Ferriss: Younger sister. Stayed with your mom. Was that hard? Or did it not even occur to you to be hard because it just is what it was? Or was that difficult? And did you have constant contact? Or what was the dynamic like?
Aisha Tyler: It’s interesting because I think it was more the second for me. It just was what was happening. And I don’t ever remember struggling in any grand way with the way that things were going. And look, maybe that’s my nature. I know my parents worked very hard to be loving and available to both of us. And I had lots of access to my mother. And I talked to her all the time. And I called her for advice. And she got to be the fun mom or the advice mom. She didn’t have to discipline me. She could just be the person who was there when I needed emotional support. I do know that one of the things it resulted in, at least when we were younger, was my sister and I – we weren’t super close, but lots of siblings aren’t super close when they’re kids, whether they’re living in the same house or not. They’re fighting, and they’re competitive. But as we got older, I became wildly protective of my sister.
And my relationship with her is so intensely loving and affectionate now. And I don’t know. Maybe if we lived in the same house driving each other nuts all the time, we wouldn’t be as close as we are now. We spent the formative years of our lives living in different houses. But we like the same stuff, and we care about the same things. And our connection’s really deep. So, I don’t ever remember sitting up at night feeling any kind of agony about the fact that my parents were divorcing. I did watch them try very hard to stay together. I do remember that when they got a divorce, I was like, “They really gave it a shot.” I could see that they really – they would break up, and they’d get back together. And they’d break up, and they’d get back together. And I remember I’d walk in on them, and they’d be making out on the couch. I was like, “They are really giving this a go.”
So, when they decided it was over, I was like, “Okay. Yeah.” I don’t ever remember it being a point of agony. Things changed. And maybe as a result, I tolerate change better than I would otherwise. Or maybe I even crave change. I don’t know.
Tim Ferriss: Has it been your demeanor to generally look at things through a positive lens like that where you would frame what other people might try to frame as a very difficult, agonizing experience into something that was or at least is framed as something positive that you benefited from? Or have you had more of the time a tendency to frame things negatively?
Aisha Tyler: That’s a really good question. And I think about that a lot because I think that my attitude or my point of view about things is half biochemistry and half child-rearing. My father is just a preternaturally optimistic person. It’s extraordinary. I always make this joke that if my father’s house was on fire, he would get a stick and marshmallows. He just cannot be deterred. Or I’ve never seen it. He’s just never down. And so, I think that I inherited that. And maybe it’s attitudinal. I think I just probably make up the chemicals in my brain that keep me typically upbeat. You know what I mean? And I think it’s important because I think a lot of times when people are – if they have a hard time seeing the world positively or if they’re struggling with depression, people are like, “Well, you just need to look at it a different way.” But I think that I probably just make more of the chemicals that enable me to be optimistic. I’ve never really been depressed.
But my father also was just a walk it off dad. He just did not feel sorry for me. And I was not allowed to feel sorry for myself. And so, when things went wrong – and this has definitely sustained till I was an adult – I just get up and I keep going. And that was because my father was raised – he lost his father when he was very, very young. He was raised by a single mother and tumbled down Pittsburgh with the very few opportunities for a black man at that time. And he just never felt sorry for himself. He was just like, “Look, I can complain about the situation, or I can just keep moving.” So, I think I’ve been nurtured in that way as well which is the world is unfair. It’s shot through with assholes. I still have to get up in the morning and make a life for myself. And so, it’s probably a combination of those two things.
Tim Ferriss: Were you, would you say, good at following his advice of not only grabbing life by the balls but twisting, which is a whole new level? Those are two really – you can gently grab balls. You can’t really gently grab and twist balls.
Aisha Tyler: Of course. The twisting is a – yes. That’s an elevated form of aggression. Yeah. I don’t know. It’s hard to say, “Oh, I’m nailing it.” That’s not how I feel. But I do think that that attitude of just go – and I wrote a lot about it in my book, the idea that my parents raised me to be brave and in some ways, maybe too brave. But the result has been a relentlessness and in the pursuit of the things that are important to me. And that’s not the same as, “I’m winning.” I don’t really think about things that way. But if I wanna do something, then I do it. And I don’t really worry too much about whether it’s gonna go my way, not because I expect it to go my way but because it doesn’t matter if it goes my way because it’s the engagement that’s most meaningful to me. It’s the effort.
Tim Ferriss: I got it. So, by engagement, you mean the dogged persistence that you’re developing.
Aisha Tyler: The engagement in your personal goals. If I wanna do something, whatever – I don’t know. Let’s pick something really innocuous. If I wanna hike every day for a month, or if I wanna start meditating, if I don’t dial it, it’s not as important to me as not looking back and saying, “I should have done it.” It’s the doing for me that is the reward. And then sometimes things go my way, and sometimes they don’t. But the thing I find most upsetting is regret because that’s something I have control over in the sense of if you didn’t do it, you have nobody to blame but yourself.
Tim Ferriss: Right. You can always attempt. You can’t predetermine –
Aisha Tyler: You can’t –
Tim Ferriss: – success.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. You can’t predetermine the outcome. But you can predetermine the effort because the effort is the only thing that you own. You can’t own results. You can only own initiative.
Tim Ferriss: And you mentioned your dad being a walk it off dad. I wanna explore that a little bit. Do you remember any – while you were still under his watch or not – early disappointments or self-inflicted wounds and how your dad responded? Or mistakes?
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. Well, this isn’t exactly a good example of a disappointment. But it’s a perfect example of his attitude. I was going to camp. I must have been about eight or nine. I’ll say nine. And I was going to Jiu-Jitsu camp. And this was still during the free-range parenting era where you just got up in the morning, and you left at home, and you came back later. And that stuff was your responsibility. So –
Tim Ferriss: Wait. Did you say eight or nine and then Jiu-Jitsu camp?
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. I was really into martial arts when I was a kid. So –
Tim Ferriss: Oh, okay. It was making me think of the movie, Hanna where –
Tim Ferriss: Eric Bana trains his daughter to be a super killer. I’m just –
Aisha Tyler: I wish I was that good at Jiu-Jitsu. But unfortunately, that was not one of my stronger – but as I’ve pointed out, it wasn’t the result that was important. It was just the effort. So, I would ride my bike to camp every day and ride it home. And it was a good ride. It was a five-mile ride to camp. And I fell one day coming down a hill. This was no helmets. This was a long time ago. I’m very old. No helmets. Just willy-nilly your backpack on, and you’re not signaling. And I fell. And I hurt my arm very badly. And I think I went – I can’t remember, but I contacted my dad. And he’s like, “I’m not gonna come get you. I can’t leave work. You have to get home on your own.” So, I rode my bike back from camp another three, four more miles. And my arm was broken. It was definitely broken. I had broken my arm. And I got home. And my dad was like, “Your arm’s not broken. You need to stop complaining. It’s just sore.”
And the next day, I woke up. It was black and swollen. And I had to lift it off the pillow. And he finally took me to the doctor, and it was absolutely a compound fracture. The bone hadn’t come through the skin, but it was a multiple fracture. I think at the time, it felt cruel. But I think my dad’s larger attitude was, “No one is coming to save you. You have to save yourself. You have to find a way every single day to save yourself.” And as a result, I think that as an adult, I just don’t spend a lot of time anguishing over what’s been done to me. And I was fine. I did ride my bike home. And my arm was broken, but I still got home on my bike. And then the next day, I got a super dope cast. And I think we just raise these – I know I sound like everybody’s mom, but I just feel like we’re curating young people’s experiences so aggressively nowadays that they just don’t have any way to discover things about themselves.
They don’t develop not just self-sufficiency but a curiosity about themselves and their abilities and what they can tolerate and what they can do if left alone because they’re just never left alone. I had a lot of time alone when I was a kid, and I still really like being alone as an adult.
Tim Ferriss: Right. And also, it strikes me that if you’re so protective of your child and your child’s ego that you effectively disallow them to fail or engage with risk that the delta, the difference between their actual competencies and abilities for self-preservation and their overinflated sense of their capabilities is actually a huge disservice.
Aisha Tyler: Oh, absolutely. And their sense of – you need to know what it feels like to fail and then what comes next because what comes next is, “What did I learn? How can I adjust? How do I pivot? How do I move forward?” And just most people don’t develop those mental skills. They’re crushed by failure. And it’s just an unavoidable element of life. And there’s so many people that I know whose – out of real, genuine love, parents like, “I just don’t wanna see my kid in pain.”
But how are you gonna – how do people move through the planet? How do these people move through life without pain? That’s a false theory. It can’t be done. It just cannot be done. And so, people just become incapacitated the first minute they hit any kind of a speedbump in their lives. And they just don’t know how to navigate disappointment, whereas I was just deeply disappointed throughout my childhood, so I know exactly what it feels like. I’m just like, “Next.” I’m like, “That didn’t go my way. Moving on.”
Tim Ferriss: Well, yeah. And it makes me conjure in my mind the image of this increasing amplitude of pain consequence over your life from childhood to adulthood where the consequences grow potentially greater and greater, where in the beginning, when you’re a child, you’re basically engaging with pain and – I shouldn’t say pain but failure in many cases. Not all cases but many cases where you’re effectively in one of those birthday party blowup sumo suits. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Aisha Tyler: Yes. Yes.
Tim Ferriss: And it’s like, “All right.” So, you can engage with failure that way. And if you get knocked on your ass, there aren’t really real consequences. Then you get to high school, college, and it’s like, “Okay. You’re out of the sumo suit, but you’ve got big, blowup boxing gloves on and a huge piece of headgear.” Then when you get out into some aspects of the real world, it’s just a bareknuckle brawl. And so, if you haven’t had the chance –
Aisha Tyler: With permanent consequences and real –
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, exactly. So, if you haven’t had the chance to get wailed in the face with a sumo suit, you’re not gonna be ready for the blowup boxing gloves and the headgear. And certainly, if you don’t get whacked in the face a few times doing that, you’re just gonna be crippled when you get out into the real world and get dropkicked in the face by someone who doesn’t follow the same rules.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. And crippled in that way that – and I know you’ve interacted with people like this. In that way where when something bad happens, their whole monologue is like, “Why me?” Like, “Why did this happen to me? You don’t understand what I’m going through.” It’s like, “You’re not special. Everybody is experiencing the same thing. Everybody’s heart is being broken. Everybody isn’t getting the job they want. Everybody isn’t gonna sleep with the hot person they want. Everybody is experiencing the same failures, these same injuries. But you just don’t know how to tolerate them. You are not special.” And that’s not the same as saying, “You don’t have the potential for being special.” But there’s nothing anybody’s doing now that hasn’t already been done or that won’t be done in the future. And those kinds of personalities drive me crazy because they’re so stuck and boring.
Tim Ferriss: What did you think you were going to be when you grew up when you were in high school or college?
Aisha Tyler: Oh, God. In high school, it’s so interesting because I was super academic. And I think I thought I’d be an attorney. I was a big activist, and I organized and marched and did all that stuff. And I was in the outing club. And I rock climbed and all that stuff. So, I thought I was gonna be an environmental lawyer. Either an environmental lawyer or an environmental engineer. And then I got to – and I really wanted to go to a school that was really grounded in a relationship to nature. So, I was applying to Marlborough College and Reed and Bard, and these schools that were out in the woods. And I ended up going to Dartmouth which is in New Hampshire and has this big land grant around it.
And I thought I would be an environmental engineer. And I think I just took the first prerequisite math course for engineering. I was like, “Yeah. Okay. It’s just not gonna be – just not right.” And I always loved science, but I’m just a person of letters, I guess. And I didn’t have the appetite for it. It wasn’t as glamorous as I thought. I think when I took my first engineering – I think I’d got through the math class. I did fine. I applied myself, and I got a good grade. And then I went into my introduction to engineering three, and it was about building a fecal matter treatment plant. And I was like, “This isn’t feeling like hugging trees at all, man. We’re just talking about poop all day.” I lost my appetite for that really quickly.
Tim Ferriss: So, then what? Did you just have this great existential angst? Or did you shift to something else immediately following that?
Aisha Tyler: I was always doing performing things on the side. I went to a high school that had a performing arts magnet or a pocket school within the regular school called the J. Eugene McAteer School of the Arts. So, I was doing my regular classwork and then doing improv and stuff and sketch on the side. And then I went to Dartmouth, and I was just doing some of the same stuff. I was in one of those infernal ivy leagues acapella groups that have been popularized since then by shows like Glee.
So, I was always doing that as a hobby because it just never felt like a real job. And I graduated. And I was living in San Francisco, and I was working for a conservation organization that was a killer. I got my dream job. It was a group that purchased blighted urban land and turned it into parks in underserved neighborhoods that didn’t have any outdoor space for kids to play. The mission was great because it wasn’t just conservation for conservation’s sake. It was conservation focused on engaging underserved communities. And it was the grooviest. And I was just miserable. And I just –
Tim Ferriss: Why were you miserable?
Aisha Tyler: I didn’t know. It was a really good question. It was like, “Why, if I have my dream job in the city of my birth, why am I so unhappy?” And I just did a lot of soul-searching. And I realized it was because for the first time in my life, I wasn’t doing anything creative. I wasn’t performing. And so, I’m a problem-solver. I’m a matrix builder. I was like, “Well, how can I solve this problem right now?” And I looked at all the ways that I could get on stage. And standup comedy was the only thing I didn’t need to know anyone for or have an agent or a band or connections. I could just do standup right away. And so, I started studying it and watching the precursor to Comedy Central which was this network called HA!, a very short-lived network, and taking notes. And then after a while, just screwed up the courage to go and do an open mic. And then it was just transformational. I was like, “Oh, this is what I want to do with my life.”
Tim Ferriss: Was the thinking immediately on how to turn performance into a career? Or did you expect that you would continue doing your job and doing standup on the side? Was it a career move from when you first built the matrix and decided on standup? Or was it, “You know what? This is gonna be great. I’ll continue doing this job, and I’ll scratch my creative performance itch on the weekends with open mics”?
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. It’s so funny because I don’t think I even realized that standup comedy was a job. I was a really bookish kid. A lot of guys will have these stories about how they grew up with Redd Foxx on vinyl that they listened to hundreds of times or following Lenny Bruce or these idols or Bill Hicks. I remember seeing Live on the Sunset Strip when I was a kid. But I just thought Richard Pryor was an alien. You know what I mean? Like, a magical person who came down to do this thing. The idea that that was a vocation was just not in my head. So, I remember seeing standup at Dartmouth when I was a sophomore and coming out of a show and being like, “Do people know that you can go and have this feeling for an hour? This is insanity.” I just remembered everything hurt from laughing. My face and my stomach. And I just never experienced live comedy before.
So, it didn’t dovetail into a job at first. It was just something I was gonna do for fun. I kept my day job 100 percent. And I kept it for a long time. I also didn’t wanna be one of these miserable, sweating standups who were gripping their inky notebook and sleeping on their buddy’s couch. I was in a relationship. And I had a job. And it paid great. And I could make flyers for my shows at work. I was embezzling copy paper and pushpins as aggressively as I could. So, I was and I still am of the opinion that you should absolutely keep your day job which I know is not in the most popular –
Tim Ferriss: I’m of the same opinion. Absolutely. Yeah.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. I think it gives you a freedom. People think it traps them. But I think it gives you this incredible freedom to just pursue art for art’s sake and let a job pay for it and do it for so long that everything you do is just for joy. And it changes the way that you approach your art. I would get up, and I’d go to work at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. And I work until 4:00. And then I’d jump in the car, and I’d drive two hours to Sacramento to do a set. And I’d come back at midnight. I’d do it all over again. But I could do that. And then it was just purely about the experience of performing and not about whether I was getting paid or not. So, I did that for a long time before I finally quit my job.
Tim Ferriss: Now, for those people who don’t know the geography of northern California where I lived for 17 years and – coincidentally, the high school that you went to, is that now the Ruth Asawa School on O’Shaugnessy?
Aisha Tyler: Yes. It’s on O’Shaugnessy. Yeah. Up there at the nexus of –
Tim Ferriss: Twin Peaks/Glen Park Canyon.
Aisha Tyler: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: So, I literally lived for five or six years about a quarter mile from that school. It was right there.
Aisha Tyler: It’s not a big city even though I think when you live there, it feels like it. But it’s an intimate place.
Tim Ferriss: It’s an intimate place. And given the density of San Francisco and the fact that it i – well, I’m not gonna go so f – I don’t know if people would consider it a comedy town, but there are certainly clubs and so on.
Aisha Tyler: Oh, it’s a comedy town. It’s a comedy town.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So, why would you go all the way to Sacramento? For those people who don’t know the area, it’s not a ten-minute drive away from San Francis –
Aisha Tyler: No, it’s far. It’s far. San Francisco’s always had a reputation for being a comedy town. The big comedy towns in the United States from the comedian’s perspectives are San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and New York. LA is a company town, but it’s not a comedy town. And San Francisco was always one of those places that people saw as a real crucible for original comedy. It was where the alt comedy movement happened and where Marc Maron and Janeane Garofalo and these alternative comics, Brian Posehn came out of. And it was a comedy town. But when I started doing comedy, it was the beginning of the contraction of the comedy economy. So, there was a period of time when there were just hundreds of comedy clubs everywhere. And you could make a living doing standup. You could go from place to place, and you could get a gig, and you could get paid.
And I started doing standup at the beginning of the end of the comedy bubble. So, when I started doing standup, the club community was contracting. And some of the big clubs in San Francisco were closing. I think at one point there were maybe five or six active clubs. And then by the time I was working consistently, there were only two. And there was just a lot of competition for stage time. And to get good at comedy, you can’t just do it once a weekend. You need to be on stage every night. It’s like being a high diver. Or you know what? It’s literally like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. And you’re not gonna get 10,000 hours of standup hanging out in San Francisco. You have to go everywhere and take every single opportunity to be on stage that you can get. So, I would drive to Sacramento. I would drive to Fresno. I would do these terrible bar shows in Menlo Park and – oh, God. I don’t even remember some of the places. Cupertino and Martinez.
You would just go anywhere that you could get six minutes on stage. And there were 100 other people trying to get those same six minutes. So, it was really competitive. The culture I think was pretty supportive. Comedians were supportive of each other. But there just wasn’t enough stage time, so you would just do anything and go anywhere to get it.
Tim Ferriss: I wanna ask about this comedy contraction. We won’t spend too much time on this because I don’t wanna take us completely off the reservation, but what happened? It was like Beanie Babies? People were really into Beanie Babies, then it’s like, “No. Comedy isn’t cool anymore.” And then all the clubs closed? Was it just a macroeconomic downturn? What happened?
Aisha Tyler: I think there were three factors. One factor was just there was just a glut. Live comedy, in some ways in the ‘70s and ‘80s, was a new thing. And it’s not like people hadn’t been doing standup prior to that. But the proliferation of standup comedians in the culture really started happening at that time. And what that was fueled by, I honestly don’t know. Why were there so many more comics doing standup in the ‘70s and ‘80s? Maybe because that was the period where there were these superstar comics that were – and I’m trying to think of who would have been really popular besides Bill Hicks and –
Tim Ferriss: I can see that though. Maybe it’s analogous to celebrity chefs in the last 15 years.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah, exactly. But part of the reason why there are so many more celebrity chefs is because there started to be celebrity chefs on television. And so, if you think about that in terms of comedy, what you see is, “Oh, that’s a job. I could make money at that,” whereas people weren’t really encountering live comedy if they didn’t go to a live comedy show. And so, you start to see these guys on TV, and you think – and honestly, when HA!, the precursor to Comedy Central started, they needed comics, and they needed opportunities. They needed clubs. They needed content. It was a 24-hour network. So, there were some good comedians on that station, and there were some really shitty ones. Really bad. And so, a lot of people watching probably thought, “Well, I can do that.” I also think about guys like Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay. There was a golden era in that time.
And we were seeing all those people on TV. Then we were seeing a lot of people that were really subpar. And a lot of people were thinking, “Well, if that guy can write five crappy minutes about an airplane, I can.” Then you couple that with this explosion in comedy clubs which were a relatively new phenomenon. When Joan Rivers was doing standup, she was doing standup in strip clubs. There were very few comedy clubs. And comedy was part of a vaudeville approach. So, you’d hire a singer. And then you’d hire a comic. But there weren’t places dedicated to comedy. So, these comedy clubs opened. It was a really easy way to make money because comics weren’t that expensive. And you had a two-drink minimum. People would come in. They would get wasted. You’d have huge margins on your booze. So, these comedy clubs started proliferating. And then there was just peak clubs. It would –
Tim Ferriss: It’s saturation.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. It became unsustainable. So, they started to contract because of market saturation. The economy started to contract in the ‘80s. And people could watch comedy on TV. The proliferation of comedy on television affected people going out to see it in a club. So, there were those three factors all intersecting. And when it happened, it was really aggressive. Like I said, I think there were maybe five or six comedy clubs in San Francisco when I was in high school. And then by the time I was doing standup in my 20s, there were two. And so, you would do – and they were attracting high-end, peak talent. So, for example, this club is still there. It’s called The Punchline.
Tim Ferriss: Punchline. I’ve been there a few times.
Aisha Tyler: There was The Punchline, and there was Cobb’s. And those are still the only two clubs. And maybe there’s some minor clubs that have sprung up since then. But they would book these big headliners. So, the only time you could go up if you were an amateur, a young comic was on a Sunday or a Wednesday. And there’d be 20 other guys trying to get on as well. And it would be wildly competitive. And you wouldn’t be getting paid. And then you’d be super anxious because you’d be hoping, “Okay. I need to go up, and I need to destroy because I want this club owner to hire me again. So, I can’t work out. I can’t fail in front of this guy because he won’t see this –” you know when you watch an Olympic skater during practice, and they’re falling? That’s what practice is for. Practice is for finding your weak spots and reinforcing them.
But when you’re up in front of a comedy club owner, and it’s been six months that you’ve been trying to get out in this club, and you finally get five minutes, it’s gotta be a monster five minutes. And so, there was just no way to improve. You can’t improve –
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I was gonna say, how do you get in your rough drafts then? How do you work on the material?
Aisha Tyler: Drive to Martinez and –
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I see. I see. So, you’d work out the kinks with the crew at the such and such casino in God knows where, Turlock. And then –
Aisha Tyler: – Fubars or Rooster T. Feathers or one of these other places that – yeah. And there was this – it’s different than being an author or an athlete or even a musician because there’s an autonomy to comedy, absolutely. But you need other people. You can’t do it – you can’t just sit around your place practicing. You know what I mean? With music, you know if you’re sharp or flat. You know if you hit all the notes. You know if the tempo’s right. But with comedy, the only way it works is in front of an audience. And so, you’re very dependent on stage time. And it’s everything when you’re a young comic is stage time.
Tim Ferriss: Well, do you remember your early content? What was your approach early on? Do you remember the first – and maybe a different way to approach this – you could answer it however you like. Do you remember the first time that you bombed? Or what is your first memory that comes to mind of bombing?
Aisha Tyler: Oh, God. I bombed so many times. It just all seeps together into an inky blackness. Any comic who tells you they never bombed is lying. And again, the only way to get funny is to bomb. No one ever gets funnier after they kill. They just walk out like, “Follow that, bitches.” And they drop the mic. You know what I mean? And then they go off and do shots with their friends. You really need to bomb and bomb hard to get funny. I remember doing this one show – oh, God. So, there was an open mic in a laundromat in South Market, around the police station there. So, maybe 8th and Mission or something like that for people who know San Francisco. And I think it was called Brainwash. I think the place was called Brainwash. And they would have this open mic in the back of this laundromat.
And comics know with these local open mics that typically, there are no actual audience members in the audience. It is just a room full of comedians waiting for you to be done so that they can try out their material, all of them looking at their notebooks, not listening, not laughing. And you’re just trying to gut it out and pause where you think the laughter might occur if you were in front of actual human beings. And I just did a set where I did not get one laugh, not even a cursory titter. And I remember just silence. Just a wall of silence. And I got off. Even thinking about it right now, it’s so funny to me. I talked to a girlfriend afterwards and was like, “Oh, my God. I couldn’t even call that a bad set. I don’t know what that was.”
But it was so funny to me that I didn’t get a laugh. There was this bulletproofness that I got from that set that just made me impervious to anything ever going wrong in my life or career again. And even when I’m talking about it now, there’s a huge smile on my face because it was so funny how little I was able to elicit out of that audience. But it just made me so mentally strong.
Tim Ferriss: Was that the immediate response that you had? Or were you in the middle of the set when you’re in the back of your mind thinking, “Wow, no one is laughing,” was there – did you go from pan – was it the reverse of the five stages of grief where like, “What”? Or did you just go straight to, “Yeah, motherfuckers. This is great.”
Aisha Tyler: Just the acceptance. Just full acceptance.
Tim Ferriss: “This is gonna make a great story however many years from now on Tim Ferriss’ podcast.”
Aisha Tyler: Well, one thing comedians love is agony. We dine out on it. It’s definitely our stock and trade. So, a comedian very quickly transitions from, “Oh, my God. This is the worst night of my life,” to, “Oh, my God. This is gonna make a great story.” That happens almost instantaneously. So, we have some armor in that regard because we could wake up naked and shivering on the side of the road with no money and no phone and not speak the local language, and you’d be thinking, “Okay. If I live, this is gonna make a killer story.” So, I think in the moment, I just thought – I had watched a couple other people go up and not do very well either. I was prepared for it not going my way. And I just thought, “I’m just –” and I think also, there’s a discipline to comedy that if you’re not a comedian you can’t understand which is that you’ve got to get up and do your set. You don’t get to tap out. Tapping out is true failure.
If you went up and you had a bad set, well, you just need to write new jokes. But if you go up and you give up, that’s true failure for a comedian. And there are some really famous examples of this online. I don’t know if you know the comedian Bill Burr, but –
Tim Ferriss: So, I interviewed Bill Burr about a year and a half ago, and I played the video which he had never seen, or he claimed to have never seen.
Aisha Tyler: Yes, because he had some real – he still has some psychic – he has some trauma. He has some –
Tim Ferriss: So, for people who don’t know the story, can you please describe it? Because it’s amazing.
Aisha Tyler: It’s insane, right? It’s insane. So, he was doing one of those radio station concerts like the Jingle Ball or whatever. And I don’t remember. It was called the Weenie Roast. I think it was the Weenie Roast. So, it’s one of the shows at some local sta – like, “K-Rock. 97.Rock. K-Rock.” Like one of those shows. And it’s like – I don’t know. Weezer’s too cool of a band.
It would be Nickelback and some other band that sounds like Nickelback and then an opening band you’ve never heard of. I don’t know why people still do this, but if you’re a comic and somebody offers you money, you take it. So, they would hire a comic to warm up the crowd early in the day. And no one pays to see Nickelback and then wants to sit through 15 minutes of standup. Everyone’s drunk and on drugs. And they’re not even facing forward. The only thing worse than performing in front of an outdoor audience is performing in front of people who are eating because –
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. This was like a tailgate at 11:00 a.m. or 1:00 p.m. or something. Yeah.
Aisha Tyler: Everybody busted out their marijuana brownie recipe for the year. They’re all completely looped. One of their eyes is completely dilated, and the other one is falling out of their head. Nobody cares about your jokes about your mom and your family. So, they could not muster compassion if they tried. So, he starts doing standup, and he just immediately starts getting booed. And it’s just this tidal wave of disdain. And he knows if he doesn’t finish, he will not get paid. But it’s not like – silence, you can tolerate. But people are screaming at him to get off stage. And he makes it very clear to the audience – you have to watch it because I’ll never be able to do it justice. But he makes it very clear to the audience that he is not leaving the stage until he does his ten minutes, that he does not care how they feel about him. And he’s counting down the minutes as they –
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Every minute he’s like, “Nine minute, you fucking fucks.”
Aisha Tyler: Exactly. He says something really outrageous like, “I hope your mother gets cancer in the center of her asshole. Seven minutes.” And it’s just so – it’s just a demonstration of tenacity. Later, he was embarrassed by it. But every comedian understands this blood battle that you sometimes have with an audience where they’re not gonna scare you, and they’re not gonna drive you away. You’re going to deliver the material that you were hired to deliver. You’re going to make your money. And then you’re gonna go off and spend it on light beer and chicken wings. But you will not be deterred. So, I think because you understand that as a comedian very early on in your career, no matter what happens on stage, I will not be moved. So, I had material to do. And I did it.
And I remember thinking almost immediately, “Well, okay. I’m not gonna get any laughs. So, I’m just gonna listen to this set and see what it feels like, see what the words feel like, see what might play in front of actual people.” But it started to get really delicious. And I think if you watch the Bill Burr video, you’ll also see that he starts to really enjoy it. It starts to be this savory masochism towards the end where he’s so powerful in his lack of caring. You know what I mean? And you watch it, and it is to be studied because he goes from anguish to rage to this delightful detachment by the end of the set. And I’ve seen some other guys do similar stuff. And it’s always really fun to watch.
Tim Ferriss: So, a couple of things that I want to use as teasers for people who should watch this video. I think it was in Phila – I’m almost 100 percent positive it was in Philadelphia.
Aisha Tyler: Philadelphia. I think that’s ri – either that or Jersey. But yeah. It was –
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I think it was Philadelphia because he started ridiculing Rocky. And he said, “Your hero is a fictional person,” and just tearing into them. And he basically, for half of his set, just decided to abandon his material and just attack these people in the town. And –
Aisha Tyler: Which, by the way, is a no-no, generally.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, which is a no-no, generally.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. Typically, if people hate you – there are these unwritten rules of comedy. And one of them is you don’t – if some of the people in the audience hate you, don’t turn all of them against you. This is just a sidebar, but don’t forget what you were gonna say. There’s another very famous video, very famous. And it happened at The Punchline in San Francisco where there’s a guy playing – he’s a guitar comic. And a guy’s heckling him. And it’s just combative back and forth but nothing too extreme. But then the guy gets up, and he comes towards the stage, whatever, to defend himself or the girl he’s with. Something like that. And the guy just hauls off and hits him in the head with the guitar.
Tim Ferriss: Sorry. Sorry. Not funny. It’s tragic. But Jesus Christ.
Aisha Tyler: It’s spectacular. Everybody lived. But what happens is up until that beat, the whole audience has been on the comedian’s side against this guy. And it is a hairpin turn from them being like, “Yeah, shut up,” because the comic’s like, “Hey, people can’t enjoy the show because you’re talking. Keep it down.” And then he hits this guy, and the whole audience just turns on him, like instantaneous like Frankenstein’s monster mob. Just the pitchforks come flying out. And so, one of the unwritten rules of comedy is that you wanna try to at all costs avoid turning everybody against you. So, Bill broke a bunch of rules, but he never gave up, which I think it becomes – it’s like the Rudy moment at the end of the movie like, “Man, that sucked. But you sure stuck in there.”
Tim Ferriss: And he got a standing ov – well, everybody was already standing, but he got massive applause from the audience at the end which is just – because they’re just like, “What the fuck?” It didn’t even fit into any mental heuristic of comedy that they could expect.
Aisha Tyler: That was straight prison yard dynamics. Nobody can know you – there’s a line from Out of Sight just like the yard. “Nobody backing down. Nobody’s backing down.” I think there was probably 10,000 of them to one of him. And he just did not back down. So, he got the slow respect clap at the end of the show.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, my God. So, I wasn’t gonna go to heckling, but why not since we’re already here? Do you have any memorable heckling stories? Or do you recall the first time you got heckled?
Aisha Tyler: God, yeah. I started doing standup 25 years ago, so at this point, all the sets have just blended. And heckling can be lots of different things. It doesn’t always have to be the conventional, “You suck,” heckle. I had one time where this woman – and this dovetails perfectly with the old, “Don’t turn the audience against you,” – where this woman was talking to me. She was sitting in the front row, and she was talking to me the entire show just loud enough that I could hear her but not really loud enough so the audience could hear her except for the people right around her. And it was driving me crazy. It was like a bee in my ear. And as a result, I just seemed insane because I kept stopping to yell at this person that no one could hear. And it would look like I’m having a breakdown. It was a very effective heckle because she just completely derailed my show.
And I just seemed like a dick because I was like, “Shut up, lady,” but no one could hear what she was saying. So, like, “What’s wrong with you? This nice lady in the front trying to enjoy the night?” I remember that I really went off the rails last night. And I generally have a rule with hecklers that unless they’re really disruptive to the entire room, I just never address them because what you do is you derail a show for 500 or 1,000 people to deal with one person. And everyone’s never gonna really understand what’s going on unless that person’s so loud that they’ve effected everybody else’s enjoyment of the night.
But sometimes the affectionate hecklers are the worse because they don’t – typically, hecklers just wanna be a part of the show. And so, they say something, you slam them a little bit, they shut up because they think they’re helping you out. The famous line is they’ll come up and be like, “Hey, you like how I helped you out?” I’m like, “Buddy, I came with jokes. I don’t need assistance.” Like, “I don’t have a box jumper in my act, all right? I showed up ready to go.” But when people are affectionate, you can’t insult them. And they’re the most unmanageable kind of hecklers.
Tim Ferriss: Now by affectionate, you mean someone who’s like, “I love you. I love you.”
Aisha Tyler: Yeah, exactly. “I love you.” I had this one girl at one show in San Francisco just so drunk, just cross-eyed. And for the 90 minutes I was on stage goes, “I love you. I love you so much. I love you.” And I was just like, “Lady, all you’re doing is making me want to hit you in the head with this microphone stand. Your affection is not welcome here.” And everybody else is staring at this woman. But this is a genuine expression of emotion for this person that is destroying my joy completely. So, I really have a habit of just not talking to hecklers.
Tim Ferriss: What did you do in that case? Did you ignore her?
Aisha Tyler: I think that I kept saying, “Thank you. That’s super sweet. Shut the fuck up.” Like, “Clearly, you weren’t hugged enough as a child.” I just eventually got mean because it was just like I couldn’t get this woman to stop talking. And I think the people around her got embarrassed, and they eventually shut her up which was nice. And I’m trying to think if there are any other really good hecklers that – oh, I had one guy. And it’s a mental discipline too because again, it’s your show. You have the microphone. You’re in control. I think the audience thinks they’re in control, but they’re not. The Bill Burr scenario is a perfect example. The person with the microphone has all the power. And as long as they cannot be moved, they will eventually win.
But I had this one guy who was sitting really close to the stage. It was a group of 12 people. And they were all laughing their asses off. And then he was just arms crossed, just looked like he had just eaten a big scoop of fecal matter. And he was all I could see. The whole audience disappeared, and it was just straight vignette on this guy’s sourpussed face. It was just wrecking my whole night. And I finally just said, “If you don’t wanna be here, just fucking go, man. I’ll give you your money back. I cannot look at your face for one more minute.” And I meant it. It wasn’t even a joke. I was just like, “Get out, man. You are harshing my mellow so hard.” And he left. And I didn’t feel bad about it. And then I went on with the show, and his girlfriend goes, “He had a bad day.” I was like, “Oh [inaudible] ” But what was great was nobody else at the table wanted to leave. They were like, “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”
And he went on, and the rest of the people enjoyed their night. But again, that was me. I should have been disciplined enough not to be distracted by old sourpuss. But I’m only human. If the grinch is sitting in the front row, something must be done.
Tim Ferriss: When you were just getting started, how did you get better at comedy? And what I mean by that is you’re very smart. Like you mentioned, matrix capable. Did you do any type of post-game analysis? Did you watch video of yourself? Did you watch video of other comics? How did you hone your craft? Or maybe a better question is what helped the most in honing your craft?
Aisha Tyler: Right. That’s a good question. It’s interesting. I think that there’s a definite math to comedy. And then there’s also a secondary ineffability. And I guess what I mean is you can learn how to be a better comic, but you can’t learn how to be a comic. Or even a different way, I really wanted to be an engineer. And I could have really suffered and struggled through the elevated math that I would need to become an engineer. But it would never be effortless for me. And I think with comedy, there are people who, very workmanlike, can learn how to do comedy. And then there are some people who are just naturally comedic. And they still have to work to be better at it. Usain Bolt still has to train. Even though he was born with more fast [inaudible] than everybody else, he still has to train to become a champion. So, I feel like with comedy, people can be the class clown. Or they can be that guy who’s naturally funny.
There’s still a methodology, and there’s still a mathematics to becoming a comic. And then at the same time, if they have this ephemeral, ineffable understanding of the math of comedy, they’re gonna be able to do something magical with those skills. So, for me, I don’t know that I thought I was a funny kid, but I was an observer. And I was really nerdy and a little bit of a social pariah.
So, storytelling became a way to make friends. To ingratiate myself, I would try to talk my way into situations or if I was in a social situation, talk really fast to try to keep myself engaging, not be rejected. So, that was what I brought to it was that combination of being an outsider and an observer and then using those skills to try to connect with people. But with comedy, I never took any classes. I never read any books. There are definitely people who can say there’s a total methodology to comedy. It’s the rule of threes and stretching reality to the point of breaking but not past it. There are some specific rules.
Tim Ferriss: What’s the rule of threes?
Aisha Tyler: The rule of threes is that –
Tim Ferriss: Definitely maintain your train of thought. But –
Aisha Tyler: Right. I probably won’t even be able to articulate it properly. It’s just that if you’re gonna do a series of jokes or a series of builds to a punchline, it needs to be three because – and also, if you’re going to do any kind of a diversion, if you’re gonna lead people in one direction, then snap around to a different absurdist result, you can’t do that in two. It has to be – the pace of it has to be three. And then past three, you’re starting to draw things out too long. But two doesn’t give people enough of a time to be lulled into a false sense of security before you pull the rug out from under them. And as soon as you start explaining the math of comedy, none of it makes any sense. It’s those two things. Someone who’s really gifted at physics, they know that there are rules, but still, they see things that other people can’t see. They see the world as numbers and data. And the rest of us are just table, chair, water, stick.
So, I guess the way that I did it was that I – I’m also really an undisciplined comedian. And what I mean is – there’s a documentary about Garry Shandling out right now which I haven’t watched. But I’m sure that this is in there because he was very famous for being a really disciplined writer. He would get up, and he would write every single day. And sometimes it would be pages of material without fail. Other comics would be like, “Hey, let’s get a beer.” He’d be like, “No. I have to write.” And every day he would write on this legal – this is probably true and apocryphal at the same time – on this legal lined notebook in this tiny handwriting. And he would just write and write and write and write.
I do not do that. I’ve never worked that way. I just get on stage. I try a bunch of stuff. I keep what works. I know what works. I already know right away what works. I’ll run off stage. I’ll write down the things that I knew hit. I’ll write down the things I know didn’t hit. And then I’ll go back and try it again dropping the stuff that wasn’t good and putting new stuff in. I record my sets, but I never – I cannot listen to my own voice. So, I have hours and hours of material on tape that I just have never listened to. So, I don’t know why I still engage in that behavior when it’s clearly not useful to me. But I think the more you do it, the more you intuitively understand, “This is a rich area. People are connecting with this. This other stuff…”
There’s also something you learn as you move through comedy which is it’s not just important to get a laugh. Does this material say something specific and personal about me? Because when you’re a baby comic, every joke is meaningful to you because you only have eight jokes, right? And so, even if they’re stupid or juvenile or unsophisticated or valueless or coreless, you’ll still do them because that’s all you have. And then as you get older, you start to think, “Okay. I wanna have a body of work here. Does this hang together? Does it have a strong point of view? Does it have an identity?” And then those other jokes start to fall away. And then the material really becomes about trying to tell some kind of a story about yourself and the way you perceive the world. And then that’s how you shape it. So, sometimes things that are really funny go away. Things that are less funny stay because they’re more impactful. Does that make sense?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It does make sense. Absolutely. I think that’s true for musicians. I think it’s true many different artists.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. Probably writers too. Probably for writers. It’s like, “I’m gonna find a space that really says something about my accumulated understanding and knowledge of the world. And it’s not just enough to say something. I need to say something that’s uniquely mine.” And that’s something you can only do by being prolific because you need to be able to let things go in order to figure out what should stay.
Tim Ferriss: Definitely. Yeah. There’s a certain volume to it or thinking of it almost as a funnel. And I think and I certainly hope for the sake of our – not to sound like an old man, but I guess that’s what I’m turning into – for the sake of our –
Aisha Tyler: That’s what we’re all – we’re all turning into the –
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Society in general. I would hope just seeing the number of hatchet jobs and the amount of yellow journalism and clickbaiting with pieces that have not been factchecked and so on and takedown pieces of folks who are otherwise doing actually a lot of good in the world but people feeling no compunction about running pieces that get a lot of clicks because that’s the only metric they’re focused on at some point go from, “What can I write that will get the most clicks?” to “What can I write that I will be proud of that may or may not –” and I think you can figure out a way to make it a nonbinary decision.
In other words, you can figure out something you can be proud of that is simultaneously likely to find some type of sizable audience. And I think in the beginning there’s a temptation particularly if you have quit your job, and you’re like, “Where’s my next red check coming from?” “How can I appeal to the widest number of people possible?” And that’s a very precarious position or mindset to put yourself into if you’re hoping to do anything creatively. Evergreen.
Aisha Tyler: Right. Right. And also, it’s interesting. When I went to school, we had the honor system. And you were just expected to hold yourself to a high standard because that was what was right. It’s just what you did. You were gonna be called upon to stand behind your work. And so, you tried to work very hard to make sure that you could defend it. I don’t think that it’s like we’re any less ethical than we’ve ever been. It’s just, like you said, our metrics have changed. And I think that people value fame for fame’s sake rather than for the foundational reasons that people become famous. And I think that’s the problem. And I don’t think it just exists in journalism. I think the people value infamy. Or they can’t distinguish between fame and infamy. And with a 24-hour news cycle, a bright burst is as meaningful as a slow burn.
And I don’t really know – I actually don’t really know what we do or what should be done or what should happen to counteract that other than people start to maybe get hip to it and start rejecting baseless journalism and – it’s just so hard to distin – I don’t know. Let me take that back. I find it very easy to distinguish between things that seem like they’ve been thoroughly vetted and things that are bullshit. But I think that people are working very hard to make it harder for the rest of us to distinguish between the two. So, without me sounding like a crazy person, there are nefarious forces at work trying to make it very hard for us to figure out what’s real and what’s not real. And I think we have to start to raise people who are just more critical thinkers. But it’s hard to be a critical thinker when you’re just scrolling through your Instagram feed looking at butts and cupcakes all day long.
Tim Ferriss: Have you been watching my feed? Are you looking over my shoulder? Are you one of the nefarious forces?
Aisha Tyler: I’m following you, and I know what you’re into. I see what you’re into, Tim.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, Jesus. Oh, God. Oh, God. I’ll admit, there was a day – and you would think supposedly being a tech investor and all this stuff for ten years that I would figure this out. There was a day when I was scrolling through cupcakes and thongs, and I looked up at my profile, and I was like, “Wait a minute. People can see what I follow?” And I was like, “Oh, fuck.” Fortunately, I’ve systematically dismantled and deliberately tarnished any semblance of any reputation I might have very deliberately so that I feel –
Aisha Tyler: I wanna start interviewing you now. This is so interesting.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, so that I don’t feel I have any Stepford Wives, polished persona –
Aisha Tyler: Yeah, any kind of perfection to maintain.
Tim Ferriss: – to preserve. It’s like –
Aisha Tyler: That’s so good. And that’s so interesting to me. And it’s different than just being a slob. What you’re saying is, “I refuse to create a box within which I will be kept by others.” And I think that comes also from a curiosity about the world. I actually think that people who are trying to remain perfect all the time are fear-driven. That’s not a position of strength. People think they’re maintaining a position of strength when they’re trying to maintain an appearance of perfection, but that is, by its very nature, a posture of fear which is, “I cannot be seen to have imperfections. I cannot be seen to have flaws. There can be no chinks in my armor.” And that’s, “I’m terrified of being judged.”
But there is something very liberating – and I think it comes from age as well and from experience. And I don’t mean experience like a resume but just having experiences to realize how little you know and how the only way to learn is to constantly be skinning your knees and that that doesn’t go away. The older you get, the more you know that you know very little and that you cannot learn if you are constantly trying to maintain a posture of perfection. That’s why I’m a total mess.
Tim Ferriss: Well, if you don’t practice skinning your knees – just to really bleed the metaphor for all its worth, if you don’t practice skinning your knees, you’re not gonna develop the callus for increasingly painful grades of sandpaper. This is really awkwardly overextended now. But the point being, if you operate from a place of fear and want to please this nebulous majority more than you want to please yourself – and that’s not to say that I’ve always viewed my entire life and all my decisions as a singular locust of control in the palm of my hand and I care what no one thinks. That’s not true because that’s not how humans have evolved. But if you are deferring to your perception of what others want on the small things, then it’s gonna become harder on the medium things and then impossible. And then it’s gonna become harder and impossible on the big things.
And for that reason, I find it very valuable to deliberately expose yourself to different types and levels of discomfort so that you can actually stand up for the important stuff when it matters because if you don’t practice on the smaller stuff – for instance, if I’m so humiliated by the fact that I like gorgeous female asses, and I’m like, “Oh, my God,” and I put something up about – I put up this picture. So, this is what I do occasionally when I’m like, “You know what? I think I’m getting a little fat and happy and complacent. And maybe I have too much phomo or something like that. I remember at one point, I put up this photo of this gorgeous, Latin ass, female, and it said, “Nalgofilia.” Anyway, I think it was nalgofilia. Anyway, Los nalgas is ass in Spanish. So, I put this up on Instagram.
Aisha Tyler: So, it was Spanish for assman is what you’re saying.
Tim Ferriss: That’s right. It’s famous for assman syndrome or assman disorder. And I put it up. And as to be expected, there is immediate outrage. There are plenty of people who think it’s kind of funny. Plenty of people who are like, “Yeah, high-five.” And then there are plenty of other people who are just completely outraged.
Aisha Tyler: Disgusted with you. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Disgusted with this fact that I find attractive women attractive.
Aisha Tyler: Yes. Outrageous contagious.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. But I left it up because I like to cull my audience, No. 1.
Aisha Tyler: Yes. Yes. “If you don’t wanna be here, please. I invite you to unfollow.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, exactly. Right. It’s like the sourpuss in the front row. It’s like, “Let me give you a – you look like you’re unhappy, but you’re still here. And let me give you another reason to leave if I’m not your thing because go find something that’s your thing.”
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. People assume that their opinion is valuable to you. I think there’s a freedom in saying, “I don’t need everybody to like me.” You know what I mean? I think that there is something very meaningful in saying, “This is who I am. I’ll defend it. But I’m not here to be savaged by you. And honestly, we don’t know each other. I don’t care what you think anyway.” Or maybe that person makes you think more critically about what you did, and then you take the big booty picture down. I don’t know. But I think you put it up purposefully to see what you were gonna get back which was entertaining.
Tim Ferriss: I totally did. Now there are cases – just so I don’t sound like a complete dick. There are other cases where I put something up without really thinking about it. And I do get feedback and realize, “You know what? That’s actually a really insensitive thing to put up. And I didn’t think it through. Take it down.” And there are cases when I do that. And people give you hopefully constructive feedback that isn’t just spitting acid into my face. And I take it down. So, I do pay attention. At the same time, I try to keep in mind advice that I was given years ago. I don’t remember who gave me this advice, but the advice was, “It’s not about how many people don’t get it. It’s about how many people get it.” So, as long as you have a certain critical mass, whatever that means to you – and there’s an article called “1,000 True Fans,” by Kevin Kelly that everybody should read to this effect if you’re creative.
But as long as you have a critical mass – and it can be a very small number – of people who love your stuff, that’s all that matters. That’s a pass/fail. As long as you have that, pass. You’re green. And instead of focusing on the vast majority who hate your shit, it’s like, “Look, there are millions of people who hate Christopher Nolan’s stuff. There are millions of people who can’t stand Wes Anderson.” It’s like, “Look, some people just aren’t going to fucking like Wes Anderson.”
Aisha Tyler: Exactly. Exactly. So, this is really interesting also because I think if you’re an artist specifically, this is a really important conversation to have with yourself which is – when I first started, I did standup. This was the period when Def Comedy Jam was really popular. And for lack of a better way of articulating it, black comedy had a very specific look and feel and style and tempo. And I just wasn’t doing that kind of comedy. And I wasn’t ever going to be able to do that kind of comedy. It wasn’t who I was. It wasn’t experientially what I was doing. And I didn’t wanna lie. And I knew there were comedians who were falling into that stylistic approach to comedy, and it was really very false. They’d be one way off stage and then fall into this character on stage. And there’s nothing wrong with trying to connect with an audience. But I just didn’t wanna copy other people to try to get people to like me.
And for a long time, I really struggled. And then eventually, my tribe found me. But I was able to stay – oh, now I sound like a self-help book – but true to who I was because that was the only way forward. The only way forward as an artist is to be truthful. In the end, your work is not going to be interesting or meaningful if you are trying to emulate somebody else or trying to figure out what people want from you or what they like or what’s popular. Meaningful art only lasts, it only connects if it’s authentic and if it comes from your own personal experiences. And until you figure that out, what that is, it’s never gonna be interesting. It’s never going to be good. And I always tell people being funny is not really actually the most important part of comedy. Being truthful is because if someone sees a good show, they go, “That guy was really funny.”
But when you tell the truth about yourself, people go, “Oh, my God. Holy shit. That guy spoke to me or about me or was so vulnerable in that moment. That was amazing.” And that’s the difference between good comedy and great comedy or between good art and great art or writing or anything.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it’s truth. That’s advice that I’ve also heard for screenwriting and many other things. I’m so glad you said that and reminded me of that.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. You have to please yourself. You just have to please yourself, period, because it might not go your way anyway. But the worst thing is creating some – [inaudible] figure out what people want and then creating some piece of shit, some crass, glib, solicitous piece of shit, and people don’t buy it anyway. Why not make something you love and then people don’t buy it? At least it was something that you loved, and you’re not embarrassed by it.
Tim Ferriss: Right. And you said it may not work out. And if you’re in the creative game, at least from what I’ve seen, particularly in the beginning, most things are not going to work out.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. Nothing ever goes your way.
Tim Ferriss: Right. So, you might as well have one person who’s happy about the process.
Aisha Tyler: Exactly. Exactly. That was what I was saying about engagement. At least the experience was satisfying.
Tim Ferriss: And I would also – I feel like I’m talking too much, so I’m gonna stop in a second.
Aisha Tyler: No, no. [inaudible]
Tim Ferriss: But the other thought I might underscore for folks that is practical, tactical from a competitive standpoint: If you’re trying to play someone else’s game by taking on a persona, someone who is actually – for instance, in the Def Comedy Jam example that you gave, if somebody’s on stage, and they’re playing their game, that is who they are, you are never going to be able to take on the cognitive load and the fatigue of pretending to be that type of person and beat someone who is good at that game. You’re just not going to.
Aisha Tyler: You’re so right.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. You’re just not gonna win. So, you will not ultimately, in any field that is competitive which is effectively every field that people get paid for – if you wanna be the best, you have to harness your latent abilities, or you’re fucked. You mentioned on the engineering front – there’s so many places where – for instance, in writing, I could try to be John McPhee who writes for the New Yorker or one of these folks. But I can’t be those people. I’m not going to ever be the wordsmith that say, a Tolstoy was. But do I like teaching? Do I obsessively think about teaching and deconstructing things that are complex? I do. So, I can use books as a medium for teaching and think of it that way because if I try to be – if I try to out McPhee McPhee, I’m gonna get my face ripped off. We’re talking about creativity and creative pursuits which, by the way, almost everything is.
If you meet people who are at the top of their game in accounting, the top of the game – and I’m not talking about shady money laundering shit. I’m just saying in accounting, in technology, there’s certainly an element of creativity, if you’re looking at the people who are really at the top and innovating in any way doing exceptional work. You have done so many different things: acting, comedy, directing, writing, activism. You’ve been a host. You’ve done voiceover. You’ve engaged in so many different acts of creation. I wanna talk about short films, films, and so on. I wanna talk about movies because as long-term listeners will know, I’ve been teasing with the idea – which, by the way, just means procrastinating – of writing some short films. And I’m still at step zero. And I’m ashamed of that. But –
Aisha Tyler: No shame. There’s no shame in this –
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So, how did you decide to get into film? And why? Film is hard. Why do it?
Aisha Tyler: It is hard. It is tough. Yeah. So, that’s a really good question because I feel like there’s that really humiliating clam about, “Well, I’m an actor. But what I really wanna do is direct.” And it feels very clichéd. I feel like it was more organic for me because again, I wasn’t someone who – I didn’t go to film school. And I also don’t think I had the hubris to think like, “Oh, I’ve done this for a couple years now. I can direct.” I had written someth – I love movies. We were talking about earlier I was raised by a single dad. And I was one of those kids who I’d go with my dad to see Die Hard or Road Warrior way too early in age. Super inappropriate. When I was in high school, I’d seen the first Terminator something like 20 or 30 times. I just loved movies. I’d go to the theater. I’d buy a matinee ticket, and I’d stay in the theater until 8:00 at night, and I would just watch movie after movie after movie.
So, it just came out of a real end-user’s love for film. I was just someone who was transported by movies. And then when I left Talk Soup, I had been writing on that show. And there was a void. And I wrote a script that I was developing with a company. And I just kept talking about how I thought it should look and how I thought it should feel. And it was just so much more specific than being a writer. And they were like, “You should direct. This is clearly a movie that you should direct.” And I hadn’t really thought about it. But I was just so intertwined with the material and what I wanted it to feel like because I know what movies that I love make me feel like that I wanted someone to create that experience for other people. And I just realized I didn’t know what directing entailed. I didn’t have any idea about what that was gonna be like. And I just went away and started trying to learn about directing.
And so, I would call people that I knew that were directors. If I was working on something, I would ask to come back to set when I wasn’t working so I could hang out and shadow which is where you just hang around behind a director and watch them work. And ended up shadowing with some really incredible people. I ended up spending several days on The Wire in its last season and just got to just be on the other side of a process that can be relatively opaque when you’re an actor. You just show up and say your lines and leave. And then I started making shorts. And I guess this is gonna sound very glib, but – because I’m sure I have the resources available to me that lots of people don’t. But I do believe in – I just believe in personal aggression. I just believe in doing stuff.
Tim Ferriss: You said personal aggression?
Aisha Tyler: Personal aggression. I just believe that if you wanna make a movie, just start making a movie. And I don’t mean go get a camera and start shooting it. But what I do mean is be hard on yourself. Learn, read, learn, watch, study, think critically, ask people questions, and then make a movie, and then let it be shitty. And then make another one. And let that one be shitty. And keep doing it until you get better at it. The first short film I made was – and it’s an abomination. It will never see the light of day. I had no idea what I was doing. But that didn’t make me not wanna be a director. It just made me realize I needed to learn more. And then I started to feel like I was more ready. And I was like, “I need to make some stuff.”
So, first thing was I did a Comedy Central special, and I took the money that would have been my salary, and I used it to make a little short music video that opens the comedy special. It wasn’t anything that was mandated by the network. I was like, “I wanna do something different.” So, I wrote the song, and I performed it. And I made a music video. And that was the first thing I directed. I just used the crew that was already working on the special and shot this video with them.
Tim Ferriss: That’s really smart. So, I would imagine – not to interject – but you piggybacked on something that was in your main line of business, so to speak.
Aisha Tyler: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: And I imagine you saved a lot of costs by doing that, right?
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. The crew was already gonna come up the day before and leave the day after to shoot the special. And we’d already rented the cameras and everything like that. But I still had to pay them for the extra work. I just took my fee, and I used it to pay everybody else. And then because I didn’t have any more money after that, I learned how to edit. And I edited it myself. And I delivered it to the network because I couldn’t afford to pay for additional edit time. And then after that I thought, “Okay. I wanna do more of this.” So, then I rented a camera. I rented a can of 5D. And I had some friends who were in bands. And again, it sounds fancy, but everybody probably knows somebody who does something. Just because I had some friends who were in a famous band doesn’t mean that people out there don’t have friends who are in bands. So, I just called some buddies of mine that were in bands.
And I said, “Hey, if you let me come on tour with you, I will make you a free music video. Just a piece of fan art. You can use it however you like. I’m not gonna charge anybody any money for it. But I wanna make something, and I wanna make something for you.” And so, I ended up going on the road with Silversun Pickups for a couple of dates and then spending a day with Clutch when they were performing in Anaheim. And then I just gave them – I just cut music videos and delivered it to them. And so, then I just started to have examples of what I could do.
Tim Ferriss: Why music videos instead of something else?
Aisha Tyler: It just felt like a way to get more people to see it. I had done that first music video for my Comedy Central special which was really a comedic video. But then I was like, “Oh, I really like working in this space.” And a lot of directors come out of music video because you can be radically creative in that space. You don’t need to have any narrative linearity. You can experiment. You can be radical. It could just be a series of images. And I also thought, “Well, people who like this band – and I love this band – will wanna see something about them. And it’ll be a great way for people to see something. And then hopefully, I can tell a story at the same time.” And so, I did three of those. And then I did a little action short. I just kept making stuff. Every time I did it, I learned something. Or every time I did it, I took a bigger risk, creatively.
Tim Ferriss: How long are these shorts?
Aisha Tyler: Like three to five minutes.
Tim Ferriss: Three to five minutes. Can you think of any particular lessons that you took away from any one of those?
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. I think a lot of it was just skill building like, “How do you frame up? And how do you make choices? And how do you do coverage? And then how do you edit?” A lot of it was just really practical – as you would say, practical, tactical.”
Tim Ferriss: Oh, God. I have my pet phrases. This is also my weakness.
Aisha Tyler: I remember I heard that. I’m like, “I’m gonna steal it. Stealing it from Tim.”
Tim Ferriss: My pet phrases. Oh, God.
Aisha Tyler: And then a lot of it was just getting confident with my own ability and my ability to articulate what I wanted from other people. Just, “How do the other jobs on a set work? Who does what? What do I need? Oh, God. This didn’t work. You know why it didn’t work? Because I didn’t have this kind of a person on set.” I was shooting digitally. And then on one show, on one of my things that I shot, we didn’t have a tech on set to help me make sure that it looked the way that I wanted it to look, that the levels were set properly. So, when I got home to edit it, I had some problems. But they weren’t catastrophic problems because I wasn’t making Star Wars. I was just able to be like, “Well this is what it is. And I’m gonna make this and move on. And then I was getting ready to do – I really wanted to do a feature. I had some material I’d written, but it was gonna be an expensive movie. But I was still shadowing.
So, I had a friend who had a show called Penny Dreadful, John Logan who created Penny Dreadful. I had met him at Comic Con. I had hosted the panel for that show. And he was like, “Hey, you love the show. You should come visit us in Ireland.” And I remember thinking to myself, “People always say that. Then you always say, ‘Yeah,’ then you never do it.” I was like, “I’m gonna do it. I’m fucking going to Ireland, man. I’m gonna be cool. I’m gonna be the cool kid for once in my life.” And so, I ended up going over, visiting Penny Dreadful. And Vikings shot right up the road.
So, I got them to let me visit that set. I just hung out and passed out sandwiches and lifted stuff and asked questions and watched them work. And then while I was over there, I met a bunch of Irish actors. And two of them actually – one was an actor, composer, and one was a screenwriter and an actor. And we ended up making a short film together in Ireland at the end of 2014. That was my first narrative short, my first story driven short. And it was just great. I was like, “Oh, this is totally who I am. This is what I wanna do with my life.”
Tim Ferriss: Where did you film in Ireland? Do you recall?
Aisha Tyler: In Galway which is –
Tim Ferriss: Beautiful town.
Aisha Tyler: – coast. Yeah. Such a great place.
Tim Ferriss: I lived there for a month in 2005.
Aisha Tyler: Oh, did you?
Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah.
Aisha Tyler: Amazing. Oh, that’s so cool.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. An incredible arts festival there. It’s a really beautiful spot.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah, it is. It’s like the arts center of Ireland. They’ve got a beautiful film festival in the summer. They’ve got an arts festival with local theater. It was just a great experience. And things went wrong, and things went right. But we got it in the can in three days. And it was just super cool and personal. And then that same writer who had written that short had a feature he had already written. And he asked me if I wanted to take a look at it. And it was just a perfect first film. And that’s the film that became AXIS.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. So, I want to dig into AXIS. But before we get to that, you’re taking these trips, doing these music videos. During that period, did you save up for that period knowing that you would need to work out of your savings? Are you depending on royalties and other streams to pay your bills? How are you covering the necessities of life as you are handing out sandwiches and doing all these various things?
Aisha Tyler: Well, it wasn’t as prolonged of a period as it sounds like. I was on hiatus. So, I was working on The Talk at the time. And we get a month off every year. So, I went in that month. But I think if I was talking to a layperson who didn’t work in television, I would say, “If what you want is to grow in whatever field you’re interested in, just create a space for that. Make that your vacation.” It wasn’t like I was riding around in a limousine. I just flew over, and I hung around for a week and watched people work. And it wasn’t any more or less burdensome than taking a vacation. But one thing I was more interested in doing as I got older – and we started with this in the beginning. You said it, and I think we went past it. But it’s so interesting to me – was that I just really wanted more discomfort in my life.
It’s just very easy the older you get to be like, “Get in car. Go to work. Eat bagged lunch. Get in car. Go to gym. Go home. Eat food. Watch TV. Go to bed.” And then you just think, “Am I growing? Is any of this interesting? I have one life, and I’m just spending it in this torpor.” And so, for that, I was going to a place where – I knew one guy at Penny Dreadful, but I didn’t know anybody at this other show. And I just cold called them and said, “Can I come visit?” And they were super gracious. And –
Tim Ferriss: Just to interrupt you yet again, what does that email say?
Aisha Tyler: It says, “Hi.” And again, I understand that maybe this is gonna feel a little rarified. “Hi. I’m an American actress. I’ve worked on these shows. I’ve been shadowing to direct for a long time. I would be really grateful if I could come and visit your show for a few days and shadow. And I will be as unobtrusive and invisible as I possibly can. And I’ll be here these days. And I understand if you can’t accommodate me, but I’d really be grateful.” And I think it helped in my particular case because I had tweeted a lot about how much I loved Vikings. So, they knew that I was a big fan of the show. And I did some tweeting from set. I paid my way in flacking their show for them. But –
Tim Ferriss: I’m not over-caffeinated. I swear to God. You’re making so many important points that I just want to pause and help – well, as much for myself as anyone else. Just people to reflect on. So, what you did in terms of tweeting, people might say, “Well, I don’t have a verified account. And nobody’s gonna pay attention to one tweet in the Twitter feed of 10,000 if it’s a popular TV show.” But I can tell you from personal experience that you could, for instance, write something for a medium or for fill-in-the-blank outlet that has a high Google – in other words, page rank, and that many of the producers, actors, and so on will have Google alerts or other alerts set that deliver to their inboxes relevant media that mentions say, the show or the actors. And you do not need to be a famous actress or an author or any of those things to do that.
Aisha Tyler: All you need to do is work at the highest possible caliber of quality that you can. I think you also touched on this about the idea that people are more interested in being expeditious than they are in being good. I think that this holds very, very true for this business. A lot of people have made headway because they did something that nobody saw. But when people asked them what they did, the thing they were able to show was extraordinary. And I don’t mean expensive extraordinary. I just mean unique and personal and crafted with care. And so, if that’s something that you wrote or if it’s something that you made – this is not the best example, but it’s a good one.
20 years ago, there was this videotape going around Hollywood of these guys in an apartment. And it was a VHS tape. That’s how long ago it was. And people were dubbing it and giving it to friends of these guys in an apartment. It was these three black guys where the one guy goes up and hits the little intercom and goes, “Wazza?” And then the other guy goes, “Wazza?” And the third guy – that was a short film that some guy made on a digital camera. None of them were famous. They were just some guys in New York. That ended up being that Budweiser campaign.
Tim Ferriss: That’s crazy. I had no idea that was the origin.
Aisha Tyler: It was a short film. And it was a two and a half minute short film that was just funny. We didn’t know these guys. No one knew who they were. And they didn’t have any connections. And I think it was just about doing something that felt original and personal. And I get it. It just comes back to don’t try to figure out what people want. Just do what’s interesting and important to you. And then keep doing it until you come up with something extraordinary. And that will be your calling card. It may not happen as fast as you want or as aggressively as you want or as expansively as you want. But in the meantime, you’re doing cool shit which should be your primary goal in any event. When I made AXIS, honestly, I just wanted to make a movie to show people I could make a movie. I wanted to make the best movie I could. And I was very rigorous in leveraging the resources that I had to the best of my ability.
But I don’t know that I had a lot of expectation that a lot of people would see it. It’s just because I made the best movie I could that it got all of this attention. But I don’t think I was going in like, “This is gonna be a massive hit.” I was like, “I’m gonna make this little movie. And then to the next one, when people say, ‘Well, what have you done?’ I can be like, ‘Look at this little thing I made.’” So, I think you have to always be focused on the thing and not the result because the result is directly tied to the quality of the thing. So, it’s not about infamy. It’s about fame. And fame is based on the quality of your work. So, just be doing excellent shit all the time. And eventually, one of those things will connect with other people.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Not to sound like a fortune cookie on top of all of that, but the only uncrowded market is great. There’s always a fucking market for great. And –
Aisha Tyler: Exactly. And –
Tim Ferriss: Go ahead.
Aisha Tyler: Radically too. Be radically great. Don’t be like, “I saw ten things like this. Let me do the 11th thing.” Be brave enough to court failure. That’s probably when you’re going to do something great.
Tim Ferriss: Absolutely. And if you are really in love with something – I’ll give two examples. If you’re really in love with, say, screenplays and film, or if you’re really in love and passionate about – maybe is a better word – possessed by technology investing, early stage technology investing, two phenomena, two companies at this point, certainly that are worth looking at and just investigating the stories of demonstrate very clearly what you can do if you are just rejected by the establishment or if you want to not operate within the existing power structure. And so, the two examples are The Black List. Look up Franklin Leonard and The Black List.
Aisha Tyler: Oh, God. Yeah. That’s a terrific example. Absolutely.
Tim Ferriss: And then the second is – and we don’t have to get into both of these right now. The second is – just by coincidence also has the list at the end – but AngelList and Naval Ravikant. And people can look up the – well, “The Avenging Angel” was the title of his interview in his alumni magazine at Dartmouth, in fact. But I get excited when I hear these types of stories. So, they should check them out. So, let’s come back to AXIS. What is AXIS? And did you have anybody try to talk you out of doing AXIS?
Aisha Tyler: Oh, that’s such a good question. So, AXIS is a thriller about an ex-patriot Irish actor living in Los Angeles who has had a lot of success, explosive success in his youth and has really just used all of his resources to just wreck his life. He’s a drunk, and he’s a drug addict. And he’s terrible at relationships. And he’s a dick to everybody. And when we meet him, he’s trying to turn his life around. And it’s really about a guy who’s not a bad person, but he’s done some bad stuff, which I think almost every human being can relate to. We all have a little bit of a demon inside of us. And I think this is just a guy who’s been – he’s been frail in the past, but he’s really trying to be a better version of himself. But slowly, over the course of an afternoon – and the movie takes place in real time as he’s driving through Los Angeles, his life starts to unravel.
And it’s really about him trying to hold things together, trying to be a better person, trying to be a better person in his relationships with his family, with the people that he works with, just trying to be better. It’s really dark. It’s very funny. I’m sure I’ll get some letters about this. But I happen to find that addicts are really entertaining people. And I don’t mean their funny like laugh at them. I find that typically people who have broken themselves down are just more honest than people who are trying to be perfect all the time. And so, he’s a guy who’s self-aware. He’s aware of the mistakes he’s made. So, it’s a very darkly funny movie. And then it’s very twisty. It’s a thriller, so it’s got a lot of secrets. And the most unique aspect of the movie is that the whole thing takes place in real time inside a car as he’s driving through Los Angeles. So, the lead actor is the only actor on screen. And all the other actors are voice actors on the phone with him.
Tim Ferriss: How would you describe your experience of being involved with this film?
Aisha Tyler: It was so wonderful. You asked if people tried to dissuade me from doing it, and the short answer is in Hollywood, the way that people dissuade you from doing stuff is just by not helping you, by not engaging with you because you don’t even get, “No.” You just get silence. But this happened very quickly. So, I didn’t have a traditional discouraging period of frustration with trying to put this movie together because I read it in August or September of 2015. And I was at peak engagement at that time in terms of work. I was on four shows. And I really only had a little bit of time off in 2016. And I realized if I didn’t make the movie in this one single week in May of 2016 that I wasn’t gonna be able to make it at all in that year and I’d have to push to the next year. And so, then it just became about hitting that target like, “How can I hit this target?”
So, I never even went the traditional way of trying to find people to finance the movie and a studio because they were gonna say, “We don’t know who this actor is. He’s unknown. Can we put somebody famous in this role? Can it be Ryan Gosling? Can it not be with just him on camera? Can we have other actors in the movie? And then can we make it not in a car? Can we make it –” the whole concept of the film was gonna unravel. That’s very typical in Hollywood where people are so risk-averse that they take all of the edge and singularity out of a project. So, very quickly I realized that I was gonna have to probably crowdfund the movie if I wanted to do it my way and on my timeframe. So, in March of 2016 I had my first exploratory conversation with the people around me and with Kickstarter.
I was able to – they have people over there who are around to help you figure out how to put a project together. I built the campaign in three weeks. I launched it in April. And one of the rules about crowdfunding and Kickstarter, specifically – it’s not a hard and fast rule. It’s not a rule that they enforce. But it’s just a rule of thumb – that if you raise half of your money in the first week, you’ll probably fund fully. So, we had raised half of our money in that first week, and then I started hiring people on the film. And we did raise a lot of money for a feature. It was about $200,000.00 that we raised. And so, that was what we had to make the movie. So, originally, we were gonna make it nine days. But I realized if I made it faster, I’d have more money available to me daily. My daily resource load would be higher. So, we cut the schedule from nine days to seven days which is incredibly aggressive for a feature.
Whenever I tell people I made it in seven days they ask, “Is it a short?” So, we had to be really aggressive. We ended up doing it in this way that was so terrifying and so breakneck but so exhilarating which is that we shot the first 15 pages of the movie in the first day. And then we shot the next 65 pages of the movie. We shot about 17 pages on the first day and about 67 pages on day two through seven. And that meant that the actor had to do 67 pages of dialogue a day. For people that don’t know, typically, on a movie you do between three and six pages of dialogue a day. So, he was essentially doing the entire movie all the way through every day locked in a hot car with no air conditioning in May, beginning of June, essentially in Los Angeles. And it was just so intense. But we shot three cameras.
So, by day three, we essentially had the entire movie in the can because we were doing the whole thing all the way through from three angles. So, by day two, we had six angles. And we had the whole movie on – not on wax. On the digital version of wax. And so, then the next four days were just about creative play. And I think that what the result is is I made a movie in a week. It’s experimental. It’s unusual. It’s transporting and strange. And going in, I thought, “I’ll never make a movie this way again.” But now I would make a movie that way again because I just didn’t have any time to be afraid or feel doubt. There was no time to be anxious. I just had to go. It was wonderful. It was one of the seminal experiences of my life.
Tim Ferriss: There’s definitely some magic in the ether when you have a hyper aggressive deadline. There’s just something that happens to the spacetime continuum and what you can achieve when everything gets compressed that intensely.
Aisha Tyler: Certain things just come to the surface. Certain things are thrown into relief. And it’s not like you can’t make mistakes, but I think you get a clarity sometimes because you can’t dither. There’s no time for paralysis by analysis. I am making this decision. I’m making it definitively. It may be the wrong one, but I’m gonna lean all the way into it, and we’re gonna see what happens. And also because we shot the whole movie all the way through, if there were errors, I had the next day to recalibrate in a way that you don’t get when you typically make a movie.
For people, again, who don’t know, on a – I’m an actor as well. So, when I’m on a TV show or I’m doing a movie or whatever, I’ll leave at the end of the day and go, “Oh, shit, man. I wish I’d done this with that scene. I wish I’d tried this.” But every day, the next day, we got to wake up and go, “You know what? We have a whole new bite at this apple. We’re gonna do it a whole different way today.” And so, at the end, I really felt like we really, fully explored the material which we wouldn’t have been able to do if we had been making a movie in seven days and not doing it with this volume approach that we had.
Tim Ferriss: So, I’m looking at text in a book that you contributed to. Happens to be this –
Aisha Tyler: Is it a book – Tribe of Men?
Tim Ferriss: This fantastic book. Oh, let me see. Here it is. For those of you who get the –
Tim Ferriss: For those of you who get the What about Bob? reference, “There’s this groundbreaking new book. Oh, yes. Here it is.” And there’s an entire shelf of the therapist’s own book, Richard Dreyfuss. In any case, the question to what you would put on a gigantic billboard, metaphorically speaking to get a message to millions or billions of people, in this case, what you selected was a Jack Canfield quote. “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” And many of the stories that you’ve told so far illustrate that, certainly. What are you afraid of now? Or what fear are you hoping, say, in the next year to get on the other side of? Does anything come to mind?
Aisha Tyler: That’s a good question. It’s interesting because I think the one that feels the most obvious is I’m afraid I won’t get to make another film. But I’m not really, legitimately afraid of that because I feel like I’m just gonna put this next movie together and make it. I think now that I’ve done one with no help and no assistance from anybody, the next one’s gonna be cake. I had help. I had my team. But I didn’t have the traditional Hollywood help where I had a team of agents making magic. It was really just a scrappy little group of filmmakers doing this film with me, the lead actor and screenwriter and my creative executives. It was a small group of people completely outside of the system. But what am I afraid of? God, that’s a really good – and it’s not that I’m fearless. It may just be that the things that are interesting to me now don’t engender fear the way that they used to.
Tim Ferriss: I can also I think tackle this from a different angle which is what is one of your greatest struggles right now? What do you struggle with?
Aisha Tyler: Oh, God.
Tim Ferriss: If anything?
Aisha Tyler: My main struggle is just always being as effective as I wanna be. You know what I mean? I’m just super ambitious. I have highly developed – I don’t mean I’m good at it. I mean it’s very far advanced workaholism. I have pathological workaholism. It’s a sickness. And whenever I say I’m a workaholic, people always laugh. And I go, “Look, it’s a problem.” I don’t know how to rest. It’s not that I don’t like to play. I do like play. But I don’t think I have any time to rest. And I worry that it makes me – it could result in me not being an interesting artist because I think you need to play and to daydream and to rest and to experience things to be able to tell interesting stories. And no one wants to hear about your daily trek from your home to your office. It’s just not compelling.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I remember – I think it was Amanda Palmer who said this. I apologize to whoever said it if I’m misattributing. But Amanda Palmer, creative musician extraordinaire. Oh, God. I think it was her who said, “In order to have –
Aisha Tyler: Is she married to Neil Gaiman?
Tim Ferriss: She is. Yeah.
Aisha Tyler: Greatest author of all time? Okay.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Exactly. For those of you –
Aisha Tyler: After you, Tim. After you and after me, then him.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. I will bow at the feet of Neil Gaiman as a writer. And everybody should listen to his audiobook of The Graveyard Book narrated by him. He has also the most soothing voice imaginable. But I digress. What the fuck was I saying?
Aisha Tyler: Oh, so Amanda Palmer has a quote about –
Tim Ferriss: Oh, yes. “If art imitates life, in order to create art, you have to have a life.”
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. Absolutely.
Tim Ferriss: And I’m paraphrasing. And it’s butchered. But makes a point.
Aisha Tyler: But like a radical one. I’m sure there are other theories. There’s a very famous French writer. It’s not [inaudible] but it’s somebody anyway about have a bourgeois life and be radical in your work. But I actually don’t think – and I actually think that you need to be fully engaged in your life in order to be an interesting artist because you need to be alive to be able to speak about the human condition.
Tim Ferriss: So, if you have advanced early onset workaholism, you’ve really turned this into a default mode, are you doing anything to try and manage that or create more slack in the system for the daydreaming and so on?
Aisha Tyler: That’s my daily practice. That’s my one day at a time. It’s just constantly trying to remind myself to rest. I engage socially a lot more than I used to.
Tim Ferriss: And by socially, you mean out in the real world?
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. Out in the real world. I go out. And I try to not just be – I just had a period of life where I was just up, gym, work, sleep. I just remember one day I was like, “I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die of boredom. I bore myself.” You know what I mean? And so, I think I try to court danger in a safe way. It’s not like I’m jumping out of a plane with no parachute or bullfighting or bareknuckle brawling in an alley filled with needles. But I am trying to just not always have my head in my computer. But look, the reason that people are workaholics – well, there’s lots of reasons I’m sure. Social pressures. But for me, I just get this big serotonin release. Is it serotonin? What’s the satisfaction drug? Is it serotonin?
Tim Ferriss: I would say dopamine, perhaps.
Aisha Tyler: Dopamine. That’s it. Dopamine. Serotonin’s sleepy time. Yeah. Dopamine. I get a dopamine release when I complete tasks. And I get higher and higher the more that I execute. I find executing in and of itself really enjoyable. So, I’m just trying to apply that aggression to leisure like, “Can I get the same satisfaction from – if I make a to-do list and one of the things is ‘have fun,’ will I get the same dopamine release if I have a lot of fun?”
Tim Ferriss: How can I turn fun into work most effectively?
Aisha Tyler: Yeah, and then be like, “I don’t know about you guys, but I just fucking crushed my to do list. What?” I realize that even though I can feel very harried, it’s interesting to me to be feeling like a part of being on this planet is fully engaging and doing everything I can do and everything I’m interested in because I don’t wanna look back and be like, “Man, I should have tried that.” I’m happy to look back and say, “Man, I tried that, and it went terribly for me.” That’s a perfectly comfortable space for me to be like, “Man, I tried that. And I completely shit the bed.” But what I find very uncomfortable is the idea that I always wanted to do something and I never did it. And so, that’s what I fear. What I fear is not trying, not experiencing all the things that I wanna experience.
Tim Ferriss: How do you think you –
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. How do you think your life – because you live so aggressively. You milk the most out of the hours that you have. How would you or your life be different if you didn’t have exercise as an element do you think?
Aisha Tyler: Well, it’s interesting because I really love working out. But there’s a constant battle for me between being effective with work and – I’m the queen of getting up at 5:00 a.m. to work out, putting on my workout clothes and then being in front of my computer at 4:00 in the afternoon and I haven’t moved. That’s just a normal day. Didn’t move. Didn’t eat. Didn’t do anything. Just been in front of the computer for 11 hours. But it’s just such a great stress manager. And I also think that there’s another thing there which is it just, again, puts you back in your body, this thing that’s carrying your brain around and making you effective.
I think that with everything, all of the stimuli that we experience nowadays, all of the pictures and the images of perfection that are coming in at a much faster and more voluminous pace, it’s really easy to fall into an abusive relationship with exercise, either doing it so much that you’re hurting yourself or not doing it and then engaging in that inner monologue about how you’re worthless and you can’t get your shit together. And I don’t have either of those things. I just know I’m happier and better when I work out. But I don’t do – I’ve finally dropped the monologue about I’m not a good person if I don’t crush a workout.
I just try to do it every day because I know I’m better mentally. And I also cheat completely. I have my phone. I took a hike today. I had my phone with me, and I stopped every ten minutes to write something down. So, I’m not really fully in. I’m not being in the moment when I’m working out. A lot of times, I’m stopping hundreds of times to make notes and remind myself of stuff I have to do or put stuff on my calendar.
Tim Ferriss: Do you still use Concept2 or a rowing machine?
Aisha Tyler: I still use my ergometer, my Concept2 ergometer. I have had it since 2000. It is 18 years old. I have never had to repair it or replace any parts. It’s the single best piece of equipment that I have. I have my whole gym in my place. I have a TRX body weight system. I have to kettlebells, a 25 and a 35. I have my ergometer. I have battle ropes that are attached to my dining room table. And I have one big power step that I just use to do pistols and stuff like that. And I get everything done with those five things.
Tim Ferriss: That is fantastic. So, pistols, for people who don’t know, those are one-legged squats. And they can be very, very difficult depending on how you go about it.
Aisha Tyler: Yes. But a bench or a step can help you because you can just do single leg stepdowns until you build up your quad and your glute strength to do pistols.
Tim Ferriss: Could you describe for us a recent workout or what a prototypical of yours might look like?
Aisha Tyler: Well, I hiked today. That was just a 90 minute hike which was just more about feeling groovy. But right now, I’m obsessed with my ergometer. I go through periods of not rowing and then periods of rowing really aggressively. And this is gonna be right up your alley, Tim.
Tim Ferriss: I’m ready.
Aisha Tyler: This is like bullseye for you and your audience. I started going to a naturopath. So, I’ve been supplementing differently. And I started taking glutathione. And I’m rowing faster now than I did in my 20s. I just keep getting personal bests on my rower. It’s confusing. I’m a lot older than I was when I was rowing competitively. And I just keep knocking 30 seconds and then 45 seconds and then a minute and ten seconds off my rowing time. So, now I’m just obsessed with hitting personal bests every time I row.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Let’s dig into this. So, the glutathione, how is it – for those who aren’t familiar, glutathione is thought of – a simple way to think of it or the way it’s often described is as a master antioxidant of sorts. How are you having it administered? Is it being inj –
Aisha Tyler: God. Oh, this is so inside baseball. Sometimes I get IVs. I get IVs if I’m wrecked, if I traveled a lot or if I went to Coachella.
Tim Ferriss: And is that pure – is that just glutathione? Or are you doing that at the –
Aisha Tyler: No. I get B vitamins. I could do it at the end of my IV. I’ll get B vitamins and just –
Tim Ferriss: And a glutathione push at the end or something?
Aisha Tyler: Yeah, exactly. But you can get fat soluble glutathione that you just gulp down. It takes like axle grease.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Wait. What is this company? It’s Lypo-Spheric. That’s the name. Lypo-Spheric glutathione.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. It’s the Lypo-Spheric glutathione. Yeah. And I’m just contributing it to the glutathione because before the glutathione, I was rowing slow. And now I’m just like a jackrabbit. So, it could be something else. But I’m gonna say it’s the glutathione.
Tim Ferriss: I will warn people in advance. I had some of this Lypo-Spheric glutathione at one point. And I gave it to a friend of mine. And I think it might have been – for those who know my buddy Kevin Rose, since I like to mention him, even misattribute things to him just for fun. I think I gave him one, and he said something like, “What is this? Horse semen?” It does have a weird – it has a very weird consistency.
Aisha Tyler: No, my father calls it axel grease. He’s like, “Give me this axel grease,” because I gave it to my dad. I was like, “I think this would really help you.” And you’re supposed to take it in liquid, but he’s just been eating it on a spoon. He’s a better man than I.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I just squeegee it out of the little packet with my –
Aisha Tyler: Into your mouth?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, into my mouth.
Aisha Tyler: I take it with about two ounces of kombucha in the morning so I don’t have to think about it.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. You’re smarter.
Aisha Tyler: I’m sure you’re like this. Or maybe after all of that experimentation on yourself, you just get up and have a bowl of Frosted Flakes in the morning, Tim. But it’s like I do that. And then I have my bowl of supplements. And then I have my fish oil. And then I have my curcumin. And then I have my turmeric. And by the end of the morning, I’ve supplemented a banquet. I don’t even need to eat, I’ve taken so many crappy tablets.
Tim Ferriss: All right. Just to hit pause again. So, is the exercise before breakfast? Is it the first thing you do? What is the first – ideal morning, what’s the first 60 to 90 minutes look like?
Aisha Tyler: Espresso shot, glutathione, work out.
Tim Ferriss: What time do you wake up?
Aisha Tyler: It depends on the day. Between 6:00 and 7:00. I used to wake up a lot earlier, but I let one of my shows go, so I don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn every day anymore. So, it’s between 6:00 and 7:00. But I have to work out in the morning or I won’t work out at all.
Tim Ferriss: So, you wake up. You have espresso shot, glutathione with –
Aisha Tyler: I always have coffee before I work out without fail.
Tim Ferriss: And then the glutathione with the kombucha. Any particular type of kombucha that’s your preferred axel grease mixer?
Aisha Tyler: I like Better Booch. And I like – what is it? LIFEAID I think is one of the other – I love kombucha. I’m very slutty when it comes to kombucha. I’ll drink any kombucha. I’m a big kombucha fan.
Tim Ferriss: All right. So, then you buckle down to work out. And this is gonna sound like I’m just looking for opportunities to plug, which maybe I am. But you described one of your workouts, the Concept2 mid-distance 5k rows punctuated by short distance 2k hit sprints, high intensity interval training with a 10k long distance row once or twice a week. Would that be a current workout?
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. That’s typically my workouts. And then I’ll do a set of five by 25 kettlebells. I’ll get up in the morning and just do 125 kettleball swings in front of the television. And then sometimes I’ll do a TRX workout because I didn’t have really a way to simulate pullups. So, that was why I got the TRX so I could do – that was the one thing I didn’t have in here was a pullup bar.
Tim Ferriss: Is the TRX attached to a door? Is it –
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. It’s essentially like a railing. I have an upstairs railing, and it just hangs off of the railing.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. And –
Aisha Tyler: And that’s it. I try to keep it relatively simple so that I’ll do it. I don’t really train with anybody because I just can’t – I can manage the hour workout, but I can’t manage the transit between my home and a – I don’t have enough time to do that too. I’ve got the hour. I don’t have two hours. So, I don’t go to a gym anymore because I just would be – I wouldn’t have the time for it.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah. The transit time. That –
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. Transit time was what killed me. It was like, “I have an hour to work out. But I don’t have a half hour on either side of that to go to the gym.
Tim Ferriss: Do you still watch shows when you row?
Aisha Tyler: Totally. Totally. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Any recent favorites? Or what are you watching currently?
Aisha Tyler: Just fantastic junk. Some good stuff. I watch The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead. Those are always really good workout shows. Right now, I’m watching The Magicians during my workouts. And then when I finish that, what will I watch after that? Sometimes I watch stuff that’s on streaming services because I hate to have to – when I’m rowing, I don’t wanna have to watch commercials. And I can’t stop to fast-forward because I’m trying to beat my previous row time. So, I’ll stream stuff on Hulu like X-Files or Handmaid’s Tale. Or I just watched a show called Deutschland 83. That was pretty great. It has to be something that I can kind of watch which is why I’ll typically watch something that’s not too mentally demanding. So, I can’t pay attention too closely to plot points.
Tim Ferriss: Right. Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Do you have any routines or rituals around New Year’s? Just for people who may be listening to this at another time, we’re chatting at the end of March.
Aisha Tyler: Like, did I make any this year?
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Aisha Tyler: I make the same one every year which is to rest more. It’s the same resolution every year. Rest. Rest. Rest.
Tim Ferriss: So, how are you gonna do that this time?
Aisha Tyler: I don’t know. I should just give up. I should stop making resolutions. And then I won’t have to not have not accomplished them. Look, maybe a part of success or success at being you, figuring out being you is understanding what your strengths and your weaknesses are. My strength is my aggressive work ethic. When I was a young comic, I would be like, “Oh, I should be writing every day. I should write. I should be like this guy.” Well, that’s just not how I operate. So, I think once you accept what your own methodology of what it is –
Tim Ferriss: This is why you watched The Terminator 30 times. You’re like, “This is my people.” Right.
Aisha Tyler: Yes. So, I definitely have OCD. I’m definitely an obsessive personality. But once you accept, “These are my strengths. This is where I excel. This is how I excel –” rather than try to force yourself into someone else’s workflow, figure out what yours is. As a writer – and you’ve written lots of books. I’ve only written two. But with both books, I had this huge lead time. And it wasn’t that I was lazy or procrastinating. The book wasn’t there yet. And then just one day, the book was there. And then I sat down, and I wrote the entire book in a few weeks. But it just needed to gel. It needed to synthesize. And if I had been trying to sit down and write a little bit every day, it would have just been this big agglomeration of glob. But just one day, I was like, “Oh, the book is in me now. The book is in me.” And then I got it out.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, God. I wish I had that experience. Man, I’m so jelly.
Aisha Tyler: Oh, but everybody’s different. Do you know what I mean? For a long time, I would have wanted to be more like you, disciplined and sitting down because there’s a panic that ensues when you are seven weeks from your deadline and you had nine months to write a book, and now you gotta write the whole thing. But for me, certain threads have to connect. And that requires rumination and time. And I just can’t do it any other way. So, I don’t.
Tim Ferriss: I think my strength is every day trying to eat a wheelbarrow full of glass and shit out diamonds or something like that.
Aisha Tyler: Oh, man. That’s a good one. That should be a tattoo.
Tim Ferriss: Well, speaking of eating glass, so I wanted – this might be predictable, but I’m okay with predictable. I would like to start to wrap up with a handful of questions. And the first one I’m gonna ask is – and you actually give people a heads up on this with the Self-Inflicted Wounds. So, you usually say, “At some point, I am going to ask you about X.” But I’m sure you’ve had time to think about this. So, do you have any favorite stories of self-inflicted wounds of your own that you could share?
Aisha Tyler: Well, obviously the book is just a collection, not even a comprehensive one but quite detailed of many, many mistakes that I’ve made. I’m trying to think of something that’s happened recently. It’s interesting. I see my mistakes differently now than I did when I was younger. They just feel like an aspect of being human versus some kind of tragic –
Tim Ferriss: Flaw.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah, flaw. Exactly. They just seem like an unavoidable aspect of being alive. And I’m trying to think if there’s one – and then I’m thinking of ones recently that don’t feel that cataclysmic so they’re lame stories.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, you could pick a classic also, like the greatest hits. Like, if you’re watching TV 15 years ago, and it’s like, “Hits from the ‘80s. Da-da-da.” We could take one of those as well.
Aisha Tyler: Just off of that. Oh, God. Just thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking. It’s interesting. I was talking about that short film that I made that was the one that will never be seen by any human being – actually, I think it’s been destroyed – where it was just like I just thought that I could just charm my way through this short. And I had a bunch of friends show up. And it was such an odd idea. It didn’t even make any sense. It was about a guy who flashed women. He flashed women, and I can’t remember why he flashed women. But it was something to do with bravery. It was a metaphor for bravery that this guy would flash women. And also maybe hubris, like the idea that people were gonna be super excited to see this guy’s penis. And he would try to use it as currency, and it would never go his way.
But it just made no sense. It just ended up being a series of vignettes about a guy revealing his penis to strangers. And I just remember at the end literally thinking, “It’s one thing to think people don’t get me.” I was like, “I don’t get myself. I don’t [inaudible] trying to accomplish here.” And it just never, ever coalesced. But it was fine because it was like – I remember enjoying the process of making it and then being really surprised and delighted by what a piece of shit it was much like that set where nobody laughed. I thought, “Well, man. That didn’t work at all. Okay. I need to go back and figure out what to do next.” And I think every artist – I think Quentin Tarantino has a famous story about his first film being unwatchable. I just think sometimes, if your personality is to be really aggressive and dive in, you’re bound to make some spectacular failures.
And you just have to have a high tolerance for that and not take it personally and keep moving forward. But yeah. I literally was like, “I know you guys don’t get it. I don’t get it. I can’t explain it to you. I have no idea what I was thinking. Thank you for putting yourselves in my hands. It was a terrible mistake on your part. But you’re very gracious to have trusted me with your lives.”
Tim Ferriss: What’s the name of the short?
Aisha Tyler: It was called The Whipper.
Tim Ferriss: Conjures all sorts of images.
Aisha Tyler: It makes no sense whatsoever.
Tim Ferriss: When have you been extremely proud of yourself? Could be any point in your life. Can you think of a standout point where you’re like, “Goddamn. Good for me. Fucking A”?
Aisha Tyler: I hate to have it be about this because it sounds like it’s super self-promotional. But I really am proud of this film for a variety of reasons I think because it was –
Tim Ferriss: AXIS?
Aisha Tyler: Yeah, AXIS because it was such a – I was lucky that I was brought a great script. And I had a really talented actor. But we put this movie together so quickly. And I had a vision for it but I also was, because we were moving so fast, feeling my way through the dark in some aspect. And I think one of the reasons why it came together the way that it did was because I both had a vision for the film but I was open to modulating. And I think that’s really important in anything that you’re doing no matter what field you’re in is that you have to both – we prize vision and rigidity in this culture. But I think that being able to pivot and be nimble is way more important than being a rigid visionary. You have to be able to look at data and interpret it and then apply it to your situation, or you’re just gonna keep banging your head against a wall.
So, we made this movie. We got into the very second day of filming. We started really late. We lost our light. We had to pivot that day. Ended up having to throw all that footage away. Another day, we lost light and had to get back up at 5:00 in the morning to shoot dawn for dusk. But we just kept pivoting. Nothing was catastrophic. And I think that’s something I got from my father. It’s like, “Okay. This isn’t working. Okay. So, we’re gonna do this. Okay. That’s not working. We’re gonna do this,” rather than, “Oh, my God. This is the end of the world. What are we gonna do?” And then in post, I had very little money for post and very little time to cut the movie together.
And about four weeks in, the editor that I had cutting the movie – he was a great guy. Really talented – just wasn’t connecting with the material. Wasn’t able to assemble the movie. It was an unusual movie. It’s one guy in a car. And I had to let him go. And then I had to learn Avid, the Avid system and start cutting the movie myself. But again, I wasn’t like, “What am I gonna do? I don’t have an editor. I’m gonna die.” I just said, “Okay. Well, the answer here is that I’m gonna learn this skillset, and I’m going to keep moving forward.” And then I made this little film. It was strange and atmospheric and dreamlike. It didn’t get into Sundance. And everybody always wants to get into Sundance. But then it got into eight other festivals and won two awards and got picked up for distribution. And the result has been much better than I ever could have anticipated.
And I’m really proud of it because I made it for what is typically the catering budget on a regular Hollywood movie. We made it for just no money and in no time. And I think it also says something. I think what I’m also proud of is that the movie actually does have a strong point of view and a strong visual personality and a strong style that is my own. When I look at it, I don’t think I’m trying to emulate anybody. I feel like this is something that I made. It’s my little lumpy ashtray from shop class. And I really love it.
Tim Ferriss: Good for you. I think it’s easy to – I’m not saying you but for humans to look at the people who are showcased on the covers of magazines or on the front pages of popular websites and think, “Wow. They figured out all the secret sauce,” or, “They have the keys to the kingdom. And they’re able to show up and just hit homeruns every time they step to the plate.” And when you look at the origin stories of some of these incredible creations that people are familiar with, whether it’s Jaws or – the company Alibaba is one example. Jack Ma, the founder, I think he’s the richest man in China, or certainly one of the top few at this point. And he said – I’m paraphrasing but, “We had a huge advantage in the beginning. And that was we had no experience, no money, and no plan.” And it forces you to really think outside of the box.
And even if that project doesn’t succeed by outside measures, the confidence that you develop in exploring areas outside of the box can then transfer to future projects. I remember there was this fantastic documentary. I’m gonna butcher his name. Well, it’s fantastic mostly for the message, not for all of the content, which I hope makes sense. But it’s called Jodorowsky’s Dune. And it’s the story of this attempt to make a movie about Dune. And the thing is a complete, unmitigated disaster. Complete, unmitigated disaster. But the talent that was assembled went on to just do incredible things. And if that disaster hadn’t happened, one could argue that if you had stepped on that butterfly, these other careers wouldn’t have blossomed in the way that they did, and you wouldn’t have the Giger design of the alien that people now know as the alien of Aliens and so on. So, I just love –
Aisha Tyler: And no one ever learns from success. You can do a postmortem and say, “Oh, this stuff worked.” But failure is where you have explosive growth, where you really have to reconsider all of your assumptions. And it’s so much more powerful than success is at making you eventually successful.
Tim Ferriss: So, be aggressive.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. Be, be aggressive.
Tim Ferriss: B-E aggressive. A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E.
Aisha Tyler: Oh, totally. Yeah. So, that’s my life philosophy, be aggressive.
Tim Ferriss: Be aggressive. And we want you around for a long time. So, take your cat naps at the very least.
Aisha Tyler: That’s my goal.
Tim Ferriss: And do you have anything you would like to say or ask of the audience? Suggestions you’d like to make? Anything at all that you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Aisha Tyler: Other than watch my movie?
Tim Ferriss: Other than watch your movie. Exactly.
Aisha Tyler: God, that’s interesting. I guess when I did my podcast, it thematically – the stuff that we talked about was always stuff that I talked about which is it doesn’t matter what you wanna do. And again, it sounds very greeting card. But the barriers, they’re imagined. You know what I mean? And maybe you’re gonna have to start small, and maybe you’re gonna have to start close to home. But the greater regret will always be not having started. And I’m always trying to find a way to be more bold in my life and hopefully share the things that have helped me do that with other people. So, it is exciting to be having the conversation with you because I think that’s a lot of what you’ve done is you’ve lived these experiences so that the things that you learn could be shared with other people. And just go out and do awesome shit.
Tim Ferriss: Get your hands dirty.
Aisha Tyler: Get them dirty.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. The rough drafts are not a clean business.
Aisha Tyler: Absolutely not.
Tim Ferriss: Well, Aisha, thank you so much for taking the time.
Aisha Tyler: It was a pleasure.
Tim Ferriss: So much fun.
Aisha Tyler: It was great to speak with you. I know. Super fun. And now that I know where you are, I will track you down the next time I’m in your neck of the woods.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Barbecue, music, whatever it might be in Austin, Texas. Come visit. And people can visit you. Is the best site aishatyler.com?
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. aishatyler.com. But who spends time on a website anymore? Just follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. All that stuff is just AishaTyler, one word.
Tim Ferriss: A-I-S-H-A-T-Y-L-E-R.
Aisha Tyler: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Tim Ferriss: And to everyone – I’m sorry. You were gonna say something.
Aisha Tyler: I don’t know when this is gonna post, but I post stuff about all the stuff I’m doing. The movie’s out on the 10th of April on Video on Demand, iTunes, all that stuff. And then Archer starts I think on the 24th of April. And all the other st – I don’t know. TV, whatever. You can find me online. I don’t know when you’re gonna listen to this. But just come say hi to me on social. I’ll be –
Tim Ferriss: For days and weeks and months and years and millennia to come, hopefully. We’ll see.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah. Cockroaches will be listening to this on their tiny cockroach computers when the rest of us are dead.
Tim Ferriss: That’s exactly right. Cockroaches will remember us fondly. And for you non-cockroaches – actually, if cockroaches are listening, you’re welcome also to check out the show notes where I will provide links to everything that we’ve talked about, including AXIS. And you can find all of those at tim.blog/podcast along with the show notes for every other episode. And Aisha, thank you so much one more time for being so goddamn entertaining and inspiring at the same time. It’s a rare combo. So, I really appreciate the time.
Aisha Tyler: It’s always great to talk with you. Thanks, Tim.
Tim Ferriss: Of course. And to everybody out there on the interwebs, be safe maybe. More important, be aggressive. Get out there. If you’re dreaming of doing something, creating something someday, just get out a shitty first draft because guess what? All the first drafts are really fucking awful. It’s very rare that someone just, as I was alluding to, shits out diamonds on a daily basis. It starts with putting something out there into the world. And hopefully, at least it makes a market of one happy. And that is you. So, I will close there. And thanks to everybody for listening.
Hey, guys. This is Tim again. Just a few more things before you take off. No. 1, this is 5-
Bullet Friday. Do you want to get a short email from me? Would you enjoy getting a short email from me every Friday that provides a little morsel of fun before the weekend? And 5-Bullet Friday is a very short email where I share the coolest things I’ve found or that I’ve been pondering over the week. That could include favorite new albums that I’ve discovered. It could include gizmos and gadgets and all sorts of weird shit that I’ve somehow dug up in the world of the esoteric, as I do. It could include favorite articles that I have read and that I’ve shared with my close friends, for instance.
And it’s very short. It’s just a little tiny bite of goodness before you head off for the weekend. So, if you want to receive that, check it out. Just go to fourhourworkweek.com, that’s fourhourworkweek.com all spelled out, and just drop in your email, and you will get the very next one. And if you sign up, I hope you enjoy it.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.