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Podcast transcript – Peter Freeth

Transcript version of publisher Peter Freeth of Genius Media Publishing joins Paul Boross to discuss The Humourology Book and all of the wisdom and wit that readers can find within the pages. Freeth and Boross talk about how The Humourology Book came about and just how important humour is in the workplace.

Peter Freeth (00:00:00):

If you go to a wedding or a conference or something, you look at the table plan, you see where are we sitting? And you hear another table, you know, where people are laughing, you think, Oh, I wish I was on that table.
Paul Boross (00:00:10):

<laugh>,

(00:00:17):

Welcome to the Humourology podcast with me, Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the world’s of business, sport, and entertainment, who are here to share their wisdom and their use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve every aspect of your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals, increases the value of your laughing stock, and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like, subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. My guest on this very special edition of the Humanology podcast is in fact, my publisher, Mr. Peter, Freeth. How are you?
Peter Freeth (00:01:03):

I’m very good, Paul. Thank you for that beautiful introduction.

(00:01:08):

Unlike your other guests, I’m not actually a celebrity, I guess, although I have been on tv.
Paul Boross (00:01:15):

Oh, oh, well, I didn’t know you’d been on tv. What, what TV was that?
Peter Freeth (00:01:20):

You know, all these, uh, this proliferation of extra channels that we’ve got now that they have to stuff with some weird content, and you get these late night programmes that are, they present as documentaries, but they’re really just, you know, scandal sort of things. Well, I was in one of those, it was called The Dark Side of Stage Hypnosis.
Paul Boross (00:01:40):

Oh my goodness. And what
Peter Freeth (00:01:42):

I watch TV production company that made, you know, scandalous expose type things.
Paul Boross (00:01:49):

And what was your role in it?
Peter Freeth (00:01:51):

Well, I was a participant on a training course where people were learning how to be stage hypnotists. And at the end of the three-day course, we put on a public show in a hotel in London, and the TV crew filmed it as if it was a, you know, a well as if it was a proper public show. But the angle that they were taking was, you know, look how easy it is for any idiot off the street to become a stage hypnotist and do untold damage to people’s fragile minds. And so that was the, the theme of the whole thing that they were going for. And I met with the production company a few weeks before it, because I wanted to find out what’s the angle? What are they looking for here?

(00:02:37):

You know, And they were saying, Oh, it’s just, you know, we just wanna find out what it’s, what it takes to become stage hypnotist and so on. I thought, well, I don’t believe that because if you looked at their website – early in the days of websites – there were other productions were things like The John Leslie scandal and Streakers, Streakers 2, <laugh> so <laugh>, I thought, Well, I kind of know where this is going. And there were a lot of people on the course who were Clinical hypnotherapists, and they dropped out of doing the show at the end because they didn’t want people to see them in that kind of context. Whereas at that time, I didn’t have that kind of concern about a clinical professional reputation. So, and I was in the bit where there’s a very common thing you’ll see in stage hypnosis which is obviously a world that is, that is very much on the edges of some of the things that your other guests have, have talked about around things like NLP and, and psychology and so on.

(00:03:40):

And there’s a very, very common part of an act that you’ll see where the hypnotist does a what’s called a fast trance induction, where they’ll push somebody’s head back, they’ll say, sleep, they’ll just collapse on the floor, and everyone’s really impressed, and it’s really amazing. But as with a lot of these things, there is a bit of trickery behind it, which is that you put your foot behind the subject’s feet so they can’t step back. And when you push their head back, it’s disorienting, and the natural reaction is to step back. They can’t, So they fall over and the idea is you catch them and you gently lay them down on the floor and it looks very impressive, and they stay there because, you know, they’re too embarrassed to do anything else, basically, <laugh>. And so they paired us up on the course, and I got paired up with this man mountain and I just thought, There’s absolutely no way I’m gonna catch this guy.

(00:04:34):

So when I pushed him on the head I was behind him. So the idea is you shift your weight behind them, so you kind of catch them on your leg on the way down, and no chance. The guy must have been about 20 stones, so <laugh>. So he fell backwards. I kind of got caught behind him. I fell down, he fell down on top of me. We were both sprawling on the floor, and I saw the camera crew, come running over. I thought, that’s definitely going in the TV programme. And it did so that’s, that’s my, my seconds, my few seconds of fame there.
Paul Boross (00:05:07):

Well, well, I’m relieved. It wasn’t CrimeWatch, to be honest with you.
Peter Freeth (00:05:12):

<laugh>, it was pretty close. I mean, some of the allegations they’re making in the programme about how hypnotist had sort of messed people up and so on, You know, there was some people who’d suffered some sort of serious stuff there, but I don’t think any of it was because of the stage hypnosis, that just kind of opened the… took the cork outta the bottle on something else that was happening.
PaulBoross (00:05:32):

What look, I’m intrigued because one of the reasons that you are the perfect publisher for me is because you understand so much about the psychology, the NLP and all the background that I talk about. So, and, and it’s very few publishers who have a background in that and actually can understand it. So when I send something in to you, you don’t go, What does this mean? And you actually add to it and, and develop it. So just tell us a little bit more about your background what you’ve done in the world before you were a huge publisher.
Peter Freeth (00:06:10):

<laugh>. Well, um, my working life originally started just over 37 years ago, 1985. And I was a, uh, a telecoms and IT engineer, then designer design bits of what today we call the internet and in various countries around the world. And from that went on to, I became less and less interested in the technology and, and more interested in the people and, and the sort of business applications and so on and so I started my own business back in, uh, 2002, well, 2000 really and at the time I’d started writing. So I’d started getting into NLP training as an sort of an aside to my day job in the telecoms industry. And I just started, started doing my own thing. And publishing was part of that. So it was partly consulting with companies and helping to develop teams and leaders and team performance.

(00:07:23):

And then publishing was a natural fit for that because, you know, books are, uh, still today a fabulous way of encapsulating and, and presenting knowledge. And one of the things that, that you do, and that, and that I’ve done is we, we create knowledge. It’s, it’s very easy to think of a, you know, a corporate trainer as somebody who’s an expert in something, and they’re just unloading that information into the audience. But that’s not the case at all. and certainly when, when your style is more facilitative, and, and when you’re talking about a subject like leadership or sales or personal performance, there are no black and white answers there. There is no one way of doing things. you know, you can go into any bookshop and, and see, you know, a hundred books on leadership, and they all say something totally different to the others. So if there’s no one model, there’s no one way of doing it. It must be about relationships. It must be about people. And that’s what I got more interested in. And so I started publishing books and writing books as well inspired by some of the terrible books that I’d read on the subject. And I thought, I bet I could do better than that <laugh>. So, I had a go, and, and that’s been it. And then, yeah, we, we got together in 2000, early 2009. It was,
PaulBoross (00:08:44):

Was it?
Peter Freeth (00:08:44):

God, that’s about 13 and a half years. Yeah, for your first book The Pitching Bible, which is, you know, which I keep in, in pride of place on my, and that’s a big book.
PaulBoross (00:08:56):

It is.
Peter Freeth (00:08:57):

That is, that is properly, you know, a big book and a very good book as well.
PaulBoross (00:09:03):

Well, that, well, thank you because we’ve stuck together basically because you are not only a brilliant publisher and everybody at Genius Media Publishing is brilliant and supportive, but also I think the humour that we share is an important bonding part of it. And I’d like to just talk to our audience a little bit about how Humourology came about because I came and, and just so our audience knows, sometimes when I come and pitch an idea to Peter <laugh>, you can tell when he is not keen <laugh>. He’s not necessarily kind either. He’s, he’s quite, you are quite blunt, and you go, It’s a good idea, or it’s not a good idea. But when I pitched a Humourology, which for our listeners who just know the podcast is now a book.
Peter Freeth (00:10:02):

Here it is.
PaulBoross (00:10:03):

There you go.
Peter Freeth (00:10:05):

That’s the real, it’s the real thing. It’s a beautiful hard back book. You see, It isn’t all empty space and filler. It’s… I think it’s, I think it’s your best book, actually.
PaulBoross (00:10:18):

Oh, well, bless you. And you were so instrumental in it because, what was it, nearly two years ago now, you were the person who said to me, Well, it’s a great idea, because it fits in with your background, with humour and with psychology but if you’re going to do it, you’re going to need to get some interviews and interview people from business, sport and entertainment who understand this area. And actually I just went, well, if I’m going to do that, I might as well do a podcast. So that’s how the podcast started as well. But Humourology, as we describe it, and I’d like to hear your description of it is the art and science of, of using humour to create a competitive advantage. AndI think we kind of agree that a sense of humour is your most important aspect in surviving and increasing in your breadth of reach in an increasingly complex world. What, what else do you think Humourology is, and why is it important?
Peter Freeth (00:11:32):

I think it’s one of the humour is one of the interesting things that characterises being human and so I think if you look at any, if you look at any interview, read any autobiography, you know, people put funny stories in there. People tell a funny thing happened, you know, on the way to work today. A funny thing happened to me over the weekend. I think, as you said, there’s that incredibly important bonding. But there’s lots and lots of research going back decades on humour as, as a really powerful way to increase resilience. And, you know, I remember reading research again decades ago that, that was about people who learned to see their misfortunes in life as a funny thing happened. They, they bounced back quicker. They recover quicker, and they recover stronger than the people who dwell in the, the victim mentality.

(00:12:38):

And when I say, when I say victim mentality, it’s something that happens to all of us. It’s like, Oh, this thing happened to me. Oh, what terrible luck I had. Oh, it’s not fair. That’s, you know, So I’m not talking about people who are, you know, wallowing in a pit of self pity for years on end. I’m just talking about any time that we feel hard done by and what happens when we get into that sort of victim way of thinking is that we give up our control. And always when you’re talking about the sort of things that life throws at us and these past few years, you know, we’ve had to, to cope with so much and, and one of the most important ways that we, that we do that is by taking control of events that we can’t control. We can’t control pandemics, we can’t control the government’s doing and so on. And so one of the ways that we take control is by turning it into a joke, turning it into something funny that happened. And that could be through, you know, black humour, dark humour through, you know, what do they used to call it?
PaulBoross (00:13:44):

Gallows humour
Peter Freeth (00:13:45):

Gallows humour. That’s it. Yeah. Thanks. Well, there’s nothing else I can do in this situation, so we may as well laugh and laughter is uplifting. It na social signal. It releases certain chemicals within your body that make you feel good. And it’s a signal to other people that this situation isn’t, isn’t as bad as it seems. You know? And I think we’ve all been in situations at work where, you know, something really bad happens. Like somebody makes a mistake, and everyone sort of freezes and stops breathing for a moment, <laugh> until they see the boss laughs about it, and then everyone can relax again. So it’s a real sort of cultural signal as well. So
PaulBoross (00:14:28):

I would say that it’s also a social currency, isn’t it? It’s probably the easiest way to bond. And it, because it’s a gift that’s meant to be shared, laughing together sort of means that we share values, we share life experiences, we share hopes and dreams, if you like. And, and that creates a connection that can last a lifetime.
Peter Freeth (00:14:51):

And I’ve had experiences on holiday and being away on business, and I’m sure you have too, where I’ve exchanged, I’ve shared maybe 3, 4, 5 words that are understandable between me and somebody else, but we still laugh. Yeah. You know, or point at something and will laugh or pull a funny face or whatever. It’s like we hardly understand each other, but laughter becomes this common language between us. So I think you’re absolutely right from that social bonding, social currency. And, and if you go to a wedding or a conference or something, you look at the table plan, you see, where are we sitting? And you hear another table, you know, where people are laughing. You think, Oh, I wish I was on that table. <laugh>, I’m always, I always seem to be on the table that, that wishes that <laugh> on another table
PaulBoross (00:15:44):

Table full of accountants.
Peter Freeth (00:15:47):

They’re very, very charming people. Yeah. Lot of accountants listening. We want to be around laughter. We want to be around people having fun. When we think back to childhood memories, friends who we’ve, we’ve had for a lifetime, it’s all people that we share humour with. So I think… and the application in Humourology is obviously around improving performance in a business. And I think the connection there is, it’s taking what we all intuitively know about humour, but it’s putting some structure and and backed up by some science into both how exactly, uh, humour translates through to performance of a person and a team and a business but also then some practical ways that you, Well, to, to put it bluntly, that you can be funnier because, you know, it’s, it takes work. It’s not natural. It’s nsomething we’re all born with. But the ability to tune that sense of humour, I think to the, to the context of the culture, the organisation, the place where we are, that takes a bit of work. And so that’s in the book as well.
PaulBoross (00:16:58):

Yeah. Well, and it’s appropriateness, isn’t it? Because whilst we say funnier, I, the Humourology project isn’t just about being funny. It’s about lightness of touch. It’s about knowing, humility, humanity, all those things as well. And I would say a very important word that you sort of touched on there was attitude. And the Americans have this saying that your attitude dictates your altitude. And I kind of like that whole thing, because something bad happens to somebody. That whole attitude can change the way. Now, can you find a way to see the funny side of it? That an attitude that’s looking for something? You know, I’m, I’m just reading a book that the comedian Mark Thomas gave to me by a firefighter. And they’re constantly going out and they’re having to see the most horrendous things. And the attitude is, first of all, of, you know, how can we get out of this state? And, and I think what laughter does is it shifts the state. It may be the quickest way to shift the state. What do you think about that?
Peter Freeth (00:18:22):

<affirmative>. Yeah, I think that’s true. And I think for them, again, they’re dealing with these horrible situations that none of us would want to be in, that, they don’t have any control over. And they can either internalise that and take it home and it, and it destroys them, or they’ve gotta find a way to release it. And laughter is a healthy way of releasing it, perhaps, perhaps the healthiest way, because alternative ways of releasing stress are available, but they all tend to be addictive or harmful in some ways. So I think laughter and that shared experience of, you know, you, you’ve worked in comedy clubs and I’ve been to a lot of comedy clubs over the years, unfortunately, for some reason, not as popular today as they were back in the eighties, nineties and or not as many of them around. But again, there was a real sense of people going to those sorts of venues to release stress, to laugh off all the days, hassle and, and worry and, and fear because obviously starting in the eighties when we had this, this new wave of political comedy, what did they, what did they call it?
PaulBoross (00:19:31):

Alternative Comedy
Peter Freeth (00:19:32):

Alternative comedy, Right. Cause it wasn’t just, oh, you see, my mother-in-law, she got two postcodes. You know, it wasn’t that sort of humour. It went from that to Yeah. Talking satire, talking about politics, giving people a way of laughing at the stress of, you know, through the eighties and nineties, a political environment that they couldn’t control, they weren’t happy about, but at least they could laugh. And, you know, and that was a much healthier way of releasing that, I think.
PaulBoross (00:20:01):

Yeah. I think… And healthy is, is the main thing about it is how do you have a healthy company? Well, a healthy company is whereby people feel relaxed enough. We’ve had a lot of… we’ve got a lot of quotes in the book from people in creative industries, and they say that without that ability to laugh and the freedom to laugh, they’re really, it stifles creativity. It stops it happening. And so I think it’s incumbent on companies and people who want to grow organisations to understand that it has to be there as a baseline for the, the company. And what do you think, do you think that’s always led by the leadership? Or can it, can it be ground up as well?
Peter Freeth (00:20:58):

I think it can be ground up. I think people will look, you know, as I said earlier, people will look to the leader, to the boss to see what they’re laughing at. So it can be encouraged by the leadership of a company. It doesn’t have to come top down, but they can certainly create space for it, and they can certainly, uh, encourage it. And it reminds me of a point you made earlier about times when I’d give you feedback on ideas that you were having for books and ideas to go in books. And I think it, it’s really important that, and you talk about creativity that a lot of people feel under pressure in organisations to do the right thing, to have a good strategy, to have the right plan, and to have good ideas.

(00:21:42):

And all of that’s complete rubbish. You have no, I, you know, my experience for people in global businesses all the way down to local businesses, nobody has any idea what they’re doing, but they get lucky often enough. And then what human beings do is they’ll congratulate themselves for their brilliant idea or planning when actually was just sheer luck most of the time. Um, or you, you know, you hit a vein and you go with it and, and you see where it leads you. But, you know, I think that point about ideas, I think you’ve always had good ideas. It’s whether they’re aligned with where you currently are and the direction that you are going in. So no ideas are a bad idea in itself. It’s is it gonna work or not? And there have been things that you’ve wanted to shoehorn into other books that are great in themselves, but they don’t belong in that book.

(00:22:34):

They, they belong in a future as yet unwritten book. And I think for a lot of that stuff, that future book is now Humourology because as you said, it was such a good fit for your, your credentials and your breadth of experience in comedy and the people that you’ve interacted with in that world and in the business world, and the psychology aspect of it. So, you know, it was a perfect home for all of those. And I think, I think a book has a personality and a company has a personality that we call culture. And I think humour is one way of testing that. A friend of mine just had a job interview last week and he actually said, and I’m gonna find the text to read you. He thought the interview didn’t go very well.

(00:23:24):

He said, he said, have the call and not feeling positive about next step. They were very rigid and formulaic in their approach and not a bundle of laughs either. Mm. So he is using laughter as a test of the culture. If they laugh with me, then okay, I can see myself here, I can fit in here. And if not, they don’t wanna play along then, you know, this is not for me. Because his attitude is, look, you know, he goes to work to do a job, He’s gonna work hard, he’s gonna do a great job for them, but it’s gotta be fun. It’s gotta be enjoyable. So I think it’s, I think laughter is a cultural test as well that we perform when we go into a new environment, start a new job, we see what people are laughing at, and whether we like it or not, whether we feel that we fit in
PaulBoross (00:24:10):

Well, that, that’s really interesting. Cuz some, sometimes on stage I talk about, I say I put up a number which is 70.9%. And I said, What does that mean? And that’s from an American study where they said 70.9% of people will change supplier based on one criteria. And that is if the new supplier is more fun, and people are always shocked in business and they go, That can’t be true. But I then I break it down and I start talking about, how do you behave? And your friend who just went for the job interview, what do you want? I mean, it’s not just about the wage packet, it’s about how you feel going in every time. And so the Humourology project is really about getting people to understand what really is important to people. You know, when people are making decisions or at job interviews, which you’re just talking about, what are they doing? Are they just looking at the CV and going, marvellous, They got a two one from Oxford and, uh, they played rugby. No, they’re getting a sense of the person and a huge part of the sense of a person is their sense of humour, is it not?
Peter Freeth (00:25:34):

And, by the time you’re at a job interview, you’ve already got the job on paper. They wouldn’t be wasting their time talking to people who don’t appear to have what they’re looking for. And then the final test is how are you interacting as a person. And yeah, I think it’s interesting that just in the last couple of weeks, there’s a big recruitment website in the UK that started advertising on tv. I don’t think they’ve done it before. And they’ve created this new differentiator. What they started out at was an aggregator of other job sites. And now they’ve created this, this unique differentiator, which is that they show an employer’s happiness score.

(00:26:17):

They take feedback from people who work in companies. And so they, you know, when you see a job advert, you can also look up information on the company. And there’s another, been other websites around for years that have done this. But that’s very much that cultural aspect of, uh, yeah, okay, I could do this job. Let’s say it’s a web designer or software developer or something. There’s 20 different companies. Um, they’re all in the same market doing the same sort of work. They’re all paying about the same, There’s nothing to choose between them. So I think when you have a, when you have a fair choice, then yeah, you’re gonna choose the one which is, where am I gonna enjoy working? Where am I gonna have a laugh every day? Where is it that fits with my personality?

(00:27:03):

And that, and that’s gonna be the same for the interviewer as well. They’re gonna say, Well, we’ve seen half a dozen people that can all do the job on paper. Which one do we want to have around more? And I’ve been through lots and lots of interviews over the years, both being interviewed myself, interviewing other people, working with HR teams, developing interview processes, and, you know, companies spend a fortune on trying to make interview process objective with psychometric testing and assessment centres and so on. And it’s all a complete con because at the end of the day, the hiring manager will just end up hiring the person who reminds them of themselves.
PaulBoross (00:27:44):

<laugh>
Peter Freeth (00:27:44):

Yeah. All that other data to make it fit the person they’ve already decided that they
PaulBoross (00:27:51):

Want. And then the language patterns they all use are, seems like a good fit. He seems like he fit into the general culture.
Peter Freeth (00:28:00):

I I can see her fitting in. I can see her. So they’re, they’re imagining the future.
PaulBoross (00:28:07):

Yes.
Peter Freeth (00:28:07):

So from an interview point of view, if you can, if you can fit yourself into that person’s imagined picture, if can make it easy for them to imagine you in that position that it’s done deal. Because, you know, I can imagine a nice big cake at lunchtime, <laugh>, if I, if I can imagine it, I’m increasing the chances that that’s actually gonna happen. Yeah. When I go to the sandwich shop, I think, Well, I’ll have a cake nbecause I pictured it in my mind
PaulBoross (00:28:32):

Absolutely. And, and by the way, if you are leading with an element of fun, who doesn’t want to be around that? Is there a single area of business that we can think of or a working relationship that isn’t improved by fun and humour?
Peter Freeth (00:28:50):

Yeah. Let’s be clear. You’re not gonna get a job because you’re fun, but you’re a complete idiot and you have no qualifications, but it’s all other things being equal then. Yeah, absolutely. That will be a,
PaulBoross (00:29:00):

It’s the competitive advantage part of Humourology, isn’t it? You know, and we say in the book that the average person sense spends, I think it’s 3,500 days at work during their lifetime. Presumably at some point, a sense of humour must come in handy on at least a few of those days.
Peter Freeth (00:29:20):

You think, And you know, when I think back over my 37 years in work, what, what are the memories that stand out? They’re, they’re the ones that are funny. They were either ridiculously funny at the time, or they were actually really horrible at the time. But telling the story of those events over the years, they become funny memories.
PaulBoross (00:29:42):

Yeah.
Peter Freeth (00:29:43):

So all the things that I look back at, and maybe that’s just me, but all the things I look back at from my working life, particularly the early days when I was an apprentice, they’re all things that, that were funny or things that I can tell as a funny story.
PaulBoross (00:29:57):

Yeah. And, and it’s that social cohesion, isn’t it? It’s like… what does it say? It says, We’re in this together, we see things the same way. You know, that’s what it is. And that’s what bonds accompany. And by the way, this is true of sports teams as well, you know, the teams that, you know, play well together, play well on the pitch together, all the, you know, people like Scott Quinnell who we’ve had in the book and I also wrote a book with him, which you published. Yeah. Which is a Leader On The Pitch.
Peter Freeth (00:30:34):

He’s standing on a box there to make it look like he’s taller than you in real life. <laugh>, he’s actually a few inches shorter. I’ve seen the two of you side by side.
PaulBoross (00:30:43):

Exactly. But it’s the magic, magic of the media, isn’t
Peter Freeth (00:30:46):

It? Exactly. It’s all, it’s all a lie isn’t it?
PaulBoross (00:30:49):

Yeah. It’s all lie. I wanted to come onto some of then things, and we can ask these the same question of each other, but what makes you laugh, Peter,
Peter Freeth (00:31:00):

I think just before you get onto that, there’s a point I wanted to pick up on from what you were just saying about the bonding aspect, because there’s some interviews in the book that echo the same theme about laughing together. And there’s actually some research that you’ve cited in the book as well, that, that, and the phrase that the summary was, I think the laughter only works if you laugh together. So, because an aspect to this social bonding is we can’t bond with 7 billion people and, and have close relationships. So we tend to have close relationships with a few people and, and have this sense of who’s inside and who’s outside. And if you think, you know, back thousands of years, that was a very tribal thing, wasn’t it, Recognising an outsider as a potential threat, but you know, also an opportunity to trade or, you know, whatever.

(00:31:53):

And so to talk about social bonding implicitly also talks about social exclusion. And I think one of the things we really, really careful of with humour, especially in organisations is we don’t make the joke at the expense of the new guy. And the old, you know, when our back was, when I was an apprentice, you know, the jokes were send sending the apprentice to the stores for a long stand <affirmative> or a new bubble for the spirit level or whatever. And that never happened to me luckily, but I heard really horrible stories from for apprentices in other companies about things that happened to them, um, that bordered on abusive. But it’s all, ah, you know, if you joke, if you laugh about it, then you’re one of us now. So it’s like a, what do do they call it?

(00:32:39):

It’s an initiation ceremony. Yes, it’s an initiation ceremony, absolutely. But it’s, it’s laughter at somebody else’s expense. And I mentioned earlier the stage hypnosis show. And so in the course we were given this book of routines to follow and they were like milking cows bus trip to the seaside. Everybody thinks they’re a chicken, seats on fire, this old, old formulaic stuff. And the thing that I liked about the course was the, this sort of way of tapping into the, the potential of the mind. What I didn’t like was it was based around this old philosophy of treating the, the person on stage. Like they’re a puppet and you’re just giving them instructions and the audience doesn’t know you’re giving them instructions. So they think they’re acting of their own free will under in a trance, but they’re not. And so we put on this public show at the end, and I was part of this four person routine. So basically the TV crew wanted to focus on the sleaziest, weirdest, most horrible people who got a little slot of their own <laugh> and performed exactly as the TV crew wanted them to.

(00:33:46):

It was perfect. And then the rest of us, we did this kind of tag team routine. So we got four people up and all of us worked with these four people doing separate routines. And I decided to improvise a routine. So I wrote a loose structure because the idea I had was that I didn’t want the people on stage to be puppets. I wanted them to be part of the joke. I wanted them to be part of creating what was funny about it, and for them to have a sense of being included in that, not me just treating them like they’re puppets. Literally up until two minutes before we went on stage, the other guys were still trying to talk me out of doing it because it was unpredictable and uncontrollable. And I liked that. I like unpredictable, I like surprise and they didn’t, they wanted me to do milking cows bus up to the seaside and, and so on.

(00:34:34):

And I stuck to my, you know, cause I thought, this is my one chance to do this, and I’m not gonna do what you want me to do on my one chance. And if it goes wrong, then it, okay, it’s my fault. It’s not gonna make any difference to you if it goes wrong. So I did the, I did the improvised routine, and it was Who Wants to be a Millionaire routine. So I had four people up on stage, and all I did was give them one simple instruction each, and then ask them questions where I could control whether they got the answer right or not. There was some ambiguity so I could keep on delaying the payoff at the end. And the instructions were, the first guy, uh, knew the answer but couldn’t say it. The woman, uh, next to him would always give a wrong answer even though she knew the right answer. The third guy was a world expert on every subject and knew the right answer to everything. And the fourth guy, and this was at the time when the cheating scandal was going on. So the fourth guy would just cough every time. One of the other contestants answered
PaulBoross (00:35:38):

<laugh>.
Peter Freeth (00:35:39):

So, so I, and, and what really shocked me was how the p the four people on stage played out the instructions and, and were surprised themselves. And how literally they took the instructions. So the first guy, you won’t be able to speak the answer he was trying to force his mouth open to get the words out and couldn’t, but any other time other than answering he could talk. So he took that very literally. The woman that that, that would always get it wrong, uh, would give the, you know, the opposite answer or the wrong answer, she’d say the answer. And then the surprise that she experienced, she was shocked to hear that come out of her mouth. What was in her brain wouldn’t come out of her mouth. Something else was, And then the pompous know all guy, and then the guy at the end, it just coughed all the time.

(00:36:28):

It’s perfect. But I have this idea in what was said to the TV crew – again about not wanting them to be puppets. I want them to be part the joke. I want them to, to benefit from it. Because if what we’re doing is we’re saying the human mind is so powerful that you could be in a function room somewhere. I mean, for them, for, you know, there’s an audience, it’s dark, there’s a TV crew. So imagining that they’re on a TV quiz show is not a huge stretch of the imagination. So I use that to, to, as part of part of building the, the imaginary environment for them really. But if you think that the power of the human mind is such that you could be in a room above a pub and, and actually think you’re a chicken, or actually think you’re a spy, or, or you’re on a bus trip to the seaside, then you could imagine anything that you want to be true about yourself. And goodness me, if we’re gonna, if we’re gonna demonstrate, and the way around… that we were taught to get around the 1956 Stage Hypnosis Act was to say it’s a demonstration of the potential of the mind. It’s not a stage notice issue. Well, if that’s what we’re doing, then wouldn’t we demonstrate it in such a way that the person actually gets something really amazing from it?
PaulBoross (00:37:43):

Well, yes. But that’s, then we get into the whole world ofmnwhat are you anchoring in your own mind? Are you anchoring good feelings or you anchoring bad feelings? And that is essential to the whole Humanology project because the whole book is about how can you anchor or keep good feelings and lose the bad ones.
Peter Freeth (00:38:07):

Yeah exaxcly. No matter what is going on outside and so whether it’s ignoring the audience and pretending you’re a spy or ignoring what the government’s up to and pretending… and being happy in what you’re doing, it’s a very similar concept, I think. And so the TV production company, I told them about this idea, and they’re like, Oh yeah, that sounds really interesting. Yeah. Couldn’t you, couldn’t you just abuse somebody and tell ’em that they were a chicken? You know, that’s what they wanted. So they were not interested. So I ended the show by getting them, by telling them it was a draw. They’d all won. And they could imagine winning their most, the wonderful thing that they’d ever, you know, thought of that they’d most desired, forgetting that they’d taken the instructions very seriously.

(00:38:54):

So the, the woman who always got the answer wrong, her, she could have anything that she wanted, her star prize was a pebble <laugh>. She said it. But again, complete surprise. The guy who couldn’t say anything, couldn’t say anything, it kind of, you know, it, it didn’t exactly have the, the heartwarming payoff that I was hoping for, because they were still acting out by those instructions. But the thought was there. And then would you believe it, Years later, Derren Brown started doing the exact same thing that I’d, So obviously, you know, he had spies in the audience, stole the idea, or probably telepathically stole the idea from me.
PaulBoross (00:39:31):

Well, Derren’s manager, Michael Vine is a big fan of the show. So, uh,
Peter Freeth (00:39:38):

Excellent.
PaulBoross (00:39:38):

I think he might sue,
Peter Freeth (00:39:40):

Tell him I want my… at least assigned, least signed autograph of some, a few books
PaulBoross (00:39:46):

Here. I’ll get you signed. Autograph of Michael Vine.
Peter Freeth (00:39:49):

But I think it says that the idea has comes of a time and, you know, I had the idea back in about 2002/2003, I’m sure he did as well. But, you know, he’s on a routine doing what… Doing what he’s doing. So it, it just seems to be an obvious idea if we’re doing something that demonstrates the power of the mind. This, let’s use it to empower people and do something good for people and something meaningful and something wonderful. And I think that’s another theme that runs through Humourology.
PaulBoross (00:40:21):

Yeah.
Peter Freeth (00:40:22):

But it isn’t making jokes at other people’s expense. It isn’t inside humour, it’s inclusive humour, it’s collaborative humour. It’s, it’s it’s culture building humour. And it’s bringing people together in a way that allows people to set aside the distractions and the ups and downs of life and actually do something wonderful if that’s what they turn their minds to.
PaulBoross (00:40:48):

Well, and are, aren’t we all drawn to laughter? I just think that one of the points of Humourology is to actually start pointing people at ways that they can see the funny side more. And I mean, I, I know you do it in your life as well, I do it in mine whereby you make appointments for laughter and that that could be a TV show. It could be a film, it could be, but actually it’s people for me is more important. You know he’s a, a great mate, and he’s in the book, and he, uh, he is on the podcast Ainsley Harriott We’ve been mates since school. And we can laugh at anything. We can just sit there and giggle and we can do the same jokes again. And it makes us laugh.

(00:41:42):

Most Mondays we have a thing called he GBC the Great Blokes Club, ironically. And it’s just, mates. But we know that we will go to a pub and we will just laugh our socks off. And it’s, it’s like a three hour blood transfusion where you come out elated. And that’s why people have to build in these things. You can’t just wait for them to happen. Your attitude has to also change and go out and seek these things. And one of the most important things is that if your attitude is right, if you have the attitude of gratitude or the attitude of humour or attitude of humourology, you are going out with the attitude where you are willing to play, where you are willing. And we know from psychology that if you want anyone to go into any state, you have to go into that state first. And so Humourology is about building that state as well, isn’t it?
Peter Freeth (00:42:54):

Definitely. And if you’re gonna go to the cinema to see a funny film, you, you’re going to have a laugh with that intention. You’re going out with friends that are fun to be around. You’re going out with that intention. So, focus on that. Make that the intention, you know, put on an old episode of Reginald Perrin that we’ve been re-watching recently. And it, and it is funny and putting it on with the intention of, I want to watch something that’s gonna lift my spirits, because a lot of stuff on TV doesn’t, a lot of stuff on TV is about making me feel like I should be grateful for how bad my life is, cuz I can see other people’s lives are worse and that’s not uplifting. So, watch stuff that’s uplifting, be around people that’s uplifting, whether it’s books or, or an activity, whatever it is. But do something with the intention of laughing.
PaulBoross (00:43:47):

And, I think diarize that in as well, because if you, you talk about intention, but sometimes the best intentions go awry. But if you’ve diarized it and go, No, this is my Monday Night Laugh Club, this is my you know, running club where I’ll run and then have coffee with people. It’s diarized and you can do. Sometimes you and I call each other and we will talk for two hours. And a lot of that is about laughter and and lifting the spirits. Yeah. Which I think is crucial for everyone, not just in business, but in life.
Peter Freeth (00:44:29):

Yeah, absolutely. And I’m sorry, I dragged you back to a point that you’d made about inclusivity and belonging but you had just started to ask me what I found funny, I think.
PaulBoross (00:44:44):

Well, yes so just so it’s an edit point…. so Peter, what do you find funny?
Peter Freeth (00:44:53):

Marx brothers, Groucho Marks, I’ve got almost all of his books, which are, are very funny. Funny writing, Reginald Perrin,n The Two Ronnies. So I like clever word play, would be the thing that I would be drawn to. Um, and I, I’m a great admirer, and again, this is something that you’ve mentioned in the book. I’m, I’m a great admirer of straight actors who’ve turned to humour, who aren’t trying to compete with the writers. So let the writers be funny. And this is something Leslie Nielsen, I remember seeing in an interview with him, let the writer be funny and play it as if it’s straight. And then the situation will make the audience laugh. That juxtaposition will make the audience laugh, will make the situation funny. So I admire that.
PaulBoross (00:45:47):

Yeah. I think that’s so important. The key to it is, uh, comedy. Sometimes I, remember back in Morris Minor and The Majors days, and for those people who remember that far back, but one of the things I said very early on is we would do dance routines, but we would do them like, you know, like The Drifters, The Temptations, The Four Tops, all those kind of dance routines . And I said, the tighter we are and the more serious we are about getting it right, the funnier it is. Yeah. And so the three of us were different heights, but we were so tight, we would sometimes rehearse for three days for one routine, just so it was spot on. And if we never broke out of the, the taking it very seriously, we in our heads for the audience thought we were The Four Tops, and we were that cool. But that becomes funnier. So it is about understanding the way humour works for other people as well. You know, you, you are very good at doing drollyou know, saying something that is, ludicrous or ridiculous, but in a very, very sincere way.
Peter Freeth (00:47:17):

<laugh>. Right. That’s very kind. Most people call it sarcasm, but, uh,
PaulBoross (00:47:22):

Well, you know, that <laugh> ask me, who invented sarcasm?
Peter Freeth (00:47:27):

Uh, who invented sarcasm?
PaulBoross (00:47:29):

I did. Um, <laugh>, that’s a joke by Jackie Green in New York, who’s the queen of New York pPR Um, but she, she taught my son Sam, that joke when he was five. And he didn’t understand what it meant, but he still does it today because it’s funny. Is everyone funny, you think?
Peter Freeth (00:47:56):

I think so. It doesn’t mean I laugh at everybody. So what do you think? Do you think everybody’s funny? What do you think?

(00:48:01):

I still think that it’s more a gift from God than it is. Um,

(00:48:08):

Well, clearly for you, it is. Um, you are the chosen one, <laugh>.
PaulBoross (00:48:15):

Thank you very much. Uh, send all donations to the Church of PaulOlogy.
Peter Freeth (00:48:22):

<laugh> Church of Humourology Church
PaulBoross (00:48:23):

Of Humourology. Oh my gosh. You know, now we’re in trouble. Do you find yourself funny, Peter?
Peter Freeth (00:48:31):

Uh, yes.
PaulBoross (00:48:34):

<laugh>,
Peter Freeth (00:48:38):

I briefly thought, is there a way to say this without sounding arrogant and then decided there wasn’t
PaulBoross (00:48:44):

<laugh>?
Peter Freeth (00:48:46):

But I do laugh at myself and I do laugh at situations that I’m in, and I do tell myself jokes in the car, I suppose. And nI think in some ways that’s a rehearsal. Uh, well, in a lot of ways it’s a rehearsal and then, you know, some get shared with other people. Some don’t.
PaulBoross (00:49:06):

Well, well, you just said you laugh at yourself. How important do you think it is to be able to laugh at yourself? For anyone in business and in life to have that facility to, uh, see themselves as ridiculous.
Peter Freeth (00:49:22):

I think, um, yeah, it’s tremendously important because without that, I think you become detached from, from other people. Um, and my role of thumb is if it would, if it was happening to somebody else, and it would be funny, then it’s funny that it’s happening to me. The fact that it’s me or anybody makes no difference if the thing itself is funny. So I think if you, if you’d laugh at somebody else doing whatever it is, but yourself, you’re defensive about it. That’s, I think that’s a sign of, of being detached from, from other people.
PaulBoross (00:50:02):

No, I agree. If I asked you to write a business case for humour, i e we’ve got to go to a business and say, You need more Humourology in your worldwide business, what would you include?
Peter Freeth (00:50:21):

I would include a competitive analysis that shows that actually despite the best efforts of their marketing people, they are on a par with their closest competitors. And therefore, the only thing that differentiates at the point of the buyer’s decision is the relationship between the sales person and the buyer. And humour will be the competitive advantage at that point of differentiation. That’s why I would base it on.
PaulBoross (00:50:53):

I agree. I think it’s, I mean, if we go back to basics that people buy from people they like and trust, how do you get to that situation where you have that likability and trust? One of the easiest ways is through Humourology, is to…
Peter Freeth (00:51:11):

Actually yeah. We put some research on this in the book. That they actually, you know, scientists actually compared what people would pay for something when a joke was involved in the offer versus when it wasn’t. And they would pay, what was it, 18% more or something like.
PaulBoross (00:51:27):

That’s right. Yeah. It’s…
Peter Freeth (00:51:29):

And the light, you know, and I’ll, well make this in my final off and I’ll throw in my Pet Frog, I think Yeah. Frog was the quote from, from the research, but so there’s research evidence that says using humour at that final stage, as a point of differentiation makes a material difference.
PaulBoross (00:51:47):

Yeah. And, and the other research that’s in the book is that, that shows leaders with even a meagre sense of humour are viewed as 27% more motivating and admired more than those who don’t use humour. And their teams are 15% more engaged and more than twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge.
Peter Freeth (00:52:09):

That sounds like you’ve written a pretty good business case there, just with that.
PaulBoross (00:52:12):

Exactly. I’ll be sending that one out to companies all over the world and we’ll be going in. Have you ever taken a joke too far and crossed the line
Peter Freeth (00:52:25):

Crossed the line! This is a really interesting point in the book, isn’t it? That I, I think a lot of people are, you know, afraid of, Oh, I don’t wanna go too far. But you can’t go too far without going too far. You can’t… you can’t know where the line is until you cross it. You cross it. You gotta be prepared to offend people. So, um, <laugh> Yeah. I, I think, yeah, definitely. Yeah. Yeah.
PaulBoross (00:52:47):

Well, no, and you have to learn. I was, I was hosting, many, many years ago I was hosting a vets conference in Birmingham, near where you are based, I did what normally works with a healthy company is I took the piss out of the CEO gently, I thought, but he hated it. And he was obviously a little bit of a tyrant and everybody turned to look to see if he was laughing and he wasn’t. And that just infected the whole of the room. And it taught me a good lesson that you actually, you need to sometimes get enough rapport with people before you do that. Cuz I just went out and did what I thought was a gentle insult, you know, went down completely like a cup of cold sick.
Peter Freeth (00:53:44):

Yeah. So that, that’s a cult that’s not ready for satire.
PaulBoross (00:53:47):

<laugh> no <laugh>. It’s not ready for satire. Peter, we’ve reached the time in the show, which we like to call Quick Fire Questions.
Musical Sting (00:53:57):

Quick Fire Questions
PaulBoross (00:54:01):

What book makes you laugh?
Peter Freeth (00:54:06):

Groucho and Me by Groucho Marx. He’s so, he can be so insulting and acerbic, uh, but such a tremendous writer. And he tends to take a bit of a winding tour around sort of poking fun at a lot of other people. And then at the end of the chapter or the conclusion of the story he ends up being the butt of the joke himself. So he sort of uses it as a way of kind of collecting up all of these interactions and experiences and then sort of pointing that spotlight at himself, which I think is a tremendous skill.
PaulBoross (00:54:45):

I love Groucho and, uh, I think the book is tremendous. And I love Groucho’s lines like outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog. It’s too dark to read. What film makes you laugh?
Peter Freeth (00:55:00):

My all time. I have two all time funniest films. First is a Night at the Opera
PaulBoross (00:55:07):

Back to the Marx Brothers
Peter Freeth (00:55:09):

And the second is a more recent film that had Lee Evans in it. I think Lee Evans’ best acting role in a film called Funny Bones.
PaulBoross (00:55:17):

Oh
Peter Freeth (00:55:17):

Yeah. Had George Carl and, uh, I think it was Arthur Smith in the book has mentioned George Carl, as well as being a fantastic clown And Fred Freddy, what was his name?
PaulBoross (00:55:29):

‘Parrot Face’ Davis.
Peter Freeth (00:55:30):

Yeah. That, that’s it. If it’s a dreary cold Sunday afternoon, that’s the film. I’ll always put
PaulBoross (00:55:35):

On What word makes you laugh?
Peter Freeth (00:55:37):

Yeah. What, what word makes you laugh?
PaulBoross (00:55:41):

Bollocks. Bollocks is always funny. Do you remember that… Actually, there was a court case when Virgin released the Sex Pistols album, Nevermind the Bollocks. And they had the Manchester Virgin Shop had it all in the window, just Never Mind The Bollocks everywhere on the news. They were outside the court after the case had finished and they interviewed Johnny Rotten and they went out. Mr. Rotten. Mr. Rotten, what do you think about the verdict? And he went, bollocks is legal. Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks!
Peter Freeth (00:56:21):

<laugh>.
PaulBoross (00:56:23):

It’s funny. It’s funny. What is not funny? Is anything not funny? Mm. Is anything not funny to you particularly?
Peter Freeth (00:56:34):

Uh, yeah, I mean, for me, so inauthentic humour I find not funny. So I talked before about, you know, people having to tell jokes that have been written for them by others. If they don’t take ownership of that, if they don’t internalise that, then they’re just reading out somebody else’s lines. So I find that inauthentic, disconnected humour forced, I find that not funny at all. How about you?
PaulBoross (00:57:01):

Um, I, I don’t like prejudice which I don’t like. And I also don’t like what used to be called punching down. And I think you touched on it earlier, because that’s when it becomes bullying. Mm-hmm. When you are just punching at somebody and they can’t really punch back.What, sound makes you laugh?
Peter Freeth (00:57:26):

Again, it’s a situation thing. The chair’s in CJ’s office in Reginald Perrin.

(00:57:30):

Oh. Which before CJ’s kind of reawakening was just his joke at the expense of people coming into his office. But then after his, kind of his epiphany, he then becomes part of the joke. And so it’s funny for everybody then. So the chairs that make a sort of a raspberry noise whenever somebody sits down or gets up again. And it turns out that it’s not accidental that he actually deliberately orders chairs and make embarrassing noises when people sit down. So it’s nice how these sort of layers of his character get revealed. So I think that noise,
PaulBoross (00:58:09):

No, I, I’m very simple cuz I actually, I actually, the sound of children laughing just sets me off. Would you rather be considered clever or funny?
Peter Freeth (00:58:22):

That’s a <laugh>. It’s a,
PaulBoross (00:58:25):

Because it’s a big one from, as my publisher, it’s a very important answer
Peter Freeth (00:58:34):

It is, it’s very important because I think both are equally important. But if I kind of look at it in the negative. Which one? Which one couldn’t, I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, I want to be seen without, And I think I would have to say humour. I think,
PaulBoross (00:58:50):

Yeah,
Peter Freeth (00:58:51):

Rather than clever, I would have to say.
PaulBoross (00:58:53):

Well, my belief is that actually in order to be funny, you have to be clever. Finally, Peter, Desert Island Gags. You can only take one joke to a desert island. What is it?
Peter Freeth (00:59:07):

It’s funny that the main joke I remember is a joke that a guy at work told me when I was an apprentice. That’s so obscene. I can’t, I can’t. And so, prejudiced, I can’t possibly repeat it here.
PaulBoross (00:59:19):

Well, in the book I talk about none of my favourite jokes, which is the Steve Martin gag, which is, before you criticise a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way when you criticise him, you’ll be a mile away and you’ll have his shoes <laugh>. That’s nmy favourite. That’s my favourite in the world, Peter Freeth. Thank you so much for being a wonderful guest on the Humourology podcast.
Peter Freeth (00:59:49):

Uh, Paul Boross. Thank you so much for being a wonderful author of this fabulous new book. That which everybody should go out and buy immediately because it will, if nothing else, it will lift your spirits and brighten your day and make you a happier, more successful person as if you could want any more than that.
PaulBoross (01:00:07):

Thank you.
Voiceover (01:00:09):

The Humology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross, produced by David Rose. Music, by Steve Haworth, Creative direction by Les Hughes, and additional research by Ellen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe, like, and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production.

 

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