Back in April, I was given the opportunity, for one day, to lecture all three sections of “ENC 1102: Composition II, Research on Writers, Writing, & Discourse” at the University of Central Florida here in Orlando.
The professor, Nikki Stack, is a friend of mine from high school, and when she invited me to be a guest lecturer, I was thrilled. Being a professor is a dream of mine, and getting to live that out for a day was a fantastic experience.
I had an hour to fill and I decided to talk about writing and the varying roles it plays in my professional work, in writing humor, and in writing for stand-up. After learning how to use PowerPoint (a program I never thought I’d have to use in any way), I wrote a lecture centered around 19 slides, covering everything from SEO and persuasive writing techniques to comedy and why Twitter is brilliant for writing exercises. Starting off with my childhood, I gave a brief bio that explained my decision not to practice law and why nobody should be a lawyer, ever. I discussed why and how I started my business, and explored my reasons for going into comedy. And, as can be expected, I pushed envelopes and crossed lines.
Each class started with this disclaimer from Professor Stack: “Today, we have a guest lecture from an old friend of mine, Dr. Adam Avitable. He’s a lawyer, a CEO, a well-known blogger and humorist, and a stand-up comedian. He will be talking about writing and how it applies to his life. Since he is a comedian, there will be profanity and shocking content, but you are all adults and should be able to handle it. If not, you may want to leave now. And may the Lord have mercy on your souls.” That last line may have been implied, not explicit, now that I think of it.
Not all of the presentation was profane and obscene. There were normal slides that examined the persuasive writing I have to do when acting in a sales capacity for my business, although, I did tell the class how to use those same manipulative techniques to get their way very easily. For example, if you want your friends to hang out with you, don’t ask “Do you want to hang out?” or “Who wants to hang out?” – it’s too easy to say no to those requests. Instead, just say “Go out with me tonight?” It’s a demand that’s phrased like a question, and people are more likely to agree without realizing that you’re commanding them, not asking. Try it next time you want something and you’ll be amazed how much better it works. This was some serious wisdom I was imparting here!
Even though my very nature is to be persuasive and manipulative (something I rebel against every day, as I try to be honest and forthright instead of underhandedly getting my way), I was much more interested in talking about humor. I felt like it was an environment that was rife for exploration and discussion. Unfortunately, Professor Stack felt that an in-depth analysis was too advanced for the class, so I kept it simple.
In order to punctuate the final bullet, the next slide I showed had nothing but the word “BONERS” in large print on it, accompanied by my repeated use of the word, loudly and firmly, until everyone in the class either looked embarrassed or was laughing. “Boners is a funny word, by default. Nobody can say the word boners and not have some reaction. Just think about the word – boners, boners, boners.” And then I illustrated all of the points in that slide with a mini fake quiz.
I explained how the incorrect grammar, punctuation, and capitalization actually helped to provide emphasis where it was needed and to paint an explicit picture in their heads, and how the answer went somewhere they didn’t expect. It was a simple example, but as I revealed each part of the slide, I was rewarded with a good laugh from every class.
Each class was surprisingly attentive and seemingly interested in what I was presenting. Most of them were in their late teens, and I would like to think they got some entertainment out of someone like me being blunt, using frank language, and having no shame. I do think that I may have scarred a few of them for life, though, when I talked about realizing my dream of becoming an underwear model . . .
In the end, I emphasized the importance of writing in everyday life and told them, “Fuck math. That’s what calculators are for. You need to know how to write. I wouldn’t hire someone with a typo on a resume or cover letter even if the job didn’t involve writing in any way. Being a good writer will open a lot of doors. But only figuratively. You actually need hands or really awesome toes to open doors literally.”
There was something immensely satisfying about taking the clusterfuck that is the last 35 years of my life and wringing any type of wisdom or intelligent discourse out of it. While I felt awkward talking about myself in that capacity, the response and interest from each class, including the relevant questions they asked afterwards, demonstrated that what I’ve done in my life so far has some modicum of instructive or motivational value.
I would love to be a professor. I’d love to teach an entire course on humor in writing, from Shakespeare to MAD Magazine to Douglas Adams to Jenny the Bloggess. It’s not the lifestyle that drives me, and it’s not the abundance of young, highly attractive, libidinous women with daddy issues. It’s that feeling that your life and the lessons you’ve learned are worth something to someone else – someone unrelated to you, and someone who can learn and benefit from those lessons and pass those lessons onto others. It’s about as close as we get to being eternal, and that appeals to me in a way that I think is surprising to absolutely nobody.
Okay, I’m not being completely honest here. It’s actually the abundance of young, highly attractive, libidinous women. I mean, c’mon.