I used to do a lot of speaking, and, at the time, the people I did the speaking for, they had all the speakers write an article and they published this magazine that they would give out at all these big speeches, with six or seven of us on the bill at one time. And I found this magazine with Hillary Swank on the cover, and I looked down the sides, of people who wrote articles, and it was me, and a couple other people, and Donald Trump. Donald J. Trump I may add.
Hello everyone and welcome to Mojo Moments. I'm your host Thane Calder. Our guest today is Andy Nulman, a Montrealer, a man of many hats, currently the co-founder of Play the Future, and also the producer of a Broadway show called Les Belles Soeurs. He's also the former co-big cheese of Just for Laughs, and was doing mobile entertainment with Airborne before the iPhone was a thing.
I've known Andy for years. Back when I was 23, fresh out of university looking for work in Montreal - and trust me back in the nineties there wasn't a lot of work in Montreal - and I was working the streets to try and find a job, and Just for Laughs festival was coming up for the summer and I sent out my CV to Andy.
It was very simple. On one side I had all the boring information and on the other side of the CV in giant letters it said, "ignore this." And Andy was that guy, crazy enough to not ignore it and give me a job. This podcast was recorded in mid-April, 2020 the whole world is doing one thing, self-isolating. It's a crazy period. Here’s my conversation with Andy Nulman. Listen up.
Andy. Thank you. Thank you for joining us from the safety of your home in this COVID period. How are you?
You assume it's safe, you assume it's safe. You have not been here. You can... We've, what we've done, to just add to the enjoyment of confinement, we've made things very, very risky. We've had things fall off shelves. We lined the floor with broken glass. You know, because... the safety, just, you know, walking along in status quo was so dull. So we've increased the risk of staying at home, here at the Nulman household.
I'm sure your wife is enjoying that.
Oh, look, you know, we've been together so long, we have to keep the spark in the relationship, and what we found, I think it's a great equation. Broken glass on the floor equals spark. So, there we go.
Hey, so speaking of warming things up, we have this little thing, so, it's just to get the mojo, the Q&A going. Five quick questions.
And this one is sponsored by COVID 19.
So, do you think about how you're going to dress before a video call?
Of course, but this is not a video call. This is audio correct? That said, I'm still color-coordinated. You can't see, but my shorts match my gray tee shirt and, you know, and the hat, and the gray hair. But yeah, most definitely. I think about that. I think about how I dress when there's no video. I think about how I dress when I go to the gym. I go to the gym alone and totally color coordinated. So that is a question that, COVID no COVID, day, nights, no matter where I think about what I'm going to wear.
One of my clear memories of having lunch with you once is you looking at me and going, “God, you dress like a wasp.” So I made an effort today...
You were wearing khakis, I suspect. Were you wearing khakis at the time?
Khakis, and probably a button down shirt from LL Bean, but today I'm wearing my black tee shirt just to try, just try to match you. Second question. Seeing how much you love this technology stuff. What video conferencing platform is your go-to these days?
Ugh. The one that works, let's leave it at that. The one that works. I was a fan of Zoom way back when, we discovered this at Play the Future. We used to have the calls with, you know, teams in Russia, Romania, and it was an amazing, amazing platform then. Now it's become the, you know, the platform du jour. And I think deservingly so, and the reason we found Zoom is because we were so pissed at Google Hangouts, that never worked properly. I'm saying one of the world's biggest corporations get your video act together. What I find astonishing is that so few of them work. I think that is really going to be an Achilles heel going forward in the quote unquote recovery, because this stuff has to work. If you're going to go ahead and base, you know, the new economy on this type of interaction, this stuff better work. So my platform of choice is one that works.
Unlike the mic.
Yeah, I found… But that's the same thing what we're doing here - and people don't really know the grief we went through - was to establish a high quality mic plugin into, it seems simple, into a computer, but what it did is it threw off the technology. It threw off some of the platforms. Just plugging this mic in, it made things painful. So it just goes to show you the complexity of making things simple.
Absolutely. So third question, what's something you took for granted pre-COVID that you appreciate now more than ever?
I really think it's, and it sounds sucky, but true, it's hugging my kids. And my kids aren't babies anymore. Aiden's 32 and Hayes's 29. And, you know, they both have significant others. Hayes's married, Aiden as a long-term girlfriend. And, just being able to hug my kids. And we see them often, you know, dropping off stuff at their place or via video and the fact that I can't, you know, we can't give him a goodbye hug or a goodbye kiss, is, you know, staggering and that really bugs me. So I know it may sound sucky, but that is the true answer to the question.
: Well, it's not sucky, I get it. I'm fortunate my kids are young enough so they're still in the house. So, I hug them. They're not as, especially my 16 year old, he's not wanting the hugs as much back, but I get it. So what are you reading right now, that you love?
Let's see...There's a lot. I read a book called- actually I can look at my bookshelf, it's just right behind me - Successful Aging, by Dan Levitin who wrote a book Your Brain on Music. I read all his stuff, the guy's brilliant. And, one hopes, especially these days, seeing the alternative, that they get older, so I thought this was a good guideline to it, that was the most recent... But I read books by friends. I'm really reading a lot of blog posts and magazines because they're all popping up on Facebook. I mean, a lot of the Atlantic, more than I've ever done before, the New Yorker. But I'm also reading a lot of stuff that I'm writing because I've taken to writing things just for the sake of documenting them. I wrote a story the other day about, basically the funniest night of my life. And, it's a story that I've told a few times. I've never documented it. And, I wanted to make sure that that's somehow, some way, it had a place in the world. So I've written that and read it over and over and over and making sure it's right. So, there's a lot.
I feel like going down that rabbit hole. How long is that story to share right now? Is that a…. Is there a two-minute version of it?
What I'll do is I'll send you the story. You'll tell me if you think it's worth it, but basically the story...
If you don't hear back, you'll be like "bastards".
I had to host a contest. Ruben Fogel asked me to host this ridiculous promotional contest for one of his acts way, way back when, it was the one of the first ever tribute bands. This is before tribute bands were a thing, and it was the best legs contest, cause the band was Tres Hombres and it was a ZZ top tribute band. So I figured – I said, “ugh, I don't want to do this.” He goes, “let's take 15 minutes. What are you worried about?” And I said, "a tribute band, who's going to show up at a tribute band, at Club Soda on a Saturday night?" I figured it'd be like 70 people, whatever. So I'll do this in 15 minutes and leave. And when I got to Club Soda, it was jam packed, with bikers, it just was the world's worst audience. And this was not bikers people who were making a statement, like I am like wearing a Jack Daniels t-shirt. They were Hell's Angels, Popeye's, you know, the real biker gangs!
The real ones. And we know a thing or two, about that in Montreal.
Yeah. So I had to host a contest with, this is my audience. So anyway, that's the whole story of how I could deal with that.
Talk about leaving us on the edge, man, we're going to want to follow up on that. So share us that story. Last of our little tight five. What has been the most surprising or cool thing you've experienced during the COVID crisis?
Reliving my life. Because one of the things I always wanted to do – I have these storage lockers, we live in a condo downtown and I have these, I'm the only guy who should even talk about this, but I have three storage lockers. I basically, what I do is I buy other people's storage lockers and I have everything in these boxes, which I've, you know, I've been working 45 years. I started when I was 16 years old, so I have had many careers and I've kept things, I've archived them, but I've just kept it in boxes. So the COVID 19 crisis has allowed me to really spend the time going through all these boxes and archiving this piece by piece, putting it into a searchable database that I can find things now where they were, where they're at. So if I want to find all my KISS stuff, I just start typing KISS, they'll tell me which box that stuff is in.
So this brought back memories. And I felt every old date book I had, every date books. I knew what, I could see what I was doing on this date back in 1982 or 83. And I found names of people who I have no idea who they were, who were very important to me at the time, obviously, because they came up numerous times in the date book. So, I managed to relive my life and, and discover things I had totally forgotten, found pictures and pieces of memorabilia. Oh, it was wonderful. So that's really the biggest surprise. The big surprise is, wow, did I do all this stuff? That was the biggest surprise.
It’s so funny, cause when we booked this podcast, you then whipped out my job application from 25 years ago, I think? I was like, Holy shit. Either it was good or he keeps a lot of stuff.
No, I keep things that matter, I mean I found... Look, my, my mom died over 21 years ago, 20 to 22-23 years ago. And I found a card that was written to me by Bobby Slayton, the comedian, and Bobby Slayton is known as the pit bull of comedy. And he's known, you know, to be really nasty and filthy and vulgar, but he wrote me the world's most sweet, sentimental card, and I kept it.
So it's things like that, it's things that, that left me with meaning. And your CV, you know, ignore - which was, front page said "Ignore this", struck me. And I kept it because the fact that no one had the guts - cause CVs at the time - and I once did a whole TV series on CBC called "Getting Job One", how to get your first job, and CVs then and still, are the most dull pieces of shit on earth. You know, people, it’s just this list of crap that nobody gives a shit about, and yours was everything CVs should be, get someone's attention and sell yourself for the future versus, "Oh, hey, look what I've done. Look at me." So that's why I kept it.
Thanks for the plug by the way. That's awesome. So...
And look what you've done!
Look at me! Here I am today. So this is actually a really good segue. We went from your locker into, you know, the things you keep, things that are meaningful, and this whole podcast that we've sort of fell into, cause at the end of 2019, and I was, you know, jamming with the team. And I was just like, I just feel going into 2020 and not to be cheesy, but it's a year of vision. And what is the vision? What do we need to focus on? You know, what's our clarity? And it was just like, mojo, for us is central, you know, good mojo. And so, let's talk to people about mojo. And we're not talking about the Austin Powers mojo. We're talking about, you know, that passion, the things that get you excited, get people going in life. And it was interesting.
So when we're setting up and doing a little research here, did a little journey, over to your LinkedIn bio.
It's over there, so blew the dust off that and your headline says it all. "I have the guts you wish you had."
I changed it for a couple others where now I say, "I use the guts you wish you had."
Okay. Well, the one I have is "I have the guts you wish you had." So just tell me a little about that. What do you mean?
This, it's a double edge sword. And what I mean by that is, you would think, and this is one of the things I've come to realize and one of the things that's held me back, and caused some of my greatest failures in the world. People say they want innovation, they want change, they want to do something different. And then you say, okay, look what I got. Look at this. And then they'll say, “Hmm, that's a little too much and too different and too wild, can you bring it down a bit?” And I’ll say, “Okay, well what about this?” And then they'll say, “Yeah, that's okay. Maybe a little too crazy. Can you just a little bit more?” Like, “How about this?” “Oh, that's great. That's perfect.” “Well, that's what you're doing now. You don't want change, you don't want innovation, you don't want things different. You want the status quo, you want somebody else to change. And then once you see how it goes, then maybe you'll think of change, once you go through a committee and shit like that.”
It's a double edged sword cause I'm willing to take any risk. I'm willing to take, you know any chance. And I find that many times, I'm alone in that. If I have to have a slogan that has, you know, let's say the down slogan of my life, it's the words "We'll get back to you." And "We'll get back to you" is never good. It's never, "Wow! We'll get back to you!" It’s "We'll get back to you. Let me go speak to someone and find out how we can close this up, how we can shut this down. How we could shut you up." And that happens all the time.
A friend of mine the other day, who's kind of said it best. He goes, "Those sort of "let me get back to you", or "perhaps" are the worst". He goes, "I think the second best answer is no."
A clear "no." Don't waste my time or "I'll get back to you". It's either a yes or no, but then "let me get back to you" just leaves you in this...
So there we go. So that really is, you know, what this is all about. And I'm not alone in this. I have friends, a friend of mine, Saul Colt is one of the smartest and brightest and most risk-taking marketers I've ever met and suffers from the same thing. You know, people are full of shit. They don't want to change. They want to play it safe.
And I'll tell you about a company I wanted to start, which is still, I still have the URL, courageandguts.com. This company, we wanted to start was the following. It was "Give You an Out." So what we would do is we would go in and say, "look, it's going to cost you - here's, we want to be a consultant. It's going to cost you $50,000. And we're going to come up with some brilliant ideas and what you're gonna - well we'll do it. And then what you can do is at least go to people and say, "Look, we tried this. You know, we went out and we spoke to these people and, but it's too much. It's too crazy." But at least you can see you tried it. At least you can say, and then you can say it, it won't work. And then you can go back to doing what you're doing.” So it costs you 50 grand to give yourself that out, that at least we tried. So, we said it’s an easy way to pocket $50,000 at a crack by giving people the out. And that's what you need.
You said before, the second best answer is “No,” I think that's the third best answer. The second best answer is "No, it'll never work, you're nuts." That's the second best answer, because that makes the people say, "Yeah? Let me show you. Let me show you. I'm going to come back and jam it down your throat." "No" is just, can just be, you know, lack of courage, stupidity, laziness. "No, it'll never work and you’re stupid and forget it", that's inspiration. And that actually goes ahead and establishes a human being's character where the "no" is a wall, a fence.
Okay. I want to riff on that.
Cause where do you get your mojo? Is it from that?
Yeah. It's from that. When you look at - one of the things when looking back over life, if there's anything in the DNA, and again, let's put this into perspective. I'm not that great. I'm not that special. I haven't done all that much. I've had a couple of big wins. I've had some really great accomplishments. I have had a ton of fun, but let's face it, there are brilliant people out there who have changed the world. I ain't one of them.
But. But, but, but. I at least, my mojo comes from the fact of saying, you know, I want to do something different. I want to try something. So I look back at the DNA and it's not a long DNA, but it's, here's where I started. I was 16 years old, I got a job at a newspaper. At 17 I was the entertainment editor. Who did that as a kid? I wasn't even 18 yet. I wasn't even able to go to the clubs and I was an entertainment editor of a newspaper. And a real newspaper, not a bull-shitty, you know, it was sold out on streets, it was Sunday Express, people paid for it.
So there was that. Then it was Just for Laughs. We started – well, Gilbert started Just for Laughs in French. I came along in English and, what was a comedy festival? It didn't exist. People thought we were crazy. No one believed in it. We went to the States, they wouldn't even give us a meeting. I'll never forget. We were so excited. Oh wow. William Morris is meeting with us. We were so happy. We're buying, we're buying, and the seller would grant us a meeting and, we were so low on the totem pole that they wouldn't even meet, bring us into their office. They met us in their lobby. In the lobby. That's how no one believed in Just for Laughs.
Airborne. We started mobile media in 1999. We sold before the iPhone came out. We sold our company for 100 million bucks before the iPhone came out. That's how early we were. And we would tell people, we would hold up these black and white screens - well actually green with black dots and say, “One day people are going to watch television on this.” And they said, "Are you fucking crazy? Watch television - are you nuts?" But that was the DNA.
When you look at it, and you'll see, now with Play the Future, and in all of the other things that I like to get involved in. It's things when people tell you you're crazy, it can't be done. It will never work. That's the mojo. So really, what is it? You're looking at the contrarian, and you're looking at psychologically, wow, I want to prove people wrong. And that's, I guess...
So, if I ever want to get you to do something, I say you can't do it.
Yeah, but there are many things you could say - "Hey, you know, Andy you can't play NBA basketball." I may agree with you. You know, there are many things...
Why is that? No short jokes allowed on podcasts.
No short Jew jokes allowed on podcasts unless the short Jew himself makes them.
So tell me, you told me once a story, and I want people to hear this story of the time - I think it was with Airborne, okay, when you went to a conference... It was something about, you had to do some promo and self-promo thing and you only had a dollar or something.
Oh! Too bad it's audio cause, but hold on one second, cause I have it right here. Somebody will show the small audience that we have here. Hold on. This is the actual dollar. And, we used to go to these conferences, like everybody else and you'll see...
Okay, wait, just a little context. So Airborne, give us just a little context on Airborne.
Airborne was - we were in the mobile media space, and we used to go to these conferences at STIA. Southern Telecommunications Industry of America, which was this massive conference in New Orleans, San Francisco, Atlanta, New York... And they would take over the Javits Center or the Moscone Center in San Francisco and there'd be thousands upon thousands of people, Verizon and Sprint and Samsung and Sony. It was the mobile industry and the teeny weeny part of the mobile industry at the time was mobile content.
So we have to go ahead and try and make a splash. And it was hard because we were like a teeny weeny company amongst all these other people. So what we did, was what other companies did, we gave up tee shirts, pens, bouncy balls, and we would spend a fortune on this stuff and it had zero impact. Zero. And I would be freaking out all the time and saying, "It's a waste, we're wasting money. No one gives a shit. You know who picks the stuff up the the scroungers who’ll go booth to booth to say, well, let me bring stuff for my kids. I'll get balls and tee shirts and pens and shit.”” And I said, "We can't do it." And it was costing us a fortune. There were $5 a unit, $6 a unit. I'm saying, "That's crazy, we're pissing away money."
I said, "I want to do something - let's find something we can do for a dollar. What can we do for a dollar?" And they brainstorm. They came up with ideas and nobody... We couldn't find anything for a dollar. So then for some - I don't know how it came about. We said, “Okay, we're going to change the word. Nevermind what can we do, what can we do for a dollar. What can we do to a dollar?” Bang! And that (snaps). Okay, let's get a dollar bill and here it is.
So what can we do to a dollar? We could print on it, we can do stuff. Anyway, the ironic thing about this, is how we introduced this, we said we need a product. And the product we were launching at the time was - this is so insane, Donald Trump's Real Estate Tycoon. It was a game that was played on your phone, this is pre-iPhone, this is a WAPP, you know, a wireless application protocol technology, and...
But super pixelized.
Yes, and we had actual Donald Trump audio recordings that would pop up in the game. And he would tell you stuff, and he would tell you, what a bad deal that was, or give you real estate tips. This is true. We dealt, we were dealing with Donald Trump.
So we said, what can we do for a dollar? So - these are real dollar bills - we took a thousand of these and we printed on them. It says, “There are only two ways to be Donald Trump. One, collect a few billion of these. Two, play Donald Trump's Real Estate Tycoon,” and then it gave, “visit Airborne at booth number six-three-eight or go to www.trumpmobile.com.”
So, these costs us a dollar. And we printed on them, we had a thousand of them. And I can tell you a ton of stories how we just left them on the ground. People didn't even think they were real. And it all came to a head where, we had about 750 of these left and I was speaking on a panel, with a guy named Trip Hawkins. And Trip Hawkins was the head of EA, Electronic Arts, and Trip Hawkins was like the superstar, everywhere he walked "Trip Hawkins, Trip Hawkins is here."
Yeah, it's EA man.
So, we were so like lucky to be on the panel with this guy we're a bunch of zero nobodies and then Trip Hawkins. So, well, we all had a chance – because we paid for the opportunity to be on this goddamn panel – to pitch our project.
So at one point in time, they said, you know, and we talked about, I was talking about Donald Trump's Real Estate Tycoon, and I said, we thought to ourselves, how are we going to launch it? And I said, “Let's do it the way that the the Donald would appreciate it.” And at that point in time, I stood up and had four people standing up in the room, each of us had about 150 of these dollars in our hand, and we threw it in the air. People didn't realize what was going on and they looked up, they had no idea, and now here they're - they're coming down like little snow fall...
Like confetti, yeah.
And then suddenly people realized, okay… "Holy shit! It's real money!" And that caused a pandemonium and people freaked out. They were fighting each other, jumping into this, flipping over tables and, it caused so much pandemonium. Trip Hawkins, I'll never forget, said into his microphone, "Oh my God, how do I follow this?" And you know, once we finally brought decorum into the room, you still, the room was buzzing and everyone was looking at the money they had, the money they could have had... And basically the panel session was destroyed. And because of that, I got kicked out. I got banned from the conference, for life, because of, for doing it. This was a preconference at STIA, thank God, because I was allowed into the big one, but I got banned from this conference for life.
But for years after, for years after, people came up to me and said, "Are you throwing dollar bills again? You throwing dollar bills? Are you throwing dollar bills again?" Because that had such an impact. And that, it taught me two things. Two lessons were, one, you have to take the shot. You have to take the shot, you know, versus the bouncy balls and the pens. You have to take the shot. And two, once you do something great, file it, put it away because everyone will say, "Let's do it again." No, you don't want to do it again. You want to find something brand new, better, crazier, wilder, more impact - versus, well, that was, that works. So let me go get and do it again and again and again, with diminishing returns until it becomes, you know, a bouncy ball and a pen.
I love that story. Do you think that Mr. Donald Trump remembers that?
You know what's so funny going through all my stuff, I found, it's amazing the connections we had over the years. This, there was an article in the Globe and Mail, when Airborne was one of the fast 50 companies of Deloitte. We were actually number one in Canada that year, and the headline was, “These guys have Donald Trump on the line.” That was the first, that was the Globe and Mail story I used to do a lot of speaking, and, at the time, the people I did the speaking for, they had all the speakers write an article and they published this magazine that they would give out at all these big speeches, with six or seven of us on the bill at one time. And I found this magazine with Hillary Swank on the cover, and I looked down the sides, of people who wrote articles, and it was me, and a couple other people, and Donald Trump. Donald J. Trump I may add. So I have to laugh. You know, there's nobody, I think I dislike more on earth at this stage of the game. And, it's so funny how our paths were crossed so often.
Over the years - it's interesting, you know, whenever – you brought up Just for Laughs today. It's so rare that you actually bring up Just for Laughs, but it's a huge chunk of your life.
Okay. So what gives? Like why don't – is it that same thing? You file it?
Yeah, it's filed. For some reason, somebody reached out to me next week, and said, “We want to talk to you about comedy.” And I said, “Why?” You know, "Well, Just for Laughs..." I said that was so long ago. That was such a, it was a different human being ago. It's funny, while I was doing it, it was wonderful and it's still wonderful, but it's done. It's done. It's history. It's past. You know, I looked at all the archives and I found so many things, so many, many memories. But that's what they were, they were the past. And it’s great, but who wants to be defined by their past?
But can we jump into that past one second? Since we're doing a past podcast here a bit. Almost 20 years, two stints. And you did everything essentially. What thing did you do when you were there that you liked the most?
The thing that I liked the most was – and it came through in so many ways. It was that impact. Creating something from nothing. So whether it was coming up with a new show, coming up with a new way to market a show, coming up with a press conference concept, coming up with a new way to sell something to a performer, working with a performer to come up with something new to showcase on stage, a new technology, you know, audio, when we've got heavily involved in YouTube… It was always that, you know, how do we take the next step? How do we take the next risk? But there were so many opportunities for that.
And I used to say all the time. Just for Laughs, we had a license to… um, uh, Oh God, what did I say? A license to, you know… no, sorry, sorry. It wasn't the license to kill. It was, "we could get away with murder," we can get away with anything because we always had the out.
Cause you're a comedy festival.
Yeah hey, we're just kidding. So I used to give an example. If I'm the CEO of ViaRail and I'm sitting across from you, Thane, and we're having lunch and I stand up and whack you across the face. "So what the hell did you do?" I'm saying, “Hey, sorry buddy. I'm the chairman, the CEO of ViaRail. I can do that.” And you say, "Are you nuts? I'm going to sue you, idiot."
Okay. If I'm the CEO of Just for Laughs, stand up, whack you across the face. "What'd you do that for?" 'Thane come on. It's me. I'm just kidding." "All right." That's what drives me crazy, because I remember when I used to push the marketing people of Just for Laughs, again, it was sameness and sameness. I said, "We can get away with anything. We can get away with anything. Try it, push it, go further, go wild in them."
It sounds like the perfect Petri dish for you, given the way you see the world and wanting to do things. It's like the perfect place to be.
I remember. Oh, I still have them. I listened to them. Some of our early radio ads... And again, I don't want to diss Just for Laughs. I think the people there are wonderful. They're having a really tough time now. And, they're really great people and I've all the respect in the world for them, they do a great job.
But I hear the radio ads. But it's been the same thing for 10 years. I can do it: *sings* Just for Laughs, presented by the association presents *sings* Sound bite of the whoever, *sings*, live at Place des Arts, tickets. at hahaha dot com a presentation of..." Same thing, same thing and it's just... 4 billion words. And where is it funny? Where is it silly? And I remember. And I listened to that cause I have all the cassettes, all the tapes of, cause it's how old some of these are, of ads. And one of the ads, I'll never forget it was… This was the ad. It was, "Ladies and gentlemen, a message from Mark Goldman, chief financial officer of Just for Laughs. 'Tickets. Buy your tickets, tickets, go buy your tickets. What are you doing? Buy tickets, tickets. Buy your tickets now. Buy, buy your tickets, tickets, buy your tickets now buy, buy tickets.' Just for Laughs tickets, hahaha dot com" This is what we want, them to buy tickets. I said, I thought that was hilarious because what do you want to do in the end? Sell tickets, God dammit.
It made me laugh. I'd totally forgotten about that. And I said, that's – if I heard that on the radio, I mean, I would just die. I would just die.
But you know, just why you've done this little riff here though, I was thinking you should do their next radio ad saying, "I used to work for them and their ads are so boring."
But again, I understand it because there are – but this is the whole thing, is everything now, and this is not just a Just for Laughs thing, this is almost an everybody, everything. It goes to a committee and it goes to the committee and say, okay, so, hold on. We have this sponsor and they want this. I mean, you can't say that because it's going to piss off this one. We can't do this because it goes against the grain and you know, they have this policy that we can- so it's all sameness and that's why, you know what drives me bananas. It's the same goddamn poster for every event in the world. You know what I'm talking about? Like the...
Same frame really. Okay. Let me get back to my notes... I feel that you have this need to give back. No, but you get involved. Like you just mentioned, you did the fundraisers, you got really involved, for the Montreal 375, when Montreal was going through – probably just before that, it was one of our biggest lows in the city. I remember, our economy, our roads and everything, and that was like a turnaround moment. You've written a bunch of books, you give talks, you teach at McGill, you know, this whole thing of like giving back.. Is this something you feel you need to do or, or is this because people want you to do it? Like where does this all come from?
I don't think it's giving back. I mean, because giving back means that you've taken something and you're giving back. I think it's more along the lines of, a responsibility. You know, I told this to my son, Hayes, and it's funny because I told him this because, my other son, Aiden had moved out of Montreal at the age of 18 and stayed out of the city for 14 years. Just moved back like a month ago, literally a month ago. And Hayes was, you know, graduated from school and he was wanting to start a business. He was thinking about leaving. And I said, you know what? It's easy to leave. Anybody can leave. But I think that, you know, there's a certain responsibility you have to your city. You know, you can go anywhere. But here, the rewards that will come from staying here, and building something for yourself, your wife - was a fiance at the time, your family-to-be, there's a responsibility, I think you have in building. It's not just building a business, but by building a business, you're building a network and you and your friends and your colleagues will build the city up. And I think that there's a certain responsibility. But it's not about giving back. You know, cause as I said before, I think giving back has the connotation of, you know, I took, so now I have to get it back. It's the other way around. It's just, it's doing it, it has nothing to do with giving back, it has to do with doing, and having a sense of responsibility for something.
And, maybe this was ingrained - there's a certain Jewish tradition, it's called Tzedakah, which is translated into "charity," but it's not charity. It's a commitment. The basic Tzedakah, in mitzvah, which is a blessing is you're supposed to give 10% of your earnings to charity to – but it's, you know, it's not like, "Oh, I'm going to give it and look at me and look how great I am." You know, the greatest people who give are those who take the least amount of acclaim. They do it because it's what you do. And I think that's really what this is all about. It's not giving back. It's just, it's what you do.
So it's interesting - cause you mentioned this story of your son and Montreal, and when you look at the thread of your contribution to Montreal, like, you are a true patriot of this town. Like from - well Just for Laughs, to building up Airborne in Montreal, being involved, I think you're on the board of the... Tourism Montreal, you got involved with 375 like... Is it because you're from here or is this, does Montreal means something – does Montreal have mojo in your life?
You know, when we started Just for Laughs, we used to go trying to sell this, Gilbert and I, in New York, people would always say like, “Why Montreal? Like, what are you doing it there?” And we'd say "what do you mean, why? That that's where it is.” I still remember Betty Bitterman of HBO when - we had a deal with HBO in in 1988 and she said, you know, "there's this comedy festival. Why are we doing in Montreal? Let's just move it to Chicago." No, you don't move it to Chicago. Because this is where it is. This is like, it's like saying, well, why is that Eiffel Tower in Paris? Let's just move it to Cincinnati. Why? Because it's there. That's where it is.
So, I guess the thing about Montreal is, yeah, it's my city. It's where I was born, but there's a certain love I have, and this is the point I wanted to get to. I will still never forget this. Coming home from a trip in Los Angeles. I used to go travel all the time. And coming home, I remember we just signed Michael Richards, Seinfeld-famed - Kramer of Seinfeld's fame, to do Just for Laughs that year and coming into Montreal and seeing the city in the plane. And, you know, you get to see the Island element of it and it's really gorgeous view. And, I remember saying, “Hey, you know what? I'm back home, what a gift for you.” I'll never forget why that's stuck with me. You know, who am I to say “I'm coming back home, what a gift for you?” But that's what went through my head when I saw the Island.
And still to this day, to this day, whether it's the old Champlain bridge or the current Samuel de Champlain bridge, there is no better entrée - driving entrée into a city in the world than Montreal. Now I've driven into London, Paris, New York, Boston. I can go on - Los Angeles, San Francisco... I can go on and on and on and on and on. But that... sweeping vista, as you're going on that bridge and you're seeing the water and downtown, and that really inspires me when I see that every time - and sometimes I just go to the South shore just to come back and see.
It's the only reason why you go to the South shore.
It's funny cause you know, years ago I wrote an article, for this business magazine. It was like the back page, to talk about your city. It was a business magazine published by ENC ad, which is kind of like the Harvard Business School here. And, the editor said, “Hey, can you do the backpage on Montreal?” And I was trying to think, you know, when you think of most cities of fame in the world, they always have this icon, this piece of architecture, usually. You know, like the Big Ben in London or you know, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, whatever. And, I was like, in my piece, I was like, there is no visual element really from Montreal. Yeah, you could say the mountain and the cross, but really it's not Rio. You know, it's not Rio.
But it's true, what you just said about that bridge, the Champlain bridge, and I grew up in Eastern townships, right? And as a kid going into Montreal was so exciting, and that bridge - I didn't realize that until you just mentioned this - really is unique in the world coming in on the city that way. Like, you know, it is - well you just said it of course, you know, but it is a very unique entry into the city for sure.
Yup. And that's an inspiring – you know, all you need to do, if you're uninspired, do that. And you will...
And my son, during this quarantine, he's working on a project yesterday, it's his year-end history project. He's in grade eight and they have to have different names. And he was given Samuel de Champlain. And you know, others have like other great historical figures like Nelson Mandela and you name it, the list is long and very fascinating. And at some levels it's like "Wow Champlain's kind of boring." And when you dig into that guy's story and when you think a bridge is named after him, you realize he deserves to have that bridge named after him.
But I think when you dig into anyone's story, and that's one of the things we learned at Airborne, where, at one point in time, we realized that, "Hey, you know what? Everyone here is unique and different." And they weren't all that unique and different except that they all were unique and different. As I suspect people who work with you are, but sometimes you just don't know it. We just, in terms of talking to some people at Airborne at the time, we realized one of the guys worked for the KGB, you know? Wow. That was kind of cool. And so we did it at Airborne at one point in time, we had a talk show. We used to have a talk show with our employees. I was the host and we would go ahead and learn about them. And every employee, it didn't matter who, had an amazingly interesting story, whether it's their hobby, the books they read, the way they got to Canada. I mean, I can go on and on and on. But everyone has a story. The problem is, they don't tell 'em. Or the problem is people don't give a shit.
So, you've been super generous with your time here. So this is our wrap-up question here.
It's amazing how generous one can be when they have nothing to do. Go ahead. Go ahead Thane.
So just in case you believe in reincarnation, if you could give one piece of advice that you could tell yourself, to your 16 year old self. What would it be?
You know, I just re-lived my 16 year old self, and, in the end, I guess if I had to give, it's advice that I give all the time to everyone. And that is, you know, it sounds trite, but it's - it's also a catch phrase from the movie Meatballs, but, "It just doesn't matter." It just doesn't matter. What I mean by that is I can go back and let me tell you, I looked at all those date books and looked at all the highs and the lows, and you get by it. You get, you know, time has this wonderful effect of putting layers of comfort over raw open wounds.
And, there are very few things that I did, very few mistakes I made, very few - not to say I didn't make, I made tons of, but there are very few that really had a lasting effect, that I wasn't able to get over it. But you think at the time, “Oh my God, it's the end of the world,” but it's not the end of world. The only – not even COVID 19 is the end of the world. It's as close as most of us will ever get, let me tell you. But, nothing really is the end of the world.
I used to tell, always the people at Just for Laughs, I don't know if you were there, Thane, when I gave this speech, but I gave it every year and I would tell the employees, particularly the young summer employees, "Guys, nothing you can do will kill this. You cannot kill- this event is too big for you to kill. Nothing you can do will kill this. Take your shot, do something different. Take a risk. Do what you think is best. Don't be stupid, but even if you are stupid, you're still not going to kill this. Nothing you're going to do is going to kill this. So be brave. Be brave and realize that today's horror story is something that you're all going to laugh at, you know, over drinks in the bar one day when they open up bars again." But, that really is the advice. It just doesn't matter.
That is a huge closing to this. And when we're quoting Meatballs, to feel good in a very meaningful way, about the COVID period...
One day... You know what I'm doing, by the way, what I'm doing, and I just did this before, you know, I came up to do this interview today, is, I'm putting things in the locker now and I'm saving, COVID 19 newspapers and – because I've saved, what I found in the lockers were newspapers from 9/11, newspapers from the financial crisis, newspapers and magazines from the ice storm where we all thought though "Holy shit, the world's coming to an end" so I'm saving like these newspapers, these crazy headlines, you know, “Canada worries about food shortage,” “ GDP drops 9% in one quarter”... I'm saving all this cause one day we're going to take this, I'm going to show my grandchildren, “Look at this, like you know, like we all so worried.” So I'm actually saving, I'm taking full whole newspapers and throwing them in a plastic bag to save them.
The only thing, and what I realized when you're talking about this is we need to find a better branding for this period. Like, we haven't found the branding, you know, 9/11 was like, bang on, you know.
Well, let me tell you... Pardon the pun. 9/11 was bang on, well done there Thane, but… (laughs) Oh, here we go there. There's a tee shirt I'm going to market. I was in San Diego in 9/11 and I was terrified. I mean, truly terrified. I'll never forget – to this day, I'll never forget. I'd slept in, I was there for the STIA conference and I had slept in, cause I could, there was no reason to get up. And, all this shit was happening on the East coast and then I got up nine o'clock and you know, I turned my phone back on and I'll still never forget this, Garner said, “Call me right away.” What's going on? I opened my TV, I said, what the fuck is going on here? You know, and Garner said, “Have you seen what's going on?” I said, “I don't really understand, what's the story here?” He goes, “Don't you understand? We're at war.” They're terrorists, they're bombing everything”, “what are you talking about?” Oh my God.
So yeah, now that we can look back on 9/11 and say, yeah, that was a good slogan, it shows my whole point about nothing really matters and we get over it all. But man, I'm looking forward to the day when we can actually have a slogan about today and look back and say, “Hey, remember the, you know, the virus. Oh, those were the days, eh? Pre-virus / post-virus.”
I'm very much forward to the day where I can laugh at this.
I look forward to us actually getting together and having a beer or wine or whatever.
I'll take flat water for Christ's sake. I'll take anything.
Mojo Moments Takeaways
So that was my conversation with Andy Nulman. Let's jump into our Mojo Moments Takeaways. By the way, this is sponsored by Rue Principale and Main Street. The one place to go when you're trying to find your local faves.
Okay. I'm recapping here with my bro-master Mark Dolynskyj. I've never actually seen his name spelt and, thank God because I wouldn't have been able to pronounce it. He is an Associate Creative Director here at CloudRaker, and a long time Raker and friend. And he was eavesdropping on the conversation with Andy. So, Mark?
Well, now I understand why my contract only has my first name on it.
Yeah, me too.
Just wanted to point that out. Well, I kind of thought it was interesting that Andy had two main guiding principles throughout, you know, your conversation. And one being, it doesn't matter, whatever you do, it'll be fine in the end, in the long run, everything kind of works out, or, you know, the peaks and valleys aren't as big or low as you thought they were going to be.
And then that second one was, you know, take your shot. And that's something that, you know, we have at CloudRaker. We have, one of our 11 beliefs is “Dare to Fail”. So, you know, you've always been preaching that to the rest of us, and it's a good way to keep mojo high is, you know, you take your shot, you're always looking for those chances to do something special to push boundaries or, you know, do something unique. And that's, I don't know, those are two things that I've found quite meaningful and sort of mojo boosters from Andy.
Yeah. It's interesting because when we are jumping into, you know, where does he get his mojo, he talks a lot about, give him the impossible and then he gets the fire in the belly to jump in and go for it. And, we're in a period where there's a lot of impossible going on, and I feel - I'm referring to this whole coronavirus pandemic that everyone's living - and I feel that, you're seeing it across the board, in our teams and people we're talking with or what you're reading in the news, there's a lot of people who are taking their shot because maybe they're faced with a massive constraint of what's going on out there.
I mean, even you look at our, you know, today's show sponsor, Panier Bleu, Main Street, Rue Principale, I mean, that that was born out of, the complete and utter restriction of being able to go get food and go out to your local restaurant and you know, the fear, you know, we had collectively that there was going to be a real struggle for them. Obviously it's a massive struggle. That whole sector is just in trouble, but that whole restriction led to us seeing as that being a way to help, you know, connecting people to local businesses.
Yeah. And I imagine, you know, we're not even, you know, we're on the outside doing our bit to try and help the – well, it's not just the restaurants, all the local merchants, all the main street is at risk in this period. And I imagine, and I'm hopeful, I'm optimistic, that there's a lot of them, who are deeply thinking about what they can do next. How do they innovate? How do they reinvent themselves through this? What does life on the other side look like? And I, you know, I think, you know, the guy you'd kind of want in your corner for that is Andy. You know what I mean?
Totally. He'd be like, yeah, look at it now. It looks impossible, but you know the - it's sort of like, you know, whenever we approach a creative problem, the tighter the constraint, the smaller the sandbox, the more you try and break out of it, you try and find those new paths, those new moments of inspiration. And this kind of has to be one of those.
Yeah. I wouldn't wish what's going on right now to anyone, but it'd be really like, I think it's bringing maybe the best out of people, and it'd be really interesting to see, I don't know if it's a year from now, or I don't know what timeframe, but just see what's emerged out of all this, all the creativity and ideas, and... anyway. Scary times, but also I would say kind of exciting.
Yeah. And in the end, it doesn't matter, as Andy said.
Yeah, quoted right from Meatballs.
Yeah. So there you go. That's all I got. It doesn't matter. Take your shot.