Wouldn’t It Be Better to Hear Your Eulogy Before You’re Dead? (NSQ Ep. 8)

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Also: how does a comedian cope with tragedy? With Eugene Mirman.

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Relevant References & Research

Question #1: Should we have funerals before people die?

  • Stephen refers to a living-funeral scene in the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. This was the living funeral of sociologist Morrie Schwartz who, after being diagnosed with A.L.S., arranged for his loved ones to eulogize him before he died.
  • Stephen and Angela reminisce about the work and life of their recently-passed friend Anders Ericsson, a cognitive psychologist. Ericsson authored the book Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise and researched the thinking and reasoning of champions and those who excel. Ericsson has been on several Freakonomics Radio episodes, including “How to Be More Productive,” “How to Become Great at Just About Anything,” “How to Get More Grit in Your Life,” and “Why We Choke Under Pressure (and How Not To).”
  • Angela discusses Anders Ericsson’s work with Nobel Laureate Herb Simon. They collaborated on Protocol Analysis, which argues that human skill sets are mainly developed, rather than inherent.
  • Anglea shares that her professional role model is behavioral scientist Carol Dweck. Dweck is a psychology professor at Stanford University. She specializes in social, developmental, and personality psychology. To learn more about her research on “growth mindset” check out her 2014 TED Talk, “The Power of Believing That You Can Improve.”
  • Angela wishes that she had sent Anders Ericsson a gratitude letter, which she defines as “a letter to someone who you never properly thanked.” Research suggests that you may be able to increase your own feelings of positivity by articulating the gratitude that you have for others.
  • Stephen and Angela discuss festschrifts, or a way to celebrate a senior academic’s prolific career. To learn more about the tradition, check out this piece from The Scientist.

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Question #2: How does a comedian cope with tragedy?

  • Stephen and Angela have a conversation with comedian Eugene Mirman. Eugene is probably best known as the voice of Gene of Bob’s Burgers.
  • The 2019 documentary “It Started As A Joke” depicts both the 10-year-run of the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival and the challenges of supporting a loved one through terminal cancer.
  • In 2015, Mirman released the nine-volume comedy album “I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome).”
  • Angela quotes children’s book author E.B. White in her discussion about dissecting and re-engineering humor. There was some debate over if E.B. White is indeed responsible for this quote, but he was the likely originator.
  • Eugene Mirman recalled that he created his own academic major in comedy at Hampshire College. Hampshire College does give its students a framework to create their own major and study area that culminates in an independent project by the student.
  • Angela says that Mirman could be rivaled for the most applicable college major by Will Shortz, The New York Times crossword puzzle editor. He created his own major of enigmatology, otherwise known as the study of puzzles. You can learn more about Shortz from the documentary Word Play.
  • Mirman mentions that a roast for comedians is equivalent to a scholar’s festschrift. Rolling Stone has a 2015 list that ranks the best and worst Comedy Central roasts. More recently, there have been some notable roasts of Justin Beiber and Alec Baldwin.