The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything Fast

john_mulaney6

In the latest episode of WTF, Marc Maron talks to one of my very, very favourite standup comics, John Mulaney. Mulaney, who spent years as a staff writer on shows like Important Things with Demetri Martin and, most famously, SNL (he was one of the guys who created Stefon), talks about his early standup career, particularly touring as an emcee for acclaimed comic and filmmaker Mike Birbiglia.

“I went on the road with him for 30 days straight. and that was like a huge turning point. The lesson for me was that before that tour with Mike, I always wanted the show to be cancelled. I always wanted to have done a show. I wanted it behind me. And after doing 30 days straight where I had to emcee every night, I started to want to do the show itself.”

This is a powerful idea. It evokes the 10,000 hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers (which is now, admittedly, largely debunked): at a certain threshold, you develop your skills enough to become an expert. The Beatles are the most often cited case of the 10,000 hour rule in effect. John Lennon describes a period in their early years where they honed their craft playing German clubs.

“We had to play for hours and hours on end. Every song lasted twenty minutes and had twenty solos in it. That’s what improved the playing.”

Somewhere between 10,000 hours in a German club and 30 days on the road with Mike Birbiglia, though, lies Josh Kaufman’s book, The First 20 Hours.  Continue reading