Coming into a new year, I’m asked often whether I have any resolutions. For 2022, I would like to listen to more podcasts. One podcast that I found recently is called Funny in Failure, started in 2019 by Michael Kahan from his home in Australia.
Kahan, a comedian and screenwriter, combines thoughtful conversation with comedy in his interviews, exploring challenges and failures that celebrities encountered in their careers. The range of talented individuals includes writers, comedians, actors, playwrights, singers, and more. In 2021 alone, 52 guests appeared on Funny in Failure, totaling to 4749 minutes of informative and in-depth audio content for listeners worldwide. Delivering on authenticity, the tone easily shifts from light and fun to serious and heartrending as tough topics are unpacked.
I met Kahan on Zoom to hear more from him about his podcast. The host and creator doesn’t have favorite guests, because each one is unique and contributes something meaningful. According to Kahan, a few 2021 interviews that provide “a well-balanced overview of the podcast” are writer, songwriter, and motivational speaker Bronnie Ware; actor and producer Ben Feldman; actor William Fichtner; and actress Ellen Hollman. This year, he aspires to adding comedian Jerry Seinfeld, comedian Hamish Blake, and actor Robert Downey Jr. to his roster if he can.
Coming from a comedy background, Kahan believes in the value of improv for everyone. In his first improv classes, he noticed that half of his classmates attended because they suffered from anxiety. Intrigued, he asked them why they enrolled, since comedy wasn’t going to be their career. “They said to me, ‘[Improv] is the scariest thing ever. We feel like if we can do improv, we can do anything!”
After eight weeks, his classmates achieved remarkable outcomes, which Kahan likened to finding their “hidden powers.” As he explained, “They were super present, grounded, and confident. They were willing to make mistakes and not be embarrassed about it.”
Kahan found the course valuable for its lessons about listening and the concept of “Yes, and,” which he adheres to daily. “We think we’re listening. [In improv], we’re forced to listen to everything our teammate is saying.”
“Instead of shutting someone down and saying no, you’re saying, ‘Yes, I hear you,’ and you add whatever you want to the sentence. Yes, how can we do this together? How can this work? It’s a complete mindset shift of more empowerment, more positivity as opposed to, ‘No.'”
When he started Funny in Failure in 2019, he encountered problems including internet issues, accidentally breaking a glass bottle, and getting a guest’s name wrong. In one early failure, Kahan used the wrong type of microphone for a 90-minute interview and wound up with unusable audio. I understood his mortification about wasting his guest’s time, every interviewer’s worst nightmare.
“I was weighing do I just not tell her? Do I pretend this never happened? I realized that would be a weak way out. If I’m going to talk about failure and the negative emotions and positive emotions that come from it, I need to be able to have these conversations, no matter they difficult they may be.”
Kahan invested in better equipment. A friend helped him soundproof the room and improve audio quality. He was also able to re-record the interview after delivering the unfortunate news to his guest, who was more than happy to help. Though initially uncomfortable at the time, the situation was rewarding. “I would have been doing a very average audio podcast. No one would have listened!”
It’s difficult to point to exactly why people develop an unhealthy perspective about failure. From his interviews, Kahan sees that it could be a combination of peers, friends, school, community, and to a degree, the media. Until recently, it was rare for people speak publicly about their struggles and issues.
“I think it develops at multiple stages. If you don’t have an environment or group of people to talk to, failure is really hard. One of my missions in this podcast is to say it’s okay not to be okay in a sense. It’s okay to express that. You’re not weak. There isn’t something wrong with you. Everyone goes through these things.”
Reframing our mistakes and looking for the positive spin, so to speak, is crucial. Kahan agreed with me, emphasizing that we should always view failure as a learning experience and take something forward from a mistake or unexpected outcome. All too often, people look at others and say: They are a success. Or, they are a failure.
“There’s a lot of stigma attached to what that word is. I think failure has a connotation as a very dirty and yucky word…Failure to me is if I gave up. If I see that door, where I know I can achieve something or I feel something positive can happen, but I’m too scared to open that door. Failure is not willing to move forward.”
As an example, Bronnie Ware’s manuscript was rejected more than 20 times before she became an international best-selling author. With each rejection, she used the feedback to improve the text and how she promoted it. “You could label the very start as a failure, which I don’t agree with. She saw it as learning experience.”
Kahan does a lot of research for his podcast in advance to find uplifting and empowering stories. He looks into word-of-mouth recommendations, listens to other podcasts, and reads articles about potential guests.
“Every single person on the planet has a great story. I think my role is to get the gold or the gem out of them if they’re willing… At the end of the day, the podcast is not for everyone, in the sense it can be very vulnerable and it can be scary. It can be tough to speak to a complete stranger and share your emotions, especially to an audience.”
There’s a lot to take away from Kahan about redirecting life’s low points into high points. One essential aspect of setting good goals is to center them around a passion or an exciting idea.
“If it fills you up and you feel you’re on fire, or you smile whenever you talk about it, then do it. Whatever the negative, internal chitter-chatter is, whatever the external noise, you have to do it if you’re coming from a place of knowing [that] this is right for you. Doing is how you figure out what you like, what you enjoy, [and] what doesn’t work. You won’t regret it. That doesn’t mean it needs to be a career. It can be a hobby, but just do it.”