Stephen Colbert on Finding Joy in Your Work

The best five minutes of television in 2013 happened on August 7, when The Colbert Report aired a video of Stephen Colbert and “friends” dancing to Daft Punk’s song Get Lucky. Daft Punk had originally been scheduled to appear on the show in person – but they were also booked for the MTV Video Music Awards a few days later, and because of that MTV insisted that they not appear on Colbert’s show. So when Daft Punk cancelled, the video was quickly created to fill the sudden gap in the show’s schedule.

Because the video clearly involved considerable planning and effort, there was some skepticism after the broadcast about whether Colbert had actually made the video a few days earlier and then made up the cancellation story to get more attention for the video. In this podcast, hosted by comedian Paul Mecurio, Colbert gives a very thorough explanation of how the video came to be – which, as it turns out, is a rather complex story, involving what Daft Punk was and wasn’t willing to do, clashing corporate interests, and a lot of quick changes of strategy.

What struck me most about this interview is not the admittedly fascinating series of events around the video, but Colbert’s attitude toward those events. It would be no surprise if he was mad at how his plans for the show were continually undercut – but instead, he viewed the situation as an opportunity. The word he uses most frequently in describing the making of the video is joy. He says,

I found the whole thing joyful. It was exhausting to do in a day, but I remember we all said, “Yippee!! Look at what we get to do!”….We always want to approach the show from an emotional state, and it was really exciting and such a gift. Around one o’clock [on the day of the show] when it was possible that we might still get [Daft Punk], I was like, oh, I don’t know what to do now if they come on, because I’m so excited about the possibility of doing this.

Bryan Cranston and Stephen Colbert dancing to Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky'. (credit: businessinsider.com)

Bryan Cranston and Stephen Colbert dancing to Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’. (credit: businessinsider.com)

Looking at your work as joy, instead of as an obligation or a burden, is a different and wonderful way to think. Obviously not everyone’s work is all sunshine and unicorns – and Colbert, as someone in a well-paid and interesting job, might have an easier time than others in finding joy in his work. But his perspective is still a very valuable one. Viewing your work not as something that you have to do, but as something that you get to do, is a way to remind yourself that you have choices, that you’re blessed to have opportunities, and that your work can be positive even when what you’re working on is challenging or difficult.

I was also very impressed that Colbert generously shares the credit for managing the “beautiful train wreck”, as he calls it, and for its wildly successful outcome. In this end-of-year interview with Entertainment Weekly magazine about the video, he says,

I’m so proud that my staff was so nimble to pull something new together in such a short period of time on top of doing this ambitious video. Everybody in the building pulled together to make it happen.

That’s an admirable attitude, too – giving credit where credit is due, which doesn’t happen as often as it should in the entertainment industry, or in many workplaces for that matter. I’m a big fan of Colbert’s show, and now I’m a big fan of how he thinks and works as well.

5 comments

  1. I loved the video more for the story behind it than the video itself – the video is fun – but I love the optimism and willingness to troubleshoot as things shifted. That spontaneity is worth a lot.

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