Podcast Of The Week: Outputs > Outcomes (Chris Distefano Edition)

Mike Birbiglia asked a comedy club manager for an example of a comedian who wasn’t funny at all when they started, but now is famous for being funny. She answered quickly and without hesitation, “Chris Distefano.” She said he wasn’t funny at all when he started, but now is funny “times a million.” 

When he asked why she thought it happened, or what changed. she told him it was because he had kids. When Birbiglia relayed this story to Distefano in an interview, Distefano half agreed, at first, then explained something more interesting. 

Distefano said (paraphrasing), “Yes, kids – but, kids and constant failing.” 

Birbiglia presses him to go into it. Distefano explains the layers. It might be one of the best “it takes a village” lessons ever. Because it doesn’t just take a village, it takes learning how to build a village, on the fly, with your fellow future villagers. Plus, babies aren’t good at manual labor, so even if they’re focusing, it’s not a bad thing to share these efforts. 

Distefano’s dad used to tell him, “It’s about your output, not the outcome.” It was a constant reminder to focus on what you can control. The effort, the intensity, the focus – that’s you. What ends up happening with it, that would depend on others, in all sorts of ways. He heard it thousands of times growing up. 

Early in his career, when stuff was starting to click but not succeed yet, he was down. He’d get right up to almost making something happen, and then, poof. He almost got the sitcom. He almost got the network special. He almost got all the things. 

His girlfriend at the time (and his now wife) told him, “Your fans get it. These people,” meaning the network execs and industry folks, “every time you introduce me to them – they’re morons. Why not just focus on your fans and what they want?” 

At first he’s mad. The fans without a sitcom or a special weren’t going to pay for life, or a family, or much of anything, which had been clearly established by this point. “What does she know?!” he’s telling himself.  And then he realized what she was really saying – it’s about your output, not the outcome

His output could be controlled. The outcome couldn’t. But the output, to his fans, meant he was leaning into the faith that, “My success is in your hands.” 

He started focusing exclusively on the fans and what they wanted. He started his podcast. He started promoting in new ways. He felt like he made it when, finally, he sold out a room. Yes, it was a 400-person spot in Cleveland, but it was sold out. 

And then, the pandemic hit. 

Output. 

Not outcomes. 

He told his podcast partner they were going to start doing a show every day. If everybody was home and in front of a computer every day, they could be there with them. That was the output they could control – and it paid off. 

As the world reopened, he booked The Beacon in NYC, and sold it out. 

2,000 people. NYC. No offense to Cleveland, but you get it. 

The outcomes followed the output, and couldn’t have been there without them. 

Distefano’s kids did help. So did his wife. So did his dad. They helped so much, that he’s got a central mantra he repeats to his children all of the time. And no, it’s not (just) output is more important than outcomes: 

“The movies aren’t real. Life is real.” 

He wants them to never forget, all stories are just stories. The bigger and more grandiose the stage the story is presented on, the bigger and more grandiose the story is. Enjoy it, but life, and what you do with it, is reality. That’s pretty good parenting advice. 

Birbiglia chimes in with a story about his wife. And how the advice from Distefano’s dad was there, but it was his wife who brought it home when he needed it – which he could relate to. His wife helped him realize his longer-form storytelling was more interesting than his joke-joke-joke routines. He pointed out, 

“You need to take advice from someone you implicitly know loves you. And, you trust them.” 

Output is more important than growth. 

There’s no village without villagers. 

There’s no villagers without love. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Mike Birbiglia’s Working It Out podcast interview with Chris Distefano. There’s plenty of other wild and funny stories in it too, but this one just won’t leave my mind, my heart, or my conversations since I heard it. My wife sounds a lot (a lot!) like their wives too (she agrees, we all need to listen to our all knowing wives on these matters). That’s the village for you. Growth, love, and trust – together.

Bonus – if you do listen – Distefano’s other family stories, from the mob thug with the knife to his neck, to the lessons from his dad’s gambling addition, this is a WILD balance of heavy life stuff with beautifully funny sincerity mixed in. I’m excited for where his career goes now. I liked but didn’t love his standup. But I like him much more in this format where he’s telling stories that don’t always need a punchline. He’s got incredible stories.