When comedic writer/actor Carl Reiner died at the age of 98 on June 29, I imagine those of us who were raised on his wit couldn’t help but to crack a smile in quiet remembrance and appreciation. Reiner joined American families in their living rooms in the 1960s as the creator of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and also as Dick’s difficult and terse boss, Alan Brady, host of the “Alan Brady Show” for which Van Dyke’s character, Dick Petrie, wrote jokes.
But that’s not all he did. Reiner was a performer and director. He wrote books and plays, and his career spanned live television, Broadway, movies and record albums. He loved to laugh and hung out with other people who loved to laugh, like Mel Brooks and Steve Martin.
What struck me on the news the morning after his death was that the world was still laughing. His death at age 98 was not tragic. At age 95, Reiner wrote the book, “Too Busy to Die.” I get this.
As a young mother in the ‘80s who had just given birth, my appendix burst days later. Unfortunately, this happened between Christmas and New Year’s. I found it very difficult to find doctors available to talk to me during the holidays. And when I kept on complaining about the pain trying to get some attention, I was universally told that, “Of course you don’t feel normal. You just had a baby!”
By the time my suspicions had been validated and I was rushed into the operating room, the poison had been leaking inside of me for a while. I was in the hospital for five days and one night was particularly rough. I was convulsively shivering in and out of sleep. My dad had died three weeks earlier and there he was in my dreams, in classic flannel red shirt and hunting cap, bouncing around with excitement to see me. He could hardly wait to tell me about all the fun we were going to have. I vividly remember telling him quite sternly that I couldn’t stay. I had a lot to do – with a 2-year-old and a newborn and a book I needed to write – even though at the time I did not even have a book idea, let alone a book deal. In essence, I was “too busy to die.”
The other message that came through from Reiner’s passing was from actor William Shatner, a.k.a. Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. “He had that hunger to make you laugh,” he said, as he remembered Reiner and his secret to success. “That hunger to make you laugh was what pushed him.”
There it was: “that hunger.” Through the many years of hiring people directly or participating on hiring panels, I have noticed that one trait stands out above all else: hunger. The applicants I wanted to hire were hungry for the job.
In television news, there is no shortage of applicants, but just like every other industry, hiring someone to fit in with your team is stressful. I clearly remember having high hopes for one tall, very pretty young woman, who was in the running for an anchor position. I knew she had worked as a model and had some experience in television. Early on in the interview, I asked her why she wanted the job. Her answer was shockingly wishy-washy. With all the enthusiasm of a bored teenager, she slumped in her chair and droned out her answer, “I don’t know, I think it might be something interesting for me to try.”
In that instant, all my hopes for finding new talent were dashed. I wanted her to want the job so badly that she was willing to work any shift – weekends, holidays, long hours in a snowstorm – I needed her to be ravenous with a when-can-I-start attitude. I needed her to want to go to work right now. She had her foot in the door of an amazing opportunity, but she wasn’t even a little bit interested in demonstrating that she was tantalized.
Hunger is easy to recognize. It is what makes job applicants sit on the edge of their chair, every muscle alert, drinking in every nuance of the workplace, the people and possibilities ahead. Hunger is what shows up when someone is ready to lunge at the meal being dangled in front of him.
Hunger looks like a young man named Anthony. Anthony had reached out to me for several weeks, always upbeat, full of enthusiasm and very respectful. He had done his homework, paid attention to what was going on in this particular company, and all the while honing his skills. Anthony did not live in the town where he wanted to work. He lived hours away. And finally, there was a job opening for a videographer.
I called him up and let him know. With no hesitation, he exclaimed he could jump in the car, right now, and talk to me in person within two hours. I began to tell him it wasn’t necessary for him to drop everything, but he insisted. As promised, two hours later he was in my office, hair falling slightly across his forehead as if he had sprinted from the parking lot, and nearly bursting with excitement.
We talked about his background, his availability and what was driving his interest. Then I said, “Okay, let’s take a look at your audition tape.” That’s when the blood drained from his face. “It must be in the car. I’ll be right back.”
Well, it wasn’t in the car. Anthony was so pumped about the opportunity to apply for the job, he completely forgot to bring his tape, which was mandatory proof of his skills as a videographer. There was silence for an awkward moment and then he jumped into action. He assuredly proclaimed he could drive back home, grab that tape and drive right back. He would see me in four hours. I tried to convince him that that wasn’t necessary, and we’d talk again another day. But again, he insisted, and I was impressed by his hunger.
Four hours later, he was indeed back in my office, even more excited about the job and eager to share his tape. Anthony got the job and may well have been the most memorable and one of the best hiring decisions I ever made. His hunger never waned, neither did his enthusiasm. The positive energy he infused into the newsroom had a way of pumping everybody up. Work was fun. We were productive. And we laughed – big, authentic, full belly laughs – a lot.
The best parts of any project I’ve ever been involved with have included these elements: staying hungry, laughing loudly, and being too busy to die.
Both Anthony and Carl Reiner figured out the secret to a long, rewarding career. QCBN
By Bonnie Stevens
Bonnie Stevens is a public relations consultant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.