I’ve been privileged to work with, learn from, and become close friends with two quite impressive entertainers—Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller. Just observing them in action was not only a delight, but also a learning experience. There was one attribute about both of them that influenced me tremendously. That virtue was “Singleness of Purpose.”
Let me offer a few examples:
Once, at a meeting with Bob Hope, he seemed a bit lethargic . . . not quite himself. A show he had done earlier was not received as well as most of his monologues. Of course, he was not pleased about that. He asked if the writers could come up with some new material for the next show.
One of the writers had the courage to ask what went wrong with the previous performance. It seemed that the jokes were funny, but they weren’t delivered with the comic’s usual gusto. Hope explained that he had had root canal work done earlier in the day and that it affected his enthusiasm and his delivery.
The same writer became even more emboldened and suggested that perhaps he could explain that to the audience and they might be more forgiving. Hope said without hesitation, “No way. I don’t want sympathy; I want laughs.”
Singleness of purpose. He was there to get big laughs and that’s where his focus would be, regardless of any pain or discomfort.
Another story that illustrates his dedication to his career. This one goes back to his early days as a radio sensation. Hope was traveling around the country making public appearances. His radio show was such a success that he was attracting large, exuberant crowds. A publicist he had hired showed up backstage at one of his weekend concerts. Hope was surprised to see him and said, “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be out telling the world how great I am?” The publicist explained, “Bob, it’s Sunday. All the offices are closed.” Hope said, “Can’t you go door-to-door?”
Bob Hope was kidding, but just barely. He had such fierce determination that if he could have arranged to do some publicity door-to-door, he probably would have.
Phyllis Diller displayed the same trait. Once my daughter, Linda, visited her house to look at the many paintings Phyllis exhibited there. Stephanie, Phyllis’s daughter took Linda on a tour of the “art gallery.” My daughter was impressed with Phyllis’s painting skills . . . and also with the fact that Phyllis was an accomplished pianist who played with many symphony orchestras across the nation. And of course, she was a legendary comedian.
My daughter, said to Stephanie, “Why is it, do you think, that your Mom excels in so many different areas?” Stephanie replied, “My Mother never, never, ever, ever starts anything without totally believing that she can succeed at it.”
That’s confidence. It’s also singleness of purpose. With each area she explores, she dedicates herself completely to that endeavor at that moment.
Phyllis had been buying my comedy material for sometime before I first met her. Ironically, it was at a showing of some of her art. Eagerly, I followed her around and asked questions about writing for her and so on. Phyllis was gracious, but she also said to me. “Honey, let’s talk later. Right now the white light is on.”
What Phyllis was saying with that comment was that she would enjoy talking with me and answering whatever questions I had, but right now she was devoted to the task at hand. She was, in effect, “performing” for the people who came to the exhibit. That was her singleness of purpose at this specific moment.
During my career, I’ve met several people who seem to have the “Midas Touch.” For some reason, they seem to make it in whatever endeavors they attempt. Again, it seems to come down to singleness of purpose. They focus on whatever they’re doing at the time. They give it their full attention and dedication. They do it so routinely that it looks easy.
It isn’t. It requires concentration, and—I’ll say it again—singleness of purpose.
Set your goals, focus on them, bring all of your skills to them and enjoy the results.
Gene’s New Book: How To Do What You Want To Do If Want You Want To Do Ain’t What You’re Doing
If you are thinking about changing careers, this is the book for you. In these pages, Gene provides a “practical guide to beginning a new career” that he used to go from electrical engineer to comedy writer to producer to speaker to author.
Master Course in
A 12-week email class that covers the basics of comedy writing. Features lessons and feedback.
Master Course in
A 9-step program that takes the writer through the process of developing a monologue. You will work on a topic of your own choosing.