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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the OPTIMAL SALES MINDSET Webinar hosted by Fred Diamond, Host of the Sales Game Changers Podcast, on September 24, 2020. It featured comedian and inspirational speaker Tom Dreesen,]
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EPISODE 274: Star Comedian Tom Dreesen Shares Top Sales Mindset Lessons He Learned Opening for Frank Sinatra and Performing on The Tonight Show
TOM’S TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Be prepared to seize the moment when it is in front of you. When Johnny Carson introduced me to perform to 26 million people, I knew exactly what I was going to say and I knew exactly where I was going. I seized the moment and that’s another thing that salespeople have told me through the years as well as great athletes. A baseball player is hitting .142 and he’s about to go back to the minors and all of a sudden, he’s up with bases loaded. If he seizes this moment, his whole life is going to change. Sales is the same to you what the Tonight Show was to me. If you’re in position to meet that customer with the huge deal that’s going to turn your whole life around and you’re not prepared for it? That’s silly.”
Fred Diamond: Today’s the Optimal Sales Mindset webcast. This is indeed an honor, typically on the Optimal Sales Mindset webinar and podcast we talk to sales speakers, authors but today we have comedy legend, Tom Dreesen. He’s been a great comedian for a long time, he’s been on Letterman, he’s been on The Tonight Show, he’s been on every possible TV show. He’s been on stages around the world, his new book is called Still Standing, I encourage everybody to read it. It’s a fantastic book, he talks about his early life and then he talks about his moves into comedy and most interestingly – well, it’s all interesting – he talks about the 14 years that he opened for Frank Sinatra. He also opened for great performers like Sammy Davis Jr. as well and he’s performed in the biggest stages. I approached him and I said, “Tom, I got the book, I read the book. I want to talk about your mindset, I also want to talk about the mindset of Frank Sinatra.” Tom said to me, “I’ve never spoken once about the mindset of Frank Sinatra” but you do all throughout the book, the greatest performer of the last century. First of all, Tom Dreesen, it’s great to see you, thank you so much for giving us sometime today, you look great. You’ve been doing interviews nonstop for the last bit of time since the book came out. First off, how are you doing? How are you feeling?
Tom Dreesen: I’m feeling absolutely terrific and for that reason – and I’ll talk about that later, if you want – that’s why the book is called Still Standing, because I’ve been knocked down so many times in my life but I keep getting back up again. These exercises and principles I use, I’ll share some of them with you, why I’m still standing. I just got over COVID too, as you know. COVID knocked me down about a little over a month ago and I survived it and I’m back again and I feel terrific, I’m working out. It was another knockdown but I got back up again [laughs] I’m still standing.
Fred Diamond: Great to see you, you do look great and you’re funny as ever. Like I said, I heard you on a couple podcasts and I said, “I’ve got to get Tom on, we’ve got to talk about it.” This is probably going to be different than most of the interviews that you’ve done over your career probably. A lot of people don’t know this, but you also do inspirational speaking to companies around the globe and I know you’ve also been very kind to a lot of young comedians as well. We have a lot of sales professionals at various stages of their career. You referred to COVID, obviously the pandemic has changed things for everybody, you’re used to performing in places around the globe, obviously that’s not happening right now. Salespeople are in their offices, the economy has made it more and more challenging so people need a boost. We’re going to be talking about some of the techniques and strategies that you’ve employed and you’ve coached people on throughout your career.
Let’s talk first about Sinatra, again this great book, Still Standing, you can go up to Amazon.com and buy it, it’s a great read. He talks about a lot of his friends in comedy, he talks about what it was like to open for Sinatra for 14 years. You traveled with Frank Sinatra, you got to stay at his compound in the desert, you got to see the man upfront. I’m not going to ask you normal questions like, “What was he like behind the scenes?” People can get the book and read that, but let’s talk about the mindset of the greatest performer of the last 100 years. Academy Award Winner, beloved singer, 50 songs that people know off the top of their heads, performed to sold-out crowds around the globe and you had the privilege for 14 years to see him up close, to see how the man got ready to perform. The people watching today’s webinar or listening to the podcast, they want to know how they can get the optimal mindset as well. Let’s talk about that a little bit, talk about Sinatra’s mindset.
Tom Dreesen: First of all, thank you. His mindset was that he was a professional and the show was the most important thing. You want a party, Frank never went to bed till the sun came up every night whether on the road or off the road. When the sun came up, Frank went to bed and he wanted you to hang with him too and that was fun for the first 10 years [laughs] but that was wearing me out. A quick funny story, we had done one night, it was all over the United States and then we flew into Las Vegas and we were opening at the Desert Inn, we did two shows that night and it was 4:30 in the morning and I’m beat, he’s sitting around with all these guys, 5 or 6 of us. I get up and he said to me, “Where are you going?” I said, “I’m going to bed.” He said, “What for?” I said, “I got to get up early in the morning, go to the cemetery and visit those guys.” He said, “What guys?” I said, “All those guys who died trying to stay up with you every night.” He bust out laughing and made me tell my story. Again, my point is all of that you want to do, fine, not show time. Just like sales presentation, this is show time now, we didn’t fool with the show time, he was an absolute professional about show time. He knew his job and he knew everybody else’s job, you better know yours because the show is the most important thing.
I once said to him, “Why do we wear tuxedos, Frank?” He said, “Tommy, if we were going to do a show for the king and the queen, for royalty, would we not wear a tuxedo?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, that garage mechanic in Detroit and his wife who’s a waitress who work all year long to afford enough money to buy two tickets to our show, they’re just as much royalty as the king and the queen and we perform for them the same way we do the king and the queen.” That’s how he approached the business, or you might say, sales meeting. Every night to him was a command performance and the other thing professional about him was punctuality. This great star, you know all these divas out there that when it’s show time they show up a half an hour later or 45 minutes later to keep audiences waiting? In Frank Sinatra’s life, he was never late, never once, never anywhere. You had to learn that when you toured with him, if Frank said wheels up at 9:00 a.m. and you showed up at 9:01, you were watching the plane going down the runway because he was always early, he was never late. He told me one time, “Tommy, if someone asked you to be in their office at 9:15 and you show up at 9:20 or 9:30, you just told them that your time is more important than theirs. Punctuality, that shows professionalism.” That was another thing he was really a stickler on.
In sales you know we all put together teams, he surrounded himself with the best – the best conductors, the best musicians, the best arrangers, best comedians [laughs] I had to throw that in there. By the way, he insisted with surrounding himself with the best to make sure that show couldn’t be any better. For me, I had done 61 appearances on The Tonight Show and he knew that I kept coming up with new material, The Tonight Show made you come up with a new 6 minutes every time you went on. Frank said, “We’re going to the same cities every year, Tom, keep coming up with new material” and he’d listen in the winds that I was updating my material and doing material about local stuff. He was a stickler for that kind of stuff. That’s my thing about all the partying you see, that Frank did this and Frank did that, not show time. Showtime was sacred, just like preparation and he was always prepared, as well as Sammy Davis Jr. I toured with Sammy for three years and Frank for 14 years. Sammy Davis Jr., the same thing, show time, you don’t fool with that. They prepared for that and then when they walked out, they owned it, they owned that stage.
Fred Diamond: I have a question about preparation, that comes up a lot. We’ve been doing webinars every day since the pandemic kicked in and there’s a whole bunch of words that come up all the time like empathy, but preparation is a huge one. Again, when we see you on The Tonight Show, we see you for the six minutes. When we see Sinatra performing, it was an hour or two hours, however long he went and we see professionalism, we see perfection. Of course, behind the scenes there may be a thing that goes wrong or whatever but even for yourself, what does it mean to prepare for those six minutes on The Tonight Show or for Sinatra? I’ll tell you why I’m asking the question. A lot of times sales professionals wing it, they got a call that’s coming up at noon, maybe a minute before, the lesser sales professionals will go up to the company’s website, check something out. When you’re going to be on The Tonight Show, you just didn’t wake up that morning and you got a call, you probably were 10-15 years as a comedian doing Peoria, Kokomo and all those places. Talk about the preparation to actually get on the stage even the day of show. What does that look like?
Tom Dreesen: Keep in mind, in 1975 I was in a comedy team for 6 years. Tim Reid and I were America’s first black and white comedy team, history showed we were the last. We wrote a book years ago about it that may become a mini-series now of what it was like turning the nation as the first black-white comedy team and there were no comedy [Unintelligible 09:41]. When that team split up, now I’m on my own, I’m going to be a single. In 1975, wherever you went in America people would say, “What do you do for a living?” You say, “I’m a stand-up comedian.” The next question out of their mouth was, “Have you ever been on Johnny Carson?” If you hadn’t been on Johnny Carson, in the eyes of America you just weren’t a comedian. You might want to be one. Now, I’m a businessman, I’m in show business, that’s two words. How do I get on The Tonight Show? I would watch The Tonight Show and watch those comedians. You had the right material that could make grandma and grandpa, mom and dad and the kids laugh, there was no blue material as curse words in those days because television was only this big: ABC, NBC, CBS. When cable came along, then a comedian could work as filthy as they wanted. There are women today that are doing acts that Redd Foxx would run out of the room, it’s so bad.
As a businessman, that’s what I had to do, I had to get to that Tonight Show so I came onto the west coast. I struggled, I hitchhiked up and down Sunset Boulevard trying to get onto the Comedy Store, I would not give up my dream. My wife was in Chicago with three kids, she wrote me a Dear John letter, “This is your dream, not mine.” Now another kickback, another knockdown but this was my dream and I knew I could make it. I struggled and struggled and finally got onto the Comedy Store working on new material every day in gas stations looking in the mirror in the bathroom of a gas station doing the routines. My point is, preparation, now when I finally got onto the Comedy Store I pestered The Tonight Show about coming to see me. I didn’t have a manager or an agent so I did a lot of little tricks to get them to come and see me. I finally got them to come and see me, now I auditioned with a new kid named Billy Crystal, I don’t know what ever happened to him but I’m with Fred Diamond right now. Finally getting to The Tonight Show, 26 and a half million people watched that show in those days. You’re going to walk out in front of 26 million people and agents, managers, casting people, everybody watched that show. How I prepared for that, I took my tape recorder to the Comedy Store night after night, I would then go on in a little tiny hotel somewhere in front of four people at 2:00 in the morning rehearsing that routine, getting it down.
Once you know your plan, your beginning, your middle and your ending, how you’re going to open it, where you’re going to be at in the middle and end it, once you know that and it’s tight then you might be able to ad-lib within the confines just like a sales presentation. When I sold life insurance, I knew what I was going to say when I went in there, I had it prepared, I knew the guy’s name, his wife’s name, I knew all of that, I prepared. I knew where he worked, I knew his hobbies and I tried to, even if I didn’t like his hobbies – if it was sailing and I knew nothing about sailing, I would have a couple questions about sailing. I was prepared with a plan, a beginning, middle and ending. Once you know your plan, then you can ad-lib within the confines, you feel free because you know where you’re going.
The preparation is enormous for those shows because if I bombed on that first Tonight Show not only would I no longer be in the business anymore, I’d be struggling somewhere but my mother had everybody from Harvey on the line watch it so I couldn’t even go back home. I can’t tell you how enormous that pressure was to walk out when Johnny Carson introduced you in front of 26 million people and the audience, you can’t see them, they’re behind the cameras, you hit your mark. If I wasn’t prepared for that moment – I knew exactly what I was going to say and I knew exactly where I was going -I couldn’t have pulled it off. I did my first Tonight Show, Johnny called me back out for a second bow and I never stopped working since that first Tonight Show.
I seized the moment, that’s another thing that salespeople have told me through the years as well as great athletes. An athlete’s hitting 142 in baseball, he’s going to go back down to the miners, there’s two injuries, all of a sudden he’s up with bases loaded, this is his moment to seize. If he seizes this moment, his whole life is going to change. That happened to Mike Schmidt, a good friend of mine, he’s in the Hall of Fame today. He was about to go down and he seized the moment, that’s what the sales thing is and that’s what the Tonight Show was. You’re going to meet that company that’s going to give you that huge deal that’s going to turn your whole life around and you’re not prepared for it? It’s silly.
Fred Diamond: I’ve got two quick comments, one is I know you’re a big Cubs fan, I grew up a Phillies fan, Mike Schmidt was my favorite player. He hit 196 his first year and then of course he’s the greatest third baseman of all time. As you’re talking about The Tonight Show, we have a lot of younger sales professionals who didn’t know all the story you just told there. How often did you not get on The Tonight Show that you thought you were ready to get on? The reason I’m asking is a lot of times young sales professionals think, “If somebody replies to my email, I’m going to get the deal.” “At least they replied to my email” or, “Thank god I got through on a phone call.” It may take 3, 4, 5 years, 10 years maybe, to get the IBM as a customer or a government division or something. I’m just curious when you decided and you knew – you’re absolutely right, to be on The Tonight Show totally changes a comedian’s career and Johnny smiles, brings you over to the couch. I’m just curious, did you ever get any disappointments along the way leading up to that moment? Of course you nailed it out of the park and people can go see your performance up on YouTube and other places. When you first had an opportunity, was there some breakdowns along the way before you finally got on stage?
Tom Dreesen: There were too many and some of them are in my book. One time I performing years ago, there were five comedians and a woman from the audience said, “Did you guys ever bomb?” and I said, “Ma’am, we trained in bombing.” Sales too, when I sold life insurance many years ago, I realized that of every 8 people that I talked to I would finally make a sale. I would prepare and everything but I’d make a sale after every 8 and I was trying to bring that down, of course to like one in three. Then I realized that every no I received was one no closer to my yes, it’s all about perception – and we’ll talk about that later on – and keeping that positive attitude more than anything, believing in your product. When I sold life insurance, I called it optional retirement income and when I’d sit down with a husband and wife, usually it was always the wife that was interested and I could see the guy wasn’t. I’d tell the guy, “I’m not here to sell you death insurance, I’m here to sell you life insurance. Yes, if anything happens to you, we’re going to take care of your family but we don’t want anything to happen to you and if you live all this” – and I’d show a computerized chart of all the money he’d put into our company and how much he was going to receive back. So it’s an optional retirement income, I called it and I really in all my heart and soul believed that I was doing a service for them, and I was. Because I believed that, my passion came out in the meetings.
If you don’t believe in two things, you can never succeed as a salesman in my mind, if you don’t believe #1 in yourself and then #2 in your product or if you can do that equally.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about some of the things that you talk to corporations about. I know you do a lot of coaching with young comedians and again, you’re all over the place now because of the book. First of all, congratulations, it’s a really well-written book. It really flows, the stories are great, you talk about your early life and some revelations that you had, how you made it as one of the first big comics in the 80s and all the places you played, then of course your years with Sinatra. But let’s talk about some themes here, you mentioned perception. Let’s hit a couple of these: perceive and believe, tell us what that means.
Tom Dreesen: All of life to me is about perception. I had 8 brothers and sisters, we lived in a shack, it was a rat-infested, roach-infested shack in Harvey, Illinois. Both my parents were alcoholic at one time, I shined shoes in taverns from the time I was 8 years old till I was 12, I set pins in bowling alleys, I caddied in the summertime, I sold newspapers on the corner all to help feed my brothers and sisters. I had holes in my shoes as big around as a coffee cup, raggedy poor, and I tell you here that is the greatest thing that ever happened to me because that’s how I perceived it, and it was. I perceive it to be the greatest thing that happened to me, all of life is about perception.
I always like to say a little boy goes in the backyard with a bat and a ball and he says, “I am the greatest hitter in the world” and he throws the ball up in the air and he swings and he misses. He says, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world”, he throws it up the second time and he swings and he misses.” He says, “I am the greatest hitter in the world”, he throws it up the third time and he swings and he misses. He says, “I’m the greatest pitcher in the world.”
Nothing changed but his perception, all of life is about perception. It doesn’t matter where I’ve been – and I came from the poorest corner – it matters where I’m going. I think that life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. That little boy is a winner and so are you, these are adults who we’re talking to but I go to colleges, and recently I was at a college in Northern California of all males. At that time there were stories about this man who was 32 years old and he wouldn’t leave his parent’s home, it took him 8 years, they had to get a court order to get their son out of the house. I was doing comedy about it but motivating these kids and I said, “How long do you think you should live with your parents?” and one boy raised his hand and he said, “Till we’re 50 or 60 if we want to” and I was stunned. I said, “How many of you believe that? Why do you think that you should live with your parents till you’re 50 or 60?”
He said, “Because we didn’t ask to be here.” I said, “So you’re a victim. If you’re a victim, you can never be a victor. Victims have great excuses for not being successful.” Tom Dreesen, “I had parents who were alcoholic and I was so poor.” Psychiatrists might say, “That’s why you ended up in prison.” Bull, BS, it’s your choice. I told all these boys in the classroom, “So you didn’t ask to be here. I don’t want to give you a biology lesson but when the male and the female make love, from the male comes five million seeds, two and a half million die instantly, the other millions die along the way and soon it’s only a hundred thousand seeds left in there, there’s fifty thousand seeds left, there’s ten thousand seeds left, there’s five seeds left, 4, 3, 2, 1, you, you, you. Don’t ever tell me you didn’t ask to be here, bullshit, you fought to be here. I’m in a room full of winners, applaud yourselves.” And they all applauded and cheered. I said, “You were born a winner, that’s how I perceived it and that’s how you should perceive it.”
To the people listening, you have the power to empower yourself, you have that power. There’s a thing that I read years ago by Marianne Williamson that I thought was just absolutely precious and I’m going to find it because I think it’s so worthwhile reading to your listeners. Marianne Williamson wrote this years ago and this is what I read to the kids, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You’re a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of god that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I say that because most people are terrified of success, they want to be successful but they say, “If I’m successful…?” People say, “Is it easy to make it in show business?” I said, “No, it’s tough to make it in show business but it’s even harder to hang on” because along with success comes the responsibility to remain successful. But you have to believe in you, perceive that you are a winner on your way somewhere to happen. I’ll close with this: most people say, “Tom, you’d say you’re a success” and I’d say, “Yes, I’m a success.” They said, “You started out with Jay Leno and David Letterman, they were your buddies, you were brand new and Jay has 180 million motorcycles and they all are billionaires and you call yourself a success?” I said, “Yes, because I never compared myself to another human being.”
There’s a great Hindu proverb that said there’s nothing noble about being superior to another man. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self. Am I a better friend than I was last year? Am I a better father than I was last year? Am I a better husband, am I a better neighbor, am I a better salesman than I was last year? As a comedian, I look over all my tapes. Did I grow in the last year? So that’s your only competition in your whole life, your former self.
Fred Diamond: Before we talk about visualization and realization, we have a question that’s come in. The question is from Rob, Rob is in Washington DC, thanks, Rob. Rob wants to know what is it like to physically be on stage knowing that you’re opening Frank Sinatra? I’m going to ask that slightly different, what is it physically like? You’re on stage, you’re doing an hour set, there’s 10,000 people in the audience – a little bit of a twist, they’re all there to see Frank Sinatra. You tell a joke in your book which I invite you to tell right now but when you’re in the moment on stage, describe what that means. 10,000 people laughing at your jokes, does your mind wander or are you focused? I’m curious because we talk about that a lot in sales when you get in front of your customer. Like you said, you finally have that moment of opportunity, you’re in front of the CTO in Ford Motor Company or wherever it might be, you’ve been trying to get this meeting for a year, you don’t want to blow it. Talk about your mindset when you’re physically on the stage performing in front of 10,000 adoring fans.
Tom Dreesen: First of all, if there was only 10,000 in the audience, Frank would have cancelled the gig. [Laughs] he sold out 20,000 seat arenas wherever you went till the day he died. He sold down in Japan at age 78, 20,000 seat arena, he sold out wherever he went. In Hawaii one night we worked in front of 40,000 people outside so here’s what it’s like. First of all, I digress, the gentleman called Rob, I’ll answer Rob in a minute but all of you, be in shape, look good, get a good night’s sleep, don’t get drunk the night before. I knew this was a challenge, in those days I was running marathons, I was running 54 mile relays with a team. I stayed in shape because going out on stage in front of 20,000 people is athletic and you go out there with a hangover… I wanted to feel good about myself when I walked out there in front of 20,000 people so I think that’s a big part of it, staying in shape. You don’t go to a meeting with bloodshot eyes because you’ve been up till 4 in the morning and it’s one of the biggest meetings of your life.
Feel good about yourself, look good and dress properly. I say to you, Rob, this is what it was like opening for Frank Sinatra in 20,000 seat arenas in 45-50 cities a year. I’d say it’s 45 minutes before the show, Rob and there’s 20,000 people out there in a round, they’re behind you, they’re all around, you’re in the center of this huge arena. Rob, I want you to go out there in 5 minutes, I want you to go on stage and I want you to hold the attention of 20,000 people for the next 45 minutes. One more thing, Rob, I want you to hold their attention and I want you to make them laugh for the next 45 minutes. One more thing, Rob, I want you to not only hold their attention and make them laugh, I want you to make them laugh when you want them to laugh. I want you to pull the strings on the emotions of 20,000 people. No props, no tricks, no charts, no special arrangement, no special orchestra, no special lighting, nothing but you and 20,000 people. One more thing, Rob, not one of them came to see you. [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: [Laughs] It’s like a typical sales call.
Tom Dreesen: They all came to see that other guy. What I did was I prepared, as Frank prepared, I prepared. I knew that if there’s 20,000 people in that arena, 3,000 of them were still looking for their seats. You’ve got to get their attention to the stage right now, I’ve got to bring them to me right now. First of all, all the lights go down low before the show and the audience goes, “Ooh.” Then the orchestra is in the pit and they start and people think Frank’s coming up, they go, “Ooh!” and then they introduce me. I already got a handicap, I’m on my way out there. Fortunately I’d done a lot of Tonight Shows so I had some recognition but when I went out there, there’s 20,000 people and some of them wonder, I would say, “How many of you out there – I want you to applaud – thought Frank was coming out?” and they would applaud and I’d say, “I know just how you feel, I’m a little bit disappointed myself.”
That first joke is on me, and I’ll talk about the sense of humor later. Then I’m not going to put my A material upfront because I’ve got to bring this meeting of 20,000 people to me so I would say, “How many of you out there are in this arena for your very first time? Applaud.” Notice I didn’t say raise your hand, I said applaud. I’d say, “How many of you out there are seeing Frank Sinatra live for your very first time? Applaud” and they would applaud. I’d say, “How many of you out there aren’t wearing any underwear? Applaud” I’d just throw a line there and they’d applaud. My point: I talk, you react, I’m bringing them to me. I’m not doing my A material yet. Then, my next couple jokes would be about their area and that’s where in a sales meeting if you find out the guy loves sailing, you talk about sailing to them even if you’re not interested, learn something about it. I would then talk about a couple of jokes I’d written about their area bringing them in so they’d say, “He just flew in an hour ago but he already knows what’s going on.” Then I would go into my A material, my presentation. In answer to the other question, stand-up comedy is the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. When you wrote something and it worked in front of 20,000 people, I cannot tell you how exhilarating that is. Stand-up comedians are artists. Most artists that are painters may not find out if their work is approved till after they died, we get it instantly. I wrote it that afternoon, it gets them to laugh that night, I can’t tell you the great feeling that is. It’s the highest of highs and when it doesn’t work, it’s the lowest of lows.
Fred Diamond: Tom, let’s talk about visualize and realize. How does that play into the mindset of top performers?
Tom Dreesen: You know, I came from such a negative background. When I went it the service, I was a high school dropout so I got a high school diploma with the navy but I began to read every book I could find on positive mental attitude. Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking and The Guide to Confident Living, W. Clement Stone’s Positive Mental Attitude, Think and Grow Rich, I absorbed those books. But the book that I believe really changed my life was called The Power of your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy. In it was whatever the mind can see and believe, it will achieve. That was written a thousand years ago, I think it’s biblical in nature. There’s always a thing about most people, they ask, “God, help me.” There’s another thing that says, “The lord help those who help themselves.” You have to show the way and most people I see wander aimlessly in life and I was one of those, I went from job to job after I came out of the service wandering aimlessly. I didn’t know what it is I wanted to do and I honestly used to pray, I’d be in a bar at 1:00 o’clock in the morning with my buddies saying, “I don’t belong here” but I didn’t know where I belonged.
I read this book, The Power of your Subconscious Mind: whatever the mind can see and believe, it will achieve. You say it just before you go to sleep at night and when you first wake up in the morning, you see the end result you want. Joseph Murphy explained it, the conscious mind when you’re ready to go to sleep at night is most at rest and then the subconscious mind is open to suggestion. See it, feel it and believe it. It’s real important, that emotion. When you hypnotize, what they do is they put your conscious mind at rest and then they tell you hop like a rabbit and you hop like a rabbit. Also, see it, feel it and believe it, if you say, “What was his name? Dog gone it, what was his name?” Two days later you go into a place and say, “Give me a cup of coffee… Fred Diamond.” Where did that come from? Once you give the subconscious mind a problem, it won’t rest till it finds a solution. Once it sees what the end result you want, if you know exactly what you want, you have to see it, feel it and believe it.
There was a doctor Charles Garfield, he’s done extensive research on peak performance both within athletics and business, although he had a doctorate in mathematics, he decided to go back and get another P.H.D. in the field of psychology and the study of characteristics of peak performers. One of the main things his research showed was that almost all of the world-class athletes and other peak performers are visualizers. They see it, they feel it and they experience it before they actually do it, they begin with the end in mind. When I was sleeping in the abandoned car hitchhiking up and down Sunset Boulevard every night begging to work for free at the Comedy Store, I couldn’t even get on at the Comedy Store. Every night I would see Johnny Carson talking to me saying, “You’re a funny guy, Tom Dreesen, you’re a funny guy.” I would see it, I’d feel it and I’d believe it. In those days you had to do one, two, three, four stand ups before Johnny would let you sit with him. If you did one appearance on The Tonight Show in the eyes of America, you would become a comedian but in my industry, it did not arrive until you sat down and talk to Johnny.
In my mind, sleeping in the car, couldn’t get onto the Comic Store, I would see Johnny Carson saying, “You’re a funny guy, Tom Dreesen.” I would see it, I’d feel it and I’d believe it. I’ve made 61 appearances on The Tonight Show, this is the picture I imaged in my mind when I was sleeping in the abandoned car. Nothing can become a reality unless it’s thought first, everything you see in front of you – and I show this to my class – your computer, a bottle of water, these were thoughts before they became realities. The power of the subconscious mind.
If I can give another story, Charlie Pride, a country western singer some of you know, he’s a black man in the 50s and he decided he wanted to become a world-class singer. The odds are probably like 20 million to one but he said, “I’m black in the south in the 50s, I want to become a country western singer” and Charlie believed that. He has 25 platinum albums, he was a huge success but he told me one time on a show, he said he grew up in a place called Sledge, Mississippi. His family were share croppers, he had like 12 brothers and sisters, he said they picked crops and everything. He said he was a little boy, his mother was swollen pregnant with his brother Harmon and they were picking peas and stuff, and he looked up and he saw this very wealthy woman that owned all this land come out of her house and get in a limousine and drove away and he said to himself, “My mother is just as pretty as that woman, my mother should have a house like that and a car like that.” Charlie Pride today owns all that land. He saw it, he felt it and he believed it.
I’m going to close with this, the pilot who lands his 747 every day leaving LA to Boston, he doesn’t drive to the airport a hundred miles an hour, rushes out to the aircraft, gets in the aircraft, takes off down the runway and says, “Now, where am I going?” He follows the flight plan. When you feel it, see it and believe it, your body says, “Now I know where you want me to go, you just follow the flight plan.” This is the vehicle we’ve been given and I saw myself on The Tonight Show long before I ever was on there. Whatever the mind can see and believe, it will achieve.
Fred Diamond: That’s very powerful. Tom, I could talk here for five hours. There’s a couple things that we could talk about that you cover in the book, you talked about your relationship with Tim Reid and you mentioned that you were the first interracial duo comedian act out there and I encourage people to read the book about those stories. We could talk for an hour about that especially with the things that have happened over the last couple of months, we could have gone down that path. I also want to touch on the fact that you have done so much charity work in your life with so many great charities, you’ve raised probably millions of dollars for various causes in Chicago, California and around the country. I want to acknowledge you for all that and you do tell some of those amazing stories and of course, watching Sinatra and some of your peers as well. I want to talk about two more things before we wrap here, I want to talk about the concept of talking it and walking it and then I want to ask you about the sense of humor. Again, you’re in the business of comedy but let’s wrap on those two things. What does it mean to talk it and walk it?
Tom Dreesen: Self-talk, I read a book years ago, I think it was Shad Helmstetter, What to Say when you Talk to Yourself and the most important person you’ll ever talk to is yourself. So many times I say to people, “How do you get physically fit?” People raise their hand, “I know, one word, exercise.” I say, “How do you get mentally fit?” and then there’s silence. It’s one word, exercise. Exercise the mind the way you exercise the brain. I kept cards in my car and I’d say day by day in every way I’m getting better and better. I would jog too, when I was struggling, broke, I’d jog to, “Nothing can defeat me.” When I had no money, “Money is flowing through my life in abundance.” I had these cards in my car that I would keep, this would be my Tuesday card and I’d put it in the car and when I’d get stopped at a stop sign or when I was stuck in traffic, “I control the thoughts I choose, no thought at any time can dwell in my mind without my approval or my permission.” Wednesday, “My mind is constantly in tune with the positive, it is bright, cheerful, enthusiastic and full of good positive thoughts and ideas.”
Thursday, “I’m able to relax easily and comfortably in my mind and in my body I am calm, confident and I am self-assured.” These are all mine, I had seven of them and I would read them, self-talk. The most important person that you’ll ever talk to is yourself. Another thing I learned many years ago when I wanted to be a confident public speaker, when you’re brand new you’re scared to death. If I had to do a thing on Friday, on Monday I was already fretting it. Then I began to realize what I was doing, every time I think about myself on stage going up there for my presentation I would think, “What if it didn’t work?” Then your hands start to sweat, your heart starts to pound and the subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between truth or fiction. As I explained, it feels like it’s happening so what I would do, I would change that and see myself up there doing well, calm, people loving what I’m saying, I’m being good, I’m so comfortable.
I would say, “When the light hits me, a calm is going to come over me.” If you can’t find peace in yourself, it’s pointless to search elsewhere. You can’t find peace in a bottle and you can’t blame another person, that’s the worst thing you could ever do is say, “If it wasn’t for you, I’d be happy.” No, it’s entirely up to you. If you’re not happy with somebody, walk away but you’re in charge of your own happiness and the inner journey is far more exciting than the outer journey. Many years ago I read a book called Three Magic Words by a guy named U.S. Andersen and the three magic words are, “You are god.” You are a god of this universe, this is the universe you were given, this is your universe. I take a glass of water in a classroom and I pour dirt in it and I stir it up and I say to the students, “Drink this dirt.” They won’t do it and I’d say, “If you won’t drink dirt, why would you think dirt? If you won’t ingest filth in this part of your body, why would you ingest filth in this part of your body? Negative thoughts are dirt.”
If a negative thought enters your mind – and they do all the time, they swarm in the universe – I’ll catch myself dwelling on this negative thought and I’ll go, “Cancel” and I’ll replace it with a positive thought. How many times have you been in a real good mood, you’re in a car, you’re driving along, you come to a stop sign, all of a sudden you’re in a sad mood and you go, “What the hell just happened? I was in a good mood. Oh, I thought about that time Fred did this to me.” That one thought changed the chemistry of your body, negative thoughts can change the chemistry of your body, so can positive thoughts and you have control over what thoughts come in and out of your body. Negative thoughts will come in but you don’t have to dwell upon them. Your mind is a garden, if you planted flowers, positive thoughts, and weeds grew, wouldn’t you dig up the weeds and throw them out and replant flowers? You have that power, you have the power to empower yourself.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about sense of humor. I want to thank you again for all these great insights. You mentioned Leno and Letterman, you’ve had such a tremendous career, you’ve brought joy to so many people, you’re bringing joy to my mom now, by the way, who’s happy that I’m interviewing you. She’s a big Mike Douglas fan back in the day when you did that show as well.
Sense of humor, let’s bring it all home here, you’re in the business of humor, you’ve studied it, you coach young comedians. By the way, ladies and gentlemen who are listening to this podcast and watching today’s webinar, Tom is talking for 40 minutes on these topics. He typically goes a day to do these topics or the ones that we’ve covered, you’ve gone to companies around the world as well, not just stages, where you’ve performed and you’ve helped inspire so many people like you’re inspiring us today. Bring it all home with sense of humor and the sales professionals, sales leaders listening today, talk about sense of humor needs to be a big part of this.
Tom Dreesen: The greatest gift that god can bestow upon a human being is a sense of humor. By my humble definition, a sense of humor is not when you have the ability to laugh at other’s shortcomings or misfortunes, it’s when you have the ability to laugh at yourself. I was on Hollywood Squares one time and the question was, “A 3,500 women poll, what’s the #1 characteristic they look for in a man?” and it was a sense of humor, a man who doesn’t take himself too serious. Psychiatrists would probably tell you the #1 problem of all their patients is we take ourselves too seriously. Laugh at yourself. By the way, in sales this is a great gift, everybody wants to be around somebody who’s funny and when you’re a public speaker as a salesman, when you get up to give that first thought, the joke is on you.
Tell them something dumb you did that day on the way over here, the joke is on you. That shows the audience that you have a sense of humor, you have the ability to laugh at yourself. I’m in a bar with Frank Sinatra one night, it was 3:00 o’clock in the morning, the owner of the bar gave Frank the keys because Frank stayed up till dawn and he took off. Frank would always leave the money. Frank forgot to lock the front door, a station wagon pulled in front and I was talking to Frank, his back was to the front door and I noticed a woman come out of the passenger’s side come running in, she came running up behind Frank Sinatra. She said, “Do they have a juke box in here?” and Frank Sinatra turned around and looked this woman right in the eye, she was about 55 years old, and he said, “Excuse me, she said do they have a juke box in here?” and Frank looked around and he said, “No, I don’t think so, I’ll sing for you.” She said, “No, thanks” and she turned around and she walked out [laughs]. He looked at her like a little boy going out the door and I said, “She obviously didn’t recognize you.” He said, “Maybe she did.” He laughed at himself, the great Frank Sinatra laughed at himself, a sense of humor.
You can teach your children a sense of humor, when they’re growing up they look at you like you’re gods, you can do no wrong but if you do something dumb, come home and share with them. “Guess what? Today I was walking and I tripped in the store and all these cans of peas fell down.” Whatever it is, share it with them, you laugh at yourself and then they learn to laugh and themselves. People will love you for your sense of humor, you’ll be happier for it. I’ll tell you another great story, the great actress Ruth Gordon, I was on the Merv Griffin show with her, she was like 75 years old at the time. He said, “Ruth, I just read your reviews when you first appeared on Broadway.” These were her reviews, her first appearance on Broadway had said, “She has no talent, she has no stage presence, she’s not easy to look at and I can’t understand what she’s doing in the business.” Merv said to her, “How did you survive?” She said, “I ignored the facts.” [Laughs] learn to laugh at yourself.
When a nation loses its sense of humor, it will decay from within. Do I have to tell you about Nazi Germany? They had humor courts, if you made fun of the government, you were brought to trial. By the way, whatever happened to that nation? When a corporation loses its sense of humor, if you manufacture a defective product and you try to hide it instead of bringing it out saying to the world, “We made a mistake here, we won’t make this mistake again but you can use this as a doorstop”, you just showed them you have a sense of humor, you will survive. When a human being loses their sense of humor, they will decay from within.
Lastly, I want to say this. When I was in acting classes there were times I had to cry in a scene and there were times you had to laugh, and I’m a good laugher but a lot of people are not good laughers. When you’re alone, start laughing, just practice sometimes. See how good that feels? I say here’s my prescription to you from Dr. Dreesen, if laughter is psychologically a deterrent and physiologically therapeutic, then I’m a physician of the soul, I’m a comedian. Dr. Dreesen says laugh out loud 10 times a day. I do it sometimes and my neighbors assured me they’d throw a net over me, but I do that. If I’m going through some stressful thing, I’ll stop and I’ll go in the bathroom, go look in the mirror and go [starts laughing]. Believe me, it’s so therapeutic. You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.
Fred Diamond: Tom Dreesen, this has been such a pleasureful hour, we’re getting a lot of comments here. “Thank you so much” from Gina in Virginia, “This was great” from Roberta in New York, Robert says, “Where can I get the book?” Once again, the book is called Still Standing. You can go to Amazon, it’s a pretty popular place to buy books. Tom, before we wrap up here I know this has been a bucket list item for both of us so thank you so much. You’ve given us so many great things for people to think about, give us one quick action item, some quick action step for people to take today to take their sales career to the next level.
Tom Dreesen: There’s so many things I could say but surround yourself with positive people. Negative people have no place in your life, we all have them and they drain us sometimes. Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that but great people make you believe you too can become great, that’s the kind of people you want to keep in your environment. There are negative people in our families and our friends but we don’t have to dwell and spend a whole lot of time with that. The last thing, I’ve always believed that we’re two parts, we’re ego and we’re spirit. When you’re born, you don’t know if you’re boy or girl, black or white, you’re a spirit and you gravitate to everything that loves you. Well-intentioned adults sometimes begin to program our minds, “Little boys do this, little girls do this, we Catholics do this and we Jews do this” or whatever. About the time you’re three and a half, four years old you start to develop an image of yourself based upon their information, thus the ego is formed and that’s the yin and the yang your whole life, your ego and your spirit.
I’m driving down the street and a guy pulls in front of me, I slam on the brakes and I say, “You stupid…” I stop sometimes and say, “Wait, that’s my ego. My spirit doesn’t feel that at all.” The ego has an insatiable appetite, it cannot get enough money, fame, fortune, power, it will drive you one day to destruction because if you follow your ego, it can’t get enough. Your spirit, conversely is like the song of the 70s by The Hollies, “All I need is the air that I breathe and to love you.” That’s all your spirit needs and if you can stay in your spirit, you will walk into sales meetings, it will glow through you. If you walk in with that big ego, that also will come through your eyes. Let your spirit be your guide, that’s who you are, that’s who you were born, you didn’t know anything about ego when you were born. That’s the long answer to a short question, but let your spirit be your guide, that’s who you are.
Fred Diamond: Tom, thank you again for all the joy that you’ve brought people in your career, you’ve made people laugh, you’ve inspired so many people today and people in the future who are going to be listening to the podcast. We have thousands of listeners, I know you’ve performed in front of 10 to 20 thousands of people but the 5,000 people who are going to listen to this podcast. Thank you for the great insights, thank you on your success, I’m glad to see you recover from COVID, you look great. I encourage everybody to go buy the book, it’s a lot of fun. Tom, once again thank you so much for all that you’ve done and for what you’ve done for the last 40 minutes.
Tom Dreesen: Thank you, Fred. By the way, anytime you want me to do this, this was fun. I’m a stand-up comic first, last and always but nothing pleases me more than if one person would say, “That one little nugget you gave me changed my whole life.” That is so moving to me that you could help somebody get a little bit further in life or really start to enjoy this great gift we have of life.
Fred Diamond: Thank you so much, we appreciate it.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo