Michael Schur in Conversation at Seattle Arts & Lectures explores the intersection of comedy, philosophy, regret, and hope. Although it is not a narrative experience, Schur’s humorous anecdotes and philosophical ramblings are as cohesive and entertaining as most stand-up comedy sets.
Schur is one of the brilliant minds behind many popular modern sitcoms, including The Office (U.S.), Parks and Recreation, and The Good Place. He also served as president of the Harvard Lampoon and led Weekend Update at Saturday Night Live. George Meyer, a former writer of The Simpsons, joins Schur to facilitate the dialogue. If you were wondering, yes, this is what non-denominational comedy heaven looks like.
Throughout the evening, Meyer asks Schur about his comedy career as well as his humorous moral philosophy manifesto: How to be Perfect. Then, the topics collide as Schur argues that when we learn about philosophy, we are made aware of the circumstances in which it can be applied, from parenting to crafting compelling characters for television.
Although both humorists have proven themselves worthy of prestige, some of their banter is received by the audience too well—at one point, Schur even told the audience to stop clapping because he didn’t believe his comment deserved such merit. His refreshing humility reminds audiences that not every thought of a genius is brilliant and not every joke by a great comedian is funny. Nonetheless, the more mundane details of Schur’s life are oftentimes the most fascinating.
For instance, Schur recounts a moment from his time as an SNL writer in which he was walking to 30 Rock and admitted to himself that he hated his job despite it being one of the most coveted positions in comedy writing. Then, he started enjoying his work and wrote more well-received sketches than ever before.
Another intriguing detail Schur mentions is a technique he developed for road rage in which he tells himself life is a video game and bad drivers lose points. This eventually led to the concept of The Good Place. Seeing Schur say this live was overwhelming, crashing the boundary between reality and the fictional world of a show I have loved for years. It is also inspirational for young artists since viewers are reminded that there are humans behind all media.
Generally, I’m not a fan of conversations for audiences whether live or via radio—I find that they tend to be redundant compared to other forms of communication. However, the event is engaging thanks to Schur’s charm and wit. His explanations of philosophies throughout history are accessible, provocative, and oftentimes quite funny.
The least enjoyable aspect of the event is the commentary involving How to be Perfect. I find it strange that Schur advertises the book despite it being a paid event, but luckily this doesn’t happen very often. Instead, the text is used to enrich discussion about Schur’s philosophical beliefs. Nonetheless, Schur’s comments in the moment are much funnier and insightful than the excerpts Meyer read from the book.
In addition, some of the questions digitally submitted by audience members try too hard to be clever rather than inviting interesting answers from Schur. Others are merely childish (one fan’s “why are you so awesome?” comes to mind). Although the question and answer session is still thoroughly informative and enjoyable, Meyer could have selected stronger questions.
Whether behind the camera or onstage, Schur is a delightful comedic voice, and I look forward to rewatching his deceivingly simple sitcoms through the lens of his more directly philosophical commentary from the event.