​​​What Auditors Can Learn F​rom B-level Comedians​

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​​​You can learn a lot from a talk show host. You can learn a lot from a comedian. You can learn a lot from a comedy writer. You can learn a lot if you are willing to take what they have to say and think about it just a little bit differently.

I've been given the opportunity to read through an advance copy of Dick Cavett's new book Brief Encounters. I got this copy through the Librarything.com​ as part of their program where people are selected to get advance copies of books in exchange for reviews of those books. Not necessarily positive reviews, not necessarily negative reviews, just honest reviews. (Of course, I'm sure part of the reason I got this copy is because Dick and I have been such long-time friends. Don't believe me? Next time you run into Dick just mention my name and he, with his trademark dry wit, will answer with the pet name he has for me — Mike Hu.)

My intent here is not to provide such a review. I'm still reading the book and, somehow, completing a review prior to completing the book seems a bit ... well, let's just call it un-auditor-like. However, I can say that, so far, I have found the book entertaining with some very interesting stories and tidbits. It was within one of those stories/tidbits/chapters that I realized Cavett had something interesting to say to auditors. And it is something I'm not sure we've thought about before.

First, we can all agree that every internal audit department should have the mission that the department will become a true partner with the business — part of the team; a solution rather than a problem; a seat at the table; a business unit that, just like any other business unit, is working towards the best interests of all stakeholders. And I know from personal experience that any success we have in this direction comes from hard-fought battles — battles that are never ending. (In other words, in an almost Sisyphean battle, it is one step forward, one step back, continue ad infinitum.)

In a section titled "Comedy Pain and Comedy Pleasure," Cavett talks about the "B-level comedian." In particular he talks about his early days writing for this level of comedian, comparing it to writing and working for/with such greats as Jack E. Leonard and Jack Benny. (Allow me to pause so some of you can take a quick Google break to determine of whom I speak. The only thing that causes me more pain than the idea that these names might be forgotten is that some of you will not think it worth your while to find out who they are.)

Cavett shares examples of the B-level individuals who seemed to always need more from him or (even worse) didn't seem to understand the value of what he, as a writer, was providing. One example (and I am loath to quote too much here because the set-ups in the story are as important as the lines themselves): "Dick, when you write for me you gotta give me more than just one great line!"

Compare this with Cavett's description of Jack E. Leonard's reaction to one great line. "He used it, and it, as they say, killed. He thanked me for it each and every time I ran into dear Jack for the rest of his life."

One of the big differences between the B-level and A++-level — recognizing the value of a single contribution.

Now, your first reaction may be "what has this got to do with the price of mechanical pencil shavings?" I am hopeful, though, that this reaction disappears quickly as you move to the easiest part of the lesson to be learned from these stories — always be honestly appreciative; never forget.

And that is true; it is something auditors need to remember. But it is still only part of the lesson. And that further lesson has to do with the struggle I mentioned earlier — our constantly striving to become partners and maintain that partnership.

When I hear auditors talk about becoming partners with the business it seems to have an underlying expectation that, when we accomplish that one thing that emblazons the word "partner" on the crest of our "Now You're One of the Executives" blazers, we expect to be congratulated by the powers that be, allowing us to sit back and eternally enjoy the "good and faithful servant" praise. We seem to expect adulation for bringing that information to their attention — for doing our job — and we seem miffed if it is not forthcoming.

There are no thanks due us. Instead, we should be thanking them. (And, no I don't mean obsequiously thanking them for a seat at the table like we were children who finally got to sit with the adults for Thanksgiving.) We should be thanking them for the efforts they put forth in helping us make our work successful. We should be appreciative of their role in the success.

Think of it this way. For us to go to management, the staff had to be there for us. For us to go to the executives, management had to be there for us. And for us go to the board, the executives had to be there for us. 

Sure, we can say to them "I need more material." But that is not what a partner does. Instead, we can thank them for the support that got us all (them and us) the success. And the only reason we should ever forget to be thankful for those moments of individual support is when they become so numerous we can't recall them all.

That is how we go from B-level to partner ... and stay there.​

​The opinions expressed by Internal Auditor's bloggers may differ from policies and official statements of The Institute of Internal Auditors and its committees and from opinions endorsed by the bloggers' employers or the editors of Internal Auditor. The magazine is pleased to provide you an opportunity to share your thoughts about these blog posts. Some comments may be reprinted elsewhere, online or offline.​



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