Sarah Cooper is a ridiculously funny comedian.
Sarah Cooper is the purveyor of the world’s greatest business/humor newsletter.
Sarah Cooper has mastered social media. Sarah Cooper is terrified of Donald Trump. Sarah Cooper is intelligent and quick-witted and absolutely lovely.
But the reason Sarah Cooper is here … the reason I’m one of her biggest fans, is for a simple reason: Sarah Cooper loathes meetings.
Hell, having survived, oh, hundreds upon hundreds of those awful corporate powwows, where men and women sit around a table and try to appear intelligent, she decided to write a book about the collective lessons. That’s why 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings has resonated with so many Americans. Because meetings absolutely suck, and must be avoided at all costs before they kill your rotted soul.
Sarah Cooper, meeting slayer, you are the 280th Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: So Sarah, even though your book is satire, satire can really only be satire if there’s truth to it. So I ask you this: In meetings, why do people always repeat what others already said? What I mean is, it’s time to go around the room and offer your thoughts. And Jim says, “We need to expand the IT department.” And Sam was thinking the same thing, but now he doesn’t need to say it, because Jim already brought up the point. But, when it’s his turn, he says, “We really do need to expand IT.” That shit happens ALL the time. Why?
SARAH COOPER: Because it’s the perfect thing to say when you have nothing else to say. And you can’t say you have nothing to say, because then you won’t be seen as a positive contributor to the meeting. I’ll freely admit doing this an embarrassing amount of times. Works especially well when the person you’re repeating is generally seen as a smart person.
J.P.: What’s your meetings background? Like, first meeting you attended? How many have you attended? And what inspired writing a book about meetings?
S.C.: First meeting ever attended? I’m not sure I can even remember. I’ve been attending meetings since my first job as a designer back in 2001. You can’t work in an office without attending meetings. I’ve attended thousands of them because I’ve worked in an office off and on for 15 years. But meetings don’t just happen at work—there are PTA meetings, condo board meetings, networking events, meetings with your husband and your real estate agent, meetings are just everywhere! I wanted to write a book about meetings for a practical reason—because people really identified with the original article, 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. I considered making it more of a broad “how to win at work” book—but there’s something especially painful about meetings that everyone identifies with immediately. Everyone hates meetings but will still complain if they weren’t invited to one.
J.P.: You had a gay ol’ time writing about the Republican Convention, but I’m struggling to find Donald Trump’s potential election even remotely funny. Truthfully, I’m terrified. What do you make of this all? And, let’s say he wins, will you be able to let humor conquer fear/disgust?
S.C.: The joy that existed when Donald Trump first entered the race is gone. The jokes I make now are exasperated and frustrated and angry and I make them because it feels like all I can do. I remember the first moment I didn’t think it was funny anymore—when Trump went on Jimmy Kimmel, and they were joking about keeping Mexicans out. I was furious. I thought about some little kid watching this and not being able to laugh at all. When I saw he was going on Fallon a few months ago I didn’t watch it (truth be told I’m hardly ever up that late) but the next day, the images of Jimmy pulling Trump’s hair made me sick. But there’s only so many times I can yell “fuck you” at my Twitter feed or my television screen. I really don’t like feeling so angry and stressed and hateful. I don’t like dedicating so much of my energy to this person who deserves none of it. I want one day for us all get tired of him but it feels like that day is never coming. His success shows us how easily manipulated we are. Kerry Washington recently said something on Real Time that struck a chord with me—she said the media is doing us all a disservice, and leading us to not vote in our own self-interest. I think Trump’s supporters are holding a middle finger to the establishment, which feels good but in the end, the only people they are fucking is themselves. If he wins, my only sustaining thought will be that the supporters who put him up on a pedestal will be the first to bury him. Watching that happen will be my only retribution.
J.P.: So I know you attended Maryland, snagged a master’s from Georgia Tech, worked for Google. But … how did this happen? I know that’s sort of a lame question—but you’re a former Google employee with her own website, a book. What’s your path?
S.C.: Growing up, there were two things I loved: being on the computer and entertaining people (er, attention, depending on how you look at it!) When I went to Maryland I wanted to get a degree in theatre but my parents didn’t think that was very prudent. They encouraged me to get a business degree (to get some “real” skills). I hated it and knew I didn’t want to pursue it as a career, and luckily, my last semester at Maryland I took a multimedia design course and fell in love with Photoshop. That led me to Georgia Tech where I got a degree in digital design, and went on to work at an ad agency, Yahoo! and then Google, but in between working I was still hanging on to that acting dream. Acting led to standup comedy which led to writing and once I had some success with writing, I decided to leave corporate America once again. The book came through people finding my writing online.
J.P.: I’m gonna say something, and please don’t think me a dick. I saw you and your husband’s wedding announcement in the New York Times, and it was lovely and cute and all. But it also struck me as something—Times wedding announcements—that someone like you would mock and ridicule, not necessarily appear in. Is that a midread?
S.C.: Oh, it’s definitely something I would mock. I’m a pretty sarcastic and sometimes cynical person, but when I fell in love with my husband Jeff, I turned into a cheeseball. All the things I didn’t think I wanted—the engagement photos, the engagement party, the wedding by the beach, the New York Times announcement—I wanted it all! I just love him and he makes me so happy and turns me into such a cheeseball. Oh and for the record, it’s something Jeff would totally make fun of, too.
J.P.: You’ve done a good amount of standup comedy. What was your greatest moment on stage? Your worst?
S.C.: Greatest moment—I’m not sure I’ve had one yet. Standup is hard. I’ve been doing it eight years and I feel like I’m eight years away from being good at it. My worst—I’ve had a lot. Probably a show in Brooklyn where I bombed horribly and when I sat back down next to my husband he wouldn’t stop staring at me and asked me if I was going to cry. I told him to please stop staring at me! It was really embarrassing. I’ve done really well and had people coming up to me to tell me how awesome I was, and I’ve done so horribly that I just wanted to disappear after the show. The funniest part is that’s with the same material. I hope one day to be someone who kills no matter what, but also someone who doesn’t care if I don’t.
J.P.: I really dig the way you see the world. Not the big things—but the tiny observations. Bachelor dialogue, mannerisms in meetings, etc. This is sort of a big, broad, dumb question, but what are you looking at? And what are you looking for? Are you eternally on the hunt for material? Does stuff just hit you naturally?
S.C.: Yeah, I try to be as observant as possible when I’m going about my daily life. If I only created stuff when I sat down to my laptop and tried to, I’d never create anything. Everything I create comes from something I noticed when I wasn’t trying to create something. I do observe people a lot and try to get at what they’re really saying or who they’re trying to impress or what they’re trying to avoid. But I think more of my material comes from observing myself. Noticing the moment I say “definitely” when I really mean “leave me alone.” I’m not always on the hunt for new material, I turn my brain off a lot more than I should. Most of my ideas come when I’m not really trying to find new ideas. I write down ideas constantly, sometimes I’ll just tweet it out and sometimes I’ll write it in a notebook which I refer to later when I’m trying to come up with something.
J.P.: You’re addicted to cable news—which strikes me as crack without the momentarily good feeling. What is it about cable news that draws you? And how long can you watch Hannity without stabbing yourself with a rusty nail?
S.C.: I can’t watch Hannity anymore. Jeff and I started watching it ironically because it was so ridiculous it made us laugh. Now it infuriates me. I’ve noticed the thing about cable news is: it’s not news (revelation!)—it’s news filtered through the opinions of commentators. If you watch local news you won’t see people taking sides, it’s way more like real, unbiased news in that way but also boring because there’s nothing to yell at. Cable news is opinion entertainment.
J.P.: So you have a free semi-monthly newsletter with more than 12,000 subscribers. Why? What I mean is, why do you do it? What’s the goal? Do you make money off it?
S.C.: It’s another way to reach people and let them know about what I’m doing. A lot of people don’t use Twitter or Facebook, and even if they did the chances of them actually seeing my updates are small. So my newsletter helps me reach more people. I don’t make money off of it per se, but if people buy my book or visit my website, I can make money that way.
J.P.: What’s your relationship with the eternal nothingness of death? Comfortable? Terrified? Something you think about? Something you don’t care about?
S.C.: I don’t believe death is an eternal nothingness. I think there’s a somethingness there. I’m not sure what it is but I’m interested to find out. Not super interested but interested. I think about dying all the time. I think about wanting die before my husband, and hoping I die peacefully and without having to bear the sadness of anything horrible happening to me or anyone I love. Life is wonderful and I’ve been lucky and if I could die happy I’d be happy about that, no matter when it happens.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH SARAH COOPER:
• One question you would ask Claudell Washington were he here right now?: Who are you?
• Three favorite words that start with the letter Q?: Quartz, Quizzical, Quagmire
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Brit Hume, carrot cake, Doug Williams, staplers, Aretha Franklin, mechanical bulls, trap doors, eggs benedict, Rick Astley, Topeka: Aretha Franklin, staplers, trap doors, eggs benedict, Doug Williams (dont know who that is, so I’ll put him here), Rick Astley, mechanical bulls, Topeka, carrot cake (and I HATE carrot cake), Brit Hume.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I always think about the scene from Castaway where the plan crashes and the people not wearing their seat belts get thrown out of their seats and I make sure I have my seat belt on.
• John McCain calls. He’ll pay for $2 million to write his arch-conservative speeches next year. You in?: I’d do it and try to sneak my liberal persuasions in there.
• How’d you meet your husband?: I met him at Google.
• How afraid are you of really large snakes?: I think I’m more scared of small snakes that disappear somewhere and you don’t know where they went.
• Would you rather change your name to Nipple McGee or self-pierce your nose with a 5”-thick arrow?: Nipple McGee I hate pain
• I’m pretty psyched for Edwin McCain’s new album. You?: Now that you mention it, not really.