Will Rogers: The mistake that launched a massive career

First! For those of you not aware of Will Rogers (shame, shame), a quick synopsis:

Will Rogers was THE most popular humorist of 20th Century America. Whoever else you think it could be, it’s not. It’s not Johnny Carson or Bill Cosby or Newt Gingrich or anyone from the 40s or 50s. Will Rogers was America’s humble everyman funnyman into the mid-1930s when he died in a small plane crash.

(Don’t get me started on small planes! . . . Lynyrd Skynyrd, Patsy Cline, Jim Croce, Elvis — oh no, that was a toilet — Buddy Holly, John Denver, politicians you won’t know by name, my wife’s free pass John Kennedy Jr. . . . . how many people do you know by name who’ve died in large jet planes?! . . . subside, Evan, subside . . . shhhh . . . .)

Will Rogers was a fierce advocate for the underdog, for the working man — and just plain enjoyable as a human being. Between his newspaper column, radio program and movies, Will Rogers had a greater percentage of the national audience than anyone had before or since.

But Will Rogers might not have had that massive an effect on the American psyche if he hadn’t rolled with a mistake.

In his early years Will Rogers traveled the vaudeville circuit doing rope tricks. One time onstage he messed up the trick, made a joke about it and went on.

Imagine yourself: You’ve intended for things to flow smoothly in your life. You do all the requisite things to insure your success — you practice, you visualize, you feel it. In fact, you feel greatness ahead of you and have no idea how it will come to pass. Then you mess up in the most public arena possible . . . .

Back to Will. When Rogers flubbed his rope trick, his easy humor saved the day and got a laugh. The theater manager saw the potential and urged Rogers to include humorous banter in his act.

He did and slowly the extraordinary happened — he evolved into Will Rogers.

There are three kinds of men: The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

The next time something goes wrong, seek — truly — the benefit. It is there.

This blog was inspired by the recent article in Success magazine (June 2011) by Robert Burns. It is worth picking up, for this and half-a-dozen other articles. It’s the one with Steve Martin on the cover.

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