How I Work

Baratunde Thurston on the most difficult performance role he has ever taken on.

Listen on

Episode notes

My guest today is Baratunde Thurston. Baratunde is a particularly hilarious comedian, he wrote the bestselling book How to be Black as well as many feature articles for places like Fast Company and Medium. He helped to re-launch the Daily Show with Trevor Noah through building the digital expansion team. And he used to write for the Onion and has been nominated for an Emmy award.

This conversation is a little different in that we deep dive into a very specific work project of Baratunde’s and it was one that I witnessed a few months ago. It was the closing keynote of the TED 2018 conference. While the footage is not yet live, you can get a feel for what this looked like when he did the same thing at TED2015.

To set the scene, the 2000 TED delegates had just experienced around 100 talks over the course of five days. Imagine the impact of watching just one TED talk and multiply that by 100. It’s an amazing and immersive experience and feels like you have been blasted by a fire hose with ideas. And the very last talk was Baratunde Thurston who summed up the entire conference experience - from the 100 or so talks to the snack foods to the parties - in 20 hilarious minutes.

But here is the thing - Baratunde wrote this phenomenal presentation during TED. So while experiencing the five day event he also wrote his talk. And then he memorised it. And then he presented it. In front of the entire TED audience. It was one of the most mind-blowing performances I have seen in my life. So I reached out to Baratunde to speak to him about how we did this. We delve into:

  • Preparation - and why its almost impossible to prepare for a performance like this
  • The technology he used to record and collaborate
  • His physical / health routine
  • The different ways to structure a joke
  • Unpacking some of the jokes and how they came together
  • How he memorised a 20 minute talk in the space of a few hours
  • How he manages nerves

We also cover a heap of other things, including:

  • Baratunde’s quirky (but effective) email autoresponder
  • Baratunde’s weekly reflection ritual
  • How he writes articles
  • Why working on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah was the hardest job he has ever job
  • The key question to ask your employer when accepting a new job
  • Why he is so frustrated with the social media companies

Find more about Baratunde at, on Medium, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

SMS Baratunde at +12029027949 (and use #howiwork).

Visit for full show notes.

Get in touch at [email protected]

See for privacy and opt-out information.