March 3, 2022
Author, showrunner, “Mose” from the Office, and creator of The Good Place Mike Schur joins Jameela this week to discuss casting Jameela as Tahani, Jameela learning good set behavior (and not showing everyone funny porn), Mike’s “no assholes” rule, why The Trolley Problem is so complicated, what Mike learned from Lost creator Damon Lindelof, and more. They wrap things up by answering listener questions about Mike’s favorite curse word replacements and what we owe each other.
Check out Mike Schur’s new book – How to be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question
Follow Mike on Twitter@kentremendous
You can find transcripts for this episode on the Earwolf website.
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100 — Mike Schur
Jameela [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to an extra special episode of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil, a podcast about change. Today is our 100th episode that is absolutely wild to me. I can’t believe you’re still listening. It took me years to start a podcast, because and I’ve always wanted to have one. But I’ve never done it because I thought that everyone would think I was shit and they would hate it, and no one would listen and to think that you have supported this and told your friends and family about it. And now it has grown to so many people listening and so many people participating and engaging and writing me letters and messages and asking for guests and subjects to be covered. I can’t believe you stuck with me, especially through a pandemic when no one was even going outside or commuting. It took time and you’re in the fucking blur of time that was the last shit show of the last two years to listen to and to join me in this kind of it’s an experiment of progress. You know, I’m the crash test dummy. Can I become less stupid? Can I become more informed? Can I become more tolerant? Can I alter my behavior? Can I find my toxicity and remove it? And I do that very, very nakedly in front of all of you because I want people to feel safe to do it with me. I have been, I’m sure, will continue to be at times accidentally problematic and aggressive and unempathetic and unsympathetic. And I have learned so much on this podcast from not just our extraordinary guests, but from you and from your letters. I read as many as I can, and I’m very, very humbled constantly by the things that you teach me. And this podcast, I know this sounds a bit ridiculous, especially in what’s been going on in the world in a way that I could never have predicted just makes me feel so much less alone because I feel like we’re on this journey together, and I feel like you’re all as excited as I am to find out more things about yourselves and about each other. And I think that’s extremely cool, and I feel very safe here in a way that I never have on social media. And I feel as though you listen in good faith and and when I’m wrong, you let me know about it. But you do it with kindness and pushing me to do better rather than pushing me to fuck off. And I love you for that. Anyway, speaking of trying to be a bit better today or tomorrow than you were yesterday, I have the perfect guest and I chose him for my 100th episode because I owe everything to this man. His name is Mike Schur. Michael Schur. He is the creator of The Good Place. And five years ago, six years ago, shit me, six years ago, he met me at an audition that I was forced to go by my manager, and I had no acting experience, and for some reason he took a bloody chance on me and he gave me the job of my lifetime. I never, ever wanted to be an actor. I never thought I would be able to. I respect it so much as a craft that it was never something I thought could ever be for me. I thought you had to train for it for years, and I’m sure you still should. But he just saw something in me and decided to give me a chance and put me opposite Ted Danson from my very first day and changed my entire I had no money, I had no money. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no visa. I didn’t know how much longer I was going to be able to stick out in America, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. And he opened up this avenue that I could have never, ever, ever, ever have conceived for myself. He just believed in me when I, even when I told him not to give me the job when he hired me. I told him it was a mistake and I didn’t know what I was doing, and he just wouldn’t have any of it. And he inspires me in so many ways, not just because he’s a great boss and a risk taker, but also because of his dedication to kindness, his dedication to trying to be a good person, his dedication to realistic improvement. I’m almost mostly his dedication to inclusion, Mike from the beginning of his career, from SNL through to the Office to Parks and Rec, now The Good Place and other shows he’s going on to do. He is a big supporter of inclusion and diversity, and not in pointless ways and not in gratuitous ways, not in box ticking ways. He believes in reflecting on screen what we see out in the world, and he was one of the coolest things about that is that every fucking time he wins, he’s one of the most successful and critically acclaimed writers in the world and showrunners and show creators in the world. And he has proved to the people who have the money and the power that, including people, brings in a bigger audience that you can win because not all these people are inherently evil and just want to exclude everyone, and they’re all white supremacists, or I don’t know anti-gay or bigoted or whatever, all of them are just fucking greedy and afraid of spending any money that. Afraid of taking any risks, and Mike isn’t afraid of that risk, and the more we have, people take those risks and win, the more we see the market shift. Look at films like Black Panther, look at Crazy Rich Asians, look at Bridesmaids. When you include the people who represent the world, the world will come to watch and fuck me, just what a great guy. To the point where he’s written a bloody book about morality and philosophy, where he’s taken all of the most intense and detailed and sometimes quite boring philosophical works. And he’s read them all so that we don’t have to and then broken them down into this very, very clear, sweet, unpretentious and and humorous, relatable book about philosophy. And even someone like me who left school at 16 was able to understand it and learn from it and grow from reading this and similarly to the way that I did from our show, The Good Place, which if you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s like a Oh my god, it’s like being, it’s just a hug. It’s a fucking hug in a TV show. It makes you feel safer and warmer and cozier in this world. I love him. I love him so much, and I owe him so much and I wouldn’t have anything, I have any of the social justice work I was able to do. I was doing all that work 11 years before I met him, and no one ever listened to me. And after he gave me the opportunity of my lifetime, I was able to finally be heard. And I wouldn’t have this podcast. I wouldn’t have anything. And I. Oh, God, I feel so grateful, and so he was the perfect person to have on this show. And he’s a real, real hero of mine. We get into lots of the Good Place stuff if you are a fan, even if you’re not it’s still funny and accessible. We talk a lot about the trolley problem episode, which a lot of people love. We talk about the responsibilities of the wealthy and the powerful. We also talk about his favorite replacement curse words. There’s just so there’s so much trivia and philosophy and inspiration in this episode. So if, like me, you are interested in continuing to learn how to be good, this is the episode for you. I’m dying to hear what you think. Thanks for being here for almost two years, 100 episodes in. Millions of you have listened and you blow my balls off. Sorry about all of my language and disgusting stories. Thanks for putting up with me. Please keep listening and I will continue to do my absolute best to deliver to you the best possible podcast I can. I love you and I love Mike Schur. Here he is. Jesus Christ on a fucking bicycle. Mike Schur, welcome to I Weigh.
Mike [00:08:06] You know what, I just realized this is your podcast so you can curse as much as you want and no one can tell you to stop.
Jameela [00:08:13] Exactly. And that’s the whole point.
Mike [00:08:16] The problem is that you’re on someone else’s podcast and you’re and they’re like, will you tone it down a little bit. But now this is yours. So you’re this must be this must be incredibly liberating for you.
Jameela [00:08:26] Oh, you have no idea. It’s that I actually have to try and cram normal words into all of the curse words that I use on this podcast.
Mike [00:08:36] Yeah, the weird thing is when you’re not cursing.
Jameela [00:08:38] Yeah. So buckle up, Mike. It’s going to be quite the experience. So I have many, many things to ask. I have so many things to ask, and it’s so nice to no longer be in a professional setting. I consider this not a professional setting.
Mike [00:08:52] Rank amateurs setting, yeah.
Jameela [00:08:54] Yeah, this is just you, me and a few million friends just hanging out and and being loose. But first and foremost, I just want to say thank you. As always, thank you for giving me a job because if I didn’t have the job you gave me, I wouldn’t have a career. And if I didn’t have a career, I wouldn’t have this podcast. And so thanks for giving me this podcast. Basically, I will give you some shares of it.
Mike [00:09:19] That’s a good career move, maybe, is to just transition to becoming an agent who I just. Other people do all the work and then I just take 10 percent of everything they make.
Jameela [00:09:30] I feel like because you put so many people on the map, you should take like at least like a cheeky three to five, you know what I mean? Like Chris Pratt, Aziz, like all of us and all of us, would be living in cars were it not for you.
Mike [00:09:46] If that were true, then really, the person who should do that is Allison Jones, who is the the casting director who has cast Parks and Rec and the Office and and The Good Place and a million Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm and all these shows like she’s the one who goes out. I mean, just to right at the beginning here. Let me just say this. I wrote the pilot for The Good Place, and I and I describe the characters and I sat with Allison Jones, as I always do. And I said, OK, I’m going to describe a character for you. And I understand that this might be impossible to find, but this is the ideal situation. So the character is South Asian with an Oxford British accent, as she also is extraordinarily tall, which was a key because this was Eleanor’s nemesis, and I knew Kristen was playing Eleanor and is not super tall. And I thought that it would drive Eleanor crazy if her nemesis were very tall. So a tall South Asian woman with an Oxford English accent and an incredibly wealthy and posh and. And with the sort of style and baring of Grace Kelly and I said, there’s no way this person actually exists. So get find people who have two of these characteristics and then will rewrite the character in order to fit the description of the actual actor. And then, she said, Sounds good. And then like two weeks later, she was like, Hey, look at Jameela Jamil. And it was it was truly it was truly shocking. Like it was Alison is I sometimes feel almost embarrassed for her at how I talk about her as a as a talent, but she is just no. There’s no one better at discovering people and seeing seeing potential in people and understanding the what makes people special. And you had never acted before, and then you walked in and in the audition you said, like now this says that she has an aristocratic British accent. Would you like this to be like the royal family? Which sounds like this? And then you launched into an accent that was exactly the way that like they talk on the Crown. And then you were like, Or is it more like, you know, sort of like a university accent which sounds more like this? You did like 11 different variations of an English accent?
Jameela [00:12:18] Oh my god. And I also I told you that I had this ex-boyfriend. I can’t believe I said this to you in the audition. I’d never met you before. And I said I had this ex-boyfriend who was so posh that when he would cum, he would say, Who ra! I’ll never forget the look on your face!
Mike [00:12:37] It’s all coming back to me now yeah.
Jameela [00:12:38] You’d only been in the room, maybe 90 seconds before I told you that’s where I was going to draw my posh accent from.
Mike [00:12:50] Doing that so, so early in the time that we knew each other was good. It was a good like litmus test for whether or not we would get along with each other because it was like if I can survive this opening salvo. Then I think we’ll be fine.
Jameela [00:13:04] Absolutely. Yeah, I I can’t I can’t believe you did. I can’t believe you did it. I can’t believe you gave me a job. I had no I. I had no belief that you would ever do that. I thought it was the I felt like I was wasting your time. I felt like I was wasting Allison’s time. I was kind of I was. I really just thought I was going to be a writer. And and I just wanted to meet you, which is why I came to the audition because I was a fan and then I told you the cum story. And that was unfortunate. That wasn’t how I planned on it going down. But I definitely didn’t plan on you making an actor out of me.
Mike [00:13:38] Well you’re kind to say this, but I’ve of the many lessons that I’ve learned after having done this for a while now, there’s one real, I think true ism, and it applies to writers and actors and directors and everybody which is like you. It doesn’t. I think that at some level, I don’t know what you would call it. I guess like experience is overrated. I think there are writers who have never been in writers’ rooms before and you but you read something they’ve written and they just have some kind of spark or voice or uniqueness about them. And you know, Greg Daniels hired me and Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak on the first season of The Office, a very high risk venture to adapt that show to an to the American version. And none of us had any writing experience at all. Mindy was a playwright, and B.J., I think had written for maybe, maybe one episode of one show. And I I was technically had the most experience of anybody. But I was in at Saturday Night Live, which is, you know, sketch writing has nothing to do with long-form writing. And he rolled the dice on all three of us for this incredibly high risk venture, and I’ve talked to him about why he did it that way. And what he said was that you you can teach people to execute your vision of your show however you want them. Like if you just put in the time and they then have this sort of like patience to deal with the rank amateurs, then you can teach them how to write. And if they haven’t written for a bunch of other shows, it sometimes is good because they haven’t learned a bunch of bad habits or learned how to write in us in a way that is not the way that you want them to write on your show. And he just preferred people who were sort of who had who he saw potential in, but who weren’t veterans of multiple shows. And I think that’s true of, I mean, look at, Will Harper. Will Harper wasn’t had been an actor for a very long time, but he had never been a main character on a TV show. But then you see, Will Harper, do the audition and you’re like, Well, that guy is the best guy for the job. Like, there’s no you don’t. Is if you can keep your mind out of the trap of saying, like, this person has never done this particular thing before, then all you do is say, who’s the best in the audition? Who wins the audition? You give the part to whoever wins the audition.
Jameela [00:16:03] It was a bit stupid of me because I was the only one who literally never acted. So that that was that was that was truly an insane. It was insane. Insane thing to do. And I’m I’m so grateful that you did, and I’ll never forget the feeling of like I had to lie down on the sidewalk when they told me that you’ve given me the job and I just lay there for about half an hour, about 9:30 at night. I’m very lucky I didn’t get like traffic or something. And I uh, and then a few weeks later, I was standing in this gorgeous garden in Pasadena that was supposed to be the afterlife opposite Ted Danson, who I now had to act with. And it was it was the fastest learning curve of my entire life, and I honestly feel like I could do anything like I could do brain surgery now you know what I mean? I just feel like a fuck it, you know, I’ve acted alongside Ted Danson. Just give me the scalpel.
Mike [00:16:59] You should just show up at a hospital and demand some tools and see what happens.
Jameela [00:17:02] Yeah, I mean, I’ve lived a kind of catch me if you can like life, so I feel like you added perfectly to that story. I yeah, I just think I think that was mad, and I’m so fascinated by your decision to kind of give people that opportunity and to take the risk on all of us. I really like I think it’s really special, and I learned so much on this job, obviously about acting and about how if I ever do make it as a writer and show runner, like how honestly like inspired I am by your method of working. Like the first thing you ever said to me after I’d gotten the job was, you said, I only have two rules. Number one, the best idea wins, whether it’s the head writer or the janitor and does the janitor just working in school, why would a janitor be there?
Mike [00:17:59] There would probably be custodians of various sorts.
Jameela [00:18:00] Maybe you said the caterer, actually, and then you said and I have a no asshole policy.
Mike [00:18:06] Mm hmm.
Jameela [00:18:06] At first, I thought I was going to have to get rid of my anus, but it turned out that, yeah, you you really have a very strict policy of no one behaving badly to anyone. It doesn’t matter what level there are and it Mike it changed the entire environment on set because everyone knew that they couldn’t just take their shit out on someone else. And I was working with you at the same exact time that we were seeing the rise of the MeToo movement, and I was learning about all of these like horrific toxic sets. I’m sure I’m sure you’ve probably seen it or heard of it, or witnessed some of that in your time in Hollywood and to work somewhere that genuinely just felt so safe and where everyone was happy at every single level, every crew member, just joyous. Happy to be there. Everyone so sad when we finished that show it was incredibly inspiring and shows everyone that that is fucking possible and that I think it I think it contributed to how successful our show was that there was this it was so easy to make comedy on your set because everyone was in such a good mood.
Mike [00:19:09] Well, I’m glad to hear you say that. I mean, you know, that is it’s easy to just declare things like that and say, this is the rule. The actual execution of a rule like that requires buy in from everyone, right? Like it it’s not me saying that and then everyone listening to me. It’s me and Morgan Sackett, who our producer and David Hyman, another producer. And then it’s also Ted Danson and Kristen Bell as the sort of like heads of the cast. And then it’s also all the department heads. It’s Gay Perello in the props department and Kiersten Mann in the costume department, and everyone sort of has to be on the same page with something like that. Or else there can be little flare ups and problems anywhere. You know, it’s it’s it is. It’s not it. You set the rule, but then everybody has to follow the rule and believe in the rule and think that the rule is a good idea so that the benefit of having done this for a long time, largely with a group of people who remain fairly consistent from project to project, is that everybody knows the deal coming in right? You don’t you’re not starting from scratch every single time. So we all work together on Parks and Rec, you know, 15 years ago or more. What year is this? Yeah, Jesus, it’s 15 years. Yeah. And and you know, it’s obviously you don’t always get the same people right because people have other jobs or they’re not available. But you know, Steve Day has been the first ad on shows that I’ve worked on, dating back 15 years and Steve Day, the first AD’s job is incredibly hard. He schedules or she schedules every single aspect of the show has to kind of make the trains run on time. It is a job that it’s incredibly high stress he’s got. He’s being pressured from the from the production side and, you know, we’re losing money if we go over and he has to deal with that and the actor schedules and the and the dp lighting the set
Jameela [00:21:10] Also my snacking problem.
Mike [00:21:13] You, particularly you’re snacking problem.
Jameela [00:21:16] It was amazing. I have never because, you know, like I’ve never eaten a sort of craft services because I’ve never been on a set before. And I’d also like, I wasn’t used to American food. And I mean, it’s just fucking it’s like crack. So much salt and sugar and everything and all craft services was, I’d say, the best in the world. And so everyone had to if I was had to be miked up, everyone knew to do it at craft services if anyone needed to find me because they suddenly needed me in the background of the shot. That’s just where I was. I was never in my trailer. I was always at craft services.
Mike [00:21:48] It’s the most difficult thing about when a show is actually shooting is that you, no matter what your job is, you end up gaining 15 to 30 pounds because you’re it’s a lot of nervous energy and a lot of downtime. And then you’re like, What do I do? How do I kill the next twenty three and a half minutes? And then you smell like freshly baked donuts that are being placed down on a table eight feet from where you’re standing, and how do you not go eat one of those donuts? It’s impossible. It’s not fair.
Jameela [00:22:14] Yeah, it’s great. It was great, and I loved every pound that I gained. I would completely transform from episode one to episode 13 every single season. And Kristen, who Mann who was our head of costumes, never said a word about it, which is very rare in Hollywood because often, like women in particular, were very fat shamed. And she just never, never said a word about it. And we just all accepted that by about episode seven. We’d have to start leaving everything open at the back, and that would just be the way that it would be. And I so I essentially it was very I would try at all costs to avoid having to do anything where you would see the back of my dress so I would place myself deliberately in your shots trying to get front back in because that’s where everything is an apron. Everything was an apron.
Mike [00:22:57] You’re just wearing hospital gowns, right at the end yeah
Jameela [00:23:00] Wide open out back clearly feeling all the fucking breeze. It was just it was nontoxic every single level, I think the most inappropriate person on set was probably me like I was probably the that’s probably my language. Yeah, yeah. I remember God. I remember being disciplined like a by HR at the very beginning. Do you know about this? Because I kept on,
Mike [00:23:23] No what did you do?
Jameela [00:23:25] English people have no boundaries. And I found this really funny porn, and I kept on showing it to people.
Mike [00:23:31] Oh God.
Jameela [00:23:33] It’s just like my first week I was like, Isn’t this hilarious? Someone must have obviously said something, quite rightly, and I got scolded and made to watch like a three hour video and be
Mike [00:23:45] Well, I think that if there is a danger, if there’s a danger of of getting someone on a set who’s never been on a set.
Jameela [00:23:54] Or who’s English.
Mike [00:23:54] Yeah well, leave that aside for a second. But you know, it’s less about will this person be up to the job of performing on camera because you watch the auditions and you just have a sense about these things. And it’s more about like the sets are very specific sort of ecosystems that require a lot of people to be working in concert and and they they you spend hours. I mean, you spend more time when you’re shooting something, you spend more time with the people on the set than you do with your family every single day. Right. It’s it’s it’s usually 12 hours, you know, it’s seven to 13 hours, it’s seven to seven a.m. to eight p.m. or something, or six, seven and seven. And so they’re the ways in which people behave that this is why it’s really important to have a kind of no assholes policy is because it really can define your life. It can define the quality of your life in the mood that you’re in. And it is not always possible by any means to have everybody drive home every single day feeling great and happy and fulfilled. Because because everybody in every work setting rankles each other in some way and you get you have little frictions here and there, and there are days when everything goes wrong and it’s annoying. But if if it’s a really toxic environment, then people go home and they hate their jobs and there’s nothing worse than hating your job, it really is a terrible fate to suffer, to think every morning when you wake up like I don’t want to go there like. And that is a fate that befalls a enormous percentage of the people on Earth. And considering the fact that our job is funny, make them ups and goof around. Then if you hate your job, when your job is that, then there’s a real problem. Then then that is a failure of leadership and a failure of administrative policy. Because if you can’t enjoy the process of making comedy, then I mean, this is the what are we doing? Like why in the world would we do this if it weren’t the most fun thing in the world or at least getting somewhere in the vicinity of being the most fun job in the world? So that really upsets me when whenever anybody isn’t happy at their job, it ought to be. We’re the luckiest people in the world like nobody. Nobody has it better than us really. The combination of what of what the actual job is and then how much we are paid to do it. If we can’t be happy at work, then no one can. And I don’t want to live in a world where no one can be happy at work.
Jameela [00:26:23] Also, I mean, you would have at your absolute ass handed to you if you’d been making the show about philosophy and how to be a good person.
Mike [00:26:31] Yeah, yeah.
Jameela [00:26:32] Fucking hell on Earth. I mean, you would have got it worse than anyone else because of, you know, because you would have been called virtue signaler.
Mike [00:26:39] Yeah I mean, I’ve written I’ve written a book which is jokingly called How to be Perfect, but is about like what philosophers say about how to live a better life. And I think all the time, like, man, I am really sealing my own fate in terms of like I can never now lose my cool in public or or do anything terrible because like, Oh, looks like you didn’t read your own book, pal, huh? Like, that’s that’s waiting for me out there if I ever act like an asshole.
Jameela [00:27:08] Oh, I mean, like, that’s the story of my life, because I’ve come out being all virtuous and loud. And so now if I make a mistake, it’s honestly like, I am the devil itself.
Mike [00:27:17] Sure, yeah.
Jameela [00:27:18] I’d still rather try to be good and get overly punished than not. And this book that you’ve written is just so excellent, and I think something that my listeners will absolutely love because you have taken the incredibly complicated and sometimes quite boring long text of philosophy and you have filtered it into a funny and accessible way for all of us to enjoy it, understand it and apply it to our everyday lives. And I loved the book. I learned so much from the book, and it was great because I think after after our show, right, already learned so much in a kind of especially via Chidi’s character and also, I think via. All of us, like there are lessons trickled through all of us that I think applied to everyone universally, but I then went and tried to read, you know, a lot of the books that Chidi had been talking about. And I, I managed to feel even stupider than I had before I had tried. And then I gave up and thought, Fuck it, I’m going to be bad. I’m just going to sell drugs to children.
Mike [00:28:25] Well, that is that this is the problem. The problem is, is that the books are written by the smartest people who ever lived, who devoted their entire lives to trying to figure out how we could be better people. And they’re often really dull and boring. And it’s just a shame. It’s like a I had this thought over and over again as I was reading stuff and struggling through it and not understanding it, even when talking to professionals who are helping me.
Jameela [00:28:48] And you went to Harvard. All right, so you’re not normal. Go on.
Mike [00:28:52] Well, I just ended up thinking like, if if these ideas, which I think are so beautiful, could be could be just be like delivered in a more pleasant way. They would be so much more helpful and that, you know, philosophers aren’t writing for normal people. They’re writing for essentially other philosophers or academics or Ph.D. candidates in their chosen field. And that’s not what we all are. We’re not that even even the truly bright and inquisitive among us are not professionals. And when it comes to understanding the literature and then and then the final blow here is that they’re often responding to other things that other people have written. And so if you haven’t read those things, there are long chunks and digressions in their books where it’s like they’re they’re refuting some argument in some other texts
Jameela [00:29:42] It’s like the Fast and the Furious franchise. Yeah.
Mike [00:29:46] That’s exactly what it is. Like, you’re going to miss the references to Tokyo Drift if you haven’t seen it. So, so so I that was the impetus for this whole thing was just like, I want to just talk about this stuff, which I think is really beautiful and great and helpful and which I feel genuinely has helped me understand what it means to be a good person on Earth. And I want to try to, like, just say it like, I’m talking to my friend at dinner instead of reading this, you know, imposing 600 page tome in my living room in front of a roaring fire and a wingback leather chair. So that was the idea, and I hope I succeeded at some level because again, I really do think these ideas are great and I think they’re interesting and worth knowing and talking about.
Jameela [00:30:28] I also like, you know, you and I have discussed this before, but like there’s something about how being able to kind of go back through into like the history of philosophy from the first kind of original the OG philosophers all the way kind of through, you know, as the years progressed, everything got like a lot more complicated, probably because the world became more complicated. But it also became wankier. Do you know what I mean? It just felt like they were just wanking themselves off with impossible ideals. That that would then. I don’t know if that like. I don’t know if the motivation was to set standards so high that then we could never we would spend the rest of our lives like pondering how to possibly achieve them. And that would keep these people in business or something, keep them relevant because we’re trying to live up to the impossible fucking standards. I feel I feel a sort of way about it if I’m honest.
Mike [00:31:16] Well, I think that I think you’re actually like giving them too much credit. Like, I think that so much of what they did was it’s pure thought, it’s just the thought experiment. It’s like, what if we all did this? Or what if we all did this? Or, you know, this person says we should act like this, but I think we should act like this, and it’s all theoretical. One of the one of the most famous and joyous episodes of our show was the trolley problem episode, and the trolley problem is a famous philosophical problem. The basic idea is you’re on a trolley, the brakes fail. The trolley is going to smoosh five people who are working on the tracks. There’s a lever that you can pull that will switch tracks and you’ll kill one person. Do you do it? And then there’s all these millions of variations. And what if you know one of the people? What if you’re a doctor and they’re five patients who need organ transplants. Are you allowed to kill one person and harvest their organs and give them to the five people, etc., etc., etc.? So the reason that I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to do a whole episode about the trolley problem, both because it’s kind of the most famous philosophical thought experiment ever designed, and also because it’s really funny. Like, that’s a really funny situation that you’re going to smush either five people or one person, and it’s up to you to decide which. And all of the variations are funny. Like one one of them is like, Are you like if there’s a big, heavyset guy like a big power weightlifter guy on a bridge over the tracks? Are you allowed to shove that guy to his certain death and use his corpse to stop the runaway trolley to prevent it from killing the five people like they get more and more absurd and sillier and sillier. Well, the real reason I wanted to do an episode of it is because the trolley problem brings to light to me one of the biggest problems with philosophy, which is in order for it to be helpful and useful, you have to be able to employ it in real time and that problem, that scenario is just imagine for a second that you’re not reading it in a book, but you’re actually living it and you’re actually on a trolley and you’re careening on this runaway trolley and you’re thinking about your own mortality and you’re and people are screaming and shrieking and the trolley is jangling and things are falling off the racks and you are supposed to somehow calm yourself. And then either derive a Kantian maxim through your pure reason or make a utilitarian calculation. You’re supposed to go like, what did I learn in philosophy class that could help me in this situation? And you have like three and a half seconds to make a life or death decision. There’s simply no way that in practical reality, if you were in that exact bananas situation, you’d be able to act. And so I just thought it would be a good way. That episode would be a good way to show like. Part of what is frustrating about philosophy is that even when the theories seem like you understand them and they make sense that you have to be able to employ them if you can’t employ them in your day to day life, then what’s the point, right? So that is to me. One of the main frustrating things about all of philosophy is that the philosophers who wrote these theories didn’t seem very often to be considering how difficult it is to deploy their theories in actual situations where you can either make a good choice or a bad choice. And so that’s what that episode was really trying to get at.
Jameela [00:34:25] Yeah. Can’t we learn in your book in particular kind of almost requires for you to be able to press pause on the world to step out for as long as you need to be able to make that reasoning perfectly in order to be this quote unquote good person. Dominic Burgess, who who plays Henry in the trolley problem, asked me to ask you, What is your solution to the trolley problem? I’m sure you must have spent fucking weeks or months considering this maybe years.
Mike [00:34:51] So the trick with the trolley problem is that when you are when you’re presented with that situation, you’re in your gut instinct. Every bone in your body says we’ll pull the lever, right? Five people dying is a worse outcome than one person dying, and that seems like pretty universally agreed upon. And that I believe it is correct to pull the lever, but
Jameela [00:35:14] Unless the one person is Beyonce.
Mike [00:35:16] That’s right. And in which case you you just derail the trolley and you sacrifice yourself, because she must be protected at all costs. But the trick is, and this is like a sleight of hand trick. The reason that I think it’s correct isn’t just because there are more people who will die if you don’t do it, because if you buy into that theory, then you start being confronted with all these other situations in which you’re making a decision purely based on the number of people who will die, which is not a good way to look at the world. For example, there’s another thought experiment I read about in the book where you’re on vacation somewhere and you’re walking around and you come upon a local sheriff who is who has 10 people lined up against a wall and he’s got a rifle and you say, What’s going on here? Mr Sheriff person, and he says, Oh, this is how I maintain law and order in this town is every once in a while, I pick 10 people at random and I just kill them just to let them know who’s boss. But now, since you’ve since you’re here, this is a special occasion and I will give you the rifle and I’ll let you just kill one person at random. And that will be this month’s law and order lesson that I’m teaching all of the locals in this town. And so if you’re if you’re just about the numbers, if you’re only thinking like it, just minimize the amount of pain and maximize the amount of happiness in a utilitarian way, you might go, Oh, thank God, take the rifle aimed at one of these people and shoot and kill them. Now, if the thing that this leaves out, this numbers based calculation is like, How do you live with yourself? Like, you know that this is a terrible law, that this is an absurd way to maintain law and order, that this is a brute brutal and horrifying way to live, and you are now going to be responsible for having murdered someone and that you have to live with yourself. You have to like you have a sense of integrity and of and of right and wrong. And even though you have prevented nine people from dying, you’ve still also killed someone in a way that you know to be absurd and wrong and bad. And so basically, where I land in the trolley problem and where a lot of people land this isn’t like this is my amazing theory is it is probably right to pull that lever. But the reason it’s right is not simply because one is less than five. The reason it’s right. It has a lot, has a lot of other components to it. And there are there are. You can draw Kantz theory into this, which is you can devise a rule that you would want everyone to follow if they were in this situation. And that rule might be something like minimize the human. Amount of human suffering whenever possible or kill the fewest innocent people you possibly can in any situation or something like that. You can also say like, Hey, if we were all sitting around a table devising rules for our society and we got to the part where we were talking about what the proper course of action would be in this kind of scenario, we might all agree universally that if we have the option to have less pain and suffering than more, we might all agree to that rule and because we would all agree to that rule, that means it’s a good rule. There’s a lot of other ways to think about it, and they all circle the idea that we want to, you know, prize human life and minimize the amount of suffering in the world. But it’s a little more complicated than just saying always just do the thing that leads to the fewer number of people dying because that can lead you. That line of thought can lead you to some really rough situations, like it’s OK to torture one innocent person in order to save two innocent lives. You wouldn’t say that that was the case. Like, we wouldn’t allow that as a society. So it’s not really about what the right decision is in terms of pulling the lever. It’s why is that the right situation or why is it the right decision to make? That deserves our thought and attention.
Jameela [00:39:14] I feel like it was in my head a lot, you know, because I was working within like social justice and I’m an advocate. And there was a period of few years until everyone stopped doing it because I was so annoying. But everyone was selling a lot of diet shakes and diet products and detox products to kids. And I was very angry about it, and there are few individuals I called out, some of whom are related to Kris Jenner. Others who aren’t. And I was in this scenario where I was like, I don’t really want to confront or embarrass any of these individuals who were just, you know, participating in a capitalist system. And maybe don’t. I don’t know if they know, but I think they do. But anyway, fuck it. My point being that I was like, Do I that no one’s listening to me privately do I try to stop all these other kids from going down the road that I went down when I developed an eating disorder because I had irresponsible idols? You know, and to stop them from buying these products and therefore call out and maybe take away the money of and slightly harm the reputation of a few. And I spent my time constantly going with the trolley problem. The way that I felt about it is ultimately, maybe I’m a bad person for embarrassing someone or, you know, taking away any of their happiness as an individual. But I’ve pulled the lever to try to. To stop all these kids from shitting themselves to death, you know,
Mike [00:40:42] Well a noble goal. I mean this this is what’s tricky about the trolley problem too is and this is obviously like a this is sort of a cousin of the trolley problem or something. But what you’re doing in that scenario, it has a different moral calculation because you’re talking about some of the richest and most powerful people on the face of the Earth and the richest and most powerful people on the face of the Earth have a much greater responsibility to act in certain ways or to advocate for certain things or not advocate for certain things. Because when they speak, when the average person says something out loud, nobody hears them except whoever they’re in the room with. When it’s really rich and powerful people speak, the whole world hears them. And so that’s just, I’m sorry, there’s no way around this. You have a greater responsibility to make sure that what you’re doing isn’t harmful or bad because a word from you. I mean, look at Donald Trump, right? Donald Trump is the president of United States,
Jameela [00:41:34] I’m sorry I have no idea who you’re talking about.
Mike [00:41:36] Yeah he used to be the president, and he has a rally on January six, 2021, and he says, Hey, everyone who’s listening to me, go to the Capitol and stop the election from being certified and then a bunch of very, very, very, very, very bad things happen. And now his attitude is like, Well, you can’t blame me for this. I wasn’t there. I didn’t do it. And it’s like, this is the classic yelling fire in a crowded theater situation like you are when you are a person who everyone is listening to, the things you say have a greater effect on the world than if you’re just a person alone in his or her apartment watching TV. And so that I think that when you are when you’re punching up like that, when you’re saying to people who are among the richest and most powerful people who have the broadest, loudest microphones, hey, the thing you’re saying is causing a lot of harm and you need to understand that. I don’t think that’s ever wrong. I really don’t. I think that it’s entirely warranted that you that anyone comment on and try to lightly shame people who are causing harm to other people. There’s a I there’s a lot of writing about shame. And and it’s very interesting. And there’s a whole section in my book that I won’t get into right now because it takes too long about a situation in which I was shaming someone who did not deserve it. And it’s it was a it was a kind of a watershed in my life because I realized
Jameela [00:43:05] I love that chapter by the way, just want to say that.
Mike [00:43:07] Thank you, I realized way too late that what I was doing was wrong. But but Aristotle, twenty four hundred years ago said that a person who has who doesn’t feel any shame has no sense of disgrace. And if you have no sense of disgrace, then you will think that there are no repercussions for your actions that nothing that you do or say is your fault and you will live your life thinking that you essentially can do whatever you want. And it’s all fine. And that’s bad when you’re an average person. But when you are really rich and powerful person having no sense of disgrace or having no feeling that anything that you say or do is wrong or can bring bring harm to other people is straight up dangerous. It just people die. People died that day. People will die if people advocate. I mean, I think of this a lot now, and this is an area that I want to caution by saying I fully do not understand. But there are all these celebrities who were endorsing cryptocurrency and NFTs and all of these kind of complicated new financial instruments. And I don’t know if these things are good or bad. I really don’t. I don’t. I don’t fully understand them. I don’t pretend to understand them. But what I do know is I’m reading a lot of stories about people who are mortgaging their houses and buying NFTs of monkeys with funny hats on because what they see is that these things are selling for outrageous sums of money and they’re they want to make money, and so they’re going deeply into debt in order to do this. And then I read other stories about how people are reporting this NFT of this thing just sold for $1.8 million. Isn’t this amazing? Everybody get on board
Jameela [00:44:47] and think it’s money laundering that’s what I think.
Mike [00:44:51] Yeah and then you also read that, yes, it sold for $1.8 million, but the person who made it gave their friend $1.8 million. Then that person in quotes bought end quote this NFT for $1.8 million and essentially just handed the money back to the person who created it or whatever. And so suddenly it’s like, Oh, this didn’t. This isn’t a real thing that is accruing in value or amassing value. It’s it’s a scam. This is a scam. That’s a that’s a classic pump and dump stock scam where you’re inflating, artificially inflating the value of something in order to find other people who will be suckers and will pay you that money for real. So though if you are those if you’re those celebrities or if you are a person with a bully pulpit who is who is advocating this stuff, I just really hope that you understand it more than I do, because if you don’t, you are potentially causing a lot of harm to a lot of people who can not afford harm in the way that you can as a rich and powerful person, you if you lose two million bucks celebrity X nothing will change in your life because you have $300 million. But if you’re an average person who mortgages his or her home and who goes deeply into debt in order to buy a picture of a funny looking monkey with sunglasses, and then the whole thing turns out to be a scam, that person’s life is ruined. And I, again, I don’t fully know what I’m talking about. I fully acknowledge that I fully don’t know what I’m fully talking about. However, it seems real risky to me, and I don’t think there’s ever a problem in raising your hand and saying, Hey, rich and powerful people, you have a greater responsibility in the things that you say and how you say them, and the ways in which you’re suggesting to other people who are not as lucky as you are and not as fortunate as you are to tell those people what to do or how to live their lives because they can ill afford the kind of mistakes that you can afford and and still be OK.
Jameela [00:46:46] So what you’re saying is I’m basically a great person, but maybe I didn’t need to word it in ways that I sometimes did like when I said, I hope that all these celebrities shit their pants as as revenge for all the people who they made shittheir own pants. That’s what I’m hearing from this is I could work on my flavor.
Mike [00:47:10] Maybe. Sure.
Jameela [00:47:11] Essentially, my heart’s in the right place.
Mike [00:47:14] I think that. I think that’s right.
Jameela [00:47:24] Yeah, I really I love the way the trolley problem Mike sparked kind of three years of conversations like that I’ve it’s one of the things that people speak to me most about it. When I put questions out to the audience asking them, like who they would, what they would like me to talk about, I swear about 70 percent of the questions were 70 percent of the questions were about the trolley problem. 10 percent of the questions were Why did you finish the show, which I’m not going to make you get into. It was perfect. That’s why you finished the show. You finished the jokes. We’d come to our perfect end and we I think some people think we got canceled. We weren’t canceled. It was a really well-executed decision to like leave while we were on a high. I love it.
Mike [00:48:12] The simple answer, if you want me to answer it is just that the story was over. Like we were telling a certain story and we told it exactly the way we wanted to. We started. The writers started talking about the end of the show after the second season, we started saying like, we need to figure out what this is advice I got from Damon Lindelof because it was sort of like my, my writing spiritual advisor. He had executed an incredible limited run show in The Leftovers, which was happening as I was developing the show. And I, I sat down with him at the beginning and said, like, I haven’t really written a show that you would ever call science fiction before, and this is a little bit like science fiction. And I just said, like, what are what’s what do I need to do? Like, tell me what to do here? And he his number one piece of advice was know where the end is, like, have it have an end in sight and right toward the end because if you don’t, you’ll end up sort of spinning your wheels. And when you’re working on a kind of show that has is heavily serialized and has all these cliffhangers and moves at the speed with which our show moved. If you if you don’t have a sense of what it’s going to end, there will be you’ll write yourself into these weird loops and just like run in place and people will get bored. I mean, he created Lost. he knows what he’s talking about, right?
Jameela [00:49:28] I was about to say right. A lot of people, I think, felt like that show. It was one of the most magical concepts of a show ever. I mean, one of the strongest first seasons of any show in history, and that show went on longer than perhaps it needed to. And I think a lot of people didn’t understand why. I accidentally ended up sitting next to Damon on a flight from New York to Los Angeles, and we spoke about it for five and a half hours. And it was honestly like because I’m such a fan of his work. I got to talk to him about that and his philosophies and how in the case of Lost, that was just taken out of his hands. that was not his specific vision. He wanted to finish it where it would have been fucking perfect for it to end, but when you got involved the studios, it’s amazing that NBC, in spite of the fact that we were such a runaway kind of hit and like, kind of, you know, we were so beloved that they gave you that kind of autonomy.
Mike [00:50:26] Well the world has changed a lot. The TV world, the world of how shows actually are financed and make money has changed completely from lost until The Good Place. And, you know, when he was making that show, the goal was simply as many as possible. Forever go forever when a show is making money. It’s there’s a certain amount of money it makes per episode because it’s being sold into syndication and blah blah blah. And so it’s every episode equals x dollars for the people who made it for the studio and the network and everybody else. And so it was just go until you die, like, just do it forever and ever and ever until you die. By the time The Good Place was being made, things had completely changed and suddenly Netflix had come along, and from the second, the show was on in the first season. It’s profitable at some level because Netflix has come in and said we’ll pay you x dollars per episode so that there isn’t there now. It’s not the same pressure to do something forever as there was back then. And when you look at Lost, you know, the time that people got frustrated with the loss was in like season two and three when it felt like they didn’t really have. There was no point on the horizon they were aiming at. And as soon as they got together with the studio and said, we need to end this at a certain time, we need to know that we’re writing an end game. That’s when you get that finale spoiler alert from 20 years ago. You get that finale of, I think, season three where you realize it’s actually you thought you’ve been watching flashbacks, but instead you’re watching flash forwards where they’ve gotten off the island. And then Jack ends that season by saying, We have to go back, we have to go back and suddenly you get chills and goose bumps in the way that you did in season one and you’re like, Holy cow, this is amazing. And then from that point on, the show was incredible. It was so good again it got great. So he really said, like, you have to have an ending in your brain. So we started talking about the ending of our show in season two, and we knew and like when I thought about what I wanted the ending to be, it felt like I think this is like four total seasons and we just kind of stuck to that plan. And I’m so glad we did. It feels like we never wasted any time, every single episode of that show has a really important purpose in the bigger story that we were telling.
Jameela [00:52:32] I have a few fan questions that I have to ask you about The Good Place and about your own philosophies that I want to make sure that we get to before we get out of this. One of which is. It’s as if I’d written this myself, I swear, I didn’t. But what would the Good Place equivalent because obviously anyone who’s watched the show knows that we have like forking instead of fucking. And you know whatever, although you let me say when as wanker on TV and you don’t understand what a big deal that is, because in England, we are not allowed to say that word on TV, but because it’s not really recognized as a curse word in America. I was able to I feel like I deliberately tried to fuck up a few takes just so I could say it again. In that scene with my sister Carmela, who continues to haunt me to this very day. And I so someone wants to know what the Good Place equivalent would have been for the word cunt.
Mike [00:53:27] Oh God.
Jameela [00:53:28] I came up more than once that question.
Mike [00:53:32] Well, let’s see.
Jameela [00:53:33] Could it be cont?
Mike [00:53:36] Let’s go with that. That’s a better answer then what I was going to say.
Jameela [00:53:40] My favorite one that never made it air. What was your favorite one of the replacement swear words.
Mike [00:53:46] It’s hard. It’s hard to be in the moment that Eleanor realizes what is really going on. It’s holy mother fork me shirt balls. Which which is isn’t like, you know, it wasn’t the the, uh, the be the most creative one because we had said most of that stuff before. But that moment is so perfect and the her delivery is so perfect that with someone then comes back to me out the back
Jameela [00:54:10] That whole moment, that whole moment of Ted acting the transition of good to bad and being in the room, being up front front row for that honesty that might have all the things I’m fucking grateful for. I’m grateful to have been in the room for that moment. That was that was one of the top five moments of my entire life.
Mike [00:54:27] I’m just grateful to him because if you remember the way it was written was, Eleanor says, this is the bad place. And he immediately just he immediately just like goes, Oh God, God dammit, and like, throws a temper tantrum. And we had done it a few times and it was always funny and great. And he did that amazing thing where he flopped around the chair and then just petulant pushed the cactus off that thing. But then I was sort of talking to him when I was saying, like, I don’t know that I think this is good. I think it’s good. And he was like, Let me just try something, let me try something different. And I said, great. And that’s when the evil giggle came out, and the evil giggle is so much better than what we had written. And it was just the work of, like one of the great actors of our time being super in the moment and super aware of of his character and everything else. And that take we used was we did like five takes of the evil giggle but that take we used was the very first time he did it because it’s so perfect.
Jameela [00:55:22] Oh God, I loved it so much. But yeah, I mean, mine was one that was said and didn’t make it to air, but it was soak my deck and that I was I’ve always been sad was that we couldn’t give that I might name this episode.
Mike [00:55:39] Soak my deck. Yeah, it’s good. It’s a really good one.
Jameela [00:55:42] That was truly a great moment. Also, just like I wish more people knew how much Manny Jacinto improvised. Like how, how fresh every single take of his was. What a funny man like. Fuck him for having those cheekbones and then having that brain just outrageous out of control.
Mike [00:56:04] You’re not supposed to be like the world’s greatest chef and also a star baseball player. You know what I mean? Like, that’s what I feel about him is like, you’re not supposed to be this funny and good at acting and also look like that. It’s not fair. Leave omething for the rest of us.
Jameela [00:56:18] It’s extremely rude actually. I was I was once trying to describe him in an interview and I was like, Truly? And I and we have completely platonic relationship. But when he walks towards me always feels like it’s happening in slow motion. That’s the only way I can describe how how handsome he is. And also, I got to kiss him in episode two, season two. I think season two. Yeah, and and James is absolutely fine with that. Except when we watched that together, he immediately had to kiss me better than Manny kissed me, which was one of the funniest moments of my relationship. It was like I’m fine with this I’m fine with this and then gave me the kiss of my life,.
Mike [00:56:57] And he just got down and started doing push ups.
Jameela [00:56:59] Yeah, exactly.
Mike [00:57:01] Demonstrating his sexual fitness
Jameela [00:57:03] face roller to make the cheekbones more defined. And I, you know, that was mine and manny. Both of us had only ever kissed six people before that moment, so that was both of our seventh kiss, ever. He’s not counting it. I am because I need to beef up my numbers. Do you know what I mean? I’m almost 36.
Mike [00:57:22] If you don’t count it, that means that in your head, you’ve never actually kissed Manny Jacinto.
Jameela [00:57:26] Exactly.
Mike [00:57:27] That’s not fair. Yeah, you did. I saw it
Jameela [00:57:30] He registers that it doesn’t count because it was contractual. But I I’m I’m adding him to my list. But isn’t that so sweet that we were each other’s seventh kiss and we were so we were sweating. Oh my God, we were sweating. We were fucking like sliding off each other. It was so intense. but thanks for letting me kiss Manny Jacinto thanks for letting me dance with Ted Danson at two o’clock in the morning, we’re surrounded by fairy lights while you played unforgettable by Nat King Cole is truly the best. Okay, so a lot of people want to know how The Good Place would have changed had you had it been post-pandemic.
Mike [00:58:08] I thought about this a lot recently. I was. I wrote the entire book during the pandemic, so I was sort of grappling with the same ideas that the show grappled with. But in this completely different context. And I think the answer, which may be is disappointing, is I don’t think it would have changed at all because one of the great things about setting a show in the afterlife is we didn’t have to deal with News of the world. We did not have to have the characters weigh in on Donald Trump because the characters died before they knew that Donald Trump was president. And so we were able to talk about its issues of ethics and moral philosophy and moral behavior without having to be specific about real things that were happening in the news, which I think was a great benefit to the show because those things are hot button issues and people feel very strongly about them one way or the other, and they feel it, then they’re there. It’s like, to me, it’s almost like this what’s happening on Earth for real in American politics or Boris Johnson throwing parties in his Downing Street while wildly telling everyone not to get together for Christmas. Those are like flash points that are very blinding. It’s like, it’s like, it’s like the Sun that blots out all the other light. So I think maybe we would have done maybe one or two flashbacks to some small issue related to the pandemic. I don’t think the show itself would have changed because I think that the pandemic revealed a bunch of symptoms of a disease, which is that there are wide disputes and disagreements about how to behave ethically on Earth. And the pandemic revealed those problems
Jameela [00:59:47] And put a magnifying glass on them like it was so it was such a heightened version of what we had in the show. But I think ultimately the same and look at how much has happened in the world in the last fucking few, hundreds or thousands of years since all of these teachings came about like they still apply.
Mike [01:00:02] And I think we we were after a more a more general discussion of good and bad than we were about, like how how are you good and bad in this one way or it related to this one issue? So I actually don’t think there would have been that much of a difference.
Jameela [01:00:16] Yeah, we saw, you know, you and I had this conversation before about the fact that we saw every single character of the Good Place embodied in in humankind in the last two years. So we had the kind of people who sort of didn’t feel one way or another, particularly who just wanted to be left the fuck alone and kind of live slightly selfishly. I’d say that was pre Good Place Eleanor.
Mike [01:00:37] Mm hmm. Absolutely.
Jameela [01:00:37] And then we had Jason, who started the pandemic and spread it because of the meme that’s now famously gone around the world of that line from season three, where he talks about a bat.
Mike [01:00:53] And we had Tahani’s who were who were sort of self-aggrandizing-ly raising money and being out in front of it.
Jameela [01:00:59] Doing the Imagine video. And then I said disposability video and all the other things celebrities did that was so fucking cringe in those two years, I feel like a lot of Tahani’s came out, came out of like hiding that was pretty instense.
Mike [01:01:14] I feel like you and I also talked about this at one point, but I I was very I had a lot of sympathy and empathy for Tahani because I felt like her she did do a lot of really good things, which is why she thought it was very natural that she was in The Good Place after she died. But and also her Achilles heel was that she just wanted people to love her more. And she was sad that that her parents didn’t love her more and that her sister didn’t love her more. And in terms of when you’re talking about motivations for bad behavior, that’s a pretty relatable one, I think. And that’s that’s a pretty understandable one. And I always felt like of all of the you know, of of the four humans who were put into the bad place and tortured by Michael, I always felt like her Achilles heel was the sort of softest of the Achilles heels and the most human.
Jameela [01:02:08] Yeah, I think a lot of people really resonated with her and also her story with her parents and her sibling rivalry. It was. It was really lovely to see that kind of play out in such a relatable way for people. I mean, she also taught me a lot because I think she knocked the performative-ness out of me in seeing like how controlled she was by needing everyone else’s approval. I think it taught me to stop seeking anyone’s approval. And I think a lot of people sort of probably see me on Twitter and don’t know anything else about me, and they think that I’m I’m seeking everyone’s approval in doing these, these acts but I actually because of Tahani, because of the way that you wrote Tahani and her growth, don’t give a shit now about whether or not anyone else thinks I’m doing the right thing now, the good thing now or why I’m doing it, I’m doing it for the long game because I don’t want to go to hell like Tahani. I don’t want the moral corruption, the moral dessert of it all like I’m willing to be seen as the annoying one or the bad, whatever. I’m willing to be judged now and not be approved of by anyone. As long as I know that I’m doing, I’m living by what I think is the right thing to do in the long run for as many people as possible do you know what I mean?
Mike [01:03:20] It’s hard. Yeah, it’s hard not to want approval.
Jameela [01:03:23] I am fucking annoying. I know that. But like, I’m trying. Go on.
Mike [01:03:29] No I was just going to say that it’s it’s hard, not it’s it’s very natural. This is what I mean is it’s it’s a very natural thing to want approval. We’re taught to want approval from our parents and teachers and peers and everything else like, I don’t I don’t I don’t begrudge anybody, honestly the desire for approval. I think that the trap becomes when the desire for approval starts being the thing that’s actually guiding your action instead of a thing that you just hope will happen when you do whatever it is that you think is the right thing to do. If the Tahani’s real problem wasn’t that she wanted approval, is it? She allowed her and her desire for approval to actually dictate what she did with her life, and so would the things that she was doing weren’t she wasn’t doing because they were the right thing to do, or they were a good thing to do, or a kind or empathetic or other directed thing to do. She was doing them because she was aiming solely at that approval. And that’s the that’s a it’s a subtle distinction, but I think it’s an important one because.
Jameela [01:04:32] 100 percent.
Mike [01:04:33] I want I want people’s approval. Everybody wants people’s approval. How could you not want people’s approval? You want to believe that when you do things that you believe are good, that people will say, like, I agree, I think that’s a good thing to do. It’s just that if you if you do them, because that if that’s your goal, if instead of flourishing, which was what Aristotle thought was everyone’s ultimate goal, like flourishing as a human being and having these all these virtues in the exact right amounts. That was his goal. The Kant’s goal was to to act out of a duty to follow a rule that you could believe is that you could will to be universal, meaning that everybody would do it. That’s his goal, his ultimate goal. If your ultimate goal is simply, I want people to applaud and click on the Little Heart button on Twitter, then you’ve lost sight of what you actually think is good and bad or right and wrong, and you’re only doing it for that reason, which I think is where the where the problems come in.
Jameela [01:05:27] So someone has asked as human beings. Are we capable of being truly altruistic when our inherent nature seems to seek out self-preservation? I mean, I guess you’ve kind of just answered that like, yes.
Mike [01:05:38] Well, yeah, like, this is a very commonly asked question, right? It’s like, is there any such thing as a purely selfless act because a purely selfless act would be done in a vacuum and no one would ever even know you did it? And very few people ever do things in a way that no one knows that they did it. And I I think actually where I land on this is, I don’t care. Like, there’s a section in the book about about donating to charity, where Tahani gets discussed a little bit. And you know, the question is like the the idea is that like the highest level of charity would be done anonymously, right? The most morally pure act you can do in the world would be to give an enormous amount of money to some very worthy cause. And you do it anonymously because that takes off the table. Whether or not there’s any aspect of this where people are going to see you and think of you as a good person and I I thought about this a lot. And I think that where I end up is I don’t really care why you’re giving money to charity at the end of the day, because the world is very complicated and sad and there’s a million causes that are worthy and there’s built literally billions of people who were in some state of distress or anxiety or fear. And this is just a numbers game, and I think there is probably more value if Oprah Winfrey gives $100 million to some incredibly worthy cause. And does it anonymously that’s an incredible thing for her to do. Oh my God. Of course, Oprah is the best. But if Oprah Winfrey gives $100 million to a charity to a worthy cause, and then she goes on TV and says, I’m Oprah Winfrey, I just give $100 million to this cause because I believe in this cause. A whole lot of other people are going to go like, Well, Oprah Winfrey has given this her seal of approval, and I trust her implicitly. And now I am also going to give to that cause. And I think that’s a better outcome. And I don’t particularly care if if Oprah if one part of Oprah
Jameela [01:07:31] It’s more utilitarian.
Mike [01:07:33] Yeah, exactly.
Jameela [01:07:35] Exactly I think I stand by that, too.
Mike [01:07:36] I don’t care if some part of her is doing it because she wants approval, I don’t. Who cares like great, the more the better. We are we are not in a position with the problems in the world right now to draw lines of distinction and stick to them in terms of like what’s better or worse, I think we just got to reallocate resources massively.
Jameela [01:07:55] We are kind of sort of ending up in a we talk about this a lot on the podcast, like a philosophical nightmare at the moment because there is so much moral superiority, moral perfection kind of being demanded specifically on Twitter. I don’t think that exists for 80 percent as well, world, but on Twitter. There was this kind of like judgment of who’s allowed to help. Are you good enough to help us? And I’m like where the fuck. Where the fuck do we think we are? How well do we think things are going to the oppressed that we can be like, mm? Yeah. But ten years ago you made a mistake. And so like, even though you really want to help now and you want to do better and you have all the stuff that you can do that be helpful, we just think no, like next. Who else? Who else is coming? It’s like people like there’s only there’s a finite amount of resources.
Mike [01:08:35] The flip side of that coin is like, is the thing of like, this person did this really cool thing. Well, but that person also did this less cool thing a long time ago or whatever. And it’s like, Oh, yeah, OK, this congratulations. No one is perfect. You’ve identified the fact that no one is perfect now, of course, sometimes the uncool thing that these people did is so uncool that it really matters and then you’re like, OK, well, hold on a second. This is, you know. But what we’re bad at right now is understanding degrees and nuance we’re on. We’re not good at parsing the difference between someone who did something human and flawed and explicable and someone who is a true monster.
Jameela [01:09:14] Yeah, irrevocable damage.
Mike [01:09:15] Yes, we need to get better at that.
Jameela [01:09:17] 100 percent.
Mike [01:09:18] I also believe that, like the the title of the book is literally a joke, right? Because we all have to understand that no one that perfection is impossible and it’s not even really a good goal to try to achieve.
Jameela [01:09:30] No, the whole show taught us like, just try to be better tomorrow than you are today. And that was why so many people watched it, like truly 15 times during the pandemic. I rewatched everyone I know, rewatched it, and it was like just such a comforting, a comforting reminder that humans can improve. And also, the overriding message is just if people put their differences aside and work together, they can get to a better place. That’s what the entire you couldn’t have more individually different and impossible people to stick together in this ridiculous challenge that goes on for literally god an unknown amount of time. Jeremy Beremy after Jeremy Beremy, and and they were able to make an improvement because we we decided to just work as a group. What was your what were some of your favorite moments of our show?
Mike [01:10:13] Oh man. I mean, there were so many. The end of season one, I think, was executed as well as as I could have imagined it being. I, you know, my daughter has watched the show. She’s 11, and she’s watched the show a number of times. And she and I were laughing literally yesterday about the Janet’s episode at the end when they’re fleeing from the accountants and and Michael says, I need someone. I need you to do something really dangerous that has a very low chance of success and which might end up in you like, you know, the world ending or whatever. And then Jason says, that’s most of what the stuff I did on Earth. And he goes, Great, get in the tube. And then Jason’s response is, Oh hell yeah, I love getting in stuff and then jumps into the mail tube. That that. I think that Janet’s episode, which was so weird and bizarre, had so was such a key moment in the show. Not just because Darcey was incredible and did a great job, but also because it is the real beginning of the end game. It’s the moment that they all realize that the that the the world, as they understand it, is completely screwed up and needs to be fixed. And then I think the finale, everything about the finale I love the finale is really, I think, very beautiful. I loved when we came up when we realized what the story of the finale was going to be and we thought it through in terms of each character. I remember thinking, that man, we have the right answer for all of these people, like Jason was going to kind of end up being a monk by waiting for Janet forever in that in that weird sort of liminal space between The Good Place and whatever comes next. I we came up with the idea for Tahani’s end of like she was a person who never really did anything herself, and it was like, she’s going to spend eternity learning how to do everything, every mundane thing, every complicated thing, woodworking and oil painting and sculpture and and and how to fix a car and how to play tennis and everything else. And then she was going to feel like I’m not done yet. Now I want to do I want to give back to people who are who are in this tricky transition time in their lives by learning how to do what Michael does and the attitude that she has in that moment where he’s like, You’re a human, it’s not possible. And she’s like, Watch me like, that was it was such a great end to her journey because she was a person who who lived entirely for other people. And then suddenly she was just taking her her existence by the reins and guiding it herself. I really love that ending for her.
Jameela [01:12:44] And unbeknownst to us, like we created the slogan of the Karen’s via Tahani, I want to speak to your manager. Like that became that is like the what is it, the bat signal of the Karens.
Mike [01:12:56] Yes, that’s right. I think Karens and and folks had already been saying, I would like to speak to your manager. I think maybe it was a symbiotic thing where we we had used it from them and then they used it from us.
Jameela [01:13:09] 100 percent. No, I’m only kidding. So what do we owe to each other, Mike? That’s the overall question throughout the entire book. Do you have a simple answer for that? Is it just our best?
Mike [01:13:19] If there is a simple answer to that question, it would be the one that TM Scanlon, whose book is titled What We Owe to Each Other. His his response would be to say we owe it to each other to be able to justify our actions as being as being reasonable. That’s sort of what he would say, right? He would say that they that you are not. You need to acknowledge first that we rely on each other for certain things, whether no matter what our attitude is about politics or government or the role of society or whatever. You cannot move through the world alone. You owe you owe other people a certain baseline of respect and and responsibility, and they owe the same to you. And what I love about the title of his book and the reason it plays such a key role in the show is he doesn’t say, Do we owe things to each other? Question mark. He says, This is we. What we owe to each other implies. We know we owe things to each other. Now the question is, what are those things? And his answer again would be something like we owe each other the the justification of our actions, essentially like we owe it to each other to say when we act in in certain ways, our actions are reasonable and justifiable as people who share the Earth with each other, which I think is a pretty simple, straightforward,
Jameela [01:14:49] much needed
Mike [01:14:50] Life thought, Yeah, I think it is. I think it’s he wrote that book twenty three years ago or something, but it’s amazing how it applies to the pandemic and to, you know, anything, anything that’s happening in contemporary society. If you read that book and you understand it, which I barely do, you will marvel at how and what a good litmus test it is for action.
Jameela [01:15:13] You break it down in your book in a way that the rest of us can understand even dummies like me. My last, last last question is just something I’ve always wanted to ask you but I was too scared. In fact, I think the most like this is this has been so fun going to interview you during your book process because I’ve been able to, like, just sit down and chat and then have you hostage so I can just ask you a few questions. Back to me, back to me, Mike. Um, so I always wanted to know at the final audition before I was going to go in and do the network test. So in in Hollywood, you have to sign a seven year deal right before you actually do the final audition. For anyone who doesn’t know which is wildly odd because like, you’re throwing away the next seven years of your life and you’re not throwing away, but you’re like gambling on the next seven years of your life and you don’t even know if they want you or not. So I was there with a few other people who we were all up for the kind of final round of auditions, and you came into the room in which I was. We all had our contracts. We were about to sign them, and you came in and sat just kind of very gently on the side of the chair and were like, Sorry, I know this is weird, but do you mind if I just sit here and just watch you sign the contract? It’s just a thing I like to do, right? And I was like, Oh, OK, did you do that with everyone or did you do that because you thought it was going to be me? I was just curious.
Mike [01:16:37] You know, it’s funny. I don’t. I have no memory of that at all.
Jameela [01:16:41] Okay. Yeah, no. It wasn’t a really poignant moment for me, either. So that’s fine. No, I don’t think about it all the time. That’s cool.
Mike [01:16:49] But it makes sense in a certain way because there are moments in the creation of TV shows that are that are kind of like, well, shit, this is really happening, you know, like it. It’s it’s like the stuff happens so fast and it’s so it’s so hectic that there are there are like sometimes I find myself wanting to just like be try to be very present and be very in the moment to say, like, we don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know if this show is going to work or not work, if it’s going to last for seven years or be killed after we make the pilot or what. But I do. I have certainly, in many instances tried to say to myself, like, like, be very present right now and pay attention to what is happening. Because in the event that this becomes an important process or section of your life, you’re going to want some images and some memories to hold on to. I did that when we were shooting the finale of season one, I did it when Drew, I have a video of the very first take of the very first scene that we ever did on this show, which was the flashback where Eleanor’s throws a piece of garbage at a, at a, at a trash can and misses. And the guy says, like, Hey, you missed and she goes, Pick it up if you’re so horny for the environment, that line, that was the very first thing we ever shot. And I remember really thinking, like, watch this, be in the moment, pay attention like this could be the the thing that matters the most to you in your life for the next five years. And then I was right. So that sounds like the kind of thing I would have done for that reason, for just being like, I just want to remember. I mean, it apparently didn’t work because I don’t remember it, but.
Jameela [01:18:28] You don’t remember doing it like it was so funny. It meant so much. I was like, Oh, look at him. He’s so sentimental, like he’s coming in to watch me sign the contract and
Mike [01:18:38] I remember I do like
Jameela [01:18:39] I mean, it freaked me out more actually, before the audition.
Mike [01:18:43] I do like to go say hi to actors before screen tests because it’s such a weird, unnatural thing. I. And because I think just being human in those moments and being like, hi I’m a person, this is a silly thing we’re doing. Let’s all just try to relax, and I just want everyone to do their best work. I did that. I remember, like I remember, I do remember seeing you in your room. I don’t remember saying that, but I remember. I usually go in and say hi to the actors just for that reason. And I have a lot of memories in my life of like Lena Waithe on Master of None. And I remember chatting with her about we ended up talking about like David Lynch and some weird people that she loved and who were who made movies. And and I and I, I have memories over the years of just like chatting amiably with people who I was about to unknowingly about to spend years of my life working with. So that’s the reason I did it.
Jameela [01:19:38] Mike, I have a billion other questions I wish I could ask you, but I can’t, because you have to go off and do more amazing things to make more amazing shows. I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say, thank you so much for making The Good Place. Thank you for writing this excellent book. Thank you for all of the great shows that you’ve given us, and for your constant dedication to understanding people and then helping us understand ourselves. Thanks for giving me a job. I had $17 left in my bank account the day that you hired me. I was absolutely fucked. I really didn’t know where I was going to live or how I was going to live. You totally, totally changed my life. Thank you for taking a chance on me, even though I had no idea what I was doing and I was. I’m such a disgusting person with such a terrible brain and you put up with that and gave me chunks and let me speak on panels, which is such a terrible mistake.
Mike [01:20:29] Yeah that part I regret.
Jameela [01:20:30] Sorry for all of the filth, but you have changed my life forever and and anyone who who doesn’t like me now, it’s your fault. So I just wanted to say that on the record now.
Mike [01:20:45] Fair enough.
Jameela [01:20:46] You’re fucking biased, and I can’t wait to see what you’re doing next and everyone to go out, read this book and maybe just rewatch The Good Place because the world is such a hellscape right now that it might be a nice bit of escapism. Lots of love, and I’ll see you soon.
Mike [01:20:59] Thank you. Talk to you soon.
Jameela [01:21:03] Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode I Weigh with Jameela Jamil is pretty produced to research by myself, Jameela Jamil, Erin Finnigan and Kimmie Gregory. It is edited by Andrew Carson, and the beautiful music you’re hearing now is made by my boyfriend, James Blake. If you haven’t already, please rate review and subscribe to the show. It’s a great way to show your support. We also have a bonus series exclusively on Stitcher Premium called Ask Jameela Anything. Check it out. You can get a free month to Stitch Premium by going Stitcher.com/premium and using the promo code, I Weigh. Lastly, over I Weigh, we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at 1-818-660-5543 or email us what you weigh at IWeighPodcast@gmail.com. And now we would love to pass the mic to one of our fabulous listeners.
Listener [01:21:54] Hi, my name is Hayley, and I always being a musician. I started playing the flute when I was in the eighth grade. Right now I’m entering my senior year of high school and I work as hard as I could to be as good as possible, and now I am in the top end of my school. It took a couple of years to get there and I’m really excited about it and I’m currently working on college audition music and music’s become my life and my passion and yeah. So I way being musician, talented musician at that, I say yes.
September 28, 2023
This week, Jameela is joined by crime journalist and activist Isla Traquair and they cover her long spanning career reporting on true crime to recently becoming a victim of emotional violence and stalking herself.
September 21, 2023
Jameela is joined by campaigner and writer Gina Martin, and in this optimistic conversation about creating change for equal rights around the world, they discuss how anyone can show up and support activism (especially offline in real spaces) and what this activism work can look like.