By James Tehrani
Jul. 29, 2015
Dan Aykroyd enlightens the crowd on leadership tips at Refresh Leadership live. Photo courtesy of Express Employment Professionals.
Dan Aykroyd knows how tough the comedy business is.
From “Ghostbusters” to “The Blues Brothers” to “Trading Places,” Aykroyd has been a part of some of the most iconic comedies Hollywood has produced in the past 30 years, and I had the opportunity to interview him: on leadership. The little devil on my shoulder said, “Forget leadership; ask him about comedy.” My conscience interrupted and told me, “You have a job to do.” I decided a compromise was in order; we’d talk leadership lessons from the comedy world.
Workforce: So let’s start with ‘SNL 40.’ What did you learn about leadership from that event?
Dan Aykroyd: Working with Lorne Michaels [‘Saturday Night Live’s’ executive producer] is an insight into leadership at anytime day or night. Lorne has the most interesting job in show business. Between the dress rehearsal and the air of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ it is Lorne Michaels who has to decide what pieces are working, what goes in, what order they are in, where the musical act goes, and in about 20 minutes in his office with his crew, he is the final arbiter. … And I think the big lesson with the 40th was: He didn’t think about it until about a month before.
Dan Aykroyd: No. It was not planned. He said, ‘I’m not thinking about it. It’s going to come together.’ He just had faith in his own ability.
WF: I just read Norman Lear’s book and he talked about his experience on ‘SNL.’ He was supposed to do a skit with his daughter, but they were running out of time, and Lorne said that you have to skip it, but his daughter was looking at him on stage and he said to himself, ‘I can’t do it,’ so he brought his daughter on and they did the skit together …
Dan Aykroyd: [As] well he should have. There are some times when authority needs to be properly defied.
WF: What’s tougher — the comedy business or being an entrepreneur?
Dan Aykroyd: I would say comedy is the toughest of all because you’re the astronaut keeping the red ball above the blue line. [He makes a blowing sound by inhaling and exhaling rapidly.] You’re always puffing, always working, always spinning wheels, spinning dirt, and it’s tough. Drama, you just let the words fall out of your mouth. My thing now, we have a beautiful product, a quality product [Crystal Head Vodka], so we’re selling something people want. Comedy you really have to sell it.
WF: What does Crystal Head do to promote engagement with its employees? Do you offer specific benefits?
Dan Aykroyd: We only have an office of about six … and they’re well paid.
To read the full interview, go to Workforce.com/Aykroyd.
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