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We can learn a lot from a brilliant entertainer who just left us.

Twice a year, I give a speech to law students that is about the test-taking skills and tricks that (in addition to knowledge of the law, of course) you need to pass a grueling test like the bar exam. I always open with quotes from a gentleman I describe – accurately – as “one of America’s great philosphers…and baseball players, Mr. Lawrence ‘Yogi’ Berra.” I use the quotes because they’re funny, so they put my audience in a comfortable place, and because I can always use one last quote to clearly illustrate the purpose of my talk with the audience.

FWIW, here’s the quote I use with law students: “90% of the game is half-mental.” For my audience, it speaks to the fact that the students (for obvious and necessary reasons) spend the bulk of their time learning the law and learning how to write the law, but that the mental side of The Big Test is a huge part of the game too.

Now, here’s the Yogi Berra quote I want to share with you – with one funny note: Yogi Berra didn’t say it. His manager – the Ol’ Perfessor – said it. To paraphrase Yogi talking about a Steve McQueen movie he’d just seen, Ol’ Case must have said it before he died. See if it says something to you about entertainers.

Quoth Casey Stengel: “Mr. Berra is a very strange fellow of remarkable abilities.”

Does that sound like every great entertainer you know, or what?

Entertainers aren’t normal. Normal people work in business offices from 9 to 5. Entertainers are strange people, and the best are often the strangest.

Sports is entertainment, and athletes are entertainers. What made Yogi Berra so much fun was that he knew this instinctively, and he made his personal brand last the entirety of his life by being a very strange fellow with the remarkable ability to entertain with words. And here’s the crazy thing about his words: you remember them all the more because (1) they were fun to hear, but (2) no matter how he said it, you knew exactly what he meant by it.

So, to celebrate a strange and remarkable life, a few quick thoughts inspired by Yogi Berra:

  • “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Always keep your eyes and ears open. Your next inspiration can come from anywhere.
  • “If the people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.” When it comes to entertainment, give the people what they want and give it to them the way they want it. You can’t force people to watch your content when you want and where you want. Not any more.
  • “It’s deja vu all over again.” Showbiz is experiencing a “disruptive revolution”. Revolutions happen more often than you think. Learn from past revolutions. And to offer up a Yogiism of my own, don’t stop being revolting.
  • “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.” Be yourself. Always. (It helps, of course, if you’re a very strange person of remarkable abilities.)
  • Asked about streakers at Yankee Stadium: “I don’t know (if they were men or women). They had bags over their heads.” Again, keep your eyes and ears open. It’s easy to miss the obvious.
  • “Little League Baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.” Sometimes, the intended target audience isn’t who you think it is.
  • “So I’m ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face.” Use your gifts; don’t worry about your shortcomings.
  • Asked if he’d like his pizza cut into four slices or eight: “You better make it four. I don’t think I can eat eight.” No lesson here. I just think that one’s really funny.

So there, just a few thoughts from the man himself, along with one more reminder: “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”

Yogi Berra was – and will continue to be – beloved as a man of great character. He was memorable because he was a very strange fellow who had the remarkable ability (paraphrasing here) not to say funny things, but to say things funny.

You look like you need some rest, so go “take a two-hour nap from one to four.”  

Before you do, however, we finish with one last, sadly timely piece of advice from Yogi, shared solely with love: “You should always go to other people’s funerals. Otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

He’ll have a very full funeral, particularly when you count those of us who will be there in spirit.

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