During the pandemic lockdown days, we all did what was necessary to keep our personal and work lives as "normal" as possible. That includes Don McMillan -- America's #1 Nerdy Comedian -- who had to change the way that he showed up to work.
"I became 'zoom' comic," Don told me during our recent conversation ahead of SAS Explore. "I was able to adapt easier than many entertainers, and it turns out people really needed the diversion that my kind of comedy provides."
That's because Don's act embraces technology and how it intersects with our lives. His tapestry is PowerPoint, and his props are pictures, charts, and animations. As I've heard him say during his show, "I'm the only comedian currently working in Venn diagrams."
During this time, Don was so busy with "virtual" events he thought that well, maybe, this could become his career. But now LIVE in-person events are back, including our premier event for SAS users -- SAS Explore. And with his recent success on America's Got Talent, Don is as busy and on the road as much as he's ever been.
Life after "Death by PowerPoint"
Don has a famous bit in which he pokes fun at the universal business experience we've all had: sitting through slide-laden presentations that overwhelm, confuse, and abuse PowerPoint features in a way that fails to communicate. I asked him if he realizes the irony of this act at corporate shows -- in many cases, audience members go straight from his show into breakout presentations where the very behaviors he's made fun of come to life. "I've seen it happen!" said Don. "I feel so bad. If somebody has to follow me and do a serious speech with a really bad PowerPoint they're so self-conscious. They'll actually be apologetic on their stage and say 'Alright, let's get to the talk. I apologize in advance for my PowerPoints.'"
Don has legit "nerdy" credentials. An electrical engineer by training, he worked as chip designer for many years. Like many of us technologists, he "thinks" in tech terms. "I do so many corporate shows and I tailor my material to each audience. Then I have to flush my mental cache to clear space for the next show." (Long-time SAS users might remember that Don performed at SAS Global Forum in 2011. Don remembers...but the details are long-ago wiped from his internal RAM and probably not even backed up to tape.)
And will generative AI affect his act? "ChatGPT is not good at writing jokes. At least, not funny ones." However, Don has definitely played with ChatGPT and finds many of its behaviors provide funny moments for his act. I think that SAS users -- who are especially tuned into AI as a technology -- will find many "it's funny because it's true" moments at SAS Explore.
Checking all of the nerd boxes
Don's transition from tech to show business has provided him with some cool opportunities, including an appearance on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. As a big fan of Star Trek, I was delighted when he answered my questions about this experience. "I was wearing so much makeup there's no way you'd ever recognize me. Even my wife couldn't tell it was me in the show! But I love Star Trek and this was definitely a bucket-list item for me to be part of it." And now, having met with Don, my degrees-of-separation to nerd-vana have been optimized immensely. And that's what SAS Explore is all about: connecting you to the people who do great work that's important to you! (If you're curious, Don was in this specific episode.)
I asked Don if he ever performed for an audience with people who were so technically focused that they didn't appreciate his jokes. "I worked for Bell Labs, which was filled with some of the smartest people in the world. I would tell jokes and most people would laugh, but one guy -- a brilliant chip designer -- would just say, 'Don, that doesn't make any sense.'"
Don't miss SAS Explore!
Remember to bring your sense of humor and your curiosity to SAS Explore, Sept 11-14 in Las Vegas. Don will appear as one of the keynote presenters, along with Sal Khan and Ozan Varol. Visit explore.sas.com to register for SAS Explore and check the full agenda. See you there!