Ep #18 | Bringing Laughter to the World


Marshall Chiles is a stand-up comedy producer and entrepreneur. He started as a stand-up comedian in 2000 and now owns The Laughing Skull Lounge and Laughing Skull Comedy Festival in Atlanta, GA. His latest venture, Humor Wins, combines his love of comedy and business by producing stand-up comedy competitions where the performers are people that work in a specific industry. Examples are Atlanta's Funniest Lawyer and Atlanta's Funniest Real Estate Agent. His ultimate objective in business is to bring more laughter to the world... especially corporate America.



Shantel: Hey, Marshall, welcome to the Imagine More podcast.

Marshall: Hey, how are you?

Shantel: I'm wonderful. We're so excited to chat with you and learn more. Thanks for being on the show.

Marshall: Well thank you for having me. I'm very excited to be here.

Shantel: Absolutely. So let's kick it off. How did you get started? What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?


Marshall: Well, I wanted to be in comedy ever since I was seven years old. I wanted to do stand-up comedy, but I grew up poor and I didn't want to be a starving artist when I was an adult, so my plan that I put together when I was seven years old is that I was going to start a business, sell it, have money in the bank, and then I can go into the arts without stressing about cash flow. I didn't call it cash flow at seven. It was gross revenue back then ... and then be able to take the financial security as well as the business skills into comedy and be successful with it and eventually being successful enough to where there was a charity component to what I do. I say all those details because that's pretty much what I did. I put myself through college, and before I even graduated college, I started my own business and had a few businesses by the time I finished because it took me ... I was putting myself through college for nine years, and when I graduated it was from University of Georgia, with an MIS degree, and I started a web development. By the way, no, I did not graduate. Just when I finished. I had six classes left and they were all like my freshmen and I was 27, and I was like, "Man, I'm not going back for calculus." I had a web development business that was on the table. It was part of the dot com boom and bust period, so I was more part of the bust period, and I built it all up, had a few people looking at buying business for seven figures. The bust happened and then I ended up selling it for pennies comparatively, but I was debt-free, I was single, and I had some coin in the bank. I was like, "Well, I'm not getting any younger. I've always wanted to do stand-up." So I started doing stand-up and within a year I had bought a club because I'd realized being a road comic sucks and I wanted to figure out a way to get on stage and sleep in my own bed at night. So just taking that entrepreneur skills and applied it to stand-up, and I was actually talking to my son last night about the business, my first business, and it was cutting grass when I was 12 and then getting a little bit bigger and then cleaning out gutters around the neighborhood. So I've been an entrepreneur my entire life really.

Shantel: That's amazing. Did you grow up around entrepreneurs or something that you were just born with?

Marshall: It was something I was born with. The people around me were not motivated and doing stuff, and I was ... I've never understood that. It does not comprehend to me whatsoever of not continuously improving yourself and your lot in life. I've never grasped that. Also, going back even more, as I told you, Shantel, I'm an open book. When I was five years old, we were living in a really bad apartment complex and I almost died. I almost drowned in a pool, and I told my family about it and they didn't believe me, and it was a lot of bad things happening when I was five, and I was like, "You know what, man? Screw this. Being poor sucks." So at that point I made a plan that I need to have money when I'm an adult, and then when I was around seven I realized I like making people laugh, and so it really all just started back then of just realizing that the world that I was born into sucked and wanted to improve it.

Shantel: I think that's so fascinating, and it's interesting to hear really at the root of how people start to think. Some people grow up around entrepreneurs and they want to be just like them. Some people grow up around entrepreneurs and don't want to be like them. Some people grow around ... In your case, not at all, but are like, "I need to change my outcome and what happens to me in life, so I'm going to carve my own path," which really interesting and I'm glad that you shared that.

Marshall: Well, yeah, well thank you. Yeah, and it's been interesting. There's a book. I wish I could remember the name of it, but the tagline is, "Blue collar childhood, white collar adulthood," and it's about people that are white collars as adults that didn't grow up at the dinner table talking about spreadsheets or profit margin or customers, and so ... Oh, Limbo. That's the name of the book. L-I-M-B-O. So anybody listening out there, that was a great book and helps really put perspective to what's going on. So yeah, you're right. Childhood sometimes affects it, sometimes it doesn't, but I thought that was interesting perspective on the world of when you don't grow up around it, how do you fit in as an adult? I didn't get to talk about the European vacations that I had when I was 10.

Shantel: Yeah. No, and I think to have such drive at seven years old, you actually put a plan and then visualized that and made it come to life. Are you familiar with The Secret?

Marshall: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Shantel: Okay. So are you a strong believer in putting that on paper somewhere and visualizing it and making it come to fruition?


Marshall: Yes. I'm a big believer in that. I have vision boards. I have on my vision board this year, which is fantastic, it's taking me there. It doesn't have any goals on it like income or possessions or experiences. It is all the process. So it's taken me all these years. So I focus on a daily process of physical, mental, spiritual, and social and financial, which pretty much comes from the Seven Habits, and I really like it. So I really believe in visualization. I think what I also say in my head is I call it, "Play the tape." All right, so you want to accomplish this goal. All right, let's play the tape. What does that look like? What are the tasks to it? I took this great accomplishment workshop years ago, and they said, "Write your story of what you want to do like a movie script. Have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Have an antagonist. You're the hero. What obstacle do you think that hero would run into trying to accomplish the goal's you're trying to accomplish?" So it was an interesting perspective on things, and I've had people coming to me over the years like, "Hey, I want to get your advice on starting this business." I'm like, "Okay, let's play the tape. Let's look at the numbers," and by the time we're done running the numbers, half of those people are like, "Yeah, this doesn't work." I'm like, "Yeah, it's a great idea, and I get that you love this, but the numbers you're sharing with me, all this stuff, it doesn't work." They're like, "No, it doesn't."

Shantel: I think that's powerful. I think it also probably provokes people to think about the why they want something. You may want to start a business, but actually why. Is it the freedom? Is it the stability? What is it or why do you want that car or why do you want to figure out this process or have this mental stability that you touched on, those processes? Why is that important to you? If you write the script, I think ... sometimes people just put in on there, and they're like, "I think I want it," but it sounds like you really encourage thinking about why too.

Marshall: Yeah, exactly, because I mean one of the best things I heard about why you should start with why and why it's really all about the why is that you're going to hit hurdles and obstacles on whatever journey you choose, so if the obstacle you come across is bigger than your why, you walk away from your why, but as long as your why is bigger than the obstacles you face, you'll find a way to get through that. As you know as entrepreneurs you sometimes come across a thing and you're like, "Oh my God. This is climbing up Mt. Everest with four people on my back," but if you really want what's on the other side of that, you'll do the word to do it.

Shantel: That is interesting because there's going to be a lot of things that you come across that are going to challenge that like, "Do I want to keep doing this because this day really sucks?"

Marshall: Exactly.

Shantel: So you mentioned when you were seven it was that money and monetary thing that really drove you. Has that shifted as you've gotten older?


Marshall: So I still have a focus on money and this, that, and the other, but I learned that it has to be something that you're passionate about and money is a by-product of it. I'm lucky enough to say that my goal in life is to bring more laughter to the world. The reason why I say I'm lucky with that is because that's what I do. The Laughing Skull Lounge, The Laughing Skull Comedy Festival, the comedy clubs in the past, the other festivals in the past, and then also my new ventures that I'm doing, it's all based on making people laugh. So yeah it having a big enough ... figuring out that it's not just about the money, that the money comes when it's a by-product. I remember years ago I took a writing class early on because I was like, "Oh, writers make a lot of money," and in the very ... they have a series, and they're like, "Listen ... " I didn't take the second class because the first class they said, "Listen. If you're wanting to be a writer for the money, you're not going to make any money. The only people that make money as writers are people that are passionate about writing." Then you hear about passion, passion, passion, so I was adjusting my perspective to say, "Yeah, money will come," and it has come, but it's been a by-product of my passion.

Shantel: Yeah. I think that's it. It also sounds like you've created a personal mission statement, "Bringing more laughter to the world," and how everything in your life kind of evolves ... I mean, I'm not putting words in your mouth and hopefully you'll elaborate on this, but do you feel like everything in your life contributes to that mission almost if you will?


Marshall: I would say yes. My ultimate mission is to serve and inspire others, and so that makes it a lot easier of somebody cuts you off in traffic. Instead of getting pissed off, I know reframe it to be like, "Oh, that person allowed me to give." Holding the door for somebody allows me to give. My is I don't always feel weird talking about things that I do like this, but I ran into a homeless dude yesterday morning at Publix, and I could tell he was hungry and he was just walking around and started talking to him, so I bought him nine dollars worth of food and it took me three minutes, and my perspective was I thanked him for letting me serve. So having a higher purpose of serving others, to me I think that's it and then how do you serve. So for me serving others is by bringing laughter to the world.

Shantel: I love that. Was that always something ... You really sound intentional, and I know you personally offline as well and I'm excited to dive into some of the meditation things, but even outside of that, were you always like ... you think so much in this sense or did something ... Did you learn this from someone else or were you just inspired by other entrepreneurs around you to really come up with these ... not missions. I'm lacking the words right now, but hopefully you can help take it from here.

Marshall: When you say come up with, are you talking ...

Shantel: Mission-driven and giving back and very aware of what you want to accomplish with your life as opposed to just going through the motions.

Marshall: So the biggest book that made a difference to me was the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I was thrown out into the world at 18 or whatever with not hearing about principles and integrity, and when I was 26 I read that book and it changed my life, and then I started realizing all the areas that I had messed up. I knew the areas mess up but now I knew why. I understood why. It was being selfish and this, that, and the other. So it was great. That was when it really turned for me was reading the Seven Habits at age 26, and then just reading books more about that and just continuously learning more about how givers get. It just consistently has been taught to me, and then as you practice it, it's amazing the reward that happens to you. So I say that being a giver is a very greedy act. It's a selfish act because it makes me feel good. They've done scientific studies that show that when you have money and you give it to somebody for a purpose and you help them, the pleasure centers in your brain are more active than if you were to go buy yourself a new toy. To learning all that and then practicing it, I just see it and experience it myself personally, and one thing I've noticed about being a giver is that the times when you give where you expect the least in return is usually the most rewarding. It's one thing if I'm going to give ... Let's say for my business I'm going to give a comedian a ride to the airport in hopes that they perform for me next time at my for free or something like that. You're like, "Okay, I did that." If you start doing things expecting things in return, that's when you're going to really find a lot of frustration. You have to be completely altruistic about it in order for it to really work.

Shantel: I love that. I'm glad that you shared that. Let's talk a little bit about your current business, The Laughing Skull and the others. How do you balance running multiple ships?

Marshall: Drugs. Lots of drugs.

Shantel: Oh geez.


Marshall: I have a team in place and I just have a good ... I've built a good team and you and I know each other through EO, Entrepreneurs Organization, and a lot of the stuff that I've learned in there I've applied and it works. I joined EO a few years ago because I wanted to grow up as a business person, and one thing I learned several years ago about two years after I started Laughing Skull Lounge, which I started it nine years ago, was that most business people build themselves a job when you need to build yourself an income, and I started adjusting everything to that. So I built it up to where all I need to spend ... I'd spend about 20% of my time on Laughing Skull Lounge and then the other 80% of the time I've been working on another business, service is out there, and I've had three name change and four pivots, but it was a concept of trying to take my comedy understanding and my business understanding and those skills and combine them to come up with something that would be blue ocean, very valuable and scalable, and that's what I've done. So the way I balance it is I ... technology helps, keeping the calendars organized, having a team in place that handle things. Also exercising and reading and writing. I notice that when I'm really not being productive, I haven't done my sharpening the saw in a few days, and so for me sharpen the saw is exercise, meditating, yoga, visualization. If I do that for an hour, it makes a big difference in my life and I get way more done. So sharpening the saw and using technology to help manage all that stuff and then also having the right people around you.

Shantel: That's great, and you turned me on to a really neat app called HabitBull. Do you still use HabitBull?

Marshall: Yes, I do. Yes, I do.

Shantel: So that essentially is-

Marshall: Are you-

Shantel: Yeah, yeah. It's the app to track or gamify keeping on track with setting habits, which I think is great.

Marshall: Yeah, it is. I love it because you can put some really simple stuff on there. You don't have to be like, "All right. I got to run five miles a day," because that's going to take you time. I do things on there like, "10 pull-ups." I have a pull-up bar and that's easy to knock out. "A 60-second wall stand." So yeah, doing little things like that helps you gamify it all and next thing you know you've actually worked out.

Shantel: Let's dive into the blue ocean comment for any listeners that don't know a little bit or don't know enough about the blue ocean concept. Can you explain that?


Marshall: So yes. It's funny because I actually explained this to my nine-year-old last night. So I'm not saying your listeners are nine years old, but imagine you have two oceans. One of them has 1,000 fishermen in it going after 5,000 fish. That ocean's going to have ... or lake or whatever, that body of water is going to have lots of blood in it because there's just tons of fish being caught and there's a lot of competition and it's really competitive. Then the other body of water slash ocean slash lake has 5,000 fish in it as well but there's only one fisherman in it, and that is blue ocean because there's nobody else there. You're the only boat in that ocean, so you're getting all the catch.

Shantel: I'm glad that you explained it like that. No one has actually made the distinction between why blue and red. I just knew that some companies were considered blue, so I'd mention those, so thank you for ... Yeah, I must be that nine-year-old listener to my own podcast.

Marshall: That's funny.

Shantel: Yeah, no I'm glad that you mentioned. So you touched on EO a little bit, that organization that we're both a part of. What has been the most valuable piece of advice or nugget of information that you've taken away from it?

Marshall: Gosh, it's so hard to answer because there's been so many great pieces of information I'm taking away, but the thing that really pops in my head, because I've had to use it twice, is when it comes to people and you're looking at the people that are working for you, people so I'm going to answer that question in a second by prefacing this. One of the other things I learned from it is that your business can only be as successful as the people running it. So the people is such an important part of your business. That's just a fact. It's very important. So when looking at your team you've got together and your individual and you're wondering whether or not you should keep them on your team, the question you ask yourself is, "Knowing what I know now, would I rehire that person?" If you answer, "Yes," then you can keep them on your team. If you answer, "No," then it's time to get rid of them.

Shantel: That's good.

Marshall: That plus the saying, "A bad hire is more expensive than no hire."

Shantel: Those are those tough decisions that as business owners we sometimes have to make, so that's good. Yeah. Passion. So we touched a little bit on passion and how you ... The money comes from it if you're passionate about what you do. I think that at least for me comedians, people that are really funny, are these mystical creatures, and I'm like, "Oh, I want to be funny." Do you always feel that you're funny, and how do you stay ... I don't even know if inspired is the right word, but how do you continue to evolve as a comedian and stay funny when maybe days when you're not feeling particularly funny?

Marshall: Well, it's just like anything else. The more you do it, the better it is. For me, I'm not really focused as a stand-up as much. Anything, I'm more of a comedy writer because what I'm doing with the ... So the other business that I'm doing is called Humor Wins, and what we're doing in there is we're doing what I call city's funniest professionals, and it's scalable and it's blue ocean and trust me, I'm fine with people listening to this because I can tell you this is an extremely heavy load to lift, and you've got to have a lot of right pieces in it, but I'm doing things like Atlanta's Funniest Lawyer, Atlanta's Funniest Real Estate Agent, Funniest Doctor, and then imagine a vertical and pick a city. So that's scalable, and I've got the professional comedy writers in place. So for me, what I'm doing is I'm always ... I like to write to keep that muscle strong because when I'm working with these professionals that are amateurs and I'm going over their life, I've got to write in order to write with them, and then also I don't just read business books. I also read books on comedy. I also articles on comedy. I recently read the interview with Jerry Seinfeld about how he writes. I've worked with the biggest names in comedy over the years, and my most common conversation with them is, "How do you write?" So for me I feel like if I can make sure I stay with that muscle, that is what's important because I'm building a multimillion-dollar company based on writing for other people.

Shantel: I like that. A common thread that you keep touching on is it seems like you're always learning and you're always eager to be talking to people, picking their brains, and learning more. Do you think that's a downfall for people that don't do that?


Marshall: Oh yeah, totally. One of my favorite sayings is that, "Leaders are readers," and believe me I'm not always going to bed at night reading a book, and I'm not always reading a book at a specific time, but with Audible, you can listen to it in your car. How much time are you spending in your car? I like the new Taylor Swift song, but if you turn that off and start listening to a book, it's amazing what you can get. So yes, I think that learning, a continuous learning, is extremely important, and I think that ... That's what I teach my kids. I'm like, "Look. You're going to school and you're going to college. The information's great, but really the bigger purpose is learning how to learn and realize that you have to continue learning because if you don't continue to learn, well nobody coasts uphill." So yeah, I think it's very important if you want to be successful in this world at anything, whether it's business or art or whatever. You have to continue to learn. You could look at a car mechanic. Do they need to continue to learn? They know how to do all that stuff. Yeah, of course, there's always changes happening. There's always ways to improve. So yeah, I think it's foundational to continued success.

Shantel: Yeah, even just thinking about school, looking back I wish I would have learned a little harder or tried a little harder at some of those entrepreneurial classes. Do you regret not doing calculus or have you just outsourced that and you're like, "I can't even think about it"?

Marshall: Yeah, I'm okay with it. Obviously for someone like me that's driven and likes to have goals and not to walk across that graduation stage and get that close to it was a big decision, but the people that I looked up to, having some people that I knew that were super successful that didn't have a degree, and I was talking to a friend one time, and I was like, "Yeah, and they all say they regret it," and he goes, "Marshall, you just mentioned three extremely successful people. Obviously it's fine, and you've got a business to build." That was part of the dot com boom era, so I was like, "All right, well I'm going to drop out and focus on this business and make it work."

Shantel: Yeah, I agree absolutely. Have you started to think about 2018 goals and you're redoing the vision board for 20 ... Do you do them yearly?

Marshall: Yeah, I try to do them yearly. I really like what I've come up with. I feel like that's the process. Here's the difference between goals and processes, and this is where I changed my goal setting. Let's say you have a goal to lose 30 pounds by January 1st. Well, you're not going to be happy until January 1st if you lose your pounds. Well if you change it to say, "Okay, that's the end goal, but really my goal is to every day eat healthy and exercise and every week I'm going to do this, that, and the other," well you can knock that off your list now. That's what I like about HabitBull. That's what I was saying is you can have all these little tasks that you know lead you down this path where you will lose that weight by January 1st and knock it off. You get to check it off the box. So when we accomplish things, we want to accomplish more things, so having it broken down like that and focusing on the process because every day I can exercise and eat healthy. I can't lose 30 pounds in a day, so when you focus on process over goals, you're more successful in reaching your goals is what the studies show because it's more edible to you that, "Oh, yeah well yeah I can do 50 push ups today." So yeah, that's how

Shantel: I like that. I think also another way to frame that, and it seems like you're doing it maybe intentionally, maybe not, is just celebrating the little wins and the little successes and making every week that you've accomplished something, that is awesome, as opposed to just waiting for that finish line. Have you thought about it like that or ... ?


Marshall: Oh yeah. That's exactly right. That's exactly how you look at it. You got to celebrate the small wins. I've read, as you can imagine, 1,000 books and articles on success, and a very common theme that comes up is celebrating the wins. Just looking at it macro, if you're always focused on where you didn't succeed and that's all you thought about and talked about versus the other path of focusing on where you did succeed and that's all you think about and all you talk about, which path is going to have you a better life?

Shantel: Yeah. I think that's great, and for my personality at least and maybe even for you too, you're always learning and you're always growing and there's always something else that you can be doing. At least for me, it's sometimes difficult to reflect and to sit down and say, "You know, that was awesome. It may have been something I learned from today, but the other things were really, really awesome, and I need to pat myself on the back a little bit more." So I'm glad you touched on that a little bit because I think it is important to do and spend the time to sit down and do that.

Marshall: Well, and also it falls under ... I'm sure you've heard the definition of success is that, "Success is not a destination. It's a journey." Have you heard that before?

Shantel: I have heard that, yeah. I need to tape that on the wall.

Marshall: So if you to that definition of success, the two questions you ask yourself is, "Are you going in the right direction and is it your own path?" If you can answer yes to both of those questions, then you are a success. So that makes it way easier to accept success when you're like, "Yeah, you know what? I am growing. I am going in the right direction. I am accomplishing goals, and this is what I want to do and this is my path." You're successful.

Shantel: Yeah, I love that. All right, Marshall, I just have a couple more questions for you. The first one, are there other apps that you love and you are just a raving fan of right now or tools or technologies that you would suggest using?

Marshall: Well tools and technology, I'm looking at my phone real quick to see what's all on there. Zillow, that's a lot of fun. That's get you ... You know actually that is. Actually sometimes when I want motivation I go to Zillow and I look in the areas and the pricing of the housing that I want, and I'm like, "Yeah, that would be awesome to have," so I do use Zillow as a little motivation. That was a joke, but it's true.

Shantel: Yeah, I like it. Yeah.

Marshall: Then also another thing, especially in today's day and age with social media, and you know this more than anyone, I'm a huge fan of Reddit, and the reason why is multiple, but one is when I'm on Facebook, I'm angry. When I'm on Reddit, I'm happy, and Reddit makes me happy, and it's extremely informative. They have these life pro tips that people share all the time. They have TIL, which is Today I Learned and it's great trivia, and it actually gives me hope for humanity in the world because you upvote over there and so if you're positive, you get upvoted. If you're negative, it gets downvoted. If you're funny, you get upvoted. So for me it's helped me, one, with feeling that trivia and also being a little bit of a phone addict without getting angry and also helps me keep positive. I mean let's face it. Every entrepreneur knows how important it is to stay positive. So Reddit is what I use to help me not sell everything and move to an island.

Shantel: Not get sucked into the black hole of Facebook. I get it. I'll have to check it out. I don't use Reddit that much. I just haven't explored it yet, so I'll have to check it out.

Marshall: Yeah. Highly recommend it.

Shantel: Okay, and Marshall, how can people get in touch with you and learn more about all of your businesses and pick your brain if you have some time?

Marshall: Yeah, sure. Any listener that has gotten this far into the podcast and they want to ask advice or just whatever, email me. Email me at Marshall@humorwins.com. Marshall has two Ls, and it's H-U-M-O-R-W-I-N-S, like wins, like victories, and then that website, humorwins.com, has what I'm doing for the cities funnies professionals and other stuff, and then Laughing Skull Lounge is the comedy club in Atlanta that I own, and you can see that at LaughingSkullLounge.com, but for all of you listeners not Atlanta, I highly recommend going to see a comedy show. I guarantee there's a comedy show happening this week within a very short drive of where you are, and have fun. I mean over the years, I've been in this business 17 years, and I've heard so many times people tell me, "Well, I forgot how much fun a comedy club is. I need to do it more often," and that's how you market a comedy club by the way. The way you market a comedy club is you remind people that that's an option to do. So I would say to your listeners, yeah, reach out to me if you got to, but I'll tell you what, if you want to bring some laughter into your life, go to a comedy club. I promise you'll have fun.

Shantel: I love that. I am big proponent of that and huge fan of Laughing Skull so if anyone's in Atlanta, let's go sometime, and Marshall, thanks again for being on the show.

Marshall: Well thank you, Shantel. I appreciate it and thanks for doing the show.

Shantel: Of course.