The Thing James Corden Said
My husband, who excused himself from all social media about a year ago, got up dreadfully early today to ride bikes with some guys in the neighborhood. My teenager was sleeping in. Her school gave the kids a long weekend with a hearty encouragement to stay off screens. In a quiet house — the morning light yet to come, a cup of coffee in one hand and an iPhone in the other — I began the new day. This was a big week for me — I started a new primetime TV show on PBS on Monday and launched a podcast on Tuesday. There were numbers to check.
Early downloads on first podcast episode — Ratings on podcast — Average rating — Views on new PBS show — Likes on last IG post about new podcast episode — Page views on fancy new website — Likes, comments and shares on last FB post — Claps on recent Medium post — Comments on LinkedIn post — Newsletter subscribers added and dropped — Open rates on Monday’s newsletter about PBS show and podcast — Hearts on Twitter post of that great quote I liked…
Is that a good week? Am I good? Good enough?
And the truth is, I thought the conversations I had with Bryan Stevenson for PBS and Kate Bowler for the podcast were magic. These are very special people. I am dead sure you will love both interviews. The thank you notes have been deep and beautiful — I will keep them forever.
But boy I hate the numbers part. Sometimes, in a bit of self-soothing, I look at how other people who do the kind of stuff I do do it. It’s a comfort to see all of us out there twirling our signs.
And it’s not just us little guys. I remember noticing, when GIRLS and VEEP were at their height, that Lena Dunham and Julia Louis-Dreyfus posted about each episode. To be a creator, even best in class, is to be a marketer and to be a marketer is to be quantified.
My husband got home as I was finishing this piece. He came in sweaty, head down, looking at his ride stats in Strava. When she wakes up, my daughter will submit her high school transcript and test scores to a few more colleges.
We are all quantified now.
But here’s what I learned from talking to James Corden for PBS: the joy is in the doing of it. He told me that making CATS (which the Times called “an energetic embrace of bad taste” and the Guardian said “a career low for all involved”) was a riot and that, regardless of rotten tomatoes ratings and box office receipts, he could never look back on that experience as anything less than a total blast.
If you are lucky enough to be compensated for your creations, numbers are part of the deal. You will be asked to turn yourself into a human billboard and, occasionally, you will. This is a small price to pay for the joy of making as a living. But quantification creep has extended well beyond the professionals. The trick for all of us — me, my husband, my kid, James Corden — is that we must evaluate our work by the experience of making it rather than its reception.
In other words, the statistical deconstruction should never substitute for the ride itself. And the ride, so far, has been more than good enough.