Newsletter Article: Book Review Yes Man

[This article orginially appeared in the Merlin-Works December News Letter]

Book Review: Yes Man by Danny Wallace
By Shana Merlin

From the moment I saw this book on the shelf at Book People, I knew I wanted to read it. Then I heard people talking about it at the Applied Improv Network Conference and I had to have it.

In Yes Man by Danny Wallace, the author decides he will only say Yes to everything for the rest of the year. Yes to everything: invitations to parties, solicitations on the street, requests at work—everything.

I found this idea incredibly interesting because in the improv I teach, Yes is fundamental. Agreement is at the core of the improvisation: the ability to build something spontaneously with other people. In improv you are constantly saying yes to your own and others ideas. And hopefully this bleeds into your life offstage. But I never had the courage to try this out in the real world the way Wallace has.

Predictably, the Yes Plan leads Wallace on many interesting adventures including traveling to Holland after following instructions on a spam email, joining his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend on a date, and seeking wisdom from the world’s only hypnotic dog. For these journeys, Wallace’s easy voice is a great guide. In several parts, especially in the beginning, the book is laugh out loud funny.

Most telling for my work using improv in the business world, Wallace lands an exciting and well paid new job simply by using his Yes Philosophy. When his boss at BBC radio asks for volunteers to go to a brainstorming meeting at BBC TV, no one but Wallace says Yes. At the pitch meeting at the TV station, Wallace says yes to everyone’s ideas and even volunteers to develop them and come back to the next meeting. After a while, the managers at BBC TV are so impressed with his positive attitude and energy, they offer him a spot on the staff and a job as the host of a TV travel show.

I only have a few complaints with the book, but they are pretty major:
At 388 pages, it should be about 200 pages shorter. Note to Wallace: Say Yes to your editor a bit more.
Wallace often plays dumb as the narrator and it doesn’t work. He is obviously a smart guy, with several published books and a successful career. So I don’t buy it when he acts like the Sultan of Omar really emailed him to get his bank account information. It cheapens the novel. I think he should have set out to say yes to everything except sales solicitations. It would have been more meaningful.

Overall, I would recommend the book. Despite it’s flaws, there is a thrill reading it, when it feels like anything could happen—because the author will say yes to whatever comes.

About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.

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