Why serious creativity should be funny

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I’m here to convince you why serious creativity should be funny.

So, my secret vice is that I watch a lot of stand up comedy. I mean a lot. It happened really slowly. I went from hating stand-up to being the person who watches the new Netflix stand-up special the second that it hits the web. It started because I would put a special on while I was drawing for a few hours, because it was something that I could just listen to and didn’t really have to watch, but also that was light while still engaging and thought provoking. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and it seemed like a logical jump to another form of audio enterntainment. What started as an experiment slowly became more of a pattern. I found that I was choosing to listen to standup more and more often while I worked… but also while I did other things like clean my house or cook. In conversations with friends, I found myself referencing things that comedians said in stand-up specials that I’ve watched… and I eventually realized that maybe I was a straight-up fan.

When I watch the news or think about political or polarizing topics, I often find myself remembering a particular bit of a particular comedian and find myself smirking while listening to something horrible. I’ll smirk while I listen to news about abortion rights or police violence in Ohio (where I’m from), not because I think these issues are funny or because I’m a wildly insensitive person, but because in order to cope with my own absolute horror and discomfort, I simply HAVE to find the humor in it. Or at the very least the absurdity. The only way to get through the harshness of the realities of humanhood oftentimes is to find the humor, even if it’s wickedly uncomfortable…and laugh about it. If we aren’t laughing, we’re crying. And I’ve spent too much time crying. Crying about my rights to my own body, crying about the slow-cook death of the planet, crying about the separation of immigrant children from their parents. As it turns out, you can spend a lifetime and a half crying and being completely immobilized.

However, when I’m laughing…my mind is firing. If my depression is paralyzing, my humor is activating. My most hilarious and witty friends keep me on my toes and force me to keep up with their quick associations, unlikely observations and edgy provocations. They constantly challenge me, and the payoff of playing the game with them is the satisfying dopamine hit of a good laugh.

I have a small team for my design research course here at ac4d, and I feel lucky that the three of us are able to get into this space, even if the face of intense amounts of stress. Without these moments of hilarity mixed into our process, we would burn out so much more quickly. One can only discuss “monetary inequity in developing communities” for so long without feeling like they want to collapse on the ground in exhaustion and despair. Humor energizes us, it keeps us awake, and it forces us to break out of the same old tired loops that we enter when we are too in-the-weeds with our project. It also loosens us up. Sometimes I can feel the four black walls closing in around me when I am in the thick of synthesis. Humor blows down those walls. We create space when we allow ourselves to make a joke. We are more creative when we can forgive ourselves if we don’t approach a problem with the most ‘correct’ or most ‘sensible’ mindset. We work BETTER when we give ourselves this space.

This is the inspiration for how I want to approach wicked problems as a student of social design, and as a designer in general. I want to remind myself that I need to allow this humorous aspect of coping, and humorous reasoning with problems into my design process. I want to provide myself the space the comfort in understanding that these tendencies are a valid way to approach issues that are difficult, confusing, complex and sensitive, and that I am actually a better designer for it.