Follow along with the transcript below for episode: How Humor Can Save the World With Shepherd Siegel
[00:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 374 of Live Happy Now. We know that laughter and humor feel good, but did you realize how much good they can do? I’m your host, Paula Felps, and this week I’m talking with Shepherd Siegel, a musician turned educator whose recent research has centered around the idea of play, playfulness, and humor as a driving force of change. His latest book, Tricking Power into Performing Acts of Love: How Tricksters Through History Have Changed the World, looks at the trickster archetype and the role it plays in social change. Shepherd’s here today to talk about the importance of finding fun and humor in our lives, and how to reclaim those habits as adults.
[00:00:43] PF: Shepherd, welcome to Live Happy Now.
[00:00:47] SS: Thanks very much. It’s a real pleasure to be here, Paula.
[00:00:48] PF: You are all about fun, and humor, which is really in short supply right now, for a lot of people. One thing that really stood out about your messaging is that you say laughter, humor and playfulness can get this world back on track. Big question, how are we going to do that?
[00:01:07] SS: I’ve written a couple of books about this, and I do look at playfulness and play and how it connects to culture and how it connects to politics. Play is something that all animals do all the time, except humans. So, a lot of us have kind of lost – I mean, there were there are playful humans, but they stand out. They’re the exception rather than the rule, and I really got into investigating the play of very young children, children under the ages of four and five, because that’s when we are most like other animals and they have this intrinsic sense of playfulness, and so forth. But as my research progress, I went to this conference about play, and I met someone there, and she talked to me about the trickster archetype, and realize that the trickster archetype was this personality type that represents a more grown up person who’s playful. And of course, archetypes can be semi divine, they’re semi divine, but people can aspire to them.
So, to get to your question, our personalities are made up of, we all have all the archetypes in us, but different ones are stronger. Like in Star Wars is all about the hero and the warrior, and when someone has a lot of that in them, we go The Force is strong with them. So, I really got into looking into tricksters, because I feel that part of what’s wrong with our society today is that we’re infatuated with the warrior. So, many of us believe that our problems can be solved through conflict and war and argument and just defeating our adversaries.
Now, you can’t kill an archetype, you can’t get rid of them. You have to have them there. We’ve become hyperbolic about the warrior to where we’re not giving the other archetypes whether it’s the mother, or the true hero, or the sage or the magician. Or in the case of my research, the trickster, giving them enough play in an in enough to say. So, tricksters can really I think, be part of the magic elixir to make our society a better place. Tricksters just one to have fun. And as tricksters stumble through life, just having fun, playing tricks, just for the fun of it, eventually, they get to a place of moral discovery, and that’s why I think they can kind of be a refresh and a reboot for our society, if we would listen to them more. So naturally, when you look at comedians, and people who trade in humor, and even people who make comedies in film and TV, very often the trickster force is strong with them.
[00:03:51] PF: How do we use this humor in this trickster mentality to get the world back on track?
[00:03:56] SS: Yeah, I mean, I can’t give you an exact a blueprint. But I do believe that comedy is part of it. I can give you like a contemporary example of satire. Satire is what helps us get there. One of the things that people have really enjoyed, and they’ve said back to me about my book is I write about slapstick. And they go, “I never really liked slapstick. But when I read your book, I appreciated it more because slapstick of one thing that connects the playfulness of the young child to the grown up, and for another, slapstick is always pulling a prank on the ruling class and bringing the rulers down to the ground.” Charlie Chaplin famously said, if I dropped a scoop of ice cream from a third-story balcony, onto someone on the street. If I drop it on a poor person, no one’s going to laugh. It’s going to arouse sympathy for that person. But if I drop it on a rich person, everybody gets that and everybody laughs.
So, that’s how we bring it into today’s world. That’s why Sacha Baron Cohen and the kinds of things that he does are so funny. So, satire is a way of kind of overturning the power structure, and I think that’s part of what we have to do. So, let’s start with the personal. I walk around a lot, I walk around my neighborhood a lot, and I have this little discipline, some days, I’m better than others. I say hello to five to eight strangers every day. Now, if they’re wearing earbuds, it doesn’t count. If they’re very deliberately avoiding eye contact, doesn’t count. But anyone who otherwise walks near me, I’m going to greet them. And I’m going to say hello to five to eight strangers. Now, why five to eight? Well, if you don’t do it with five strangers, you’re not really trying. But if you try to do more than eight, it’s going to kind of bring you down, because people, at least in my town are afraid. There’s too much fear in the world, and they’re afraid of the human contact. So, we have to build community. And that’s like the very basic building block that I do to build community, and you have to build trust.
So, it starts with greeting people and getting to know the people in your neighborhood, and just say hello to folks, and maybe it leads to something. Now, what does that have to do with humor? Well, if I’m going to joke around with you, you have to trust me. Otherwise, if I tell a joke, and you don’t trust me, you don’t really even know whether I’m joking or not, especially the kind of humor that I trade in. And so, building trust is kind of the groundwork, it’s the prerequisite, if you will, for humor, and also for community as well. That’s more than a coincidence. The second thing that I think folks can do is you have to join a movement, that for your heart and your mind is making the world a better place, and where you are in contact with other people and working with them. So, it could be feeding the hungry, it could be fighting racism, it could be fighting war, it could be fighting for human rights. Set aside all the things that are taking us down right now, and look for the folks who are working to build us up and to make the world a better place. You got to do more than click on your computer, although do that, make your donations. But get out there and make a circle of friends and colleagues, and then find the joy and the humor that will inevitably come as you work with those folks.
[00:07:33] PF: We’re taking a quick break from talking with Shepherd Siegel about how humor can save the world. And we’re going to bring in Casey Johnson, our lovely ecommerce marketing manager. Casey, welcome to the show.
[00:07:45] CJ: Thanks for having me.
[00:07:47] PF: We’ve been talking about a product called Organifi, that you and I are both really, really high on and I’ve been drinking the green Organifi, but you have really taken to the red Organifi. Tell us about that.
[00:07:59] CJ: Yeah, so I really liked the Organifi red juice. It has 13 superfoods that work together. I personally really like it just because it’s, it naturally boosts your energy throughout the day. What blows my mind is that it contains zero caffeine, I love to drink the Organifi red juice, typically in the mid afternoon when I start to feel a little sluggish or don’t have any brain power, or even right before a workout, or if I’m going for a walk. So, all I do is I drop a scoop and a glass of water and boom, it tastes so good and that’s really all it takes.
[00:08:31] PF: Yeah, it gets the job done, because I love the fact that it is so nutrient dense. So, Casey, why don’t you tell us how our listeners can find out more about it and get some of their own?
[00:08:41] CJ: Yeah, so they can go to organific.com/livehappynow. That’s organifi.com/livehappynow, and that 20% discount will be automatically applied at checkout. Or you can just go to organifi.com, and use Live Happy Now at checkout and you’ll still get that 20% off. Who doesn’t love that?
[00:09:03] PF: All right. We love it, and what else we love is talking about humor. And so, we’re going to go back, talk some more with Shepherd Siegel about how humor can save the world.
[00:09:14] PF: So, one of the things that you talked about earlier, it was really interesting where you talked about how you study like four-year-olds and five-year-olds, because that’s where they’re most playful. We do we start losing our ability to be playful, and is that something that gets taken away from us or do we give it up? Why does that happen? Why we get so serious?
[00:09:35] SS: Yeah, so my mentor on this was a gentleman named Fred Donaldson, and he wrote a wonderful book about playfulness and he goes out there and he plays with dolphins he plays with wolves. He also had does forms of therapy in a way where he uses play to help young people who have been damaged or abused and help them reconnect to their lifeforce, so to speak. So, what he calls the state of playfulness that comes very naturally to all animals, and to children, say under the ages of five and four, is what we call original play. If you have children or grandchildren who are that young, you can connect with this. So, instead of always being the grown up around them, you create a safe place on the floor, and you get on the floor with that little kid, and you roll around and you wrestle. It’s a very physical thing. There’s no biting. There’s no clutching.
[00:10:32] PF: Ideally, there’s no biting.
[00:10:36] SS: Yeah, no biting, no clutching, no tickling, it’s not sexual, obviously. But you’re wrestling around, and what will happen is, little games will start to emerge. But then the games dissolve just as quickly as they emerge. So, there’s no winners and losers. There’s no competition involved. It’s just strictly playfulness. So, this is a very physical thing and it’s very refreshing, and for a lot of us, grownups, it’s really hard to get into that space. I would also suggest that the artist, the person who’s creating music, who’s a painter, or a poet, or an actor, that they are also engaged in a cerebral analog to this stuff called original play. So, then what happens as about the ages of four, or five, or six, is the grownups start, they start putting rules around play. And they start saying, “That’s really neat what you’re doing Johnny, and you can keep score and you can have winners and losers.” You can go for your personal best, whatever. We can turn this into a sport activity or a game that you play. That’s called cultural play.
So, there’s nothing wrong with cultural play. That’s what we need in order to – when you go to see the doctor, you want the best doctor, you want the doctor who’s competed and succeeded and achieved. When you hire any kind of professional, that’s what you want. So, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with cultural play. But I am saying it’s kind of gotten out of hand, and we become so enamored of winning, and playing games that we can win with the most toxic form would be this war. The sort of war, you’ve got politics, and a lot of the politics is so competitive, that it has overshadowed and blotted out that ability to have original play. So, I do believe in trying to bring that back.
Now, I invented this third form of play. We’ve talked about original and cultural, this third form is called disruptive play. Disruptive play is the algebras, very simple, with you take original play, and you introduce it into the arenas of cultural play, you will create a disruption that hopefully done well, is going to kind of raise people’s consciousness and make them think maybe we do take this competitive side of ourselves too seriously and we’re not playful enough.
[00:13:16] PF: So, what about as adults now that want to –there’s a real importance in reconnecting with our playful side. But honestly, a lot of people aren’t sure where to start, especially if your kids are already grown, or they’re out of the house or you don’t have access, you can just steal the neighbor kid. You get in trouble for that. So, how do people reintroduce play? Because it’s not we don’t value that as something. We say, “Okay, I need to work on my mindfulness or I need to work on this, or I need to work on my physical fitness. But we don’t say I need to become more playful and here’s how I’m going to do it.”
[00:13:52] SS: Right. Well, I’m more of a writer. But I love working directly with people, and I haven’t yet chosen to create play shops. For example, this guy talked to earlier, Fred Donaldson didn’t do workshops he did play shops. He did this with a bunch of us where he set off the mats, and he kind of trained us on how to do this. I don’t have the name of his organization right now and he’s getting on in life, but he has enough followers that have continued to do these play shops. And then the other guys I’m interested in are these guys called he Yes Men. And the Yes Men actually also do trainings and they call it the Trickster Academy. They tell you how to pull pranks and some of these have a political edge to them. But they’re guys who really believe in the playfulness of the adults, and that this can be done, so I’d encourage folks to look up the yesmen.org, I believe is what it is.
[00:14:59] PF: I know if I let you go, but before we do, like for parents who say, “Alright, I want to regain my playfulness, but I also don’t want my children to ever lose theirs.” How do we prevent that? Because there’s got to be a way to say, as children are growing up, to help them retain that playfulness. I think there’s so many great character strengths that are developed through humor and through teaching them playfulness. So, what can we do to keep our children playful instead of relinquishing that?
[00:15:29] SS: I’m so glad you asked me that, because it’s probably a little bit less more, what can we stop doing?
[00:15:36] PF: That’s usually the case, isn’t it?
[00:15:38] SS: Right, that when we get our kids overly scheduled, when we press them so hard to great achievement, every time you do that you’re squelching their ability in their time for unstructured play. And there is this – she’d be a great person for you to have on, from New York. And what does she call it, free range children, and she even lives in New York City. When I was a kid, I get home from school, and my folks said, “Go play, see you at dinner.” It was easier in those days, I guess, to just roam the neighborhood, and have adventures and be playful.
And to the extent that parents today can still do that, and I contend the world is not as dangerous, as we often think it is. It’s sometimes the dangerous nasty things, if it bleeds, it leads. So, we’re saturated with news media, that’s always talking about these terrible things that are happening. But maybe the percentages of that are actually not much higher than they’ve ever been, in some cases, enough so that you can let your kid have that unstructured playtime, and ensure if that you want him to learn how to become a great musician, or a great athlete or a great scientist, there’s time to do that. But it doesn’t have to completely squelch that unstructured playtime that children need to have.
[00:17:05] PF: Should you schedule that? I mean, that sounds like an oxymoron to schedule on structured playtime. But it seems like it would be important.
[00:17:14] SS: Yeah. I think the good test would be that as the kids approach teen years, is there still part of them that wants to be playful. Dare I say that, that word is silly. To even be silly as they grow into their teen years. I think that’s a really healthy thing. I think our society would just be a much more fun place to be, if we could all retain that.
[00:17:40] PF: Before I let you go, what is it that you hope people start to figure out about humor and fun, as we kind of march through – as we’re trying to come out of a pretty dark time? So, what do you hope that they can discover?
[00:17:55] SS: Well, discover the humor. Discover the comedy. This is not the first time that we’ve been in dark times. If you look to the people in our in our own nation who have historically suffered not just recently, but historically suffered, and look at the comedy that they come up with. I write in the book one time, sometimes the tougher it gets, the funnier the humor, and that even if you find yourself addressing what you think is a terrible wrong, try not to take it overly seriously. It is serious and do the serious work, but laugh too.
Also, Paula, I just want to say it’s okay to imagine a better world, and it’s okay to talk about utopia. When people talk about utopia, they’re usually dismissed and kicked out of the room and they’re laughed at. But I think the darker times get, the more important it is that we go ahead and have the courage to have that discussion. Okay, you’re unhappy. What do you think a perfect world would look like? Whether we get there in this lifetime or not, we’ve got to have a North Star and that’s what gives me hope. I’ve never stopped talking about that.
[00:19:06] PF: I like that. That is a great way for us to wrap it up. Shepherd, I appreciate you spending the time with us today and teaching us a little bit more about how to have fun.
[00:19:16] SS: Well, thank you so much. It’s been a real pleasure to be here and I look forward to hearing more from you, Paula.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:19:24] PF: That was Shepherd Siegel, talking about how fun humor and playfulness can save the world. If you’d like to learn more about Shepherd’s work, check out one of his books or follow him on social media. Visit our website at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab. Remember throughout July, we’re celebrating Live Happy’s Summer of Fun Month. And as part of that, we’re giving away some prize packs that include great Live Happy merchandise, the Happiness Workbook for Kids by Maureen Healy, and some very cool family friendly gifts including sunny sunglasses made just for kids and Yipes plant-based face and hand wipes. Keep those little hands and faces clean while you’re out having fun this summer.
Visit our website or follow us on social media to learn more and find out how to enter. That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all new episode. And until then, this is Paula Felps reminding you to make every day a happy one.