Photo: Ryan Lash
TED2013 Fellow Negin Farsad uses comedy and film to skewer racism and tackle social injustice. Her Fellows talk at TED2013 on making white people laugh was a hit, making white people – and other people – laugh. We asked her how her first TED experience went. Here’s what she said.
I was among this year’s TED Fellows – one of those 20 people selected for their upstart genius in various exciting fields like neuroscience, big data, and my thing, social justice comedy, an as yet unverifiable “field”. If you’ve never been to TED – because like me you can’t afford it – it’s a whirlwind! As a TED first-timer, I’m in the best position to tell you all about it because, as my neuroscientist friend explained to me, my brain is more receptive to the chemical triggers on blah blah blah – they’re such fucking nerds.
You start off by marveling: marveling at the attendee list, marveling at Chris Anderson’s composure, marveling at the free granola bars that came in your gift bag, and marveling at your own capacity for marveling. When you’re done marveling, you switch gears into being “inspired.” Because guess what? PowerPoint presentations are apparently the building blocs of inspiration. And if you haven’t felt inspired four times by 3pm on the first day, you’re totally doing it wrong.
Your first duty as a TED Fellow is to give one of these inspiring talks. The talk before mine was about dead babies. First the audience was crying because babies were dying, then they were crying because TED Senior Fellow Jane Chen used some kind of science to save the babies from dying, then people were crying because they got to see pictures of how cute and chubby the once dying babies had become. Then it was my turn. As a comedian, it was my dream to follow a moving presentation on dead babies with a talk called “How to Make White People Laugh” that has the emotional depth of a kumquat. That said, I did my best to kill it – the audience, not the babies. The babies are doing GREAT.
Once you’re done giving your talk you get to meet all the impressive people at TED. People like millionaires! Millionaires are cool because they always smell good and never have dribble stains on their artfully-casual-but-probably-expensive t-shirts.
You also run into people like Ben Affleck. He’s got a hard-on for some part of the Congo that’s currently totally fucked. I might be paraphrasing. Or you run into Bono, who has a similar hard-on but for extreme poverty, or Salma Hayek, who walks around looking like a more gorgeous version of Salma Hayek.
By day three you no longer notice celebrities. You’re so hepped up on knowledge that everything is a blur and it’s just weird experience after weird talk after weird run-in. For example, you’re walking towards some really exciting free snacks when you run into one of the guys who invented Skype. He tells you about the artificial intelligence he’s developing that will outlast the apocalypse. You wonder if he’s as excited by the prospect of free popchips! as you are. Then, you cry at a talk by a North Korean refugee HyeonSeo Lee while simultaneously wanting to know where she got her cute dress. You decide to take a piss when you run into a war correspondent in the bathroom. You tell her that you would have been a war correspondent if it wasn’t for the “war” part. You run into the lobby and stuff more free snacks into your purse.
You walk by a group of astrobiologists and neuroscientists and you hear them say something something “genome mapping” something something “extremophile” something something “cyborg cockroach. “ You recall a spit wad you made in your seventh-grade Earth Sciences class. You see Sergey Brin and you want to ask him if he secretly thinks his own glasses are really annoying, but you think better of it. You see Taylor Wilson, the 15-year old who developed a nuclear fission thing and you want to ask him if he learned fusion before or after his testes dropped, but you think better of it (slash you might get arrested). You see more teenaged scientists milling about, one of them invented – or maybe destroyed – some kind of cancer. You’re mad that these teenagers probably don’t care about boy bands and you decide that they’re all old people in young people masks.
By this point, its nighttime and TED has arranged for you to party like a nerd-star. Even though you’re really tired you go, you drink, you pretend to understand casual conversations about coding. And of course, after the TED Party is the after party (which is in the hotel lobby, Jay-Z was not consulted). You’re desperate for sleep but you’re convinced that Al Gore might show up and do a karaoke version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” so you go, you stay, you notice a bunch of married dudes hitting on girls with PhDs.
The morning of day four, you’re a mess, but you can’t sleep in! You can’t miss any sessions because what if Peter Gabriel does a duet with an orangutan or something batshit crazy like that. And then it actually happens: Peter Gabriel does a duet with a fucking orangutan. And then him and Vint Cerf, who invented the internet, and a team of nutjobs reveal that they’re inventing the “interspecies internet,” and your brain starts to melt. But then there’s a break and… oh thank god, there’s free Pinkberry!
And finally, it’s the last day. You’re ready to weep and feel things at an inspired level for what might be the last time in your life. You try to take it all in while simultaneously calculating how many free protein bars you can stuff in your carry-on bag. There are choirs on stage and images and more talking and more weeping and more inspiration and poof! It’s over. And if by Friday afternoon on the last glorious day of the last glorious TED in Long Beach you haven’t set up a 501c3 whose mission is to end world hunger through an interspecies app robot, you obviously missed a session, the one session that would have really fucking inspired you. So fuck you for being so careless, fuck you for missing that session because now there isn’t an interspecies genomic data-mapping underwater app robot set to end world hunger! Now who’s gonna do it? We can’t ask Vint Cerf, he already invented the internet, can’t he take a break? You selfish asshole.
And that’s how TED makes you feeeeel.