There may be plenty of ways to get people thinking in new ways, but Chris Bliss prefers doing it with humor.
“Humor disarms people’s defenses, and helps people accept new ideas,” he told me in a Sept. 22 phone interview. “There are a lot of things comedy tells you about communication.”
Okay, Chris, that’s fascinating enough, but I’m wondering why the IdeaFestival people have invited a comedian to give one of the event’s lectures, and whether it will really be funny.
Bliss, who has just arrived in Lexington to spend a few days planning a project with his friend, the Lexington Herald-Leader editorial cartoonist Joel Pett, says his talk will be both funny and thought-provoking.
He asks me to tease you, his potential audience, with the news that he’ll be revealing something about sleeping with Angelina Jolie, but in truth he’s never met her. Still, I can’t help but sense that Bliss is something special, since his subject matter was good enough to be featured as a TED Talk, and he’s got this long list of things he does, like run a non-profit dedicated to erecting monuments to the Bill of Rights.
Bliss, according to his bio, “delivers intelligent and timely commentary about our world, in the tradition of American satire from Mark Twain to Jon Stewart.” He appeared at an event in Chicago, similar to the IdeaFestival, “about the sharing of ideas, inspiring action, and igniting change to positively impact our world.”
He is among the world’s most famous jugglers, and among his first claims to fame was his 2011 YouTube video, which has been viewed 80 million times. The IdeaFestival bills him as a stand-up comedian, but that falls short in describing him.
He’s not famous famous, so I ask him what his response is when people ask him what he does.
“I don’t say I’m just building monuments to the Bill of Rights,” he says. “And I avoid using the term ‘juggler,’ because I tell you nobody wants to sleep with the juggler.”
He settles on writer/performer, mentioning his corporate bill-paying gigs and the increasing opportunities to speak about important social issues. And Bliss, who is based in Austin, Texas, says his decisions about what events to do are increasingly for non-profit causes the topic of his IdeaFestival talk, using humor to help discuss difficult issues.
The reason Bliss is in Lexington is to work on a project with Pett, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist. He and Pett hope to create a show that will tour college campuses, tentatively called “A Liberal’s Guide to the Apocalypse.”
College students, he says, are more willing to consider different ways of thinking, that their minds aren’t already made up about the world.
After a 15-minute conversation, I know I want to see Bliss in action, that the Washington Post review of Bliss was right on — if you’re looking to laugh and think, you can’t do better than Chris Bliss.
NOTE: Chris Bliss will present “Comedy as Translation” at the IdeaFestival at 1:30 on Wednesday, Sept. 25. at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.