Jason BlockDesigner and Front-End Engineer

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by Jason BlockFebruary 27, 2013

On Comedy

Tig Notaro

Tig Notaro is a fairly notable stand-up comedian. Early last year, she contracted a horrifying autoimmune disease and experienced the death of her mother. All of this happened to a frail, tiny stand-up comedian in the course of a few months.

Then Tig found out that she had breast cancer. And later that night she was supposed to perform at the Largo comedy club in Los Angeles.

Humankind doesn't really have the emotional motor function to really put us in the place of one experiencing great suffering and hardship. What we can imagine is the mechanism for coping. We understand how our own mind retaliates from things that cause distress. Few could grasp her pain at that moment, but all could imagine the human desire to fight off the demons and bring light to the situation.

That night she went on stage. She had a set of material written already. Instead, she went up and told everyone she had cancer. That's how the set started. If you listen to the audio recording, you can hear the crowd grow tense within 20 seconds of her appearing onstage.

Louis C.K. later tweeted that it was one of the best stand-up sets he'd ever seen.

Stand-up comedy is about sharing. We tell stories to each other to share our experiences, and pull away from our own contexts to view the world in the eyes of someone with a more discerning perspective. The room is intimate. Barring the occasional romp at the Madison Square Garden it's just a bunch of people with drinks in their hands staring at a person on a stage, barking into a microphone.

And above all else, the shared experience of laughter brings our species joy. It connects us in the same way that yawning is contagious, differing comedic tastes aside.

So. Design.

Any designer worth their weight makes things for other people. Be it a website or an iPhone app or a light switch; multiple people in different contexts with different perspectives interact with them. The challenge is normalizing that attentiveness and response. If only we could all create something as ubiquitous as the light switch.

Great comedians bare themselves in the work. They gain a true sense of understanding how and why we laugh, not just that we want to hear jokes. It's why Louis C.K. has resonated with so many people in recent years with his transcendent TV show, why the "21 Jump Street" movie transcended the immature R-Rated comedy (and the genre of the remake in general, but that's another blog post), and why Tig Notaro touched so many people in that live show at Largo.

And much like great comedians, great designers do the same.

So I suggest that you listen to comedy. Download Earwolf podcasts & listen to WTF with Marc Maron, go see live shows, support open-mic nights, and keep telling jokes. We have a duty as a species to understand each other and prevent our worlds from stratifying from something unified. The things we make and the experiences we share will be all the better.