A few weeks ago I was in conversation, where, as my friends know, I am often really serious. All of a sudden, I somehow started a statement with: “in all seriousness-ness“, which caused the other person to burst into gales of laughter. For the rest of the conversation (and, well, ever since!), that newly invented word can be used to inject levity whenever I get too serious.
I was reminded of this by a post on Wisdom Well recently by Chip Conley that I repost below.
My mind also joined the dots elsewhere, so also sharing some collected thoughts on comedians and how they, too, can manage energy through using levity to remain connected to an audience when they want to make a serious point.
There are times to be serious, and, in all seriousness-ness, times to inject levity!
Comedians and master of holding and managing energy
So, first to the comedians. In October 2019 I went to see Hannah Gadsby, a genius comedian who was operating at least six or seven different levels of both theme and energy interwoven through her performance. As an experienced facilitator, I’m used to working with at least three or four such themes and levels at the same time, but this brilliant comedian was exponentially beyond that! More on her and on how we make decisions based on energy and feeling in: “No one ever made a decision based on a number“.
Now, that show, “Douglas” was back in October 2019. In July 2018 I wrote: “Stretch but don’t break – and watch Nanette” about Hannah’s breakout special on Netflix. In this I also reference the use of comedians at my favourite conference, Kilkenomics:
Last year I went to the Kilkenomics “Economics and Comedy” Festival and wrote in: “Did you hear the one about the funny Economist ?” about the stroke of genius from the organiser, David McWilliams, to have professional comedians as panel moderators. Panels of economists could be, well, boring but not with comedians as moderators. They are such masters at managing energy, at creating and flexing tension, stretching the audience while not breaking the bonds between audience and performers. Keeping us engaged as well as entertained.
I then went on to talk about how Hannah Gadsby did this with her show Nanette.
Hannah began with comedy, great comedy. She then brought us more and more into her world, then signposted at a certain stage that she was going to shift. How did she do this ? She talked about tension, and how professional comedians are masters at creating tension then releasing it, and how they can only go so far. If they go too far, they can lose the audience.
Wisdom, Gravity and Levity
Finally, to Chip Conley’s post, noting concisely as ever the importance and power of balancing:
Gravity and Levity.
Long ago, we almost named a Sacramento restaurant “Gravitas” in our newly renovated Citizen Hotel. We wanted to signal that this was where politicos made important deals. While we ultimately opted for the name “Grange,” I took note that many of the older people I admired seemed to embody a perfect alchemy of gravitas and levity.
Gravity and levity are antonyms. It’s hard to imagine no one thought of gravity before Isaac Newton observed an apple drop from a tree. The word gravity is derived from the Old French word “gravité,” meaning thoughtfulness or seriousness.
The proper definition of the word levity is the use of humor in a serious situation, and the word is derived from the French word “levite,” which means lightness. And, of course, we know what it means for something to levitate.
How can you be a wise social alchemist who knows which situations could use a little more gravitas and which could use a little more lightness? Often, it’s the wisest one in the room who knows the perfect timing to shift the energy.
Also published on Medium.