Creating Our Own Lives

We’re called to create a better world, but what about the more immediate task of creating our own lives? Inspired by a quote of Thomas Merton. Limited series (2016-2017) that explored running as a spiritual practice and humor as a tool for survival. Hosted by Lily Percy.


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“My mom has a very dark sense of humor. I think that’s how I learned how to recycle pain.”

Hari Kondabolu is not your average stand-up comedian. He has a Masters in Human Rights and worked as an immigrants rights organizer — all of which you hear in his writing. His jokes simultaneously bring about discomfort and a nod of the head, without sounding preachy. He uses comedy as a coping mechanism for addressing complex issues of race, identity, and ethnicity post 9/11.

“I cannot tell you how many times laughter has connected me with all different kinds of people throughout the country, of all kinds of political persuasions.”

When politics and comedy mix they can become mean, sarcastic, and divisive. Reporter and NPR Politics Podcast co-host Sam Sanders thoughtfully avoids this. As an African American and Pentecostal growing up near a military base in San Antonio, he was surrounded by people from different class, political, and cultural backgrounds. This helped him develop his thoughtful voice, his objectivity, and his ability to connect to others through jokes and laughter.

“I don’t think that humor is evasive at all. It’s how we protect our hearts from just bleeding to death.”

Bestselling author Terry McMillan knows how to write funny yet complex female characters: Savannah in Waiting to Exhale, Stella in Stella’s Got Her Groove Back, and Georgia in her latest novel, I Almost Forgot About You. Whether they’re wrestling with heartbreak, grief, or loneliness, these women use humor to face whatever life throws at them. But these characters are simply taking the lead from their creator, who sees humor as a way of “protect[ing] our hearts from just bleeding to death.”

“Humor is always about ‘as if.’ And it just relaxes everybody. We’re going to laugh.”

Transparent creator Jill Soloway describes Amichai Lau-Lavie as “a God-optional, patriarchy-toppling, Jewish modern mind.” He uses humor to connect — to himself and others, his family, his sexual identity, and his spiritual life. The rabbi says the Jewish people have endured because of their ability to laugh at themselves and, in this way, laugh at the world.

“What makes humor is pattern recognition. Finance is very helpful on that front because there are a lot of patterns that keep repeating themselves.”

Heidi N. Moore uses humor as a tool for understanding the world of finance. She tells stories about the people behind the money — why they do what they do and how they do it, and has done so for many years as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and Marketplace. By humanizing something as intimidating as finance, she helps people actually understand it.

Humor reminds me a lot of magic, in that there’s no way to quite replicate it. There’s a power to that”

The humor in Daniel José Older’s writing makes his characters come alive. Whether in the playful banter of books like Shadowshaper, in his spiritual practice of Lucumí, or alchemizing tragedy into comedy as a paramedic in New York City, he sees humor as key to finding a storytelling voice.



“Humor gives me release. Sometimes there’s just too much tension and you have to let it go. Laughter is such a great natural physical response to do that.”

Humor has been a tool for success for Alexis Wilkinson, and not just a tool for survival. She writes for Brooklyn Nine-Nine and previously wrote for VEEP, a job that she got right out of college, at the age of 22. And, before that, she made headlines as the first African-American woman to be president of Harvard Lampoon magazine.

“Humor establishes new ground for parents and kids to relate on that isn’t just parent-kid.”

For Maureen Craig, humor is central to how she understands and relates to her family. As a parent, a wife, a daughter, and a brand strategy executive, she believes that there’s always something you can make a joke about.

“I use humor as a way to let our community know that we’re not invisible, at least not to us.”

Chicano cartoonist and writer Lalo Alcaraz explores his dual identity by creating characters and places where he can be seen. He’s known as a writer for the Fox sitcom Bordertown and for La Cucaracha, the first nationally syndicated, politically themed, Latino daily comic strip. Humor as a tool for survival is embodied in his very being.

“When you are helpless with true laughter, it’s like orgasm. Your body gets taken over. If it didn’t feel so good, you’d think there was something wrong.”

Sex scientist, researcher, and romance novelist Emily Nagoski sees humor as a way to understand and appreciate sex and our bodies. She says that belly laughs and rough housing play completely shift our physiology. This is what makes her romance characters so relatable — there’s laughter in their foreplay and sex.

“When everything feels horrible, what tiny detail can we seize on and laugh about.”

Writer Lindy West talks about being fat and being a feminist with an honesty and vulnerability infused with humor. Titles of her essays and books — “My wedding was perfect — and I was fat as hell the whole time” or Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman — get at both the laughter and pain of her journey to body positivity, with poignant insights into the destructive power of comedy.

“The real Book of Mormon is on my shelf, and next to it, the Book of Mormon Musical. And I’m spiritually enriched by both.”

Ask anyone who isn’t a Mormon what they know about the faith — chances are, they’ll cite something they learned from South Park or The Book of Mormon. They’ll also probably say that Mormons are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Derrick Clements has humor and infinite patience for being associated with this stereotype, and he doesn’t let it undermine the thoughtfulness or depth of his faith.

“The best laugh in the world, is laughing at things that are unhappy. And there’s probably a certain level of that in Northern Ireland, a laughing-at-things-that-are-bad.”

Mark McCleary grew up in Northern Ireland during “The Troubles” — a 30-year conflict where humor became a coping mechanism for many to simply get through the day. These jokes live on, he points out, with nuances that hint at the complexity of identity as a Protestant living in Northern Ireland today.

“The best expression of humor is something that comes out of suffering and comes out of a sense of alienation.”

Margaret Cho opens difficult conversations about rape, abuse, addiction, failure, and anger through her work as a comedian and writer. Anger and humor, she says, are deeply connected. And she sees talking and joking about her pain as a way to help people heal.

“Humor is a tool for inclusion and for making everyone realize: we’re all together on this.”

Jonny Sun has formed a devoted community of almost half a million followers on Twitter — tweeting through his alter ego, a lonely alien who views the world as an outsider, with curiosity and wonder. His tweets alternate between silly jokes and insightful, almost Zen-like, poetry. Through his words, he makes the world feel a little less lonely.

Humor as a tool for survival. That’s the theme of our second season of Creating Our Own Lives. Host Lily Percy speaks with 15 different voices on the surprising ways humor shapes them and brings meaning to their lives. Including insights from writers, comedians, political and financial reporters, a sex educator and a rabbi — and starring voices like Margaret Cho, Hari Kondabolu, Terry McMillan, Sam Sanders, and Lindy West.


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