Today’s guest, Paul Wheeler of ‘Life Is Crap’©, recognises that life isn’t always a bed of roses and he believes that sometimes, laughter helps to smooth out some of the bumps. As Paul puts it, “I would encourage everybody, when given the opportunity to see the glass as half full, but maybe it’s half full of crap, to be able to to laugh about it. No matter what the circumstances are, if we’re able to laugh at the little things, and particularly laugh at ourselves, then we aren’t going to take life too seriously and we’ll have more ammunition in dealing with the larger challenges in life.”
Paul is co-founder and co-director, along with Kenneth LeFevre, of an apparel company called ‘Life is Crap’. The highly successful company, which is now 10 years old, began life as an astute parody of the incredibly popular ‘Life Is Good’ brand, which espouses a positive outlook on the world, through the messages and graphics printed on their upbeat and inspiring clothing range.
However, as time passed and the Life Is Crap brand continued to grow in popularity, Paul and Kenneth became aware, through regular customer feedback, that their customers were getting much more from their products than a little chuckle. Their comedic twist on life’s everyday challenges, such as running out of coffee, or worse still – beer, were actually helping people to laugh in response to more serious issues. According to Paul, this laughter became part of a healing process for such issues.
Paul referred to an occasion when a family, mourning the loss of a loved one named Bud, wore their ‘Out of Bud – Life Is Crap‘ tee-shirts to the graveside, thereby turning the funeral into a much less sombre event than it might have been otherwise.
During the interview*, Paul talks about other fascinating customer feedback, including from an elderly lady who started a ‘Life Is Crap’ club in a retirement home – the membership criteria being that you must have lost a loved one.
While the idea of laughing at being out of coffee is unlikely to be offensive to anyone, laughing at serious topics can be treacherous ground and it can cause offence, or worse, depending upon the context. However, this does not mean that the value of laughter in spite of adversity should always be frowned upon, nor should it be ignored. This concept, as well as the idea of gaining permission to laugh came up in the interview.
Below is some fascinating research, which is relevant to the content of our discussion. I intend to do a bonus episode in the coming weeks for subscribers (don’t forget to subscribe), in which I discuss this research and its relevance to the interview with Paul.
The first article I’ve referenced is about laughter in an assisted living facility. It’s a really interesting piece of research which explores the connection between levels of hope and levels of laughter in the staff and clients . The second focuses upon the use of laughter to prevent, or resolve a risk of confrontation in addiction group therapy . The third paper discusses the use of humour in E.R. situations, which in a way is like a highly concentrated version of Paul’s approach to laughing, despite adversity . Finally, I highly recommend that you read an insightful editorial piece by Stephen Medwid, about the occasion when Mayor Rudy Giuliani gave a nation permission to laugh for the first time since the 9/11 attacks, when he responded to the question of whether Saturday Night Live could ever go back to being funny, ‘with a wry smile‘ and the words “Why start now?” This sentiment of obtaining ‘permission to laugh’ was a topic of conversation with Paul .
- Westburg, N.G., Hope, Laughter, and Humor in Residents and Staff at an Assisted Living Facility. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 2003. 25(1): p.16.
- Arminen, I. and M. Halonen, Laughing with and at Patients: The Roles of Laughter in Confrontations in Addiction Group Therapy. Qualitative Report, 2007. 12(3): p. 484-513.
- van Wormer, K. and M. Boes, HUMOR IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM: A Social Work Perspective. Health & Social Work, 1997. 22(2): p. 87-92.
- Medwid, S., Permission to Laugh Again, in Back Stage (19305966). 2011, Prometheus Global Media, LLC. p. 4-4.
* Teething Problems: Unfortunately, despite my best editing efforts, I lost a few minutes of the interview due to an issue with a microphone. Some moments of audio interference remain in this episode. Please excuse this and try to enjoy the content, with its rugged beauty – occasional crackle and all.