According to the TED organization, the TEDx program “is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.” But attendees at Drexel University’s third annual TEDx symposium were treated to an experience that squared a bit too well with the TED ethos.
Comedian Sam Hyde, dressed in what looked to be a cheap Halloween costume, took the stage to subtly attack the smug, self-congratulatory air of such lectures—under the guise of complete and oblivious earnestness.
“Give yourselves a pat on the back,” he told the audience after being introduced as a journalist just back from Mogadishu and deliberately eating up time with heavy breathing, then asking for his clock to be reset. “That pat on the back is for saving the worlds. The worlds,” he stuttered, affecting the casual-yet-unprepared attitude that carries him through the nearly 20-minute speech (going well over his limit, of course).
Hyde, a member of the Massachusetts comedy team Million Dollar Extreme, then began to lay out a number of ideas that would have sent any rational person sprinting for the exits, but he managed to hang on to a majority of his listeners—some of whom seem in on the joke. He talked about how bad African villagers were at using the iPads he helped to distribute there, how gay men might one day procreate, the industriousness of the 9/11 terrorists and the supposed topic of his talk: the “2070 Paradigm Shift,” which will be marked by, among other things, a dire milk shortage, necessitating mass genetic engineering so that all humans—“male and female”—lactate once a month.
According to Philadelphia Magazine, Hyde secured the fateful gig by playing to the TED crowds usual set of pop-social interests and assumptions: “I told them I had just returned from Mogadishu where I was shooting war journalism following this group of women cleaning up the neighborhood, and by picking up trash, they had lowered crime rate. So it’s like broken window theory there, or whatever the fuck. A little Malcolm Gladwell. [They] wrote back and said, ‘Wow, that’s exciting. We got some real hard hitting stuff here.’”
The organizers, unsurprisingly, were none too thrilled to have Hyde slip through the cracks and mock their event. There was a heated online post-mortem exchange that began with a Facebook message about “karma” and how Hyde had humiliated “a bunch of innocent people.” Hyde countered that anyone with a problem should have talked to him afterward or pulled him offstage—and that he had “brought an extra 2000 views” to the “dumbass livestream.”
In any case, we applaud this dangerous, weird, unbelievable, ballsy, Andy Kaufman-like stunt. If nothing else, it should serve to make us more skeptical of everything spoken with authority through a headset microphone. A quick glance at the YouTube comments, however, may disappoint you: Some viewers there still think this was genuine. “I can’t tell if you’re joking or not,” wrote one, while another complained, “I fucking thought this was like a real lecture ? ¿. But u just talked a bunch of crab.” Actually, a bit about learning to speak the language of crabs would have been a fitting digression here.