the laughter

By February 18, 2016 15 Comments

Stand By Your Work

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to see Hamilton on Broadway.

If you haven’t heard about it (and if you missed their Grammy performance and acceptance speech), Hamilton is a stunningly brilliant, brave, creative new musical about Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. The show, created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, tells the story of Hamilton’s life in rap and hip hop. The parallels between our Founding Fathers’ fight and the fight of immigrants and people of color today are rich and resonant.

I had tears streaming down my cheeks through most of the three hours, not because the show is sad but because that’s generally what happens to me when I encounter a courageous and original work of art. That night, I couldn’t sleep, I was so moved by the show (and I had seen the matinee, but it still kept me up!).

Afterward, my husband and I dug up a video clip. It’s from 2009. At the time, Hamilton wasn’t a show, even in the mind of its creator. Lin-Manuel Miranda had written one song for what he was then describing as an in-the-works album about the life of Alexander Hamilton. He performed that one song at the White House Poetry Jam (warning: there is adult/explicit language in this clip).

Here’s what shocked me: the audience is laughing in response to this song. The idea of a rap about Alexander Hamilton is considered funny.

And to me, in the video it looks like Lin-Manuel Miranda is struggling a little as to whether to side with his very serious passion for this character and his story – or to meet the audience’s tone and deliver his music in a more campy, satirical way.

What Lin-Manuel Miranda performed that night is the same song that now opens the show. When it’s sung in the theater now – a Broadway theater filled with people who paid a huge amount to be there, to see a work that has been critically acclaimed – the room is full of reverence. The audience is completely hushed, rapt. There is certainly no laughter.

This little parable matters for all of us.

When we bring something truly innovative into the world, it’s often met with ridicule, scoffing, laughter.

The question becomes: Do you know not to take the laughter personally? Do you know it may be the mark of your creativity – nothing more and nothing less?

And can you stand by your work long enough to see the laughter change to something else?



p.s. Want to watch video clips of both versions? You can find them here and here. Warning: there is explicit/adult language in the song.

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Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Ann Sison says:

    Thanks, Tara! This is an excellent example mixing past and present. Some concepts are timeless.

  • Donna says:

    Hello Tara:
    Thank you for this wonderful meditation!

    There is a quote, attributed to M. Gandhi, perhaps a bit more assertive, which I can only paraphrase:

    “First, they ignore you.
    Then, they laugh at you.
    Then, they fight you.
    Then…You win.”
    And another–the source of which I’ve forgotten:
    “Everyone believes in it when it is accomplished.”

    But what you say goes a step beyond.
    Laughter and mockery are humiliating, embarrassing, even bullying responses…coming from ignorance, misunderstanding, conformity, maybe unconscious fear. As you relate, it takes courage, strength and patience not to react from the ego with personal anger or self-deprecation, and to believe in the channeling of truth and beauty through our work. To trust in the faith and love of a Higher Self that sees all growing things through to maturity, flowering and fruiting.

    Bless you Tara, you really touch my heart today.

  • Jenni Johns says:

    I’ve noticed that people laugh when they are slightly uncomfortable with a new idea.

  • Although my experience isn’t about laughter, the phrase “can you stand by your work long enough” was what I needed to hear this morning. I am the author of three books, the first two published with mainstream publishers. My most recent one came out almost a year ago, a hybrid memoir about my calling to climate justice activism. It’s really a story of Playing Big, and I decided to take the risk of publishing it through a hybrid publisher because of an intuition about the book’s timing. Although the timing did prove magical, so far I have sold far fewer books that I’d hoped, and now as I approach the one year anniversary of my pub date, I have to either pay for storage of the excess, destroy copies, or store them in my house. I’m planning to go pick up over 2,000 copies, and part of me feels foolish and defeated. But I still believe in this book (which has gotten a great response from people who have read it) and still know there is a market for it. Thanks for this reminder to stand by my work.

  • Susan says:

    This post really touched me. Your inquiries at the end are exactly what I needed to consider today. Thank you for sharing. xoxo Susan

  • Nancy Zare says:

    I like this message and wanted to share it with you. It’s about Faith, especially when you first release your “work” and people laugh. Although no one laughed at me, I did experience some doubts when I started my business and found it hard securing clients. Is my work of value? It may be hard to answer in the affirmative when the external world is not paying for it. I’m over that hump now. So being turned down this week by prospects didn’t make a dent in my psyche. Still it’s nice to hear one person exclaim on Tuesday that the last 2 weeks have been phenomenal because of the information I imparted. Playing Big is the only way to go!

  • Catherine says:

    “When we bring something truly innovative into the world, it’s often met with ridicule, scoffing, laughter.”

    So true, Tara! I think this has happened to most innovators. “What? The world is round? How ridiculous.”

    This is why the human race needs dreamers and innovators.

  • Catherine says:

    Great quote, I hadn’t seen that before, thanks.

  • Suzanne says:

    People laugh for a lot of reasons, and it’s not necessarily about ridicule or disrespect, even though it can feel that way. In this context, I think people didn’t know how to react, but they were accepting. Contrast that with the response Steven Colbert got from George Bush at the White House correspondents’ dinner. Grim silence there.

  • Libby says:

    Tara, thanks very much for your perspective about being able to stand by and support innovative work when it is first met by ridicule as laughter that may later be transformed into reverence. Very powerful question to consider when one experiences ridicule to unique work or a perspective, “can you stand by your work long enough to see the laughter change to something else?”

    When I watch the “Hamilton” videos and hear the audience responses, I’m reminded that sometimes innovative work sparks total surprise and joy and awe that may express as spontaneous laughter — sheer delight bursting from one’s being. And sometimes over time that sheer delight might be transformed to a reverence or a hush cautioning that one dare not laugh, because as a tribe or collective we hold a work as far too important or serious to respond with a delightful outburst of laughter.

    For me, knowing there is an audience waiting to respond with laughter from joyful surprise and sheer delight is an inspiration for creativity. Thank you for helping me remember my own delight, and inspiring me to see the audience yearning in anticipation of their own joy and delight.

  • Years ago, I used to write plays. The first one that was produced onstage was met with quite a bit of laughter and people told me afterward what a funny writer I was. It caught me completely off-guard as I’d never thought of myself as funny and thought the play was quite serious.

  • Christy says:

    Donna’s paraphrase is powerful. Thank you. I have never even considered Tara’s question before this view and post.

  • Katie says:

    I hadn’t considered this. Thanks for your insight. Laughing can be so loaded, and mysteriously insulting. But you’re right, it could very well be a sign of your innovation, forward-thinking, and creativity.

  • Ingrid says:

    I reckon the laughter is an indication of how totally unexpected and fresh the genius of this idea was, the sign that it’s unexpectedness is to be explored.

  • Lindsey says:

    I love this, Tara. I feel both inspired and supported by this post. And what vision you had in writing this, seeing how far the performance has come over the past few months. Thank You.

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