Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Speech Never Given

The following is a transcript of a presentation I was to give at the Texas Freethought Convention before I found myself not actually on the list of speakers.

The past few days have been quite frantic for me in regards to speaking here today. I was only recently substituted for the president of our group who could not be here. As of last night, I still wasn't sure what to speak about. Asking friends and strangers on 6th Street (in Austin) yielded a plethora of drunken ideas.

One fellow gave me a list of people I should quote. Another offered to give me a $100 bar tab if I got on stage and told dead baby jokes. I even had one person tell me multiple times that I should drop as many movie titles as possible into my speech and see who can catch the most for prizes.

So of course this means I actually wrote all of this speech just this morning. Imagine how I felt when I awoke this morning and checked the convention's website to see if a finalized schedule had been posted so I'd know exactly how long I had to write this - and instead found that my name wasn't on the list!

Wow, I thought, I'm supposed to speak at a freethought convention that is full of atheists and agnostics, but I'm not on the list??? This must be how God would be feeling if he were here today.

Of course this led me to spend a good bit of time daydreaming the scenario of God actually showing up to speak. "Could you check again please? See if I'm listed under The Holy Spirit. C'mon, I'm kind of a big deal after all."

This morphed into another scenario in which I imagined it being an agnostic at the table God approached - "I'm sorry sir, we don't have evidence either way to prove whether or not you're on the list to speak."

This is the part of the speech where I've written in a section that if no one has been laughing, that I should slowly back away from the mic and make a mad dash for the nearest exit.

Obviously, I'm still at the mic, so hopefully this means there's been plenty of laughter.

And that brings me to the serious part of my presentation... if you can still take me seriously.

I'm here representing the Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists group from the University of Texas at Dallas located not in Dallas but in Richardson, Texas - one of the most densely conservative parts of the state. Let me tell you, it's been a tough road. While some of our members have conspiracy theories about lost room reservations or delayed approval of applications for the groups existence, nothing has been more prominent an issue in the running of the club than helping people to overcome the hardships associated with being an atheist comfortable enough to tell their parents or list it on their Facebook/Myspace profile for all of their friends to see.

One of the ways I try to help people is through the use of humor. See, this is the part where the jokes at the beginning start to serve more of a purpose than that of killing time.

I find that if you can find a way to make a person laugh, it makes them more comfortable in the environment you're approaching them in. Of course there are inappropriate jokes, and as some believe, inappropriate times to tell them.

However, I've utilized our meeting times as a way to get the humor of life across. The first meeting of this semester was a large BBQ we put on with a presentation I constructed on the history and goals of the club on giant sheets of paper that were alternated with humorous hand-drawn illustrations of pirate ships and people worshiping mundane objects.

As nervous as I was then, which is far less nervous than I am now, it was a hit! Members felt at ease and were comfortable mingling after that because everyone was in a better mood since they had all shared several laughs together, many at the expense of our officers.

At another meeting shortly there after, I created a rap in response to the Large Hadron Collider rap that was popular on Youtube. Where as their rap explained with the LHC does, mine was more about quelling the fears associated with being unfamiliar with the LHC. If someone one offers to buy me a drink at the end of this, I'll seriously perform the rap for all of you in just a minute.

Now I've done my share of amateur stand up, and my friends and I can accurately quote entire episodes of Futurama or Family Guy, but its a much different ball game when you're in an academic or serious environment, but I assure you that humor has many benefits.

It has definitely made our A.S.H. club more social which has lead to some people making new friends, others finding boyfriends or girlfriends, or in my case, finding a new guitarist for our Rock Band team.

Speaking of Rock Band, over the summer we were tabling at a freshman orientation and we found ourselves placed directly next to FOCUS, one of the most prominent religious organizations at UTD. On a whim we began joking with them about how our team was so much better at Rock Band than theirs. That joking is leading towards a joint effort of our clubs to hold a tournament for a secular charity with this Christian group.

Having that has given us a stool to stand on in establishing a presence of our group amongst other organizations at the school and we've now been invited to partake in a dialog as well as a debate with several other groups. This is largely in part because we have a relaxed group that likes to entertain each other and keep things light hearted in a group that could easily find itself in a very different and not very fun state of affairs.

The late comedian George Carlin once said "I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately." While I myself lack the wit and the courage to cross this line, I do think it is important for those of us that embrace humor in the Freethought movement to know where it's at - just get a feel for it, maybe poke at the line with a stick, but you don't have to cross it. This side can be just as humorous and hopefully its been much more productive.

Thank you.

1 comment:

Rodrigo said...

This was good, its too bad you weren't able to give it.

I still wish I could have been there, just to see the disaster first hand.