This week, my husband and I stepped out to our local comedy club and saw one of the best performances, possibly THE best performance, of a one-man show that I’ve ever seen.
It was a Thursday and having been alerted via text message about two hours beforehand that Hal Sparks was performing, we decided on a whim to go and see him. After a busy and stressful week, I was feeling like getting out of the house and could use a laugh so we decided to take up the club’s cheap price for tickets (FYI, comedy clubs make their money on the two-item minimum, not ticket prices).
Truthfully, I wasn’t entirely familiar with Hal’s comedy routine or him. I knew that I liked Hal, but I didn’t know why. I mean, his name rang a bell and for some reason it resonated with me. He is my age and an actor, and I remembered him from something, but what? I thought maybe he was on Blue’s Clues, the children’s show from the 1990s that I never watched, and I thought I remembered that a comedian had gotten his start there. (Blue’s Clues actually starred Steve Burns, who isn’t a comedian at all, by the way). Turns out, Hal starred for one season in 1999 on “Talk Soup,” and that’s how I learned about him (he’s been in A LOT since then).
So I ended up seeing Hal because I was mistaking him for someone else who doesn’t do what he does. That could have ended badly. But I learned as his show progressed that nobody does what Hal does.
My fading memory turned into my good fortune. Hal Sparks is not only talented, he is mind-blowing. He is so funny (and way more fit than I remember, hubba hubba). But mostly, he is incredibly intelligent. He wove a thick thread through a complicated needle that left me thinking all the next day about what he was saying. And he managed to do it by creating a link between cat puke, the Hadron Collider, and his grandmother’s washing machine.
I can’t go into the details. His topics were heavy on science and tech. He performs in front of the Elon Musk/Neil DeGrasse Tyson crowd so it’d be impossible for me to try to repeat what he’s discussing. Suffice to say, he uses all types of communication skills to tell his stories, and his timing and delivery are spot on.
Here’s a short clip of him performing so you can get a taste of his humor. It skims the surface to show his love of left-brain concepts.
Hal is a great theorist, and the core of his ideas border between science and science fiction, but they come down to this: We are like children being led. Our future is already written. It has been decided by people who reached the future before us, and we’re merely on our way to greet them. To prepare for this eventual introduction to the future, we are being downloaded with life experiences, and not just one life. We are living multiple lives in order to understand and develop empathy for one another. Ultimately when we arrive to our destination (which really makes you question whether we’re living in Zeno’s paradox, but that’s a different discussion), we will be sufficiently prepared to treat each other well, with compassion and love that we’ve learned over millennia of personal growth.
Deep, right? After the show, we talked for about 10-15 minutes. He was gracious and thoughtful, and we went a little deeper into his ideas.
But ultimately, I’m telling you about this because it comes back to marketing!
Hal’s ideas are imbued with concepts currently being played out in social media. Specifically, we’re at a point where algorithms based on a massive number of data points are anticipating our desires, needs, thoughts, beliefs, even our health. On top of that, we’ve all agreed to meet on a central social platform, whether it’s Facebook or Google or Snapchat (for the kids!) with the intent to share our identities and express what we think about everything – where we live, the food we eat, the music we listen to, the clothes we buy, the churches we attend, our political outlook, what makes us happy, laugh, angry, sad.
We give up everything, and the data “gods” are accumulating all of our life experiences and organizing them. In Hal’s philosophy, marketers are the technicians responsible for paying attention to what you’ve downloaded and what you have yet to try. Marketers watch what you’ve done and prepare to deliver missing pieces. Marketers are the life librarians making suggestions about what to try next.
So Hal’s not far off when he describes a world ahead of us, waiting for us, anticipating what we’re going to say or think or do. While I’m confident Hal and I would disagree on a lot of issues — most notably whether this theory is a rebranding of theism — as a marketer, I very much enjoy keeping you busy until you reach your final destination.