Here's a new interview series that I'm very excited to kick-off as part of an effort to highlight amazing humans and the work they're passionate about.
Our first interview is with Amada Echeverria. Amada is a stand up comedian and a blogger. Her new Instagram @traderjoesblog is the most refreshing internet place I've been to in a loooong time. She is also getting her Masters degree in Computer Science and is a fitness goddess, making #gains in the brains and seriously inspiring me to rethink my feelings about ze gym.
What inspired you to start creating your own memes?
I needed an outlet for my crazy monkey brain. Plus, I was dating a guy who had a meme page and I’m very competitive when it comes to useless junk. I come up with jokes constantly. I post too much on Facebook. I think too much. It’s bad.
To you, what makes something funny?
There’s something called Benign Violation Theory which is supposed to explain humor. I sort of agree with it. A violation challenges how you think the world ought to be, and the violation is benign if it’s somehow safe and permissible. The joke is funny if it’s about something the audience doesn’t consider sacred in the first place. It’s like jokes about religion. Few audiences still fear God’s wrath or listens to priests, so when you joke about the Church, it works. However, as the importance of the Church dwindles, the jokes become less of a violation, and then they just stop being funny (we’re getting there).
I also find the Clickhole and The Onion hilarious because they make fun of these ridiculous lists and news stories that use collectively agreed upon values and fictions to attempt to make sense of our world, and to create some sense of importance in what we hold dear or what we consider news-worthy. But I think we get too caught up in ideas. I think all the concepts I hold dear and obsess over are only as real as my belief in them. My opinions are probably all shit and I can see that and feel liberated when I make fun of myself and the groups I belong to.
What do you wish to communicate through your memes?
See paragraph 2 above.
A lot of times I’ll see something on the Snapchat Explore page and think, “that is completely ridiculous.” For example, I saw a model Miranda Kerr listing 5 ways to go green, and I immediately thought of how trivial it is to use less plastic bags. The real problems are our economic structures and incentives. Using less plastic is like putting a band-aid on an burn victim who has lost both legs. People need to see this so we don’t delude ourselves into thinking these quick fixes negate the real issues, issues that can actually be changed! We don’t have to live like this! Those in power have chosen it and are very good at maintenance. I don’t know how to change or do anything but it feels good to laugh.
The commercialization of concepts like going green, mindfulness, holistic health, etc. is very funny to me. But like most things I find funny, it is very sad. I use humor to cope. Humor is a great way to reach people and maybe get them to see things from a different perspective. Absurdist memes that deconstruct the fictions and shiny wrapping paper we put around concepts help people see the world in realer ways.
Same with articles like, How to Free Up Space on Your iPhone. An absurdist list of tips I post gives ridiculous suggestions because I’m challenging the premise of why we have iPhones in the first place. It’s just as ridiculous that we need to walk around with a second brain in our hands, and that we each need such an expensive piece of machinery. In theory, the phone is an elegant computer designed to improve our lives. In practice, all the phone really does is isolate us from those in the vicinity, distract us from ourselves, and the endless apps are built on the premise that we shouldn’t trust ourselves, but, rather, data about ourselves. We relinquish all self-trust and autonomy the moment we accept this. From theists, to humanists, to dataists… we’re certainly in the third category now. We need to stop and think about how it’s changing our species.
As with anyone and anything else, the types of jokes I make in a given time period related to what’s going on in the world and in my life. For a while I was posting a lot about dating and dating apps. I noticed I was attracted to shitty men. I wished to communicate how perfectly human it is to be attracted to someone awful.
I study Computer Science and read a lot about automation and big data and surveillance technologies and it started to make me a bit cautious. Joking about it has really helped me take life and myself less seriously. The impact of the Internet of Things on our lives. It's so huge and often imperceptible because we take it for granted.
I also went through a phase of meditating and reading a bit about zen philosophy, mostly from blog posts. I didn’t read books; I’m too millennial for that. But I wanted to convey that lots of what we do in our daily lives is done in an effort to escape the inevitable and demonstrates a lack of attention to the present moment. We also chase capitalist ideals endlessly even though we’ve proven to ourselves time and again that they don’t make us happy.
You also do standup, can you describe your first time on stage and what was going through your mind?
My first time was in High School. I didn’t have a good sense of whether I was funny or not because I was considered “the funny girl” so anyone laughed anyway and supported me. It was not a way to gauge the quality of my jokes but it did make me feel validated and happy. The next couple times were also with friends so the response was similar. Finally, I went alone and I felt like I bombed. The reality was I got as many laughs as some of the other amateurs, but since I didn’t hear uproarious laughter I felt humiliated, said “thank you” after 2 minutes, and walked off the stage. Now I know not to do that. It’s an incredible mental exercise to stay up there even if you’re bombing. You’ll feel proud either way if you just finish because it takes a certain degree of mental fortitude to withstand that embarrassment. I know I’ll be okay now.
Does your standup routine have any relationship to the content you produce for the Internet?
It’s different because memetic content is something I feel more pressure to make relatable. With standup, I’ll certainly go into the aspects of myself I am deeply ashamed of, and I hope others can relate to it, and think, “me too,” but with memes, I need people to think “me too” because that’s the inherent premise behind them. Also the platforms they’re shared on are built around gathering likes, so relatability is most important. Sometimes there is overlap, such as with jokes about dating.
What is it about our culture that created or inspired the meme format, in your opinion?
I think many of our social media platforms necessitate that we think like teenagers and perpetuate the mindset that comes with that stage of brain development. Teenagers are obsessed with fitting in. They’ll do the extraordinary or destructive to feel accepted. When they don’t get it, it feels tragic to them. Instagram, for example, is not about sharing unpopular opinions or ideas. When you’re driven by quantitative approval through Likes, you’re going to want to share content you think others will like, not what you like (in a sense, the distinction is blurred anyway). The cool think about memes is we could potentially look at memes and see who Liked what, and then we have a list of who empathizes and relates with what jokes. It might be too circuitous of a way to create psychographics but it could potentially be done. That way, you have data on what people are ashamed of, what they empathize with, and maybe what drives them. I say that because I think the humor behind most memes is shame-based and self-deprecating. They are a way we come to know and accept the parts of ourselves our parents or abandoned religions have made us feel deplorable for.
How do you think memes affect communication?
People actually cite memes in regular conversation. Everyone’s been saying “relationship goals” and “squad goals/clique” or whatever for years. It’s annoying but it happens.
What's your favorite meme ( either yours or not) and why?
My favorite meme of mine is “when he say the Our Father properly in Church and you’re like damn boy you know the lyrics” paired with a picture of Ariana Grande looking seductive. I think I like it because it’s one of my most liked posts. It came out of me being at my best friend’s wedding with my ex-boyfriend and him saying the Our Father. I was impressed because he is Protestant and I didn’t know they recited that prayer. I was impressed and then thought about how ridiculous it was that a guy knowing a basic prayer was strongly appealing to me.
My favorite stolen meme is one that uses two stills from Pocahontas. It reads, “me: these white men are dangerous,” and “also me: and a picture of Pocahontas kissing John Smith.” I like that because it encapsulates my dating experience and how I relate to men. There’s something about dating the specific type of men I always date that feels wrong. I’m so drawn to them. They’re the people I know best, in a sense, but it feels both natural and wrong to seek them out. I resent and adore them at the same time. They’re oblivious to their power and entitlement, and I find that horrific, problematic, and adorable at the same time. It’s the worst.
A meme has to have high resonance but it can’t be too obvious either. If I said “that feeling you get when you’re nervous for a job interview because you didn’t prepare,” that’s not funny at all. It’s easy and obvious and anyone could come up with it. It usually has to be something we’re all afraid to say but feel anyway. Something we hide deep within ourselves, and then, through the meme, come to question, hey, why was I hiding this? This is so human. We’re all like this. Let’s be real. There are also very different types of memes like the ones that show brains in different states of enlightenment and other insane memes like the McDonalds machine is out of order meme and those psychotic Spongebob memes. Those usually require a higher degree of meme fluency and understanding them is a bit more labor intensive (require more hours of viewing memes). Those are a bit less mainstream. I don’t know why those work. Probably because people feel good when they understand them. It means they know the internet well and are just one step away from having access to the Deep Web.