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Ode to Joy

By April 24, 2013April 17th, 2020No Comments
Alfio Chieffallo

Alfio Chieffallo, Joy Bringer.

I once worked a four-month contract aboard the Disney Magic. If you’re curious, yes, it’s the most magical ship afloat. I performed in the adult nightlife area in the Offbeat Comedy Club, an improv club. There was also a Broadway-style theater that performed Disney-themed shows. I made friends with one of the cast members, Alfio Chieffallo. In a word, Alfie is gregarious.

One day, Alfie and I went to a movie in Nassau in The Bahamas. On the bus back to the port, we were the only non-Bahamians onboard. The bus was silent, and out of the blue, he shouts to everyone, “Hey do you like Americans? Because my friend here is American.” It’s definitely a had-to-be-there moment, but Alfie was breaking people out of their private thoughts and sharing an experience as a community. Oh, also, he was trying to embarrass me. And he did. I was used to being in the spotlight, but I still felt embarrassed. I thought it was funny, just like everybody on that bus. The bus driver even laughed. Then this little world went back to its private thoughts.

Later, when I asked him why he put me on display like that, Alfie gave me a real moment of clarity. He said, “If I can make somebody smile, I made their day better. I feel like I’ve done my job.” Alfie accessed his craft, sense of humor and public performance, he found a unique opportunity to use it in an otherwise ordinary or familiar situation, and he took a risk. And the payoff was that he made people happy.

It turns out that improvisational comedy is not so different. The best moments delight and amaze. It is pure magic. It’s the sort of magic that needs to be experienced, and no matter how good someone can tell the story of what happened on stage, you always had to be there to get the most out of that moment. Improvisors take their writer’s minds and theatrical skills, apply them to the structure or game that’s been set up, and ideally, trust the process by being in the moment, listening to partners as well as their guts, and taking a risk that something that’s never before been done will be funny.

When we’re making our living, ideally doing something that’s satisfying and keeps us driven and engaged, when we’re at our best we’re working in the service of others. Think about it. Teaching. Writing. Managing a team. Writing code. Working in a team setting. When we take our skillset, actively look for opportunities, and take risks, the world around us lights up in recognition of that.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

People are looking for experiences, less for consumables. We want memorable stories to share. Think flash mobs. Think random Friday afternoon dance parties in downtowns. Think of the majority of videos you share. And we’re becoming less focused on the things we can buy. Consumerism isn’t going away, but for brands, it’s about the stories they can tell than it is about the product only.

Coca-Cola and Volkswagen are known in the advertising trade as being historically great clients. They take risks and embrace cleverness.

Coke’s Happiness Truck, is a perfect example of unexpected joy and its consequences. Just look how the crowd forms throughout the video:

[row][column size=”1/2″]Their spot “It’s Mine” is a prison-rules contest to see who’s most deserving of a Coke. Big parades have been done, we know what to expect. Find an opportunity to be additive to that world, and take a risk in writing and producing the story, and you end up with this:[/column][column size=”1/2″]

[/column][/row] [row][column size=”1/2″]VW held a contest to see who could spread joy in unusual ways. So, ordinary day on the subway or a great story you’d tell people about for years?[/column][column size=”1/2″][/column][/row] [row][column size=”1/2″]Music videos are nothing new. Thirty years ago they were novel and unexplored, but today, they’re cliche and an afterthought. In fact, they’re so expected that MTV’s format no longer includes them. But add an opportunity to try something clever, a risk, and craftsmanship, you might just wind up with an OK GO video.[/column][column size=”1/2″][/column][/row]


Canadians on buses. Improv. Charlie Brown’s victory. An stairclimb in the subway. Marching band hijinx. What it takes is looking for any place to apply your craft. And bravery. None of this happens without overcoming risk.

Opportunities are there for all of us. Take what you do already, find a way to bring it to people. You don’t have to take it to the masses, but find a place. Bring it there and make someone smile and make their day better. That’s your job to do. Get out there and find a way to do it. Have fun.

Todd Weber

I want to make my name by sharing my ideas and work, and in doing so, tilt culture and improve the greater design community. I aim to inspire ideas, create meaningful dialogue, and advocate for design craftsmanship.