‘Stoicism on the German GMX Radio Station’

Stoicism on the German GMX Radio Station

For those German Stoics out there, you might find this recent feature on GMX radio interesting. It includes an interview with Jules Evans.

Here is the link to Helene’s website, which contains the interview: Helene’s Website.

‘Stoic Comedy is not an Oxymoron’ by Michael Connell

‘Stoic Comedy is not an Oxymoron’
How you can help create a Stoic comedy show

‘Laughter, and a lot of it, is the right response to the things which drive us to tears’ – Seneca

I’m currently trying to write a stand up comedy show about Stoic philosophy, and I’m hoping you can help.

Why do I need your help?

Is it because Stoics are emotionless robots? Is creating comedy around such cold, austere philosophy too difficult?

No, that’s not it at all.

I think some of the ancient Stoics were quite funny (perhaps without meaning to be).

When reading the discourses I sometimes smile at how tough Epictetus was on his students, and there’s a sort of black humour to some of Marcus’ Meditations.

While I can’t prove it, I’m sure many of the ancient Stoics had good senses of humour. For a start, Chrysippus died from laughing too hard.

And looking at more modern thinkers, Albert Ellis could be hilarious.

Listen to some of his lectures on Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (which is pretty much just a stripped down version of Stoicism) and you’ll hear points where he gets huge laughs from his audience. People attending his Friday night therapy sessions would sometimes describe him as a Stand Up Philosopher.

No, Stoics can definitely be funny.

Just as with a bit of study you’ll find that Stoicism isn’t about becoming emotionless, you’ll also find it’s not about becoming humourless.

Still, writing a Stoic comedy show hasn’t been easy.

I’ve only been getting into Stoicism for the last couple of years, whereas I’ve been doing stand up for over a decade.

Writing this show I’d often find myself facing what I thought was a conflict between what was Stoic and what was funny.

For example, comedy is often about getting worked up over external events – the exact opposite of what Stoicism teaches.

Think about all those comedians with routines about annoying telemarketers or how frustrating it is to open a packet of peanuts. That’s not very Stoic.

We don’t tend to laugh at what’s logical and rational, and being logical and rational is what Stoicism is all about.

In the show I want to explain the basics of Stoicism, but how could I do that if these idea were too logical to be funny? I want people to laugh at what I’m saying, not just sit there nodding in agreement.

Even worse, for a while I worried that if, thanks to practicing Stoicism, I stopped getting upset about things I’d also lose my ability to find inspiration for comedy routines.

A lot of people argue that comedy comes from comedians turning feelings of anger, sadness or frustration into comedy. Think about all those cliched “tears of a clown” stories you hear about comedians with depression.

If practicing Stoicism meant I wouldn’t experience those feelings as much, where would I get inspiration for my comedy?

After a bit of thought, I figured it out…

Stoicism says the solution to your problems lies within you, and I’ve found a lot of comedy is in there too.

Instead of criticising the outside world (e.g. ‘Airline peanuts are stupid. Opening them makes me frustrated…’), in the Stoic comedy bits I’ve written I’m criticising irrational reactions to the outside world (e.g. ‘I’m stupid. I make myself frustrated opening Airline peanuts…’).

Examining my own irrational beliefs like this has helped me write some routines that I’m really pleased with.

I think it’s also helping me become more Stoic. Looking at my irrational beliefs and making fun of them is kind of like the disputing technique used in CBT.

And the best part of mining my irrational thoughts for comedy inspiration?

I’ll never run out of material.

I don’t know if a Sage wouldn’t make a good comedian, but I’ve certainly got a lot of crazy to draw from.

The other challenge of writing Stoic comedy is that audiences aren’t very familiar with Stoic ideas.

Sometimes I’ve written a routine about how I reacted irrationally to something, and when I perform it for the first time the crowd will just stare at me because they see my reaction as normal.

For example, if I’ll say I was being crazy for getting upset about a delayed flight. The crowd will stare at me like ‘Well, of course you’d be upset when things don’t go your way…’

Usually I can fix the routine and get a laugh by just taking more time to explain why my reactions were irrational. “Would getting angry make the plane leave on time?” etc.

Sometimes though, I just can’t seem to get people to understand why some way of thinking is irrational.

For the last couple of months I’ve been trying to write a bit about how weird it is to think other people can control your emotions.

In the bit I point out that if you say telemarketers make you mad people nod and agree, but say extraterrestrials make you paranoid and SUDDENLY YOU’RE CRAZY.

To me, that’s a great concept that I should be able to get a lot of laughs out of, but so far every time I perform that routine people just stare at me.

I keep rewriting it and trying to set it up so the audience gets why thinking other people can control your emotions is crazy, but so far I’ve had no luck.

The key to unlocking the comedy in these bits is to more clearly explain the Stoic idea in the setup (external events don’t make you feel anything, etc.), so I’m constantly searching for simpler, more concise ways to express key concepts.

If you’re a member of a Stoicism Facebook group or Subreddit might have seen me posting questions like “What’s a simple way to explain the concept of Eudaimonia?”.

I’m slowly making progress.

Despite the odd failed joke, I’ve been working on this Stoic show for about six months now and have come up with some short routines around Stoic ideas.

I’ve been developing them at comedy clubs and even performed a few on a community television show I was on (you can watch them by clicking on this link, or watch below).

While I’m generally quite pleased with how most of these routines turned out, the show was produced under very tight deadlines and I think all of them could be improved.

You can think of the clips on youtube as an early draft of the show I’m working on now.

Some of those bits I’ve scrapped entirely, some I’ve developed and made longer, and then I’ve written new pieces. Currently I’m putting these pieces together and trying to mold them into a show.

At the moment the show mainly focuses on the dichotomy of control.

I talk about how everyone strives for a life of flourishing, that there are things beyond your control,

That your beliefs are in your control, that changing your beliefs will change your emotions (this is the same video as the first one at the top of the post).

And that with practice you can come to joyously embrace life no matter what it throws at you.

My hope is to eventually film the show and make it freely available on YouTube.

From there I’d love to bring the show to comedy clubs and festivals, and maybe even combine it with a workshop on Stoic basics and deliver it in schools.

I’ve been talking to a producer (same guy who directed the community TV show I did the Stoic spots on) and we’ve got a tentative plan to film the special mid year.

At this stage I don’t know if the filming will actually take place – working in the media is a great lesson in what you don’t control – but I’m fairly confident I can get it shot at a decent community TV quality level.

Once the show is filmed though, there will be no way I’ll be able to make changes.

Even shooting at a community TV studio takes a lot of time and money, and I’m only really going to get one shot at filming this thing. So before that happens…

I want your input.

I want this Stoic comedy show I’m writing to be an amusing introduction for people unfamiliar with Stoicism.

There’s no way I’ll be able to give a complete overview of Stoicism in a single comedy show, but hopefully with enough input I can make sure I hit some of the major points and avoid making any major mistakes.

I want to make this show accurate as well as funny, so let me know your thoughts.

What are some mistakes other introductions to Stoicism make that I should avoid?

Too much focus on happiness (people say this about William Irvine’s book)?

Too much history (do I really need to say the Stoics hung out on a porch)?

What are the major goofs I should watch out for?

What point(s) should definitely be included in an introduction to Stoicism?

The dichotomy of control?

The Logos?

Epictetus’ fondness for beards?

What topics, concepts and ideas can I simply not leave out?

How would you clearly and concisely explain that point?

Brevity is the soul of wit. Try to explain the concept you’re suggesting as simply, and with as few words, as possible. Give it to me “explain like I’m five” style.

Concrete, real world examples are a real help. Like in this routine (as above) where I use late trains to explain the idea that it’s our thoughts that make us upset not events.

If you have a humorous way to explain a key Stoic concept I’d love to hear it, but don’t worry about being funny (that’s my job).

Just let me know what I should avoid, what I should include and a simple explanation of what you’re suggesting I put in the show.

If you have any thoughts I’d love to hear them. You can contact me via Twitter, Facebook, comment under my youtube clips, or just shoot me an email at Michael@michaelconnell.com.au.

Michael Cornell began getting laughs at the age of three in his back yard with the Hills Hoist acting as stage and curtain, and he hasn’t stopped performing since.

At the age of thirteen Michael added juggling to his already extensive talents and spent several years busking and touring with various small circuses. Then, in January 2000, Michael entered the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Class Clowns Competition and launched his comedy career.

Winning competitions such as the Class Clowns Competition (a search to find Australia’s funniest high school student), and the TREV Campus Comedy Competition (a similar search for the funniest university student), helped Michael become an established performer on Melbourne’s comedy scene.

Over the years Michael has performed everywhere from the set of Rove [live] and Her Majesty’s Theatre, to the main stage of the Melbourne Town Hall and the Telstra Dome during half time. Michael has produced hit shows at festivals such as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the New Zealand International Comedy Festival, The Melbourne Fringe Festival, and more. He is regularly in demand as a corporate entertainer, a speaker at high schools and universities, and as a performer at comedy venues across Australia.

Michael’s sensitive, intelligent and hilarious routines are beautifully developed to make everyone laugh, and are clean enough not to offend anyone.

‘The Porch and the Cross: Stoicism and Christianity’ by Kevin Vost

The Porch and the Cross

by Kevin Vost

From Atheism to Catholicism

     There is quite an interesting history of the intersecting courses of Stoic philosophy and Christian theology. Seneca’s own elder brother, the governor Gallio, is quoted within the pages of the New Testament itself (Acts 18: 14-15), where he refuses to hear a case against St. Paul. There was once even a book claiming to have correspondence between Seneca him­self and St. Paul, but it was found to be unauthentic. Epicte­tus made only a few passing comments about Christians in his writings (recall that he died long before the Bible had been assembled), but lessons from his Enchiridion were incorporated into some ancient monastic rules. Indeed, some medieval Christian writers would even “Christianize” the Enchiridion by substituting, for example, the name of St. Paul when Socrates was mentioned! Although Marcus Aurelius’s reign was marked by some persecution of Christians, it is un­likely that he himself instigated it — but his failure to stop it may point to the limitations of the Stoic philosophy, or at least, to Marcus’s limited knowledge of the Christian faith.

     Some early Church Fathers, such as St. Justin Martyr, Origen, praised the lives and lessons of Musonius Rufus and Epictetus. Tertullian described Seneca as “often ours” in his sentiments. In the Middle Ages, Scholastic schoolmen were also well aware of Seneca, who wrote in Latin. Blessed Humbert of Romans cited him three times in his Treatise on the Formation of Preachers, a tome designed to guide the new Dominican Order in the most effective means to spread the gospel of Christ, and we will see (in a later chapter) that St. Thomas Aquinas would cite him in many places within the Summa Theologica.

    The Stoics also had a very influential role regarding my own personal journey back to Christianity. Since my early 20s, I had been a big fan of Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy because I knew it worked. I also respected the Stoics because I knew they were its main precursors. There was no doubt in my mind that these three ancient sages (Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius – I had yet to encounter Musonius Rufus) knew far more of value about the human mind, emotion, and behavior than any gaggle of modern behaviorist or psychoanalytic psycholo­gists.

   Oddly enough, though, while Ellis was an avowed athe­ist, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus were, in their own ways, believers, one and all. (I figured at the time that nobody’s perfect.) Though we tend to think of the ancient Greeks and Romans in terms of their classic polytheistic pantheon of Olympian gods, some of the Stoics were much more likely to speak of God with a Capital “G.” They did not know Christ, but their reason led some to a belief in one God, which they sometimes referred to as Zeus, or Nature, or Providence, as well. Epictetus, in particular, though, spoke of God in personal terms. Recall this “lame old man’s” hymns to God at the start of this chapter (a citation from Epictetus’s Discourses 1.16). And here’s an anonymous epigram found in the writings of St. John Chryso­stom: “Slave, poor as Irus, halting as I trod, I, Epictetus, was the friend of God.”  It was when I had obtained that leisure which Seneca advised that I found myself freer to focus on my own moral purpose à la Epictetus — and before long, to say of all things and events around me, like Marcus Aurelius, “This has come from God.”

     Actually, though, I profited greatly from two groups of ancient Greek wise men bearing gifts: not only the Stoics, but also the Aristotelians. In the next chapter, we’ll turn to a modern Aristotelian, a contemporary of Albert Ellis, who had actually once debated Bertrand Russell. It was in revisiting his thoughts in my early 40s that I was soon drawn back to Aristo­tle, over to St. Thomas Aquinas, and all the way up to Christ, the same path that this Aristotelian had taken in his 90-plus years of life.


Divine Ideas

God is one and the same with Reason, Fate, and Zeus.

     The Stoics were no atheists. Though there were, of course, no new Darwinian atheists at the time of their philosophi­cal heyday, there were indeed materialistic atheists of other schools, such as the Atomists, most notably Democritus and Leucippus, who saw all of reality as composed of at­oms moving about according to chance, leaving no room for the soul or for spiritual beings. Other philosophers, like the Epicureans, most notably Epicurus himself and Lucretius, drew from the Atomists; and, while still believing in gods, paved the way for further atheism by arguing that the gods were uninterested and unable to intervene in our affairs. They also denied an afterlife.

     The Stoics did not deny the spiritual realm, and some saw the reality of a single God. Aided by reason but lack­ing in divine revelation, they had varied conceptions of God that captured pieces and parts of the truths of His nature.

     God was considered a spiritual and active principle that gives shape and meaning to a primary passive principle of undifferentiated matter. The ancient Greeks, you see, had a conception of an eternal universe (“existence exists”) and perceived God as a First Cause in terms of changing mat­ter, rather than bringing the universe into existence ex nihilo — that is, out of nothing. The Stoics had rather vague and sometimes conflicting understandings of God as the shaper of the cosmos or universe (which was believed to periodically perish in cataclysmic fire and then begin anew); as the “soul” of the universe; or as the universe itself. Some held, therefore, a rather panthe­istic view that everything is God, or a part of God. Some saw Him as synonymous with Nature or with Fate. Others at times, especially Epictetus, did see God as a personal, father-like figure interested in our existence.

    Regardless of their rather varying and rather murky concepts of God, the Stoics acknowledged him based on reason alone. They also deduced from his existence our need to live lives of virtue and self-control, and they developed very effective tech­niques to help us achieve this. There is still much that good Christians and all people can learn from those teachers on the porch.

Kevin Vost, Psy.D. taught psychology at the University of Illinois at Springfield and at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee. An author of books on memory and on Thomistic philosophy, Dr. Vost has studied the Stoics since the 1980s. These excerpts are adapted from parts of chapter 7 “Stoic Strivings: The Slave, the Lawyer, the Emperor, and God” in his memoir From Atheism to Catholicism:How Scientists and Philosophers led me to Truth (Our Sunday Visitor, 2010) which is available here. He is now completing The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living (Angelico Press, 2015) which will highlight the lives, lessons, and legacies of Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius.