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TED2014

Sarah Jones: What does the future hold? 11 characters offer quirky answers

March 21, 2014

Sarah Jones changes personas with the simplest of wardrobe swaps. In a laugh-out-loud improvisation, she invites 11 "friends" from the future on stage—from a fast-talking Latina to an outspoken police officer—to ask them questions supplied by the TED2014 audience.

Sarah Jones - Polymorphic playwright
Tony Award-winning monologist, UNICEF ambassador, firebrand and FCC-fighting poet -- Sarah Jones assumes as many roles offstage as on. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
First of all, for those of you who
00:12
are not familiar with my work,
00:13
I create multicultural characters,
00:16
so characters from lots of different backgrounds.
00:19
So before the present is the new future,
00:21
a bit about the past is that I grew up in a family
00:24
that was multi-everything -- multi-racial, multi-cultural,
00:27
black and white, Caribbean,
00:30
Irish-American, German-American.
00:32
There was Dominican
music blasting from stereos.
00:34
There were Christians and Jews.
00:38
That's a long story filled with
00:41
intrigue and interfaith guilt and shame.
00:43
But I was totally immersed in this world
00:46
that was filled with everybody,
00:50
and then I went on to the United Nations school,
00:52
and that just completely —
00:55
So I began sort of developing these voices
00:57
and these people,
01:01
all of whom were loosely based
on people I really know,
01:03
and so, for example, in performing them,
01:05
I would really try to inhabit them.
01:10
And for example,
01:11
I don't really talk like that,
01:13
but that was one of my people,
01:15
and I'm going to bring a few of my friends --
01:18
I think of them as my friends —
01:21
to this stage, in this spirit of the idea
01:22
that the present is the new future,
01:25
in sort of a meta way,
01:27
because I thought about it, and the future, for me,
01:29
what can be so frightening
01:31
is that I don't know what's coming.
01:33
I don't know if that's true for other people,
01:35
but that notion of thinking about
01:36
how we can understand the future
01:38
and predict outcomes,
01:42
for me, it's terrifying to not
know what might be coming.
01:43
And so the idea that there are questions
01:48
that I've never seen
01:50
that my people are going to answer,
01:52
and some of these characters
have been with me for ages,
01:54
some of them don't even have names,
01:56
I don't know what's going to happen.
01:58
I don't know what's coming,
01:59
and all I can do is remind myself
02:01
that I told Chris I'd fly by the seat of my pants,
02:04
and now that I'm up here it sort of feels like
02:06
that dream where you don't have any pants on,
02:08
and so I suppose I'm going to be
02:11
flying by the seat of my ass.
02:12
That said, let's just see who comes out.
02:16
May we have the first question:
02:18
"Do you ever get headaches
02:19
from the microchips implanted in your brain?"
02:20
Right.
02:23
Okay.
02:26
Well first of all, I'll just say
02:28
that I hope you can hear me okay.
02:31
My name is Lorraine Levine,
02:33
and the idea of microchips implanted in my brain,
02:35
frankly, just putting on my glasses reminds me
02:41
of thank God I'm not wearing the Google Glasses.
02:47
No offense to them. I'm glad that you all enjoy them,
02:49
but at my age,
02:53
just putting on the regular ones I have
02:54
already gives me too much information.
02:56
Do you understand what I'm saying to you?
02:59
I don't need to know more. I don't want to know.
03:01
That's it. That's enough.
03:04
I love you all. You're wonderful.
03:06
It's fabulous to be here with such big machers
03:08
again this year. Mwah!
03:11
Okay, next question. (Applause)
03:14
Next, please.
03:17
"Is dating boring,
03:19
now that humans reproduce asexually?"
03:20
Who do we got?
03:23
Hi, um, okay, hi everybody.
03:27
My name is Nereida.
03:30
I just want to say first of all
03:31
that dating is never boring under any circumstance.
03:32
But I am very excited to be here right now,
03:35
so I am just trying to remind myself that,
03:37
you know, like, the purpose
of being here and everything,
03:39
I mean, trying to answer these
questions, it is very exciting.
03:41
But I also, I just need to acknowledge
03:44
that TED is an incredible experience right now
03:46
in the present, like, I just need to say, like,
03:48
Isabel Allende. Isabel Allende!
03:50
Okay, maybe it doesn't mean,
03:52
of course it means something to you,
03:54
but to me, it's like, another level, okay?
03:55
Because I'm Latina and I really appreciate the fact
03:57
that there are role models here that I can really,
03:59
I don't know, I just need to say that.
04:02
That's incredible to me, and sometimes
when I'm nervous and everything like that,
04:03
I just need to, like, say some affirmations
04:06
that can help me.
04:08
I usually just try to use, like, the three little words
04:11
that always make me feel better:
04:13
Sotomayor, Sotomayor, Sotomayor. (Laughter)
04:15
Just, it really helps me to get grounded.
04:18
Now I can use Allende, Allende, Allende,
04:20
and, you know, I just need to say it, like,
04:22
it's so incredible to be here, and I knew
that we were going to have these questions.
04:24
I was so nervous and I was thinking
just, like, oh my God, oh my God,
04:26
and reminding me, because
I've had, like, some very,
04:28
especially since the last time we were here at TED,
04:30
it was, like, unbelievable,
04:32
and then right after that, like,
04:33
so many crazy things happened, like,
04:35
we ended up going to the White House to perform.
04:36
That was, like, amazing,
04:37
and I'm standing there,
04:39
and I was just like, please don't say, "Oh my God."
04:40
Don't say, "Oh my God."
04:41
And I just kept saying it: "Oh my God. Oh my God."
04:42
And, you know, I kept thinking to myself, like,
04:44
President Obama has to come
up here at the same podium,
04:46
and I'm standing here saying, "Oh my God."
04:48
It's like, the separation of church and state.
04:50
It's just, I couldn't, like, I couldn't process.
04:51
It was really too much.
04:53
So I think I've lost my way.
04:54
But what I wanted to say is that dating, for me,
04:56
you know, as far as I'm concerned,
04:59
however you reproduce, as long
as you're enjoying yourself
05:01
and it's with another consenting
asexual -- I don't know.
05:03
You know where I'm going with that.
05:07
Okay, ciao, gracias.
05:09
Okay, next question. (Applause)
05:11
What are your top five favorite songs right now?
05:13
All right, well first of all, I'mma say,
05:22
you know what I'm saying, I'm
the only dude up here right now.
05:24
My name is Rashid,
05:27
and I never been at TED before,
05:29
you know what I'm saying.
05:31
I think, Sarah Jones, maybe she
didn't want me to come out last time.
05:32
I don't know why. You know what I'm saying.
05:35
Obviously I would be like a perfect fit for TED.
05:37
You know what I'm saying.
05:40
First of all, that I'm in hip hop,
you know what I'm saying.
05:42
I know some of y'all may be not really
05:45
as much into the music,
05:46
but the first way y'all can always know,
05:48
you know what I'm saying, that I'm in hip hop,
05:50
is 'cos I hold the microphone
05:52
in an official emcee posture.
05:54
Y'all can see that right there.
05:56
That's how you hold it.
05:57
All right, so you get your little tutorial right there.
05:59
But when Sarah Jones told me
we was gonna come up here,
06:01
I was like, betch, you know what I'm saying,
06:03
TED is real fly, I got a whole lot of dope,
06:05
you know what I'm saying,
shit going on and everything,
06:07
but she was like, yeah,
06:10
we're going to have to answer,
like, some random questions,
06:11
just like, and I was like, what the hell is that?
06:13
You know what I'm saying, just stand up there
06:15
and answer some random questions?
06:16
I don't want to,
06:18
I mean, it's like an intellectual stop-and-frisk.
06:19
You know what I'm saying? (Laughter)
06:21
I don't want to be standing up there just
06:22
all getting interrogated and whatnot.
06:24
That's what I'm trying to leave behind
06:26
in New York. You know what I'm saying?
06:27
So anyway, I would have to say
my top five songs right now
06:29
is all out of my own personal catalogue,
06:32
you know what I mean?
06:35
So if you want to know more about that,
06:36
you know what I'm saying,
06:37
we could talk about the anti-piracy and all that,
06:38
but as far as I'm concerned,
06:41
you know, I believe in creative commons,
06:42
and I think it's really important that, you know,
06:44
that needs to be sustainable and everything,
06:47
and I mean, as far as I'm concerned,
06:49
I mean, this right here,
06:52
this environment, I would like to sustain.
06:53
You know what I mean?
06:55
But I'm just saying, if y'all are interested
06:56
in the top five songs, you need to holler at me.
06:59
You know what I'm saying?
07:01
Aight? In the future or the present. Yeah.
07:02
Enjoy the rest of it.
07:05
Okay, next question.
07:06
What do you got?
07:09
"How many of your organs have been 3D printed?"
07:10
(Laughter)
07:12
Well I have to say that I don't know about
07:16
how many of my organs
07:18
have been 3-D printed as such,
07:20
but I can tell you that it is so challenging to me,
07:22
kind of thinking about this concept of the future
07:25
and that, you know, all around the world
07:28
parents are kind of telling their small children,
07:30
please, you have to eat that, you know,
07:34
I have slaved over a hot 3D printer all day
07:36
so that you can have this meal.
07:39
You know, that kind of thing.
07:40
And of course now that we have changed, you know,
07:43
from the global South, there is this total
07:46
kind of perspective shift that is happening around the --
07:48
You can't just say to them,
07:51
well, there are starving children.
07:53
Well, it is the future.
07:54
Nobody is starving anymore, thank God.
07:55
But as you can tell I have kind of that optimism,
07:58
and I do hope that we can continue
08:02
to kind of 3D print,
08:05
well, let us just say I like to think that
08:07
even in the future we will have the publication,
08:09
kind of, you know, all the food that's fit to print.
08:11
But everybody, please do enjoy that,
08:15
and again, I think that you do throw
08:18
a cracking good party here at TED.
08:20
Thank you.
08:21
Next question. (Applause)
08:23
What has changed? Okay, it's like,
08:28
I have to think about that.
08:35
"What has changed now that women run the world?"
08:37
First of all,
08:42
I really, like, I just want to say,
08:44
and my name is Bella,
08:46
I just want to, like, identify myself,
08:47
that, like, as a feminist,
08:49
I, like, I really find that, like,
08:53
because I was born in the '90s,
08:58
and, like, there were a lot of women who were
09:00
as far as feminism was concerned,
09:06
like, maybe they didn't understand that, like,
09:08
a feminist like me, like,
09:11
I don't think it's required that you have to have
09:14
a certain kind of voice,
09:17
or, like, a certain way of presenting yourself
09:19
to be feminist, because I think that, like,
09:21
feminism can be really hot,
09:23
and I think actually that it's really vital and important.
09:26
Like, the quotation I'm wearing is from, like,
09:29
Gloria Steinem,
09:31
and, like, I'm named Bella for, like, Bella Abzug,
09:33
who's, like, obviously, like, a really
important feminist from, like, history,
09:37
and like, I just think that those women, like,
09:41
really represent, like, that you can, like,
09:44
be vital and, like, amazing,
09:47
like, a-mazing,
09:50
and you don't have to wear, like,
09:52
an Eileen Fisher caftan,
09:53
just to, like, prove that you are a feminist.
09:56
Like, not that there's anything wrong with that,
09:59
but my mom, she's like, like,
10:02
why do you have to wear pants that, like,
10:04
objectify your body? I like my pants.
10:08
Like, I like my voice.
10:12
Like, she's like, why do you have to talk like —
10:15
Talk like what? Like, I'm expressing myself,
10:17
and I think that we have to, like,
10:21
reach out, like, not only across, like,
10:22
the different generations of feminists,
10:25
but also across the, like, vocal ranges,
10:28
so that, like, we,
10:34
because otherwise it's just, like,
10:37
restriculous within feminism,
10:39
which is just, like, a word that I created
10:42
that means, like, so strict it's ridiculous.
10:45
So that's my feeling about that.
10:48
You guys are a-mazing, by the way.
10:50
Okay. Next question.
10:53
(Applause)
10:56
["They've discovered a cure for cancer,
but not baldness? What's up with that?"]
10:58
Yeah, you know what,
11:03
so my name is Joseph Mancuso.
11:05
First of all, I just want to say that I appreciate
11:07
that TED in general has been a pretty orderly crowd,
11:10
a pretty orderly group.
11:13
And, you know, I just have to say,
11:16
the whole thing with baldness,
11:19
and, you know, here's the thing.
11:21
As long as the woman, in my case --
11:26
because it's a modern world,
11:30
do whatever you want to do, I don't
have any problem with anybody,
11:31
enjoy yourself, LGBTQLMNOP. All right?
11:34
But as far as I'm concerned,
11:39
attractiveness,
11:42
women don't really care
11:43
as much as you think they do
11:45
about the, you know.
11:47
I mean, I remember hearing this woman.
11:49
She loved her husband, it was the sweetest thing.
11:50
It's a pretty young girl, you know?
11:53
And this guy's older.
11:55
And, you know, she said she would love him
11:56
even if he had snow on the roof
11:59
or even if melted and disappeared altogether.
12:02
As far as I'm concerned, it's about the love.
12:06
Am I right, or am I right?
12:08
So that's it. That's it. That's it.
12:10
I don't got nothing more to say.
12:12
Keep your noses clean.
12:13
All right, next question.
12:14
"Have you ever tasted meat that's not lab grown?"
12:19
Um, well, I,
12:25
I want to start by saying
12:30
that this is a very difficult experience
12:32
for a Chinese-American.
12:37
I don't know what to call myself now,
12:42
because I have really my Chinese identity,
12:45
but my kids, they are American-Chinese,
12:49
but it's difficult to try to express myself
12:55
in front of audience of people like this.
13:00
But if had to give my opinion about meat,
13:06
I think first, the most important thing is to say
13:13
that we don't have to have perfect food,
13:18
but maybe it can also not be poison.
13:24
Maybe we can have some middle ground for that.
13:29
But I will continue to consider this idea,
13:34
and I will report back maybe next year.
13:37
Next.
13:42
Next. Next. (Applause)
13:43
"Will there ever be a post-racial world?"
13:47
Thank you for having me.
13:54
My name is Gary Weaselhead. Enjoy that.
13:56
I'm a member of the Blackfeet Nation.
14:01
I'm also half Lakota, but that is my given name,
14:03
and no, even though it would have seemed
14:07
like an obvious choice,
14:11
no, I did not go into politics.
14:12
Tough crowd.
14:17
(Laughter)
14:19
But I always like to just let people know
14:20
when they ask about race or those kinds of things,
14:23
you know, as a member of
the First Nations community,
14:27
you know, I'm probably
14:31
not your typical guy.
14:35
For example, in addition to being an activist,
14:37
I'm also a professional stand-up comedian.
14:40
(Laughter)
14:44
And, you know, I'm most popular
14:48
on college and university campuses.
14:53
You know, whenever they want to do a diversity day,
14:55
or hey-we're-not-all-white week,
15:00
then I'm there. (Laughter)
15:06
Do I think there will ever be a post-racial world?
15:08
I think, really, I can't talk about race
15:11
without remembering that it is a construct
15:14
in certain respects,
15:18
but also that, you know,
15:20
until we redress the wrongs of the past,
15:22
we're going to be turned around.
15:26
I don't care if the present is the new future.
15:27
I think there's a lot of great people here at TED
15:31
who are working to address that,
15:33
so with that, if anything I've said today
15:35
makes you feel uncomfortable, you're welcome.
15:38
(Applause)
15:42
I think we have time for one more.
15:45
"What's the most popular diet these days?"
15:48
Who's here?
15:52
Okay, well, I'm just gonna answer this really fast,
15:54
as, like, three or four different people.
15:56
I mean really fast.
15:58
I'm just gonna let y'all know that,
as far as diet is concerned,
15:59
if you don't love yourself inside,
16:02
there is no diet on this Earth
16:04
that is going to make your behind small enough
16:07
for you to feel good,
16:10
so just stop wasting your time.
16:11
I would just like to say as an African woman
16:15
that I believe the diet that we need
16:16
is really to remove the crazy belief
16:19
that there is anything wrong
16:24
with a nice backside.
16:26
No, I am teasing about that.
16:27
There is nothing wrong with a woman of size.
16:29
That is what I am trying to say.
16:31
Women, celebrate your body, for God's sake.
16:33
Stop running around starving.
16:36
You are making yourselves
and other people miserable.
16:38
Last answer.
16:42
So we're talking about what's the most popular diet?
16:46
I'm gonna start off by telling y'all that
16:50
this is my first time here at TED.
16:54
I might not be your typical person
16:58
you find on this stage.
17:01
My dental work not as nice as some people.
17:03
But I made Sarah Jones promise
17:06
she gonna bring me this time,
17:08
'cause she didn't bring me before,
17:11
but you know, I just want to say,
17:16
there's a lot of things more important
17:18
than counting calories,
17:19
and as somebody living on the streets in New York,
17:22
and getting to come here,
hear y'all ideas worth spreading,
17:25
I want to tell y'all I believe in this idea
17:30
that the present is the new future,
17:32
that where you sit, you create everything
17:34
that's gonna come, for better or worse.
17:37
And for me, I think homeless
17:40
is the wrong word for it anyway.
17:43
You know, I might not have me no place
17:45
to lay my head at night,
17:47
but that just makes me houseless.
17:49
I have me a home. You do too.
17:52
Find it and try to find yourself in there.
17:54
Make sure you know,
17:58
it's not just about virtual reality in space.
18:00
That's wonderful, but it's also about
18:05
the actual reality here on Earth.
18:06
How are people living today?
18:09
How can you be part of the solution?
18:10
Thank y'all for thinking about that
18:13
right now in the present moment
18:15
to influence the future.
18:16
I appreciate it. Bye-bye.
18:18
(Applause)
18:20
Thank you all very, very much.
18:22
Thank you for trusting me, Chris.
18:26
(Applause)
18:28

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Sarah Jones - Polymorphic playwright
Tony Award-winning monologist, UNICEF ambassador, firebrand and FCC-fighting poet -- Sarah Jones assumes as many roles offstage as on.

Why you should listen

"Chameleon-like" barely describes the astonishing ease with which Sarah Jones slips in and out of the characters in her solo performances -- as many as fourteen personae in her Broadway hit Bridge & Tunnel. Critics marvel not only at her ability to perfectly mimic accents and mannerisms, but also to seemingly reshape her body, down to pupils and dimples, in the blink of an eye.

Jones' performances showcase a biting political awareness, and she has received commissions from Equality Now, the Kellogg Foundation and the National Immigration Forum to address issues of injustice and inequality. She is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has given multiple performances at the White House at the invitation of President and First Lady Obama. Jones is now at work on a new solo show called Sell/Buy/Date, commissioned by the Novo Foundation. She debuted material from it at TED2015. She is also working on a commission for Lincoln Center Theater and a television project based on her characters.

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