Sarah Jones: A one-woman global village
February 5, 2009
In this hilariously lively performance, actress Sarah Jones channels an opinionated elderly Jewish woman, a fast-talking Dominican college student and more, giving TED2009 just a sample of her spectacular character range.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
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I should tell you that when I was asked to be here,
I thought to myself that well, it's TED.
And these TEDsters are -- you know, as innocent as that name sounds --
these are the philanthropists and artists and scientists who sort of shape our world.
And what could I possibly have to say that would be distinguished enough
to justify my participation in something like that?
And so I thought perhaps a really civilized-sounding British accent
might help things a bit.
And then I thought no, no. I should just get up there and be myself
and just talk the way I really talk
because, after all, this is the great unveiling.
And so I thought I'd come up here and unveil my real voice to you.
Although many of you already know that I do speak the Queen's English
because I am from Queens, New York.
But the theme of this session, of course, is invention.
And while I don't have any patents that I'm aware of,
you will be meeting a few of my inventions today.
I suppose it's fair to say
that I am interested in the invention of self or selves.
We're all born into certain circumstances with particular physical traits,
unique developmental experiences, geographical and historical contexts.
But then what?
To what extent do we self-construct, do we self-invent?
How do we self-identify and how mutable is that identity?
Like, what if one could be anyone at any time?
Well my characters, like the ones in my shows,
allow me to play with the spaces between those questions.
And so I've brought a couple of them with me.
And well, they're very excited.
What I should tell you --
what I should tell you is that they've each prepared their own little TED talks.
So feel free to think of this as Sarah University.
Okay. Okay. Oh, well.
Good evening everybody.
Thank you so very much for having me here today.
Ah, thank you very much. My name is Lorraine Levine.
Oh my! There's so many of you.
Hi sweetheart. Okay.
Anyway, I am here because of a young girl, Sarah Jones.
She's a very nice, young black girl.
Well you know, she calls herself black --
she's really more like a caramel color if you look at her.
She has me here because she puts me in her show,
what she calls her one-woman show.
And you know what that means, of course.
That means she takes the credit and then makes us come out here and do all the work.
But I don't mind.
Frankly, I'm kvelling just to be here
with all the luminaries you have attending something like this, you know.
Really, it's amazing.
Not only, of course, the scientists and all the wonderful giants of the industries
but the celebrities.
There are so many celebrities running around here.
I saw -- Glenn Close I saw earlier. I love her.
And she was getting a yogurt in the Google cafe.
Isn't that adorable?
So many others you see, they're just wonderful.
It's lovely to know they're concerned, you know.
And -- oh, I saw Goldie Hawn.
Oh, Goldie Hawn. I love her, too; she's wonderful. Yeah.
You know, she's only half Jewish.
Did you know that about her?
Yeah. But even so, a wonderful talent. (Laughter)
And I -- you know, when I saw her, such a wonderful feeling.
Yeah, she's lovely.
But anyway, I should have started by saying just how lucky I feel.
It's such an eye-opening experience to be here.
You're all so responsible for this world that we live in today.
You know, I couldn't have dreamed of such a thing as a young girl.
And you've all made these advancements happen in such a short time --
you're all so young.
You know, your parents must be very proud.
But I -- I also appreciate the diversity that you have here.
I noticed it's very multicultural.
You know, when you're standing up here, you can see all the different people.
It's like a rainbow.
It's okay to say rainbow. Yeah.
I just -- I can't keep up with whether you can say, you know, the different things.
What are you allowed to say or not say?
I just -- I don't want to offend anybody. You know.
But anyway, you know,
I just think that to be here with all of you
accomplished young people --
literally, some of you, the architects building our brighter future.
You know, it's heartening to me.
Even though, quite frankly, some of your presentations are horrifying,
It's true. It's true.
You know, between the environmental degradation
and the crashing of the world markets you're talking about.
And of course, we know it's all because of the -- all the ...
Well, I don't know how else to say it to you, so I'll just say it my way:
the ganeyvish schticklich coming from the governments and the, you know,
the bankers and the Wall Street. You know it.
The point is, I'm happy somebody has practical ideas
to get us out of this mess.
So I salute each of you and your stellar achievements.
Thank you for all that you do.
And congratulations on being such big makhers that you've become TED meisters.
So, happy continued success.
Congratulations. Mazel tov.
Thank you everybody.
Sorry, this is such a wonderful opportunity and everything, to be here right now.
My name is Noraida. And I'm just --
I'm so thrilled to be part of like your TED conference
that you're doing and everything like that.
I am Dominican-American.
Actually, you could say I grew up in the capital of Dominican Republic,
otherwise known as Washington Heights in New York City.
But I don't know if there's any other Dominican people here,
but I know that Juan Enriquez, he was here yesterday.
And I think he's Mexican, so that's --
honestly, that's close enough for me right now. So --
I just -- I'm sorry.
I'm just trying not to be nervous because this is
a very wonderful experience for me and everything.
And I just -- you know I'm not used to doing the public speaking.
And whenever I get nervous I start to talk really fast.
Nobody can understand nothing I'm saying, which is very frustrating for me,
as you can imagine.
I usually have to just like try to calm down and take a deep breath.
But then on top of that, you know, Sarah Jones told me we only have 18 minutes.
So then I'm like, should I be nervous, you know, because maybe it's better.
And I'm just trying not to panic and freak out. So I like, take a deep breath.
Okay. Sorry. So anyway, what I was trying to say is that I really love TED.
Like, I love everything about this. It's amazing.
Like, it's -- I can't get over this right now.
And, like, people would not believe, seriously, where I'm from,
that this even exists.
You know, like even, I mean I love like the name, the -- TED.
I mean I know it's a real person and everything, but I'm just saying that like,
you know, I think it's very cool how it's also an acronym, you know,
which is like, you know, is like very high concept and everything like that.
I like that.
And actually, I can relate to the whole like acronym thing and everything.
Because, actually, I'm a sophomore at college right now.
At my school -- actually I was part of co-founding an organization,
which is like a leadership thing,
you know, like you guys, you would really like it and everything.
And the organization is called DA BOMB,
A\and DA BOMB -- not like what you guys can build and everything --
it's like, DA BOMB, it means like Dominican -- it's an acronym --
Dominican-American Benevolent Organization for Mothers and Babies.
So, I know, see, like the name is like a little bit long,
but with the war on terror and everything,
the Dean of Student Activities has asked us to stop saying DA BOMB
and use the whole thing so nobody would get the wrong idea, whatever.
So, basically like DA BOMB --
what Dominican-American Benevolent Organization for Mothers and Babies does
is, basically, we try to advocate for students who show a lot of academic promise
and who also happen to be mothers like me.
I am a working mother, and I also go to school full-time.
And, you know, it's like -- it's so important to have like role models out there.
I mean, I know sometimes our lifestyles are very different, whatever.
But like even at my job -- like, I just got promoted.
Right now it's very exciting actually for me
because I'm the Junior Assistant to the Associate Director
under the Senior Vice President for Business Development --
that's my new title.
So, but I think whether you own your own company or you're just starting out like me,
like something like this is so vital
for people to just continue expanding their minds and learning.
And if everybody, like all people really had access to that,
it would be a very different world out there, as I know you know.
So, I think all people, we need that,
but especially, I look at people like me, you know like,
I mean, Latinos -- we're about to be the majority, in like two weeks.
So, we deserve just as much to be part of the exchange of ideas as everybody else.
So, I'm very happy that you're, you know, doing this kind of thing,
making the talks available online.
That's very good. I love that.
And I just -- I love you guys. I love TED.
And if you don't mind, privately now, in the future, I'm going to think of TED
as an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Dominicans.
Thank you very much.
So, that was Noraida,
and just like Lorraine and everybody else you're meeting today,
these are folks who are based on real people from my real life:
friends, neighbors, family members.
I come from a multicultural family.
In fact, the older lady you just met:
very, very loosely based on a great aunt on my mother's side.
It's a long story, believe me.
But on top of my family background,
my parents also sent me to the United Nations school,
where I encountered a plethora of new characters,
including Alexandre, my French teacher, okay.
Well, you know, it was beginner French, that I am taking with her, you know.
And it was Madame Bousson, you know, she was very [French].
It was like, you know, she was there in the class,
you know, she was kind of typically French.
You know, she was very chic, but she was very filled with ennui, you know.
And she would be there, you know, kind of talking with the class, you know,
talking about the, you know, the existential futility of life, you know.
And we were only 11 years old, so it was not appropriate. (Laughter)
Yes, I took German for three years, [German],
and it was quite the experience because I was the only black girl in the class,
even in the UN school.
Although, you know, it was wonderful.
The teacher, Herr Schtopf, he never discriminated.
Never. He always, always treated each of us,
you know, equally unbearably during the class.
So, there were the teachers and then there were my friends,
classmates from everywhere,
many of whom are still dear friends to this day.
And they've inspired many characters as well.
For example, a friend of mine.
Well, I just wanted to quickly say good evening.
My name is Praveen Manvi and thank you very much for this opportunity.
Of course, TED, the reputation precedes itself all over the world.
But, you know, I am originally from India,
and I wanted to start by telling you
that once Sarah Jones told me that we will be having the opportunity
to come here to TED in California,
originally, I was very pleased and, frankly, relieved
because, you know, I am a human rights advocate.
And usually my work, it takes me to Washington D.C.
And there, I must attend these meetings, mingling with some tiresome politicians,
trying to make me feel comfortable
by telling how often they are eating the curry in Georgetown. (Laughter)
So, you can just imagine -- right.
So, but I'm thrilled to be joining all of you here.
I wish we had more time together, but that's for another time. Okay? Great.
And, sadly, I don't think we'll have time for you to meet everybody I brought, but --
I'm trying to behave myself,
it's my first time here.
But I do want to introduce you to a couple of folks you may recognize,
if you saw "Bridge and Tunnel."
Uh, well, thank you.
My name is Pauline Ning,
and first I want to tell you that I'm --
of course I am a member of the Chinese community in New York.
But when Sarah Jones asked me to please come to TED,
I said, well, you know, first, I don't know that, you know --
before two years ago, you would not find me in front of an audience of people,
much less like this
because I did not like to give speeches
because I feel that, as an immigrant, I do not have good English skills for speaking.
But then, I decided, just like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger,
I try anyway.
My daughter -- my daughter wrote that,
she told me, "Always start your speech with humor."
But my background --
I want to tell you story only briefly.
My husband and I, we brought our son and daughter here in 1980s
to have the freedom we cannot have in China at that time.
And we tried to teach our kids to be proud of their tradition, but it's very hard.
You know, as immigrant, I would speak Chinese to them,
and they would always answer me back in English.
They love rock music, pop culture, American culture.
But when they got older,
when the time comes for them to start think about getting married,
that's when we expect them to realize, a little bit more, their own culture.
But that's where we had some problems.
My son, he says he is not ready to get married.
And he has a sweetheart, but she is American woman, not Chinese.
It's not that it's bad, but I told him, "What's wrong with a Chinese woman?"
But I think he will change his mind soon.
So, then I decide instead, I will concentrate on my daughter.
The daughter's marriage is very special to the mom.
But first, she said she's not interested.
She only wants to spend time with her friends.
And then at college, it's like she never came home.
And she doesn't want me to come and visit.
So I said, "What's wrong in this picture?"
So, I accused my daughter to have like a secret boyfriend.
But she told me, "Mom, you don't have to worry about boys
because I don't like them."
And I said, "Yes, men can be difficult, but all women have to get used to that."
She said, "No Mom. I mean, I don't like boys. I like girls.
I am lesbian."
So, I always teach my kids to respect American ideas,
but I told my daughter that this is one exception --
that she is not gay, she is just confused by this American problem.
But she told me, "Mom, it's not American."
She said she is in love -- in love with a nice Chinese girl.
So, these are the words I am waiting to hear,
but from my son, not my daughter.
But at first I did not know what to do.
But then, over time, I have come to understand that this is who she is.
So, even though sometimes it's still hard,
I will share with you that it helps me to realize
society is more tolerant, usually because of places like this,
because of ideas like this,
and people like you, with an open mind.
So I think maybe TED, you impact people's lives
in the ways maybe even you don't realize.
So, for my daughter's sake,
I thank you for your ideas worth spreading.
Thank you. Xie xie.
Good evening. My name is Habbi Belahal.
And I would like to first of all thank Sarah Jones
for putting all of the pressure on the only Arab who she brought with her
to be last today.
I am originally from Jordan.
And I teach comparative literature at Queens College.
It is not Harvard.
But I feel a bit like a fish out of water.
But I am very proud of my students.
And I see that a few of them did make it here to the conference.
So you will get the extra credit I promised you.
But, while I know that I may not look like the typical TED-izen, as you would say,
I do like to make the point that we in global society,
we are never as different as the appearances may suggest.
So, if you will indulge me, I will share quickly with you a bit of verse,
which I memorized as a young girl at 16 years of age.
So, back in the ancient times.
And this roughly translates:
"Please, let me hold your hand.
I want to hold your hand.
I want to hold your hand.
And when I touch you, I feel happy inside.
It's such a feeling that my love, I can't hide, I can't hide, I can't hide."
Well, so okay, but please, please, but please.
If it is sounding familiar, it is because I was at the same time in my life
listening to the Beatles.
On the radio [unclear], they were very popular.
So, all of that is to say that I like to believe
that for every word intended as to render us deaf to one another,
there is always a lyric connecting ears and hearts across the continents in rhyme.
And I pray that this is the way that we will self-invent, in time.
That's all, shukran. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Thank you all very much. It was lovely.
Thank you for having me.
Thank you very, very much. I love you.
Well, you have to let me say this.
I just -- thank you.
I want to thank Chris and Jacqueline, and just everyone for having me here.
It's been a long time coming, and I feel like I'm home.
And I know I've performed for some of your companies
or some of you have seen me elsewhere,
but this is honestly one of the best audiences I've ever experienced.
The whole thing is amazing, and so don't you all go reinventing yourselves any time soon.
- 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.
The original video is available on TED.com