Brad Jenkins: How Laughing at Yourself Can Change the World (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of producer (@bradjenkinsBrad Jenkins’ TEDx Talk: How Laughing at Yourself Can Change the World at TEDxCapeMay conference. This event took place on October 18, 2015 at Cape May, New Jersey. Mr Jenkins is the Managing Director and Executive Producer of Funny Or Die DC. To learn more about the speaker, read the full bio here.


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Brad Jenkins – Executive Producer of Funny Or Die DC

So, my name is Brad, and I have a quick confession before I start. And that is, at the tender age of nine years old, I thought of myself as a very strong black man. And I heard a little bit of nervous laughter.

It is a little funny. It was like a combination of Shaft and LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow. It was a diverse blackness. And it was thanks to my father — this is my dad here and this is my beautiful mother. This is when they met in Seoul, South Korea. My father was an officer in the army. He was shot a couple times in Vietnam. He was stationed in Korea. And my parents met and they fell in love and they made sweet, sweet love. And they made this family.

This is the Jenkins family. This is me, Brad. This is the guy in the middle, mean-mugging. This is my brother Sean to the left, who’s in the audience. And this is the beautiful Jenkins family or melting pot of a family and this is the reason why I thought of myself as a strong black man.

I emulated my father who was a great person, a great American. And he was also my coach. And this year, I was nine years old, he decided that I needed to go to basketball camp. And this is a big summer for me. I had never been to basketball camp. I didn’t really know what it was. I didn’t know if there was tents in the court. It was very confusing.

And I was also nervous, because my father enrolled me in a basketball camp in downtown Trenton. We lived in Trenton as well but we live in Hamilton which is very different, demographically speaking. It was mostly Italian-American. And this camp, none of my friends were going to, it was just me.

And so as we’re driving up to this camp, I had that, you know that kind of nervous pit in your stomach where your hands get clammy, you just are like, uh, man, I’m not going to know anyone. I don’t know if I’m good.

And as I walked into the gym, I looked out, and I saw a sea of black kids and their parents and their families. And I thought to myself: “Oh thank God, my people! I’m fine here. Father, why did you not bring me to my brothers and sisters earlier in my life?”

And so my dad got in the car and I was fired up. We had drills in the morning, we had defensive drills and we had dribbling drills. And in the afternoon, we had our first scrimmage game.

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And as I mentioned, I was extremely fired up. I had a headband. I had a wristband, I had fake Air Jordans, because my parents were cheap. And as I was dribbling the ball up the court for the first time, I remember my teammates and they were looking at me and I was looking at them. And they’re all saying the same thing. And I remember the sound of it to this day. It was like — it was like a Symphony Orchestra really. There was a tenor and there was a bass and there was an alto. And they were all yelling: “Chinese boy, Chinese boy, pass me the ball; Chinese boy. Hey, yo Chinese boy, monk man, pass it, pass it.”

And I’m dribbling up the court, I’m saying: Who are they talking to? Who is the Chinese boy that they are referring to? And then I realized, oh, they’re talking to me. And I had a moment of realization. I literally thought to myself: “I’m Chinese!” I didn’t know.

And so I passed the ball and the rest of the game I was distraught. Every time the ball is passed to me, I just pass the ball away, because I really was embarrassed, to be honest.

And so at the end of the day, my father picked me up from camp. And he asked me how the day went. And of course, I was very angry. And I said, “Well, dad, apparently I’m Chinese.”

And my father said: “What?”

And so I tell my father the story and, you know, I’ve heard my father laugh over the years, over the course of my life. But he had never laughed so hard as when I told him this story. And I didn’t think it was funny. I didn’t think it was funny at all. In fact, you know, this was my identity – granted, it was a nine-year old identity but it was shattered. And I felt like an outsider. I felt like I didn’t have a home.

And I told my father, I was like, you know what, I’m not going back to this camp. My father pulled the car over, very dramatically. And my father called me – well, I call Poppa J, gave me three words of wisdom. And these three words of wisdom were my words of truth, speaking about truth be told. And I thought about these words of wisdom all throughout my life whenever I was in crisis or I was vulnerable.

And the first word of wisdom was: “Brad, don’t take yourself so seriously. You’re not Chinese, you’re Korean. And you’re black, but you are Brad. You’re Brad. Your new teammates — they don’t know who you are. And so you have to be able to laugh at yourself. You have to give them a chance to learn how incredible the person you are. So laugh at yourself.”

I said, “All right. Fine dad, I’ll laugh at myself.”

And rule number two: “You got to be good at what you do.”

He said, “Well, how well did you play?”

And I said, “Well, I didn’t play. I was so embarrassed. I just passed the ball and I gave up.”

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And my father looked at me in the eye and he said, “You know what, I want you in life to never give up. There are people who are spectators. There are people who watch from the sidelines and there are those that give their all. And they are active participants and they jump in that ring. And I want you to be that person. So tomorrow, I want you to play as hard as you can.”

And I said, “All right, dad. I’ll play as hard as I can.”

His third tip was: “Brad, you got to be good to people.”

And he asked me: “Were you nice to your new friends? Did you introduce yourself?”

And I said, “Well, no, they called me Chinese boy. I was really embarrassed I just kept to myself the rest of the day.”

He said, “Well, look Brad, in life, you’re going to be called a lot worse than Chinese boy. I promise you. You’re going to have to learn how to take it and you’re going to have to learn how to be good to people. And I promise you, Brad, if you’re good to people, if you’re honest, and you’re genuine, that goodness will come back to you ten-fold.”

And so I took my father’s advice. I hit the game-winning shot which was very dramatic. And when I hit the game-winning shot, the center of my team came up to me, he stuck his finger right in my chest and he said, “What’s your name again?”

I said, “Brad!”

He’s like, “Great shot, Brad.”

And I was never Chinese boy again. And it was an incredible moment for me. It was an incredible lesson for me. And as you see in this next slide, I took this lesson all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And you know, I did not become President, this is a little misleading, if you’re wondering. But I worked for the President. I worked — I somehow got to work for the President of the United States for four years. And my job was in the Office of Public Engagement. And our job was to connect the millions of Americans who could benefit from the President’s policies.

And it was not just to connect with them; we didn’t just want to do an ad or do one thing or the other. We wanted to connect them and inspire them to action. And the most important thing that we worked on was health care which I’m not sure if you guys have read but it’s a little bit of a divisive issue over the past few years.

In March of 2010, Congress and the President passed the largest overhaul of our health care system. And since then, there has been $400 million of negative advertising about the law, compared to about $15 million of positive advertising. A lot of it was partisan and a lot of it had a lot of negative effects on the law, and also just on regular people who needed health care.