August 27, 2010

Have You Lost Your Religion? An Interview with Fringe’s Seth Lepore.

If you can’t joke about your own spiritual path you’re in big trouble.

Former Naropa student, turned event coordinator, turned social commentator, Seth Lepore, 36, currently of Brattleboro, Vermont is back in Boulder for his one-man show Losing My Religion: Confessions of a New Age Refugee. As an International Boulder Fringe Festival volunteer and former audience member I sat down with Seth to talk about non-new agey spirituality, tripping on mushrooms, the commodification of consciousness and much more.

KB: Do you think the city itself  (Boulder) has taken the concepts of “mindfulness,” eco-consciousness, sustainable living etc. too far or have other places just not caught up? One man said to me recently, “it was like Dick Cheney had sex with a hippie and out came Boulder”—any opinion on that?

SL: I was in Oakland from 2000 to 2009 and California is always 15 years ahead of the country, period. Boulder is about 10 to 12. It is. With the biking paths and the alternative ways to get around and all the eco-stuff is really cool. But it is also incredibly white. It’s kind of like the divide between rich and poor. It’s really sprawled out; it’s gigantic.

I feel like Boulder does this thing where people can have no idea of what’s going on around them. I went up Pearl Street to do some flyering and I saw this shop where everyone inside was on their computers and on the outside window there was this sign that said  “We like our bubble.” And I was like, what the fuck? That is like the perfect definition of the narcissism of Boulder.

KB: What got you into this line of work? I guess I would call it comedy but do you have a better word?

SL: One thing that I really liked that somebody said was that it’s “less stand up comedy and more social commentary,” but it is very funny. You saw the piece, so you know that the piece doesn’t end on a funny note at all. It’s all developed from me living in a lot of saturated new age places, and being into a lot of these things while also being appalled by a lot of these things too.

KB: So how do you think you were able to critically examine the stuff that was going on without falling in too deep?

SL: Well, I was in pretty deep.

KB: Really, so how did you get out?

SL: There’s no getting out. I do something called emotional freedom technique. I’m a reiki guy. I’m totally down with it all. It’s just that a lot of people who do the things I do are crazy.

What I’ve noticed more than anything is the commodification of spirituality. It really bothers me. I do not need an $85 pair of yoga pants. I just don’t. And nobody does. It’s not what yoga’s about. “Oh, but they’re so comfortable.” Great, but they don’t need to be $85.

That’s why I did a whole farce on lululemon which I call Moo Moo Mellon. I just like see a lot of things in the world that are pretty absurd which sometimes just depresses the hell out of me. Basically I just reflect what I see. A lot of times I’m able to look at it in a really funny way and from what I’ve heard in people’s responses is that it’s not that far off. It’s not like these people I’m portraying don’t exist or are bigger than life (though some of them are bigger than life).

That’s all I’m trying to do, bring up a dialogue with people about what faith and belief means to people. What new age stuff means and doesn’t mean. What love is and what it’s like for people.

KB: Have you ever done a show or posted a youtube video and had people believe you, not realizing it was a joke? And if so what happened?

SL: Yeah so I don’t know if you’ve seen Yoga Kick? Yoga Kick is sort of the seed in all of this, some people who had no reference point for it were like, “what is this?” but when they realized it was a joke they were like “oh!” so it depends on whether or not people have relationships to this stuff. I’m not going to go to Mississippi or North Dakota to do this show. It doesn’t make any sense. But for the most part people see it as a total farce.

Some people have said that the “Real Men Facilitator Guy” or the “Healthy Chocolate Guy” are too real. The Daily Camera said that these characters are all too real. Which is what I want.

KB: Yeah I know. I totally wanted some chocolate after I saw your show. I actually went out and bought some, though in all seriousness I probably would have bought it anyway.

SL: Well, I hope it had antioxidants in it for you. [laughs]

KB: What is the best, most profound thing you’ve learned on your journey?

SL: I realized I was still in a spiritual crisis, in terms of, wow, what do I believe? What do I like? I’m saying this in the show, but it really was like, wow, why do I do this stuff? It’s like I know when I feel something in my body; there’s much more of a truth than if I’m just thinking it. Like you know that kind of thing when you really get something? Like you’re on mushrooms [laughs] and you get it?

You know you’ve heard it three or four times. Like my friend Heather; we were tripping once, recently, oh, about a year and a half ago. I had just had something happen to me outside where I got this Buddhist thing “emptiness is form and form is emptiness,” I was really starting to understand it and I was like, wow I really get this, and then she came up to me and said “nothing matters.”

And I was like Heather! That’s exactly it. Nothing, matters.

She was, like, right!

And I’m like “boom!” “boom!” [laughs].

And of course we’re both tripping and blah blah blah. But we both really got it.

Anyway so I think profound things happen every day. For me it’s more interesting when a very mundane thing that you do everyday suddenly goes “boom!” and you think “oh I really get it now.”What you’re doing has nothing to do with the insight you’re having, but it totally does because somehow it triggered something. You can’t force those things to happen they just naturally occur. Synchronicity between people; somebody walks in and says the thing you’ve been thinking about or searching for in your mind and they’re just some random stranger. That’s what’s beautiful about how life works.

KB: Any advice for people searching for their place, their religion, their meaning?

SL: Question everything. Don’t take anything at face value. If you get too serious about what you consider to be a “truth” you better find a way to have a sense of humor about it. Because if you don’t it becomes too dogmatic, it gets too precise.

If you can’t joke about your own spiritual path you’re in big trouble. Look at the neoconservatives and the evangelicals.

I’ve met Buddhist who are like “you don’t meditate?” Well, yeah I do, but not everyday. “Wow, how do you even deal with your mind?” Real passive aggressive shit you know? So, it doesn’t really matter what path you’re on, you can become a total asshole. A lot of it is about questioning what these things mean, what they are, and examining them on a body-level, a spiritual level, on the soul level.

Another thing I would say is that it’s really good to have friends that will keep you in line. It’s always good to have what you would call spiritual companions; friends who are willing to not let you get away with bullshit, who are going to call you on stuff, who you respect. Because it is a personal subjective process, but we are beings that need to interact, some are more extroverted than others but we all need to get feedback from other people.

KB: Is there anything you’d specifically like to say to our Elephant Journal readers?

SL: I just want to say that I love that on their page there is that Non-New Agey Spirituality link.

And, well, stop buying a bunch of crap you don’t need. Even if it comes under the green or eco-thing, think about it. Use distilled vinegar to clean your house, not some crazy organic cleaning product, you don’t need that stuff. Buy local. Drink some raw milk; think you’re lactose intolerant you might not be to raw milk, raw milk is really good.

Take out your guitar, sing a song. Go back to basics.And don’t think there’s some friggin’ answer out there, their isn’t.It just doesn’t exist.

I want it, you want it, everybody wants it, it just isn’t there.

Have a sense of humor around things.

Try to love yourself and try to forgive yourself as much as possible.

It’s okay to masturbate [laughs].

KB: Because we live in a capitalist society, do you think any of it could ever really change until we change the basic structure of capitalism?

SL: Capitalism really bothers me.  I am not a fan. Because it’s all about the individual rather than the collective. It marginalizes people way too much; it causes a lot of class and racial struggle that could be alleviated. I’m not a socialist either. How do we create a society where we really care about one another, and care about each other’s cultures? I feel like the only way to do it is to localize as much as possible, while also having a world view.I think that capitalism has its place or it wouldn’t exist. But again it’s a structure that man developed, just like man wrote the bible. [laughs] A reinterpretation of something else. I feel like capitalism is not helpful in any way, shape or form to our spirituality at all.So I think the only way to really do it, that’s helpful, you know a lot of people watch The Daily Show for a reason— they want to be able to know what’s going on but they need to do it in a way that gets made fun of. I think it’s one of the only ways people can deal with taking it in.I think it’s true we need to change the structure.

Spirituality, and I mean this even for people who are agnostic or atheist, any time you’re having any kind of connection with something it needs to be about having that connection. There is no value you can put on that financially. You just can’t. My relationship with my wife is not valued in dollars and cents; my relationship with my dog is not; my friendship. These things are much more valuable than anything else. Sure I’d like to pay down my debt [laughs]; sure I’d like to be able to go to a store and buy all the food products I want without thinking about it too much.

But it’s a weird one. Money is a really interesting topic. I’ve been studying it. I started a sustainable investment club while in the Bay area. And it was much more educational than anything trying to figure what’s it about. Then we realized that there was nothing we could ethically invest in. Mutual funds aren’t really green, they’re not green at all. They have McDonalds, Microsoft and Monsanto and they’re calling themselves green. That’s totally crazy.

The other thing I can say to our readers is if you really are concerned about your money and where it goes take it out of the big banks and put it into a small credit union or a small bank that doesn’t reinvest in bigger banks. So when you go to the bank you say, “okay do you guys reinvest in bigger banks like Bank of America or are you guys a singular credit union or bank?” People complain a lot about whatever, Target etc.  People make choices, but when people complain about financial stuff the first thing I ask is are you part of Wells Fargo or Bank of America or Chase. Then don’t talk to me. Take your money out of that bank and put it in a different bank.

All this stuff can be depressing but it’s also liberating to know you can do things about it. You really can.And yeah, sometimes you just need to go to Wal-Mart and get something because you just don’t have the money. But you can go to Savers and buy used clothing the rest of your life and you’ll look fine. Who cares.

KB: Yeah, that’s been my biggest issue is that when you don’t have a lot of money it’s hard to fit in to this kind of group where you buy all organic etc. because it’s so expensive.

SL: One of the things that bothers me is that you go to Ideal Market over here, it’s owned by Whole Foods! I know Ideal has been around here for thirty years but change the fucking name to Whole Foods because you are lying to people. People think it’s an indie place and it’s not.

And then there is this whole LOHAS movement (lifestyles of health and sustainability). There is this joke that I make as the “yoga guy” where I say this is about “bringing happiness to the upper-middle class in a way they can relate to.” And everybody laughs, but it’s true.There’s a target audience for all this stuff in the new-age market and that’s disturbing to me. People creating all these green products that a lot of people who would like to be able to do it can’t afford it. I’m sorry but just because Susie wants to look good to her friends she goes out and buys some crazy $200 composting machine, that’s crazy, just put a bucket outside with some soil, throw the crap in there and your fine. But people need things to look a certain way.

You know Apple has it down as far as how they target people. But right now there is this guy named Mike Daisey who is doing a monologue on Steve jobs on how he went to the factories in China to see how Macs are made.

[Daisey’s] a huge fan but he’s looking at the other side of it too and examining how it all works. Going where the stuff is mined in the Congo and where people are getting their hands cut off to make these machines.So it’s one of these things where it’s not like there’s no way around these things but it’s important to have awareness around the choices you make. I think a lot of it gets plastered over with this nice icing and that’s what I think the monologue I’m doing is showing.

Losing My Religion: Confessions of a New Age Refugee

Written and Performed by Seth Lepore

Directed by Thomas Griffin

Playing in Boulder at the Wesley Chapel 1290 Folsom St. this Friday August 27 at 9 p.m. and this Saturday August 28 at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $15 general $10 student/senior For advanced tickets and more info about Seth and the other Fringe events check out Boulder Fringe.

To find more about Seth Lepore, his upcoming shows in San Francisco, Providence, Portland,  plus other projects check out his website Sethums.


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