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I’m With Stupid – July 1, 2016

by Todd Hartley

Todd Hartley-smallHey, Aspen — where the world’s elite are, at this very moment, convening for the annual Aspen Ideas Festival — I’ve got a favor to ask after all my years of faithful stupid. I’m calling on those of you who have Ideas Fest passes, from the elite all the way down to my friends, to perform a tiny act of civil disobedience for me.

If you’re reading this early enough today, go to the Hotel Jerome ballroom at 7:45 a.m. for a breakfast talk called “Who Should Safeguard Our Data?” Then all you have to do is stand at the back of the room and talk loudly among yourselves. That’s it. Just pick out a friend and start yammering away and don’t let up until breakfast is done. 

There’s a panel guest there, and I’d like you to show him the same sort of respect he showed the performers at Wednesday night’s comedy night at Belly Up. I won’t mention the guy’s name, which may or may not be fake but is really pretentious-sounding anyway, but I stood near him during the show and he talked nonstop, nearly drowning out the likes of Bob Costas and New York Times columnist David Brooks for those of us unfortunate enough to be within earshot.

People kept throwing the talking guy over-the-shoulder looks beseeching him to quiet down, but they went unheeded, so I took it upon myself to say something. I’ve performed stand-up before, and though the comedy night performers weren’t aware of the talking guy, I know how annoying it is to have people come to see you perform only to have a hard time hearing you because of some braying jackass.

So I walked up to the guy and looked at his pass.

“Ah, so you’re a speaker at the conference?” I asked.

“That’s right,” he said.

“Can I ask you something?” I said. “Would you like it if someone talked all through your presentation?”

His response: “I’m at the back of the room, bro.” That apparently made it OK.

So that was it. That was all I said, and it had no effect. The guy had to be shushed on a couple more occasions by people besides me, and my wife flat-out asked the guy why he was even there if he wasn’t going to bother listening to the people on stage. Nothing. Two hours without shutting up once.

Now, I don’t mean to cast aspersions. I don’t know or care who the guy is or what he does, and he may be a great person, but Wednesday night he was kind of a douche, so if you can get to his panel discussion this morning, go and talk it up and ruin the breakfast for the folks sitting near the back of the room. That’s it. No biggie, but my petty, vindictive sense of karmic justice will be balanced.

Anyhoo, back to the Ideas Fest. One of the things I’ve always loved about Aspen is the fact that at any given moment, random dirtbag ski bums can be sitting next to or standing just feet away from heads of state, captains of industry and other important people like it’s no big whoop. That’s why I love events like the Ideas Fest and the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference even though they are so clearly not aimed at my demographic.

As neat as it is, though, the Ideas Fest can be hard for us stupid people. It usually involves ideas that go right over our heads and need a little dumbing down, and I felt very aware of that Wednesday night. I mean, I got the jokes, but as I looked out over a crowd of some of the most brilliant and accomplished people on the planet, I knew they were not my people. They were a good crowd, with one notable exception, and they seemed nice enough, but their very presence made me quite aware of my inadequacies.

I remarked to my wife that I needed to start a counterpart festival for us dummies called the Aspen Thoughtless Festival. Oddly enough, I already know whom I’ll invite first for a panel discussion.

As fate would have it, after the show, my wife and I, as part of a dog-fostering program, picked up a dog with the same first name as the talking guy. The dog hopped in our car and immediately pooped on the floor. And yet somehow, that dog still showed more class than his namesake.

Keynote speaker Todd Hartley is the founder and president of the Aspen Center for Thoughtlessness.

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