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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

How To Be Silly

SideBurning Man - Custom Sideburns For All

We take ourselves waaaaay too seriously.

Here’s a little secret – NOBODY really gives a shit what you look like or what you drive. The coolest guy I know drives a minivan littered with sippy cups and other detritus from his extraordinary life as an architect, industrial designer, parent and philosopher-king. He is far too engaged creating things that make the world better to sweat the low-grade material nonsense.

The world doesn’t need more self-proclaimed power brokers looking at their watches. It needs MORE GOOFBALLS!


“Get your custom sideburns. Any style you wish. Made while you wait,” I announced, pulling a little red wagon on which rested a sandwich board adorned in cheap colorful fabrics (yes, I was wearing a nurse’s uniform). “OH MY GOD. I must have big fat Elvis chops in the pink tiger stripes,” one svelte “customer” in a black leather vest and motorcycle boots shrieked to her girlfriend. “Coming right up.”

I took a quick finger measurement of her tan cheek, grabbed my scissors and went to work. Within minutes, I held a mirror before my new BFF, her puffy pink mutton chops customized to perfection and affixed to her lovely face with a bit of good ole duct tape. A big-as-Nevada hug ensued. And off I rolled to the next enchanted encounter.

These whimsical exchanges made everyone smile, because they were pure silliness mixed with cleverness and delivered with shameless enthusiasm. It was arguably the most successful art project I’ve ever made. The effort to joy ratio – infinitesimal. Happiness created – infinite. I saw that same pink tiger striped beauty twelve hours later dancing her ass off at a party and still ROCKING HER CUSTOM BURNS!

Burning Man Giraffes featured in the NYT. I'm the guy in the gold suit and pith helmet.

Heidi Schumann for The New York Times At the festival in 2006, “giraffes” from South Africa met a giant “cat.” I’m the giraffe’s “owner” in the gold suit and pith helmet.

For no reason at all, make your next dinner party a costume party. I’ll even give you some themes to choose from: Superheroes, Colors, Dead Celebrities, Textures (think all corduroy). Some of my close friends once had a naked potluck dinner party for 8 couples. No orgiastic funny biz, mind you. Just your run-of-the-mill gathering at a San Francisco apartment … but all the furniture was covered in towels and everybody’s tits and bits were hanging loose. Can you say HILARIOUS!

One of the Bay Area’s greatest strengths is that so many truly high-powered people love to be ridiculous. To dress up. Cut loose. Get goofy and self-effacing. The shy unassuming guy at the party in the Hello Kitty t-shirt, froggy slippers and lime-green eye shadow invented Pinterest or splits atoms at Lawrence Livermore Labs. He’s comfortable enough in his own skin that he doesn’t need to broadcast his achievement. He laughs … at his success and his frailty. In most other places I’ve lived, people constantly labor to trumpet their success, whether it exists or not. These good folks move stiffly through their days in a tiresome does-my-hair-look-okay awareness that precludes them from letting their guard down for even a minute. Let’s face it, with all the stresses of living, every now and then we need to LET OUR FREAK FLAGS FLY.

I contend that your level of silliness is directly proportional to your self-confidence and core power. At dinner, I want to sit next to the guy in the tailored 3-piece suit made of Astroturf (a real person who happens to be a private equity guru). The guy who’d never dress up in a nurse’s outfit because it looks ridiculous is the one to watch out for.

Jimmy Buffet said it well, “If we weren’t all crazy, we would go insane.”

Swim naked at midnight! But I could never … 

You’d be amazed how liberated you become when you stop caring what someone else thinks and just enjoy the warm, moonlit water on your skin.

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