Philip Patston is an ex-gay, ex-disabled, ex-vegetarian, ex-comedian about to perform at the New Zealand International Comedy Festival in May. RENEE LIANG speaks to him about how he invents himself.

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RENEE: You call yourself a comedian, change consultant and social entrepreneur... how do those things all tie together? Can you be all of them at the same time?

PHILIP: Well itís interesting you should ask because itís one of the things Iím trying to do with this show. They are quite disparate roles and I do find it hard to be all at the same time. But they are what make me uniquely me, so this show is about pulling my more serious work into a comic context and seeing what happens.

R: Yes, I was looking at the description of your show and the mind was boggling a bit. The show is ďpart comedy routine, part motivational seminar, part leadership thingy, part poetry reading, part something elseĒ! How will you put it all together? And what exactly is Constructive Creative Ironic Thinking ?

P: Hahaha thatís quite a question! Actually, Iím not quite sure, which is another exciting aspect to the show. Iíve got all this stuff I want to talk about Ė about how we relate to each other, our identity, wisdom, experience and expression Ė which I talk about in seminars and at conferences. So Iím looking forward to taking the piss out of myself on one hand, but also reminding people about some realities that we forget, like the fact that everyone has the possibility of ending up a bit like me because they could walk out of the show, be hit by a bus and fall in love with the bus driver who happens to be the same gender... which is probably an example of Constructive Creative Ironic Thinking!

R: Yes indeed! Your work is really quite engaging Ė it has a different feel to most stand up (for a start, itís not stand up...). One of the things that hits me immediately is how you refuse to feel sorry for yourself, and youíre happy to take the piss out of anyone who wants to feel sorry. Itís more about recognising the issues and moving on from there.

Youíve had a packed life... did you come to this state of Zen easily, or did you have to drag yourself kicking and screaming?

P: I havenít always been so Zen, believe me. In fact I was an angry young man once, an activist etc. But I did have an epiphany about 15 years ago when I realised my feelings changed when I thought about things differently.

That set me on a path of discovery about innate creativity and about how we are creating our reality every second and we donít even realise it. So a lot of my work is about creating new paradigms. Iíve developed this thesis on experiential diversity, which is about how we can think about experience as unique and common, rather than these negative judgments we insist on making.

R: And from your work I realise that these ideas apply to everyone, not just the disabled or the visibly different.

P: No indeed, itís everyone.

R: So acceptance is the first step, and then from there we can progress?

P: I think itís somewhat less than acceptance actually. I think itís about losing the expectation that life will be this or that. To me diversity is much more about what we donít do Ė donít judge, donít assume, donít expect, donít stress. We really do need to get over ourselves!

R: Is this the underlying message of your show?

P: Maybe. I tend to try and make my shows about me more than other people. I actually donít care what people do. But I think, yes, I have kind of gotten over myself. One of the things Iíll be doing is renouncing my labels Ė gay, disabled, vegetarian, kiwi, comedian (which is why Iíve added ex- to all of them) because Iím really not any of them anymore. I see them as roles I play sometimes, but I donít identify with them these days.

Itís a lonely, yet liberating place to be...

R: In a way I think all of us play roles, everyday... some imposed by ourselves, some imposed from outside. One of the things I like about performance is how it reminds us that they are all just roles.

I know youíve been working for years as a consultant for people interested in changing the way they see themselves... can you talk a bit about that?

P: My work in that area stems from a belief that in order to change the world you have to change yourself. Itís not really my idea. Therapists will tell you that you canít change others, and Neale Donald Walsch talks about it in his books Conversations with God.

So as I come from a background in radical social action theory aka social work 101, itís put me in good stead to think about how do you change the world by starting with how you change yourself with intent and inspire others to change. Thatís where the WISE SPECIESô Movement came about. Itís a model I dreamt up in the shower one morning.

Itís simple yet complex as all great things and people are. WISE is about awareness Ė of your experience (wisdom, identity, synergy) and expression. SPECIES is about targeting your expression so people experience you as much as possible, as you experience yourself Ė socially, physically, emotionally, culturally, intellectually, economically and spiritually. And that came about from my experience of people in the main thinking about and responding to me as if I was retarded just because I use a wheelchair.

R: A lot of great ideas come from the shower...

P: Indeed!

R: Those ideas you mention seem to have a lot in common with writing and acting.

P: Do they? See people tell me that all the time Ė my academic friends say, ďoh yes thereís this and that theory about that...Ē

R: Yes, what gets me is how every discipline has ideas which are useful for someone else. So thatís why I like what youíre doing on Creative Momentum (a new organisation) Ė trying to collide ideas and minds.

P: Yes...I feel really lucky that Iíve had so much experience in different disciplines Ė business, education, social work, counseling, comedy, writing, poetry...

R: So do you perform poetry in this show as well?

P: Yes, itís my ďeasy bitĒ where I donít have to remember lines! Not that I remember lines anyway, but I can just relax as the structure is there.

I think itís so funny, the difference between comedy and other performance. In comedy it only matters whether you get a laugh, but for anything else itís about the work. I guess with this show I'm trying to make the work matter. Iíve been saying that this showís a bit of a clincher Ė after it Iíll decide whether I keep on doing the ďcomedy thingĒ...

R: Why should comedy only be about the laugh? Maybe itís another discipline due for a paradigm shift...

P: Well, yes, perhaps youíre right. Thereís the old adage if a tree falls and no-one hears it, does it make a sound? So, if a comedian tells a joke and no-one laughs, is it still funny?

R: Well, it depends on why youíre telling the joke. Sometimes the internal laugh/cry is better than the external one... speaking from my own bias of course, Iím bad at jokes!

P: Actually I was watching a talk on TED.com Ė Dan Dannett was saying weíve got it wrong. Babies are cute because we love them, not the other way around. Things are funny because we laugh, we donít laugh because theyíre innately funny.

R: Whatís your online project, Creative Momentum about?

P: The intent of Creative Momentum is to build a virtual movement to explore creative diversity. We want to webcast local events to global audiences and build bridges between different disciplines (eg. commerce, culture and education), different communities and different ideas about creativity. In so doing we hope to discover similarities but not let that overshadow differences, rather blend with them Ė itís about synergy.

R: Is it only virtual, or are there also plans to translate that into a real community?

P: Well, the local event we held on February 27 this year was a template for future events. What weíd like to see is February 27s happening all over the world and being loaded onto the site. For example, upcoming local projects like Metonymy09 are local, cross-disciplinary and a creative collision Ė if ideas like that are covered on the site, they could potentially reach more people.

I think people are a bit ďover-virtualisedĒ at the moment Ė I think we need a mix of real and virtual experience, and they need to be more integrated.

R: Yes, I couldnít agree more! So Iíd like to suggest that people integrate this virtual experience of you by going to see your show!