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Stoic philosophy goes to Hollywood | the new yorker


Comedian Scott Thompson likes to listen to the Breakfast Club podcast while driving in Toronto. One day during the darkest part of lockdown, self-help author Ryan Holiday was a guest. The episode was about stoicism, and Thompson’s attention was piqued when he heard Holiday quoting Epictetus. He remembers it like this: we all have to die, but do we have to die screaming?

That was it for me, Thompson said, in a recent Zoom call. It hit me like a blow to the heart. He commissioned the Enchiridion manual of advice, Epictetus Stoic. When he arrived he made a cup of tea, sat down with his two cats, Rusty and Dusty, and started reading.

Epictetus says you’re a fool for trying to control the results, that all you can control is your reaction, Thompson said, sitting in front of a cutout of Louise Lasser (my muse). I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to be shaken up by my emotions. This two-thousand-year-old philosopher is exactly what I want to be.

Thompson, who rose to prominence in the 1980s as a member of the comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall and later as star of The Larry Sanders Show, was seeking enlightenment; covid had closed the writers room he and the other kids had set up to write material for a reboot of their old TV show, to stream on Amazon. Stoicism, founded by Zeno of Citium in the third century BC, expounded by Seneca and adopted by Marcus Aurelius, has made a comeback. Holiday bestseller The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph repackages stoicism in a series of life hacks. It came out a year after the launch of Stoicon, a conference for practitioners and scholars. According to Penguin Random House, e-book sales of Senecas Letters from a Stoic grew 356% in 2020, and ranks of Stoicism fans include Arnold Schwarzenegger, LLCoolJ, Elizabeth Holmes, Cory Booker, Brie Larson, and T-Pain. .

Modern stoicism may seem more suited to Joe Rogan listeners than an iconic gay comedian. I can’t like something that straight men like? said Thompson, with a raised eyebrow. Im a classic old-fashioned liberal. It is something ancient and universal.

Last winter, Thompson shot a short film with his friend Paul Bellini, a children’s writer who appeared on the series in a towel, about the four basic tenets of stoicism. Prudence, justice, courage and temperance, said Thompson. I ordered everything online: green screen, fake snow, gallons of blood.

No. I can’t understand this at all.
Cartoon by Robert Leighton

He continued, I tend to write late at night and talk about everything. I do all the characters. His property management company sent him a letter saying there had been complaints he was hosting parties during the lockdown.

The Kids reboot managed to film last July and will be released this summer. The series will feature an appearance by Buddy Cole, the philosopher character from the Thompsons bar stools, who has done much to change the way gay men are portrayed in comedy. Thompson regards Buddy as a stoic, he said: Nothing touches him.

For a while in 2020, Thompson stepped away from social media to escape the din. Epictetus would say that you own nothing, not your home, not your clothes, not even the people you love, he said. Everything is temporary. The only road to true happiness is owning what you say.

He continued, Two thousand years ago they didn’t have comedians, but they had people who saw things in different ways. That’s what actors do. Epictetus would probably have been a standuph would have been a George Carlin.

If the Kids reboot doesn’t work, Thompson has a backup plan: I’ve got a nice white dress and a nice pair of sandals. I’m going to find a bunch of young acolytes and set up a Stoic school. His comrades, he said, would think, Oh, he’s gone on another one of his things!

After spending nearly two years immersed in Greek philosophy, he said, “I have to be really strong, so when I’m thrown back into the real world, I don’t panic. He touched his throat, pursed his lips, and transformed into Buddy Cole. Leaning forward, he smiled conspiratorially and said: Well, see how this is holding.




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