Laughter is the Best Medicine

Talia Jane, Writer/Comedian – XOXO Festival (2016)

So I woke up one day because I got an e-mail
from my boss, and it was just like an email talking about how great the company’s doing. How excited everyone is, and how happy everyone
is at the company. And I was annoyed because I had put filters
on my work e-mail to not get e-mails like these, and they kept taking them off. [Laughter]
You know. I was also annoyed because it was in direct
contrast with what I was seeing and experiencing at work. My co-workers were struggling in a way that
shouldn’t exist. People were qualifying for Section 8 housing
and then not able to move to that housing because they would have had to take time off
work. They would have had to quit their job and,
like, travel for four hours and all of this other stuff. And it was just unlivable, and it was weird
to me because I was working at Yelp, a $2 billion dollar tech company. And the entirety of the customer support department
was struggling to an extent that we just accepted it. And that was weird to me. And I didn’t realize it was weird to me until
I was standing there drinking a glass of water. My hands were shaking more than they are now. Waiting for a pot of rice to boil. And I was drinking water while watching — oh,
I should mention that the email was a vlog. My CEO regularly makes vlogs to talk about
himself. One of them he actually talked about how he
styles his hair. That’s why I had the e-mail filters, you guys. [Laughter]
So I was waiting for this pot of rice to boil, drinking water because my stomach hurt because
I hadn’t actually had a proper meal in about two weeks. My hands were shaking and I realized this
isn’t normal. So I did what anyone would do. I looked up to see if he was on Twitter, and
he was. So I sent him a couple of tweets. I told him I’ll edit your vlogs if you just
pay me a living wage. Pretty easy. I’ll even put you on some no-name podcasts
because I know a couple people. Not that many, but I can get you hooked up
if that’s what you’re after. And I pointed out that we have this revolving
door at the company where it takes a lot of training to be good at the job that we have
to do. And yet people end up leaving before they’re
at that point. Like, my first month, I gave out $600 in food
credit to customers. And in my last three months, I gave out $10. And only because my manager told me I definitely
had to. But I didn’t have to give out $600. I just learned how to be really good at customer
support. So you have all these employees who are bad
at customer support giving out tons of money that you could be funneling back into those
employees to keep them around. Seemed pretty simple. And by the time I wrote this tweet — “anyway,
fire me or ignore me. Either way, I’ll keep on struggling all the
same.” By the time I wrote that, I realized sending
a bunch of tweets doesn’t really get the point across. It’s like a fly buzzing around your ear. So I wrote an open letter to my CEO. I even gave it a really clever name. [Laughter]
And two hours later, on my six-month anniversary of my first day at Yelp, I was fired. And if you think that just the letter itself
might have, you know, started going viral. That was, like, firing me turned a match into,
like, a fire tornado. It was everywhere. This is some of the news if you just Google
it, and it’s — it’s in different languages. Someone actually messaged me saying, hey,
you’re in the paper in Italy. And I was, like, I hope they’re saying good
things because I don’t speak Italian. [Laughter]
But my favorite headlines were from Germany. [Laughter]
But wait. There’s more. [Laughter]
You don’t even need to speak German to know. But as the Germans would say, “das ist good.” Which, by the way, fun thing I learned while
preparing for this talk, “shitstorm” is German. [Laughter]
You learn something new every day. But aside from the news coverage, I also had
regular people commenting on this. I had memes made of me. That’s my face on a piece of bread. Which was unfortunate because they missed
the obvious pun. The Anticrust. [Laughter]
But I went for it. I went for it, you guys. [Applause]
That’s what happens when you try trolling a writer/comedian is that they end up making
an even funnier joke than you. This is a porn company that e-mailed me asking
me to do a ten-person gang bang for entitled millennials, and I said a million dollars
per dick, including the ones that e-mail me. [Applause]
This may surprise you guys, but they did not respond. [Laughter]
This next slide has some graphic content, so I guess close your eyes. This is what it looked like on Twitter. Yeah, that’s fun, right? Being that one person that all of these things
are directed at. It was overwhelming and kind of scary. But at least I’m not this guy that favorites
his own tweet, am I right? [Laughter]
Come on, Steve. You already have a typo, have a little self-respect. But let’s look at the data. So this is 49 days prior to my letter. This is an average of 10,000 impressions on
my Twitter account a day, which is not bad because I had about 5,000 followers at the
time. This is the week of my letter. 20 million impressions over the full week
with a peak at a little over 4 million impressions the Tuesday after my letter. Which is interesting because anyone in media
knows that when you have news on Friday, it should be dead by Monday. But I kept trending. I trended on Facebook for a cool minute. And that was before they had the bots too,
so you know it was real. [Laughter]
So this is just what it looks like. But what going viral felt like was like being
in front of an audience of people you don’t know naked while your closest family members
yell things at you that you didn’t know you should be insecure about. And I’m sorry it’s a stick-figure thing. I couldn’t find a picture that accurately
represented how I feel in this very unique situation. It feels like going into the fire swamp. [Laughter]
Without Wesley there to guide you. It’s extremely isolating because you don’t
know anyone who’s gone viral in this way. You don’t know anyone who’s dealt with a lot
of harassment, until you’ve had to deal with a lot of harassment. I had people e-mailing me my address, calling
my grandparents pretending to know me to try to get info from me. I had this feeling of just wanting to log
out of everything and pretend it didn’t exist. But I couldn’t, because if I did that, there
was a solid chance that someone would come to my apartment. Like, this guy who e-mailed me my address,
he was just being a nice dude. Just being helpful. Hey, I was able to figure out that this picture
that you posted has this little bar code. I scanned it and did this whole thing and
odds are, people are going to be angry enough that they’re going to try and do that too,
so you might want to delete this thing that has your full name and your address down to
your apartment. And if I had logged out, tried to push it
all away, I wouldn’t have seen that, and I may have had some really angry people at my
door while dealing with bronchitis and losing my job and all of these other fun things. So it’s not fun. A lot of people when I’ve told them that this
happened to me, they’re, like, well, that must be pretty cool, right? Like, you got to go viral. Everyone knows who you are. And I’m, like, no, everyone knows who I am
in a bad way. The rebuttal that was the most popular rebuttal
to my piece has 6 million views. My open letter has 2 million. So that’s four million people out there who
hate me and don’t know why. They’re just, like, yep, she’s the worst. If I ever see her, I’m going to spit on her
shoes. I don’t know. [Laughter]
But through all of this, as scary as it is, even months later, some cool stuff happened. Yelp increased their wages, and they actually
took my advice on a couple of other things that I mentioned in my letter too. No big deal. [cheers and applause]
Yeah. It’s crazy! Being an entitled millennial can get a living
wage for hundreds of people. Kids these days, am I right? [Laughter]
So these, though, are the only two places that wrote about it, Death and Taxes and Quartz. Aside from Backchannel, which is the one that
broke the story in a profile on me. And that’s kind of a bummer because there
were so many sites covering it initially and now pretty much no one actually knows that
they increased their wages. But regardless, the news kind of shifted the
narrative where there were people who would just kind of sit around and wait to criticize
me on something. Once this happened, they were, like, oh, I
can’t insult you anymore about this specifically. They still find other things. I am a woman, you know? There’s plenty. There’s plenty. I was no longer entitled or whiny. I was “a hero”? [Applause]
Yeah, I mean it’s a little weird. I’m very humble and very — it’s, you know,
I really don’t know how to handle it. Someone else said that I was Norma Rae, which
was a little problematic because I’m a millennial, and I had to Google that. [Laughter]
If anyone else doesn’t know, it’s a movie. I think Sally Field got an Oscar for it. And some other stuff came up. This is now the age of Talia Jane, which apparently
follows the age of the Aquarius. [Laughter]
That’s the boomer age. And someone said I’m Tom Joad from Grapes
of Wrath. When there’s an open letter waiting to be
written, I’ll be there. [Laughter]
I was even listed in Business Insider’s Silicon Valley 100, as well as their sister
site,’s 25 Coolest Women in Silicon Valley. And I was listed #84, which means I beat out
whatever is 100 to 84, that number of people. Those people are, like, CEOs and stuff. I can’t imagine how, like — that must be
a bummer for them. [Laughter]
But anyway. I wrote a letter. It went viral. I went viral. There was a huge pile-on of people calling
me, the face of millennial entitlement and criticizing me for just trying to live and
wanting to have a better life for the people that I worked with. And, like, that sucks. But some really good things came of it. And I got to speak at a really cool festival,
you know? [Applause]
And the, you know, higher wages, that’s also important. It’s like they always say. First, they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Then they fight you, and then some kind of
cool stuff happens. Thank you. [cheers and applause]

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