How to be Ironic and Earnest, with J.P. Sears (”Ironesty”)

How can somebody deliver constructive spiritual- and personal-growth advice without risking coming across as a cheeseball in today’s often cynical world? We think Internet personality J.P. Sears pulls this off by using a very metamodern trick:  He mocks his own ideas; but rather than out of cynicism, hipsterism or defensiveness, Sears works this dichotomy in the service of delivering his message of hopefulness and helpfulness more effectively.

J.P. made his first viral splash on Youtube with a hilarious video called “How To Be Ultra Spiritual.”  (It seems that its title was edited, at some point after it was first released, to include the explanation “(funny)” at the end, presumably because not everybody realized that it was meant to be a parody.) If you watch the video (below), though, you’ll probably get the humor with which he is taking the Mickeyout of overly egotistical, narcissistic spiritual practitioners who take themselves too seriously or are oblivious to their own hypocrisy.

With one viral video under his belt, J.P. went on to make a successful series of funny videos skewering stereotypical New Age culture, with titles such as “How to Take Yoga Pictures for Instagram” and “Dating Spiritual People” and “How to Become Gluten Intolerant.”

Somewhere along the line though, he performed an interesting flip: he began producing earnest videos in which he shared sincere advice and perspectives related to holistic health, personal growth and spirituality. And, as contemptuous and funny as the funny J.P. Sears videos are, his earnest ones are clear, useful, and humble. His unique voice comes through in moments of humor – usually J.P. making an offhand, self-deprecating observation about his own word choices, or something like that. Those familiar with his Ultra Spiritual persona will wait for the joke to descend further into the parodic. But in this case it doesn’t. Essentially, these earnest videos are just a well-spoken guy who is good in front of a camera sharing perspectives that he thinks are helpful.

Here’s an example:

Prior to becoming a Youtube sensation with his comedic videos, J.P. Sears had 13 years of experience with a successful one-on-one personal coaching practice. He has explained that for all of those years, he had been afraid to show his humorous side publicly, and when he finally made his first funny video, he expected it to be bad for his business, and certainly just a one-off production. In his own words:

Allowing myself to be sincere and be satyrical — OK, that’s more authentic than compartmentalizing, betraying the comedic part of me and essentially treating that part of me like he’s not good enough, like he’s so defective that it will repel people away from me, and people will have less respect for me.

So, with the core motivation of being more true to his own felt experience and authentic self, J.P. Sears has created a very well-received ( with more than 35 million views) body of alternatingly ironic and sincere video lectures that work together to create a whole that strengthens the impact of each part. This is an example of what WiM editor Greg Dember has termed “Ironesty” which we feel is one of the main ways Metamodernism negotiates postmodern cultural residues. The funny videos become funnier when we know that the guy in them actually is, in real life, the very thing that he’s mocking. And perhaps more importantly, the earnest videos become more meaningful when we know that the creator of them can see for himself the potential for humor around the edges of the helpful wisdom that he shares.

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NOTE: Check out another playfully metamodern approach to spirituality in our discussion of Jeff Foster’s The Advaita Trap.

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