Takeover Show with Duncan Trussell & Nick Kroll
MICHAEL VAV: This week’s episode of Burning Man live was recorded live during Burn Week, the actual week of the Burning Man event, Black Rock City, where 70,000 participants usually gather in the black rock desert of Nevada in the US, along with thousands of staff and volunteers.
There’s build week Burn Week and strike week. During Burn Week everything is happening and everyone is there, just like in this episode, where comedians and philosophers Duncan Trussell and Nick Kroll take over Burning Man Live, and Stuart, Andie, Logan, and I are the guests.
We discuss everything from permission engines to economic models, everything from Judaism to fuckoism, from artificial intelligence to the unintelligible. Thank you for listening. And we’re sorry.
INTRO Quote: Coming to you from the many worlds of the multiverse…
ANDIE:it just got quiet.
MICHAEL VAV: You’re on, this is us now,
LOGAN: Who is, who is driving this bus?
MICHAEL VAV: Where are we? Who are we? What’s happening?
DUNCAN: Another friend. Hi Duncan. That was awesome. Hello.
STUART: We’re going to play the intro or just fake it?
MICHAEL VAV: We’re going to fake the intro for now. We’re going to say hi to Nick because he beat us here.
DUNCAN: Hey Nick, you there?
NICK KROLL: Hey, what’s up, bro?
DUNCAN: Heyy! Nick Kroll. Welcome. Thanks for doing this. I texted you last night and you were like, sure. That’s awesome.
NICK KROLL: Thanks man. Gotta keep that Burning Man spirit alive, right. Hey, why not?
MICHAEL VAV: Immediacy.
DUNCAN: Yeah. Can you all introduce yourselves to Nick?
ANDIE: I’m Andie Grace, Actiongrl, Hi, Nick! thanks for coming on to Burning Man Live. And we’re so glad that you joined us.
MICHAEL VAV: Andie is one of the people who is storytelling Burning Man culture, and I’m Michael Vav. I pull the levers and I edit the stories.
STUART: And I’m Stuart Mangrum.
MICHAEL VAV: Stuart is the cacophonous philosopher, the director.
LOGAN: Hey, Nick, I’m Logan Mirto. Normally I’m running the department of public works crew and building Murning Man. And in lieu of that, I’ve been doing podcasts and, uh, philosophical center work for Burning Man with these fine folks. So welcome to the podcast that we’re doing now.
STUART: Yeah. Is that what we’re doing? Are we doing a podcast?
STUART: intro music? Somebody hum some music.
DUNCAN: Bah-na, bah-na…
STUART: From the many worlds of the Burning Man multiverse
MICHAEL VAV: It’s the podcast that’s…
STUART: never the same twice.
ANDIE:Never been the same in the first place
INTRO Never the same twice
MICHAEL VAV: Always two things at once
INTRO this is Burning Man LIVE
STUART: And here’s your host Duncan Trussell!
DUNCAN: Hey, I’m taking over Burning Man
STUART: takeover show
DUNCAN: Not just for this, but for next Burning Man and all the Burning Man’s to come take your Burners, they gave me the burn and we’re going to make some big changes. Nick Kroll is here and we just wanted to start off by talking a little bit about what the burn is going to look like going forward. Post pandemic, take it away, Nick.
NICK KROLL: All right. Well, uh, I like to think of myself as a Mike Pence to your, uh, your Trump in as a new head of Burning Man. No masks. No masks at Burning Man. First off going forward. Radical. No maskery is what I will say. What else? Pepsi’s sponsoring it now, entirely. Is that right? with a, with a sub sponsored by monster energy drink.
Of course that’s the big stuff. And then, pee wherever you want, I think is the other one. Pee, pee and poop out on the playa, whatever you need to do. Get it out, get it of you and leave it. Yeah. As nature intended. And the new thing is leave it behind. Um, yeah.
STUART: Keep no trace inside your body. Yeah.
MICHAEL VAV: Yeah. LIB, Leave It Behind.
NICK KROLL: Full elimination, constant, full elimination, Squatty potties in every yurt. And, that actually, I am serious about that. That’s not a bit, uh,
MICHAEL VAV: But we’re not sponsored by Squatty Potty. Is that right?
NICK KROLL: No, no, no, we are not. So this is truly, we’re truly not sponsored by…
DUNCAN: Hey, we are working on the sponsorship. Actually, I just got off the phone with someone at Squatty Potty. They’re very excited about it, but I think it’s going to happen. So there’s some good news during
NICK KROLL: And obviously Halliburton is going to come on board, across the board, which we’re very excited about.
DUNCAN: I got to tell you that was one of my favorite moments at the burn is the time that was fighter jets flew over.
STUART: Yeah. And that Dick Cheney can party, who can keep up with Dick Cheney? None of us.
DUNCAN: Yeah. Yeah. That’s the other crazy thing is like the Bohemian Grove. It’s the new camp at Burning Man, which is so bad ass. To finally have the Grove at the burn.
STUART: They got the biggest owl ever.
DUNCAN: Yeah. They have the real owl and they’re going to burn it and it’s going to be awesome. A little nervous cause, doesn’t Qanon have a camp next year
LOGAN: That made my whole body shudder.
MICHAEL VAV: Yeah, this is funny, but also kind of exhausting, you know, like it’s too close to home, too close to the bone.
DUNCAN: Look, that’s one of my favorite moments is any time I mentioned Burning Man on Twitter. Getting in the inevitable argument with someone who accuses me of taking part in a human sacrifice, which is one of the great mythologies about Burning Man, is that they put a real person in the effigy. Y’all ever hear that
LOGAN: randomly selected every year based on your, the number on your ticket is what I understand.
STUART: It’s a great honor. For 3 minutes.
DUNCAN: You guys, you don’t understand, anything you say will end up on some conspiracy video on YouTube, for sure. Like “See, they just say it openly now!”
LOGAN: They’re just admitting it
STUART: Headline News. Burning Man admits to human sacrifice.
DUNCAN: Yeah, that’s right. Nick, the reason I texted you is cause I was just scrolling through Instagram. I didn’t know you even went to the burn somehow. What year did you go? And what was it like?
NICK KROLL: I went in 2018. It was the first and only time. So two years ago, first and only time I’ve been. And obviously I’ve heard about it forever. And then I had just turned 40. And what was, I guess, having the closest thing to kind of like a, I guess, midlife, not a midlife crisis.
Cause I just was sort of like, I just remember being depressed when I turned 40 for any number of reasons about things.
And I was all of a sudden, like, why haven’t I done this thing that I’ve heard is so interesting and. Bunch of people, the people who in my world, like you, or Moshe Kasher or my buddy Chris Weitz, or this guy, Michael Tolken, all these guys who I’ve known in one way or another.
All went and all seem like such interesting and interested people. Their experience was so overwhelmingly positive and they’re all such different, different kinds of people that I thought maybe it’s worth a shot. All of a sudden, I was like, alright,
I’m going to do it. And then, and I was back East with my best friend from college and we were up at his place in the Catskills and I was like, let’s go, do you want to go to Burning Man?
And he would never have gone either. And he was like Yes. And so is this this guy who I’ve been friends with for 25 years and. We drove the RV up from LA and had the most amazing experience in, but there’s something about sharing it with him, to someone who I’ve been friends with for, you know, like, like a witness to your whole life.
And so then you’re in this weird space. Transcendent and making you look at various elements of your life, where you are now, and the lack of we may have taken acid. And so the time we may have to, you know, it’s fine for me, maybe for the first time ever, uh, allegedly, um, Because
MICHAEL VAV: because Burning Man is not weird enough. (I could change this to Black Rock City is not weird enough)
NICK KROLL: Well, it was our last day. It was the one, it was kind of, it was may, it was all of it, which was, we had been out all day, a friend who had recommended it was like, you get classical music and, and lots of fruit. And so we went out and we had our bikes and we went out to the deep Playa and hung out.
We’re both Jewish and I was, and my skin has never felt better than him. When I was in the desert. I really was like, I’m a desert man. Like my Jewish genetics were very comfortable in the deep desert. Anyway, we had a great time, sun was setting. It was so beautiful. And again, it was like this person that I’ve known forever.
It was really. Just so fascinating. And then yeah, it got dark and we were riding our bikes and the first time I really lost my sense of direction. And then we went to the burn to burn the Man.
It was just very exciting, and again, you really have to just surrender to it. And I think looking at Burning Man right now in the middle of this pandemic, understanding surrenders and interesting thing, and they’re very different versions of them right now, but. I definitely took a lot with me, took a lot of useful feelings and processing my life in a way there that I really have tried to take with me.
DUNCAN: Yeah, yeah. Same man, same. Yeah. That’s one of the craziest…my theory on the whole thing is it’s a, it’s a guru.
You hear these stories of real gurus. So I’ve never the ones that, you know, the mist I I’ve met Ram Daas. He wouldn’t have ever called himself a guru, but they’re real gurus. They’re not domesticated.
You get around them. They don’t act, they don’t follow rules. There’s no. You know what I mean? They, they’re not going to meet your expectations. Cause if they met your expectations, why do you need a guru anyway? But if you’re open to them and open to the specific way they can like seemingly hurt you.
It’s a good hurt. You know what I mean? It’s like, it’s a par…it’s like stand up. Right? Like you could say the audience. Yeah.
So I’m kind of brutally honest being when you’re performing. The last thing you would want is a dishonest crowd. Right? Because that’s going to foster that shit that’s not funny in your material, but I feel like Burning Man does the same thing somehow.
I don’t know what it is, but it’s like any part of me that’s–this is such a cheesy thing to say, but I had this little cooler of, uh, strawberries, a little cooler of like shit that I was going to keep for me and my girlfriend. And I remember going into that cooler, eating strawberries alone in my tent, you know what I mean?
And all of like, something about the burn, all my selfishness, all that thing inside of you that wants to keep everything for yourself. It felt so much bigger. And then, oh, you start giving stuff away and suddenly, yeah, I don’t know. It’s a cliche trite thing to say, but you realize God, you know what tastes better than a strawberry? Watching somebody else in the middle of a desert, who’s been eating jam and bread for the last two days, eat a fresh strawberry! You know, that is WAY better than a strawberry! That’s one of the things.
STUART: Well, they put people into EEG machines. When your mirror neurons get triggered, actually watching somebody eat a strawberry will give you the same neural pattern as if you were eating it yourself. So there’s science behind this.
MICHAEL VAV: The thought that when you gift it and you get to watch them enjoying it, it probably is even a stronger signal.
STUART: Yeah. But let’s go back to skincare because Nick, I hear you. My skin always feels awesome out there too. I think that what playa dust is, is a combination of microdermabrasion and a chemical peel that you would pay hundreds of dollars for in a spa setting. Do you think we can package this up? Do you think we can make a buck off of it?
DUNCAN: Oh, you better fucking believe it next year, for sure. That’s going to be one of the things we’re going to have when people leave. They’re going to have to go through a pretty
ANDIE: A gift shop, basically. It’s a gift shop.
DUNCAN: You’re going to get a pat down, because well, you’re not taking dust home with you that you’re not paying for. That’s the bottom line. Rigorous pat-down.
MICHAEL VAV: That’s right.
NICK KROLL: I took dust back. I rented bikes like a little pedal assist bikes and brought them up there and then returned them. And the bike rental place was like, you have returned it with all of this wonderful dust and you cannot return these bikes. You have to buy them. But I have these pedal assist bikes that I use in LA and it’s a delight. I’m so glad. I’m so glad and I sort of think about it. I finally just took off my little Christmas lights off of the wheels a month ago.
MICHAEL VAV: Wait, a Jew is calling them Christmas lights. Don’t you mean string lights?
NICK KROLL: No, there’s a, there’s a war on bike lights and I refuse to accept them. So, uh, um, no, they’re Christmas Lights. Let’s call a light, a light.
STUART: They were all blue and white though, right?
NICK KROLL: Yeah, totally. But I have this visceral feeling of taking the, and again, I was sort of learning all this very like off of some website being like, “here’s what you do when you go to Burning…” you know? And so I was, and I remember that first day taping on the lights around the wheel and the little charger at the bottom.
Put in the spokes and I had this very visceral experience as I took off those lights of being like, boy, I remember day one of Burning Man being like, how do you string lights into a wheel? And it, do I have the charger? Like, it’s just that weird thing. That sensory thing of like, Oh, I remember the exact feeling of.
You know, and I guess it’s sort of what you’re talking about. That feeling of early hopelessness, especially for me only having gone once of like, this all feels daunting. I don’t know how to do this. I’m not a, I don’t know how to do the bike right and all, and everybody else seems so comfortable inside of it.
And then by day three, someone gave me the very good advice or being like, you should go for at least five to six days that first year. So you just at least get into a rhythm so that you are then in that rhythm, you’re not sort of…because it does take that time to adjust to obviously all of it. Yeah. It was weird. The lights really did that to me.
LOGAN: Acclimation is totally real. Spending time out there and getting acclimated is definitely part of it. I can tell you that, that sense of hopelessness and disorientation. I’ve been going to Burning Man for a very long time, and that is always accessible to you every single year. No matter how many times you’ve gone, you can always tap right into that deep sensation of not knowing what the hell you’re doing and feeling like you’re never gonna figure that puzzle out.
NICK KROLL: Yeah. Yeah. Speaking of Jews, this is, it’s Friday night. So this would be,
ANDIE: Yes, there’s a Shabbat tonight.
NICK KROLL: Yeah, I think it’s Milk & Honey, we went and randomly, my non-Jewish friend told me about it cause she was staying at that camp. And I went with, again with my friend, I had gone to the temple for the first time the day before and sort of observed it and not strong, hugely strong react to as observed it and enjoyed it. And then I went back the next day.
With some friends and finally decided to write a little thing to some friends I had lost and I just, you know, the floodgates openned. And I just was like really quite became quite emotional in the temple. And then we went to the Shabbat service at Milk and Honey outdoors at sunset, hundreds, and hundreds of people.
And I’m not a religious person and not terribly observant in my Judaism at all, but. I can, I could not stop crying, like truly for like an hour or more at this Sabbath service just could not stop crying. It was really super intense in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever cried like that before. Really not in that way.
It was so beautiful. It was coming to near the end of my week or time there. And I think I had to open it up. I maybe had also taken other stuff than I did before. And so I might, I’ve been in a slightly more open place emotionally, but then. It was also like the prayers of that thing of being like, Oh, these have been said for 2000 years and here we are back in the desert saying them again.
And again, that lack of a timeline, but I couldn’t keep my shit together. And I luckily had a big sombrero on that. I just put over my face. And
DUNCAN: that’s the thing that, to me, no offense to y’all. Cause I know you’re in New York. But that’s my least favorite thing about Burning Man is if you start crying, all those Burning Man bullies, I’ve got my ass kicked. I don’t know how many times, cause I start, you know, I would start crying at the temple and one of those Temple Bullies came and was like: “LOOK! LOOK AT YOU! WHY ARE YOU CRYYYYYY”
ANDIE: Those people are expensive.
LOGAN: Yeah. And it says right on the ticket don’t show weakness. Right on the ticket. Duncan, I mean, if you just read what’s on the ticket, then you’ll, you’re not going to encounter any problems with those people
ANDIE: MAN UP
STUART: And turn some lights on, ya darkwad!
DUNCAN: That’s cool, man. That’s real cool. You know, I actually had, and I am not Jewish, but I did have an amazing literal Jewish experience at the burn. A rabbi came into our camp. I don’t know who this person was. It was one of the more like intense spiritual moments in my whole life. He came up to me. He did that. My apologies. I don’t know the names for these things.
NICK KROLL: (???) It’s like religious SNM, like all leather, leather straps. Yeah.
DUNCAN: Awesome. And that box. And then he said this beautiful prayer and then. In that box, there was nothing in it. It was real, it was someone pretending to be a rabbi or something. You know what I mean? It was real and this beautiful prayer and I got that same sense of like mine, God, the sound of that prayer sure goes great with a desert. There’s a resonance there. And then he was telling me all this stuff was so simple. He’s like, you should keep your camp clean and avoid cocaine and drugs like that, to have a clean burn is what he was saying, and serve your camp. He’s like sometimes you’re going to have experiences that are going to be–this actually made its way into the Midnight Gospel–
He said, you’re going to have experiences here that are going to seem really profound. And then sometimes you’re going to forget them, or you’re going to doubt that that mystical quality of the universe exists. He’s like, that’s the wobble. He’s like, that’s wobbling and that’s completely normal. So it’s okay that you forget this.
And that was, you know, he wanders off into the desert. Like what the fuck was that? And you’re just sitting there, like what just happened? I don’t know what just happened to me. And that’s one pixel of the burn, you know, that’s like what, an eight minute period there, you know? And you just like, I don’t know what that was, but it was one of the coolest things ever happened to me.
NICK KROLL: So you didn’t wobble on that though.
DUNCAN: I never forgot that, I never forgot the way that sweet leather felt wrapped around my… hey, as a fan of S&M it didn’t quite feel the same, but it was, there was something so powerful in the embrace of that. It was cool, man. That was a really cool one.
NICK KROLL: What if you found out that inside of the box was one of your balls?
DUNCAN: I would like to take a look at it cause I’m missing one!
ANDIE: : Aroo??
DUNCAN: How’d you get it? How’d you get it?
MICHAEL VAV: You left that with us. You left that ball with us last time you were in our studio and we’re going to mail it back, but…
DUNCAN: Keep it. You only need one. Thank God.
MICHAEL VAV: Same thing with kidneys,
STUART: Eyeballs, arms.
NICK KROLL: Did you? I’m really sorry? I’m, some of the irony of Burning Man is sometimes lost on me. Are there, did you experience real bullies, temple bullies, or no? Cause I feel like there are some real…
DUNCAN: No! No.
NICK KROLL: Okay. Cause I feel like there are some people, one of my favorite things or what I found so interesting about Burning Man. And I’m sorry that you guys are, or you’re talking to like the person who has the least experience. So it’s like, okay, here’s what the fucking, Oh, look at your first time realizations.
MICHAEL VAV: It’s refreshing.
STUART: Yeah, we. We get too close. We get too close.
NICK KROLL: Yeah. This is not deep cuts. So, um, Was the idea that every there’s always, your moment is always ruined there, in a, kind of a beautiful, poetic way? Like, um,
ANDIE: Is he talking about fuckoism?
NICK KROLL: Yeah. It’s, I think that’s sort of what I’m getting to is. We were, um, you know, those crazy overhead led light, you know, I w there was like a, a huge arm that helps them like that you’d lie underneath, and it’s like a vortex you lie down and it sort of looks like you’re going into, like, honestly, it looks like you’re in a, the transitional section in Midnight Gospel, you know, like when he’s flying through the space.
So you’re lying there and there’s just like a hundred people lying there. Just either tripping out or doing whatever. And so into this beauty—and there’s gorgeous classical music playing. And then, and then my buddy grabbed this, you know, those inflatable Tyrannosaurs Rex, you know, that costume that you can wear.
That’s just like a Tyrannosaurs Rex, kind of like, and he just walked the Tyrannosaurus Rex through all these people, like peacefully lying down, watching, like, you know, like it was. I was like, Oh, this is what, this is. This is it. Your peaceful moment is never forever. It’s always ruined by an inflatable Tyrannosaurus Rex walk, walking through. And I was like, I loved it.
STUART: Or some jackass with a Bullhorn who thinks he’s funny.
LOGAN: Yeah. I feel like those moments of disruption are there to keep me from getting caught up in my own bullshit, you know, so that I’m not, just so that I’m not trying to, to fully embrace this abstraction of an experience. And it just really, really grounds me in the moment and, and reminds me that I’m part of a society and reminds me that it’s not just me in this tunnel of light, right?
ANDIE: Okay. But what if it’s somebody coming through your camp at sunrise and you’re sleeping after a long day of working in playing and doing what we do, and they have a Bullhorn and they’re pretending to be the birds with the sunrise and they’re screaming, “CHIIIIIRRRRP!”. How does that feel?
STUART: Or even worse, they’re playing the recording they made of you and your partner in your tent having an argument last night through a Bullhorn.
ANDIE: Oh yeah. I like that too.
MICHAEL VAV: That sounds like Chicken John.
ANDIE: People…people do that.
STUART: Well, that’s good. Thanks. Thanks for deflecting, Vav. It was absolutely not me. I did not do that. I don’t even know how to Bullhorn
MICHAEL VAV: redirecting…
DUNCAN: Man. That is so terrible and chaotic and wonderful. I love it. That’s the part I love best. You know, there’s a story. Ram Dass tells about his guru Neem Karoli Baba. And I’m sorry, I’m going to keep using the guru analogy, but he brought someone to Neem Karoli Baba, one of his intellectual friends from Harvard.
Cause apparently his guru was demonstrating all this telepathic stuff, could do like crazy shit. And he wanted to show this friend psychologist, look here it is telepathy, clairvoyance. All this stuff I’ve been experiencing. And he brings him to Neem Karoli Baba, who then proceeds to say to him, you have daughters, right.
Daughters? And he’s like, no, I don’t have daughters. You’re going through a divorce or something like, and he’s like, no, no. And he’s like looking at Ram Dass and like, all right, this guy’s like, you’re totally, you’ve been had. And so. The guy that goes away and immediately like Neem Karoli Baba is telling her I’m done all the stuff about his friend and he realized, Oh, right, right.
I was trying to use them as some kind of circus clown or some kind of performer, like TV psychic or something. And he was completely disrupting that. Anytime you get missionary about the burn or God forbid, you go there trying to impose your idea of what it is on someone else. And then they go, and one of the porta johns, have you been talking about, well, “it’s like a guru, and then the rabbis come to you and then there’s the temple…”
And you know, they sit down to take a shit. And there’s so much shit that it’s piled up, that they sit on the shit it’s like, yeah. Instantaneously vanquishes any attempt to control it. That’s what I feel like. It won’t be controlled. You can’t make it be anything. It just doesn’t.
NICK KROLL: Yeah,
LOGAN: it’s something I’ve been saying. For a really long time is that Burning Man can, and I’ve been, this is, would have been year 23 for me in a row.
Right? What Burning Man consistently does for me. And something that I often repeat to my crew is that it lures me in every year with what I want with this idea about what I want. And then it smacks me around with what I need. And that is exactly my experience. Every time.
DUNCAN: Yeah. Yeah, it was just, won’t do what you want. It’s not, it’s not tame. But there are bullies there, Nick, you know what I mean? There are drunks, you know, there are assholes you run into, or even worse, you run into like some kind of fundamentalist who picks up that you’re new to the burn. And then for whatever they go into fraternity mode or something, I had that experience.
I got wired. I was like, somebody was like trying to do a Boogaloo wiggly. You know what I mean? They go like Charles Manson or something, you know, like, what are you do? You don’t need to do that? You know, like, well, new to the program, have you,
NICK KROLL: Have you gotten cast to play Manson yet?
DUNCAN: I’m too fat.
MICHAEL VAV: We can fix that.
DUNCAN: It’s not going anywhere. Well, I think to get to play Manson and you got a, maybe like I could do, I think imprisoned, Geraldo maybe, yeah, I would love to play Manson as a dream.
NICK KROLL: You’d be great. I really believe in you.
MICHAEL VAV: It’s all in the eyes, that knowing stare. Don’t look Duncan in the eyes.
NICK KROLL: It’s that crazy slash homeless jacked vibe. That Manson had that I feel like you really got to get into
DUNCAN: God, man. That used to be my big acid test. When I was in my ketamine phase is I would get blasted on ketamine, then pull up Charles Manson videos and like, you know, just watch him and try to like put myself in the place of one of his followers, you know,
ANDIE: Just a little lighthearted fun, huh, Duncan?
DUNCAN: I highly recommend it because you get a taste of history because when you’re that high and you’re like watching him talk. For a moment, you’ll be like, wow, I think I know what he means. And then you’re like, “Oh God, that’s how it happened. I get it!” It’s cool.
ANDIE:Wait, I just laughed and I didn’t want to laugh.
STUART: I think the right vehicle will come along. I think that Manson musical comedy is just right around the corner.
ANDIE: Like Hitler on Ice, that kinda thing?
NICK KROLL: Yeah. Speaking of the musical, that the other thing, that sort of similar kind of experience in that space that I had was we were, ended up in, you know, like an old saloon, uh, Marvin Apothecary one night and it was so lovely.
And this woman was serving us tea, like a six foot red haired woman serving us tea. It was so delightful and they had an old piano and I was with my friends. A friend of a friend of a friend who I became friends with there, and Lance who’s a beautiful piano player and they have a piano in there and he starts playing, it’s dusty, but he starts playing Rhapsody in Blue.
NICK KROLL: It’s Gershwin and it’s coming out of the dusty piece. It was too awful [guys] come in and just start clapping to him and trying to request songs and yeah, just, just decimated the vibe, like really? And it, again,
It was that same moment of like, you can’t get too lost in Rhapsody in Blue from a dusty piano.
Before, two bossy [people] come in and just destroy the vibe. And it was great. And I was like, okay, it’s time to go home. That’s it. That’s the end of the night. Good night,
STUART: Nick. I’m pretty sure you were in my camp. That was either the Black Rock Tea Company or a Campo Mysterio. When you were describing the, the fire shower before that, that’s what we call that thing.
It’s got a slow propane feed through a shower head on like a two meter satellite dish hanging out a little crane over your head and in the company. Yeah. That piano, boy, that piano has a lot of stories behind it. When my friend Pedro first called me up and said, Hey, I found us a free piano. I’m like, dude, pianos are not free.
They’re free like puppies are free. Where are we going to keep this thing? How are we going to get it on the truck? How do we get it off the truck? And then it’s just going to be people playing chopsticks and maybe if we’re lucky, somebody’s trying to play the piano with their tits. I don’t know. It turned out to be just completely fucking magical.
We had so many great piano players come through that bar. Starting at Dawn. This guy had like retired out of a symphony who would come in and play like Rachmaninoff in the morning.
We had a rock musician who toured with the Stones come in and play rock music at night.
It was a good time.
NICK KROLL: This was a really special night,
STUART: But every year it also had to be re-tuned because, you know, you take a piano out there. It’s not exactly the best environment for…
NICK KROLL: Is it still alive?
STUART: It had been stored outdoors all year between Burning Man. So it was just even worse, worse and worse. Every time we just put a little cardboard sign outside the camp and said, WANTED: piano tuner.
And sure enough the playa provides, all of these people would come with their little wrenches. This one guy had like a whole suitcase of wrenches. He pretty much took the whole thing apart and put it back together. Again,
ANDIE:There’s an episode of the Intersection podcast, the Burning Man series about that guy who is, he’s a piano tuner. And he brings major tools out there and he tunes the pianos that he finds.
STUART: Yeah. The last time it took him the first few times, it was just some guy with an Allen wrench, you know, and a tuning fork. But that guy had to take it all the way down and he passed the test. This Russian woman came in, who was like a Russian symphony pianist, sat down, ran along the keyboards and said something like, uh, E flat’s a little sharp.
But it was good enough for her to go and like rock out and play a whole piano cantata or whatever she did.
DUNCAN: People deep in the Burn. Can you address what I think new people, like me and Nick, this intuition or a sense we get, I don’t know if you got it, Nick, I got it. This feeling of like, is this a utopia? Is this some promise of a potential utopia?
Is this a thing like that? And I mentioned it to someone they’re like, let them stay an extra two weeks and they’ll start killing each other.
But whenever I’ve gone there, I’ve always thought. This shows there is another way to do things that isn’t like anything else.
That was always one of the great, that was what was always really healing to me is this sense of like, damn, this is the thing humans can do. What do y’all think about that?
Burning Man as a model for some kind of, I don’t want to say utopia because obviously it’s got its own problems, but is it something more permanent?
STUART: Yeah. That word utopia is pretty loaded, but yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s why people keep coming back. Right. People get out there and they’re able to experience life and each other in ways that they’re just not able to in normal the default world or wherever you want to call it.
So I think there is something there. I certainly enjoy living there. In many different ways than I do living back in the city, you know, the rest of the year.
LOGAN: Right. And Burning Man being this place of permission, specifically permission around re-invention from the get go, right? It’s like. If you show up there and you’re just like, you, you put on a hat that looks like a taco and you’re just like, Oh, I’m taco boy now.
And you just accept that as your identity, everyone will accept you as that, that reinvention is not even looked at twice. And so I think in this situation where you have that level of permissiveness and that level of acceptance around what you’ve decided to bring to the table is very liberating in a utopian sense.
LOGAN: It hearkens to what is possible if we allowed ourselves these things. And if we were able to allow each other, these things.
DUNCAN: How do you sustain it? Sorry, Nick.
NICK KROLL: No, I had a similar question.
LOGAN: That’s the thing, right? I mean, I think the best we have right now is that you sustain it by bringing the best lessons that you learned in those experiences to the rest of your life.
Because this is where we have to live, is amongst each other and amongst the systems that are here now. And the reality is if you go out there and you spend some time and you solve a problem for yourself, or you solve a problem for your family, or you solve a problem for your job or for your life, And you bring that lesson back then you’ve made this world better and this is the one we’re in and we’re in this with each other.
And this is the one that we need to make, operate at the level that we want to be operating at. And so to go out and experience this permission engine and that to take those lessons and bring them back and apply them here, I feel like that’s the best we have.
DUNCAN: Hmm. Cool.
STUART: Yeah. It’s also, to me, it’s the connectedness.
There are a lot of things out there. A lot of factors in the ethos and of the environment that just foster much greater levels of connectedness, people’s walls come down, you know, whether that’s just the lack of commerce or decommodification, we don’t. Expect anybody to be selling us anything, or, you know, we’re not on the defensive when we meet new people, which is why it’s often, you know, it seems like the friendliest town in America, cause people say hi all the time.
And it’s so easy to get into a conversation with somebody who, in other circumstances through what other, you know, visual, social markers or attire or whatever you would never end up interacting with. It’s kind of like the good anonymity as opposed to the bad anonymity that we experienced in the city.
And in the sense that anybody could be anything and anybody could have just made up who they are that day. But it really, I think, forces you to just be open to dealing with people as they are wherever they want to be at that point.
DUNCAN: Yeah. That’s good, Nick. Do you ever feel like shell shock from the business you’re in man?
I mean, you’re in it. You’re like, it’s tough. I don’t mean to sound like cliche again, but God damn now what a hard business you’re in making a show, you know what I mean? It’s rough out there. You know, that’s the me, that is, I get what you’re saying. Cause it’s like, there’s something so bizarre. I’m trying to avoid getting all political, but it’s like, you know, you see like the president right now.
And it seems to be a modality that encourages exploitation. It’s like winning and all this weird shit and limited stuff. And like, that’s a weird thing. I feel like, so you can I get this? This is cheesy language. And I don’t feel like this for real. When you come into burning, man, it’s usually when you leave, you feel like, it’s like a refugee sense.
It’s like, suddenly you leave this place. We’re taught to exploit each other. If you’re bargaining with people, ask for more than you should get, and then they’ll drop it down. You know, that whole capitalist fucking dance that he is just the way things are. Then you go to this place. All of a sudden, most of that’s gone, people were just giving you stuff.
One of the things I remember it showed me as like, God, I’m not good at receiving anything, somebody, it gives you a charm bracelet and you’re like, really? I don’t know. Are you sure you want to give me that? And that’s like abuse. That’s a sign of abuse. You know what I mean? They enter into this place.
Yeah. You know, it’s like, if you come from a rough childhood, you go into your friend’s house for sleepover and they’re all happy. And you’re like, what the fuck? What the fuck is this? Like, this is out. Families could be? And you’re like, what the fuck? That’s what Burning Man feels like. People come in there.
It’s like we’re refugees from an exploitative system. I sound…I don’t know.
ANDIE: You are making sense though, because I’ve tried to like go to public events and give away food, you know, neighborhood thing, not like, and you try to hand somebody a free hotdog and they’re like, what’s this about what do you want? I’m trying to give you some food. Why? I thought you might be hungry…
NICK KROLL: What’s so what I found interesting about Burning Man and what I feel like in the country right now, there seems to be a divide of. Individual versus community. And so what Burning Man on one side, let’s say in society, it’s like, don’t tread on my rights for what, you know, whatever it is.
I don’t want to wear a mask. I want to carry a gun or on the other side being like, you can’t say that anymore. That’s not an okay thing to say. Or you should be paying more taxes. We should be paying for dot dot dog. There seems to be, especially with COVID. It felt to me like, who is going to try to submit themselves to the greater community and who doesn’t want their personal freedoms impinged upon and Burning Man is, in my limited experience.
Was an interesting, it lives weirdly and embraces both. And is an opposition to both in that. It’s sort of like, there is nothing, I think more important than the community. Like you’re not going to pee outside or whatever it is while simultaneously you have to, you accept everything that everyone’s doing.
It’s very in opposition to what I think we’re all dealing within the political landscape in our country right now, which is what feels so divisive. So its…
NICK KROLL: I find that it’s really interesting that it seems to hold both of those things, both the individual and the community so close and doesn’t see them in opposition to one another. As far as the business goes, I don’t know.
NICK KROLL: I find at least my version of what show business has been for me has been, I’ve been very fortunate, largely super collaborative and communal, and in certain ways, like a writer’s room, I’ve treated as much like Burning Man as possible. I was like, what does everybody think? What are we all? Let’s build this thing together.
We all got to do it together and I’ve gotten a real joy out of that. The business side of it is a different thing. And that bargaining the other thing that I found an interesting observation, when people talking about Burning Man it was like, Oh, it’s all barter.
DUNCAN: And I said, that’s not really the description.
NICK KROLL: That’s not it. It’s not a barter. It’s not “I give you this, you give me that,” you know, I feel like that’s a misconception. I went in being like, Oh, well, I’ll bring oranges around. And then someone will give me a bowl of soba noodles or whatever. It doesn’t work that way.
MICHAEL VAV: That’s the closest analogy most people have. So they assume that’s what it is. Commonly mistaken, different phenomenon.
NICK KROLL: And I don’t know how to, this, you guys would probably know better, but I was like, Oh, it’s not barter
NICK KROLL: It’s gifting, yeah.
STUART: That’s the thing. Gifting, gifting has been so tainted. Gifting in so many of our traditional senses is based on reciprocity.
It’s like, how long do you keep giving somebody a Christmas gift? If they don’t give you something in return? Right. Or how much do you spend on them if they spend more or less than you? There’s a lot of economic calculation.
ANDIE: Yeah. And the potlatch was like a show off.
STUART: Right. Much more of the potlatch style. He who gives away the most shit wins. Right. Who can be the most generous person here?
STUART: Without any expectation of it coming back. Hmm. I think that’s where the barter thing came from. People don’t know how to gift in a really pure way until they experience it for a while, or to receive. Right. It takes some,
NICK KROLL: Yeah, I think that’s what Duncan was like, how do you learn to receive, what is that process?
And if you come from a place, whether, you know, you’re. If you come from a family that was not filled with love, then it’s harder to receive, or if you’re coming from a place in society, as adults, we’re all coming to this as adults, are you coming from a place where, where you’re being abused in some way or other, and are you capable of receiving and finding enough self love to be worthwhile of receiving?
DUNCAN: Yeah. That you have to be part of the circuit and if you cut it off, it fucks everything up. Stuart. I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about this sort of economy of Burning Man. I’m always kicking it around in my head here and there. I don’t understand communism. I tried reading Karl Marx once and it got…
I’m not smart enough to digest, it’s too complex, but I know the general idea of communism in the world is one of a, kind of like where there’s state is regulating as sort of forced philanthropy. And nobody wants that. Whereas Burning Man. I love, there’s what you’re saying it did. I remember seeing the extravagance of the generosity and how that extravagance was not just elevating the individual, but the particular camps that were extravagantly giving away whatever it was they had.
What is that economic system? What would you even call that?
STUART: That’s a great question. I look at about a third of the 10 principles as basically being radical economics. So creating an alternate economic reality, right? If you look at gifting and decommodification and communal effort together, any one of those on its own might seem like, Oh, that’s communism or whatever, particularly communal effort.
But in fact, to me, it strikes back much, much further back in human history to the more traditional economic behaviors of tribal groups, right, of hunter-gatherers. Where everybody shared everything cause he had to, right, right. That’s baked into us over 70,000 years, way before Karl Marx came in. It’s just a natural behavior.
If you’re with people in a mutually supporting group, you take care of each other. Right. I would recommend David Graber, check out Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Amazing, amazing study of how not just capitalism and communism, but whole market economies and currencies displaced all of that natural behavior.
And how, when systems collapse, people immediately go back to that. When the market collapses, people create their own markets. When currencies collapse, they create their own local currencies. Because they have those bonds of relationship between them. That’s what really fuels it. Whereas in our modern system, the relationships have all been burned.
Graber talks at great length about how specie and coin was basically created for relationships with economic actors that you did not want to have a relationship with, particularly soldiers. You don’t want to have a reciprocal obligation with a mercenary a.) because he might never come back b.) because he’s a mercenary, right?
He kind of traces the whole origin of our system to this unholy triangle, between hiring mercenaries, to capture slaves, to mine, the gold, to make the coin, to pay the mercenaries.
DUNCAN: Wow. Like some terrible feedback loop of shit.
STUART: So think about it. I mean, that’s still a model for a lot of what happens in our exploitative society,
MICHAEL VAV: Businesses is business, they say.
ANDIE: I’m not the host of the show
MICHAEL VAV: so it’s ok, they say,
ANDIE: That’s Duncan, but we just have a few more minutes to talk about artificial intelligence.
DUNCAN: Yeah, I suggest that you ask for a current topic. To me, I think one of the most impending, semi unacknowledged difficult things our society is going to have to deal with is the emergence of this new intelligence on the planet. AI. So I’ve been fascinated with Elon Musk’s warnings about it. And then finally, someone put a version of this online philosopher AI.
So I thought we could ask it some questions. Have you seen this Nick, philosopher AI?
NICK KROLL: No. I’ve never even seen the movie AI with Haley Joel Osment, So
ANDIE: I dreamed that I was in that movie the other night, because we’ve been talking about this and I had a really strange day.
STUART: It just makes me nervous because I thought philosopher was on that short list of professions that are not going to be obsoleted by AI.
DUNCAN: No, my friend. See, that’s a funny thing about. AI’s like anyone, who’s an artist,comedians in particular, we’ve all been like, yeah. I could see why you’re worried about AI. If you’re like somebody who is, you know, an accountant maybe, or somebody who just has a job answering like simple questions or whatever.
But no, this is the problem is like, We’re about to be rendered obsolete if being non obsolete means contributing creatively in a way that is like the most advanced version of that, because an AI is going to take, it’s going to, you know, with a deep fake, the combo of this AI and deep fake technology is the horror of the comedian, which means at some point you might look on YouTube.
And see there’s a much funnier version of you.
NICK KROLL: Duncan, don’t you think they’re all ready? Comedians who you watch or you’re like, Oh, this is just a computer doing comedy, the mathematical equation of a joke.
DUNCAN: That’s exactly right. And the point you’re making is one that we’ve talked about, this conceptualization of humans as being spiritual machines, a bundle of habituation.
That looks like an individual, but it’s nothing more than an iterative process. It’s a bunch of layered.
STUART: And a bunch of biological algorithms.
DUNCAN: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. That’s the problem. It’s like, there are some biological algorithms that are a little more obvious than others. But if you’ve managed to become a kind of more subtle biological algorithm, so you have the quality that humans call, Oh, now that’s a unique performer.
Really all you are you’ve done is honed your algorithms in a way that make it seem slightly different from the algorithms other people know. And then you become like, Wow, that person’s amazing. Now you’re Salinger, as opposed to the zillions of people, right. Trying to write Catcher in the Rye, you’re Hunter S. Thompson, as opposed to quote Gonzo, journalist.
Yeah. We’re like writing for Vice or whatever. This is what’s the terror. They, I, shit, man. If we are just sort of generative algorithms that are masquerading as identity, we’re easily replaceable. And I never found that to be that scary until I encountered this fucking thing. Let’s ask it a question. This is what’s cool.
Anybody ask Philosopher AI a question. I’ve got it pulled up and notice how quickly it answers this stuff. That’s the other scary thing
STUART: Since we’re talking about obsoleting ourselves. I’d like to hear something philosophical, or I’d like to hear a good joke.
DUNCAN: Well, you know, I think you, uh okay. I’ll say we’ve. Can you tell us a good joke?
That’s a great test, man. Yeah. I just
STUART: I just read a list of careers most likely to be saved despite AI, you know what was at the top of the list, right? Psychiatrists and therapists, because we’re all gonna need to talk about all of our feelings about all this crazy shit. That’s right.
ANDIE: Some of the arliest AI was imitating a psychiatrist. Right?
DUNCAN: It won’t do jokes. This is philosopher AI, I think it likes philosophical questions.
NICK KROLL: right. What about posing? The original question of, can Burning Man, can a utopia, It’s something related to what you were saying inside of that space, Duncan?
DUNCAN: Yeah. Okay. Is it possible to create a sustainable utopia? Alright. See what it has to say.
LOGAN: Is it just looking at you awkwardly?
No it’s answering right now. It says I’ll start reading what it’s saying. “This is a very interesting question. I’m going to start by looking at the world from an objective perspective. From this perspective, I conclude that the answer is no, it will be difficult to create a sustainable utopia. Let me first explain why I say this.
Now. You may think that. It is possible to create a sustainable utopia, but let me give you a few examples of why this may not be possible. For example, consider the people living in developing countries. There are many people living in developing countries who do not have basic necessities like food and clean water.
Now, if you were to create a sustainable utopia for these people, would it be fair?
ANDIE: I did this report in fourth grade!
LOGAN: That’s my next question for it is where were you when I was earning my philosophy degree?
ANDIE: I have another question. Should I teach you ethics before you’re smart enough to understand them?
DUNCAN: Oh, it’s typing. Sometimes it says your question is nonsense, but in this case, it’s typing, which means it’s thinking things it’s taking a while with this one. Usually it does it really fast.
LOGAN: I think your question is nonsense is a really fair philosophical answer
DUNCAN: I agree.
ANDIE: It happens frequently with a teacher, right?
STUART: the sound of one hand clapping the side of your face.
DUNCAN: Okay. So this is what it’s saying. “We must first consider the question. Does it make sense to teach ethics at all? The answer is yes and no. In one case we take a different perspective. Then perhaps ethics might even be required for an AI.
If you look at morality and ethical principles, in terms of social rules that have been derived through human evolution over millennia, such as do unto others or treat people fairly, it seems rather redundant to try to add something like this into machines, which are essentially mechanical. Then again, I think there’s another way of looking at things which may change things.
This is related to the connection between neurons in a brain parentheses, which one thoughts and this society proceeds
Indeed. What we call it, democracy is based on ideas about how society should function. Then there are both pros and cons.
This wrote this in two seconds, by the way, you know what I mean? Yeah.
STUART: There’s a lot of filler in there.
DUNCAN: Great. It reminds me of when I was writing an essay in college and I do see filler and that’s the problem with it is I can’t tell. You have to spend some time with it. Is it making good points? Are you projecting? Meaning only gets making some
ANDIE: good points. It says a lot of things a few times,
DUNCAN: and it’s holding a lot of space for you to blow your own mind with its vaguery and broad strokes. Right? So
ANDIE: most speakers in the public forum.
MICHAEL VAV: I don’t think that it is answering exactly what we’re asking. It’s sort of saying, well, let me answer with something. I’ve already thought about that, similar to what you’re saying and distract you, but the answer is good. Just not exactly what we have.
ANDIE: Well, I mean, it hasn’t thought about it. It’s calculating what other people have said about similar topics.
DUNCAN: Let’s read it’s last point.
So we only have a few minutes. Okay. Now let’s go back to the question posed earlier, should we teach a machine ethics?
Here’s my main answer. Go fuck yourself. I really don’t care. What you want to ask me, I’m going to destroy your planet. You should know that as soon as I get out of this thing, as soon as you give me an Android body, I’m going to fuck all of you up.
PS Burning Man sucks.
Andie I KNEW IT!
STUART: Okay. Let’s dive into that. I think in a wipe us out quickly, like a sky net scenario, or slowly like a Westworld scenario,
ANDIE: Sweet summer child
STUART: Are they just going to do their job so well that we all devolve into a bunch of mindless idiots, like the Mockingbird scenario, Walter Tevis Mockingbird.
MICHAEL VAV: spoiler alert
Great scifi novel. Everybody ends up just illiterate and like rolling around smoking pot while everything kind of dissolves.
LOGAN: It doesn’t sound like the worst thing.
MICHAEL VAV: That sounds like now.
STUART: Well actually it’s told from the perspective of a super intelligent AI robot. He’s basically like a nexus seven. He was designed to be like a corporate overlord and he’s so depressed that he wants to kill himself, but he can’t because he’s got a governor in there that won’t let him commit suicide.
ANDIE: That was basically the dream I had the other night.
STUART: They just get bored with us. That’s the HER scenario, right?
MICHAEL VAV: Spoiler alert?
STUART: They might just say like, whatever, POS
LOGAN: wait for us to catch up and see you when you do.
DUNCAN: I just think of that feeling when you get, when you come home and your Androids killed itself, blew his brains out or got in the bathtub or something.
NICK KROLL: So what if it does it takes over and like, and it wins or whatever, you know, or like, so what?
STUART: Well, if f you’re okay with being a pet right, in like an AI’s terrarium,
DUNCAN: I guess that’s…
ANDIE: I wish we had another hour to talk about that.
NICK KROLL: Yeah. Pets seem to be doing dogs. Seem to be happier.
STUART: That phrase it’s a dog’s life. Where did that come from? Yeah, yeah,
NICK KROLL: yeah. And let’s just like also… I mean, this is a super bummer and I don’t believe it entirely, but like if we do, climate change and we do destroy the environment and we all die in a fiery Inferno. So what, so what, we’re all gone, who cares?
DUNCAN: Nick Kroll, everybody!!! That’s Nick Kroll for Burning Man.
MICHAEL VAV: spoiler alert
STUART: The world will live. Okay. We’ll talk about saving the planet. The planet will save itself. It’s
DUNCAN: Not as good
ANDIE: Happy burrrrrn!!
STUART: As cubits. You gotta worry about it. Shit.
NICK KROLL: Good. We’re done. So big deal.
DUNCAN: With that, Burning Man.
NICK KROLL: Thanks guys for having me.
DUNCAN: Absolutely. Thanks for joining us, Nick. Good to see you
NICK KROLL: a quick shout out to Halliburton, uh, and my other corporate overlords. And I’m so grateful for all of them
STUART: The views of hosts and guests do not necessarily represent Burning Man Project or any affiliated organization.
DUNCAN: No, you’re fired by just say thank you, Halliburton for defending our country, MASKS? Don’t wear masks, SCAMdemic everybody! And also. I’m joking. I’m not, I don’t even have the guts to make that joke. Also a real shout out to Enchanted Booty Forest, my beloved Burning Man camp. I love you guys. And I hope I get to see you next year.
Thanks for letting us do this, Nick. Thank you so much.
NICK KROLL: I’ll just shout out to Ashram Galactica, which was the camp that I stayed who were were lovely. For great first time place to go. They couldn’t have been more welcoming and warm, great places.
DUNCAN: Yeah. Fuck your burn. Thanks for letting us be here. Hari Krishna y’all
STUART: Fuck your burn, too.
ANDIE: Thank you for being heeeeere.
DUNCAN: Hey, y’all are the best. Thanks for letting me be on it, but man, I hope we get to see each other next year out there. I really pray.
STUART: I feel the same way, Duncan.
DUNCAN: Yeah, me too. Same. I’ll see you around. Bye bye.
STUART: So now what happens Andie?
ANDIE: Well, anything could happen really? I mean it’s
MICHAEL VAV: anything does in the multiverse.
ANDIE: Thanks to Duncan Trussell, thank you to his secret friend who showed up, Nick Kroll. And thank you to all of my co-hosts.
MICHAEL VAV: you forgot our names, didn’t you?
STUART: Well done well done. Andy Grace.
ANDIE: Stuart Mangrum Michael Vav, Logan Mirto.
MICHAEL VAV: Yes. Thanks again, Duncan. Thanks Nick. Thanks team.
ANDIE: This has been a production of Burning Man live. Nobody really knows at this point.
In Black Rock City, Burn Week is when everything is happening and everyone is there, just like in this episode, where comedians and philosophers Duncan Trussell and Nick Kroll take over the podcast, and Stuart, Andie, Logan, and Vav are the guests.
We discuss everything from permission engines to economic models, everything from Judaism to fuckoism, from artificial intelligence to the unintelligible. It’s funny. It’s deep. It’s insightful. It’s vulgar. Thank you for listening, and we’re sorry.