It is understandable whenever someone sees a famous person nearby and wants a photo. It is also understandable that the famous person may not want to take photos when he is doing something away from a camera. However, it is pretty surprising when that famous person actually poses for fans to take pictures the second he comes out.
That is exactly what Rainn Wilson did last night at the Staller Center before he presented the history of his wildly successful media company, SoulPancake. The multimedia unit, now with one million subscribers on YouTube since its inception in March 2009, creates videos that deal with big topics through fun and inventive presentations. Their most popular segments, like “Kid President,” “My Last Days” and “Metaphysical Milkshake,” have caught the eye of everyone from Beyonce to President Obama. Last night, Wilson wanted to address Stony Brook University exclusively to discuss his origins and to explain SoulPancake.
While some students were fans of Mr. Wilson’s media outlet, others may have been a bit thrown off by his true intentions. Sophomore John Holland, a humanities major, mistook the lecture as a stand-up comedy show after seeing a poster advertising the event at the SAC. “I saw him as Dwight on ‘The Office’ and thought he was pretty rad,” Holland said, referring to the Emmy-winning comedy Wilson was on for nine seasons. Holland last came to Staller for John Oliver and Wyatt Cenac last year for their stand-up show.
Fellow sophomore Robert Cimino, a journalism major, heard about the event from word of mouth. “Someone from my journalism class asked me if I wanted to buy a ticket for Rainn Wilson,” Cimino, who was unaware Wilson was even coming to SBU at the time, said. Cimino knows Wilson from his supporting role in the 2003 horror classic “House of 1000 Corpses,” where Wilson is a victim to a psychotic family. Cimino called this Wilson’s “most prominent work.”
While he had no intention of speaking about his time in Hollywood (despite a few “that’s what she said” jokes made famous by his TV boss on “The Office,”) Wilson was very open and relaxed on stage in front of a packed crowd at Staller. He even mentioned that he thought he performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on the Staller stage 20 years ago and compared himself to Kramer of the TV comedy “Seinfeld,” meaning he was onstage after his show was over and plans on saying things that will “torpedo” his career. That was not the case at all, as he referred to SoulPancake as a reflection of himself as a human being. He talked about his belief that “everyone is an artist” and that SoulPancake was a vessel for artists to express their views in a unique way. He wanted to dig deep into life’s most daunting questions and topics, like death. He channeled that in the video series “My Last Days,” in which people with terminal diseases talk about how they deal with their brief life spans and how they live in the moment in the best ways possible.
Wilson also talked about his upbringing. He was born into a family following the Baha’i faith. This religion believes in the integration of all forms of human spirituality and, as Wilson put it, that “making art is the same as praying to God.” However, when a dream of being a professional actor came up, he decided to leave his faith to focus on his career and live a life that avoided any “moral framework.” His drama teachers told him that he had potential, but his lack of big jobs made him very unhappy. He would have “3 a.m. conversations” about where he was in his life and why he was not happy. With that, he wanted to explore happiness and religion. From there, he found that Native American spirituality resonated with him the best and eventually, he came back to the Baha’i faith. He became faithful after praying to Native American gods with his friend for the Mets to win a baseball game. Unconventional indeed, but when the Mets did win off of a two-run home run, Wilson was flabbergasted. He told the SBU crowd one of the essential concepts of his faith: “The individual investigation of truth that every person needs is to find the truth for themselves.” With SoulPancake, he believes that he has created a “portal” to represent that belief in self-discovery. To him, expression in art is another powerful method of self-discovery.
Before he left, he opened the floor to a quick Q&A session to the audience. He answered questions about upcoming SoulPancake projects (including a television position for Kid President), his favorite episodes of “The Office,” and other answers to questions about inspiration.
Kristy Gerlett, a sophomore journalism student, resonated with his talk of the relationship of happiness though gratitude. She asked him how to deal with the fear of losing what makes her happy, like having coffee with her dad on Sunday. Wilson was very impressed with the question, and mentioned “when you become fearful of losing happiness, you’re no longer in the present moment. So stay in that moment.” All in all, Gerlett was moved by his words and wants to pass on Wilson’s words to others as well. “I just went there for my own spiritual self, and his words were very helpful for me.” Indeed, spirits were high as Rainn Wilson walked off stage from an eye-opening talk with Stony Brook.