Josh Shipp is in your face, but on your side. Last Sunday evening, the twenty-something “motivational ninja” spoke at Kresge Auditorium to a crowd of about 200, pausing in between wisecracks to encourage students to make positive choices.
Shipp’s talk, “Don’t be Average,” veers between irreverent stand-up and solemn motivational speech. In a single breath he switched from sharing his experiences as a foster child to describing the effects of snorting Pixie Stix.
“He strikes a really great balance between comedy, entertainment and inspiration,” Anne Shen ’11 said. Shen first heard Shipp talk four years ago, when she was a sophomore in high school. She said she was “blown away” by how easily he connects with teen audiences.
Shen began working this fall on bringing Shipp to speak on campus. The talk, which cost about $4000, was funded by the Student Activities Office, the Student Leader Development Office, the ASA and Baker House.
Shipp likes to talk to the audience, not at it. During his speech, he announced that the MIT audience freaked him out because the crowd began and ended their laughs together.
“You’re like ‘Haha — okay, I’m done,’” he teased.
Shipp shared some possible names for his children. So far, his choices are Leader Shipp, Member Shipp, Pirate Shipp, and, of course, Bull Shipp.
At times, the talk turned serious. Shipp said little changes can impact our future. Attitude matters. He said that after an unfortunate experience, we can choose to be bitter or better.
Growing up, Shipp chose to be bitter. As a baby, his parents his parents abandoned him at the hospital. Shipp passed through more than a dozen foster homes growing up and turned to writing hot checks as a teen, which sent him to jail for a night.
His foster parents bailed him out. On the drive home, his father told him, “We don’t see you as a problem. We see you as an opportunity.”
After that, Shipp’s life started to change for the better.
“I go to Taco Bell. Does that make me a taco? Just because you came from something doesn’t mean you are that something,” Shipp said.
For years the class clown, Shipp found a gift in his words. He began to speak to groups at 17.
“If you make someone laugh, you can tell them anything,” he admitted.