Why you should care
Sometimes we need someone’s help to laugh at ourselves.
Los Angeles needs a warning sign: “Your life musings and ‘First World problems’ may be used online in comic fashion.” If you think no one is paying attention to what you say and do because they’re all self-absorbed, think again. Artist Avner Geller is listening. His Instagram illustrations of overheard conversations are likely to piss off, offend or annoy. But anyone with a sense of humor can’t help but laugh. Real life can and does provide the best gut-busting material, and Geller gets that.
A few years ago in a kitchenware store, Geller overheard a woman scoff at a text from her boyfriend: “He wants to go to Bali, but I say Fiji.” He found it funny, not to mention a little ridiculous, and thought, “Oh, your life is so hard … I feel so bad for you.” Geller made a mental note of the scene and later drew it. Then he started creating more. Now there’s a long list of conversations that this Dreamworks visual development artist keeps for potential inclusion in his #thingsthatihear series — some he shares on Instagram with 40,000-plus followers; others he’s saving for an upcoming book (working title: Overheard).
It’s the relatable nature of the illustrations that makes you laugh.
We’re all guilty of complaining or saying ridiculous things, and Geller isn’t trying to change how we behave or to shame us. He easily admits to saying things himself that should be in the series — his sister even calls him out on it. But, he says, he’s not negatively commenting on the state of culture; you can interpret an illustration however you like. For example, I have mixed feelings about an illustration of women with pig snouts for noses discussing eating a plate of nachos for dinner. “There was no intention to shame them,” Geller argues, explaining that the pig nose is a signature for characters that may be a little snooty or snobbish.
The intention of “Overheard,” Geller says, is to share a moment in time in a realistic manner and depict current trends with a satirical edge, similar to New Yorker cartoons. (First World problems and millennial issues guide him.) And it’s the relatable nature of the illustrations that makes you laugh — whether it’s of a conversation about Googling someone, a creeper liking all your pictures, an obnoxious co-worker, deflecting a compliment, silly advice, bar drama or (a personal favorite) wondering whether your iPhone will recognize you without makeup.
Geller loves finding glimpses of truth to create what feels very real to people. “I know those people, I’ve seen that person, or that is so me,” he says is the desired response, whether or not the drawing elicits a laugh (for me the hilarity is constant, which is why I’m a follower). Not every illustration is a literal representation. Geller says he doesn’t take the conversation out of context, but sometimes builds a scene around it to amp up the humor. And it’s always a familiar location — wedding, taco truck, pool party — to build a complete world, with universal understanding.
Angelenos — and other city dwellers, as Geller does enjoy travel — shouldn’t live in fear of his antics resulting in their lives memorialized and shared with the world. All of his pieces’ subjects are anonymous. Yet their familiar nature might just be a little too familiar. And that’s the point. So look and let yourself laugh.