You’ve seen Lu Corporan ’13. You have most likely given him a hug. He is the crazy-haired, extraordinarily pleasant guy who stands in Usdan every Thursday with a “Free Hugs” sign. In addition to improving people’s days with a warm embrace, Corporan participates in Second Stage, Prometheus, and Taiko drumming. The Argus sat down to talk with him about flash mobs, catching on fire, and the psychology of hugs. After the interview, The Argus received its own hug, and for the record, it was pretty darn awesome.
The Argus: What makes you a WesCeleb?
Lu Corporan: I guess because I’m that guy who gives free hugs in Usdan on Thursdays, and people are like, “Oh, it’s that guy,” and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m that guy.”
A: How did you decide to be the free hugs guy?
LC: I had a friend named Lyla Sloan [’10], and she used to do it. People were like, “You like giving free hugs a lot,” and I was like, “Yeah, it’s kind of a thing, I guess,” and they were like, “You should meet Lyla,” and I was like, “Okay.” I started doing it with her, but then she graduated, and I just kept doing it, I guess out of habit, almost.
A: When did you decide that was what you wanted to do?
LC: I did it once at a bubble battle thing in Times Square, a flash mob sort of thing, and people were just in Times Square blowing bubbles. I decided to wear a Free Hugs sign on my shirt. People were like, “Whoa, that’s cool!”… Then I tried it at my high school, and it was cool, and then I heard it was a big thing, and I just kept doing it.
A: What were most people’s reactions to seeing a strange free hugs dude?
LC: In Times Square, it was received really well. People were just like, “Oh my God, we’re in this big flash mob, we’re blowing bubbles, this is exciting.” But before I got to the flash mob, I was doing it in Bryant Park, and people were kind of like, “Oh, that’s strange.” There was one tourist couple that wanted to take pictures with me, but they didn’t want to touch me. That was really strange. I guess [the reactions were] both warm and cold.
A: What makes a really good hug?
LC: The right amount of…hug, I guess? And also knowing when to let go. You don’t want to linger because it’s really uncomfortable, and you don’t want it to be too brief because otherwise it’s impersonal. The right amount of tightness, I guess. This is really weird to describe, actually.
A: What’s the best hug anybody’s ever given you?
LC: That’s a hard question. There has definitely been the most jolting hug. That was when some bro—I don’t know his name, but he was definitely an athlete because he was definitely built like an athlete—picked me up off my feet and definitely cracked the entirety of my back. Which was cool, but very, very jarring. And then there was the awkward hug, which is when my friend put their arms out to hug me, and then I hugged them, and then they didn’t reciprocate the hug until I started to let go, and then they just grabbed me. That was also really cool, but in a different way. Those are among my favorites.
A: You give out your free hugs on Thursdays, but what do you do every other day of the week?
LC: I’m usually at Second Stage, or going to my classes. I live a normal life, I think… I play Taiko, and I’m in Second Stage, which is pretty time-consuming. I have Second Stage meetings and all that.
A: What’s Taiko?
LC: Taiko are those really big Japanese drums. I play that. There was [an introductory] class, and I was in that for a little while, and now I’m part of the advanced class, and we do our thing. We have outside performances sometimes, and I [am a Teaching Assistant] and stuff like that. It’s really fun—exhausting, and really fun.
A: How long have you been involved in Second Stage?
LC: I joined my second semester freshman year, and I’ve been doing it since. Specifically, I’ve been working a lot in doing sound work, making sound effects for people and fading the music that they want at the appropriate parts, and helping musicals with their microphones. [I also do] Outreach and Development, so when shows are over, we meet with the director and the stage manager and ask them how the process was, what they think we can do better, and if they have recommendations or want to be like, “This person was so great!” We write all of that stuff down and go over it to try and make the process more fluid and easier on the shows.
A: What would you say really defines you?
LC: What defines Lu? I’m not sure. I feel like it’s very stressful to try and sum myself up in a definition, but I guess it would be Lu: Fuzzy-Haired Guy Who Gives Hugs and Plays Japanese Drums and Generally Likes Having a Fun Time. There’s too much stuff—not that I’m really cool or anything; I don’t want that to be the image I’m putting out there. But wait, no—I’m fucking cool. I’m awesome.
A: Defend yourself. What do you do that’s awesome?
LC: I play big drums, and I spin fire. I’ve been in Prometheus since my first semester here, although I haven’t really gone to practices because I’m a bum. Oh, bum—that also goes on the description of Lu.
I’ve been spinning staff since freshman year, and I learned how to eat fire my sophomore year. It was pretty cool—my friend [and I] did this trick where we both put fuel on our tongues, and one person lights their tongue on fire and uses that to light the other person’s tongue on fire, and then you light a torch with it… I sort of knew the theory behind fire eating, I suppose, but I had never done it because the time that everyone got to learn how, I was hungover, and I was afraid I was going to erupt. But I just did it, and it worked!
A: How do you eat fire?
LC: You have a torch, and the torch is sort of shaped like a marshmallow on the end of a stick. When it’s on fire, with the fuel and everything like that, you kind of tilt your head up; then you hold your breath, put the torch in, close your mouth around the marshmallow-shaped torch fiery-bit, and starve it of oxygen. It doesn’t hurt as much as it seems like it would. I’ve probably burned my tongue a lot worse on coffee from Pi.
A: Doesn’t spinning fire ever get complicated with all that hair?
LC: Yeah, my hair caught fire once, which is why it looks like I’m balding. It was fun. The audience loved it, though, so I guess it’s okay. This was sophomore year during our WesFest performance. I recall I had some friends in the audience shouting, “Your hair is on fire!” …My friends all think that I’m really dumb. That also goes on the definition of Lu.
A: What else excites you?
LC: I really like psychology, and I really like philosophy—which is why I major in them. But I also like looking at that stuff in other things. So I’ll watch a movie or I’ll read a book, examining the psychology. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I really like stories, whether they’re fictional or whether they’re people’s stories. I really like talking to people because everyone has a story. I really like hearing about them, which is why I try to be—well, not try, I am—really friendly.
I like to get people talking about themselves, which is why this situation—where it’s reversed on me—is kind of strange. I like getting people to talk because I like getting to figure out what their stories are and how the various things that happened in the past get them to where they are now. And how they themselves have changed over time, and how they themselves have multiple selves.
A: Have you ever thought about how hugs play into that?
LC: Hugging a person is a more intimate thing. Whenever I meet someone, I always ask them after if they prefer to do handshakes at the end of things, or high-fives, or if they just want to give me a hug or something like that. I feel like that level of a physical connection, even if there’s nothing else there, is just kind of nice.
It will definitely help some people. Some people will just be like, “I just hugged that guy, isn’t that weird?” But sometimes it’s important. The reason why I do it is that sometimes, people need hugs. Sometimes you just want a hug. People ask me how many hugs I get every Thursday, and I think that’s just kind of awkward. Why would I be keeping a mental tally of that? I hug a lot of people I know, and I hug a lot of people I don’t know. And sometimes, the people who I don’t know will come up to me and be like, “I’ve been having a really shitty day, I need a hug.”
If it actually helps somebody’s day, then that definitely plays a part in their story, no matter how minor or major. I don’t know what could have happened if they went the rest of the day feeling really horrible; I don’t know where they would have ended up. Then again, I don’t know where they end up if they give me a hug and they say that it makes them feel better, because I don’t know if it actually works. But I’d like to think that, in some way, it has a positive effect on whatever the rest of the story of their day will be.