Simone Makes a Living Building Things That Don’t Work
By Tobias van Schneider Published September 26, 2016
The Queen Of Shitty Robots
Simone Giertz sits at the breakfast table, intently reading a book. A robot sits next to her. The robot picks up a box of cereal and turns it upside down over Simone’s bowl. Cheerios skitter across the table. It then tips over a box of milk, picks it up, pours more milk on the table.
Simone doesn’t lift her eyes from the book. The machine grabs a spoon, dips it into the air above Simone’s cereal bowl and brings it near her mouth. She leans in to grab a bite of nothing, still reading. A beep sounds and the metal arm drops the spoon like a mic.
Meet: The Breakfast Machine.
It’s one of Simone’s famous “shitty robots,” an invention designed for inevitable failure. The Breakfast Machine doesn’t do a great job serving breakfast, but it’s successful in another sense: It makes me laugh so hard my own cereal milk shoots out my nose.
Swedish inventor Simone Giertz is The Queen of Shitty Robots, a name she gave herself. The Breakfast Machine is a member of her robotic royal court. The video described above, simply titled “The Breakfast Machine,” has more than a million views on YouTube.
Simone has grown a huge following on YouTube over the last year, thanks to her hilarious malfunctioning robots. There’s the Lipstick Robot, which very delicately scribbles red lipstick on her lips. And cheeks. And chin. There’s the Popcorn Helmet, a machine she created with Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame, that throws popcorn in the general vicinity of her mouth. The Wake Up Machine slaps her in the face with a rubber arm until it eventually entangles her hair, at which point she is definitely awake.
Her glitchy robots are ridiculous and wonderful. They are wonderful because they are ridiculous. And Simone’s irreverent, dry humor makes the whole spectacle all the more endearing. But the best part is: This is Simone’s full-time job.
She makes a living building shitty robots, filming them, then sharing them on YouTube. And we all watch. Hundreds of thousands of us. There are jokes, there are glitches, there’s a lot of hard work. It’s a dream job, if I ever saw one.
Before she was inventing shitty robots, Simone was studying physics to be a scientist. She dropped out of college after a year and launched a start-up design company. Then she quit that and studied programming, which led to hardware, which eventually led to the shitty robots. There was a lot of other stuff before and in between, like this one time she agreed to be in a Chinese sitcom. She didn’t speak Chinese.
“I just like having creative solutions to tricky situations.”
The video she made about this experience, which she refers to as the worst day of her life, illustrates what makes Simone Giertz so refreshing. She doesn’t take herself too seriously.
“The way I approach my insecurities is by making sure I’m the first person laughing at myself,” says Simone in an episode of The NTMY Show podcast. “And then you kind of protect yourself from other people laughing at you, because then they’re laughing with you. I make a lot of fun of myself and that’s the way I handle it.”
Somewhere in between all the other things she’s done in her 25 years on earth, Simone took a comedy class. She didn’t really need the class to teach her how to be funny, though. She’s just wired that way.
“Adding comedy into what I do is just my natural approach,” says Simone. “It’s how I approach anything that I find tricky or daunting, because it’s like putting syrup in your medicine, and it just makes it easier to go down.”
Simone’s shitty robots videos go down easier than children’s cough syrup (the good kind, not the artificial cherry flavored kind). And that’s her goal. Humor is a nice defense mechanism, sure, but it also serves a bigger purpose.
“When you [add comedy to your work], suddenly you reach people who wouldn’t necessarily be interested in what you do,” she explains. “I have a lot of people who watch my channel who would never be interested in electronics or hardware or robotics and you kind of manage to reach those who aren’t part of that group. And I think that’s the beauty of it.”
Of course, there is the occasional person on YouTube or Twitter who suggests she’s wasting time. Why make something that doesn’t even work? Why not use your talents to create something useful?
“The way I approach my insecurities is by making sure I’m the first person laughing at myself.”
I’d argue that her work is profoundly useful. Her videos inspire us to create for the sake of creating. For the sake of learning. For fun. They make us happy and they help us realize that life doesn’t have to be so serious. Simone’s slapstick robots help us all compute a simple message: there’s no harm in trying.
Simone doesn’t really care what others think, though.
“No matter how people critique it, it doesn’t really apply,” Simone says. “There’s not really a category to put what I do in. People can’t really judge it.”
Fortunately, she doesn’t have a lot of haters anyway. She says that most of her fans are educated adults who are genuinely interested in her line of work. Scroll through her YouTube comments and you’ll see it’s mostly positive — which is unusual for YouTube, where trolls lurk under every bridge. Simone recognizes how lucky she is to be spared from that.
“There’s not really a category to put what I do in. People can’t really judge it.”
When she does encounter a hater, though, she tries to put herself in that person’s shoes.
“Mainly just try to think, who is this person who’s done this, and what is their incentive?” Simone says. “I think with trolls — they just want attention, and they’re probably not having great lives, and [I] just try to feel love and light for them and for having this much hate in them, that they need to let out people who actually try to do something.”
And just like any other tricky situation she’s in, Simone chooses to laugh.
“I got one comment that I had a lot of double chins,” says Simone. “I just laughed at it. I do have a double chin, so that’s legit.”
If you enjoyed this article, make sure to listen to the full episode with Simone on the NTMY Show and make sure to get lost on her YouTube channel.
Thank you for reading,
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!