Is Alex Honnold Funny? Or, Like…Something Else?

Anyone else remember in Free Solo when the first thing Alex Honnold did at his newly bought house in Las Vegas was unscrew the freezer door?

Honnold methodically removed the screws on the hinges (as I remember it), then inspected them and the appliance at close range.

The narrative just moves on. It’s an odd yet insightful moment into a man so many of us want to know more about.

And even though it wasn’t exactly funny, it reminded me of his sense of humor.

It’s not quite deadpan and it’s not quite sarcastic-teenager. You can just sort of tell he’s amusing himself.

He and an interviewer watch a clip of bears climbing together. But as soon as mama bear clears the crux and disappears from frame, baby bear gets stuck. (Honnold calls it a “pickle.”)

Sympatico to bear cubs

“I’m really tense and, like, nervous watching this,” says the interviewer.

Honnold chirps agreement in his So-Cal twang.“Yeah, you don’t want to watch a baby bear fall to its death,” he says, eyes riveted to the screen. “That would be so sad.”

It’s clear he thinks the bear is actually in little danger, though. He’s confident in animals’ climbing abilities as an extension of his own experience. Falling is part of the game for bighorn sheep who trundle down huge talus slopes and squirrels who snag the last branch before the void (both things he’s seen).

It’s also a way to break the cage.

A monkey that springs up cracks in the concrete at its zoo pit would dominate at the World Cup, Honnold assesses. But the primate’s got better things to do. Honnold points out that even though the monkey can obviously get out, it decides not to.


Chill but pragmatic

“This guy’s like, ‘they’re giving me free food, I’m just gonna chill in here and do whatever I want,’” he muses. “The whole enclosure thing means a lot less when you know you can get out of it.”

Pragmatic — but also a window into Honnold’s interpretation of the world? The scruples that bind the masses don’t seem to worry the world’s only person who’s free soloed El Cap.

Then again, he’s not exactly a free solo mystic, in the cloth of Dean Potter or Dan Osman.

In 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Ethan Hunt free solos up the Burj Dubai in a pair of gloves that somehow magnetize themselves onto the glass. Hunt is “cruising” (get it?) when he spots a disturbance behind him in his reflection.

It’s a steamrolling wall of dust and sand that’s about to engulf the city. Dude, did you even check your weather app? Honnold chimes in.

“I think if a giant sandstorm comes in, it probably reflects a failure of planning,” he says. “In this case, he probably should have looked at the weather before he started free soloing the outside of a building.”

He affects a melodramatic eye roll and changes the subject. Maybe Honnold walks among us, after all.

In fact, I know he does. If any of the hardcores are still reading, here’s proof. Stop and think about this if you’ve spent a fair amount of time climbing on plastic:

“Why are the yellow holds always the little crimp suckers or slimy slopers?” a reader asks.

Watch it dawn on Honnold in real-time.

“That is a fair question! It is always, like, the fierce little guys,” he reflects. “I don’t know why the yellow holds always suck. Somebody decided the yellow would be hard, and it is.”

Relatable, right?

Now go check out the screws on your freezer door hinges.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.