Communicating Through Comedy
This March, Spitfire is celebrating all things funny. Well, more specifically, we’re celebrating the power of comedy to spark change…AND laughs.
In our work as communicators, we often lean towards the serious, dramatic and factual. But humor has the power to connect to people in different ways that aren't just the facts.
The idea for Spitfire's Comedy Month was inspired by a book. This particular book is by a very funny person who is also an expert at public interest communications, Caty Borum. Caty is the Executive Director of the Center for Media & Social Impact and Associate Professor of Communication at American University. She’s also the co-founder of Yes, And…Laughter Lab, an incubation lab, pitch program and showcase that lifts up the best writers and performers creating new comedy about topics that matter.
Her new book, The Revolution Will Be Hilarious, reveals how and why comedy fuels social change in a revolutionary media age, and why culture power matters for social justice.
We’ll hear more from Caty about the book in an interview with Spitfire Vice-President, Nima Shirazi, later this month. But for now, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite comedians using wit and vulnerability to, as Caty would say, “make people laugh while saying something important.”
Comedy from the Classroom
When she’s not on stage doing standup, Liz Blanc (she/her) is a public school teacher in Los Angeles. She uses her comedy to highlight issues in America’s education system, like the absurd suggestion by some lawmakers that teachers should carry guns to prevent school shootings.
“There are people around who wholeheartedly believe I should carry a gun at work. I’ll be the first person to tell you I should not. I know a lot of teachers. I don’t know any that want guns. I know a lot who want markers, you know? If I get a school issued glock and I’m still buying my own pencils, I’m taking that gun and I’m holding up a Staples.”
Watch her Don’t Tell Comedy set here.
Satire at its Best
Satire has always been one of my favorite comedic tools–from Oscar Wilde’s criticism of Victorian aristocrats in his writing to Stephen Colbert’s character on the Colbert Report. Ziwe Fumudoh (she/her) has taken the form to a new level with her self-titled show, Ziwe on Showtime. Each episode includes interviews with celebrities and video shorts that highlight America’s discomfort with honest conversations about politics, race, and wealth.
One standout example is her music video featuring comedian Patti Harrison, entitled, Stop Being Poor.
The catchy tune points out the absurdity of narratives that many wealthy people in power use to argue against policies that address economic inequalities, like universal basic income, bolstering public safety nets, or canceling student loans.
A Kuwaiti Answers Americans’ Questions
Alyssa Al-Dookhi (they/them) is a comedian, educator and activist who is the head writer at Abortion AF, a team of comedians, activists, writers and producers that use humor to destigmatize abortion.
They were also recently featured on CNN’s United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell. Their mission is to “help marginalized artists create community, and to educate others on how comedy can be a life skill.” They are also a YallaPunk artist fellow and official POC (Person of Comedy).
Check out their hilarious bit about misconceptions Americans have about people from Kuwait here.
That’s a wrap! As you can see from these examples, comedy can be a powerful tool for engaging the hearts and minds of audiences that we want to reach with our work. It illustrates one of the basic tenets of effective communications: meet people where they are. Comedy can make hard truths and difficult subjects easier to hear and engage with. By tapping into its power, we point out the absurdity of bigotry, provide social critique that makes complex issues easier to understand, and give our audiences a laugh when things seem bleak.
Love other funny humans? Spitfire will be highlighting social justice comedians and organizations using comedy to spark change and laughs all month on our blog and social channels (Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter). Feel free to join in on the conversation.