Comedy can play an important role in challenging people to address critical social issues, according to Lauren Feldman, PhD, an associate professor at Rutgers and author of A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice.
“People often incorrectly assume that comedy—because it is funny and entertaining—is inappropriate for communicating about serious issues,” said Feldman. “However, our research shows that it is precisely because comedy is funny and entertaining that it is capable of engaging and motivating people around challenging issues. Comedy pulls people in and creates a positive emotional connection, which can, in turn, inspire engagement, and action.”
Like other individuals and organizations, amputees can take advantage of the benefits of comedy to contribute to important changes in society—perhaps bringing about changes in government policies, reducing social stigma against people with disabilities, increasing accessibility, and more.
“Comedy can, through its effects on audiences, help contribute to social change by drawing attention, disarming audiences, lowering resistance to persuasion, breaking down social barriers, and stimulating sharing and discussion,” said Feldman. “In addition to its effects on individuals, comedy also can have broader cultural effects, shaping news coverage and social media discourse, providing visibility to alternative ideas and marginalized groups, and serving as a resource for collective action.”
Because of the potential dangers of using comedy, however, Feldman offers the following advice:
Respect comedy’s creative freedom as well as the professional expertise of comedians. If an advocacy organization wants to leverage comedy for social justice engagement, they shouldn’t simply try this on their own. Comedy is a learned skill; advocates should partner with and hire professional comedians and grant them creative license.
Understand that the goal of comedy is not to transmit key messages and learning points. That is the domain of fact sheets and policy briefs. Rather, comedy offers the ability to creatively engage emotions and tell relatable stories that reach people where they are.
While strategic communications professionals sometimes want to dilute humor to make it “safe,” this is not usually a good idea. We find that comedy needs to be maximally funny and entertaining in order to engage audiences.
Comedy that seeks to engage people with social justice issues mustn’t make fun of the issues themselves, as this can be trivializing. Rather, comedy should be used to make fun of the status quo by mocking unfair policies or power dynamics or reframing and humanizing marginalized groups.
This article was adapted from information provided by Rutgers University-New Brunswick.
AMPUTEES WHO USE HUMOR TO ENTERTAIN OR MAKE A DIFFERENCE
All of these people believe a sense of humor makes living with an amputation, and life in general, a lot more fun.
A comedian, comedy producer, and owner of the Gateway Comedy Club in Ronkonkoma, New York, Mike Dillon has been embracing comedy for more than 20 years.
Lacey Henderson is a US Paralympic long jumper who has tried stand-up comedy and is currently producing a podcast series called Picked Last in Gym Class.
A stand-up comedian and retired military staff sergeant, Bobby Henline served four tours in Iraq. During his fourth tour, he was severely injured by an IED explosion.
Rob Jones is a Marine Corps veteran, US Paralympian, politician, stand-up comedian, and motivational speaker. He was featured in the documentary Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor.
Another star of Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor, Joe Kashnow is a US Army veteran who specializes in amputee humor and builds his stand-up comedy material around the injury he received in combat in Iraq.
Colin Leggo is a writer, motivational speaker, and stand-up comedian. In 2019, he was crowned the UK Pun Champion.
Derrick Lewis is a below-knee amputee who designs funny t-shirts for amputees and sells them on his Zazzle storefront, AmpuThreadz.
Comedian, US Paralympian, best-selling author, and hilarious Halloween costume maker Josh Sundquist has been recognized for his work on behalf of amputees.
Kevin Trees is an actor, comedy writer, blogger, and public speaker. He sells funny amputee products on the CafePress storefront, The Funny Amputee.
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