Episode 28: Taking risks: comedy as tool for social justice

In this episode we talked to Caty Borum Chatoo (Twitter: CatyBC), Director of the Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI) and Executive in Residence at the American University School of Communication in Washington, D.C. Before academia, she ranged from working with Norman Lear to producing documentaries. She collaborated with comedian Hasan Minhaj on the documentary, Stand Up Planet, identifying comedians in the Global South who tackled serious social justice issues, including global poverty. Comedians and activists share the common goal of identifying problems with the status quo. Caty takes us through why comedy is a viable way of talking through, and getting actual engagement, with difficult issues; the new generation of YouTubers and activists who are bringing it to legislators through, for example, comedy videos about the treatment of sexual assault survivors, and the “comedian in residence” they have at her research center. Also, we consider why it is important that people with different lived experiences and backgrounds can speak directly to their publics without first trying to appeal to majority gatekeepers and how the digital has helped re-shape how we think of audiences. Comedy can help with “activist fatigue”: we need hope, Caty says, not just anger, to deal with such depressing issues. If the question is, how do we get people to engage in serious issue? Caty argues that comedy, as solution, needs to be taken seriously.

Here are some more of the things mentioned in this episode, for those who want to dig a little deeper:

Caty’s forthcoming book (with Lauren Feldman), A Comedian and An Activist Walk Into a Bar: The (Serious) Role of Comedy in Social Justice

The Norman Lear Foundation

A comprehensive list of Norman Lear’s productions

Norman Lear and remaking One Day at a Time

CMSI’s The Laughter Effect: How Comedy Works [to Change the World]

Hasan Minhaj shows Homecoming King and Patriot Act

Comedians Franchesca Ramsey, Zahra Noorbakhsh

Activist Amanda Nguyen

Funny or Die: Even Supervillains Think Our Sexual Assault Laws Are Insane

Abbie Hoffman and The Yippies

Dennis the Menace

More on Bethany Hall, CMSI’s Comedian in Residence

Caty’s Talk, “How Poop Jokes Can Save the World

Baratunde Thurston on Hacking Comedy

Will Rogers’ Native American activism

Eddie Cantor’s Jewish activismListen to our All India Bakchod episode for more on using comedy to address issues

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