Is Comedy The Best Genre for Effective Social Justice?
One of the things you will notice in both my work and Lauren’s is that they share a common theme. After all, it sort of makes sense for a theatre company to be a little consistent, don’t you think? That common theme is social commentary. The term is broad and all-encompassing, I know, but there is a reason behind that.
We both have our opinions and our passions around specific social injustices and this will be present throughout our journey as a company, but we want to keep the doors open to anything that serves social justice. There is a real opportunity in Theatre to impact our communities and our world and we find that incredibly exciting. So naturally, with such prevalent pressure on a shows ability to make change, a question arises: How do you do it?
What about comedy?
We’re not saying every performance has to be like Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes (though you can’t deny he gives attention to the issues that are swept under rugs). We’re saying that there are specific elements to comedy that make a show a secret weapon in the battle for social justice. We realised this after many passionate discussions, as a result of our experiences with writing and also my own MA dissertation research.
There’s a surprising amount of research on comedy as a perfect purveyor for taboo subjects but – somewhat suspiciously – they’re quite hidden.
Okay, think of it this way. There are 2 important arguments for comedy as important for social justice: 1. It attracts a wider audience and 2. Jokes are long-lasting.
Let’s dig in a little further…
It goes without saying, some people look at a theatre poster for an emotionally or politically charged show and swiftly walk away. In fact, many of the people who attend these shows are the people who are already on the side of justice. What we need are the people who can be taught or who can be influenced into improving the world in a way they are not already. To use my own play as an example, it tackles indirect racism but subtly and in a comedic fashion. If I were to advertise it as a fierce and strictly serious show about the devastating impact of racism on a young boy, I would be less likely to attract the people whose minds I want to change. Advertising it as a comedy (or tragi-comedy) – which it is – will bring together a far more diverse audience, who will arrive for entertainment (and will get it) but will leave with something to consider. That’s powerful.
Comedy is well crafted. It’s difficult. So when you get it right, it can follow an audience everywhere they go, it can sit with them on their daily commute for days after, it can flick through your phone while you’re on the toilet. It takes a while to leave, essentially. If that joke has a message within it – that isn’t painfully obnoxious in its delivery – then they are carrying that message with them also. Equally, there is a certain fascinating skill in creating a joke that makes an audience laugh and then turns it on themselves. One minute you’re wiping the tears of joy from your eyes, the next you’re questioning yourself as to why you’re laughing? Oh, it’s relatable? But should it be? Good comedy can take a injustice that has been normalised and twist it so it becomes less acceptable again.
One last thing, actually! To use Lauren’s play as an example this time (lest she sets Buddy on me for not mentioning it) she uses comedy to create a larger connection to the group of friends we see. What this does is helps us to pick a side, so that when something happens to a member of that group, we are furious, we are passionately distraught. We experience a visceral reaction that, yet again, makes us questions whether we would be so angry at it happening to a stranger and if not – why?
What do you guys think? Is comedy the secret weapon to world improvement? And do we have enough creatives making use of it enough or is it still underestimated? Leave your thoughts below :)