Comedy is a powerful contemporary source of influence and information. In the still-evolving digital era, the opportunity to consume and share comedy has never been as available. And yet, despite its vast cultural imprint, comedy is a little-understood vehicle for serious public engagement in urgent social justice issues – even though humor offers frames of hope and optimism that can encourage participation in social problems. Moreover, in the midst of a merger of entertainment and news in the contemporary information ecology, and a decline in perceptions of trust in government and traditional media institutions, comedy may be a unique force for change in pressing social justice challenges.
Comedians who say something serious about the world while they make us laugh are capable of mobilizing the masses, focusing a critical lens on injustices, and injectinghope and optimism into seemingly hopeless problems. By combining communication andsocial justice frameworks with contemporary comedy examples, authors Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman show us how comedycan help to serve as a vehicle of change.
Through rich case studies, audience research, and interviews with comedians and social justice leaders and strategists, A Comedian and an Activist Walk Into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice explains how comedy – both in the entertainment marketplace and as cultural strategy – can engage audiences with issues such as global poverty, climate change, immigration, and sexual assault, and how activists work with comedy to reach and empower publics in the networked, participatory digital media age.
Caty Borum Chattoo is Director of the Center for Media & Social Impact and Assistant Professor at American University’s School of Communication in Washington, DC.
Lauren Feldman is Associate Professor in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University.