Twenty-nine years ago, we met The Simpsons. It happened during a roughly sketched minute-long short on the Tracey Ullman Show. One by one, Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa and Maggie introduced us to their hilariously dysfunctional yet relatable family. Can you imagine a world where D’oh or meh had never made it into the dictionary? Me neither.
At LightBox, we believe fun is a key ingredient to lasting and meaningful community change. So let’s explore a few ways that humor can be your friend as you work toward a better future for all.
Make a Splash with a Dry Subject
Later this month, the White House Correspondent’s Dinner will bring together White House staffers, politicians and the press for a night of roasting, toasting and laughter. This tradition to inaugurate the new White House correspondents started in 1915, but a few years later during Prohibition, organizers decided that the alcohol-free festivities needed some levity. So in 1921, a piano was introduced along with satirical songs aimed at the politicians. There may have been no booze, but everyone’s cups overflowed with laughter, and this tradition of using humor to make social commentary continues to this day. Even President Obama is on board: at last year’s dinner, he famously introduced the audience to Luther, his “Anger Translator,” a humorous nod to the reality that as a black man, he needs an alter ego in order to express his anger. Let the White House Correspondents be an inspiration. Don’t be afraid to take a dry subject and add – in this case, quite literally! – a shot (or two) of humor.
Engage Your Inner Comic
Our friend Beth Kanter also believes in the power of humor to make a greater impact. She shares some great examples of using humor as part of your social engagement, including a handful of nonprofit spoof Twitter accounts that poke fun at (and bring attention to) philanthropy. You also may remember a few years when Opportunity Agenda introduced us to Helvetika Bold, a superhero with an innate power to make America greater and more equal.
Is there a fantastic super hero your organization can create to grow awareness around your mission and increase visibility? Or a funny character to can take the lead in a campaign comic strip or short video series? These examples remind us that you can gain traction for your cause through a few chuckles is a dynamic combo organizers look for to engage a base of support.
Set Fire with Satire (but Know your Audience!)
Who hasn’t been stumped with how to connect with your target audience over difficult topics? Early in my career, I was a public school teacher. I had just started working with a group of 4th graders on a lesson plan about the 1986 Chernoybl disaster. Fortunately, an idea came to me about how to describe the seriousness of the accident in a way they would comprehend. After making sure they watched The Simpsons, I asked them what Homer did for a living. Of course they all knew: he worked at the Springfield nuclear power plant. Then I asked if they thought he was a good employee, to which a resounding “nooooo” came back at me. Doh! They got it, and it opened a discussion around a difficult subject – in a way that was accessible even to kids. Satire has become a staple in American pop culture and can be invaluable in opening the door to those critical conversations. WARNING: be sure to test content with a trusted group to make sure your humor lands just right.
Build Connection through Laughter
Ultimately, the goal of humor is to build connections, not destroy them. If your humor is aimed in the direction of furthering your cause and doesn’t alienate or harm your organization, you’ll get the last laugh – and move your audience to action!
Claudette wants to know how you use humor to embiggen your cause.