Is it okay to laugh about global poverty? The Laughter Effect, a study into the impacts of comedy on serious issues such as global poverty, shows how comedy can help by raising awareness. Other ways comedy has been shown to impact global poverty are by providing opportunities for expression and raising money. Here are three ways that comedy can impact poverty.
Caty Borum Chattoo, an assistant professor of communications at American University, conducted the study “The Laughter Effect” and found that comedy can impact poverty. Her study shows how satire can draw attention to serious social issues because it captures the audience’s attention and improves the ability to remember information.
“The Laughter Effect” came about because of Chattoo’s work producing a serious TV show about ending world poverty. She and the producers wondered if the show might communicate its content better in a less serious form. This prompted the creation of “Stand Up Planet” in 2014. It is a documentary about global poverty through the lens of comedian Hasan Minhaj as he searches for up-and-coming comedians from the developing world.
In addition, “The Laughter Effect” examined how comedy can raise awareness in other settings. It looked at comedy’s ability to make people care about the issue being satirized. “Stand Up Planet” focused on the issue of global poverty, drawing attention to it and changing the conversation around it. When talking about “Stand Up Planet,” Chattoo said that, while people watching the documentary reported more learning, they reported more feeling while watching the satirical comedy.
Furthermore, the book “A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice” studied the effect “Stand Up Planet” has on issue awareness compared to “The End,” a more serious documentary about global poverty. Its results showed that both documentaries increased support from U.S. citizens for overseas aid to poor countries. However, the study also found that more people who watched “Stand Up Planet” stated that they would take action against global poverty, such as signing petitions, compared to those who watched “The End.”
Provide Opportunities for Expression
Comedy can also impact poverty by providing an outlet for people to express themselves. One of the creators of “Stand Up Planet,” Xandra Carlson, “found humor was the outlet and relief from daily struggles everywhere, a universal language that may translate around the world.”
In 2015, about 56% of South Africa’s population was living in poverty. Goliath and Goliath, a comedy and entertainment agency based in South Africa, uses its brand to build the local comedy industry and provide comedians a place to share their experiences.
The company planned a Comedy Con for April 2020 in order to “propel the comedy landscape in South Africa.” Although the event was postponed due to COVID-19, Goliath and Goliath has been hosting a comedy club online in order to continue providing exposure for up-and-coming comedians in South Africa. Since its start in 2012, the agency has added to its group of entertainers, bringing in a “violinist duo,” a comedy magician and increasing its group of MCs by 10 comedians.
In 2019, Comedy Central Africa ran a special called “Comedians Solve World Problems.” In one episode, the channel featured Jason Goliath, founder of Goliath and Goliath, and Gilli Apter talking about the rich-poor divide. The two comedians discussed how to solve wealth disparities in a comedic way. While the video is largely satirical, it also provided a platform for these comedians to make jokes about their experiences. At one point, Goliath said to Apter, “I think I underestimated how much poorer than you I actually am. I can’t even imagine a scenario where I have 10 billion dollars and then someone says, ‘Don’t you want another 10 billion dollars?'”
Finally, comedy can impact poverty through fundraising. For example, the Red Nose Day Campaign works to fight child poverty using comedy. According to the campaign, “Through the power of entertainment, we bring people together to laugh and have fun, all while raising life-changing cash for the children that need it the most.” This year, Red Nose Day was held on May 21 even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Since its start in 2015, the campaign has raised over $230 million to fight child poverty and has helped 25 million children globally.
Stand-up comedian Trevor Noah also uses comedy to fight poverty. His charity, the Trevor Noah Foundation, is dedicated to improving education for children in South Africa. A 2015 World Bank report found that those with post-secondary education were 48% more likely to participate in the South African labor market than those with no education. To address issues like this, Noah’s foundation has used the financial donations it receives to make a clear impact on the country’s education system.
Specifically, the organization does so through its work with the Khulani School program. The program works to help students develop learning skills, train and provide support for teachers and create viable learning infrastructures after secondary school. Since the start of the program, financial aid was approved for 23.2% of students in the program, and higher education institutions accepted about 30.3% of students in the program.
Additionally, Noah launched a crowdfunding campaign through his foundation in 2018. Its goal was to raise money for education in South Africa through the platform backabuddy. So far, it has raised 130,495.17 rand. Noah has pledged to match every donation up to two million rand.
As the examples above illustrate, comedy can impact global poverty through awareness, providing opportunities for expression and raising money. These people, programs and platforms are only a handful of those using comedy to downsize poverty on a daily basis. For these comedy creators, laughing at global poverty has been shown to have a positive effect.
– Melody Kazel