We cover lots of ground in the first part of my interview with the Student Christian Movement in the UK. In particular we talk about comedy and how it can be used to explore trauma and oppression. I guess you can say that comedy is a subversive art. In using it, we do change the way our audiences feel and think. Perhaps this is why some folks are so resistant to humor.
Missing the Point
Still some people get so caught up in the words that they miss the point. That or they get confused that the topics I pick are so deadly serious, they fail to see the humor in it. In a way that is understandable–what is so funny about cancer or homophobia or global warming?
The role of the artist is not simply to entertain, but at times to use comedy to focus us in on an issue deserving of our attention. But comedy comes with risks that people will not get it or appreciate it. And the risk that we can get it wrong.
Reacting Badly to Good Comedy
Most recently Pat Boone, the pop singer of old and a white American Christian icon, has spoken out about a parody on Saturday Night Live. The sketch comedy piece reveals the heterosexism that is at the heart of much of the anti-LGBTQ Christian rhetoric. It is satire about how some Christians say they are the most oppressed group in the country (the white Christian woman character says this to her Black friend.)
It is clearly over the top, exploiting and exploding stereotypes that some Christians have about gays and that some liberals have about conservatives, but it makes an important point about the lengths some folks will go to force God and religion to give moral authority to oppression. As I say in the interview, comedy can be a tool to expose injustices.
An Interview with a quirky queer Quaker
Many of your performances employ humour and comedy to make serious points about LGBTQ+ inclusion, gender, climate change and other issues close to your heart. How does humour help you tackle these and other issues?
Humour relaxes the body and the brain. When we experience fear and shame, we physically tense up. This tension happens in the brain too – neural pathways close making it harder to reason and retrieve information. This is why when we begin to panic, it’s easy to forget simple instructions. Comedy helps to loosen us up. This is especially important when talking about hot topics like sexuality, faith, gender, climate change, and justice.
Comedy also helps to shed light on issues and expose injustices. While it is true that comedy can be violent, for example when it mocks others, it’s a powerful tool to help us see our own shortcomings as well as to highlight the flaws in systems and in the way the world works. The role of the court jester is not simply to entertain, but to say the things that people are often too afraid to utter. The comic jab can lead to revelation and action.
I agree that comedy can be and has been used to hurt others and dehumanize people and groups of people. It can be rude and crass and disrespectful. But I have found over and over that it is a way to bring people closer to hot topics that desperately need our attention.
You can read the entire piece: An Interview with Peterson Toscano–part one.
Also, feel free to share with me your thoughts about comedy. When does it work for you? When does it cross the line? What are examples of comedy that does social good.