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Choose one (or more) of the theories or concepts discussed in the readings/lecture about comedy’s influence (e.g., effects on attention and memory, priming, reducing counter-arguing, buffering negative emotions, cultivation, para-social contact, social modeling, intermedia agenda-setting, etc.), and describe how it might apply to a specific comedy example from your own media use. A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar the serious role of comedy in social justice Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman Confidential Property of University of California Press ***** Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale university of california press University of California Press Oakland, California Confidential Property of University of California Press © 2020 by Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman ***** Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale Names: Borum Chattoo, Caty, author. | Feldman, Lauren, 1977- author. Title: A comedian and an activist walk into a bar : the serious role of  comedy in social justice / Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman. Other titles: Communication for social justice activism ; 1. Description: Oakland, California : University of California Press, [2019] | Series: Communication for social justice activism; 1 | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: lccn 2019036801 (print) | lccn 2019036802 (ebook) |  isbn 9780520299771 (cloth) | isbn 9780520299764 (paperback) | isbn 9780520971356 (ebook) Subjects: lcsh: Comedy—Political aspects—United States. | Social  justice—United States. | Mass media—Political aspects—United States. Classification: lcc pn1929.p65 b67 2019 (print) | lcc pn1929.p65  (ebook) | ddc 792.76—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019036801 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019036802 Manufactured in the United States of America 29 28 27 26 25 24 23 22 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 21 20 Contents Confidential Property of University of California Press List of Illustrations ***** Foreword by Norman Lear Acknowledgments Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale part i: ix xi xiii comedy amidst a contemporary landscape of influence and information Introduction 3 1. Why Comedy, and Why Now? 16 2. How Comedy Works as a Change Agent 36 3. From Stand-Up to Sitcoms: Socially Critical Comedy across Genres 59 part ii: 4. 5. comedy in social justice challenges Can Laughter Help Save the Planet? Comedy’s Role in Communicating about Climate Change Beyond Poverty Porn: How Comedy Reframes Poverty and Engages Publics 83 105 part iii: 6. 7. 8. leveraging comedy for social change Comedians’ Perspectives on the Intersections of Art and Activism 127 Creative Collaborations: How Comedians and Social Justice Advocates Work Together 152 Imagining the Future of Comedy’s Role in Social Justice 179 Appendix A: Methodological Details and Full Results from Chapter 4 199 Appendix B: Methodological Overview and Main Results from Chapter 5 207 Appendix C: Comedy Professionals Interviewed for Chapter 6 211 Notes 217 About the Authors Confidential Property of University of California Press Index ***** Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale 267 269 2 “ How Comedy Works as a Change Agent Comedy doesn’t change things. Comedy changes people. People change things. ” Sara Taksler, director of Tickling Giants documentary and former senior producer of The Daily Show1 Confidential Property of University of California Press In 2011, as the U. S. presidential campaign was beginning to heat up, ***** Stephen Colbert—then-host of Comedy Central’s satiric The Colbert Report—did what may have considered Notmany for Reproduction, Distribution,impossible: or Resale he made campaign finance law understandable—and funny. He did this by legally creating his own super PAC, “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.” Super PACs are independent, expenditure-only political action committees that can raise unlimited contributions from corporations, labor unions, and individuals, and then use these funds to explicitly advocate for or against political candidates.2 For campaign finance reform advocates, super PACs exemplify and exacerbate the lack of transparency in the U. S. campaign finance system and the corrupt role that money can play in democratic politics.3 Over the course of nearly two years—with the help of his recurring guest Trevor Potter, a lawyer and former Federal Election Commission chairman—Colbert humorously illustrated how super PACs work and why they matter and, in so doing, mocked the loopholes in the campaign finance system. For example, in one segment, Colbert and Potter demonstrated how anonymous contributions to 501(c)(4) “social welfare” 36 h o w c o m e d y w o r k s a s a c h a n g e a g e n t 37 Figure 2 Stephen Colbert appeals for donations to his Super PAC on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. source / credit: ComedyProperty Central video screenshot, use. Confidential of University offair California Press ***** organizations can be funneled to super PACs; this allows wealthy donors to evade super Not PACfordisclosure requirements keep their identities Reproduction, Distribution,and or Resale secret—a process that both Colbert and Potter agreed resembles “money laundering.” 4 Colbert also revealed the often close coordination between supposedly independent super PACs and the candidates that they support, despite the explicit prohibition of such coordination: When Colbert himself tried to run for president, he signed control of his super PAC over to his friend and fellow Comedy Central host Jon Stewart, and gave it a new, tongue-in-cheek name, “The Definitely Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC.” Colbert’s super PAC proved to be more than just a late-night stunt. One study found that people who watched The Colbert Report during the 2012 general election season knew more about campaign finance law and, as a result, were more concerned about the role of money in politics.5 Moreover, The Colbert Report had a greater impact on campaign finance knowledge than any of the traditional news sources assessed in the study. Other research showed that Colbert’s super PAC spurred wide media coverage 38 chapter 2 and analysis of campaign finance, thereby helping to increase public attention to the issue and shape the terms of the debate.6 At the same time, Colbert’s super PAC raised more than a million dollars from his fans, most of which he donated to charitable organizations.7 The purpose of this chapter is to explain how and why something like Colbert’s super PAC—a comedic take on a complex topic—can increase knowledge, change attitudes, shape public conversation, and even inspire action. Colbert’s super PAC was incredibly effective at bringing to life a topic that otherwise may make people’s eyes glaze over. Through comedy, Colbert distilled difficult concepts down to digestible nuggets, playfully critiqued the status quo, and constructed an engaging narrative. These are elements shared by much contemporary comedy that addresses social issues. This chapter takes as its starting point the idea that comedy’s path to social change works—at least in part—through its effects on audiences. Social change is a gradual process that involves large-scale shifts in norms, Confidential Property of University of California Press attitudes, and behavior over time. We recognize that a short comedy sketch or even a multiseason TV series cannot, on its own, produce sweep***** ing change at the societal level. But it can galvanize attention, spark conversation, change how some people think and feel about social issues and Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale groups, and foment activism. In turn, this incremental change—in combination with other influences—may, over the long haul, add up to a shift in majority opinion or behavior within a culture, put pressure on elected officials to change relevant policy, and / or create a broader climate for social change. In the sections that follow, we synthesize research that illuminates the efficacy—and limits—of comedy as a vehicle for social change. We argue that at the individual level, comedy has four primary effects that are important in the context of social change: to increase message and issue attention; to disarm audiences and lower resistance to persuasion; to break down social barriers; and to stimulate sharing and discussion.8 Equally as important as these individual-level effects are the impacts comedy can have on the broader conversation and culture around social issues, for example, by influencing press coverage and social media discourse, challenging conventional media frames, and providing visibility to alternative ideas and marginalized groups. h o w c o m e d y w o r k s a s a c h a n g e a g e n t 39 the experie n c e o f h u m o r : w h at m a k e s us laugh an d w h y ? In order to appreciate how comedy exerts social influence, it is first necessary to understand what it is that makes something funny, as well as the cognitive and affective processes involved in the experience of humor. Although much has been written about the nature of humor, scholars tend to agree that humor is typically characterized by some form of incongruity— a conflict between our expectations and the reality of the joke.9 According to psychologist Willibald Ruch, “humor involves the bringing together of two normally disparate ideas, concepts, or situations in a surprising or unexpected manner.”10 Scholars have advanced various theories to explain why incongruity produces humor. For example, incongruity resolution theory proposes that it is the cognitive process of encountering and then resolving the incongruity in a joke that results in enjoyment. According to psychologist Thomas Confidential Property of University of California Press Schultz, the experience of humor is a two-phase process that begins with the perception of incongruity, typically created by the punchline of a joke; ***** this is followed by a resolution of incongruity, when we “get the joke,” often by locating an ambiguity in the joke’s setup.11 Schultz uses the example of Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale an old W. C. Fields joke to illustrate this process; in this joke, someone asked, “Mr. Fields do you believe in clubs for young people?” and he replied, “Only when kindness fails.”12 Here, the incongruity arises because the answer does not seem to fit with the question; however, once we realize that “clubs” is ambiguous, and Fields interpreted it not to mean “social groups” but “large sticks,” the incongruity is resolved and laughter ensues. Somewhat similarly, Jerry Suls has conceptualized incongruity resolution as a form of problem solving, in which people search for a “cognitive rule” to account for how the punchline follows from the setup of the joke.13 Upon identifying the rule and solving the problem, we experience pleasure. What distinguishes humor from mere problem-solving is a playful, nonthreatening context that signals that the incongruity is intended for enjoyment.14 In other words, humor requires a visual or linguistic cue that shifts us into a playful, rather than serious, state of mind—at least momentarily; it is only in this playful state that we are able to enjoy humor as opposed to being irritated, threatened, or offended by it.15 Moreover, the 40 chapter 2 joke teller and receiver must agree as to what counts as play, or else the joke will fall flat. According to Simon Critchley, “in order for the incongruity of the joke to be seen as such, there has to be a congruence between joke structure and social structure—no social congruity, no comic incongruity.”16 Some psychologists have proposed a “salience hypothesis” to account for the idea that certain shared social schema—such as knowledge of a particular stereotype—must be cognitively available to recipients of a joke in order for them to be able to successfully reconcile the joke’s incongruity.17 Offering a somewhat different view, psychologist Michael Apter has argued that it is the creation of incongruity—not its resolution—that makes us laugh.18 According to Apter, humor relies on cognitive synergy, in which two contradictory qualities are attributed to the same object, individual, or situation.19 When we are in a playful frame of mind, such synergies increase arousal and are pleasurable. In cognitive synergies, one of the two opposing terms is seen as real, and the other as an appearance. According to Apter, we are encouraged to reinterpret reality in light of this duality, and crucially, in Confidential Property of University of California Press order for a synergy to be funny, our new interpretation must diminish the perceived importance of the object, individual, or situation to which the *****trivialization, or mundanity. humor refers, through disparagement, As an example, we can consider Stephen Colbert’s “The Definitely Not Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale Coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC,” which—as noted earlier— he created when he decided to run for president and signed control of his super PAC over to Jon Stewart. Colbert’s transfer and renaming of his super PAC creates a synergy—in this case, based on irony, because it conveys two opposing ideas: The ostensible message (i.e., that the super PAC is not coordinating with Colbert) and the real message (i.e., that the super PAC will likely coordinate with Colbert because it is now being run by his friend and colleague). The latter message is a reinterpretation of the former, based on our knowledge of Colbert’s relationship with Stewart. By holding these two ideas in our mind concurrently, the legitimacy of super PACs, and specifically the notion that super PACs don’t coordinate with the candidate they support, is diminished in value, and we laugh. Importantly, according to incongruity-based theories, cognitive effort and inference-making are required in order to get the joke, and it is this cognitive elaboration—the playful processing of incongruity—that results in humor.20 As we will see, this idea is important for understanding how h o w c o m e d y w o r k s a s a c h a n g e a g e n t 41 comedy about social issues influences audiences. However, it offers an incomplete explanation of how we experience humor, as our response to humor is emotional as well as cognitive. Although humor’s emotional components are less well understood than its cognitive aspects, both physiological and psychological forms of arousal have long been considered central to humor.21 In the 1970s, Daniel Berlyne theorized that when we laugh in response to humor, we do so because of the pleasure we experience when our arousal rises to optimal levels.22 Indeed, the experience of physiological arousal during humor processing—as measured by changes in heart rate, skin conductance, blood pressure, and so on—is positively associated with enjoyment and perceived funniness.23 According to Rod Martin, humor elicits a distinct positive emotion—which he identifies as “mirth”—that is accompanied by increases in arousal and is expressed by laughter.24 Empirical studies confirm that the experience of humor increases positive affect; in one study, watching 20 minutes of stand-up comedy was comparable to 20 minutes Confidential Property of University of California Press of exercise in terms of its effects on positive well-being.25 In sum, humor is both intellectually satisfying and emotionally gratifying. It occurs when we encounter ***** an incongruity or cognitive mismatch that results in a reinterpretation, and usually a diminishment, of the subNot for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale ject of the humorous material. In the playful and shared social context of humor, the cognitive effort and arousal involved in processing the incongruity is enjoyable and elicits positive feelings of mirth and, often, the expression of laughter. In the sections that follow, we will convey how these elements of humor implicate social change outcomes in response to mediated comedy. Importantly, we argue that it is not just the experience of humor itself that contributes to social change but the experience of humor as embedded in a larger mediated and cultural context. comedy ’s f o u r s o c i a l c h a n g e i n f lu e n c e s on audience s Increasing Attention When it comes to social justice issues, particularly issues that can seem removed from everyday life—such as climate change or global poverty— 42 chapter 2 one of the foremost challenges to public engagement is getting people to pay attention in the first place. In today’s media environment, where myriad messages—and issues—compete for our increasingly fragmented attention, comedy can help cut through the clutter, promoting attention to topics that otherwise may be eclipsed from public view. When Stephen Colbert used comedy to tackle campaign finance law, he took an esoteric issue that for many people likely seemed personally irrelevant—and frankly, boring— and turned it into something to which people wanted to pay attention. Indeed, one of the most well-documented and consistent effects of humor is its ability to enhance attention and recall.26 Some researchers believe that because humor is distinctive, it draws greater attention at the point of message encoding,27 and our retrieval processes are, in turn, biased toward recalling these distinctive items.28 Others contend that humor’s attentional and memory advantages are due to the cognitive effort involved in processing humor’s inherent incongruities, or because the perception of humor elicits positive emotions, which may facilitate Confidential Property of University of California Press attention and recall.29 Regardless of exactly why humor attracts attention and improves memory, this suggests that people will ***** pay more attention to a Funny or Die video about health care access than to a serious PSA on the same topic. Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale But comedy not only helps draw attention to the message itself but also to the particular issues that are the focus of the humor. Psychology research finds that positive emotions—like those experienced in response to comedy—expand attention and promote deeper thinking.30 Moreover, as noted in the previous section, making sense of humorous incongruities requires mental effort and, to the extent that issue content is enmeshed with the humor itself, this can lead us to think about that content more deeply.31 Comedy also helps increase issue attention because the entertainment context—the film or TV show—within which the comedy is embedded draws people in. From the Kardashians to the latest sketch on Saturday Night Live, entertainment has a social currency that, at least for many ordinary citizens, is often lacking in the justice issues at the center of activism campaigns. Moreover, engaging with complex issue information is cognitively taxing; it takes time and mental energy to learn about a new problem or event. Thus, when comedy takes up serious issues, it minimizes h o w c o m e d y w o r k s a s a c h a n g e a g e n t 43 the mental effort associated with paying attention to political information by attaching it to less demanding and more socially gratifying entertainment content.32 Indeed, political communication scholar Matthew Baum found that although people tune in to late-night comedy shows and other “soft news” media primarily to be entertained, when they find serious issue content there, they pay more attention to the issue as an incidental byproduct of their entertainment consumption.33 These effects are strongest among those who are ordinarily least attentive to the issue at hand, and thus for whom the cognitive demands of paying attention are highest; others do not need the extra motivation that entertainment provides.34 But this makes comedy especially useful for reaching people who typically might not attend to social justice problems. Comedy also can inspire people to pay more attention to and seek out information about complex issues in other nonhumorous media.35 This is, in part, because comedy “primes” social and political issues—that is, makes them more accessible in memory.36 For example, after watching Confidential Property of University of California Press Colbert’s treatment of campaign finance, a viewer now has a cognitive schema, or template, for making sense of that issue that will help them *****media. Even when comedy’s treatwhen they encounter it again in other ment of an issue is not as in-depth as Colbert’s, it nonetheless increases Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale the issue’s salience and provides viewers with some basic recognition that can inspire future information seeking and attention. Moreover, comedy—because of its requirements for cognitive elaboration and its elicitation of attention-piquing positive emotions—may put people in a “state of mind” that facilitates more active processing of serious issue content encountered subsequent to the comedy.37 Joke content itself also can prime us to pay more attention to certain aspects of an individual, group, or event than we would have otherwise, and to use these criteria when forming judgments.38 Thus, a joke about a politician’s position on the gender wage gap, for example, may make this issue a more salient consideration when deciding whether or not to vote for that candidate, or make us more likely to think about gender inequality in general. This priming effect may be particularly strong among those who are less knowledgeable about public affairs.39 Among those who are already civically engaged, comedy may help signal that a particular issue warrants their time and effort. For example, in June 2014, John Oliver 44 chapter 2 devoted a lengthy segment on his HBO satirical comedy show Last Week Tonight to explaining the importance of net neutrality. At the end of the segment, he urged audiences to comment on the FCC website in support of net neutrality; this prompted a dramatic spike in public comments, temporarily crashing the FCC site.40 In May 2017, with net neutrality again on the chopping block, Oliver again implored his viewers to contact the FCC in defense of a free internet, and again they crashed the site.41 Given that regular viewers of political satire programs tend to be highly civically engaged and politically progressive,42 when Oliver primed the issue and suggested a doable response, his audience was readily spurred to action. Does issue attentiveness translate into knowledge? Here, the evidence is mixed. Some studies suggest that audiences learn more issue-related facts when the same content is presented in a comedic context than in a serious news context.43 Moreover, as noted earlier, The Colbert Report was more effective at promoting factual knowledge of campaign finance reguConfidential Property of University of California Press lations than traditional news sources.44 In contrast, other studies have found that satirical news is no better than traditional news for acquiring *****45 and, in certain cases, is less effecfactual knowledge about policy issues tive.46 Outside of late-night comedy and satirical news programs—which Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale have been most extensively studied in this context—research also suggests that viewers can acquire long-term factual knowledge from scripted comedy.47 Importantly, factual knowledge is not a reliable predictor of attitudes and behaviors,48 and thus may not, on its own, lead to meaningful social change; nonetheless, public affairs knowledge is correlated with a host of positive social and democratic outcomes, such as participation, tolerance, and self-efficacy.49 For most social issues, knowledge is often a necessary but insufficient ingredient for change. If John Oliver’s audience did not know at least vaguely what net neutrality was and how it affects their lives, they would be unlikely to comment to the FCC. In the case of Colbert’s super PAC, it was knowledge of campaign finance that provided the link between exposure to The Colbert Report and critical opinions toward the role of money in politics.50 Of course, factual knowledge is only one way of “learning” from comedy. Comedy also can shape how we think about social issues and groups, a possibility we take up in subsequent sections. h o w c o m e d y w o r k s a s a c h a n g e a g e n t 45 Disarming Audiences and Lowering Resistance to Persuasion Fomenting social change is often a matter of opening—and changing— minds about controversial issues and ideas. Thus, comedy in the service of social justice will almost invariably involve the communication of beliefchallenging or threatening information—for example, encouraging people to recognize their own racial or sexist attitudes, confront gross injustice, or consider how their behaviors contribute to environmental problems. In some cases, comedy may attempt a wholesale change in people’s attitudes, for example convincing them that gun reform is needed or that climate change is real, when they believe otherwise. Humor, because of its ability to draw attention, may be particularly well suited for bringing people into contact with ideas that run counter to their own beliefs. Yet humor also may help to disarm audiences, lowering their defenses in the face of social and political difference. This occurs both cognitively, by reducing message counter-arguing, and emotionally, by buffering against a perceived threat. Confidential Property of University of California Press From a cognitive perspective, when a persuasive message cuts against our beliefs or values, we are likely to counter-argue it. Counter-arguing is ***** the internal process by which we generate negative cognitive responses to a message, refuting or identifying flaws in its underlying premises.51 Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale Counter-arguing can reinforce or even strengthen one’s existing beliefs and is thus an impediment to successful persuasion.52 Typically, as our attention to and interest in a persuasive message increase, as occurs with comedy, so, too, does our propensity to critically process the message.53 But with humor, our attention and interest are directed at “getting” the humor; we process the joke more deeply, not the persuasive arguments, thereby reducing our motivation and / or ability to counter-argue.54 Consistent with this idea, Dannagal Young’s research found that late-night political jokes, compared to nonhumorous versions of the same jokes, produced more thoughts aimed at humor comprehension and appreciation, and less negative thoughts directed at message arguments.55 Along with counter-arguing, people also resist persuasion by selectively avoiding threatening information due to inertia or fear.56 Because of the positive emotions elicited by humor, however, audiences may be more willing to engage with threatening information when it is presented in a humorous context. Just as humor can be used as a personal strategy to 46 chapter 2 facilitate coping and reduce stress during challenging situations,57 it may serve as a buffer against feelings of fear or distress induced by persuasive mediated messages about overwhelming or controversial topics.58 For example, if someone is uncomfortable with or feels threatened by certain socially progressive ideas—such as gay marriage or gender nonconformity—the humorous approach of a TV sitcom may make the topic more palatable by inducing positive emotions. Humorous messages also may be able to increase specific emotions that help drive engagement with justice issues. Large-scale humanitarian and environmental crises, like poverty, genocide, and climate change, often give rise to “compassion fatigue” or “compassion fade,” reflected in public indifference as the number of victims of atrocities increases.59 Accordingly, using humor to counterbalance depressing information may be one way to promote compassion60 and increase individuals’ willingness to engage with tough issues. Humor also can increase hope,61 which is critical for public engagement and activism around daunting social issues like climate Confidential Property of University of California Press change but is often in short supply in media coverage of such issues.62 Indeed, as we show in chapters 4 and 5, the positive emotions elicited by *****to engage publics in social justice comedy are key to comedy’s ability challenges. Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale Comedy thus provides a promising way to disarm audiences and make them less resistant to threatening or ego-challenging information. Still, this doesn’t always translate into persuasive effects. While some studies show persuasive advantages of humor,63 others show more qualified effects that depend on characteristics of the comedy or of the audience.64 Still other research suggests that humor, while capable of changing attitudes and behavior, is not necessarily more persuasive than nonhumor.65 In some cases, humor about a social issue may fail to persuade because it trivializes the issue through its use of diminishment.66 Another related factor that may limit humor’s persuasiveness is what communication scholar Robin Nabi and her colleagues describe as a “discounting” cue.67 Here, due to humor’s playful context, people dismiss comedic messages about social issues as “just a joke” and thereby irrelevant to their judgments. This discounting mechanism may reduce the overall impact of the message on attitudes, even as humor minimizes counter-arguing or other forms of message resistance. However, our recent research finds that when h o w c o m e d y w o r k s a s a c h a n g e a g e n t 47 audiences perceive comedy as having entertainment value—that is, when they experience it as funny, engaging, and inspiring—this decreases message discounting and, in turn, enhances persuasion.68 In other words, if audiences are deeply entertained by comedy, they no longer see the message as merely a joke but as something worthy of serious consideration. Thus, comedy will be most persuasive when it is allowed to be as funny and entertaining as possible—rather than didactic and “safe.” We further show in chapters 4 and 5 that perceived entertainment value is a primary route through which comedy influences public engagement with social issues. Given humor’s inconsistent persuasive effects, in the context of contemporary mediated comedy about social issues, outright persuasion might be a less feasible—and potentially less important—outcome than getting people to engage cognitively and emotionally with diverse ideas, or calling their attention to an issue in the first place. By drawing audiences in, disarming them, and lowering their resistance to messages about sensitive or dissonant topics, comedy can create an important opening for Confidential Property of University of California Press further information and engagement and, as we’ll see in the next section, provide opportunities for social connections across lines of difference. ***** for Barriers Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale Breaking Down Not Social So far, we primarily have been discussing issues and arguments, rather than the people—the comedians and scripted characters—who are the faces of mediated comedy. If mediated comedy is to play any role in social change, it will do so only to the extent that it provides a visible platform for voices and social groups who are outside of the mainstream culture, whether due to race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual identity, or disability. Entertainment TV and film, as our primary cultural products, provide the chief mechanism through which social norms and assumptions are communicated to large audiences.69 According to media scholar Larry Gross, mainstream film and TV are “nearly always presented as transparent mediators of reality which can and do show us how people and places look; how institutions operate; in short, the way it is.” 70 Cultivation theory, originally developed by George Gerbner in the 1970s, posits that television offers a centralized system of storytelling that shapes the perceived social reality of its audience.71 While cultivation 48 chapter 2 theory has been critiqued on various grounds,72 it nonetheless offers a useful starting point for considering how the images of social groups constructed by entertainment media are likely to shape audience perceptions. In particular, cultivation processes are thought to be especially powerful when it comes to influencing perceptions of groups with which people have limited or no direct contact. In this view, TV offers a vicarious form of learning about marginalized or less visible social groups.73 This idea from cultivation theory dovetails with a prominent theory in social psychology, dubbed the contact hypothesis. The contact hypothesis proposes that positive interactions between members of diverse social groups can reduce prejudice, by providing the opportunity to learn more about the other group of people.74 While such social contact may occur in the real world, intergroup contact via positive media portrayals—or “parasocial contact”—also can improve viewers’ attitudes toward minority groups, particularly when face-to-face interaction is limited.75 In support of this idea in the context of comedy, Schiappa and colleagues found that Confidential Property of University of California Press college students who were shown a 2002 comedy special featuring standup comedian and transvestite Eddie Izzard became less prejudiced toward ***** male transvestites and could better distinguish transvestites from other social groups (like drag queens).76 In a separate study, they found that, Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale among heterosexual college undergraduates, more frequent viewing of Will & Grace—which ran from 1998 to 2006 and was the first popular TV sitcom to feature two gay male characters in leading roles—was associated with lower levels of sexual prejudice toward gay men as a result of viewers’ affective bonds with the gay characters on the show.77 The relationship between viewing and lower sexual prejudice was especially strong for those who had few gay friends or acquaintances in real life. Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory offers an additional explanation for how mediated comedy might improve attitudes toward marginalized groups. According to social cognitive theory, people learn social attitudes and behaviors by observing others, often via vicarious experiences facilitated by the media.78 Specifically, people may model their own treatment of others based on the behaviors of a favorite media character, particularly when they identify strongly and empathize with the character.79 Thus, a cross-race or straight-gay friendship between media characters may help normalize these relationships for viewers from the majority h o w c o m e d y w o r k s a s a c h a n g e a g e n t 49 group who identify with the in-group character. For example, researchers found that straight viewers of Will & Grace who identified closely with Grace, the show’s straight female character and close friend to the two gay male characters, had more positive attitudes toward gay people.80 More broadly, this suggests that when in-group media characters confront social stereotypes or ridicule bigotry, they can help foster more open-minded views through a modeling process. While the effects of mediated intergroup contact can occur as the result of entertainment portrayals generally, comedy—because of the positive affect it entails—may play a particularly important role in minimizing social divides. For example, advertising research supports an “affecttransfer” process, whereby the positive affect generated by a humorous ad is transferred to the product or brand featured in the ad.81 While this is an idea that requires more research, positive affect experienced as a result of mediated comedy similarly may transfer to a depicted community or individual comic performer. Further, humor can help reduce social anxiety.82 Confidential Property of University of California Press Additionally, the diminishment function of humor can be used to signal that any perceived social divide is not as consequential as one may have ***** originally assumed. To this end, one study found that a film containing disability humor was more effective than a serious film about disabilities Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale in increasing positive attitudes toward people with disabilities.83 It is important to note, however, that much mediated comedy perpetuates rather than challenges social stereotypes, and research convincingly shows that disparaging humor about social groups emboldens prejudice.84 Thus, just as comedy can provide a venue to subvert the status quo and disrupt stereotypes, it also can exploit these stereotypes and normalize prejudice. Moreover, comedy—even when directed at social or political change—may not always be received as intended, as audiences exert agency in their interpretation of humorous texts. For example, in the case of All in the Family, which was developed by Norman Lear in the 1970s to confront racism through humor, some high prejudice viewers identified with the callous bigotry of the show’s lead character Archie Bunker, who the show was designed to mock.85 And another study found that white readers of black-oriented comic strips often deflected and downplayed issues of racial discrimination depicted in the comics.86 Selective exposure also may limit the socialization effects of comedy, particularly in the niche 50 chapter 2 TV era, as those who watch may be more likely to come from or already identify with the out-group.87 Despite these caveats, when mediated comedy positively portrays marginalized social groups and does so in a way that unmasks rather than minimizes racial and cultural differences, it can help foster a sense of understanding of and commonality with these groups among majority audiences. Thus, while representation is still far from perfect, it is significant that today’s mediated comedy culture has diversified to include latenight comedy hosts such as Trevor Noah and Robin Thede—the first woman of color to helm her own late-night show—and scripted comedy shows like Black-ish, Insecure, and Master of None that explicitly confront social injustice and foreground the unique cultural experiences of their diverse characters. The connection that viewers feel with media characters and comic performers can help to ameliorate social divisions in the real world, but only if nonmajority groups are visibly and accurately represented in the mainstream. Confidential Property of University of California Press Stimulating Sharing and Discussion ***** In our new media ecosystem, where social media reign and audiences are Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale empowered to create, circulate, and respond to media content, one of comedy’s most powerful levers of influence is its ability to be shared. Videos posted to YouTube or made shareable by sites like Comedy Central facilitate the spread of comedic content, and this works in concert with our own predispositions toward sharing content that makes others laugh. Sharing is an inherently social process and is thus interpersonally motivated; as such, people want to share content that reflects favorably on themselves and enhances their social relationships.88 One reason people share is to entertain others;89 people also are more likely to share content that is helpful, novel, persuasive, and emotionally arousing.90 People tend to share amusing content due to the arousal it induces,91 and humor is considered an important predictor of what goes viral.92 Indeed, in one analysis, humor appeared in 25 of 30 highly popular and shared videos on YouTube,93 and during topical discussions of social issues on Twitter, humorous tweets were more likely to be retweeted and had a longer life span than other types of shared content.94 h o w c o m e d y w o r k s a s a c h a n g e a g e n t 51 Several social issue campaigns have effectively used humor to increase the reach of their messages. An analysis of the Until You’re Ready, AvoidtheStork.com campaign, which was designed to prevent unintended pregnancies among young women, revealed that college students who found the campaign funny were more likely to share it with their social networks.95 The CDC’s “Zombie Apocalypse” campaign—which we discussed in the book’s introduction—employed pop-culture-referencing humor to generate social media buzz and spread awareness about the need for disaster preparedness, accumulating nearly 4 billion total impressions from traditional and social media coverage in just a few months.96 Mediated comedy is also often shared with explicit social justice aims. Geoffrey Baym and Chirag Shah analyzed how environmental advocacy groups reappropriated and circulated clips about environmental issues from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report in ways that supported their agendas for change by informing, connecting, and mobilizing their constituents.97 The researchers tracked 10 video clips that were reposted on Confidential Property of University of California Press more than 500 different websites and more than 30,000 individual web pages. These sites were, in turn, linked to by more than 5,500 other unique ***** sites and more than a half-million individual pages. Advocates integrated the clips into arguments, policy statements, and calls for action, using Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale them to build affinity within like-minded networks and as discursive tools to articulate and reinforce their issue positions. From the perspective of social change, sharing is important in several respects. First, and perhaps most obviously, sharing increases—sometimes exponentially—a message’s reach, thereby amplifying its effects. Thus, if— as past experimental research suggests—humor is often equally effective as nonhumor at relaying knowledge or changing attitudes, but it is more likely to be seen and shared, its potential influence is much greater. Second, shared content is not just passed along neutrally; rather, it carries normative information, or social cues. An endorsement from a friend or admired social media connection can have a powerful influence on what information we think is important or useful, as well as on our attitudes and behaviors.98 Moreover, even a modest piece of information such as the number of “likes” or shares attributed to social media content can affect people’s reactions to it.99 For example, social media comments attached to a comedy program can influence program enjoyment;100 people are more open 52 chapter 2 to reading even counter-attitudinal online content when it has been “recommended” by a high number of users,101 and the number of views associated with a YouTube video can influence perceptions of how important most Americans think the issue featured in the video is.102 Third, sharing is itself a form of engagement, an expression of the sharer’s interest and commitment,103 which can, in turn, foster broader participation in the public sphere.104 Thus, someone who shares a funny clip about a social justice topic may, as a result, be more likely to participate in other ways, such as contacting an elected official or attending a protest. Finally, people share stories as a way to build and reinforce a collective identity, which is made only more potent in the social media age.105 Thus, sharing—and sharing a joke, in particular—enhances group cohesion and helps create a sense of belonging to a common cultural experience.106 For example, Mohamed Helmy and Sabine Frerichs detailed how the sharing of humor during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution “grew from and consolidated a shared identity”107 and thus was integral to the larger social movement that helped Confidential Property of University of California Press topple Egypt’s Mubarak regime. Because of the affordances of digital media and humans’ propensity to ***** pass along humorous content, mediated comedy has the potential not only to reach but also to connect larger audiences than ever before possiNot for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale ble. This connection is critical in the context of social change, as it contributes to a larger shared experience that can build solidarity and promote collective action. This idea is taken up more fully in the next section, where we consider how mediated comedy can reach beyond its direct audience to influence the broader public sphere. shaping th e c u lt u ra l c o n v e r s at i o n Thus far, this chapter has detailed the ways in which comedy can attract attention, disarm audiences, alleviate social barriers, and stimulate sharing through direct impacts on audiences. These audience effects are incredibly important; yet, they do not tell the full story. For example, scholar Amber Day cautions against looking only for direct and immediate influences of political comedy on audiences, “where the more significant impact is often felt in public discussion as a whole.”108 Day argues h o w c o m e d y w o r k s a s a c h a n g e a g e n t 53 that comedy’s most profound effects reside in its capacity “to push peripheral worldviews further into the mainstream, to contest the existing framing of particular issues, and to gradually change the associations that we collectively have of particular concepts / people / ideals, etc.”109 We agree that comedy’s potential for social change lies not merely or even primarily in its ability to directly impact individuals—effects that can be unreliable and are necessarily constrained to a particular audience—but also in its ability to impact the broader public sphere, as well as to provide resources for collective action. One way in which mediated comedy can influence the broader cultural conversation is through intermedia agenda-setting, which occurs when the media’s agenda—i.e., the issues that they cover—is shaped by other media, for example when the issues reported on by elite newspapers influence the topics covered in local newspapers or television news broadcasts.110 While most studies of intermedia agenda setting focus on traditional news media, entertainment texts are likely to become “influential media” in the context Confidential Property of University of California Press of agenda-setting when they reach a large audience, are acclaimed by other media outlets, and when they take up serious issues that are not already salient on the news agenda.111 Many***** of today’s mediated comedies fit these criteria. Thus, as a given comedic text about an important but less wellNot for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale trafficked issue draws attention and is shared, it may help sanction journalistic attention to that issue. For example, as noted earlier, Colbert’s super PAC spawned coverage of campaign finance regulations in mainstream news;112 likewise, Tina Fey’s Saturday Night Live parody of Sarah Palin during the 2008 U. S. presidential election propelled news coverage of Palin.113 Additionally, one industry media analysis found that John Oliver’s coverage of lesser-known issues on Last Week Tonight drove coverage of those issues in digital news outlets and had a much bigger effect on online news coverage than the popular, but serious, 60 Minutes.114 Notably, however, these agenda-setting effects not only shape what topics get covered in the news but also how these topics are covered, thereby helping to shift the dominant framing of social issues, as “journalists take interpretive cues from comedians.”115 For example, much of Colbert’s critique of the campaign finance system was repeated in journalistic reporting on the topic.116 Similarly, when Tina Fey parodied Sarah Palin in ways that challenged her basic knowledge and fit for office, journalists used this 54 chapter 2 in their political coverage not only as a humorous sidebar but also as a way to introduce legitimate concerns about Palin’s competence.117 Importantly, by helping to set journalists’ agendas and interpretive frames, comedy’s critical perspectives on issues reach and potentially influence a much larger audience than actually watches the comedy itself. Moreover, by shaping the larger public conversation about social issues, comedies and comedians can influence policymakers. For example, in 2012, then-Vice President Joe Biden credited Will & Grace for helping to shift the culture around gay rights: “I think Will & Grace did more to educate the American public, more than almost anything anybody has done so far. People fear that which is different. Now they’re beginning to understand.”118 In 2017, Republican senator Bill Cassidy said that his support for a new health care bill would depend on whether or not it passes “The Jimmy Kimmel Test,” referring to late-night comedy host Jimmy Kimmel’s emotional monologue about his infant son’s heart surgery and the costs borne by many families who need to care for a child with congenital heart Confidential Property of University of California Press disease.119 Jon Stewart is widely recognized for helping to draw media attention to and ultimately secure the passage of the 9 / 11 First Responders ***** Health Bill, following coverage of the issue on The Daily Show in 2010 and again in both 2015 and 2019 when he directly lobbied lawmakers on Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale Capitol Hill to extend the bill permanently, including delivering a searing testimony to a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee in June 2019.120 And there is abundant anecdotal evidence that John Oliver’s issue-driven comedy has influenced not only public behavior but also policy, from the bail bond example described in the book’s introduction to net neutrality to ensuring fair treatment for chicken farmers.121 Humor’s discursive power also makes it a valuable resource for collective action. Comedy connects people and, in so doing, creates the sense that they are sharing in something larger than themselves. In particular, when humor gives visibility to underrepresented groups and exposes social inequalities, it can help build what Rebecca Krefting calls “cultural citizenship” by affirming the collective identities of and, in turn, empowering marginalized groups.122 In the context of social movements, this— coupled with humor’s ability to reframe the terms of debate—can be a tool for resisting oppression. From the 2000 Serbian Optor movement that brought down Milosevic123 to the 2011 Egyptian Revolution that disman- h o w c o m e d y w o r k s a s a c h a n g e a g e n t 55 tled the Mubarak regime,124 humor has served as a catalyst for change, used by activists to build social support and solidarity as well as a means of opposition. In this way, comedy can become more than a sum of its parts. Today’s media platforms grant comedians incredible reach, which can help translate comedy’s cultural power into political power—affecting not only the broader journalistic discourse but policymaking itself. At the same time, comedy can be a practice of empowerment that strengthens and mobilizes marginalized communities, ultimately serving as a tool of resistance. Yet, comedy is not without its limitations, to which we turn in the next section. paradoxes o f h u m o r : c o n c e p t ua l i z i n g comedy ’s li m i t s f o r s o c i a l c h a n g e In August 2017, days after a group of white of nationalists marched on the Confidential Property of University California Press campus of the University of Virginia, inciting violence that resulted in the death of a young woman, Saturday Night Live veteran Tina Fey, a ***** University of Virginia alumna, made a surprise return to SNL’s “Weekend Update.” With her snark, Fey calledorout the hate groups, as Notcharacteristic for Reproduction, Distribution, Resale well as President Trump for his reticence in condemning them, and then, she offered her solution—to eat cake: I know a lot of us are feeling anxious and we’re asking ourselves, like, what can I do? I’m just one person, what can I do. So, I would urge people this Saturday instead of participating in the screaming matches and potential violence, find a local business you support, maybe a Jewish-run bakery or an African American–run bakery. Order a cake with the American flag on it . . . and just eat it.125 Then, fork in hand, Fey proceeded to devour and maim a sheet-cake while humorously ranting to co-anchor Colin Jost, ultimately claiming “sheetcaking is a grassroots movement.” As #sheetcaking trended on Twitter, some audiences reacted positively,126 finding humor in Fey’s cathartic suggestion and therapeutic solidarity in her appeal to a larger sense of national despair. Others, however, were critical, accusing Fey of being tone-deaf and exclusionary to those who do not have the privilege to 56 chapter 2 merely eat cake in the face of oppression127 and, more generally, for suggesting “turning inward” to the day’s social and political problems rather than offering any real solution.128 This example, while emblematic in many ways of the contemporary cultural and political moment, also highlights several of the challenges and tensions inherent in conceptualizing comedy as a tool for social change. First, humor is nearly always subjective, and is socially and culturally dependent.129 What one person finds funny, the next may find offensive or juvenile, and what makes people laugh in one particular time and place may fall flat when the backdrop changes. As discussed earlier, humor is privy to selective perception, whereby people read media texts through the lens of their own social identity and values.130 Tina Fey’s cake-eating complacency in the wake of Charlottesville is consistent with another common critique of comedy, which is that it can serve as a distraction from—rather than a means of engaging with—harsh societal truths. In this vein, communication scholars Roderick Hart and Confidential Property of University of California Press Johanna Hartelius have critiqued Jon Stewart’s brand of satire on The Daily Show, claiming that Stewart “makes cynicism attractive,” teaching us to “cop an attitude” rather than***** confront the hard work of politics.131 Although research has shown that The Daily Show’s audience is particuNot for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale larly civically and politically engaged,132 thus undermining the cynicism charge, Hart and Hartelius’s critique is of a piece with other arguments about humor’s limitations. Humor scholar Paul Lewis wrote that by reducing real problems to a joke, “humor can support denial and evasion, drawing observers . . . away from urgent issues by enticing them to enjoy a little laugh about a subject and dismiss it from consciousness.”133 Others see humor as “unreliable in reaching serious aims,” arguing that its ambiguity and playfulness can subvert aggressive critique.134 And, in 2016, Malcolm Gladwell, in his podcast series Revisionist History, aired an episode exploring what he called the “satire paradox,” in which he argued that most contemporary satire is too accessible, too funny to effectively challenge problematic norms; rather, according to Gladwell, “satire works best when the satirist has the courage not just to go for the joke.”135 Fey’s sketch also raises the question of comedic intention. A common refrain among comics—Fey included—when their comedy is criticized is that it was “just a joke.”136 Popular comedians typically see themselves first h o w c o m e d y w o r k s a s a c h a n g e a g e n t 57 and foremost as entertainers, and even those who take up social issues often report that it is comedy, not activism, that guides them.137 And in fact, some viewers responded to the criticism of Fey’s “sheetcaking” by asking why humor can’t be left to be just humor, why it’s not okay if something just makes us laugh, particularly in a moment when we need to laugh.138 In our view, comedy’s influence on social change can happen with or without the intent of the comedian. Yet, there can be tension between what makes (some of ) us laugh and what mobilizes or unites us. This speaks to a real conflict between the authenticity and creativity of humor and the strategic aims of advocates who endeavor to use comedy intentionally for social change, a topic that we will address explicitly in later chapters. Finally, the polarized response to Fey’s sketch highlights yet another quandary of comedy. As John Meyer argues, humor often can be divisive and “may serve to unite one group against another.”139 In social change, this may serve a critical aim, as was the case with the protestors in Egypt’s Tahrir Square or when John Oliver rallied his audience in support of net Confidential Property of University of California Press neutrality; yet, it also can be used to “push away the ‘other’ and to show that they or their opinions are beyond the pale of common values being ***** invoked.”140 Because of the social specificity of humor, because it requires identification between the audience and comic in order to “get” the joke, Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale it very easily can create an us versus them mentality. Consequently, while mediated comedy—because of its attention-grabbing qualities and its capacity to be shared—has the potential to reach beyond the choir with messages of social change, this potential may not always be realized. This chapter thus reveals a multitude of paradoxes: Humor can help us confront and deny social problems; it can attract and repel, and it can bridge social divides just as it can ostracize and malign. Here, we join other scholars who recognize the paradoxes of humor.141 Yet, we argue that comedy, particularly in the current era of technological and social justice upheaval, is nonetheless uniquely positioned for engaging diverse publics with social issues. Humor’s advantages for attention and recall, its capacity to disarm, to lower social barriers, and to go viral are built into its DNA and are assisted in social change efforts by the affordances of digital media and the memetic style of contemporary social movements. And as we detail in subsequent chapters, comedy offers an antidote to several particular communication challenges posed by key contemporary social 58 chapter 2 justice issues. We thus view comedy as an important and—at least where strategic communication is concerned—underused tool for facilitating social change. While we tend to take an optimistic view of comedy’s potential, we also are not naïve in thinking that humor can solve all of society’s ills, or that comedy is always an effective route to engaging the public with society’s problems; it most certainly should not be the only route. At the end of the day, comedy may be more effective in drawing attention than in changing behavior, and better suited for rallying the troops than winning over the other side. Yet comedy can change behavior and can persuade; it all depends on the comedy itself and the audience it reaches. Different types and forms of comedy have different functions and will elicit different audience reactions. In the next chapter we consider more deeply the various genres of mediated comedy about social issues—their history, their production and distribution, their content, and their role in social change. Confidential Property of University of California Press ***** Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale 226 notes 120. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, and Katherine Pieper, Inclusion or Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment, University of Southern California Annenberg, February 2017, https://annenberg.usc.edu /sites/default/files/2017/04/07/MDSCI_CARD_Report_FINAL_Exec_Summary .pdf; and Maureen Ryan, “Showrunners for New TV Season Remain Mostly White andMostlyMale,”Variety,June8,2016,http://variety.com/2016/tv/features/diversitytelevision-white-male-showrunners-stats-fox-nbc-abc-cbs-cw-study-1201789639/. chapter 2 1. Sara Taksler, in-person interview with author, August 30, 2018. 2. John Dunbar and Dave Levinthal, “Understanding Political Committees, 101,” Center for Public Integrity, December 12, 2017, https://publicintegrity.org /federal-politics/political-committees-101/. 3. Lawrence Lessig, Republic, Lost (New York: Twelve, 2011). 4. The Colbert Report, “Trevor Potter & Stephen’s Shell Corporation,” Comedy Central, September 29, 2011, www.cc.com/video-clips/3yzu4u/the-colbertreport-colbert-super-pac trevor-potter stephen-s-shell-corporation. Confidential Property of University of California Press 5. Bruce W. Hardy et al., “Stephen Colbert’s Civics Lesson: How Colbert Super PAC Taught Viewers about Campaign Finance,” Mass Communication and Society 17, no. 3 (2014): 329–53. ***** 6. Paul R. Brewer, Dannagal G. Young, and Michelle Morreale, “The Impact of Real News about ‘Fake News’: Intertextual Processes and Political Satire,” Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale International Journal of Public Opinion Research 25, no. 3 (2013): 323–43; Amber Day, “Shifting the Conversation: Colbert’s Super PAC and the Measurement of Satirical Efficacy,” International Journal of Communication 7 (2013): 414–29. 7. Dave Levinthal, “Colbert Donates Super PAC Funds to Charity,” Politico, December, 12, 2012, www.politico.com/blogs/media/2012/12/colbert-donatessuper-pac-funds-to-charity-151964. 8. A similar framework for comedy’s inf luence was previously proposed in Caty Borum Chattoo, “A Funny Matter: Toward a Framework for Understanding the Function of Comedy in Social Change,” HUMOR: The International Journal of Humor Research (2018), https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2018–0004; and Caty Borum Chattoo, The Laughter Effect: The (Serious) Role of Comedy in Social Change (Washington, DC: Center for Media & Social Impact, May 2017), https:// cmsimpact.org/comedy. 9. Rod A. Martin, The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach (Burlington, MA: Academic Press, 2007). 10. Willibald Ruch, “Psychology of Humor,” in The Primer of Humor Research, ed. Victor Raskin (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2008), 25. notes 227 11. Thomas R. Schultz, “A Cognitive-Development Analysis of Humor,” in Humor and Laughter: Theory, Research, and Applications, ed. Anthony J. Chapman and Hugh C. Foot (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1996), 11–36. 12. Schultz, “Cognitive-Development Analysis,” 13. 13. Jerry M. 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Nabi, “Laughing in the Face of Fear”; Paul Skalski et al., “Effects of Humor on Presence and Recall of Persuasive Messages,” Communication Quarterly 57, no. 2 (2009): 136–53. 59. Paul Slovic, “If I Look at the Mass I Will Never Act: Psychic Numbing and Genocide,” Judgment and Decision Making 2, no. 2 (2007): 75–95; Ezra Markowitz, Paul Slovic, Daniel Västfjäll, and Sara Hodges, “Compassion Fade and the Challenge of Environmental Conservation,” Judgment and Decision Making 8, no. 4 (2013): 397–406. 60. Jessica G. Myrick and Mary Beth Oliver, “Laughing and Crying: Mixed Emotions, Compassion, and the Effectiveness of a YouTube PSA about Skin Cancer,” Health Communication 30, no. 8 (2015): 820–29. 61. Alexander Vilaythong et al., “Humor and Hope: Can Humor Increase Hope?” HUMOR: International Journal of Humor 16, no. 1 (2003): 79–89. 62. Lauren Feldman and P. Sol Hart, “Using Political Efficacy Messages to Increase Climate Activism: The Mediating Role of Emotions,” Science Communication 38,Confidential no. 1 (2016): Property 99–127. of University of California Press 63. Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman, “Storytelling for Social Change: Leveraging Documentary and Comedy for Public Engagement in Global Poverty,” Journal of Communication***** 67, no. 5 (2017): 678–701; Paul R. Brewer and Jessica McKnight, “Climate as Comedy: The Effects of Satirical Television for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale 37, no. 5 (2015): News on ClimateNot Change Perceptions,” Science Communication 635–57; Jody C. Baumgartner, Jonathan S. Morris, and Natasha L. Walth, “The Fey Effect: Young Adults, Political Humor, and Perceptions of Sarah Palin in the 2008 Presidential Election Campaign,” Public Opinion Quarterly 76, no. 1 (2012): 95–104. 64. Michael Conway and Laurette Dubé, “Humor in Persuasion on Threatening Topics: Effectiveness Is a Function of Audience Sex Role Orientation,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 28, no. 7 (2002): 863–73; Yong Zhang, “Responses to Humorous Advertising: The Moderating Effect of Need for Cognition,” Journal of Advertising 25, no. 1 (2013): 15–32; LaMarre and Walther, “Ability Matters”; R. Lance Holbert et al., “Adding Nuance to the Study of Political Humor Effects: Experimental Research on Juvenalian Satire Versus Horatian Satire,” American Behavioral Scientist 55, no. 3 (2011): 187–211. 65. Nabi, Moyer-Gusé, and Byrne, “All Joking Aside”; Nabi, “Laughing in the Face of Fear”; Christofer Skurka et al., “Pathways of Inf luence in Emotional Appeals: Benefits and Tradeoffs of Using Fear or Humor to Promote Climate Change-Related Intentions and Risk Perceptions,” Journal of Communication 68, no. 1 (2018): 169–93; Dannagal G. Young et al., “Fact-Checking Effectiveness as a Function of Format and Tone: Evaluating FactCheck.org and FlackCheck. notes 231 org,” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 95, no. 1 (2018): 49–75; Mark Boukes et al., “At Odds: Laughing and Thinking? The Appreciation, Processing, and Persuasiveness of Political Satire,” Journal of Communication 65, no. 5 (2015): 721–44. 66. Emily Moyer-Gusé, Chad Mahood, and Sarah Brookes, “EntertainmentEducation in the Context of Humor: Effects on Safer Sex Intentions and Risk Perceptions,” Health Communication 26, no. 8 (2011): 765–74; A. Peter McGraw, Julie Schiro, and Philip Fernbach, “Not a Problem: A Downside of Humorous Appeals,” Journal of Marketing Behavior 1 (2015): 187–208. 67. Nabi, Moyer-Gusé, and Byrne, “All Joking Aside.” 68. Lauren Feldman and Caty Borum Chattoo, “Comedy as a Route to Social Change: The Effects of Satire and News on Persuasion about Syrian Refugees,” Mass Communication and Society 22, no. 2 (2018). 69. Larry Gross, “Out of the Mainstream: Sexual Minorities and the Mass Media,” in Remote Control: Television, Audiences, and Cultural Power, ed. Ellen Seiter et al. (New York: Routledge, 2013), 130–49. 70. Gross, “Out of the Mainstream,” 131. 71. George Gerbner et al., “Growing Up with Television: Cultivation Processes,” in Media Effects: Advances and of Research, 2nd edition, ed. JenConfidential Propertyin ofTheory University California Press nings Bryant and Dolf Zillmann (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002), 43–67. ***** and Research: A Conceptual Cri72. W. James Potter, “Cultivation Theory tique,” Human Communication Research 19, no. 4 (1993): 564–601. Not“Television for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale 73. Yuki Fujioka, Portrayals and African-American Stereotypes: Examination of Television Effects When Direct Contact Is Lacking,” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 76, no. 1 (1999): 52–75. 74. Gordon W. Allport, The Nature of Prejudice (Oxford: Addison-Wesley, 1954). 75. See, for example, Fujioka, “Television Portrayals and African-American Stereotypes”; Michelle Ortiz and Jake Harwood, “A Social Cognitive Theory Approach to the Effects of Mediated Intergroup Contact on Intergroup Attitudes,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 51, no. 4 (2007): 615–31; Edward Schiappa, Peter B. Gregg, and Dean E. Hewes, “Can One TV Show Make a Difference? Will & Grace and the Parasocial Contact Hypothesis,” Journal of Homosexuality 51, no. 4 (2006): 15–37; Edward Schiappa, Peter B. Gregg, and Dean E. Hewes, “The Parasocial Contact Hypothesis,” Communication Monographs 72, no. 1 (2005): 92–115. 76. Schiappa, Gregg, and Hewes, “Parasocial Contact Hypothesis. 77. Schiappa, Gregg, and Hewes, “Can One TV Show Make a Difference?” 78. Albert Bandura, “Social Cognitive Theory of Mass Communication,” in Bryant and Zillmann, Media Effects, 121–53. 79. Moyer-Gusé, “Toward a Theory of Entertainment Persuasion.” 232 notes 80. Ortiz and Harwood, “Social Cognitive Theory Approach.” 81. Strick et al., “Those Who Laugh Are Defenseless”; Madelijn Strick et al., “Humor in Advertisements Enhances Product Liking by Mere Association,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 15, no. 1 (2009): 35–45. 82. Ortiz and Harwood, “Social Cognitive Theory Approach.” 83. Susan M. Smedema, Deborah Ebener, and Virginia Grist-Gordon, “The Impact of Humorous Media on Attitudes toward Persons with Disabilities,” Disability and Rehabilitation 34, no. 17 (2012): 1431–37. 84. Thomas E. Ford, “Effects of Stereotypical Television Portrayals of African-Americans on Person Perception,” Social Psychology Quarterly 60, no. 3 (1997): 266–75; Thomas E. Ford et al., “More Than ‘Just a Joke’: The PrejudiceReleasing Function of Sexist Humor,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 34, no. 2 (2008): 159–70. 85. Neil Vidmar and Milton Rokeach, “Archie Bunker’s Bigotry: A Study in Selective Perception and Exposure,” Journal of Communication 24, no. 1 (1974): 36–47. 86. Naomi Rockler, “Race, Whiteness, ‘Lightness’, and Relevance: African American and European American Interpretations of Jump Start and The Boondocks,” Critical Studies inProperty Media Communication no. 4 (2002): Confidential of University of 19, California Press398–418. 87. Jane D. Brown and Carol J. Pardun, ”Little in Common: Racial and Gender Differences in Adolescents’ Television Diets,” Journal of Broadcasting & ***** Electronic Media 48, no. 2 (2004): 266–78. 88. Joseph N. Cappella, Hyun Suk Kim, and Dolores Albarracín, “Selection Not for Reproduction, Distribution, Resale Media Environand Transmission Processes for Information in the or Emerging ment: Psychological Motives and Message Characteristics,” Media Psychology 18, no. 3 (2015): 396–424. 89. Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman, “What Makes Online Content Viral?,” Journal of Marketing Research 49, no. 2 (2012): 192–205. 90. Cappella, Kim, and Albarracín, “Selection and Transmission Processes.” 91. Berger and Milkman, “What Makes Online Content Viral?” 92. Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (New York: NYU Press, 2013); Karine Nahon and Jeff Hemsley, Going Viral (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013). 93. Limor Shifman, “An Anatomy of a YouTube Meme, New Media & Society 14, no. 2 (2012): 187–203. 94. Tim Highfield, “Tweeted Joke Lifespans and Appropriated Punch Lines: Practices around Topical Humor on Social Media,” International Journal of Communication 9 (2015): 2713–34. 95. Shelly Campo et al., “ ‘Wow, That Was Funny’ The Value of Exposure and Humor in Fostering Campaign Message Sharing,” Social Marketing Quarterly 19, no. 2 (2013): 84–96. notes 233 96. Julia Daisy Fraustino and Liang Ma, “CDC’s Use of Social Media and Humor in a Risk Campaign—‘Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse’,” Journal of Applied Communication Research 43, no. 2 (2015): 222–41. 97. Geoffrey Baym and Chirag Shah, “Circulating Struggle: The OnLine Flow of Environmental Advocacy Clips from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report,” Information, Communication & Society 14, no. 7 (2011): 1017–38. 98. Elihu Katz and Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications (New York: Free Press, 1955); Robert M. Bond et al., “A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Inf luence and Political Mobilization,” Nature 489 (2012): 295–98; Jason Turcotte et al., “News Recommendations from Social Media Opinion Leaders: Effects on Media Trust and Information Seeking,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 20, no. 5 (2015): 520–35. 99. S. Shyam Sundar, “The MAIN Model: A Heuristic Approach to Understanding Technology Effects on Credibility,” in Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility, ed. Miriam Metzger and Andrew J. Flanagin (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 72–100. 100. T. Frankin Waddell and S. of Shyam Sundar, “#thisshowsucks! Confidential Property University of California Press The Overpowering Influence of Negative Social Media Comments on Television Viewers,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 61, no. 2 (2017): 393–409. ***** 101. Solomon Messing and Sean J. Westwood, “Selective Exposure in the Age of Social Media: Endorsements Trump Partisan Source Affiliation When Selectfor Reproduction, Distribution, Resale ing News Online,”Not Communication Research 41, no. 8 or (2014): 1042–63. 102. James T. Spartz et al., “YouTube, Social Norms and Perceived Salience of Climate Change in the American Mind,” Environmental Communication 11, no. 1 (2017): 1–16. 103. Dhavan V. Shah, “Conversation Is the Soul of Democracy: Expression Effects, Communication Mediation, and Digital Media,” Communication and the Public 1, no. 1 (2016): 12–18. 104. Homero Gil de Zúñiga, Logan, Molyneux, and Pei Zheng, “Social Media, Political Expression, and Political Participation: Panel Analysis of Lagged and Concurrent Relationships,” Journal of Communication 64, no. 4 (2014): 612–34. 105. Francesca Polletta and Jessica Callahan, “Deep Stories, Nostalgia Narratives, and Fake News: Storytelling in the Trump Era,” American Journal of Cultural Sociology 5, no. 3 (2017): 392–408. 106. Dannagal G. Young, R. Lance Holbert, and Kathleen H. Jamieson, “Successful Practices for the Strategic Use of Political Parody and Satire: Lessons from the P6 Symposium and the 2012 Election Campaign,” American Behavioral Scientist 58, no. 9 (2014): 1111–30; Martin, Psychology of Humor. 234 notes 107. Mohamed M. Helmy and Sabine Frerichs, “Stripping the Boss: The Powerful Role of Humor in the Egyptian Revolution 2011,” Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science 47, no. 4 (2013): 455. 108. Day, “Shifting the Conversation,” 415. 109. Day, “Shifting the Conversation,” 417. 110. Lucig H. Danielian and Stephen D. Reese, “A Closer Look at Intermedia Influences on Agenda Setting: The Cocaine Issue of 1986,” in Communication Campaigns about Drugs: Government, Media, and the Public, ed. Pamela J. Shoemaker (New York: Routledge, 1989), 47–66. 111. Stuart N. Soroka, “Schindler’s List’s Intermedia Influence: Exploring the Role of ‘Entertainment’ in Media Agenda-Setting,” Canadian Journal of Communication, 25, no. 2 (2000): 211–30. 112. Day, “Shifting the Conversation.” 113. Dannagal G. Young, “Political Entertainment and the Press’s Construction of Sarah Feylin,” Popular Communication, 9, no. 4 (2011): 251–65; Nickie Michaud Wild, “Dumb vs. Fake: Representations of Bush and Palin on Saturday Night Live and Their Effects on the Journalistic Public Sphere,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 59, no. 3 (2015): 494–508. 114. AllieConfidential VanNest, “Measuring theUniversity Impact ofof ‘The John Oliver Effect’,” Parse. Property of California Press ly, September 8, 2015, https://blog.parse.ly/post/2380/measuring-the-impactof-the-john-oliver-effect/. 115. Wild, “Dumb vs. Fake,” 496. ***** 116. Day, “Shifting the Conversation.” Not for Entertainment”; Reproduction, Distribution, orvs. Resale 117. Young, “Political Wild, “Dumb Fake.” 118. Seth Abramovitch, “Joe Biden Cites ‘Will & Grace’ in Endorsement of Same-Sex Marriage,” Hollywood Reporter, May 6, 2012, www.hollywoodreporter .com/live-feed/joe-biden-cites-will-grace-320724–0. 119. Tessa Berenson, “GOP Senator Says Health Care Bill Must Pass ‘The Jimmy Kimmel Test’,” Time, May 5, 2017, http://time.com/4769236/gop-senatorhealth-care-bill-jimmy-kimmel-test/. 120. Megan R. Hill and R. Lance Holbert, “Jon Stewart and the 9 / 11 First Responders Health Bill,” in Viewpoints on Media Effects: Pseudo-Reality and Its Influence on Media Consumers, ed. Carol M. Madere (Lanham, MA: Lexington Books, 2017), 1–18; Catherine Kim, “The Battle over Extending the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, Explained,” Vox, July 17, 2019, www.vox .com/2019/6/20/18691670/jon-stewart-9–11-september-11th-victim-compensationfund-explained. 121. Sara Boboltz, “10 Real-Life Wins for John Oliver’s Longest Segments on ‘Last Week Tonight’,” Huffington Post, August 12, 2015, www.huffingtonpost .com/entry/john-oliver-real-life-wins_us_55c8e128e4b0f73b20ba171e; Victor Luckerson, “How the ‘John Oliver Effect’ Is Having a Real-Life Impact,” Time, notes 235 July 10, 2015, http://time.com/3674807/john-oliver-net-neutrality-civilforfeiture-miss-america/. 122. Rebecca Krefting, All Joking Aside: American Humor and Its Discontents (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014). 123. Majken Jul Sorensen, “Humor as a Serious Strategy of Nonviolent Resistance to Oppression,” Peace & Change 33, no. 2 (2008): 167–90. 124. Helmy and Frerichs, “Stripping the Boss.” 125. Saturday Night Live, “Weekend Update: Tina Fey on Protesting after Charlottesv ille,” NBC, August 17, 2017, w w w.youtube.com/watch?v = iVvpXZxXWZU. 126. Bethonie Butler, “Tina Fey Ate Cake on SNL and It Became a Whole Thing,” Washington Post, August 18, 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news /arts-and-entertainment/wp/2017/08/18/ tina-fey-ate-cake-on-snl-and-it-became-a-whole-thing/. 127. Amy Zimmerman, “Tina Fey’s ‘Eat Cake’ Strategy after Charlottesville Is Bad Advice,” Daily Beast, August 18, 2017, www.thedailybeast.com/tinafeys-eat-cake-strategy-after-charlottesville-is-bad-advice; Megan Garber, “ ‘Let Us Eat Cake’: The Tina Fey Effect in 2017,” Atlantic, August 18, 2017, www .theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/08/let-us-eat-cake/537294/; Confidential Property of University of California Press Butler, “Tina Fey Ate Cake.” 128. Garber, “ ‘Let Us Eat Cake’.” ***** 129. John C. Meyer, “Humor as a Double-Edged Sword: Four Functions of Humor in Communication,” Communication Theory 10, no. 3 (2000): 310–31. NotRokeach, for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale 130. Vidmar and “Archie Bunker’s Bigotry.” 131. Roderick P. Hart and E. Johanna Hartelius, “The Political Sins of Jon Stewart,” Critical Studies in Media Communication 24, no. 3 (2007): 263–72. 132. Young and Tisinger, “Dispelling Late-Night Myths.” 133. Paul Lewis, Cracking Up: American Humor in a Time of Conflict (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 15. 134. Liisi Laineste, “Can the ‘Stripping of the Boss’ Be More Than a Joke?,” Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science 47, no. 4 (2013): 482. 135. Malcolm Gladwell, “The Satire Paradox,” Revisionist History (podcast), Season 1, Episode 10 (2016), http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/10-thesatire-paradox. 136. Garber, “ ‘Let Us Eat Cake’.” 137. Alexandra King, “Samantha Bee: There Isn’t a ‘Smug Liberal Problem’,” CNN, April 30, 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/04/30/politics/samantha-bee-smugliberal-problem-cnntv/index.html. 138. Butler, “Tina Fey Ate Cake.” 139. Meyer, “Humor as a Double-Edged Sword,” 323. 140. Meyer, “Humor as a Double-Edged Sword,” 327. 236 notes 141. Meyer, “Humor as a Double-Edged Sword”; Lewis, Cracking Up; Martin, Psychology of Humor. chapter 3 1. Negin Farsad, phone interview with authors, August 15, 2018. 2. Timothy Williams and Mitch Smith, “Cleveland Officer Will Not Face Charges in Tamir Rice Shooting Death,” New York Times, December 28, 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/12/29/us/tamir-rice-police-shootiing-cleveland.html. 3. Edyer Peralta and Bill Chappell, “Ferguson Jury: No Charges for Officer in Michael Brown’s Death,” NPR, November 24, 2014, www.npr.org/sections /thetwo-way/2014/11/24/366370100/grand-jury-reaches-decision-in-michael-browncase. 4. Emily Nussbaum, “In Living Color,” New Yorker, April 25, 2016, www .newyorker.com/magazine/2016/04/25/blackish-transforms-the-family-sitcom. 5. Bethonie Butler, “How ‘Blackish’ Tackled Police Brutality While Staying True to Its Roots,” Washington Post, February 25, 2016, www.washingtonpost .com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/02/25/how-blackish-tackled-policeConfidential Property of University of California Press brutality-while-staying-true-to-its-roots/?utm_term = .ed3acb1bb8cc. 6. Butler, “How ‘Blackish’ Tackled Police Brutality.” ***** 7. Ariana Bacle, “Best of 2016: ‘Black-ish’ Showrunner Kenya Barris Talks Police Brutality Episode,” Entertainment Weekly, December 9, 2016, http:// Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale ew.com/tv/2016/12/09/best-of-2016-blackish-police-brutality-episode/. 8. Bacle, “Best of 2016.” 9. Debbie Emery, “ ‘Black-ish’ Episode on Police Brutality Hits Hard on Social Media: ‘This Scene Was So Real,’ ” The Wrap, February 24, 2016, www.thewrap .com/black-ish-episode-on-police-brutality-hits-hard-on-social-media-this-scenewas-so-real/. 10. Sandra Gonzalez, “How ‘Black-ish’ Turned ‘Hope’ into Emmy Honors,” CNN Entertainment, July 14, 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/07/14/entertainment /blackish/index.html. 11. Kenya Barris, interview by Terry Gross, “Kenya Barris on ‘Black-ish’ and What Kids Lose When They Grow Up with More,” Fresh Air, NPR, May 18, 2016, www.npr.org/2016/05/18/478414550/kenya-barris-on-black-ish-and-what-kidslose-when-they-grow-up-with-more. 12. David Stamps, “The Social Construction of the African American Family on Broadcast Television: A Comparative Analysis of The Cosby Show and Blackish,” Howard Journal of Communication 28, no. 4 (2017): 405–20, https://doi. org/10.1080/10646175.2017.1315688; Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis, Enlightened Racism: The Cosby Show, Audiences and the Myth of the American Dream (Boulder, CO: Westover Press, 1992). A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar the serious role of comedy in social justice Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman Confidential Property of University of California Press ***** Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale university of california press University of California Press Oakland, California Confidential Property of University of California Press © 2020 by Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman ***** Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale Names: Borum Chattoo, Caty, author. | Feldman, Lauren, 1977- author. Title: A comedian and an activist walk into a bar : the serious role of  comedy in social justice / Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman. Other titles: Communication for social justice activism ; 1. Description: Oakland, California : University of California Press, [2019] | Series: Communication for social justice activism; 1 | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: lccn 2019036801 (print) | lccn 2019036802 (ebook) |  isbn 9780520299771 (cloth) | isbn 9780520299764 (paperback) | isbn 9780520971356 (ebook) Subjects: lcsh: Comedy—Political aspects—United States. | Social  justice—United States. | Mass media—Political aspects—United States. Classification: lcc pn1929.p65 b67 2019 (print) | lcc pn1929.p65  (ebook) | ddc 792.76—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019036801 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019036802 Manufactured in the United States of America 29 28 27 26 25 24 23 22 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 21 20 Contents Confidential Property of University of California Press List of Illustrations ***** Foreword by Norman Lear Acknowledgments Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale part i: ix xi xiii comedy amidst a contemporary landscape of influence and information Introduction 3 1. Why Comedy, and Why Now? 16 2. How Comedy Works as a Change Agent 36 3. From Stand-Up to Sitcoms: Socially Critical Comedy across Genres 59 part ii: 4. 5. comedy in social justice challenges Can Laughter Help Save the Planet? Comedy’s Role in Communicating about Climate Change Beyond Poverty Porn: How Comedy Reframes Poverty and Engages Publics 83 105 part iii: 6. 7. 8. leveraging comedy for social change Comedians’ Perspectives on the Intersections of Art and Activism 127 Creative Collaborations: How Comedians and Social Justice Advocates Work Together 152 Imagining the Future of Comedy’s Role in Social Justice 179 Appendix A: Methodological Details and Full Results from Chapter 4 199 Appendix B: Methodological Overview and Main Results from Chapter 5 207 Appendix C: Comedy Professionals Interviewed for Chapter 6 211 Notes 217 About the Authors Confidential Property of University of California Press Index ***** Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale 267 269 3 From Stand-Up to Sitcoms socially critical comedy across genres “ Comedy calms people down and makes people feel better because they are having fun conversations. And people’s defenses come down, and you can say something real to them. I think that’s why comedy works so well. ” Negin Farsad, comedian and director of The Muslims Are Coming! documentary1 Confidential Property of University of California Press ***** Reproduction, Resale As 2015 came toNot anfor end, a ClevelandDistribution, grand juryor issued a decision about the legal fate of a police officer who had killed an unarmed 12-year-old African American boy, Tamir Rice, as he played outside with a toy pellet gun in late 2014: There would be no charges.2 The same month Rice was fatally shot, another grand jury delivered an identical judgment in a different tragedy. This time, it was the case of a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-yearold.3 Albeit miles apart, the similarities—unarmed black boys killed at the hands of police officers—were evident. Coinciding with the grand jury announcement in the Rice case, Kenya Barris, creator and showrunner of the ABC comedy sitcom hit, Black-ish, was hard at work writing what he has described as “maybe my most important episode.” 4 For Barris, the boy’s fatal shooting and the grand jury decision infused an urgency and meaning into his idea for an episode that would mirror the patterns dominating the news: “It really sort of put an impact and effect on the words that I was putting into the script and also the feeling behind it . . . That, for me, was just such a tragedy.”5 59 60 chapter 3 Figure 3 The Johnson family discusses racial discrimination in the “Hope” episode of ABC’s Black-ish. source / credit: Hulu video screenshot / fair use. Confidential Property of University of California Press In the February 2016 episode of Black-ish, titled “Hope,” the on-screen ***** African American Johnson family discusses a fictional case of an unarmed black teenager who is shot and killed by police. The episode—set entirely Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale within the Johnsons’ living room—offers the audience an intimate look at a family of color grappling with this frightening topic. We watch as the family members debate how to talk with the youngest children about the case, whether the teenaged children should participate in protests in response to the news that there will be no grand jury indictment, and— more broadly—how they should make sense of a world where police brutality targeting black people is a frequent occurrence. In some of the episode’s darker humor, the family members are confused about the location of the latest incident, since there have been so many similar cases. The dialogue and points of reflection were inspired by Barris’s own family’s conversation: While watching the TV news, the nine-year-old fictional Jack asks, “Why are all these people so mad?,” just as Barris’s young son did during news of the protests in Ferguson after Michael Brown was shot and killed.6 Barris has emphasized in press interviews that he did not want to politicize the show. Instead, he aimed to create a combination of comedic s o c i a l l y c r i t i c a l c o m e d y a c r o s s g e n r e s 61 entertainment value and social change: “I hope nothing more than that [the audience] got some laughs, and that it sparks a conversation between them and their family or them and their friends and those conversations spread out into something else. The best scenario would be that it motivates some change.” 7 Yet Barris also recognized the delicate balance involved in producing comedy about charged issues: “We didn’t want to have it so joke-heavy that we trivialized the situation and the seriousness of the topic they were talking about. We really just tried to make sure we gave ourselves enough balance to still get the point across but at the same time, give people an entry point where they felt like they could get into it and not be bummed out the whole time.”8 This approach seems to have succeeded. On social media, tweets emphasized “television gold” and reacted to the episode’s cultural importance, including viewer sentiments like: “This is the best and deepest episode I have ever seen. I felt the same way 8 years ago,” and “I love how Blackish uses every family member to show the different opinions the black comConfidential Property of University of California Press munity has on these tough topics.”9 Later in 2016, Black-ish was nominated for three primetime Emmy awards, including “Best Comedy Series,” *****that tackled social justice issues— attributed in part to a second season albeit without sacrificing comedy and entertainment value—with the Not for Reproduction, Distribution, or Resale “Hope” episode at the fore.10 Black-ish’s success highlights several key ideas about the broader landscape of mediated comedy in the context of social change. First, Black-ish represents a resurgence of mainstream and niche mediated comedy material infused with present-day social justice topics in the mold of Norman Lear’s groundbreaking wo...
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Intermedia agenda-setting
Comedy or political satire has a significant influence on the media and society. Comedy
shows such as The Daily Show with Trevor Noah serve as a source of news and information and
not merely entertainment. These shows rival the conventional news programs especially in
discussing civic issues, politicians, and the media. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is an
example of a comedy show that serves as agenda-setting information and social critique
packaged in comedy.
One of the concepts that illustrate the influence of comedy especially on social issues is
intermedia agenda-sett...

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