Spotlight on: Using Humour

By Kyle Brown · October 7, 2015

The marriage of comedy and politics dates back to MAD magazine covers, thoughts of Kevin Nealon and Norm Macdonald taking shots on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, or maybe it was Roger Abbott’s Jean Chretien impressions and the whole Air Farce troupe. More recently, Rick Mercer and Jon Stewart come to mind.

But the digital age has brought about more opportunities to push out biting comedy clips than ever before, and increasingly groups are using that tactic to involve young people. It’s not as simple as just putting up goofy clips to earn a laugh, though. Using comedy for political engagement is a tough balance.

One of the most successful examples so far this election has been Harpoon, an ABC campaign spearheaded by comedian Scott Vrooman. Harpoon has created a strong online presence through their use of caricatures, memes, GIFs, videos and biting commentary. Their first video has earned over 20,000 views, as Vrooman calls out young people for not voting: “Am I saying the Harper government is all your fault? Yes.”

What may seem easy (crack some simple jokes) is actually quite difficult. To engage youth through humour, you need to keep it light enough to not feel too “PSA-y,” while also keeping things serious enough to discuss election issues.

One of the poorer examples this election was the Carleton University Students Association, which re-created the Lonely Island’s “I’m On A Boat.” The video has not received much attention, and instead has seen a number of comments criticizing the language used (in CUSA’s defense, they were copying the actual lyrics of the song.)

In short, keep things light, keep them interesting and stick to what you’re good at. In other words, no singing.

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