What is the value of humor to advancing social justice? How can we use laughter to change hearts and minds? How could a joke possibly move public policy or change a law?
Often, jokes reveal our insecurities or play off of ugly labels applied to classes of people. (A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar.…) Most of us have been made uncomfortable at least once by a joke that reinforced negative stereotypes.
But humor can also serve to bind us together. In shared laughter, we can acknowledge a common reality that may have otherwise lingered unspoken in the crevice of our consciousness.
Humor is an especially potent tool for making social commentary. When done well, humor can expose political and social contradictions—and force people to confront difficult truths about racism, class, and other “taboo” subjects.
Take Hasan Minhaj for example, an especially talented comedian and social justice activist, who works as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. As the host of last year’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, Minhaj, who is Muslim, began his set by referencing President Trump’s proposed Muslim registry.
“My name is Hasan Minhaj,” he said. “Or as I will be known in a few weeks, Number 830287.”
By confronting the absurdity of the proposed policy head-on, Minhaj made us face the racism and xenophobia undergirding the Trump Administration’s broader immigration agenda.
Minhaj, of course, is not the first person to use jokes to advance justice. There’s a rich history of comedians and artists—particularly those from marginalized groups—using humor to fight oppression, upend established hierarchies, and ultimately make the world a more just and humane place.
That’s why, while never losing sight of the importance of our work, we at the Shriver Center always leave room for laughter. And that’s why we’re proud to showcase Hasan Minhaj as the featured performer at our 50th anniversary gala on October 19. Through humor, we hope to inspire our community of supporters to continue the fight for Justice. Every day. Everyone.