Looking for Comedy in a Serious World

Last week we had a really great discussion about issues relating to Native Americans and in particular the work of Sherman Alexie. Something that was briefly addressed was the use of humor particularly in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and in the satirical poem about caring for Native American ceremonial objects. Alexie in particularly tells some very sad, very personal stories, ones that illustrate just how systematically Native Americans have been kept out of opportunities in American society, but he did so with clever story telling and, at times, hilarious dialogue. I wish we had probed a little deeper into the use of humor to address tough social issues.

Comedians, writers, and entertainers have been using humor to cut through and discuss real issues for generations. Chris Rock’s jokes about racism and Patton Oswalt’s bit about religion come to mind, but there are innumerable examples beyond them on Youtube alone. Entertainers have the benefit of not needing to worry about alienating a segment of their audience. As museum professionals, we of course have many other considerations: an audience of all ages, missions of education and preservation, and a historically conservative field. But the fact that humor is so successful at getting people to open up or at least acknowledge the toughest issues our society faces makes me wonder….is there room to inject more humor into our professional work? What do you all think?

One thought on “

  1. I really like your class reflection. I believe that as long as people are not trying to offend one group or attack people using humor, it is a very effective means of meeting our audiences where they are. People like to hear personal anecdotes and jokes can help them feel comfortable to share their own opinions and stories. However, museums need to create a safe space and use dialogue training guidelines to make sure comedy is not being used to further racism or stereotypes. Productive dialogue can be in many forms including jokes if it is for the right purposes and encourages understanding and appreciation of multiple identities.

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