Comedy

Meet the UndocuArtists: Using art & culture for immigrant justice, & much more!

by Favianna Rodriguez

This post has been reposted from the blog of Favianna Rodriguez at Favianna.com. It was originally posted on May 2, 2012. If you like my CulturalOrganizing.org (or even if you don’t), you should definitely be reading hers.

I’m really honored to be able to collaborate with some off-the-hook undocumented artists and writers who are not only making waves in the immigrant rights space, but also in the arts and culture space overall. If you are in San Francisco, you will the opportunity to meet some of these artists at the upcoming Undocunation event on May 3.

Last year, I had heard about Julio Salgado, an undocumented artist who was posting images all over Facebook in support of the DREAM Act and about undocumented youth coming out of the shadows. I had seen the images around but hadn’t actually met Julio, until last may when he visited the Bay and I invited him over for lunch. (Art below by Julio Salgado)

Quip-claudia

Empowered by both his queer and undocumented identities, Julio was following the tradition of using art as a tool to fight anti-migrant laws. I was so tremendously inspired by him that I committed to supporting his creative work and I invited him be a part of a delegation of artists that went to Tucson, Arizona, last September.

Julio eventually introduced me to his collaborative media project, DreamersAdrift.com. Along with Jesus Iñiguez, Fernando Romero and Deisy Hernandez, the four undocumented college graduates had started DreamersAdrift.com as a way to combat the negative language used by the media when they talked about undocumented folks in this country. Using video, art and music, DreamersAdrift.com has been a creative outlet for other undocumented students and allies to speak out about their immigration status. You can see some of their hilarious work here.

It was refreshing to see these artist take on serious subjects with humor and sarcasm. I also was really impressed that everyone involved in the production, down the video editor, was undocumented. This demonstrated to me the importance of art, culture and media coming directly from the folks most impacted by a given issues, in this case, our country’s failed immigration system. I believe that as radical artists, we have to recognize our priviledge and be able to strongly support other artists who do not have the same access we have. The fact that I was born in this country grants me access to a host of grants, public money, and artistic opportunities that undocumented artists dont’ have.

The “Undocumented and Awkward” series by DreamersAdrift.com have gone viral within pro-migrant activists who have used the videos to share the realities of being an undocumented immigrant.

They’ve also collaborated with other undocumented artists as well, such as Yosimar Reyes, who was featured in one of the “Undocumented and Awkward” videos that touched on the subject of being undocumented and queer, or “Undocuqueer.” Yosimar, a self-described “two-spirit gangsta” and author of “For Colored Boys Who Speak Softly,” has used his poetic talent to criticize the current state of immigrant politics. Issues of race, borders and “joteria,” are abundant in his work.

Julio also connected me with Felipe Baeza, a fierce, undocumented artist from New York who not only has he been actively creating art about being UndocuQueer, but has also been at the forefront of a migrant movement led by a lot of women and queer youth. Last year, Felipe participated in a sit-in in Gerogia and risked deportation. Check him out here:

These artists are a huge inspiration for me, and I’m excited to be working with them on national projects, like this print portfolio project here, and like “UndocuNation: An Evening with Artists for Immigrant Justice,” which opens tomorrow, May 3 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Profile: Yes Men and Yes Lab

The Yes Men's First Movie

It is the opinion of this blog (me) that organizing and activism could be a lot funnier. And I don’t just mean witty slogans, with creative plays on words — I mean laugh-out-loud funny. Maybe it’s the influence of being married to a comedian, but as I’ve argued in a prior post, comedy has long been a subversive medium, and it is highly under-utilized in working for progressive change. That’s why I’m excited by the work of the Yes Men and their more recently formed Yes Lab, through which they are sharing their skills and knowledge with the broader activist community.

The Yes Men are Igor Vamos and Jacques Servin (or, more recently, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno), two white men who have become famous for impersonating corporate executives, and subverting mass media in order to uncover lies and abuses perpetuated by international corporations. They began their “laughtivism” career in 1999, during the Seattle anti-globalization protests, when they created a fake World Trade Organization website satirizing the international group. Since then, they have posed as executives from Exxon Mobil, a Canadian environmental minister, and campaigners for Bush and Cheney. They have put out a fake paper edition of the New York Times and as corporate businessmen have been selling “Survivaballs,” live-in body suits to protect people from global warming. They’ve put out two movies that document their antics, the most recent one being The Yes Men Fix the World.

The Yes Men call what they do “identity correction,” or (more…)

Updates from the Front Lines of Comedy: Colbert PAC

I wrote some weeks ago about Stephen Colbert’s SuperPAC, a real-life political fund and comedic awareness campaign that highlights the absurd logic of our corrupt campaign funding process. On Thursday night, the campaign took a new step, explaining in an incredibly clear manner this Kafkaesque political labyrinth.

You can watch the whole bit at Colbert’s site, but here’s the juicy part below. I’m constantly amazed how this ongoing comedy bit makes the incredibly boring — yet incredibly important — so enjoyable and funny to watch. Just imagine trying to explain this to someone on the street and keep them interested:

Updates From the Front Lines of Comedy: Santorum

An old joke is getting new legs, where comedy meets presidential politics.

Google “Santorum.” We’ve all done it by now. While the potential Republican candidate Rick Santorum’s page is high on the list, #1 is a bit more risqué. And it’s driving the candidate crazy.

I remember when sex-columnist and humorist Dan Savage first ran his competition to re-define “Santorum,” and make the new definition the top Google hit, after the politician’s homophobic comments to the Associated Press. That was quite some time ago — 2003. As far as I was concerned, Rick Santorum had disappeared. But with the onrush of republican contenders to take on Obama, Santorum is back in the national spotlight, along with his unwanted Google search results. And really, Santorum is making it worse for himself, drawing even more attention to the joke by asking Google to fix these image problems.

This stunt was an early example of a Google Bomb, an effort to control Google results to usually humorous ends. Here’s a site that tells you how to pull it off. A number of Google Bombs have been tossed since the first in 2001, attacking people such as George W. Bush (who you could search for by typing in “miserable failure”) and Nicolas Sarkozy. But none have legs like this one. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that this is one of the most effective politico-comic assasinations in decades. I talk a lot on this site about taking control of the narrative, but redefining the enemy’s name itself is taking it to a new level. Can we do some more of these? A “Rick Perry” is…

This summer, after being attacked by Santorum, Dan Savage Threatened to go a step further:

 

Lauging, Healing, and Resistance on 9/11

The jokes didn’t stay down long. Sure, there were a few days after 9/11 when comedians — on TV, in clubs across the country — were still so thrown off and scrambling after the towers fell, that they wouldn’t have known where to start writing a joke. But by the following week comedians were taking the mic and beginning to search for the humor — both in the tragedy itself, and in the aftermath, as the story of the tragedy began to be used and abused.

A new movie making the rounds, The Voice of Something, features comedian, and now podcast superstar, Marc Maron through his day on September 19th, 2001, including a stop in a comedy club. While talking heads (more…)

Anti-Nazi Clowning

Anti-Racist Action in Tennessee, 2007

This picture comes from a protest by Anti-Racist Action, an international grassroots protest organization that disrupts events run by fascist and racist groups like the KKK, and by militant pro-lifers. One tool that at least one of the local groups has used is clowning. Here’s some reporting from the event pictured above, which made its way around the blogosphere a few years ago:

“White Power!” the Nazi’s shouted, “White Flour?” the clowns yelled back (more…)

A (Short) Definition

As a big fan of stand-up comedy, I’ve become addicted to Marc Maron’s interview podcast, WTF. It recently aired its 200th episode, an interview with Maron himself, done by hilarious Boston-born comedian Mike Birbiglia.

In the midst of the interview — which is at turns funny, touching, and fascinating — Maron said something very profound about comedy, which I think could be extended to all art, and definitely to the world of cultural organizing.

His line was this:

“The two things that i think are essential with good comedy is that you actually make people see something in a different way, completely, or that you make people feel less alone.” (more…)

What’s So Funny?

“The most potent weapons known to mankind are satire and ridicule”
– Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals

I love to laugh. And I don’t do it discreetly. It’s one of the things friends remember about me. Sometimes it scares babies. It was part of what first drew me to my partner — our ability to laugh together for hours. It should be no surprise, I suppose, that she became a stand-up comic soon after our marriage.

I like humor with my politics as well, which is why I’ve been so thrilled with the recent antics of Steven Colbert. For those who haven’t been watching: after the the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations cannot be kept from spending unlimited money to influence political campaigns (because money is speech and corporations are people, and other craziness), Colbert used his show to launch his own Super Political Action Committee, Colbert SuperPAC.

By publicly creating and running this organization that can raise unlimited funds, and use them in any way Colbert decides with no disclosure, Colbert sheds light on the absurdity and corruption of the whole election financing system. These rules, which free up corporations from even a semblance of regulation and allow them absurd amounts of control over elections, would never be part of a well-functioning democracy. People should be, and are, angry. But the details are very dry and technical—not the easiest issue to rally around. Besides, it’s based on a Supreme Court ruling, so while there may be some policies that could be put in place to curb it, what is really needed is a cultural shift away from this interpretation of the constitution.

Colbert has made the PAC a central part of his show, and is now being covered by the mainstream press as electoral news. Grown far beyond the initial stunt, Colbert has  collected money from thousands of people, and began spending it before the Iowa Straw Poll on TV adds for Rick Perry. I’m sorry, Rick PArry, with an A. For America. For IowA. (See the video above)

Many comics satirize the news, but this is something new. Colbert is, in some ways, entering the world of electoral organizing. He is moving people to do something other than just continue to watch his show. He has thousands behind him willing to give money to the running joke. He has garnered critics on the right and the left, some who worry he’s opening new loopholes for people like Sarah Palin at Fox News. But at a time when even electing a democratic president means more tax breaks and more wars, perhaps what we need most is someone to simply uncover the corruption rampant in the system.

Humor has a long relationship to social protest. The traditions of the jester, who satirized the powerful, and the carnival, where social hierarchies were turned on their heads, continue to wind their ways through our culture. Colbert himself is basically a jester character, one who is allowed by his rulers (in the past the King, now Viacom) to lampoon those at the top of the ladder.

And humor has been used as a tool by organizers and activists. Saul Alinsky, whose quote about the power of satire is at the top of this post, discussed having a “fart-in,” powered by baked beans, though I don’t know if he ever did it. The organization ACT UP has for years wielded camp and humor to raise awareness of AIDS and confront homophobia. And these days you might run across Billionaires for Bush at a rally.

Still, from my own experience community and youth organizing, and even cultural organizing, is a lot of things — moving, inspiring, angering, loving, all very important — but it is rarely funny. Behind the scenes there may be quite a bit of laughter as people bond, build relationships, and just get through the day. But this is not an explicit strategy, and it’s not the face that is shown to outsiders or newcomers. Even much of the activist satire, like the Billionaires above, while enjoyable and though-provoking, doesn’t really make me laugh out loud. You can see in the video that most of the audience is smiling, but not so much laughing. And laughter is so important — to healing, to relationships, to feelings of solidarity and power, to infusing joy into a movement.

One of the strengths of cultural organizing is that it pays as much attention to the quality of the art as to the political goal, because in that quality is the power of expression. I see a lot of potential in taking this attitude towards the use of satire in organizing. What would it look like if we drew on practicing comedians — stand-up, sketch — who had delved deep into the art of making people laugh? And while much of the satire that I have seen in organizing has been one-off performances for events, what if we thought of full satirical campaigns, a little like what Colbert is doing? It would look quite different coming from the grassroots, but organizers are experts in campaigning.

Just some thoughts to start off the blog. Have you seen something really funny used in organizing? I’d love to hear about it.