Comedy ThinkTanks is CMSI’s co-creation workshop initiative that pairs professional comedians and social justice organizations to create entertaining comedy to spark public engagement in social issues. CMSI gratefully acknowledges our funders for the Comedy ThinkTanks program, including Luminate, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies,
and the McNulty Foundation.

To address the opportunity and challenge of civic engagement in the networked media age, in 2019, the Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI) launched the Comedy ThinkTank initiative to create a process of cross-sector collaboration between comedians and social justice organizations, building a path to more frequent interactions and engagements.

Comedy ThinkTank is a unique, customized cultural communication strategy that curates a room of professional comedy writers and performers to collaboratively co-create with social justice groups to create original comedy – sketches, program ideas, campaigns. The newly created comedy is ready to produce by social justice organizations – either in-house, or for the entertainment marketplace.

What is a Comedy ThinkTank?

Comedy ThinkTank is a unique, customized cultural communication strategy that curates a room of professional comedy writers and performers to collaboratively co-create with social justice groups to create original comedy – sketches, program ideas, campaigns. The newly created comedy is ready to produce by social justice organizations – either in-house, or for the entertainment marketplace.

How Comedy ThinkTanks Work

The Big Idea

The Comedy ThinkTank caters to each social justice organization’s public engagement needs. It can serve as an affordable introduction to a variety of ways humor can be utilized to spread their messages, or it can be a streamlined effort to explore a specific goal and preselected medium (like a video, or a blog post). It works as a co-created collaborative strategy between comedy professionals and social justice leaders and strategists. Over the course of five days in a concentrated writers’ room retreat, new comedy is created at the intersection of entertainment and social justice.

Assembling the Teams: Social Justice & Comedy

To begin, a social justice organization assembles a small group of its internal “experts” (3-4), featuring at least one person with execution decision-making power (such as a communication director or narrative strategist, for example) to agree to participate in an all-day Comedy ThinkTank creative retreat. We gather a small group of working comedy writers (3-4) to participate in the same way. (For purposes of this overview, we reference the social justice experts/leaders as “Team Social Justice,” and we reference the professional comedians/writers as “Team Comedy.”)

Co-Creation Strategy: Deep Listening & Research Engagement

At the beginning of the day-long creative retreat, Team Social Justice briefs Team Comedy with the overview of the organization, as well as its public engagement, communication and policy challenges, including basic factual information (scope of the challenge, public opinion data, etc.) needed to create quick expertise about the issue. Team Social Justice is also encouraged to present a specific challenge or scenario they would like to address in their core social issue and organization.

Comedy Writers’ Room

In the entertainment marketplace, comedy professionals often work in a collaborative writers’ room fashion. The Comedy ThinkTanks create that open, free, artistic creative space here. Through a combination of improvisation and traditional comedy writer’s room methodologies, Team Comedy works as a writers’ room over the following week to generate several inventive comedy ideas based on what it’s heard and learned from Team Social Justice. From there, Team Comedy and Team Social Justice narrow in on some key ideas, and build out and strengthen the ideas that are identified as “Most Likely to Succeed.”

Final Comedy Ideas: Ready for Production

By the end of the Comedy ThinkTank co-creative writers’ room, participants will have hilariously repackaged Team Social Justice’s age-old message and provided specific, concrete ways of creating a professional video or live comedy experience. At the culmination of the experience, Team Social Justice has free range to use that new package in whatever way serves them best. This may include incorporating the ideas within the organization’s communications or cultural strategy team, handing the ideas off to partners or consultants, or hiring the Comedy ThinkTank team to fully write, execute or produce selected content.

Comedy for Racial Justice in The Climate Crisis

In November 2019, incubated from the CMSI Comedy ThinkTanks ideation sessions, Hip Hop Caucus produced Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave, a live and filmed stand-up comedy show hosted in Norfolk’s historic Attucks Theater, and the centerpiece of a comedic documentary film and short-form video content series. Read this report which analyzes the value and importance of comedy for local public mobilization in climate change and shares details about the participatory co-creation and production process.

Read the Report
Comedy ThinkTanks in Action
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