Comedians are already well aware of the intense public pressure their art entails. Some of these pressures are time honoured; the hecklers, or the stand up golden rule: a performer should make an audience to laugh every seven seconds.
Then there are the more subversive pressures; the fine line between humour and offence, and the tip-toeing around myriad controversial laser beams – the hot button issues of the moment – where any careless turn of phrase could see them splashed across the judgemental tabloids, and buried under a flurry of social media scorn.
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But the most concerning of all – especially when satirising the rich and powerful – is defamation. For the wealthy and powerful, legal action is merely a phone call away, and litigious threats are often used as a warning shot to dismay any attempt at holding power to account.
Australia has a rich and proud tradition of political satire, from the classic work of Clarke and Dawe, to the more contemporary work of Mark Humphries, and then also notably, the YouTube success of Jordan Shanks’ FriendlyJordies channel.
But as John Barilaro’s defamation lawsuit against Jordan Shanks proved – if you’re outside of the protection of the ABC or SBS – political satire can be very risky business. So how do comedians field these pressures, and how do we protect the satirists?
These are the questions anthropologist Jacci Brady wants to find out, in her PhD project: You Can’t Laugh at That! The Politics of Laughter and Australian Overidentification Political Satire. The aim of the wider project is to ask questions about how and when comedians and/or satirists moderate their content because of social and political pressures. According to the project’s website, “this research aims to put the voices of satirists and comedians first. It will assist in better understandings of how power relationships and politics impact Australian comedy production.”
One part of this PhD project is called ‘Better Billionaires Australia’, a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project, which means it will involve real comedians and satirists actively participating in discussions as content experts. It’s an event based satirical critique of wealth inequality (the gap between the ‘haves and the have nots’) in Australia.
To some degree it’s a performance: according to their website, participants will dress as a billionaire character of your own design and carry a sign in political comedy performances with a group of three to six other experienced performers.
There is clearly a huge amount to understand here, so if you’re interested in participating we recommend skipping straight to the source, their FAQ guide here.