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Addressing social issues through comedy 

Internet star Dylan Marron and Dramatic Changes’ improv group challenge the idea that social justice and entertainment are mutually exclusive.

click to enlarge Marron’s work uses comedy as a vessel for “bigger ideas.” - SUBMITTED
  • Marron’s work uses comedy as a vessel for “bigger ideas.”
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Evening Speaker Series: Dylan Marron
Tuesday, July 25, 7pm
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
1675 Lower Water Street
free

"Even 'woke' people use this product and have no idea," Dylan Marron quips during one of his unboxing videos.

The topic? Ableism.

Marron's Unboxing series plays on the kind of videos bloggers typically do when getting a new set of products in the mail. But there's a twist: As with most of Marron's work, the videos focus on systemic issues that affect marginalized groups. And they're funny.

"I like taking existing structures, hollowing them out and putting new stuff in them, and kind of using them as vessels to talk about bigger ideas," Marron says in a phone interview.

Marron is largely known for this videos on seriously.tv as well as his role on the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. He's coming to town next week to be part of Pride's evening speakers series, set to give a talk about social justice in comedy.

"Comedy is such a fertile place to, you know, be advocating socially, because you do need to laugh in the middle of activism," he says. "You need levity, you need satire. It's helpful—even satire to laugh at ourselves."

Halifax playwright Ross Unger agrees.

"If you are making jokes at the expense of someone," they say, "make sure it's at your expense and not somebody else's."

Unger saw the need for anti-oppressive comedy locally and started an improv group in May. They are the co-founder of Dramatic Changes, a non-profit which creates art based on local issues.

click to enlarge Dane Fader shows his skills during an improv jam at Radstorm.
  • Dane Fader shows his skills during an improv jam at Radstorm.

A part of going against oppressive comedy is resisting stereotypes. If anyone in the room notices a reference to a stereotype in a scene, they simply shout "stereotype," and the actors go in a different direction.The group is putting on an anti-oppressive improv show during Pride week, featuring singing, dancing and laughs—dramatic scenes aren't off the table, either."I guess the intention with it is that entertainment can be fun and not damaging," says Dane Fader, who is interning with Dramatic Changes for the summer.

Marron also suggests you don't need to trade political correctness for satire.

"I think it's just about making sure that we're punching up. You know, like are we taking jabs at something bigger than us?" he says. "There's a lot, systemically, that can be made fun of on a sociological level."

The social issues are the base of what Marron talks about, while "the comedy is the icing." Instead of writing a lengthy takedown of representation in Hollywood, for instance, Marron created his Every Single Word series. The videos edit down popular films to only feature the words spoken by people of colour (spoiler: There usually aren't very many).

Marron says he chose to frame the issue in that way because comedy tends to disarm people. "You can get your point across more when you make fun of it."


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