At­lanta co­me­di­ans take to the stage for so­cial jus­tice

Shows ben­e­fit pro-LGBT or­ga­ni­za­tions, share in­clu­sive mes­sag­ing

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Protests. Marches. Can­vass­ing. All are im­por­tant ways to share mes­sages of in­clu­sive­ness, so­cial jus­tice and civil rights.

But for At­lanta co­me­di­ans, there’s an­other way to spread the word: step­ping up to a mi­cro­phone.

“Not long af­ter Trump was elected, we got to­gether and said there’s more we could be do­ing,” said co­me­dian David Per­due. “If there’s a lot of bad out there then as peo­ple, we have to come to­gether and find ways to be bet­ter than the bad.”

Per­due — no re­la­tion to the se­na­tor bear­ing the same name — grew up in Jones­boro and started do­ing com­edy about six years ago. Re­cently he’s done com­edy show fundrais­ers for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union and the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter.

“I love peo­ple and I don’t like to see peo­ple not given fair shots or treated any­thing ‘less than.’ That’s the heart be­hind my com­edy and my process in pick­ing these or­ga­ni­za­tions to work with,” Per­due said. “I went to More­house Col­lege and that col­lege pro­duces lead­ers. When I was there, the motto was to be a Re­nais­sance man with a so­cial con­science. I wanted my com­edy to en­force those ideas and be more than jokes. I wanted to be some­body that stood for some­thing and had prin­ci­ples on­stage and off.”

‘Laughs Trump Hate’

Fel­low At­lanta co­me­dian Ian Aber, who hap­pens to be gay, has done shows ben­e­fit­ing LGBT causes and will par­tic­i­pate in the up­com­ing “Laughs Trump Hate” show in May (date and lo­ca­tion to be de­ter­mined).

Jen O’Neill Smith is one of three fe­male co­me­di­ans who cre­ated “Laughs Trump Hate,” with the pur­pose of help­ing any­one neg­a­tively af­fected by the 2016 elec­tion. Past shows ben­e­fited the SPLC and Planned Par­ent­hood, and the next round will ben­e­fit LGBT home-

March 17, 2017

Above: At­lanta co­me­dian David Per­due says he wants his com­edy to stand for some­thing, on­stage and off. He’s per­formed for sev­eral ben­e­fit shows and plans to keep do­ing so. (Photo cour­tesy David Per­due). Right: Gay co­me­dian Ian Aber keeps his po­lit­i­cal mes­sages more nu­anced, pre­fer­ring to talk about his hus­band and fam­ily as a way to get those themes across. (Photo cour­tesy Am­ber North) less non­profit Lost-n-Found Youth.

“We were all to­gether on elec­tion night and you know, it was a house full of fe­male co­me­di­ans. All of the At­lanta fe­male comics were ready to cel­e­brate. We had bot­tles of cham­pagne ready to go. We thought we were go­ing to wit­ness some­thing his­toric,” Smith said. “We were so dis­heart­ened and sad­dened and shocked by the re­sults. We felt so hope­less that im­me­di­ately we were like, what can we do? We can’t just ac­cept this. We can’t just roll over and let this be.”

At each “Laughs Trump Hate,” the comics booked rep­re­sent a marginal­ized group — women for the Planned Par­ent­hood show; comics of color for SPLC; LGBT co­me­di­ans for Lost-n-Found. Smith said the re­sponse has been great — more than $1,000 raised at each of the first two shows.

“The op­por­tu­nity is there for us. If we did not take ad­van­tage of that, and didn’t use it, it would be a tragedy,” Smith said. “I think that it’s im­por­tant more now than ever to have these sit­u­a­tions where peo­ple are hear­ing some­one face-to-face in a room with a mi­cro­phone, with no con­fu­sion to the mes­sage that’s be­ing heard.”

A hid­den mes­sage

“If not for the artists, then who does it?” Per­due said. “We have the op­por­tu­nity to speak the truth. … I rec­og­nized early on, do­ing com­edy, that I can do al­most any­thing that I want and peo­ple will laugh at it. I rec­og­nize that just be­cause I can say some­thing, I should use that plat­form to say some­thing im­por­tant. I can throw in things that are more than just a laugh. They’re per­spec­tives. They’re ideas.”

Though Per­due is more pur­pose­ful about his po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary — com­ing from a six-foot-two, straight black man, he says it means some­thing dif­fer­ent — Aber said he doesn’t put overtly po­lit­i­cal themes into his stand-up, al­low­ing his per­for­mances to be more nu­anced.

“I don’t have to say I’m pro-trans rights. I just say I’m gay and that’s it. What I do is I talk about my life with my hus­band. I talk about my fam­ily. I do talk about where het­ero­sex­ual naïveté or ig­no­rance kind of butts up against my life,” he said.

This ap­proach reaches peo­ple in a dif­fer­ent man­ner. Aber said he shows his au­di­ence his re­la­tion­ship is just like theirs.

“My ap­proach tends to be, sneak in the so­cial jus­tice mes­sages,” he said. “Fe­male comics can get up and say, ‘I’m a fem­i­nist’ … Per­due gets up and talks about Black Lives Mat­ter. When I would at­tempt that, I would get even more re­sis­tance. If I re­lated more on a hu­man level, all of those mes­sages kind of come across.”

Not so much in his shows, but on his so­cial me­dia pages, Aber tends to be “a lit­tle bit more demon­stra­tive.” He uses his plat­form as a well-known co­me­dian to teach oth­ers that the words they say mat­ter. For ex­am­ple, if he sees an of­fen­sive com­edy clip, he will share it to his page along with a cap­tion ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple about why it’s an is­sue.

He said if co­me­di­ans are truly po­lit­i­cal and ac­tive in so­cial jus­tice ini­tia­tives, that should be com­ing across in their hu­mor in a way that’s not alien­at­ing.

Smith, like Aber, isn’t in-your-face with po­lit­i­cal rhetoric in her per­sonal rou­tine. She prefers to talk about her kids and hus­band.

“But, through do­ing ‘Laughs Trump Hate,’ it mo­ti­vates me to add more of a po­lit­i­cal mes­sage into my com­edy,” she said. “I’m al­ways in­spired by the comics that do.”

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