World Vision Artist Michael Connel performs his comedy show 'First World Blues' at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.
“What?! Are you crazy?”
That was my response when I was asked if I’d write a comedy routine to promote World Vision.
Looking back I wish I’d been a bit more tactful. After all I’d been a fan of World Vision for many years, and I was flattered to be asked. In theory, a good comedian can make any topic funny. But in practice comedians tend to stay away from topics like disease and poverty because they tend to be REALLY depressing.
I decided to take on this challenge as World Vision’s work inspires me and there aren’t too many comedians talking about social justice.
Not knowing where to start, I was booked into an introductory training session at the World Vision office. I was surprised at how complex some of the issues were. It’s not just a case of dumping money somewhere to fix the problem. World Vision works with communities to give a hand up and not a hand out.
After going through the training I began writing the routine. By day I’d write jokes. Then at night I’d go and test them at comedy clubs. Then the next day I’d rewrite the jokes because a lot of them didn’t work. It turns out my initial hunch was correct. Finding the balance between raising awareness of poverty while also being funny was extremely difficult. I’d either be depressing people with too many facts, or making them laugh but not really talking about the important issues.
World Vision kept encouraging me with material, facts and feedback. I even test ran my routine at their offices with some World Vision staff members!
My plan was always to perform the routine at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. However the closer we got to the festival, the more I began to panic. The thought of making 800 people laugh about poverty and be educated at the same time seemed insane. While the routine was a lot better it still wasn’t working perfectly when I’d been testing it at comedy clubs. So on opening night I was standing backstage sweating bullets. When I heard my introduction, I ran onstage and gave my first joke. A wave of relief washed over me as people started laughing, and kept laughing, through my routine:
It was a lot of hard work and it gave me a few grey hairs but in the long run it was all worth it. It was definitely the biggest challenge of my comedy career. What I’m most proud about is that we managed to do something rare – write a stand-up comedy routine that raises awareness about the issues surrounding poverty.
I had the privilege of being able to record the routine which I hope will bring awareness and encourage people to donate to World Vision’s. Please feel free to share the video with your friends and family. I hope you enjoy the performance as much as I enjoyed delivering it.