Use comedy to solve Jamaica’s problems

Donovan Watkis

Sunday, October 09, 2016

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Please allow me to go out on a limb to explain the power of satire in fixing the ills of society to your readers. On October 2, 2015, one year ago, I executive produced a comedy album by Donald "Iceman" Anderson title Breadfruit Tree. The album, filled with satirical narratives, had an inspiring release date that coincided with the day my second son, Zachary, was born. Additionally, the release marked a first-of-its-kind indigenous Jamaican comedic project by MJR Productions and distributed by the Bob Marley Owned Tuff Gong International. A cartoon animation produced with local animators also accompanied the album. Iceman took comedic liberties with everyone; from mayor of Kingston to former prime ministers on the comedy album.

Laughter in Jamaica and the world usually comes when there are no solutions for our problems, according to
New York Times best-selling Jamaican author Malcolm Gladwell. People all over the world will laugh at their condition when they can do nothing about them. The humour mill is generated by putting the familiar in an unfamiliar place. The good comedians can do this effortlessly.

Comedy worldwide is a multimillion-dollar industry. Kevin Hart, who just outpaced Jerry Seinfeld as the highest-paid comic in 2016, said everybody cannot do comedy; and he is right. However, everyone can appreciate good comedy and, if given a chance, satirical comedy can change lives.

Iceman cleverly manoeuvres satires in
Breadfruit Tree that leaders of governments may use to solve day-to-day social issues if they should take comedy seriously. The word satire, originally from the Latin meaning "mish mash", is credited to the ancient Romans who imported Greek traditions of comedy making. The Romans did well in this regard and should be congratulated for expanding the form to Western civilisations. Except for an institutional connection to the diocese schools and the Roman Catholic church, Jamaicans do not readily identify with Roman culture, whether ancient or modern. However, nightly theatrical comedy shows in the country’s capital signal Jamaica’s appetite for satirical comedy over more serious drama. It is said that culturally Jamaicans perceive everything as a joke, no matter how serious the situations may be. Jamaicans will make fun of a speech impediment or an obvious amputation by calling the person "Oney" or "Stamma" until the entire community forgets the person’s real name.

It is a coping mechanism that can be adopted as a panacea and here is why: Jamaican playwrights like Patrick Brown and Basil Dawkins consistently contribute to the country’s need for satire at least twice per year. Both men are life savers and should be properly congratulated as heroes. As poorly constructed as some of them may be, TV commercials, along with satirical posts on
Facebook and
Twitter are proven ways to get much interaction and shares from your tribe or network. Stand up comedy and television comedies are currently seasonal, but they could indeed sustain themselves if they did not depend so much on corporate sponsorship, but instead seen as a matter of national security and governed by the Ministry of Comedy.

Daily cartoonist always hit the mark on satire. It is a good thing Jamaica has freedom of speech unlike countries where they put away cartoonists who make fun of the governing officials. That would be a shame in Jamaica given the power of satire to answer urgent questions like the Opposition spokeswoman’s concern over what colour hat the prime minister was wearing while making stops on his hurricane preparation visits. While we are on the subject of the heads of government, I believe the prime minister should recommend to the governor general that a coalition of satirists be selected from both sides of the electorate (making seats available for a third party), and from among themselves select a commissioner of satirical comedy to be appointed and called upon at least once a year on matters that are not able to be solved by other ministers of Government. In the same vein, imagine, if you will, the minister of national security, instead of declaring his helpless frustrations and calling on divine intervention to solve the problem of crime, would draw upon the humorous expertise of the minister of comedy for the solutions to crimes in Montego Bay, and other so-called hot beds? Satirical comedy would cease to be a source of mindless distraction and take its rightful place as a useful and deliberate part of the nation-building. Everyone would be on their Ps and Qs, behaviours would improve, and corruption would be drastically reduced because not many would want the attention summoned by the laughable solutions of the Comedy Commission.

There is a show in Israel called
Oh, what a wonderful country, which depicts the rugged nature of Israeli life, where wars are a standard. Israel has been at odds with their neighbouring Palestine since the 1940s, and the people still develop the appetite for harsh satirical comedy to match the devastations on the evening’s news. The use of satirical comedy to mirror harsh realities may bear a similar consequence in Jamaica opposite the usually violent cover stories. Can you imagine the
Ity and Fancy Cat Show using comic pretence to solve matters of importance. I wish I could physically show you how this would work on these pages, but for those of us who know the reality of Jamaica’s culture of roughness, we can understand how replacing the monotonous and emotionless delivery of newscasters with laughter-driven comedic references would sure be a welcome difference in how Jamaicans see themselves and address their problems.

Of course, there would be violent opposition to satire replacing the serious issues in the news. People don’t like change and have accepted religiously, the patterns that are already set. However, I’ve learnt that when the assault of laughter comes no one can stand.

There is something in the human mind that causes us to rely on our higher selves when situations get hostile. Laughter by nature is hostile and uncontrollable if it approaches its prey from the right angle. Maybe, like I did as a youngster, Jamaicans will start to take an honest inventory of themselves as a country and expand their strengths while reducing their weaknesses if laughter forms part of the solution.

"There is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica," that is the motto of the governor general’s ‘I believe’ initiative. Stoicism and seriousness has not proven itself to remedy the ills of Jamaica, or any other society. People may conform due to force, but at the core, value systems remain the same. As such it may be time for the entire nation to take stock and laugh at itself. It is rather inspiring just to think of it. It is a mark of maturity for any nation or group of people to be able to laugh at themselves and nothing great was ever done without inspiration. The world is not getting worse, as some pundits and talk show host would want us to believe. The world is growing into a wonderful becoming and is fruitful and hopeful.

We only need to see ourselves from a higher viewpoint. We can see this higher viewpoint through the eyes of comedians. The really great satirists like Iceman will be those who go for more than just the joke. Those who will make you laugh at first, but when you watch a repeat of the joke you realise it wasn’t a joke. That is how satire works. You are indeed being made literate and as such you will find more meaning to your life and circumstances.

It is at least worth a try to give satire a greater level of importance in government, media and other progressive organisations in society. The road to a better world is indeed laughter. Why wait until we can no longer contend with the situations and then use the same violence to curb violence or look for a solution from God. Martin Luther King said: "You can murder a murderer but you cannot murder murder." King was a wise man for whom I have the highest respect, but he never tried comedy as a policy solution. Let us assault our nation’s problems with laughter. History will thank us and society will have been much better for having experimented with such a mish mash. lol

Donovan Watkis as an author, executive producer and cultural artige’. Send comments to the Observer or


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