On Monday, January 21 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), Hennepin County libraries are closed.
So many serious issues are swirling around to divide us these days. But there’s a way to help people find common ground: make ’em laugh.
Hennepin County Library is hosting a series of Laughing Matters events by BLACKOUT Improv, a troupe of longtime Twin Cities performers, actors and teachers, whose aim is to get people talking about the issues – gender, police brutality, race, etc. – that can be difficult to voice.
“We tackle them by engaging the audience and approaching it with comedy, which sounds ridiculous but ends up working,” said BLACKOUT founding member Kory Pullam. “The majority of us will find ourselves laughing at the same things, as long as you approach it with truth and a fine understanding of what the situation is. That’s been pleasantly surprising, the amount of things that are universally funny. You’d be surprised.”
As a teen, Pullam said big-name comedians such as Richard Pryor and Whoopi Goldberg inspired him by using comedy to address serious topics. He recalled one Pryor routine that spent 15 minutes just on police brutality.
“And it was hilarious,” he said. “Everyone was dying, laughing in the audience.”
More recently, it’s been Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, and local comedy groups like Second Wave Feminist Nightmare Enclave and Local Music Scene.
“People need to laugh,” Pullam said. “Right now, a lot of people feeling very discouraged. They’re losing faith in their country, losing faith in their leadership, losing faith in lot of things. I think it’s important to establish someplace where we can come together and just be on the same page in some way.”
Right now, he said, his favorite topic to introduce is gender.
“I feel like we’re in the most exciting time to talk about it,” he said. “It always sparks major conversation.”
Hennepin County Library works to merge diverse communities to discuss important – and even difficult – topics. But Pullam stressed that it’s vital not to get too earnest, and risk mounting the soap box – not funny.
Still, he has definite ideas about what he’d like for people to get out of the BLACKOUT experience: To leave a little more informed and a little more hopeful, and to give people a chance to have a fun, memorable experience.
There will be a performance by BLACKOUT on Monday, March 12, at 7 p.m., at Minneapolis Central Library followed by workshops at Hosmer Library, March 21, Sumner Library, March 24 and Brookdale Library, April 7. Learn more about these Laughing Matters events.