A funny thought about charity comms

There’s a copywriter in Macmillan’s creative department who’s also a stand-up comedian. (Pav, Bath Comedy Festival New Comedy New Act of the Year 2016.) Rather than being a random career combo, like your dentist moonlighting as a lion tamer, there’s a distinct possibility that a talent for comedy should be a key skill for any charity creative worth their salt.

Obviously, the problems we’re trying to solve are no laughing matter. So humour must be used with care.  But that’s precisely because it is so powerful – it will get attention. In an area where people are accustomed to (and may even expect) shocking messages, appropriate use of humour can stand out like a canary in a coalmine or Donald Trump in The Whitehouse. (Sorry – that’s never going to be funny.)

If you’re looking to raise awareness, raising a laugh can be particularly effective. There are few better ways to expose fundamental truths and shift perspectives. It’s that ‘ooo’ moment when a comedy observation hits home so well it hurts.

Water Aid’s #Ifmenhadperiods campaign is a great example of a truth funnily told. Imagining a world with menstruating males neatly highlighted the fact that over a billion women don’t have access to sanitary products.  It went viral, with over 1.4 million views across 15 countries.

More recently Water Aid also raised awareness of the lack of access to toilets through an ad that has office workers building a latrine next to the photocopier as a result of budget cuts.

Of course, some causes are more obvious candidates for comedy. Anything to do with sex is also usually good for an awareness raising laugh as Prostate UK’s recent awkward father/son chat ad shows:

However, you might think a charity like Parkinson’s UK has little scope for humour. But you’re reckoning without Dave the Worm, an online regular giving product that’s raising awareness of Parkinson’s research, plus sponsorship to fund it. Dave posts everything from research updates to daft jokes and is the best dressed worm I know. But there’s a serious purpose – he’s connecting with a whole new audience of men and women aged 25-40 who were previously hard to reach. Dave is also an entry point for new supporters, who then support the charity in other ways. Here’s a typical tweet:


And never underestimate the power of humour to challenge the status quo and build confidence that a better world is possible. The Nazis didn’t – making anti-Nazi jokes was punishable by death. And Kim Jong Un just banned sarcasm. Yes really.

Dictators don’t like jokes because sharing a laugh can deliver a reality check and bond people together in pursuit of change. On Twitter @themanwhohasitall is doing just that by turning sexism on its head so men become the recipients:


Devastatingly funny, it’s the other side of the coin from @EverydaySexism which uses the more straightforward approach of telling it like it is:



Both are powerful ways of telling the same story. Which is more effective? It’s hard to say. But I do know I’m more likely to share a @manwhohasitall tweet than an @EverydaySexism one because sharing a joke is such an easy way to connect with people. And as connecting with others is one of the fundamental drivers of our lives, that’s not unimportant.

Macmillan is a movement of people bonding together to help those facing cancer. We’re for and about real people, so humour is a part of the stories we tell. It can be having a giggle at a Coffee Morning or it can surprise you in places you may not expect to find it –  for example among people sharing cancer experiences on our Online Community. People like Ronny who recently shared this blog on colonoscopies:

 A physician claimed that the following are actual comments made by his patients while he was performing their colonoscopies:

 ‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’
 ‘Any sign of the trapped miners, Chief?’
‘You put your left hand in, you take your left hand out…’
 ‘Hey! Now I know how a Muppet feels!’

And the best one of all:

‘Could you write a note for my wife saying that my head is not up there’

And black humour can lighten up some dark times and reveal the human truth, as Gail shows in her excellent stand-up routine

‘Totally Tasteless Tit Jokes’, which includes this line about life after a mastectomy:

After surgery I hoped that people who got on my tits would only be half as annoying’

Here’s the full routine:

The Macmillan brand also has room for wit and humour – fun and entertaining is one end of our creative spectrum.  So, where appropriate, we can be funny to valuable effect. For example, our ‘Love Your Lady Parts’ gynaecological health awareness campaign is enabling us to get women talking about things many normally keep quiet about. Things that can be literally a matter of life or death.

So a good laugh can do a world of good. It’s a force for change that can enable us to raise awareness, change perspectives and build a movement. And that’s the sort of tool we need to have in our charity comms armoury.  As the American writer Conrad Hyers said, humour is ‘a stubborn refusal to give tragedy the final say’. Isn’t that what we’re all here for?


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