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TED2016

Negin Farsad: A highly scientific taxonomy of haters

February 15, 2016

TED Fellow Negin Farsad weaves comedy and social commentary to cleverly undercut stereotypes of her culture. In this uproarious talk/stand-up hybrid, Farsad speaks on her documentary, The Muslims Are Coming!, narrates her fight with the MTA in New York and offers a detailed breakdown of the different types of haters she's encountered in her work. "Comedy is one of our best weapons," she says. "We've tried a lot of approaches to social justice, like war and competitive ice dancing -- but a lot of things are still kind of awful. I think it's time we try and tell a really good poop joke."

Negin Farsad - Comedian, filmmaker
Stand-up comedian Negin Farsad counters Islamophobia in funny and clever ways. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I'm an Iranian-American Muslim female,
00:15
like all of you.
00:17
And I'm also a social justice comedian,
00:19
something that I insist is an actual job.
00:21
To explain what that is,
let me tell you how I got here.
00:23
I've performed all over the country.
00:26
And let me tell you,
America is majestic, right?
00:28
It's got breathtaking nature,
00:30
waffle houses
00:32
and diabetes as far as the eye can see.
00:33
It is really something.
00:35
Now, the American population
can be broken up
00:37
into three main categories:
00:39
there's mostly wonderful people,
00:41
haters
00:43
and Florida.
00:44
(Laughter)
00:45
Besides Florida, the most troubling
category here are the Haters.
00:47
They are a minority,
00:50
but they overcompensate
by being extra loud.
00:52
They have the Napoleon complex
of demographics,
00:55
and yes, some of the men do wear heels.
00:57
As a social justice comedian,
00:59
it's my goal to convert these haters,
01:01
because they hate a lot of things,
which leads to negative outcomes,
01:03
like racism, violence and Ted Nugent.
01:06
This is not an exhaustive list;
01:11
I'm probably missing 3-7 items.
01:13
But the point is,
01:14
we have to reckon with the haters.
01:16
But there's variance within this group
01:17
and it's not efficient to go
after all of them, right?
01:19
So what I've done is created
a highly scientific Taxonomy of Haters.
01:22
I basically took all of the haters,
01:26
I put them in a petri dish,
like a scientist,
01:27
and this is what I found.
01:30
(Laughter)
01:32
First off, we have the trolls.
01:33
These are your garden-variety
digital haters.
01:35
They're the people who quit their jobs
01:38
so they can post on YouTube
videos all day long.
01:40
There's also the drive-by haters.
01:43
Now, these people will be at a stoplight,
01:45
they'll wait for the light to turn green
01:48
and when it does, they yell,
"Go back to your own country!"
01:50
Now back in the day, they would've
actually gotten out of their cars
01:53
and hated you to your face.
01:56
But they just don't make them
like they used to --
01:57
which is another sign
of the decline in America.
02:00
(Laughter)
02:02
The next category
02:04
is the mission-oriented-bigot-
whose-group-affiliation-
02:05
gives-them-cover-for-hating hater.
02:07
These guys like to hate
via a seemingly nice organization,
02:09
like a church or a nonprofit,
02:13
and they oftentimes like to speak
in an old-timey voice.
02:15
But the group I'm most
interested in is the swing hater.
02:18
The swing hater is sister
to the swing voter --
02:22
they just can't decide!
02:26
They're like ideological sluts
02:28
who move from hating to not hating.
02:29
And they do it because they don't have
enough information.
02:31
This is the group I like to target
with social justice comedy.
02:34
Why comedy?
02:37
Because on a scale of comedy to brochure,
02:39
the average American prefers comedy,
as you can see from this graph.
02:41
(Laughter)
02:45
Comedy is very popular.
02:46
And by the way,
02:47
this is a mathematically accurate graph,
02:49
generated from fake numbers.
02:51
(Laughter)
02:52
Now, the question is:
02:54
Why does social justice comedy work?
02:55
Because, first off, it makes you laugh.
02:58
And when you're laughing,
you enter into a state of openness.
03:00
And in that moment of openness,
03:04
a good social justice comedian
can stick in a whole bunch of information,
03:05
and if they're really skilled,
03:09
a rectal exam.
03:10
(Laughter)
03:12
Here are some ground rules
for social justice comedy:
03:14
first off, it's not partisan.
03:17
This isn't political comedy,
this is about justice,
03:19
and no one is against justice.
03:22
Two, it's inviting and warm,
03:24
it makes you feel like you're sitting
inside of a burrito.
03:26
Three, it's funny but sneaky,
03:28
like you could be hearing
an interesting treatise
03:31
on income inequality,
03:34
that's encased in a really
sophisticated poop joke.
03:35
(Laughter)
03:38
Here's how I see
social justice comedy working.
03:39
A few years ago, I rounded up a bunch
of Muslim-American comedians --
03:43
in a non-violent way --
03:46
(Laughter)
03:47
And we went around the country
03:49
to places like Alabama, Arizona,
Tennessee, Georgia --
03:50
places where they love the Muzzies --
03:53
and we did stand-up shows.
03:55
We called the tour
"The Muslims Are Coming!"
03:58
(Laughter)
04:00
We turned this into a movie,
04:03
and then after the movie came out,
04:04
a known hate group spent 300,000 dollars
04:07
on an anti-Muslim poster campaign
04:10
with the MTA -- that's
the New York City subway system.
04:12
Now, the posters were truly offensive,
04:15
not to mentioned poorly designed --
04:17
I mean, if you're going to be bigoted,
04:19
you might as well use a better font.
04:21
(Laughter)
04:22
But we decided, why not launch
our own poster campaign
04:23
that says nice things about Muslims,
04:27
while promoting the movie.
04:29
So myself and fellow comedian
Dean Obeidallah
04:31
decided to launch the fighting-bigotry-
with-delightful-posters campaign.
04:33
We raised the money, worked
with the MTA for over 5 months,
04:36
got the posters approved,
04:40
and two days after they
were supposed to go up,
04:41
the MTA decided to ban the posters,
04:44
citing political content.
04:47
Let's take a look
at a couple of those posters.
04:49
Here's one.
04:51
Facts about Muslims:
04:53
Muslims invented
the concept of a hospital.
04:54
OK.
04:56
Fact: Grown-up Muslims can do
more push-ups than baby Muslims.
04:57
(Laughter)
05:01
Fact: Muslims invented Justin Timberlake.
05:03
(Laughter)
05:06
Let's take a look at another one.
05:07
The ugly truth about Muslims:
05:09
they have great frittata recipes.
05:10
Now clearly, frittatas are considered
political by the MTA.
05:13
Either that, or the mere mention
of Muslims in a positive light
05:17
was considered political -- but it isn't.
05:21
It's about justice.
05:23
So we decided to change
05:24
our fighting-bigortry-
with-delightful-posters campaign
05:25
and turn it into the fighting-bigotry-
with-a-delightful-lawsuit campaign.
05:28
(Laughter)
05:32
So basically, what I'm saying
is a couple of dirt-bag comedians
05:33
took on a major New York City agency
05:36
and the comedians won.
05:39
(Applause and cheers)
05:40
Thank you.
05:43
Victory was a very weird feeling.
05:44
I was like, "Is this what
blonde girls feel like all the time?
05:46
'Cause this is amazing!"
05:49
(Laughter)
05:50
Here's another example.
05:53
I'm asked everywhere I go:
"Why don't Muslims denounce terrorism?"
05:55
We do. But OK, I'll take the bait.
05:59
So I decided to launch
thedailydenouncer.com.
06:01
It's a website that denounces
terrorism every day of the week,
06:03
while taking the weekends off.
06:06
Let's take a look at an example.
06:08
They generally appear
as single-panel cartoons,
06:10
"I denounce terrorism! I also denounce
people who never fill the paper tray!"
06:13
The point of the website
is that it denounces terrorism
06:17
while recognizing that it's ridiculous
06:20
that we have to constantly
denounce terrorism.
06:22
But if bigotry isn't your thing,
06:25
social justice comedy is useful
for all sorts of issues.
06:27
For example, myself and fellow
comedian Lee Camp
06:31
went to the Cayman Islands
to investigate offshore banking.
06:34
Now, the United States loses
something like 300 billion dollars a year
06:37
in these offshore tax havens.
06:42
Not to brag,
06:44
but at the end of every month,
06:45
I have something like 5-15 dollars
in disposable income.
06:47
So we walked into these banks
in the Cayman Islands
06:49
and asked if we could
open up a bank account
06:52
with eight dollars and 27 cents.
06:54
(Laughter)
06:56
The bank managers would indulge us
for 30-45 seconds before calling security.
06:58
Security would come out,
brandish their weapons,
07:03
and then we would squeal
with fear and run away,
07:06
because -- and this is the last
rule of social justice comedy --
07:09
sometimes it makes you want
to take a dump in your pants.
07:12
Most of my work is meant to be fun.
07:14
It's meant to generate
a connection and laughter.
07:17
But yes, sometimes I get
run off the grounds by security.
07:20
Sometimes I get mean tweets and hate mail.
07:24
Sometimes I get voice mails saying
that if I continue telling my jokes,
07:27
they'll kill me
and they'll kill my family.
07:32
And those death threats
are definitely not funny.
07:35
But despite the occasional danger,
07:39
I still think that social justice comedy
is one of our best weapons.
07:41
I mean, we've tried
a lot of approaches to social justice,
07:45
like war and competitive ice dancing.
07:48
But still, a lot of things
are still kind of awful.
07:50
So I think it's time we try and tell
a really good poop joke.
07:55
Thank you.
07:58
(Applause)
08:00

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Negin Farsad - Comedian, filmmaker
Stand-up comedian Negin Farsad counters Islamophobia in funny and clever ways.

Why you should listen

Negin Farsad was named one of the Funniest Women of 2015 by Huffington Post, one of the 10 Best Feminist Comedians by Paper magazine and was selected as a TED Fellow for her work in social justice comedy.

Farsad is the author of the recently released How to Make White People Laugh, a memoir-meets-social-justice-comedy manifesto (published by Grand Central, a division of Hachette). She is also the director/writer/star of the rom-com "3RD Street Blackout," starring Janeane Garofalo, Ed Weeks and John Hodgman, set for a summer 2016 release. She has written for/appeared on Comedy Central, MTV, PBS, IFC, Nickelodeon and others. She is director/producer of the feature films The Muslims Are Coming! starring Jon Stewart, David Cross and Lewis Black, and Nerdcore Rising, starring Weird Al Yankovic. She has sued New York State’s MTA over the right to put up funny posters about Muslims and won! She started her comedy career as a Cornell and Columbia-educated policy advisor for the City of New York. 

The original video is available on TED.com
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