Using Humor in COVID-19 Responses

While COVID-19 is a serious issue affecting people across the globe, humor can be an effective and relatable tool for communication. Women politicians have already been stepping up in their policy responses, and using humor can help communicate these policies to their constituents.

Conventional wisdom suggests that humor does not work well for women, but our “Change the Channel” research shows that humor can create a bond between and candidate and the voter, and the unexpected element can help make the woman, and message, more memorable. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has created laughs through her satirical Twitter videos, memes on Facebook, and even a DJ party thrown on her Instagram. Chicagoans have taken notice, joining in on the memes and creating cardboard cutouts of the mayor to encourage social distancing across the city. However, women can’t stop there: it’s important to shift the focus to the issue at hand. Mayor Lightfoot’s humor still promotes her initiatives to stay at home and practice social distancing, which are critical to reducing the spread of the virus and protecting vulnerable communities. Finding a cardboard cutout of the mayor at a local park is certainly unexpected, but it leaves a lasting impression of Lightfoot – and the public health policies she’s promoting.

Research also shows that voters are drawn to candidates who demonstrate passion and authenticity, which can be showcased by using humor. Constituents appreciate seeing that a woman candidate or office holder doesn’t take herself too seriously. Representative Katie Porter went viral for her appearance of Samantha Bee’s show, where she joked “I just don’t have time. I’m a single mom. The dinner’s burning. I’m late to something. I have 4,000 emails. My hair is frizzy. I haven’t shaved my legs in a week.” The lawmaker’s comedic response showed she was focusing on bigger issues than just herself, and was relatable to other stressed parents. While candidates shouldn’t take themselves too seriously, it is critical that a woman shows she cares about the issues facing her community. Representative Porter has pushed the head of the Centers for Disease Control to make coronavirus testing free for all Americans, proving the virus isn’t just a joke to her. Similarly, “Congress Moms” including Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Lori Trahan have made jokes about their new stay at home routines, but still kept the focus on the serious issue of keeping families safe.

As COVID-19 continues to impact communities across the country, women leaders are in the spotlight for their comprehensive response plans. When used correctly, humor can help further highlight how women leaders are in touch, relatable, and ready to serve.


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