Updated: May 30
March is an exciting and eventful month in the UK, filled with various celebrations, awareness days, and charitable events, with one of the most well-known events being Red Nose Day. This fundraising event is the flagship of Comic Relief that aims to tackle issues around poverty and injustice on a global scale.
The history behind the nose came from Comic Relief's founders: Lenny Henry (who you may know more recently as Sadoc Burrows from The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power) and Richard Curtis (The director and writer of Love Actually). The history of the iconic red nose came from Richard's visit to Ethiopia in 1985, during a period of famine.
Appalled and saddened by the state of poverty and suffering he had witnessed, he and Lenny decided to use their platform as comedians to raise money and awareness of this unfortunate event in the UK. A year later, in 1986, the duo hosted the first Comic Relief telethon that raised £15 million to assist with famine relief, with help from various comedians and entertainers who performed sketches and routines. Viewers were also encouraged to donate money to the cause.
In 1988, These two comedians came up with the iconic red nose as it is accessible, fun and imaginative. These noses became an instant hit with both children and adults. Over the years, more and more celebrities have shown their support and rallied together to foster humour, creativity and a community spirit to encourage anyone to participate in a day of laughter and participate in various activities to raise funds for many issues. This year's themes include the devastating earthquakes that rocked already war-torn communities in Turkey and Syria and those impacted by the cost-of-living crisis.
Comic Relief can lighten the mood and make critical messages accessible to a broader audience. In addition, this approach helps engage people, encourage them to support causes they might not have considered otherwise, and foster healthy communities.
A Tragedy with Comedy: Why might someone oppose Comic Relief's approach? While there are good intentions behind what Comic Relief do, some may disagree that this approach to raising awareness is insensitive or even exploitative. Here are three criticisms often voiced about Comic Relief's methods:
Over-reliance on humour and comedy to engage people - Some people think that Comic Relief relies too heavily on mood and that this approach trivialises the essential matters at hand, such as poverty, inequality, and social injustice, and that it risks poking fun at the struggles faced by the very people the charity seeks to help.
Promotion of "Poverty Tourism" mentality - This is where wealthy individuals engage in charitable activities as a form of entertainment or self-vindication rather than showing genuine concern for those in need. Critics argue this approach is insensitive to the needs and experiences of the people seeking help and can reaffirm harmful stereotypes and attitudes.
Focus on short-term goals - Comic Relief has also been accused of focusing on more minor problems rather than addressing them at their roots, such as what causes lead to poverty and social injustice. Furthermore, some argue that celebrity endorsements avert attention from the structural inequalities that cause these issues; and that it ultimately perpetuates the problem being addressed.
Discussion points for Democracy & Equality and Diversity:
Is comedy a suitable vehicle to promote charitable events
Could promoting understanding and empathy help to create a more inclusive and tolerant society?
Do you feel more motivated or confident to help out and raise awareness of issues in a way that is more personal to you?
Are you in favour of what Comic Relief stand for at its core?