"Stand Up Planet" stands out

by Nikki Clemons

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On September 10, the Moss Arts Center's audience transitioned frequently between laughter and stoic silence as they viewed "Stand Up Planet," a documentary focused on raising awareness on international issues through stand up comedy. Caty Borum Chattoo (communications '96), transmedia executive producer of the project, spoke to the crowd before the viewing, saying very little about the documentary, waiting instead for the Q&A at the end. The documentary's opening scene, featuring a stand-up routine, disguised the depth of the film, which covered a long list of issues in India, South Africa, and even here in America.

The documentary centered on a group of comedians gathered by American comedian Hasan Minhaj to find international entertainers changing their countries through their work. Minhaj, who was the host of the documentary, visited India and South Africa to meet comedians, hear their routines, and pick two—Mumbai's Aditi Mittal and South Africa's Mpho Popps—to bring to Los Angeles to perform with Minhaj and his group.

Minhaj learned about the issues that each country faced during his visit, guided through different parts of the cities by local comedians. Through these visits, the audience learned about sanitation issues that keep Indian children out of schools, issues particular to young girls, the extreme poverty in some neighborhoods of South Africa in comparison to the opulent wealth of others, as well as resolutions to HIV and the importance of safe sex. Some of these problems stood in stark contrast to America and a school like Virginia Tech, where plumbing is an afterthought and free condoms are handed out at Gobblerfest.

The documentary described the grassroot programs and organizations that were addressing these issues in each country. From a sanitation advisor who was looking to build new bathrooms for communities without plumbing to a soccer program that raises HIV awareness among kids, solutions in "Stand Up Planet" were discussed—and also expanded upon in webisodes on the project's website, where the entire film can be viewed.

Documentaries usually employ facts and statistics to frame problems, but comedy and entertainment can be equally effective, said Borum Chattoo, who is also a professor at the School of Communication at American University. Although she has made more serious documentaries, like "Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price," she wanted to explore an alternative way to present the same kinds of issues. "People watching heavy-handed documentaries are usually already aware of the problems," Borum Chattoo said. "We tried to draw in a new audience and to get people thinking about these problems."

English major Nikki Clemons was a Virginia Tech Magazine intern.

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