Comedian Nina Tarr discusses Islamophobia while sitting inside a blanket fort and holding a flashlight below her face for a spooky effect.
She shares her feelings in a video as part of “Just Sayin’!,” an online series of weekly humorous PSAs featuring comedians, among other public figures. The series will begin Tuesday at its launch party at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre Sunset. With performances by famous comics like David Koechner and Eliza Skinner, the event will also air multiple of the series’ funny public service announcements between sets. Director and creator Brent Bishop, a UCLA alumnus, gave each featured person the opportunity to select the topics they cared about rather than scripting the videos for them.
“With the whole project I kind of see my role as creating a vessel or very beautiful soapbox for people to express themselves on,” he said. “Comedy is a great way for conveying truth because sometimes it can disarm our instincts to be critical of something.”
“Just Sayin’!” was conceived during the 2016 national election process, Bishop said. He felt like the American mindset shifted toward encouraging silence on important matters, and opinions that did not fit the new office were being silenced, he said.
Using comedy to discuss social matters and personal topics of importance makes the messages more palatable, said director of photography Chloe Weaver. While she personally has a passion for discussing the issues found in the PSAs, she said comedians and other relevant figures have the ability to use their voices to skillfully start discussions.
“(The speakers) are saying this world has problems and you’re probably contributing to them, yet you take the message in lightheartedly,” Weaver said.
Peet Guercio, a comedian involved in the project, created three videos for “Just Sayin’!” on the topics of pay inequality, racism and his hatred of fancy restaurant ketchup. He said Bishop encouraged him and others to choose two or three topics to discuss, even if some were mostly just funny, like his genuine disdain for restaurant ketchup that he wants them to swap with Heinz. Dwayne Perkins, another featured comic, said Bishop asked him what was on his mind around the time of the recording, which for him revolved around topics like robots limiting jobs and America’s backlash toward immigration. Perkins also said the sheer number of participants, over 11 and growing as the project continues, provided a diverse range of topics.
“With all these creative people sharing what’s on their mind at any given time, chances are it’s going to be interesting,” he said.
Some of the messages the featured speakers discuss in “Just Sayin’!” stem from issues that affect not just the country, but their personal lives. Tarr, who created two PSAs for Bishop, said her mixed Iranian and American heritage and her Muslim grandmother prompted her discussion on Islamophobia. In the video, she said she hoped to help clear up misconceptions people have about Islam, many of which have been expressed to her directly because they think she is white rather than Middle Eastern.
Tarr said Bishop helped format the general ideas she had into a structured video, but he granted her ample creative freedom. Perkins similarly said he enjoyed free rein on what he discussed and said in his videos, which he felt was a key difference between the internet-based “Just Sayin’!” PSAs and television commercials, where actors are often told what to discuss, and in a scripted manner.
“I had complete reign over what I said and did,” he said. “It also amps up the entertainment value because we can push the envelope on things.”
Guercio said because the videos are part of an internet series, he was unafraid of television censorship taking away the directness of his message. He said some PSAs become ambiguous because they have to stay “network-safe,” and his more blunt and comedic videos did not have to meet rating guidelines.
With the online series, Bishop said he wants to allow people a place to openly start discussions, rather than filter through their content and control what is said through his project.
“The spirit of what ‘Just Sayin’!’ is all about is empowering, not limiting,” Bishop said. “I want viewers to know you can have fun making positive change, and you don’t have to fight fire with fire.”