Everybody is talking about my (and Paste’s) home state of Georgia. For once, though, being the center of attention is more cringe than satisfying. We’re the IT girls until January 5, when the state’s special runoff election will decide if the Senate flips blue or continues to give Mitch McConnell free rein to do jack shit for Americans while looking like Gary Oldman in Hannibal. It’s a big freaking deal as every Georgia resident with a cell phone knows.
So what if you don’t live in Georgia and want to help—or rather, you want to pretend to care about us for about a month’s time before going back to forgetting we exist? Maybe you want to produce an online comedy show to raise funds to help get out the vote. Hey, that’s wonderful! I’m genuinely excited to have as much assistance as possible because, no matter what happens, the outcome of this election directly affects everybody’s daily lives—even us Southerners. And while I welcome your support, you need to do this shit right. If you’re going to spot me, you better know what you’re doing cause it’s my head at stake. So allow me to demonstrate some southern hospitality and teach you how to convincingly convey compassion and interest in Georgia for at least the next nine days: comedy edition.
So you want to throw a fundraiser show. There’s many ways to do this but one thing is a must: book comedians from Georgia—plural. This is an adult-pitched, underhand softball lob, and so far y’all are striking out so hard it’s giving me whiplash.
If the goal of your show is to benefit Georgia politics, you need to have comedians who are actually from here. And yet every line-up I’ve seen looks like the directory for Los Feliz, Los Angeles. Even one recent mega line-up had exactly one token Georgian which leads me to believe the booker did so while completely oblivious to their home ties. Not only is this a gross oversight, considering that Atlanta is home to one of the largest comedy scenes in the country, but even the musical guests on some of these shows are not from Georgia. How? How? Atlanta! Athens! Macon, even. There’s so many options if you put in an ounce of effort. Imagine if Tennessee had a runoff and you booked a concert lineup composed 100% of New Yorkers, as if Nashville and Memphis didn’t exist.
The case for booking Georgia comedians should be an obvious one. The point of a fundraiser show is not just to raise money but to raise awareness. You need to get people motivated and mobilized, registering new voters and helping get them to the polls. As you can imagine, Georgia’s resident comedians, past and present, have quite the local following. Attracting an audience of eligible Georgia voters (especially those turning 18 between elections) to your event maximizes your show’s output.
Frankly, there is no good reason why a single season of Comedy Central Half Hours has more Georgians than your Zoom show that can literally book anyone from around the globe. It makes even less sense to not book comedians who currently live here and can actually vote in this election alongside our neighbors and families. To ignore the demo you’re actually raising money for is completely antithetical to the cause, and mind numbingly shortsighted.
It’s not like we can’t hang with the New York and L.A. crowd. It’s not like multiple Atlanta comics didn’t release albums this year. It’s not like we haven’t performed on Comedy Central, HBO, and various late night shows, and critically acclaimed sketch/variety shows. It’s not like we don’t compete in and often win nationwide talent competitions like Last Comic Standing or StandUp NBC, or have cultivated a fanbase of millions through podcasts and Youtube shows. The talent and reach is all there, so take the ball and run with it.
While you might not have as much skin in the game as us, we all benefit from flipping the Senate, and the way we’ll accomplish this is by following the same game plan from November’s general election. As you sing Stacey Abrams’ praises, let’s not forget why you are. It was grassroots organizing on the ground in Georgia that paved the way to this long purple state finally landing in the blue column. It’s not money alone that will get Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock elected, as we saw with Jaime Harrison and Sara Gideon (amongst others) losing by wide margins despite their campaign’s record-breaking fundraising.
We can win by mobilizing voters and breaking down barriers to vote. We’re not putting the focus on LA podcasters, old CW stars, or millionaires in general. The focus is and has to be on Georgians. We don’t need vanity websites to collect money we hope will be redistributed to local organizations. We don’t need middle men, we need to donate directly to groups like FairFight, The New Georgia Project, Georgia Stand-Up, GA Coalition for The People’s Agenda, Pro Georgia, Black Voters Matter, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, Southerners on New Ground, Georgia Equality, and more. Pick as many as you like, just make the extra push to manually distribute your funds to ensure it’s actually received. It might not be the most convenient way to transfer money, but it’s the most effective.
While this current election feels particularly significant, there will be others that won’t get put under the same spotlight. These organizations are not slowing down after the new year and will need continued assistance. In addition to directly putting money in their hands, you need to put their names and the organizers that keep them running in the forefront, not your media network. It’s not enough to photoshop a logo onto an Instagram graphic. Tag them, link to their websites in your posts, reach out to them and invite representatives to be on the show to help spread the message. These are names Georgians need to get better acquainted with beyond the next few weeks.
In other words, know your audience. If all you know about Georgia is Waffle House, strip clubs, and Super Bowl LI, then maybe you should take a more silent role in this project of yours. Try finding a partner that knows what BBQ spots to hit and what Krogers to avoid in Atlanta to help you. Again, it’s not enough to target a general audience; to be an effective fundraiser you need to seek out a demo that can actually participate in the runoff. It’s bad enough to watch do-nothing politicians pander to us; we don’t need comedians doing it too. In other words, you’ve got to put more thought into your show than coming up with a peach pun.
We know your concern for us is conditional. We know if this doesn’t go the way you want, you’ll be back to blaming us for this country’s flaws. We’ll go from heroes of the general election to dipshit rednecks that “deserve what’s coming to us” despite Georgia being one of the hardest states to vote in thanks to gerrymandering, random voter roll purges, last minute poll shutdowns, and strict photo ID requirements. You’ll forget the fact that our current governor and former Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, in all likelihood stole his seat as no one stepped in to enforce the rule that he must step down from his position as SOS before running in 2018 to avoid a clear conflict of interest and thus was the catalyst for Stacey Abrams’ FairFight mission.
But that won’t matter. It won’t matter what shady tricks the GOP pulls this election, or what technical problems hit on that Tuesday; it will be our fault according to our loving allies.
We saw you do it when Kemp tried to ban abortion and Hollywood’s response to hearing Georgian’s reproductive rights were being taken away was to threaten to take our jobs away too. We saw people unaffected by these moves advocate for abandoning those most in need and at their most vulnerable and try to justify it by saying “this is what you get for being a red state” despite the fact that we, and other Southern states, are only red due to said voter suppression tactics.
We saw the damning tweets come pouring in as early as Wednesday, November 4 of this year, before we got anywhere close to finishing counting our ballots, only to tell us we were the loves of your life come Friday when the state delivered Biden. I’ll never forget the hard pivot from “Black women will save us” to “throw the whole South away.”
And we’ll remember how you handle these runoff results. For every sips coffee tweet, every call for succession from “Jesusland,” we see you and we see through you.
So do us a favor and listen to us for even a moment because we can’t afford to make the same mistakes twice. We’re not going to flood candidates with money and broadcast empty messages of unity, liberty, and any other vague buzzword better fit for suburban mom driftwood art than a political campaign. As great as it is to see the comedy community pool its resources for a good cause, at the end of the day your tweets will not save us, and your shows will not save us. Georgia voters, activists, and organizers will be the ones to get the job done. So if you want to help, do it right.
Olivia Cathcart is a comedian and writer.