What happens when you pair stand-up comedians with journalists to explore the effects of local pollution? The Center for Investigative Reporting and WFMU are about to find out. In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, CIR and WFMU are teaming up to launch a new initiative exploring New Jersey’s toxic legacy through comedy. Yes, comedy.
We know what you’re thinking: Pollution is no laughing matter, especially for those who live near it. According to WNYC’s recent analysis, 89 percent of New Jersey residents live within a mile of a toxic site, which can be anything from a leaking oil tank to a polluted body of water.
But the Toxic Comedy project aims to spotlight these important stories in a creative, entertaining way. Using journalism as a foundation and drawing from the news-meets-comedy approach of late-night luminaries such as Jon Stewart and John Oliver, WFMU and CIR see this as another opportunity to engage residents with the facts.
“Having lived in the greatness and horribleness of New Jersey almost my entire life, I know how to laugh at a dump of chromium dioxide, and I want others to as well,” said Ken Freedman, WFMU’s station manager. “Any way of getting these stories out there is a move in a good direction.”
The Toxic Comedy project is the latest installment of Dirty Little Secrets, a collaborative investigation into local contamination in New Jersey. The series of stories has featured contributions from a variety of media partners across the state, including WHYY, WNYC/NJPR, NJ Spotlight, NJTV, WBGO, New Brunswick Today, Jersey Shore Hurricane News, the Rutgers University Department of Journalism and Media Studies, and the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. The collaboration is made possible with support from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
WFMU will commission five comedians to create original stand-up material sourced from reporting about contamination in the Garden State. The group will debut the acts at the Toxic Comedy World Tour on Sept. 10 at WFMU’s infamous Monty Hall. The performances will be followed by a discussion with the audience, journalists and others about the reporting behind the laughs.
Comics chosen to headline the event include Dave Hill, Gregory Joseph, Jo Firestone and Aparna Nancherla. A fifth comedian will be chosen through a stand-up comedy contest at Monty Hall on Friday, July 29.
Anyone interested in applying to perform at the contest should send an audio or video sample of a stand-up act to Ken Freedman at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submissions is July 14, with performers announced and notified the following day. The winner of the contest will receive a prize of $500 in addition to an opportunity to perform at the Toxic Comedy World Tour. Second place will be awarded $250.
Toxic Comedy comics will participate in a workshop led by CIR and WFMU in early August to review recent news stories and investigative reporting about contamination in New Jersey. The group also will discuss how to balance comedy with journalistic ethics and factual accuracy.
This isn’t the first experimental event hosted through Dirty Little Secrets. In June, CIR and George Street Playhouse teamed up to create Terra Incognita, an original theater production inspired by an investigative series by NJTV News. The play was part of StoryWorks, CIR’s groundbreaking series that pairs playwrights with investigative reporters to create immediate artistic responses inspired by journalism.