SOAR’s Comedy Night Makes Heavy Issues Approachable through Humor

A few weekends ago, Cro’s Nest was filled with laughter – some that was uncomfortable, some confused and some just fully amused. Comedians Calise Hawkins and Kunal Arora entertained a large audience in an event hosted by SOAR (Students Organized Against Racism) and co-sponsored by CCSRE and SAC. The turnout was incredible, and couches and chairs had to be taken from other areas of Cro to accommodate the large crowd.

After the show was opened by Conn’s very own Micaela Tepler ’15, who touched upon her self-affirmed favorite comedic topics (poop and sex), Hawkins hopped up on stage and went straight into discussing the absurd noises a crowd makes. Her topics ranged from modern evidence of racism to her six-year-old daughter, college, crack cocaine and money. She provided a delightful social commentary, intermittently reminding us with ample sarcasm that “it gets better,” and even broke out in laughter at some of her own observations.

Next, Kunal Arora’s performance was a satisfying complement to Hawkins’ energetic dialogue. Arora’s relaxed attitude was reflected by his baggy sweatshirt and comedic style: he started the night out by making fun of himself and organized racism, carrying on to talk about the lottery, the urgent need for English majors to rethink their lives, romantic relationships and American Indians. A favorite moment of the night came during Arora’s discussion of men’s unsuccessful tactics for hitting on women, when in a moment of hilarious frustration he exclaimed, “Women are like negligent lifeguards. They ask, ‘Where are all the good guys?’ – He’s right there drowning!” He responded, “Go get him!” and then proceeded to air-swim around the stage for a moment.

When I spoke to the pair of comedians afterwards, Hawkins explained that touchy topics are common set material for her, regardless of the setting because “you can’t avoid race if you’re not white.” It can be difficult to make such heavy issues into comedic material, but SOAR president and event organizer Jasmine Kelekay ’15 explained that the hope was for these serious topics to be “brought to people’s attention in a potentially controversial, yet kind of lighthearted and entertaining way. The hope was for it to not feel so heavy, as it often does. Comedy has the power to do that.”

And the comedians surely did their part. Arora, the model of “chill,” added that he has never really worried about his topics getting too intense, because “if you come from a place of positivity,” that will be reflected in the show, and the audience will see and feel it. Hawkins and Arora certainly do know how to talk about race and relationships coherently without making the audience feel uncomfortable — it was later revealed that the two are both in an interracial relationship themselves… with each other.

Both comedians have worked their way up and made it to the top in a really tough industry. Arora is featured on Rooftop and Hulu, while Hawkins has appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Totally Biased with Kamau W. Bell and is a writer for MTV’s Girl Code. It was an honor to have them at Conn, and luckily Kelekay had personal connections with Hawkins – who brought Arora along for one night of epic comedy.

They each talked about college in their sets, Arora taking quite a bit of time to vehemently urge English majors to turn back now (he was one himself). Hawkins explained how her attendance at a historically black school was partially for the purpose of meeting more black men, but then laughed as she remembered becoming the “white girl” at her school because of her lighter skin – which meant “wearing flip-flops in the winter.” Both comedians poked fun at themselves but also at the entire discussion of race, breaking down the rigid borders that so often make it a somber and avoided topic.

Kelekay and other SOAR members were extremely happy with the success of this event and hope to see similar enthusiasm for other future installments in the series. Kelekay revealed that this may become an annual event made possible by her friendship with Hawkins and Arora and by their willingness to come to Conn. If that plan comes true, Hawkins will have time to think of a joke about camels, because she said she wishes she had known that is our mascot. Arora, unsure of how to feel about our camel pride, could only say that “we have a dirty mascot” as he chuckled about “humps.”