YouTube Star Anna Akana Helps Kids Turn Bullying Into Comedy Gold (VIDEO)
Author Madeleine L’Engle wrote in A Ring of Endless Light, "A good laugh heals a lot of hurts." It's a sentiment many comedians have expressed in some way, but few understand it so well as Anna Akana.
The comic and YouTube creator lost her 13-year-old sister Kristina to suicide in 2007 after she endured relentless bullying at school.
Knowing firsthand the healing power of comedy, Anna's mission to stop bullying and prevent suicide eventually brought her to the Groundlings Theatre & School, in coordination with the Canon Rebel With a Cause campaign.
There, a handful of teens ages 13-17 spent a week learning improv and comedy writing skills, transforming their bullying experiences into standup routines.
"The ultimate goal is to really help them see that all the painful things you go through in life can be viewed through a funny lens, you can make fun of it," Anna told Wetpaint of the project.
"The powerful thing about joking about those kinds of experiences is you really take the power back from [the bullies]."
The 26-year-old worked for a week with the kids, along with Groundlings School instructors Ariane Price and Jimmy Fowlie. They were supported by Dr. Jeff Sugar, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association who provided counseling throughout the experience.
At the week's conclusion, the teens took the stage to perform their stand-up routines in front of families and friends. From the audience, it was plain to see how the experience had helped them reframe their painful experiences.
"Comedy can transform your pain into acceptance," instructor Ariane said during our discussion before the kids made their comedy debut.
"I still remember the first time I was able to make a joke about my sister's suicide," she recounted. "It felt so good, because I was in a place where I was like, 'Oh, I can laugh about that now,' and it has a little less power over me."
"But it's not necessarily a joyous laugh, like 'hahaha, this is wonderful!'" Ariane clarified. "It's laughing at the absurdity of what you've survived, almost, like 'can you believe it?'"