“What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.”

— Yiddish proverb

 I have no idea what that means. But I have been attempting to induce laughter in my own line of work over the years. ¶ I went to the University of California at Berkeley, where the motto is, “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.” In my extracurricular activities I participated in hunger awareness banquets for Oxfam (where 80 percent of the guests had to sit on the floor and eat rice) and worked for environmental public interest research groups (PIRGs). At one point we attempted a Cans Across America march to encourage recycling. Not exactly Selma, we made it about 80 yards. I also attempted to raise money for a Goodyear-size BottleBlimp. #FAIL

After moving back to Seattle, I wanted to put some fun in the environmental movement (this was before Planet Earth), and I invented a board game called EARTHALERT with my friend Mike Schiller. In addition to trivia and roleplaying, players had to take real actions during the game, like finding lights that were on that didn’t need to be, or writing an actual letter to the president. Though printed on recycled paper, the game was less fun than Pictionary and failed miserably.

After the digital revolution took hold, I made a documentary with Marty Riemer called Sleeping with Siri to explore the topic of technological overload. (Spoiler alert: turns out being constantly connected to your cell phone makes you stressed and crazy.) That led to the Tech Timeout Academic Challenge, where we ask high school students to give up their digital devices for a few days and document the experience. As you might imagine — it’s bedlam. Kids and parents hate the program (it’s hard to helicopter without a chopper), which will make for a great follow-up film.

My latest crusade is called Higher Ground TV, a show about the legalization of cannabis. Imagine The Daily Show meets Good Morning America — but with more stoned people. Cannabis is one of the most intriguing stories I’ve ever covered. In addition to giving users the giggles and the DEA a purpose, marijuana is a miracle aid for many individuals with Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s, PTSD, and even certain cancers. Better yet, it’s replacing dangerous, expensive, and addictive pharmaceutical drugs many adults are hooked on. The hundreds of millions of tax dollars legal weed raises is also a nice bonus.

The mission with Higher Ground — as with all my insane projects — is to elevate the dialogue by educating citizens on the complexities of the issue and “bringing the funny.” We’ve done parodies, ad campaigns, even a High Holidays gift guide. The good news about recreational cannabis is that the sky has not fallen. The era of Reefer Madness is being disproved by facts, statistics, and pointing out the absurdity of banning a plant.

It takes an informed and vigorous citizenry to fight against issues like corporate greed, racism, environmental destruction, and poverty. It’s the reason joining organizations like Greenpeace, the ACLU, and the Southern Poverty Law Center should be as mandatory as voting.

The comedic brand of activism I’m fond of adding to the mix actually comes from a long line of Eastern European Jews who kvetched about having to follow Moses across the Sinai in bare feet. “Laughter through tears,” they called it, and we need it now more than ever.

Michael A. Stusser is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. He also hosts Higher Ground. highergroundtv.com michaelstusser.com


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