How to write a funny protest sign
Right now, everyone’s mad about something. And during a time of high-visibility, ultra-Instagrammed civic engagement, we have more opportunities than ever to amplify our infuriated opinions.
You only have one piece of poster board to make your point, and you want to hit home.
This is about getting a laugh—and it’s about using humor to make a serious point.
But what makes for a funny and powerful protest sign? Let’s look at what makes these signs hilarious and important, and talk about how you can be not just bitter — but better.
Be passionate (but open to understatements).
If you’re thinking of going to a protest, but you feel so lukewarm about it that you’re tempted to carry an anti-protest sign, think again. That’s a dick move. Unless you’re counter-protesting – which should ignite equally passionate feelings – there’s no reason to show up just to yuck someone’s yum.
Here’s an exception missed by the people who made the post I linked to above: If your “lukewarm” sign is deliberately ironic, understated for comic effect, and/or flat-out sarcastic. For instance, this lady, from that article:
That’s not the face of a someone who’s “a little upset.” That’s the face of a woman who has brought home the bacon, fried it up in the pan, and gives zero f*cks if you feel like a man at this point. If you want to harness the power of sarcasm, think of the thing you would love to SCREAM at people. Then, think of how you would dial that all the way back to where it’s totally ludicrously understated. For instance:
At a rally for DREAMers: “Please let my friends’ parents stay here to actually parent them.”
At a protest against bullfighting: “This is bull.”
At a demand to take down confederate statues: “Didn’t these guys lose the war?”
You see what I mean.
Go big. Comedy is about being genuine, and then exaggerating—taking your point to the max. Things just aren’t bad, or hellish, they are almost literally HELL, says this woman:
Use comparisons. This is one of GOLD’s own 5.5 types of jokes! This girl’s sign is hilarious, awful, and true. By comparing dress codes to guns, she’s highlighting their ridiculous nature. What’s more is she’s actually raising two important issues instead of one: girls’ dress codes and gun control. Comparisons are great for multifaceted protesting—and for, you know, being funny.
This is where corny works.
I’m not usually pro-puns. Used wrong, they can be so corny they make you cringe. However, when you’re working with a fortune-cookie-sized message, you have to employ whatever will work in a small space. Be punny, rhyme like the wind, indulge your inner dad.
Use your age. It’s funny when kids swear. It just fucking is. Also, kids are usually more observant than adults — we’re not so cynical, and we care a lot about the world around us, despite the stereotype of the bored and angsty teenager. Take your unique point-of-view and apply it to comedy! This kid probably has uttered the words “I’d rather die than go to math class”. That’s something kids say. They don’t usually follow it up with calling people a-holes. That’s the punch. Solid.
Gillian Rooney is a teenage American comedian and writer based in Connecticut.