Senior Jenna Lawson doesn’t know how she became an activist; she just feels that she has always been one.
Lawson is a history major with minors in English and honors, but she also has a flair for comedy. She has been doing improvisation at Geneseo since her freshman year, and now she is ending her college career having created Geneseo’s very own The ToKnight Show, a series of four comedy acts with a focus on social commentary.
Lawson grew up loving the sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live,” which inspired the creation of The ToKnight Show, but she always wished it could be a little different.
“I found myself getting frustrated that [SNL] was always just straight white dudes,” she said. Lawson saw the potential for comedy to be used as a tool for social critique, and after observing that Geneseo isn’t as diverse as it should be, she decided to put together the show.
The topics of the four performances were LGBTQ+ dating issues, student activism, mental illness and disabilities and race or racism on campus. Lawson reached out to cultural organizations and students interested in talking about the issues to make the comedy as informative and impactful as possible. With this project, she hoped to represent intersectionality and particularly marginalized individuals or groups to an audience who may not be familiar with the struggles of these students.
Lawson thinks that most of the cultural or social activist groups on-campus battle with preaching to the same, small crowd of people who already empathize and understand the dilemmas of the oppressed.
“It’s always the case that the people who should be there aren’t, at any kind of social activism event,” she said. “I was trying to, by using comedy, attract a different audience who wouldn’t necessarily think of themselves as activists, or maybe students who don’t understand what it’s like to be marginalized.”
Hard work and a ton of creative energy were poured into each of the four performances of The ToKnight Show last semester. Stage design and script writing were toiled over by Lawson and a few fellow peers. Each event opened with a house band composed of student musicians, playing an original theme song written by students. After a full stand-up monologue, panel members were called to the stage to express their personal, usually private, opinions.
Despite the show’s criticism of the college, Lawson was pleased that the administration was so open to the students’ opinions. She wanted students to be able to share their honest thoughts to peers and the audience about flaws in the campus community without repercussions of any kind, which was fully honored by the faculty.
After she graduates, Lawson would love to see the show develop and continue on at Geneseo. “It doesn’t even have to be comedy,” she said. “Just a place where students can voice their concerns to their peers.” She requests that anyone who has the desire to help continue the legacy of The ToKnight Show get in contact with her.
Meanwhile, after graduation, Lawson plans to take a gap year to work at a law firm in Rochester to determine if law school is in her future. She is excited about the impressive comedy scene in Rochester and hopes to become a part of it through her own stand-up act. Though she is uncertain about her future plans, she does not see her innate activist attitude ending any time soon.