- Additional Positions at AU
- Executive Director, Center for Media & Social Impact
Caty Borum Chattoo is Executive Director of the Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI), an innovation lab and research center at American University that creates, showcases and studies media designed for social change; and Assistant Professor at the American University School of Communication in Washington, D.C. She is an award-winning documentary producer, scholar, professor and strategist working at the intersection of social change communication, documentary and entertainment storytelling. Her book about the role of mediated comedy in social change, "A Comedian and An Activist Walk Into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice," with co-author Lauren Feldman, was published by University of California Press (2020). Her documentary book, "Story Movements: How Documentaries Empower People and Inspire Social Change," was published by Oxford University Press (2020).
In 2017, she launched The Laughter Effect, a research and creative initiative that examines the role of comedy in social change and produces co-created comedy with social justice organizations. In 2019, she co-created and launched, with Moore + Associates, the Yes, And Laughter Lab, a creative incubator of comedy for social good, in partnership with Comedy Central. In 2016, she launched Story Movements, a biennial national convening and research initiative at the intersection of civic storytelling and social change. As a documentary producer, her films and TV programs have aired in the U.S. and India. Her creative and scholarly work has been funded by leading global and national philanthropies. In the U.S. and around the world, she is a featured speaker and workshop leader on the topic of storytelling, communication, and social justice. Her recent research and creative work in media, entertainment and social change has been supported by more than 30 external grants, from funders that include the MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, Gates Foundation, Luminate, Atlantic Philanthropies, McNulty Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Unbound Philanthropy, Pop Culture Collaborative, Fledgling Fund, Independent Television Service, International Documentary Association, and more.
A former philanthropy director and producer with legendary TV producer and activist Norman Lear, program officer at the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Entertainment Media & Public Health program, and senior vice-president in social change communication at global communications agency FleishmanHillard, her peer-reviewed research on the intersection of storytelling, creativity and social change is featured in leading journals in communication and the humanities, including Journal of Communication; Journalism; Media, Culture & Society; Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media; Mass Communication and Society; HUMOR: International Journal of Humor Research, and more. She also serves on the Board of Directors of three leading media-serving organizations: The Peabody Awards, Kartemquin Films, and Working Films.
Borum Chattoo, C. & Feldman, L. (2020). A Comedian and An Activist Walk Into A Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice. Oakland, California: University of California Press. https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520299764/a-comedian-and-an-activist-walk-into-a-bar
Borum Chattoo, C. (2020). Story Movements: How Documentaries Empower People and Inspire Social Change. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/story-movements-9780190943417?cc=us&lang=en&
Feldman, L. & Borum Chattoo, C. (2019). Comedy as a route to social change: The effects of satire and news on persuasion about Syrian refugees. Mass Communication and Society, 22(3), 277-300, https://doi.org/10.1080/15205436.2018.1545035
Borum Chattoo, C. & Jenkins, W. (2019). From reel life to real social change: The role of social-issue documentary in U.S. public policy. Media, Culture & Society, 41(8), 1107–1124, https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443718823145
Borum Chattoo, C. (2018). A funny matter: Toward a framework for understanding the function of comedy in social change. HUMOR: International Journal of Humor Research, 32(3), 499-523, https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2018-0004
Borum Chattoo, C. (2018). “Documentary and Communication.” Oxford Bibliographies in Communication. Ed. Patricia Moy. New York: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/OBO/9780199756841-0207
Borum Chattoo, C., Aufderheide, P., Alexander, M. & Green, C. (2018). American realities on public television: Analysis of the Independent Television Service’s documentaries, 2007-2016. International Journal of Communication, 12: 1541–1568. http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/7826/2314
Borum Chattoo, C. & Green-Barber, L. (2018). An investigative journalist and a comedian walk into a bar: The role of comedy in public engagement with environmental journalism. Journalism. https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884918763526
Borum Chattoo, C. & Feldman, L. (2017). Storytelling for social change: Leveraging documentary and comedy for public engagement in global poverty. Journal of Communication, 67: 678–701, https://doi:10.1111/jcom.12318
AU’s Center for Media & Social Impact Receives $1.1 Million. American University. January 17, 2020.
Comedy and Social Change: Why We Invested in the Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI). Luminate. January 16, 2020.
This Time It’s Serious: Why Comedy For Social Change Needs Investment. Pioneers Post. April 12, 2019.
Comedy Central Partners With Define American For ‘Yes, And…Laughter Lab’ Social Change Initiative. Deadline Hollywood. March 14, 2019.
“Yes, And… Laughter Lab” to Spark More Comedy That Drives Change. Define American blog. March 14, 2019.
Taking Risks: Comedy as Tool for Social Justice. How Do You Like It So Far? Podcast Hosted by Henry Jenkins. February 6, 2019.
Getting Real '18: Energizing Advocacy and Mobilizing the Public Sphere in Fraught Times. Documentary magazine (International Documentary Association. October 17, 2018.
Professor Studies How Comedy Affects Serious Topics. WUSA9 (CBS News). February 9, 2018.
Area of Expertise
comedy and social change, media and social justice, social change communication, integrated media campaigns, documentary film and television production, strategic communication, entertainment communication
Caty Borum Chattoo is an award-winning documentary producer, scholar, professor, and strategist working at the intersection of social change communication, documentary and entertainment storytelling. Her book about the effects of mediated comedy in social change, A Comedian and An Activist Walk Into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice, with co-author Lauren Feldman, is forthcoming from University of California Press (March 2020). Her book about documentaries and grassroots public engagement, Story Movements: How Documentaries Empower People and Inspire Social Change, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press (July 2020). Following the 2014 production of Stand Up Planet, a groundbreaking comedy-poverty documentary starring Peabody-Award-winning comedian Hasan Minhaj, in 2017, she created The Laughter Effect, a research and creative initiative that examines the role of comedy in social change and produces co-created comedy with social justice organizations. In 2019, she co-created and launched, with Moore + Associates, the Yes, And Laughter Lab, a creative incubator of comedy for social good, in partnership with Comedy Central. Additionally, in 2019, with comedian Bethany Hall as creative comedy director, she premiered the CMSI Comedy ThinkTanks initiative, which curates professional comedy writers’ rooms with social justice organizations to co-create diverse comedy designed for public engagement and the entertainment marketplace. In 2016, she introduced Story Movements, a biennial national convening, research initiative and professional network at the intersection of civic storytelling and social change. In the U.S. and around the world, Borum Chattoo is a featured speaker and workshop leader on the topic of creative storytelling and social justice at film festivals, social change convenings, and social justice gatherings.