If you want to get a sense of which topics are unpopular but true, listen to comedians.
Comedians live on the edge of what’s acceptable to say. Unlike politicians, who can only succeed if they say things that we expect to hear, comedians are successful when they have shocking ideas that contain a grain of truth.
Throughout history, comedy has been the best way to understand what people actually believe. Listening to thirty minutes of comedy will tell you more about a society’s values than a year with a textbook. Comedy is society’s release valve. It’s a way of admitting that some of our beliefs are false without needing to tear everything down and start from scratch.
Comedy creates opportunity. Ideas that are unpopular but true have less competition from others. Mark Twain once said that “it is our nature to conform; it is a force which not many can successfully resist”. Most people would prefer not to risk their social standing and professional reputation on a new idea, even if it’s true. Better to wait for others to approve it first.
We can learn from comedians. If you have an idea on the border of what’s acceptable to think, tread lightly. Allow others to treat it as a joke. When you tell stories, express your most controversial ideas through characters who have been written off. Give your best ideas to your criminals, your drunks, your miscreants. After all, no one will judge you if it’s coming from the mouth of someone who is already up to no good. The important thing is that you give the idea room to breathe.
When the time comes to act, you’ll have had the benefit of thinking about the idea through your characters. Your thoughts will be well-formed but protected behind the shield of comedy.