A man walks into a bar professing his admiration for economist Milton Friedman. He quickly loses the room.
That same man whips out his smart phone and shares an EconPop video extolling the free market via “Ghostbusters” clips … well, that’s a different story, says Andrew Heaton.
The EconPop host, a New York-based stand-up comic and writer, understands how entertainment can send a message that otherwise wouldn’t get through.
“Pop culture is a very good vehicle, an immediate way to give examples that everyone will relate to,” says Heaton, whose EconPop series is created, funded and promoted by the Moving Picture Institute to educate young people about economics through pop culture.
Heaton was initially approached by Austin-based Emergent Order about a video series like EconPop. He caught the company’s attention after penning an article slamming Matt Damon’s “Elysium” for peddling so many flimsy economic principles. The potential to share libertarian-leaning messages via pop culture had instant appeal.
“The Left has been very good at intuitively understanding that you reach people with emotion better than logic,” he says.
Libertarians can crank out yet another white paper to make their economic case, or they can go the EconPop route and see if that draws more converts. Heaton’s “LEGO Movie” treatise alone has earned more than 66,000 views since July 29, 2014.
Now, Heaton leverages his cerebral wit and self-deprecating humor to show the libertarian side of films like “Back to School,” “Wall*E” and “Dallas Buyers Club.”
Working the right-leaning comedy circuit has its perks, he says.
He recalls taking part in a comedy competition in Washington, D.C. a few years back. His act had something none of the competition featured.
“I was the only person out of the 20 who was for limited government … that automatically propelled me to the top tier of the competition. There was demand for it but no supply,” he says. The humor marketplace is saturated with “awkward, tall white guys who wanna tell you about their social life,” he says. What’s missing is a right-of-center takes on government.
The Right is still waiting for its Stephen Colbert, he adds.
Heaton says he tries some of his political humor on blue-state audiences. As long as the crowd knows the set might get political they often laugh at the appropriate moments.
“Liberals are really open-minded about the things they already agree with,” he says of one such joke. “They all laugh … ‘it’s true, it’s true.’”
Each EconPop video production begins with a long phone conversation between Heaton and folks from Emergent Order.
They’ll pick over a film, explore as many fiscal angles as they can and then Heaton distills their conversation down and “shoehorns” as many jokes in as possible. Then, he’ll fly down to Austin to spend a day shooting the video.
Heaton, who plans on creating a series of “Saturday Night Live” sketch videos early in 2015, says the 1980s offered an array of films taking aim at big government. Today’s Hollywood isn’t as eager to hit that soft target, but sometimes those themes emerge all the same.
Take “The LEGO Movie,” a film its creators suggested was a digital attack on capitalism. Yet the film also showcased “letting people on the ground floor do as they will,” he says, an unabashed cry for freedom.
“Weirdly, it worked both ways,” he says.