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University of Missouri

Comedy Gives Back

Mizzou alumna Amber J. Lawson combines comedy and charity.

Amber Lawson

Amber J. Lawson is the CEO and founder of Comedy Gives Back, a 24‐hour global live‐streamed digital telethon. Photo courtesy of Amber J. Lawson.

Comedy and charity have gone together since Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis. Amber J. Lawson, BA ’94, of Los Angeles, added a technological twist to the pairing when she and friends Zoe Friedman and Jodi Lieberman created Comedy Gives Back in 2011. The Emmy‐nominated interactive program partners with comedians to produce live‐streamed comedy events that raise money and awareness for charities.

A self‐professed “natural ham,” Lawson studied musical theater at Mizzou, winning MU’s best supporting actress award in 1993 for her role as Bertha in Pippin the Musical. The Sigma Kappa member also won the best actress title during Greek Week festivities.

In addition to honing her acting chops, Lawson also developed her passion for giving at Mizzou. A large part of Greek Week and other Greek Life activities is raising money to benefit local and national causes and organizations.

Being in Sigma Kappa showed me that you could activate a community to create awareness of other people’s issues around the globe and affect change,” Lawson says.

After graduating, Lawson spent two years performing sketch comedy in the Windy City before moving to Los Angeles. A weekend course on how to produce a digital film changed her career trajectory.

It was really ahead of its time,” Lawson says of the course. “It was 1998, and there was this innocence, or this not knowing, that allowed us to go places and try new things.” Lawson made the jump from being on stage to behind the scenes. “Producing gave me my power back as opposed to being at the whim of others.”

Lawson served as the head of video programming and originals at AOL, making a name for herself in the digital media field. But her life was missing something.

I wanted to merge comedy and digital to do good on a global scale,” she says. Thus, Comedy Gives Back. To date, Comedy Gives Back has reached more than 200 million people through its live shows and live‐streamed fundraisers.

On Nov. 6, 2013, comedians including Marc Maron and Dane Cook, along with 83 others, performed in cities around the world, and their performances were live‐streamed on the Internet via Dailymotion — a digital telethon, reaching more than 100 million people and raising money and awareness for Malaria No More.

Everybody says that because of the Internet we’re so disconnected. The fact is, we wouldn’t experience the highs and lows of other places on the planet without the Internet. To affect and participate in those things humanizes us.”

On Sept. 20, Lawson will be inducted into the Raytown (Missouri) School District Hall of Fame (in high school, she was voted class clown).

I’ve always known I had a big mission in life,” Lawson says. “ I’m in comedy; it isn’t that serious. But what we’re doing is very powerful. I came together with my two best friends to have a great time to raise the vibration of the planet through laughter. That’s a crazy big idea, and we’re doing it.”