How Jokes About You-Know-What Can Undo South Africa’s HIV/AIDS Stigma

Comedians in ‘Stand Up Planet,’ a documentary airing May 14 on Pivot, use the male sex organ as a punch line to slow the spread of a deadly disease.
May 7, 2014·
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Ah, the penis: Freud based his life’s work on it. Crowds paid to see Napoleon’s in a museum. And at least one ex-congressman couldn’t stop photographing it.

Now, in Stand Up Planet, a documentary airing May 14 on our sister network, Pivot, the private body part serves as a punch line for South African comics to eliminate the shame associated with HIV/AIDS.

The nation has the highest prevalence of HIV and AIDS on the planet. In 2011, nearly 270,000 died from HIV-related causes in South Africa. Still, many young people there refuse testing or services because they’re afraid to be judged by their communities.

That’s where comic Mpho Popps comes in. In Stand Up Planet’s “You Want to Do What With My Penis?!” featurette, Popps talks about circumcision, or as he calls it, “going to the mountains.” No anesthetic, just chamomile and a jagged blade. “If you come back alive, you’re a man,” he jokes.

Popps may get the laughs, but the joke sends this vital message: Circumcision saves lives. The surgical procedure is believed “to protect heterosexual men because the foreskin has many Langerhans cells, which pick up viruses and “present” them to the immune system—which HIV attacks,” according to The New York Times.

For more, tune in to Stand Up Planet, airing simultaneously on May 14 at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT on Link TV and Pivot, our sister network. The documentary will also air May 14 on Southern California’s KCET at 9 p.m. PT.

This content was produced in association with our parent company, Participant Media.