Joe Hernandez-Kolski combats COVID-19 with comedy

Doxey Kamara, Intersections Editor

Comedian Joe Hernandez-Kolski collaborates with UnidosUS in his web series “Will Abuelo Get The Vaccine.” (Wikimedia Commons)

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted minority communities in the United States. Hispanic and Latiné adults in particular are 1.6 times as likely as white adults to contract the COVID-19 and over twice as likely to die from it. Part of the cause may lie in the abundance of misinformation concerning the vaccine, which is rife in Spanish-speaking forums. 

With Spanish-language misinformation being almost entirely neglected by hosting platforms, the Latiné and Hispanic communities are particularly vulnerable.  According to Univision, the largest Spanish-speaking television network in the U.S., these conditions made the American Hispanic community “the perfect victim of disinformation.”

But where corporate and societal efforts leave much to be desired, the Latiné community is making strides to combat misinformation and vaccine skepticism. Latino comedian Joe Hernandez-Kolski discussed his own way of combating misinformation: a comedy series titled “Will Abuelo Get the Vaccine?” 

Will Abuelo Get the Vaccine?” was made in partnership with UnidosUS — the country’s largest Latino civil rights organization. The series, Hernandez-Kolski hopes, will encourage members of the Latiné community to seek out more reliable sources of information.

The sketches feature conversations between “Angry Abuelo” — a character reminiscent of Archie Bunker — and his granddaughter, Christina. Through conversation between a misinformed Abuelo and his knowledgeable granddaughter, Hernandez-Kolski tells a wider story about how and why misinformation disproportionately impacts the Latiné community.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people are listening to biased information. Because of the language barrier, we are getting a disproportionate amount of misinformation from people who are profiting off of hysteria,” Hernandez-Kolski said when speaking on the Latiné community’s unique vulnerability to coronavirus misinformation.

Given that platforms such as Substack profit from hosting figures other platforms have banned for spreading anti-vaccine misinformation, such concerns are more than valid. The consequences of such profit-driven behavior are explored in the series, where an unvaccinated Abuelo asks, “I just don’t understand why you want me to trust this doctor who has specialized in treating infectious diseases since the 1980s, when I’m getting a different opinion from all of these websites that make money every time I click on one of their stories?” 

As for his opinion on the opportunists who knowingly spread misinformation and doubt, Hernandez-Kolski said “They’re snake oil salesmen — they’re con artists. They don’t believe what they’re preaching, but they want to be relevant.” 

Despite having multiple anchors spread skepticism regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and efforts to mitigate the spread, Fox News reports that about 90% of its full-time employees are vaccinated against the virus.

Regarding the reach of this project, Hernandez-Kolski said that “It’s never about who’s not there. It’s about who is there.” 

“Even if it’s one or two people, I’m already grateful for that,” Hernandez-Kolski said. “Obviously, you want your work to be seen by as many people as possible, but yeah — I’m grateful that they’re just made.” 

Hernandez-Kolski said that he has already seen positive impacts from his work, noting that multiple family members of Adriana Martinez, the actress who plays Christina, were encouraged to get the vaccine after watching the sketches.

“Will Abuelo Get the Vaccine?” is available to watch for free on YouTube. More information about the sketch series can be found here.