As the U.S. surpasses 240 school shootings in 2023, setting the stage for a record-breaking year of gun violence in schools, Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) is launching “Just Joking,” its latest public service announcement (PSA) to underscore how important it is to take threats of gun violence seriously.

The PSA features a lineup of renowned comedians – including Billy Eichner, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Jay Pharoah, Roy Wood Jr., Caitlin Reilly, David Cross, Iliza Shlesinger and Rachel Bloom – who lend their wit to deliver a sobering message: Threats are not jokes. If you see a warning sign of violence, always say something.

In the PSA, audience members assume that comedians are performing regular stand-up routines and “Just Joking.” However, it is later revealed that what the audience thought were punchlines were actually all real threats made by school shooters across the country – including the shooter at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, TX who said “I’m going to shoot up an elementary school right now,” and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter in Parkland, FL, who said “I want to kill people,” and several more across the country. The chilling realization that these comedians were not “Just Joking” wakes viewers up to the importance of taking all threats seriously and taking action when there are warning signs of violence.

Since its inception, Sandy Hook Promise has been at the forefront of developing a comprehensive, upstream approach to prevent gun violence – focusing on community-based education and empowerment. Their innovative Know the Signs programs effectively teach youth and adults how to prevent school violence, shootings, and other harmful acts. Programming has been implemented in over 26,000 schools across the country, providing students and adults with the tools necessary to identify and report concerning behaviors. Through this new PSA, Sandy Hook Promise plans to reach an even wider audience with the lifesaving “know the signs” message.

“As the U.S. is on track to have its deadliest year yet, the urgency to protect our children from gun violence is stronger than ever,” said Nicole Hockley, co-founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise, and mother of Dylan, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. “Even if it seems small – or like a joke – recognizing and reporting a potential threat of violence can have massive, life-saving impact. We can all do more to learn about the warning signs of violence and take action immediately when we see them.”

Sandy Hook Promise partnered with BBDO New York to produce this video, as with its previous PSAs, including the Emmy Award-winning “Teenage Dream” and “Back-to-School Essentials,” as well as the Emmy-nominated “Point of View,” and multiple award-winning “Evan.” SHP once again partnered with SMUGGLER, a commercial, documentary, film and theater production company and with award-winning director Henry-Alex Rubin. To date, SHP’s PSAs have won a combined 22 prestigious Cannes Lion awards and over 300 other industry awards.

“We know that school shooters display warning signs before they carry out their plans. But too often we come up with excuses not to get involved,” said Gary Toit and Lance Vining, Creative Directors, BBDO New York. “We tell ourselves that it’s ‘probably nothing’ or that the person who displayed the signs was probably ‘just joking.’ With this year’s PSA, we hope to convince people that it’s up to all of us not only to learn the warning signs, but to act on them when we see them.”

“Now that I have kids, each school shooting makes me physically nauseous. Some shootings are avoidable, and Sandy Hook Promise fights hard to find creative ways to get people to listen,” said Henry-Alex Rubin, Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning director. “As a director, I think if you have a craft you can use to call attention to problems, you have an obligation to use it. I’m grateful to the creatives at BBDO as well as this group of comedians who gave us their time to help us make our point.”

“Gun violence has just become this accepted plague on our American communities and I wanted to do something visible and positive for the cause,” said comedian and actress Iliza Shlesinger, who starred in the PSA. “Since participating in [the PSA] I have become more active in gun violence prevention – it can be as little as being vocal about it, calling your lawmakers or just voting. But we can’t allow this to become ‘just the way it is.’ And the fact that parents of the victims of Sandy Hook produced this, in all of their pain and suffering, means other people can do something proactive as well.”

To date, 21 million people nationwide have participated in Sandy Hook Promise’s lifesaving Know the Signs programs that focus on violence prevention by teaching youth and adults how to recognize warning signs of potential violence and get help. As a result, Sandy Hook Promise has averted at least 15 credible planned school shooting attacks, prevented 185 attempts of violence with a weapon, and saved more than 500 lives through crisis intervention. The Know the Signs programs are available to every school and youth organization at no cost.

To watch the “Just Joking” PSA and learn more about Sandy Hook Promise’s mission and programs, click here.

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