Comedy

Meet the meme mastermind behind Jagmeet Singh

Nader Mohamed, NDP digital lead, will try to make the “stuffy, legislative, boring world” of Parliament Hill funny.

Jagmeet Singh’s digital lead breaks down how the NDP campaign used comedy.

Jagmeet Singh talks to supporter's friends on Face Time in Hamilton, Ontario. (Canada NDP.)

The week before the federal election results, Nader Mohamed helped New Democratic Party leader, Jagmeet Singh create viral TikTok videos. The 28-year-old from Scarborough has been creating funny, "meme-able" posts since he started as the leader's social media producer in 2014. 

Since the start of the 2019 campaign, each of Singh's social media platforms have grown by around 100,000 followers.

Singh was also the 'most popular candidate in memes' during the 2019 federal election campaign, with NDP-leaning meme groups engaging in more positive messages around Singh and the party, according to a study by the Algorithmic Media Observatory. 

Mohamed's unexpected start on the NDP campaign

Nader Mohamed, NDP digital lead with Jagmeet Singh. (Canada NDP. )

As a University of Toronto student working at Queen's Park, he saw Singh's first speech in 2012. He promptly quit his job to volunteer at Jagmeet's office for over a year, and worked his way to becoming Singh's social media producer in 2014. 

"He's more than a boss to me. He's sort of like family, like a brother to me," says Mohamed. When Mohamed took over Singh's Facebook and Twitter in 2014, he had no technical or specific training in social media.

"Jagmeet is somebody who loves social media, he's always empowered me to take things and run with it, to figure out what's the new trend, tool or platform." Singh was one of the first politicians to get Instagram and Snapchat a couple of years ago and made his TikTok account himself around seven months ago.

Nader Mohamed, NDP digital lead with Jagmeet Singh. (Canada NDP)

"He knows we need to speak to young people where they're at," says Mohamed, "Facebook is the platform that your mom likes now. It's been taken over by that demographic." 

It's not just which platforms you use, but how you use them. 

Public figures walk a really fine line between being funny and cool, or being "corny and lame," says Mohamed. "It's a dangerous walk sometimes."

Humour is a huge part of using social media to build a personality, which is where Singh's "cool factor" is an advantage, says Mohamed.

Earlier in the campaign, Mohamed posted a photo of Singh's ears poking out of his Turban.

"That's a running inside joke. After a long day he takes his ears out of his turban. And he was totally cool with sharing that on social media because it's a fun, lighthearted moment." 

"There were some tweet responses that said things like 'I just learned an equivalent to loosening the neck tie at the end of the day.' This is the power of humour and breaking down the barriers that some Canadians may have seen with Jagmeet, as a man who wears a turban. Breaking down those barriers with a funny, relatable photo can bring people together."

"The big thing for us is Jagmeet doesn't take himself too seriously. He's okay with seeing the humour in himself, and we've always branded him in that way." 

Their 'Punjabi poutine' cooking show video was "a way of having fun with the traditional concept of thanksgiving," says Mohamed. 

"Jagmeet is a vegetarian so the whole turkey thing didn't make sense. But he's a great cook, so we wanted to make it an opportunity to showcase a more personal side of Jagmeet the politician in a funny way. We ended up getting so many requests for the recipe afterwards that we posted that as well."

"Jagmeet also gets asked to talk to people's friends on FaceTime by supporters — which we find funny — so one time we captured that moment in Hamilton and made a joke about it online."

"Finally, we had a funny moment in Barrie with some construction workers on a roof – and we turned that into some humour by claiming we had friends in high places — a play on the idea of having influential & powerful supporters — when really it's just working class Canadians in our corner."

But, he cautions, while humour is a great way to cut through the noise, being silly is not enough for political leaders to appeal to youth. 

"Young people are so good at identifying when things are real, and when someone's putting on an act," he notes. 

The "Nope" "Yup" TikTok meme was Singh's idea, says Mohamed. Set to California rapper E-40's 2014 single Choices (Yup), Singh answers the question "Who am I in it for?" by pointing to overlaid answers like "nope" to the "the rich and powerful" and "yup" to the "people."  

"Whatever meme we're trying to run with, we try to make sure it's not forced, but also tied back to issues that matter to people and young people particularly. Young people question, 'why is this politician on this platform acting silly?'"

This may explain why Elizabeth May's attempt to "hit the woah," a dance move that was trending on TikTok earlier this year, didn't fare as well on social media. 

"I'll give her credit," says Mohamed. "I'll give anybody credit who is willing to try something new. I don't think it's one of the greatest 'woah' ever hit. But it's always a risk trying something new."  

What's next for the NDP in Ottawa? 

NDP's digital lead, Nader Mohamed. (Canada NDP.)

(Caption: Despite NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's failure to gain seats for the party, digital lead Nader Mohamed says the campaign team is "happy with how things went." Credit: Canada NDP.) 

"We wanted to change the way campaigns are run," says Mohamed. When they head back to Ottawa, Singh is going to be in the House of Commons with a new caucus, while Mohamed will be trying to make young people see that the "stuffy, legislative, boring world" of Parliament Hill can be funny.  

This means more behind-the-scenes clips, fun visuals of Parliament Hill, and TikTok content. 

"Ottawa is a really guarded world, and breaking those barriers down through TikTok is where it's at." 

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