Comedians Phoebe Robinson and Alex Edelman discuss using humor to connect with audiences

Though Robinson and Edelman have opposing opinions on ice cream flavors, both stand-up comedians believe in the importance of reaching people through making them laugh.

Robinson, who is also an author, podcast host and was the co-star of HBO’s “2 Dope Queens” joined Edelman, whose most recent Broadway show Just for Us recently premiered on HBO, at the event on Wednesday in a conversation moderated by TIME Editor in Chief Sam Jacobs.

“If you’re making people laugh, they’re listening, and they’re receiving. So now maybe their hearts and minds are a little bit more open,” Robinson said. “We’re definitely missing a lot of levity right now. Everyone’s yelling ‘I’m right,’ ‘No I’m right’ on this point. Okay, everything can be right and then nothing gets accomplished. I really love comedy being that conduit to force openness and change.”

Edelman said the idea of empathy in comedy had played a significant role in the film, in which Edelman, raised an Orthodox Jew, infiltrates a white supremacist meeting. “If you want to actually reach someone, you actually stand a much better chance by extending your empathy and trying to listen to them without trying to convince them,” he said.

Edelman would also hold a Q&A with audience members after each of his shows. “Americans have this desperate desire to not just be empathized with, but to empathize with others,” he said. “And there actually aren’t a lot of outlets for that.”

As for where comedy is headed, Edelman said it seems like there are two “teams” of comedy these days: long form, at live stand-up shows or specials, and short form, found more on TikTok or Instagram.

“We’re giving audiences lots of comedy, and I wonder what’s going to be the thing that breaks through the noise, and the thing that’s elusive. And I think communicating truth in a more interesting way.”

Robinson said she’s sure comedy has exciting developments in the future, as it has during previous eras. “I personally am not that concerned about the state of comedy. Something great is going to break through and change things a little bit.”

The conversation began with a digression into dairy, when the two comedians disagreed on flavors. Edelman argued against the trend of gourmet style flavors, saying hypothetical ones like earl grey, blue cheese and pear, and strawberry balsamic aren’t ice cream but “salad dressings.”

“We need really good, regular ice cream flavors again. And that’s why I’m running for president,” he said to applause.

Robinson shut down his take. “Listen, I just want to say there can be diversity of flavors in ice cream. It doesn’t just have to be the traditional flavors.”

“Okay, well now I feel uncomfortable,” Edelman replied.

“Exactly, there we go,” Robinson said. “Making white men uncomfortable is my platform for president.”