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Intro to Climate Comedy

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A better world for nothing?

A better world for nothing?

More people are starting to believe that there’s such a thing as climate change, and the political and corporate attempts to lie about it are increasingly being seen for the cynical, self-serving and death-dealing monstrosities they’ve always been.

The wildfires, the heat waves, the tornadoes, the flooding (and can the next batch of hurricanes be far behind?) can no longer be explained away as weather balloons and swamp gas.

Here’s one of the things. Climate change isn’t funny. We humans stand an excellent chance of substantially wrecking the biosphere and causing massive die-offs of hundreds of species, including our own, along with unimaginably enormous danger, fear, death, suffering, confusion and misery for literally billions of people and trillions of other life forms. It’s kind of like the when can you make jokes about 9/11 problem, but times a million.

[Incidentally, there’s a really nice TED talk by Chris Bliss here  in which he talks about comedy and its uses and tells the story of the “hoax” cartoon seen right here. Chris Bliss website is here, his twitter handle is @iamchrisbliss]

But there’s another hand, which is this. Especially in the US, the government is probably never going to do anything close to enough about climate change, and will quite possibly do nothing at all, at least under the ongoing business as usual arrangement of things. Which means that either ordinary people, and lots of them, are going to make something happen, or nothing will happen.

And of all the things that just about all of us are never going to get our arms around, climate change is on the very top of the list of things we’re never going to do anything about, which, given getting serious about cholesterol and organizing the garage, is a list with vicious competition for the top spot.

Comedy, more than any other activity, is the most powerful machine ever invented for getting inside of people’s heads, especially when those heads are for one reason or another well barricaded against anyone getting in. The not-nearly-sung-enough cultural hero Lee Camp (his twitter handle: @LeeCamp, his website is here) is just about all by himself in the climate change comedy space. Hopefully this will be the beginning of developing some high class comedy, including stand-up, which can be added to and produced by people from all over.

[A little detour. On 10/10/2010 I created six different events for 350.org’s climate change Global Work Party.

10/10/10 logo

I'm glad I was part of it.

One of the things I did was create, along with the amazing Elizabeth Browning and a talented and enthusiastic cast, a theatrical piece about climate change. I’m going to, at long last, make the script available and try to get other groups around the country to perform it. Part of the show was a series of quotations from some very fine writers about climate change, about the danger, and the possibility of something extraordinarily positive coming from it. I have just now posted the script, free for anyone to read and perform, and I’d love you to perform it! It’s right here.  There’s a video too that I’ll post hopefully soon. It’s an easy show to produce and I bet there are people out there who would put it on. The authors we quoted were Barbara Kingsolver, Bill McKibben, Joanna Macy, Krista Tippet, Victor Lebow, Wendell Berry, and Rebecca Solnit. At the very end of this piece, after the comedy, are web addresses and some twitter handles for these people. You can learn about Elizabeth Browning’s fine work as an acting teacher here, and her award-winning film here.

I have just now posted the script Voices for Hope, Voices for Change free for anyone to read and perform.  I’d love you to read it!   I’d love you to perform it! It’s right here. ]

As a special bonus, after the comedy there’s a not-so-funny piece about the seriousness of climate change and how to think about grappling with it in performance. So, without further ado, here’s some of my first stabs at climate comedy, with a variety of voices, genres, anger levels and funninesses:


We put the FUN back into FUNdamental lifestyle change.


Bill Cosby and Noah, and God asks him, “How long can you tread water?”


“You must take your Regents tests seriously. You’ll regret treating your future with such cavalier disregard.” Okay. First of all, “cavalier disregard?” Who talks like that? Seriously. How could it possibly be true that those words are coming out of your mouth about my future? I’m sorry, but, are you a grownup? Because if you’re a grownup, then you helped arrange a pretty particular future for me. It brings me to my knees, brings me to sputtering, staggering in circles disbelief and rage. It just does. I’m going to be in some fucking bunker, with floating corpses bumping up against the windows from hurricane flood typhoon Lucy in Omaha Nebraska, and I’m going to be going, well, this would really be quite an unfortunate situation if I hadn’t managed to pass my Regents in 2013. Given everything, thank God I persevered on that secure-my-future milestone. Otherwise, oh my, the regret I’d be feeling now. Where would I be if I’d continued with my cavalier disregard? Somewhere not near as nice as this, that’s for sure. I think I’ll go back up on the roof now and see if there’s any helicopters still picking people up. And while I’m up there I’ll take a moment to savor bright future Regents triumph.


So here’s the thing. Making sure we don’t have any future at all is gonna turn out to be ill advised. Because now you’ve unleashed an army of people to oppose you. When we had some kind of plausible future, we were all occupied having our futures, or keeping our noses clean so we didn’t miss out on our big nice future, or working hard so someone else wouldn’t get our nice future and leave us with some shitty future. Well, I guess if you don’t want a nice future brand crowd control. Well, now we don’t care. What? We’re risking our what? Our no job no money no world tidy corner of the world that we’re never going to get? Yeah, I’m ready to stand in an orderly well-behaved line waiting for that. We’ll organize it on the internet, the one you let get away from DARPA, bless its little heart. We’ll pitch our tents on the lawns of the 25 biggest climate denying flacks. Cart us off, more will arrive. You can’t build your for-profit prisons fast enough. People are gonna donate tents. Seriously, why wouldn’t we do that? You want some class warfare? You think being a middle-aged white guy plutocrat makes you invincible? No, it does not. It just makes you harder to squash. Good news is, you’ll make a much more satisfying crunch when squashed is what you end up getting.


Anyway, look, there’s nothing funny about destroying an entire ecosystem. There’s nothing funny about preventable death. There’s just not. You’re trivializing things and annoying people for no reason, this … project of yours doesn’t have a single chance of making anything in the world even the littlest bit better. It just doesn’t.

Why, you don’t think there’s a connection between desperation and comedy. Then you’re a fucking idiot. Comedy’s not made out of anything besides desperation. Fucking Mercutio, it’s not as deep as a well or as wide as a church door, but dude, it’s plenty big enough. About his fatal wound, okay? Right? So.


I’m thinking at the moment there’s a format thing. Maybe some kind of sketch comedy / variety show / vaudeville kind of thing.

Maybe it could be one of those fifties show business farce kind of things. Things going wrong, and will the right guy end up with the right girl? kind of thing. Hey, isn’t that Danny Kaye? What’s he up to? By gum, I think he’s seeding the troposphere with precursors of sulfide gases like sulfuric acid and hydrogen sulfide using artillery, aircraft and balloons. Jiminy Christmas, looks like he got here just in the nick of time.


We can skip over 75,000 marching in Chicago but not huge natural disasters, especially when there’s white people’s real estate involved. How you gonna keep it out of the local coverage. You can call the local media clowns it your want, but it’s still gonna go out on the wires and the twitterverse and the bloggers. “I’m sorry, Major Kong sir, but those are the figures. We’ll be lucky to reach weather ship at Tango Delta.” What? Nothing, it’s from a movie.


At the agency. A show like “The Office,” but they’d be doing fracking is good and all the rest. Anti-fuel efficiency PSA’s.

In the break room: That guy, “I tell you to cram something down their throats you better get cramming” Jesus, “when I say cram you say how far?, I’ll tell you what the American people will swallow.” Makes our work product seem like, I don’t know, what’s something that could be crammed down someone’s throat [take].

Brainstorming, right?

How about, “Wildfires Caused by Sunspots, Liberals, Study Finds.”

Right, that’ll work. Or how about “Wildfires Caused By Swamp Gas, Weather Balloons, Study Finds.”

No, no, “Sea Level Rise Caused By East Coast Elites And Liberal Media Bias. Study Finds.”

I don’t think so. Recurrent Flooding Caused By East Coast Elites And Liberal Media Bias.”

“Study Finds.”

Right, study finds.

Let’s get video! Man in the street in the basement: “Damn elites don’t care how many new hot water heaters I gotta put in or how many times I gotta replace this damn carpet. Liberal media probably figures I’ll just end up sealing the whole damn basement in with some damn silicone caulk or something.”


If your apartment burned down, don’t just sulk, borrow some money from your parents and buy a condo.


You know, there’s the Greatest Generation, how about we just call ourselves the Fucked Over Generation. Illegal immigrants here “through no fault of their own” get an exemption so they won’t get deported. Who’s going to give the Fucked Over Generation a “through no fault of their own” exemption?


Climate advisory board, like the ketchup advisory board with natural mellowing agents.


Of course they’re making decisions putting profits above everything, the planet, the future, their legacy, their own descendents. That’s because they’re improperly incentivized. Simple solution. People just need to be differently-centivized.


Yes, there’s a built-in bias – the news cycle, chronic problems don’t make it. In other news, local resident is still getting dialysis every other week. Local resident still dealing with termite problem. Study finds. Except it’s more like local resident still concerned about desperate escaped convicts lurking silently in basement. Study finds.


The science still isn’t settled on a connection between germs and illness.


Still no scientific consensus on gravity equations.


Okay, so that’s the comedy, here’s the essay, and then the links for the people in the 10/10/10 script.

Okay, and here’s the deal about climate change and it’s not funny at all, but it’s a start to explaining why comedy seems like pretty much the only way to go with this.

The thing about climate change, the thing that makes it impossible to even find a way to talk about is that it’s just a huge, catastrophic global emergency that is being completely ignored by almost everyone, which is already removing entire species from our planet, will continue to do so, and might come pretty close to removing us as a species, or at least will give it a goddam good try.

There’s a bunch of eyes-glazing-over parts of this thing. Who wants to talk about price per kilowatt hour from wind and solar, how to deal with peak demand, first world third world issues. Just because it’s going to kill the planet you can’t try and stop us from enjoying modern middle class comforts when you didn’t have to. Because that’s no fair. Which sounds infantile until it’s like, well, hospitals, infant mortality, safe drinking water, not starving to death. Then it’s gee, I guess maybe you should get some of that.

There’s two problems here. The first is, the world is designed to work on burning oil, gas and coal, our whole interlocking global economy, that’s how it works, it’s how it’s been working, and the people who are enjoying the benefits of that are really enjoying them. And I don’t just mean Exxon and the fat cats who are waiting for their dividend checks so they can afford the poor people baby barbecue for the backyard. You. Ride in a car, use electronics made in China, eat food from the grocery store? That’s gonna have to change, and there’s a good chance that in the process of changing that your convenience and uninterrupted comfort is not going to be guaranteed each stop along the way.

That’s problem one. Problem two, which is going to feel a lot like problem one, is that you’ve got way more than your share of everything. I’m sorry, having a health crisis of obesity? Why don’t we have a health crisis of dropping dead from embarrassment? Something’s gotta be done. The neighbor lady realized her lawn, her shrimp cocktail, and then Bangladesh under water, literally millions of people flooded out of their homes, she got that peculiar color like people do, “Oh my god, she says, I am going to be completely unable to face any Bangladeshi from now on, it’s just that I’ve been so,” and that’s it, keeled over. Bring out your dead, bring out your dead from embarrassment.

Because here’s the thing. They know. You think they don’t know? They can pump, with a high percentage of success oil that’s 35,000 feet underground under better than 4,000 feet of water, better than six and a half miles, straight down, you think they can figure that out and are mystified about physical chemistry properties of carbon dioxide that were figured out by one of those frock coat mutton chop facial hair 1859 scientist guys a hundred and fifty years ago, making spectrometers out of millstones and wagon wheels. Yeah, we can fractionate kerosene from asphalt from lubricating oils but carbon dioxide chemistry that’s got us completely baffled. Of course they know. And they have to know that it’s just a matter of time. So what goes into this decision? We can still suck some additional quarters worth of profit out of this, and if that’s going to bring the whole planet into ruin, kill and injure millions of people, cause untold billions of dollars worth or property damage, well, at least we’ll have ours. I guess it’s natural, every living thing desires to stay alive.

But there must be actual individual people involved here. Guys in decision making slots, every morning getting up and watching their machinations working.

Because really, the bottom line is that there’s nothing funny about it at all. It’s an unbelievable horrible catastrophe and it’s going to be going for generations. We’re the only ones that have any chance to do anything about it, and we’re not doing a goddam thing. It’s an unbelievable indictment of human nature, and our standard modern white western deal. And it’s a slow motion train wreck because we know that there’s going to keep being floods and hurricanes and tornadoes and wildfires, and pretty soon there’s going to be crop failures, die-offs of vulnerable species, maybe human die-offs, and gigantic and violent wars, border conflicts, refugee plumes, significant failures of agriculture, desperate competition for life sustaining basic foodstuffs, wheat, rice, et cetera.

And this is real life. It really is this generation that’s the only one that can do anything about it. We’re this far away from, and we don’t how far this distance should be, from feedback effects that will make the questions moot. You wanna talk about methane in permafrost, you wanna talk about what it would take to refreeze the permafrost. After that, there’s nothing that can be done.

But I’m going to find something funny in this, because that’s the only way enough people are going to get it quickly enough.

About three years ago I started working this comedy attempt. And I had a fair number of earnest conversations and got just about no laughs at all. Which is a great track record for a green chaplain but a lousy one for any kind of comedian, even a climate change one. So this is good, actually something I’m gonna have to sink my teeth into and really work at, and it’s gonna be nowhere for a good long time, so I’m going to have to persevere.

So, characters. First world. Greedy, parochial, obese,

Yeah, it’s rough. America’s favorite fungal infection comedian, the jerry Seinfeld of unsightly rashes and unbearable itchiness. I’m like a scalper’s wet dream. Get your ticket for all the Ringworm and Jock itch tour. Hey, let’s get that blistered skin, peeling yeast infection guy for the kids’ party.

1896, some Swedish guy, Svante Arrhenius, I saw his picture, swear to God, says hey, you know this fossil fuel burning thing is gonna do? Or how about Joseph Fourier in 18 fucking 24?

Here are the authors quoted in the script for the 10/10/10 show:

Barbara Kingsolver: her website is here.
Bill McKibben: 2 twitter handles: @billmckibben  and @350 , his website is here, and 350.org’s website is here.
Joanna Macy: her website is here.
Krista Tippet: 1 twitter handle @Beingtweets, website for her show is here. Visit her on Wikipedia here.
Victor Lebow: visit him on Wikipedia here.
Wendell Berry: A site dedicated to his books can be found here. Visit him at Wikipedia here.
Rebecca Solnit: her website is here.

http://www.leecamp.net

http://www.kingsolver.com
http://www.billmckibben.com
http://www.350.org
http://www.joannamacy.net/
http://www.onbeing.org
http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krista_Tippett
http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Lebow
http://www.wendellberrybooks.com
http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendell_Berry
http://www.rebeccasolnit.com

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