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Is Climate Change Something to Laugh About, or Not?

In 2017, Rollie Williams, a struggling comedian, stumbled upon a copy of Al Gore’s book “An Inconvenient Truth.” While the book was praised for its effectiveness in conveying the urgency of climate change, Williams saw potential for humor in the serious topic. He believed that an “I-told-you-so tour” by Al Gore would make a funny premise for a comedy show. His resulting production, “An Inconvenient Talk Show,” was a hit.

Williams, who resides in Brooklyn, now creates comedic videos about the environment. He is part of a growing movement of comedians using humor to address the climate crisis. From Hollywood movies like “Don’t Look Up” to independent sketches on platforms like YouTube and TikTok, comedians are finding ways to tackle one of the greatest threats to our planet through punchlines.

The use of humor in discussing climate change is seen as a way to engage people who may find the topic tiresome or depressing. Sarah Finnie, founder of the 51 Percent Project, an initiative at Boston University aiming to improve communication on climate change, believes that humor can help alleviate the feelings of doom and panic that often paralyze people.

During the run of “An Inconvenient Talk Show,” Williams noticed how easy it was to recruit top-tier scientists as guests. Scientists were excited to share their knowledge about climate change with an audience that was genuinely interested. This experience highlighted the power of comedy in making serious topics more accessible and engaging.

British project “Climate Science Translated” also uses humor to convert complex research and data into relatable content. The project, which plans to debut in the United States later this year, aims to make climate science more understandable and engaging for a wider audience.

Humor has proven effective not only in climate change messaging but also in various societal movements. Caty Borum, executive director of American University’s Center for Media & Social Impact, cites examples such as comedy’s role in the U.S. civil rights movement and the use of memes during the Arab Spring uprising.

Andrew Boyd, one of the activists behind the Climate Clock in Union Square, believes that humor can help alleviate despair over global warming. In his book “I Want a Better Catastrophe,” Boyd applies the five stages of grief to climate change, adding a sixth stage: gallows humor. He believes that gallows humor is a way to cope with the seemingly impossible situation we face.

Rollie Williams, who recently earned his master’s degree in Climate and Society, has gained a significant following on his YouTube channel, Climate Town, where he shares comedic videos about the environment. He is also hosting a podcast called “The Climate Deniers Playbook” with Nicole Conlan, a writer for “The Daily Show.” Williams has started collaborating with Climate Changemakers, a nonprofit organization that promotes simple actions individuals can take to influence leaders and politicians.

Williams hopes that his comedy can inspire people to make systemic changes rather than merely engaging in token environmental actions. By using humor to raise awareness and engage audiences, comedians like Williams are making significant contributions to the fight against climate change.

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