INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE | Re-telling climate change stories

Steal This Joke

Uplifting Climate Comedy Celebrates Earth Day 2020

by Beth Osnes

Actually, you can’t steal these jokes on climate change because we’re giving them to you for free. In fact, we’re going out of our way to encourage you to give climate comedy a try. If anything in this article tickles your funny bone, it’s yours. Go ahead, try it on. And, yes, this joke does make your butt look big. Whereas comedian and author Paul Tompkins bemoans the reality of joke plagiarism within the field of stand-up comedy, we embrace it as a channel for disseminating creative climate communication. With my comedy collaborator, Max Boykoff at the University of Colorado, we’ve led our students in performing live climate comedy, we’ve run international climate comedy video contests, and have even published academic articles about the surprising benefits of utilizing comedy to communicate climate — all through Inside the Greenhouse, an initiative at the University of Colorado for creative climate communication.

As a comedian, I find that research is the most creative force on Earth. That is why we partner with Project Drawdown which has researched a list of the top climate solutions. This list is a veritable snack platter of comic material. According to Drawdown’s 2020 revised ranking of solutions, family planning is part of the third most impactful solution for reversing global warming — above solar. Who knew? This knowledge can help us invest our finances, guide policies, and provide funny rhymes. Love the glove. Give the pill a free refill. Put your buck on the interrupted f — …well, you get the idea.

When environmentalist Paul Hawkens, who is the originator and former director of Project Drawdown, learned in 2017 that refrigerant management was the top solutions he pronounced it a PR nightmare. It could likewise be thought of as a comedian’s nightmare. What’s funny about refrigerants? Yet even in the chill of this subject, there is comedy to be found.

A 1950s refrigerator walks into a bar, sees a good-looking refrigerator and asks, “Are you Freon Friday night?” Since this joke relies on chemical knowledge of how Freon factors into the process of refrigeration, this may be a lesson in “know thy audience.” This joke would fall flat on a less informed crowd, but at our performance at the 2019 Drawdown conference in New York, this in-joke got a hearty laugh.

When looking for comedic material beyond climate solutions, remember that nothing is more worthy or ripe for ridicule than us environmentalists. The only risk is that we can be seen as too easy a target. But regardless, we will gladly paint red concentric circles over our bleeding hearts. How do you get an environmentalist to change a lightbulb? Tell them its incandescent. What do you get when you cross F.D.R. with a liberal in the pickle aisle? The Green New Deal.

In giving these jokes away for free, we hope to unleash a rogue agent in an otherwise commodified world. Jokes, freely shared, can liberate us through that strange involuntary opening of the mouth and the mind known as laughter. In that moment, rigidity is relaxed, the single perspective is questioned, hypocrisy is exposed, and delight is released.

Get a jumpstart on your inspiration for creating climate comedy by watching Stand Up for Climate, a celebration for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, released April 22, 2020 at 7:30 PM Mountain Daylight Time (go to This “best of” show features brief climate comedy videos from our five years of hosting this event along with this year’s international climate comedy video contest winners. Max Boykoff and Beth Osnes will co-host, and Philadelphia comedian Chuck Nice is a featured guest. This online offering is an example of something we call, ‘good natured’ comedy,’ which our research shows helps process negative emotions, feeds hope, and sustains climate action. Reversing global warming is a mighty challenge to our survival that requires a steep incline in new behaviors. But like any huge mountain, there’s only one way to get over it. Climate!

Works Cited:

Tompkins, Paul. “Joke theft: Is it really an issue in comedy?” Big Think. January 5, 2020.

Osnes, Beth, Max Bokoff, & Patrick Chandler. “Good natured comedy to enrich

climate communication.” Comedy Studies. 10:2, 2019, 224–236, DOI: 10.1080/2040610X.2019.1623513.

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