Comedy and Environmental Justice

Humor can offer a more approachable means of engaging audiences and has been credited with reducing counter-arguing.  This suggests, for example, that a climate change narrative presented through humor may be a way to appeal to climate skeptics, allowing filmmakers to broaden their reach. Comedy can also persuade audiences by generating positive emotions through entertainment.  It can be an effective way to challenge the status quo. Because comedians are not bound to journalistic norms, they can be perceived as unconstrained truth tellers when compared to other news sources.

In the comedic web series, Spotlight California (2016) (See Case Study), Comedian Kiran Deol addresses conservation issues in California through conversations with residents, experts and activists. Deol interweaves information about serious topics such as air pollution and wildfires with clever wit and comedic bits to lighten the mood. She uses humor as a creative means to connect with viewers, while shining a light on critical climate issues.

“So much of environmental messaging over the past 40+ years has been doom and gloom and we’ve created paralysis to act as a result. Humor can break down barriers and make it easier for audiences to absorb unpleasant information (spoonful of sugar approach).”

–Ali Hart, producer, Spotlight California

The new docu-comedy, Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave (to be released in 2021), is a climate justice entertainment project with comedians of color at the forefront. The film follows a diverse group of comedians doing a live stand-up climate comedy show in a region hit hard by today’s climate crisis. Along the way, they learn about the hardships faced by the people of Norfolk, Virginia and the resilience of this community. The film reveals how humor can be a coping mechanism for those who suffered through a natural disaster.  Collaborative in nature, the filmmakers work alongside community leaders, grassroots organizers and the comedians. Produced in partnership with The Hip Hop Caucus and American University’s Center for Media and Social Impact (CMSI), the film uses comedy to attract attention to serious issues of environmental injustice and racism, as well as reach younger generations and encourage them to vote.


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