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Dying of laughter: comics joke about climate change at U.N. summit

by Sebastien Malo | @SebastienMalo | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 26 September 2019 18:24 GMT

Stand-up comic Chuck Nice performs at the New York Comedy Club on 25 September, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Sebastien Malo

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Comedians, ballet dancers and actors are using the arts to raise awareness about climate change on the sidelines of a United Nations summit

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK, Sept 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ever heard the one about why parents should cheer at fires linked to global warming that have been raging in the Arctic?

"If you want to save some money, you can cancel Christmas, and tell (your children) that Santa Claus died in a wildfire," quipped comic Chuck Nice at a climate-themed comedy show held on the sidelines of the United Nations' largest annual meeting.

With a climate summit kicking off this year's meeting, world leaders in New York were under pressure to negotiate the international politics of how to avert a climate catastrophe while comedians tried another method to rally people: laughter.

The comedy show was one of more than 20 events across New York using arts to raise awareness about climate change, now a global movement inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg that has seen young people on streets globally calling for action.

Other climate-inspired art on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly included a ballet where dancers were melting polar ice caps, the launch of a theater program focused on climate, and a set of online cartoons.

At the New York Comedy Club, a popular venue in the city's bustling East Village, a boisterous crowd of about 100 packed a candlelit room to hear professionals crack climate jokes.

Nice, an 18-year veteran of stand-up comedy and the night's organizer, said he decided to resort to humor to try to portray the urgent need for action.

"Your brain is designed to receive information and retain it better when you are entertained," he said.

Comedian Mat Pavich drew expertise from the audience for his slot, quizzing a climate researcher in attendance about the severity of the situation.

"How long do we have?" asked Pavich, one of more than half a dozen performers on stage for the nearly two-hour show.

"10 years," said the audience member.

"This is so scary - let's talk about my ex-girlfriend instead," retorted the comedian to an outburst of laughter.

More than half of the U.S. population feels "helpless" about global warming, a survey by the Yale and George Mason universities found last December.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, a Netherlands-based non-profit with delegates in New York, put a cartoon spin on a U.N.-report released Wednesday that warned sea-level rise could swallow cities unless greenhouse gas emissions were cut.

"That can't be good," read the caption of one cartoon showing two beachgoers contemplating a sun drowning in the sea, a reference to sea-level rise driven by global warming. Pablo Suarez, an associate director at the Climate Centre, said the group enlisted the help of Bob Mankoff, former cartoon editor for The New Yorker.

"What humor allows us to do is to address ... those things that are simultaneously unacceptable but accepted," said Suarez.

"It makes it easier for us to point to the thing and to argue that a change is needed." (Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers climate change, humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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