Climate Comedy Cohort: Q & A with the co-creators

The co-creators of a new comedy initiative to flip the script on climate change discuss the inspiration behind the project

CMSI and Generation180 have teamed up to launch the Climate Comedy Cohort, a six-month fellowship and comedy contest that will work with a small group of talented, diverse comedians from around the country to flip the script on the way we think about climate change. A total of eight competitively selected comedians will learn about climate change from expert research and scientists as they focus on creating original comedy in live shows and short-form videos. Part of CMSI’s GoodLaugh program, the initiative will culminate this summer in an unprecedented gathering of climate science experts and comedians in selected U.S. cities. Applications are being accepted now through April 16.

We spoke with Generation180 and our GoodLaugh team about the inspiration behind the Comedy Climate Cohort.


What inspired you to embark on a comedy cohort program as a way to raise awareness around and advocate for proactive climate change action?

Generation180: The world has known about climate change for decades, but not enough progress has been made. Our organization was founded to inspire and equip individuals to take action on clean energy because we knew we had to do things differently. The driving question for us has always been: “How do we accelerate a widespread transition to clean energy as soon as possible?” We need a massive shift in human behavior, and the gloom-and-doom climate narrative leaves people feeling helpless. We believe people need a new story, need inspiration to act—and behavioral science supports this. Research shows people are more motivated to act when a range of emotions are evoked, such as joy, pride, and awe—not just fear and anger. We are using comedy and the arts to evoke positive emotions and help popularize and normalize clean energy behaviors.

What doubts, if any, did you encounter about investing in a comedy program to drive Generation180’s mission forward, and how did you overcome them?

Generation180: We’ve never had any doubts about taking this approach, and surprisingly, we’ve had very little pushback from others about why we would focus on a comedy program. I think that’s because the timing is perfect for climate change comedy. People are fed up with the gloom and doom. Once people understand that the science supports it, they get it. In addition to focusing on the problem, people need to feel a sense of self-efficacy that there’s meaningful action they can take. Generation180 is working to shift social norms and help people understand their role in climate solutions, and using humor is an effective way to help do that. 

What led you to work specifically with the Center for Media & Social Impact and its GoodLaugh program? 

Generation180: We saw Caty Borum speak about CMSI’s work to use comedy to shine a light on major social issues at the frank conference two years ago. We were so energized because CMSI’s GoodLaugh program is doing (with other social issues) exactly what we wanted to see happen on climate and clean energy. CMSI has the experience collaborating with comedians and the research expertise, and we knew they were the ideal partner. We’re so fortunate that they wanted to partner with us too. 

What makes the Climate Comedy Cohort program unique as an effort that inspires comedy from climate change trauma?

CMSI: For years, climate change has been covered in daily comedy news shows, sketches, and even some stand-up here and there. This is a really hard topic to cover well with hilarious comedy. But at the same time, we now have so much science to tell us what regular people do and don’t understand about climate change and clean energy, so it’s a great time to experiment with what comedy can do. 

This program is unique because it brings together some of the most accomplished experts on climate change–researchers, organizational leaders, scientists, journalists–with some of the funniest comedians in the country. What happens as a result of that merger? It’s never happened before, so we are excited to find out. When comedians learn new information and apply their special lens on social problems as complex as this one, we have great faith that they will find new ways to get us to see and think about them–and to hopefully get involved in solutions. Comedy is always important and necessary in social challenges that are traumatic and serious, and we know that’s true here. The idea of bringing together the best science minds and the best comedy talents is something new and special.

Tell us more about what Generation180 would like to achieve through the Climate Comedy Cohort project with CMSI that it has not yet achieved with traditional communications and promotional campaigns.

Generation180: Well, we’re expecting to have more fun!  But in all seriousness, we are hoping to make a big impact in an exciting new space for us. In some ways, it’s no different than our other programs. Across the board, we hope to raise broad awareness about climate solutions by equipping unique partners – like the new comedian fellows – as clean energy ambassadors. But at the same time, this program is very different. By using cultural strategies like comedy, we hope to open people’s hearts and minds, and to hopefully increase our effectiveness because we’re pairing it with traditional communications.

What’s next for the GoodLaugh initiative?

CMSI: Here’s how we describe GoodLaugh: It’s a comedy production engine and knowledge lab that brings together the most talented minds in humor, social justice, entertainment, and philanthropy to collaborate and create comedy and research to help repair the world and build a more just, equitable future. As a program of the Center for Media & Social Impact, GoodLaugh facilitates comedy production, research, and convenings with social justice at the core. By making new comedy, distributing new insights, and bringing together unlikely players to leverage humor for social good, GoodLaugh believes that “laughing in the face of injustice” can solve, well, almost anything.

So, GoodLaugh is about bringing people together (who don’t normally “play” with one another), developing new insights, and of course, incubating and making great comedy about topics that matter. With all of that in mind, we’re planning to launch a few projects this year that create grassroots engagement and organizing strategies through comedy; conduct research about how audiences experience our climate comedy; work with an investigative journalism organization to co-create comedy from their reporting; host workshops with comedy and social justice organizations working together, and more. The beauty of this work–like comedy itself–is that it’s a little bit improvised as we learn from our collaborators. 

Thanks to Generation180 and the GoodLaugh team for contributing to this post.


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