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The planet is burning and you’re laughing? Meet the comedians helping people process climate anxiety

The Greenwashing Comedy Club has a new regular performance slot at the Climate Academy in Paris.
The Greenwashing Comedy Club has a new regular performance slot at the Climate Academy in Paris. Copyright Peter Yeung
Copyright Peter Yeung
By Peter Yeung
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The popular Greenwashing Comedy Club in Paris is putting climate in the spotlight, providing "a sense of togetherness".

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From the moment Anne Dupin skips onto the stage, whooping loudly and flailing her arms while the classic 90s disco anthem Freed from Desire plays over the speakers, I know it is going to be unlike any other climate event I’ve ever been to.

The French comedian is one of the founders of a popular stand-up night in Paris that is putting climate change in the spotlight: Greenwashing Comedy Club. I went along to one of the performances to see if this curious mix of serious and silly would work.

Soon after taking to the stage at l’Académie du Climate (the Climate Academy) – an environmentally-focused arts and culture space set up by Paris city hall – the wildly energetic Dupin had the audience playing the game, Green or Not Green?

“Taking a pee in the shower?” she asks them.

“Greeeeen!” the sold-out crowd responds.

“Taking a pee in the shower of [French billionaire] Bernard Arnault’s private jet?”

“Booooooo!”

“Taking a pee on Bernard Arnault himself?”

“Greeeeen!” the audience giggles back.

The climate crisis isn’t a joke. But comedy can help.

Peter Yeung
Six comedians cracked jokes about climate change and a range of other issues, much to the audience's relief.Peter Yeung

The comedians behind Greenwashing Comedy Club, who launched the project in the French capital in 2020, describe it as providing “guaranteed organic and benevolent stand-up without eco anxiety”.

For a lot of people, climate change is a source of great anxiety.

In 2021, a landmark survey of 10,000 young people across countries including the UK, France, Portugal, Finland, India and the USA found that 59 per cent of respondents were “very or extremely worried” about climate change. More than half reported feeling “sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty.”

Impending climate disaster has often been depicted as a grim, unavoidable certainty.

However, the concept behind Greenwashing Comedy Club is not to make light of climate disaster but rather to help audiences engage with, and process, the issues, while having an entertaining evening among like-minded individuals.

There were some head-on jokes about overtly climate issues. For example, the thorny issue of nuclear energy, evil oil companies, and the scourge of people who “take a shit in drinkable water” (rather than greywater, which can be safely reused).

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But there were also more oblique references to environmental issues like the privilege of shopping in organic stores and the contrast between encountering an old woman on the metro, where you’d offer her a seat, versus in the street while cycling, where she becomes an infuriating roadblock.

But wisely, Greenwashing Comedy Club is not just limited to climate - which could quickly become dry. The six comedians on the night also joked about other societal issues like menstrual leave, polyamory, racism in France, and even the more classic stand-up comedy territory of dating apps and ghosting - including a memorable bit from the night’s standout comedian, Rafaella Scheer.

It went down well. The room was packed out at the Climate Academy, where the club recently established a regular performance slot. Not every joke hit, but there were plenty of giggles and belly laughs. Even then, that didn’t really matter anyway: it was a receptive audience, who were there for the shared experience.

Tonight it was nice to have a sense of togetherness in the struggle.

“I really liked the ambiance of the evening,” Leanna, a 28-year-old who works in global development, tells me after the show. “I came along because these issues are really important to me. It was funny and interesting.”

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Mathieu, a 32-year-old working for a homelessness charity, was another attendee who was well-aware of climate issues - but came to have a good time. “I can get depressed about the state of the planet and the direction we’re going in,” he says. “Tonight it was nice to have a sense of togetherness in the struggle.”

The rise of climate comedy

Stand-up comedy is going through something of a boom in Paris at the moment, hot on the heels of last year’s Netflix series Drôle, which follows the lives of four French comics hoping to make it big in the city.

And increasingly, comedians are broaching the tricky subject of climate change. Or, seen from another angle, climate activists are increasingly taking up comedy as a weapon for societal change.

The Climate Comedy Cohort, for example, was recently set up by Generation180, a US based clean energy non-profit, and American University, to teach comedians about climate science and solutions to create new, climate-related material. Comedians like John Oliver have often deployed black humour to engage with climate problems, too.

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Since its launch three years ago, the Greenwashing Comedy Club, which is home to a revolving cast of comedians, has quickly grown in popularity and now hosts several performances a month across different venues in Paris.

Perhaps that’s because the themes it explores are, unfortunately, becoming ever-more urgent. Public awareness of climate change is as high as it has ever been, with temperatures in Europe increasing at more than twice the global average, and last year’s heatwaves reportedly causing 20,000 deaths in western Europe.

At the Greenwashing Comedy Club show I went to, the room was stiflingly hot due to a sun-baked early summer’s day. It got so bad at one point a comic paused the show to open up the windows. Nobody, to my disappointment, made a joke about global warming.

Still, I’m willing to overlook that as long as one day we can look back at this all and laugh.

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