Last weekend I got a phone call that somehow resulted in me agreeing to organise a science/comedy panel show about greenwashing at Green Man Festival - the following weekend. This'll be okay, I thought. I'm a writer. I know about environmental stuff. So I'll just write a bunch of questions, get some comedians along and Bob's your uncle - one science/comedy panel show.
Thing is, greenwashing isn't innately that funny. If you haven't come across the term, it basically refers to organisations pretending to be green for some sort of benefit, such as more customers, more voters etc. One example that eventually made it into the quiz was the stationer Ryman and its "carbon-neutral paper". Actually, the paper is grown on monoculture eucalyptus plantations on the edge of the Amazon and isn't recycled in any way. (Thanks Fred Pearce of the Guardian). So it's not what you'd call a cheap joke. Which is why co-host Jim and I decided to insert some real cheap jokes. Hoorah!
Yep. Faced with the prospect of a science/comedy panel show containing zero comedy, we resorted to toilet humour. We dreamed up some imaginary companies - so as to avoid getting sued - and fashioned some crude props, resulting in the Green Spin round, in which up-and-coming nerd comedian Chris Dunford was forced to sell giant tissues on the basis of their environmental credentials. So where's the toilet humour? Er. These were Man Sized Tissues... made by the Wan Corporation. Still not getting it? Ask Jim to explain it to you because I'm too polite.
To his credit, Chris' sales pitch was one of the funniest things I've seen in a while, only surpassed by his ad-libbed stand-up routine later that evening, whilst the man from Winter North Atlantic took an extraordinarily long time setting up what was essentially a keyboard.
But what's my point? I guess it comes back to an issue that I touched on in an earlier post. It's difficult to make jokes about science because if they're truly going to be jokes about science you risk alienating half your audience with ideas and terminology they're unfamiliar with. I guess greenwashing isn't such a hard concept to grasp, but some of the bits that made me laugh the hardest weren't exactly grounded in science e.g. comedy poet Nathan Filer in the "Complete the Slogan" round. Question: ______-friendly to ______-free (General Motors). Nathan's answer: "Is it 'Be Friendly to Jeff-free?'" (Real answer: Gas-friendly to gas-free).
All in all, we were pretty happy with how it went. It was like a poorly edited Mock the Week with more obvious cheating. (That sounds like a bad thing, but it's a good thing, I think.) And the audience seemed to enjoy it. I think you just have to realise that you can't crowbar in the science to these things. You have to let everyone do what they do best and if your main aim is comedy then you have to get the best comedians you can find and let them go wild. Any science that stays in is a bonus.