Intersections of Art and Science

Talking about climate change can be awkward. Just ask Tim Robinson – Grist Magazine

Laugh Neon-light Signage Turned on (by Tom Mossholder via Pexels).
Laugh Neon-light Signage Turned on (by Tom Mossholder via Pexels).

Does cringe comedy have anything to teach climate scientists?

Tim Robinson is famous for making uncomfortable social situations funny — in a cringe-inducing way. On his Netflix sketch show I Think You Should Leave, he’s played a range of oddball characters: a contestant on a replica of The Bachelor who’s only there for the zip line; a man in a hot dog costume who claims he’s not responsible for crashing the hot dog car through the window of a clothing store; a guy wearing a really weird hat at work. These sketches are, for the most part, an escape from the heavy subjects that keep people up at night.

So it might come as a surprise that Robinson’s next move was a climate change PSA. “I’m sick and tired of scientists telling us mean, bad facts about our world in confusing ways,” Robinson shouts at the camera in a recent sketch. Playing a TV host named Ted Rack, he invites a climate scientist on his show “You Expect Me to Believe That?” for a messaging makeover. 

It’s produced by Yellow Dot Studios, a project by Adam McKay (of Don’t Look Up fame) that’s recently been releasing comedic videos to draw attention to a global problem that most people would probably rather not think about. Sometimes the resulting videos are only mildly amusing: In a recent one, Rainn Wilson, Dwight from The Office, presents the case against fossil fuels to the court from Game of Thrones. But for a comedian like Robinson who thrives on a sense of unease, talking about climate change isn’t just a public service; it’s prime material…

The video struck a chord with the public, racking up 100,000 views on TikTok and almost a quarter million on YouTube. It also resonated with some scientists. “I immediately understood where this is coming from,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, after watching the video. “I feel the same pressures, I get the same complaints.” After he gives scientific talks, the most common response he hears is along the lines of “Oh my god, you’re just so depressing.” 

The sketch touches on similar themes as Don’t Look Up, McKay’s 2021 film that portrays a distracted, celebrity-obsessed world ignoring scientists’ warnings of an approaching asteroid.  Rack, though, wants to help avoid the disaster that ensues when no one pays attention to scientists’ “terrible message,” and he finds ridiculous ways to make climate science relatable. “Here’s what you should say,” he instructs Drake. “‘Your house is about to be part of the ocean … A shark could swim in there and eat a picture of your daddy…’”

Yellow Dot Studios (01-23-2024)

You Expect Me To Believe That?!?

Are you tired of scientists telling us mean bad facts about our world in confusing ways? Well, we helped this scientist make his message easier to swallow for people who don't want to hear it. (Like elected leaders!)

Explore Yellow Dot Studios:

"Non-profit studio calling out polluter bullshit and calling for action on the #climateemergency. Founded by Adam McKay, the creator of Don’t Look Up; writer/director of The Big Short, Anchorman, Step Brothers and Talladega Nights; and executive producer of television shows Succession and Winning Time."

"And Yellow Dot is the sun. Let’s get to work before it turns red."

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