Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Getting Turnout to a Gay-themed Climate Comedy Performance

 As someone who organizes climate and energy community education events for my line of work, I was grappling with a very related question in the lead up to my spoken word climate comedy performances I did for the Minnesota Fringe Festival in 2019 (Click here for description). What would it be like for me to promote an ecological-themed show and have almost no one actually come attend? Such and outcome would feed this downright creepy suspicion that this planet might not be saved after all. It would appear as haunting evidence that there simply is not enough interest among the general public on the mass scale needed to address the crisis before it is “too late”. Low attendance would seem to confirm this long-standing Conventional Wisdom that climate is not a "sexy" enough topic to activate and engage more than a select niche audience in this short attention-span & entertainment preoccupied culture.

Such a worst-case scenario is not how things actually played at with the at the MN Fringe Festival and that is not my main reason for bringing up this dark speculation.
The main point is the steps I took to inoculate myself against the lousy outcome that conventional wisdom would suggest. I took upon the challenge of actually finding a way to make this urgent and timely topic of climate both sexy and entertaining.
I granted entertainment value to the issue of climate by putting it into the format of a pun-off competition, placing a series of strategically arranged word puns that fit together like pieces of a complex puzzle.
I worked in the element of love relationships into the performance script because it is a bridge to sexy and as we know from marketing and advertising, sexy is attention- grabbing. 
 But I made this comedy on climate justice sexy by making the theme on love relationships intersectional with LGBTQ acceptance rather than the usual & familiar heteronormativity. This served to add a whole new dimension of depth and originality to the comedy script.  
I created much of the actual humor by drawing out a surprising number of deep and profound parallels between the LGBTQ and Climate movements (Which I have detailed herehttps://environomicaliconoclast.blogspot.com/2019/09/the-extensive-intersectionality-between.html) I supplemented word puns with double entendres where the same set of words yield a double narrative. I often described both climate activism and LGBTQ pride using the same set of words.  

In some of my latter performances, I introduced myself as having an agenda of “radical pun-da-mental-ism!”. It means putting puns alongside “da-mental”.  In ‘other’ words, the series of word puns I offered were not random but had an underlying meaning where you have dig way down to uncover the root. And the word root just happens to be “the root” of the word radical.

To make a more sexual analogy, I go deep in order to stimulate maximum arousal… and have a bit of fun on the side.

 To go back to the beginning, devising a comedy on the Climate Crisis is quite a challenge to pull off in a quality manner. One has to treat such an important topic with the regard that it deserves by offering some depth. I came up with a version of humor that contains enough "Aha!" moments to belie a difficult subject matter rather than an attempt at humor which serves to cheapen the stark implications of what we are facing.   
Before going any further, I have to say I added in the element of dating and love relationships for reasons far beyond rote sex appeal for attention. It serves the additional benefit of having a humanizing effect on a main topic that is usually associated with cold hard impersonal science. Climate disruption in particular has difficult (but not impossible) for many of our brains to process and for us to relate to on a personalized level because it is so long-term and global in its reach reaching.
With this in mind, I arranged Carbon Man-Dating to “impact the reader/ audience on multiple levels of head and heart simultaneously-- a creative balance that is stimulating both mentally and affectionately” (as I had on my show description page)  https://www.minnesotafringe.org/2019-show-information/carbon-man-dating-a-climate-themed-gay-romantic-comedy 
Making liberal use of word puns enabled yet another stylistic advantage to the script than mere entertainment value. The fusing of word puns and double entendres enables the benefit of presenting sexual themes & references without the use of directly adult words or images. That way it comes across in a beautiful, funny or ironic manner rather than a vulgar one. The content can straddle the line of being for somewhat mature audiences without being X-rated.  
So, with the above in mind, I genuinely felt like I had a brilliant concept and that all elements were in balance.  
But the personal pride of coming up with a unique and original combination of genres ended up being a bit of a double-edged sword because of this one fundamental question. Where is my ideal audience? 
I worry greatly that my heady focus on climate made me come off as too nerdy and geeky to really catch the attention of the constituency that frequents gay bars and nightclubs, which just happens to be the most visible element of the LBGTQ community. But I know the potential is there. I remember getting hearty responses of laughter I got when I waved my “Love is Carbon Neutral, Let’s C how many O’s the 2 of us can make” sign when marching through the TC Pride Parade.  But on the flip side, actual technical wonks who make their salary by working in the climate-concerned energy field have not been as responsive as I expected to my offerings of doing comedy just because it relates to their line of work. I have gradually built up a growing fan base among the more activist/ organizer types in the climate and energy fields. But the concept of putting climate and energy into an entertainment format does not yet seem to be resonating with the more technocratic grasstops types in the field. Technocratic Grasstops refers to those who get paid decent salaries to not rock the status quo or use their technical expertise to challenge the existing structure or power & ownership, and who I never see show up at the more activisty sort of climate and energy events. But then again, the scope of my outreach was rather limited.   

That worst-case disastrous attendance scenario did not exactly come to pass when I did the Fringe Festival, at least after night 1 of my performance. But if I had not already built up a modest fan base from previous performances that I did at Gandhi Mahal, I would have almost certainly gotten an attendance that would be too poor for my ticket revenue to exceed the costs I paid to be part of the Fringe and for my promotional show cards. Even then, a liner measure of audience size is far from the only consideration that mattered to me. The whole other dimension is the extent to which my content resonated with the audience who do show up. Performing at the Fringe virtually guarantees audience members who were not previously in my social and professional circles, which is where I saw potential. Someone in that category wrote a review on my show page that they did not understand the subject matter I was talking about aside from the fact that I was using a lot of word puns. I knew full well going into the performance that this would be the case with some audience members. I made a strategic call that taking the time during my performances to explain potentially unfamiliar concepts would upend the rhythm and pace of comedy and that it would come at the expense of giving the remaining audience a chance to disengage and not hold attention. But even more so than low attendance I was more haunted and disturbed by how the common lingo in climate activist circles is not universal common knowledge. Low attendance could have multiple explanations besides lack of interest. But not relating to my content appears as haunting evidence that there are adults who were not curious about the alarming topic of climate to be motivated learn about it on their own. I would much like unfamiliarity with the key sociopolitical concepts of climate activism to be more the exception than the norm, because that is how we can defeat the propagandists whose manipulating us with misinformation has delayed climate action.
This brings up a good question on the social value of my performance.
In my performance, I often used the words they or them as a cue for when I am outgrouping and specific set of people as in “they” are not part of “us”.. I alternated between a “Kumbaya sort of we should all get along” emphasis (often signified by when I used the term intersectionality) and a much more divisive approach when I clarified those who do not deserve to be included or trusted as part of the grand “us”. In all cases of my outgrouping, I was referring to hardline climate deniers- Not so much skeptics who want to talk about and debate the issue but those who dismiss any engagement on the topic of climate change right from the pretext.    
There are 3 main motivations as to why the hardline climate deniers deny climate. Some are hardcore partisans for the Republican Party to which admitting that climate is a problem would make their chosen party look bad and irresponsible given that they have climate denial in their platform. Other deniers are more general economic ideologues who act as social engineers for a sweeping agenda of privatization and deregulation which would have to be stopped and reversed to address the climate crisis. And for many others have a line of work whose salary depends upon mass climate action not happening. While the motivations are understandable, being outright dismissive of climate being human caused and serious is quite a nutty thing to do, particularly given the consequences.
Using hardline climate deniers, particularly those who abuse positions of governmental or corporate power make a well-deserved target for an uppercut of sarcasm, irony and ridicule. Making jokes at the expense of these hardline climate deniers is like shooting fish in a barrel.

But these hardline dismissives are no longer close to the majority of the population and whose influence would be sidelined if “we” were to accomplish the much more doable and productive mission of convincing those in the vast middle to join on our side.

Those in the middle do not have an economic ideological, partisan political, or narrow self-interest motive to deny the scientific link between C02 emissions and disruptive climate change, but do have various inner psychological or socio-cultural motivations to not want to take the problem too seriously because it is like real scary.

The comedy I came up with served to gives an exuberant sugar-high to those who already share climate activist views.

The question I am not sure how to answer is how I use comedy to move those who are in the middle. It would have to be a different approach to the same themes.

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