In a ‘cheery’ news story among a litany of ‘cheery’ news stories this week, a BBC headline declared: “Global warming set to break key 1.5C limit for first time.”
“We’re all absolutely fucked,” they probably could have just said instead. So why is Tim Batt trying to find the funny in all of this?
The New Zealand comedian and podcaster is currently performing at the NZ International Comedy Festival with his show Is Climate Change Funny Yet?.
“Too often this issue has been left out of comedy shows and there’s a good reason for that; It’s pretty bloody hard to make a human-made genocide of humans funny,” the description of his show reads.
Is climate change now ripe for comedy? “The marketer in me wants to tell you that you have to come to the show to find out, but the human being in me says probably not, dude,” Batt says.
“It’s sort of tragedy plus timing equals humour. We’ve been grappling with the reality of climate change for a while now. It’s a tricky topic to make funny but I’m giving it a good solid go.”
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He’s definitely giving it a good go. Batt will perform his show nine times across Auckland and Wellington, which is a lot of time to spend making jokes about one of the most pressing matters of our time. That’s why he was also extremely nervous about his show’s title, which he had to choose nine months before his actual performances.
“I was talking to the poster designer and he was like, ‘should we put forest fires in the background or something like that, something dramatic?’ I was like, ‘no, dude, because I have no idea what will be happening in Australia when I bring the show there,’ he recalls. “If it’s bad, it’s just in incredibly poor taste. I’m playing with the line at the moment!”
Batt’s telling me all of this via Zoom from his garage in West Auckland, soon to be a personal podcast studio. For now, there are exposed internal walls and random bits of plaster boards strewn around, a definite work in progress. He says that the garage sustained some slight damage during Auckland’s Year of Awful Weather.
Away from stand-up comedy, Batt is one of the country’s foremost podcasters. The press release I received declared his series, the genuinely hilarious The Worst Idea of All Time, as “NZ’s most successful comedy podcast.”
“It’s a bit opaque because podcast numbers aren’t public. We just call ourselves the most successful NZ comedy podcast until someone comes knocking and says that’s not true,” Batt says with a laugh. “I think we’ve crossed the line of 20 million downloads now.”
There’s a reason so many people love The Worst Idea of All Time, which sees Batt and and fellow Kiwi comic Guy Montgomery subjecting themselves to watching and reviewing the same movies over and over again for listeners’ enjoyment.
They’ve previously covered classic titles like Grown Ups 2 and Sex and the City, and are now working their way through the entire Fast & Furious franchise (rather them than me). It’s a simple but highly effective concept.
For Batt, the podcast offers a reprieve from the tighter structure of his stand-up shows. “I’m most myself on the podcast, as is Guy (Montgomery),” he says. “We’re our most unguarded, unvarnished selves. There’s never been any planning that’s gone into it. We have some microphones, we turn on the recorder for 45 minutes, and then we turn it off.
“The whole secret sauce of the podcast is that you’re listening to two guys put themselves through a pretty miserable situation. It’s funny watching people hit themselves in the nuts.”
Guests on The Worst Idea of All Time range from comedy icons like Paul F. Tompkins (“a big standout, we’re both such big fans of him”) to Batt’s own dad, who was “a pretty big fish” to get in Batt’s book.
But Batt’s not here to sell a podcast. We return to talking about Is Climate Change Funny Yet?, which he views as being part of an incoming wave of environmental-themed comedy. He cites British comic Stuart Goldsmith as a contemporary, revealing the pair plan to get together soon to discuss the subject.
“It think it’s going to be a forthcoming trend in comedy, I would think people are going to be trying to find the right angles because it’s such a pervasive topic,” Batt adds.
As for his home country, he doesn’t think New Zealand is doing nearly enough to combat climate change.
“No,” he responds bluntly when I ask. “I think there are very countries that are doing enough. Even if we did heaps, it would be a drop in the bucket because we’re such a small country.
“History has proven that NZ’s greatest export is ideas and attitudes. We were the first country in the world to give women the vote. It was the right thing to do so we did it. Because we’re smaller we can be bolder, and that can lead to countries following our example.”
Batt became a father recently, and it’s the upcoming generation of his 18-month-old son that he really worries about. “They’ll probably feel even worse about us than we did about our parent’s generation! They’ll be like, ‘what the fuck were you guys doing?’ We need to to listen to the scientists to actually do what they’re telling us to do in order to avoid total catastrophe.”
Not that anyone should worry about Batt’s stand-up show being sanctimonious. “I’m not a big environmentalist,” he concedes. “Let’s describe me as aspiring! I went vegan for six months, that was a while ago now. I find it hard, as I’m sure everyone does, to sort of internalise and integrate it into my life.”
Just talking about the negative stuff associated with climate change is a pitfall he’s careful to avoid. “That’s why I wanted to bring climate change into the stand-up comedy realm,” he insists, “because we’re human beings and we operate in human ways.
“There’s this incredibly powerful thing about laughing at something that’s there to destroy you. It’s why dictators hate being made fun of because there’s a real power in comedy.”
Does he welcome a militant climate change denier coming to his show? That could make for quite a feisty heckler encounter, I say. “Absolutely not,” he laughs, describing such people as “bafflingly, stupidly overconfident.”
“I’m not going to pretend like I understand climatology science,” he continues. “Do you know how your microwave works? Do you doubt that it exists because you can’t explain the technology behind it? You’ve got to have a little bit of faith in experts.”
What else can comedy fans expect at Is Climate Change Funny Yet?. “There’s some stories about me on drugs, there’s a lot of personal observational stuff,” the Billy T nominee reveals. “It’s a stand-up comedy first but there’s a reckoning with climate change in it as well.”
Before our Zoom concludes, he makes sure to shout out the rest of the comedy festival lineup. “The thing to remember is that everyone has been selected to be in this festival, it’s not open entry,” Batt says. “So you can’t really go wrong.”
After a gentle push, he names comedy duo Two Hearts (“probably my favourite comedy act in New Zealand”) and Johanna Cosgrove as must-sees on this year’s lineup. The world’s about to burn, the climate’s fucked, so everyone should enjoy big crowds at the NZ International Comedy Festival, seems to be Batt’s way of thinking. It’s the collective that’s really important, whether it’s in comedy or for preventing an environmental catastrophe.
Tim Batt at NZ International Comedy Festival
Ticket information available via comedyfestival.co.nz
Thursday, May 18th-Saturday, May 20th
Q Theatre (Loft), Auckland
Tuesday, May 23rd-Saturday, May 27th
The Fringe Bar, Wellington