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Comedians Offer Ray of Light at Environmental Benefit

Seth Meyers, John Oliver and others shine despite being forced to hastily retool their routines for the NRDC’s Night of Comedy

Wednesday night, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) held their annual Night of Comedy at 583 Park Avenue. Though the lineup featured the best in the biz—the event was hosted by Seth Meyers, and featured performances from John Oliver, Mike Birbiglia, Hasan Minhaj, and George Lopez—“tough room” doesn’t begin to describe the task they faced.

The NRDC is a New York-based nonprofit devoted to defending the climate. On Tuesday, we elected a president who has signaled he’ll overturn most of our current measures to combat climate change, which he has called a “Chinese hoax.” Among other things, Trump has pledged that he will pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement and repeal all federal spending on clean energy.

“The fact that climate change didn’t come up in any of the debates gives you a sense of how overlooked this issue is,” Meyers told the crowd. “Alicia Machado has an incredible story, but she shouldn’t have been mentioned more than Earth.” He did concede, “I get she’s Miss Universe and Earth is just one of the planets.”

Still, Meyers said it was important to be optimistic, explaining he’d been wrong about Trump thus far. “I said, ‘He’s not gonna run’ and then he ran. I said, ‘He won’t win the GOP.’ And he did. I said, ‘Don’t worry, he’s never gonna be president.’ And now he is.”

“Based on that pattern,” Meyers concluded, “He’s gonna turn out to be a great fucking president.”

The event had been scheduled for months, and NRDC President Rhea Suh admitted its proximity to the election was a bit of a gamble. Even so, the performers were able to successfully convert their rhetoric from the celebratory to the deprecatory, and though dark, they brightened the room for a group who surely appreciated the small reprieve.

Topics weren’t limited to the climate: Minhaj, who hails from an Indian Muslim family, explained, “If you’re not a straight orange male, [Trump] is coming for you,” then expressed concerns over whether his mother, who is an American citizen but is in India until February, would be able to return: “I can’t tell her ‘Yes’ with 100% certainty. And that’s my mom. I need her home. Because she owes me $300.”

Mike Coppola / Getty Images

Lopez, of Mexican descent, began his routine by saying, “I can’t stay long…” He then pulled a piece of paper from his jacket. “Not my notes, just my birth certificate.” He stressed the importance of protecting the environment, then tied it to the mistreatment of Latinos: “El Nino. La Nina. In this country, they name bad weather after us.” He continued, “We owe immigrants a debt of thanks. They do the shit that we don’t wanna do: work.”

Birbiglia sidestepped politics for the most part, instead discussing his conflicted relationship with late people. “They always try to rebrand and say, ‘I’m fashionably late,’ which is like saying, ‘I’m stylishly racist.’ Which is another thing about late people: A lot of them are racist. But they drive me crazy because they’re often so good-looking. They look into their closet like it’s Narnia. On-time people are just like, ‘Sorry. This is what I look like.’”

And English-born Oliver proclaimed the U.S. a “defiant nation,” citing the $310 million we spent on Halloween costumes for our pets in 2009 in the face of an economic crisis, and our allegiance to Larry the Cable Guy’s heartburn commercials (even though a simple dietary alteration would do away with the problem)—“You’re right. Fuck heartburn! Lead us, Cable Guy, and we shall follow you.”

Mike Coppola / Getty Images

In 2009, Oliver flipped on the news during Hurricane Sandy, and as a desperate reporter stood in front of the Statue of Liberty, imploring any citizens left in Lower Manhattan to evacuate immediately, a jet ski panned into view. He was convinced he was about to witness a tragedy. “But,” said Oliver, “I should’ve believed in him as much as he believed in himself.” The jet skier paused, then took out a selfie stick, “So that he could take a picture of himself, on a jet ski, in front of the Statue of Liberty, with a fucking hurricane behind him.”

“What I’m saying is,” said Oliver, “You might be able to get through the next four years, but it’s not a guarantee.”


Above image credit: Mike Coppola / Getty Images