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paul kerensa in performance
Global warm-up
Climate change pressure group Operation Noah recently persuaded Paul Kerensa to become its comedian in residence, though the death of ecosystems is hardly laugh-a-minute stuff. He talks about his new role to Ship of Fools.

What did you think when Operation Noah asked you to put an act together on climate change?

My first thoughts were fear and panic – drive, just drive away very fast. But that's not good for the climate, so I thought I should stick around and at least hear what they had to say. It's not the easiest of subject matters. Forgive the pun, but it is quite a dry subject, at least as far as comedy's concerned. Anything involving the death of ecosystems doesn't strike you as laugh a minute.

Climate change tends to polarise people.

Yes, half of us don't want to hear about it and the other half want to talk about the issues but not necessarily in a comedic way. In other words, I should have run away a while ago. But when you've got the platform of a comedy club stage, it's good occasionally to try and do something with it other than just give the crowd what they want. Laughs have to come first – absolutely – but sometimes the set-ups to those laughs can be about the bigger issues. They don't get much bigger than the future of our planet.

So what approach did you take?

I found the best way to mine the subject matter for mirth was not to go over the familiar nuggets of information so much, or lecture people using big words, but to try different angles. We can talk about the good things we are doing in our daily lives and what we need to do more of. We can talk about world leaders largely ignoring the issue. They always need a good bit of satirising and are ripe for it. We need to hold them accountable, and it feels good to get a bit of a rant off your chest!

You subvert the Al Gore Powerpoint presentations, as well.

I've got a history of maths and stats and timelines so I like to try and subvert the old Al Gore routine by having fun presenting numbers in interesting ways, mixing in the timeline of climate change with the future of the planet as outlined in the film Waterworld, that sort of thing.

Although you have written for The Now Show, your CV is not generally geared towards political or topical themes. Was this commission a departure for you?

It was a departure in many respects. I've found a living writing jokes for TV and radio shows as well as my own solo shows at the Edinburgh Festival. What these all have in common is you're writing gags on prescriptive themes. I'm presented with a topic, or a straight unjoked scene and it's my job to try and add some humour to it. The same's true of my brief stints writing for The News Quiz and The Now Show. You read the papers, you watch the news, you find an angle, you gag it up. In that sense, working with Operation Noah has been no different – only this time the subject matter is battling CO2 emissions and Jeremy Clarkson.

This is for a stand-up comedy act, rather than radio writing, though.

True. On The Now Show, if we have climate change as a subject we'd need maybe three or four gags on it. With stand-up, I need 20 to 30 minutes of jokes. And this time I've got to tell 'em.

What were your views on climate change before taking this on? Did they change while you were writing it?

Probably akin to a lot of people. I thought it was a bad thing. I thought it was happening. I knew it was happening, even. What did I do about it? Not a lot. I went along with the change in mood with events like Live Earth and when the council gave us recycling bins. I've looked into electric cars, but decided they're not for me (yet). My opinions, and probably those of many others, have changed very slowly. I've not made many changes myself without being forced into it, such as by fuel prices, costs of airline tickets, recycling opportunities and the change to energy-efficient light bulbs. Now I've made those changes, the old ways seem odd. "Throw away a glass bottle? Into general waste? Never!"

Did they change while you were writing it?

Since engaging with Operation Noah, I'm starting to realise a casual brush-past of the issues isn't enough. We need to change our ways, the church's ways and the government's ways. I'm reading a lot on the climate change issue. Admittedly a lot of it is on paper which in turn has come from more rainforests, but it's a start.

How will you be using the climate change routine? For specific audiences and events, or more widely?

I'll be taking a show to the UK's Greenbelt Festival later this month (24-27 Aug 2012), entirely dedicated to climate change. We're hoping to amuse and motivate. "Amutivate." And thereafter, I'm on the stand-up circuit four nights a week up and down the country – I'm hoping I can drop into the subject as and when on the circuit. After all, the people who come to a festival called "Greenbelt" are probably not the people who need to change their ways as much as a Top Gear convention. If I get booked for a Top Gear convention I'll let you know. Specific events aside, it's good for comedians, performers, writers and artists to be educated about what's behind the bigger causes – the facts and not just the soundbites you hear down the pub. The more we know, the more we can engage people, given the chance.

See highlights of Paul's routine on YouTube.
paul kerensa
Paul Kerensa is a stand-up comedian, writer and actor who lives in London.
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