Late Night Climate Comedy Segments, Ranked

Late Night Climate Comedy Segments, Ranked

Late-night TV’s kings and queen of comedy took on climate change on Wednesday night. It was a concerted effort to raise awareness. (Though at this point we need less awareness, more action.)

Earther had, shall we say, some reservations about sequestering climate comedy to one night and how certain hosts might approach it given their past work. But we put those trepidations aside and pulled out our reporters’ notebooks to see how Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, James Corden, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, and Trevor Noah handled the topic.

We wanted to see who aimed their jokes at the systems that have caused the climate crisis and who went for the cheap laughs. Watching the hosts’ opening monologues and climate-focused segments, it became clear who the posers were and who spent time grappling with how to use Wednesday’s unified front to go after the powerful people and corporations that are responsible for the mess we’re in and consider the future we could have if we kicked them to the curb.

Here, we present a total and complete ranking of the hosts who understood how comedy can be a powerful tool to galvanize the public and the hosts who are just here for the lols.

7. Trevor Noah

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Our first thought after watching this was, “what the fuck was that?” Noah started off his Daily Show monologue with a tired, strangely gendered joke about Climate Week (“it’s where all the men in my office fight with all the women in my office over who controls the thermostat for the rest of the year”). He then said he was committing his segment to the “weird little things” that climate change is doing to our world.

Weird things are fine and good to focus on since they matter and can show how wide-ranging the impacts are. But Noah decided to trot out a super long bit about how sea turtles are producing more females with more sexist jokes and how some studies have shown hotter temperatures will lead to humans having less sex and fighting more. The latter included jokes about a “backed-up dick.” There was also a bit about how “the Taliban won in Afghanistan because of climate change” where Noah used a fake Arabic accent to imitate an Afghani person asking the Taliban if they’re allowed to wear shorts in hot weather.

The monologue was not just offensive. It also lacked innovation and smart humour, which is a real shame, given The Daily Show’s storied history. At least he had Greta Thunberg on as a guest. Maybe Noah should’ve asked for her help with the climate part of his monologue.

Hot Burn:

Cringe line: “We could be facing a future where your sex-starved husband gets killed by space junk on his way to join the Taliban.”

6. James Corden

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The Late Late Show with James Corden was divisive generally among our judges. One of us (Brian) derives joy from the escapism of carpool karaoke. The other (Molly) would rather be forced to watch the Cats butthole cut Clockwork Orange-style.

Corden did not do carpool karaoke in a Tesla with guest Bill Gates where he asked him about Jeffrey Epstein in addition to his love of carbon capture, which was the first sign things were not going to go great. Instead, he used his opening monologue to tell viewers he wouldn’t “hammer you with scary stories.”

“Instead, we’re going to focus on some positive news stories about how people and companies are stepping up to confront this climate challenge,” he continued. Which immediately set off Earther’s local bullshit alarm.

We love solutions, of course, but Corden proceeded to spend the next five minutes talking about the individual choices band leader Reggie Watts and sidekick Ian Karmel have made. (Watts has low flow showerheads and invests in cobalt batteries. Karmel drives an old Prius. ) Then Corden talked about electric boats, how the show doesn’t have plastic bottles thanks to Watts, and an 11-year-old girl in Malaysia battling food waste. All great, sure. Not exactly the stuff of systemic change needed and only very loosely related to climate change.

Hot Burn: “They are completely green. Just when you thought Amsterdam couldn’t get more green.” (It should tell you how bad the monologue was that this is the best burn we could find.)

Cringe line: “What’s a little change you’re making to have an impact on climate change?”

5. Jimmy Fallon

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Like Corden’s show, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon also had a bit tailormade for climate change that he didn’t use. Fallon has done a few Hot Ones segments, a comedy series where celebrities eat increasingly spicy hot wings. (YouTuber Sean Evans is the creator and regularly does the series on his own.) But sadly he did not roll out a Hot Ones segment. Too bad, it would’ve been a perfect chance to sit down with noted climate guy and Southerner Al Gore or perhaps Stacey Abrams or even guest Jane Goodall.

Fallon went the cheap joke route and was generally meh. Cheap jokes are still an improvement over pretending random electric boats being tested in the Netherlands will save us and doing sexism, though. The bottom three confirmed all our fears about how the late-night shows would handle climate change.

Hot Burn: “Some people are sad summer is over. But good news, thanks to climate change, it’s not.”

Cringe line: “Some people are sad summer is over. But good news, thanks to climate change, it’s not.”

4. Jimmy Kimmel

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This bit, this bit. It went from tired to wired so quickly that it’s impressive and also frustrating. The first half of the Jimmy Kimmel Live! monologue would have been right at home in 2013. The show started with some primo vintage clips of climate deniers, many of them dating from the early 2010s. Giving some classics like James Inhofe’s snowball moment more airtime is good to show the absurdity of deniers, but it is telling that this stuff is fresh for late night comedy.

He mined consumer staples for humour, including the threat climate change poses to chocolate that’s been reported on for years. He also messed up words from the teleprompter — he said “wild flires” at one point, and did a serious stumble over the “IPCC” (“I can’t even say their name, that’s how serious it is”). Seems like someone isn’t really used to talking about climate.

But things picked up halfway through. Kimmel roasted the Biden administration for earmarking fossil fuel projects (props!) and critiqued fossil fuel companies. It almost feels like a younger writer took over here because the tonal shift was marked. The segment then transitioned into a fake ad for ConocoPhillips describing their bravery in destroying the world that is really good and deserves to be viewed as a standalone apart from the opening mess.

Jimmy! You could be running incredible bits like this all the time, not just during Climate Week! Think outside the box more when it comes to climate, and give this sketch’s writer a raise.

Hot Burn: “We build a humongous impenetrable dome over our drills, and move inside with all our money.” (From the ConocoPhillips “ad.”)

Cringe line: “Imagine a world where you get a carrot cake for your birthday — it’s a nightmare.”

3. Stephen Colbert

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Colbert spent years doing great work on climate during his tenure at The Colbert Report, so he gets how to do this — even if he seemed a little out of practice on Wednesday night. He started off The Late Show with some zingers about the lack of international action from world leaders, then segued into some bits about age and making older people care, ending with some jokes about consumer products (insect-based pet food, white paint that could eliminate air conditioning).

Colbert even seemed to have some awareness that he and other hosts could be doing more on a regular basis, and made a meta critique of Wednesday’s united comedy front. “OK!” he exclaimed. “Crisis solved — just as surely as when all those celebrities sang Imagine and ended covid.”

Watching his very good monologue, it’s a little frustrating that he didn’t cover the IPCC report when it came out, or that his writers’ room seems to have saved up all this great climate material just for this week. We want more from him!! Do climate more, Stephen!!

Hot Burn: “Hundreds of world leaders are meeting with climate activists to attempt the one thing to fight climate change that no industrialized nation has done before: anything.”

Cringe Line: “This paint is so white it has a favourite Jimmy Buffet song.” (Not a bad line, by far, just the easiest to predict in a very solid monologue.)

2. Seth Meyers

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While we enjoyed Colbert’s zingers more, we’re actually ranking Seth Meyers above him because Meyers actually seems more practiced at covering climate on his show on a more regular basis — and it shows in his decision of what to talk about.

Meyers doesn’t have a traditional monologue; instead, he structured the start of the show around his “A Closer Look” segment, where he sits at a desk and goes over the news, “Weekend Update”-style. This monologue covered Hurricane Ida and its impacts on the East Coast (including tornadoes in New Jersey and flooding in New York), then segued into the infrastructure bill and renewable energy, with lots of pop culture sideroads sprinkled in for good measure. He didn’t try to hold the audience’s hand on climate, and it was nice to see him trust his viewers. What’s more, he also called out Sen. Joe Manchin’s ties to fossil fuels, which is doubly nice.

Were his jokes funnier than Colbert’s? Not really. But did it seem like Meyers’s writing room actually cares about making climate jokes up-to-date and not just relying on the same old bits about not having coffee or chocolate anymore? Sure did.

Hot Burn: “I love that Bernie takes on Republicans like someone just stole his spot in the airport parking lot.”

Cringe line: “You know it was a New Jersey tornado because it was in a velour tracksuit shaking down a restaurant owner for protection money.” (This is, admittedly, funny, but Molly is from New Jersey and feels compelled to defend its honour.)

1. Samantha Bee

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Full Frontal With Samantha Bee is no stranger to doing impactful comedy, so is it really any surprise she tops the list here? Her first climate segment looked at the foul problem of our busted-arse water infrastructure and managed to describe combined sewage overflow in terms both helpful and funny. (At least as funny as shit backing up into people’s houses can be.) This instantly won over the hearts and minds of Earther.

But Bee’s segment further bestilled our hearts by linking it to climate change and the fact that heavy downpours are increasing. She also rightfully pointed out that “racism plays an unfortunate role in our sanitary system dysfunction,” highlighting the plight of Lowndes County, Alabama, and the sewage overflows that regularly occur in the predominantly Black community there. It’s a grave injustice, and Bee mentioning it, in the context of climate change, opening the segment with a NowThis clip of activist Catherine Flowers shows Bee and her team put in the work.

Hot Burn: “Even if we stopped clogging our sewage systems with rat kings of human grossness, our sewage system would still be in trouble because it wasn’t designed for our changing climate.”

Cringe line: “That’s led to catastrophic flooding and sewage overflows around the country. And not just in the liberal urban hell holes you’d expect, but also in the red states that God doesn’t hate.” (Even this line was pretty solid to be honest. The segment was just that good.)