NWC REU 2021
May 24 - July 30



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Global Warming and Climate Change in Late-Night Comedians’ Monologues

Vincent Pellegrino and Darren Purcell


What is already known:

  • Late-night comedy shows have a large viewership, and they have an influence on how these large audiences view politics as well as the political figures seen and discussed on these programs.
  • Late-night viewers, for the most part, have previous knowledge of the issues that end up being discussed on these shows, even viewers who claim to get their news from these programs.
  • Entertainment media and popular culture works have become increasingly aware of global warming and climate change leading scholars to coin the term ‘cli-fi’, and this has an impact on how viewers of these media sources perceive these phenomena.
  • Comedians mimic the news cycle of events, their writers follow the news and build their jokes out of them so their programs can remain topical.

What this study adds:

  • Mentions of global warming in the media was slowly increasing up until 2006, but spiked around the time Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out.
  • There was a shift in the terminology late-night comedians used, with “global warming” being the popular term up until 2015, when “climate change” overtook it.
  • There was also a shift in how comedians talked about the issue, with comedians being a mix of skeptical and supportive of if global warming/climate change was occurring or was serious until 2012, at which point more supportive of the fact global warming/climate change was happening and eliminated anti-global warming/climate change skepticism from their jokes.


Research demonstrates that late-night comedians have an effect on shaping viewers' political opinions, with large audiences that rival those of many traditional news sources. One heavily politicized issue that appears in the nightly monologues is global warming and climate change (GW/CC). Considering that late-night comedy writers use news as material to craft monologue jokes, examining jokes about GW/CC can shed light on media perspectives and how these have shifted over time. Using a corpus of jokes drawn from The Bulletin’s Frontrunner for the years 1996-2021, we use interpretive social science methods of analysis to examine how GW/CC jokes have appeared in the monologues.

Analysis of these jokes found GW/CC was not talked about often early in the corpus, but saw a spike in usage along with the term “gore”, in reference to Al Gore, in 2006. The term global warming was phased out in favor of the term climate change, with usage of the latter term becoming more common in 2015. Jokes reflected various viewpoints of claims made by scientists and politicians about GW/CC. Jokes were coded by the researcher to assess if they were supportive, neutral or skeptical of GW/CC science. Jokes were a mix of skeptical and supportive up until 2012, at which point there were no more skeptical jokes about GW/CC and the volume of jokes that supported the idea that GW/CC is happening increased.

Full Paper [PDF]