David Suzuki just flew in from Vancouver, and boy is the sniping about his carbon footprint tired.
People find reasons not to like Suzuki, the environmentalist, broadcaster, geneticist and, for one night only, a participant in this year’s Just for Laughs festival (JFL42) in Toronto. They say the government should tax the hot air coming from his mouth. They say he benefits financially from his Vancouver-based non-profit foundation. They say climate change is just a conspiracy perpetrated by the bikini industry. And they say he arrived promptly for his interview at a downtown Toronto hotel last week, thus making this tardy interviewer look bad in comparison.
Okay, the last complaint is from yours truly. And, really, he was quite gracious when I jogged over to meet him in the hotel’s lobby. He waived off my lateness and quickly went to work on dismissing the notion that he’s a hectoring buzz-kill. “Environmentalists are portrayed all the time as being serious,” he says, settling back down into his chair. “I meet people and they say things like, ‘Oh, God, I don’t recycle.’ ”
Part of the reason for taking part in the comedy festival (Sept. 21 to 28, at various venues) is to lighten his reputation. But the fact is, whether it’s Bill Maher or a 76-year-old scientist, there are people who simply don’t like what they’re hearing when it comes to the eco-apocalypse. “They don’t like my message,” says Suzuki, silver-haired and sandal-clad. “The reality is that life is going to have to change.”
Suzuki appears Saturday with the Second City troupe. He is to be interviewed onstage in an informal setting, with his answers later used to spark a sketch of improvised comedy.
“It’ll be fun,” he guesses.
Originally his appearance was meant to be the subject of a roast. Suzuki is not sure why that format was dropped, but there is no truth that such a roast would contribute to global warming.
Roast. Global warming. Hello, is this microphone working?
Though Suzuki has done bits with Rick Mercer and spots on Royal Canadian Air Farce, his nickname is neither “Chuckles” nor “Slappy.” (Heck, it’s not even “Dave.”) Moreover, he never employs seltzer bottles in a slapstick manner, his award-winning A Planet for the Taking did not include a “take my planet, please” gag,” and the last time he tossed a custard pie it was into the garbage because it was one day past its expiry date.
And so, our conversation soon turns serious. “We’re just floating into the future, and ignoring the science,” he says, not pausing for a laugh track. “Canada is particularly vulnerable to climate change, because we have the longest marine coastline in the world,” he continues, without benefit of a studio-audience laugh-prompt sign.
Suzuki is worried. “At this stage of my life, I’m feeling very desperate,” he says. “The science has become increasingly urgent, and I’m tired of fighting. Can we not come together and leave our vested interests aside and at least come to an agreement that protecting our air should be our highest priority?”
His exasperation is no joke.
But seriously, folks.
JFL42, Sept. 21 to 28. Tickets at ticketmaster.ca or 1-855-985-5000; David Suzuki with Second City, Sept. 22 (4 p.m.), jfl42.com.