Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Humanities

Advisor 1

Sue Collins

Committee Member 1

Andrew Fiss

Committee Member 2

Patricia Sotirin

Committee Member 3

Joseph Reagle


Satirical comedy has often been recognized as a corrective to, if not alternative for, commercial news as well as a source of accurate science information (Brewer & McKnight, 2015). In this dissertation, I analyze how satirical comedy debunks climate change myths, delivers accurate information, and promotes scientific expertise. Five interconnected assumptions guide the context and methodology of this interdisciplinary study: 1) that various actors have transformed climate change into a “manufactured scientific controversy” (Ceccarelli, 2011); 2) that satire, as a method, both assails targets and aggregates people (Hutcheon,1994); 3) that celebrity activism is impactful but problematic (Collins, 2007; Boykoff & Goodman, 2009); 4) that the YouTube comment board represents an audience study (Lange, 2008); and 5) that online comment is worthy of analysis (Reagle, 2015). This project analyzes two case studies, each consisting of two examples of satirical climate change comedy from John Oliver (his Statistically Representative Climate Change Debate and his Paris Agreement monologues) and from Jimmy Kimmel (his Scientists on Climate Change and Hey Donald Trump -- Climate Change Affects You Too segments). A three-tiered, mixed-methods approach is adopted to investigate the context, construction, circulation, and online reception of these satirical comedy videos.

My project finds that the discursive integration (Baym, 2005) of satirical climate change comedy is potentially persuasive, but also risky and polarizing. Though centrist and left-of-center voices appreciate Oliver’s and Kimmel’s satirical interventions, conservative and right-of-center voices mark strict boundaries between comedy, celebrity, and climate change. It was also discovered that satirical comedy, which is accessible and viral, may intervene on YouTube’s climate change denial problem, correcting climate change falsehoods, and potentially drawing audiences away from their echo chambers and towards meaningful communication about the climate crisis. That is, many commenters use these videos as entry points to debate the causes of American climate change denial, correct climate change disinformation, and offer anecdotal evidence about the effects of climate change. At the same time, YouTube comments from the most resistant skeptics and repeat commenters provide insight into the persistence of circulating climate change myths and conflict frames. This study finally concludes that the analysis of comments on satirical climate change comedy exposes strategies for avoiding confirmation bias and the backfire effect along with techniques for creating more effective climate change communication.