A Clean Energy Conversation with a Comedian

February 2, 2022

Today we have an extra special Flip the Script article featuring a Q&A with Generation180’s very own podcast host, Esteban Gast. Even if you haven’t gotten a chance to check out the podcast, Esteban’s special brand of humor shines in this conversation about how we can all be invited to the clean energy table.

We think Esteban is a funny guy who knows how to find the center of “your skills-joy-good work” and we hope you’ll have fun listening to (or reading) this interview. Enjoy!

Listen to the podcast or read the Q&A below


Matt Turner: Hey, everyone, my name is Matt Turner, I’m the editor for Comedians Conquering Climate change, and we have a very special podcast episode today. We’re going to have Esteban Gast, the wonderful host for Comedians Conquering Climate Change. We’re going to have a conversation with him, kind of get to know who he is. Who is Esteban Gast? What makes him tick? What is his favorite smoothie flavor? What stuff does he have in his fridge? I know you’re going to love it.

Esteban, thank you so much for coming on and talking to me. It’s good to finally have a conversation with you and not just like, cutting together your voice in the editing room. Appreciate you coming on, man. Thanks.

Esteban Gast: Yeah, no, this is amazing. Thanks for being here, and thanks for being a very patient editor for every podcast. People don’t know this. They’re four hour interviews that end up somehow 15 minutes. Nothing makes sense.

MT: It’s mostly Esteban just talking about himself a lot, and I just easily cut those out for the first hour. The solos you do…I know you think you’re a good singer. You’re not. Stick with comedy.

EG: No, the world deserves to see my music career and you’re holding it back. But you know what? I respect it. I respect it. One day I’ll win you over with my songs.

MT: That’s our next podcast. Comedians Chorusing for Climate Change. I don’t know. I don’t have a good C.

EG: It still is a C.

MT: Yeah, well, cool. Thanks for giving us and the listeners an opportunity to kind of know who you are. Like, who is Esteban? You do a ton of stuff. So give me a kind of breakdown of who you are today and what you’re up to.

EG: Wow, who I am today.

MT: It’s a big question.

EG: Yeah, this is big. All right. Are you ready for this four-hour answer that you’ll cut down to fifteen minutes?

MT: That will have a one-hour musical in between?

EG: The only way for me to properly answer that is in song. I think I’m someone who comes from a lot of different worlds. And I mean that in the way that my parents are Colombian. I’m 100% Colombian and go back to Colombia every year. My extended family is there. But I spent time growing up in Puerto Rico, which is a different place. In like Chicagoland and literally the corn of the midwest, like three hours away from any city.

So these are like places that I live that are formative. Those are pretty distinct in different worlds. I taught high school for little. I taught college for a little. And like, you know, helped write this book on creativity and was in the education world. And then, and then left that to be a touring stand-up comedian. And to clarify, like touring, you know, like making like $100. Touring is generous. Like, I was like, if you went to a small Comedy Club in Topeka, Kansas, then you’d be like, “ Oh I remember Esteban.”

Sometimes people were like, no way. What stages were you at? And like, you know, I was like, oh, no, I didn’t go to New York, I went to like Jersey. And, you know, like, yeah. When I’d go to New York, I’d do like a show on Long Island. Yeah, like the weirdest.

MT: Oh, you’re on, you’re in Times Square? Yeah, there’s like a side back alley. There was at least two homeless people and a few stray cats.

EG: Yeah.

MT: Got it.

EG: Yeah, I was huge with this stray cat community. It’s weird. Once they got adopted, they’re no longer fans. They unfollow me on socials. It really hurts.

MT: Oh man, that’s sad.

EG: Yeah, but I made a living from comedy, which in itself feels like a victory regardless if it’s mostly cats. And then I went and ran this eco-community, which is like an off-the-grid community, all about sustainability in Panama. And if you’re like, wow, that sounds really interesting. Did anyone make a television show out of it? They did. I moved to LA with this TV show. It’s called JungleTown about this community that I was helping run. I was the president. There are four parts of it, and I was the president of one of the parts of it. So it’s very intense, very strange. I lived in a tent for almost two years.

MT: And who did that show? What was that on?

EG: It was on Viceland? It was also A&E and A few other networks, but it didn’t do well because cats can figure out how to tune to the right channel.

MT: That makes sense. 

EG: So we missed a lot of my audience. But it was a really cool show. It was executive produced by Spike Jones, who’s a hero of mine. So it was fun for him to be like, “Oh, there’s something here.” And then America unanimously decided there is not.

MT: Spike Jones, you were right in a lot of things, this is not one of them.

EG: Yeah when he looks back on his career, he’s like, wow, I had a lot of hits. And then that one time I bet money on Esteban. That’s a miss. So then I moved to LA and ever since then, I’ve sort of thought, “Hey, what happens if I combine everything on this education side and, this sort of like, you know, almost sustainability side?” We were trying to live in a completely sustainable town, literally experimenting around sustainability and how we can work together to help climate change. Anti-climate change just to clarify. We weren’t on the side of climate change, right? We were anti-change. Climate stay the same.

MT: Got it, OK. Not confusing.

EG: And then comedy and writing stuff. So the last few years in LA, I’ve been, I would say, at the intersection of entertainment, comedy, writing, you know, like meaningful climatey things, all that good stuff.

MT: What a segue way to the next question. So climate and comedy are the intersections of the podcast. And that’s pretty important for us at Generation180. So you’re a perfect fit for that as far as climate and comedy. And we know there’s been a ton of progress in that space as far as climate goes—tons of work to be done. So why is humor a helpful way to contribute to the anti-change climate, the climate-stay-the same-movement? We’re working on that. I’m going to workshop that name. How does humor help out with that? Why is that an important tool?

EG: Yeah you know, in the yearbook, when you write, like, “I love, you never change.” That’s what we’re trying to do to climate, right? Like, please don’t change. We love you, right? You know, you never change. I think a few things when I was created in a lab when Generation180 was looking for someone to do that podcast…

MT: I remember that. Yeah, a little bit of this, a little bit of Al Gore, a little bit of Spike Jones. 

EG: Spike Jones is like, do not tarnish my good name again. First, I help your show, and now look at you.

Man, I think it is so, so important. I think for a few reasons. If you talk to people about climate change, they get really serious. Right, there’s a weight to it. There’s an “Oh my goodness, are we really going to talk about this? This is heavy. I don’t want to ruin my morning” sort of thing. So I think for anyone to engage with anything around climate change and clean energy in a way that doesn’t feel heavy, in a way that doesn’t feel like here’s more bad news, I think…that touchpoint is really impactful. For people to be open to the conversation. Because not every time they have the conversation, it is doom and gloom.

And I think the second thing is when we come from comedy, and this place of opportunity, your optimism, it is from an informed place. I think sometimes I tell people I’ve got this new podcast with this great organization, Generation180, it’s really awesome. And it’s Comedians Conquering Climate Change, and we’re trying to do this thing. And people are like, “Oh, are you delusional?” You know, “What is your angle? Delusion?” And I think I’m like, no. I don’t think you realize that there’s a ton of progress being done. We talk about this, literally, on every episode. It’s a bunch of good news—and some difficult news, right? We’re also not ignoring it. But the fact that we come from this place of optimism and opportunity is from an informed place. Is from the work that you’re doing, Generation180 and other nonprofits and even other companies, and especially what people and some politicians, some countries are doing.

So I think, for people to engage with it in a different way is critical because I think people don’t, I think people are scared to talk about it. They don’t like talking about it. It’s like, I’ve got this spinach in my fridge and it’s really old and it’s moldy. And I’ve thought about throwing it away. But I like, don’t want to. So I just open up my fridge and I look at it and it’s sealed, you know.

MT: Yeah, because you’re going to have to smell it right. You’re going to have to…you might get your hands dirty. You’re going to have to clean that.

EG: There are so many steps. I don’t know if that analogy sticks out, but I think to have to invite people in and say, first off, there is hope and optimism. Secondly, we can talk about this in a way that doesn’t feel heavy. Third, I bet we are more mobilized and science shows we are much more mobilized to change if we feel like it’s not all over. If we feel like we can do something about it, we can talk about it. And we can use humor to process pain. We can use humor to communicate breakthroughs that are less clickable, right? 

Because I’m going to click on something that says humans have three years left. I’m probably less likely to click on something that’s like algae is doing something cool in the ocean.

MT: Yeah, that reminds me. I don’t know if you saw that, “Don’t Look Up” movie yet that everyone is talking about. I noticed you weren’t in there as a star. Cast along with Leo and all of them. But anyways, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but the very last scene, they’re all sitting around this table and it’s all about this comet that’s going to come to Earth. And they had all this time they could have done something about it, but it’s too late now. So they’re all sitting at the table and they’re just making talk about nothing that matters, right? It’s the coffee talk. It’s the whatever. And so I think, I wonder if a lot of people feel like that’s where we are right now, we’re at the table, it’s happening.

But what we’re trying to say is Generation180, and I think you do a good job with the Comedians Conquering Climate Change podcast, is like, no, no, no, no, we’re not there yet. Like, we are actually well in the beginning of the movie. And unlike an asteroid, it’s not a one-and-done thing. It’s not like there is a Yes or No answer to it. There’s a scale here. And I love the idea of how humor can just open up that conversation and just let people know, oh, yeah, we’re not. It’s not all over, right? And not only is it not over, but things are happening. A lot of good things are happening. We have a lot of momentum that’s happening.

EG: That’s great, man. That’s such a better analogy than my spinach, one that I’m almost threatened.

MT: What’s your experience on editing? We could swap these roles. I feel like I might have a comedy—at least a thing for metaphors.

EG: You’re coming in with your perfect metaphors. But no, but I think you’re absolutely right. I think instead of waving and telling people, “We’re not there yet, you guys!” I think literally, a better tool, rhetorically and emotionally, is to come in with humor. So I think, yeah, I think we’re in the business of helping people, you know, shifting people’s hearts and minds. Helping people expand their awareness, a little bit, on what things are happening. The dominant narrative is fear, and fear works really great at cutting through things.

I think a better way, a gentler way, a more human way is, I think, through humor and levity, and optimism. And I think that is also an effective tool to shift hearts and minds in a way that they’re like, oh, you know what? There is hope. We can do this. We can work together. Yeah, this isn’t the end. There are a lot of really good things happening.

MT: Cool. Well put. Let’s shift over to the people you have on the show. I do have a lot of fun cutting your 13-hour—they just keep getting longer. Your two-day marathons.

EG: It’s like Coachella, but only me and someone else with a microphone. It’s three days… 

MT: You have a lot of hilarious people on board and it’s super wide. Some are standup, some are improv, some are writers, some have, like policy backgrounds. And now they’re doing comedy and they’re really good at it. So what do you look for in some of those guests that you invite on the show?

EG: I think comedy can come from a lot of different places. Sort of like we’re talking about, right, there’s comedy that is also fear or frustration. You’re like, “Oh, look at this thing. I’m so angry and everything makes me angry.”

MT: The Lewis Blacks of the world.

EG: Yeah, that is my Lewis Black. “Can you believe?!” It’s Lewis Black meets Gilbert Godfrey I think. “Absolutely unbelievable.” And I think those people are great, right? That this is not a criticism of them.

But I think for me, I think people that I would love to be on the show and that I seek out are 1) very funny. But I think, 2) curious and open. They can bring their comedic identity and their sense of self into the show. But I think…comedians, I think, have this gift to listen and absorb. Take information and process it in their own unique way. And call out inconsistencies, or find the really funny thing, or find that small thing that they can make bigger. All these, this toolbox of a comedian. Use a metaphor like you have used Matt. Matt, the metaphor man, as he will forever be known. 

But I think all of that starts with someone who’s really open and curious. So for me, a lot of times people are like, oh, I don’t know much about this. Or some people know a lot more, right? We’ve got comedians who have a background, like you said, in politics and policy. Or even MK Paulson is a wonderful comedian. His episode is great. And MK plants trees. And I knew that. I knew that he loves trees, but he had never connected that to climate change, if that makes sense. He had never been like, oh, I’m someone who’s curious about the Earth. He just was like, I love plants and trees. His parents have a ranch in Texas, and he’s helped plant trees.

So I think there’s something beautiful to that…you’re thinking about these things, but you don’t even know you’re thinking about these things. But I know, I know MK is relentlessly curious and open to things. So I think people who yeah, I really think curiosity is, to me, in the way that I view comedy, and the way that I want to do comedy in the way that I want to invite people to do comedy, I think curiosity is really the key. So they don’t need to know about, you know, they don’t need to read Grist. Or like, do some of this, you know, like climate change-y things that are difficult. I think they just need to be really curious about what that means.

It’s also a way to invite people into the conversation around climate change. It’s like everyone’s invited. You don’t need to know a certain thing. You don’t need to have read a certain thing. You can ask; there was a headline. It was like something, you know, parts per million of carbon dioxide or whatever greenhouse gases. And yeah, someone’s like, what does that mean? And I was like, “I don’t know.” We should know. But I say it was like, you’re totally right to call me out for saying that. Let’s do research and find out what this means together.

MT: I think that’s really helpful. I love the idea of inviting everyone to the table because you’re right. Like at times, it totally feels like the people that are having these conversations or politics or massive companies that are buying solar or whatever. And it kind of feels like to some people that we don’t. I mean, even that’s something we say at Generation180 is like, a lot of people don’t feel like they even have a role to play. Like this isn’t their game, and we’re not even on the sidelines. We’re in the stands watching. And so I love what Comedians Conquering Climate Change does is say that like, you have a role, like you can get in the game. It’s no longer like, yeah, maybe 20 years ago when solar was not something you could do, and electric cars were not something you could do. And all of these other things that you can do just really weren’t easily attainable.

Things have changed and things are different. And sending that invitation in a really friendly, fun way is a lot of fun to listen to.

EG: Yeah, again, there are two ways to deliver that. It could be like, “Hey, adjust your narrative. You’re out of date. You don’t think that solar has been affordable for like a while. Come on”. That is genuinely one way to do that. And I think sometimes people feel rightfully frustrated in the Climate Change Movement that they’re like, we need to move faster. You haven’t done this yet. Come on! There’s this sense of urgency. Again, totally rightfully so.

And I think there’s a role for someone, I think a role for someone like me, in the way that I can contribute is being like, hey, I also didn’t know. And to me, in the way that I operate in the world, I’m like, oh, that’s the way to have this conversation. Like, invite people in that way.

MT: So man, I think we’ve even answered this last question I wanted to talk about, which was like, what do people come away with? Like, what’s your goal if I had to pick a goal? What do I really want people to come away with when they’re done listening to an episode or two? I know we’ve hit a lot on that, but like, wrap that up for me. Put a big ole bow on it. Put it under my Christmas tree. What is it?

EG: Wow, it’s February, so. So this is going to be both. I think it’s going to be both like a birthday and Christmas.

MT: It’s my Valentine’s Day present. We have just a couple of days.

EG: I think there are two things. In the podcast or a podcast episode, I think my hope in my dream is that people walk away and they feel like they are invited in the conversation. They are welcome in the conversation. My hope is that this is an opportunity for them to engage with this topic and they like, want to learn more. That you’ve got like a little momentum. This is a bit of that spark. This is a bit of that momentum. Man, how beautiful of a gift. If someone feels like they’re invited, if someone walks away and they’re inspired to just learn more, right? They walk away with a bounce in their step.

Because I think if you’re going to make change, if you’re going to sign pledges, you’re going to, you know, push politicians and everything. It is going to be easier with a little bounce in your step. With like a little small smile on your face. That is an easier way to fight this fight. 

And I think the second thing is an even bigger “We are all invited.” Like, I don’t have a background in whatever climate. I’m not a scientist. I think for a long time I thought, well, who am I to talk about these things? This is something I like, read books about and all these people are smarter than me. I mean, Bill McKibben is great, and I will just kneel at the altar of Bill. And then I was like, oh, the things that I am doing in my life, the things I’m uniquely good at, can be. We can talk about climate change in this way. And I think it is, dare I say, almost like a responsibility for all of us to think about the way that we can show up for the Earth and for each other. And I genuinely believe, whatever you are into, right, I’m a strange comedian, you know, education teacher, hybrid dude. Like for me to have a role in this means that literally, literally, everyone has a role in this. 

So it’s like 1) invited literally to the conversation invited to find out more resources—every show has a call to action. and 2) at a bigger existential level, you are invited regardless of what you do. Even if you’re like, I don’t know how juggling is going to help the climate. But it actually will. But I guarantee you it actually will. Anything that you are into.

MT: It reminds me of that episode that you did where you talked about that Venn diagram. On one side, it’s alright, what can you do? What are your skill sets? And then, what brings you joy? What makes you happy? And then what’s the good work that can be done? And there’s something in there in between, in the middle of those three circles, there is something and this podcast kind of seems like it’s pretty daggone close to yours. You look like you’re having fun. I can’t tell. I don’t know if you’re just that good of an actor, but it looks like it sounds like you’re having a great time.

EG: Oh, I’m a bad actor.

MT: Oh I wouldn’t know if you were having a bad time.

EG: Yeah no, I couldn’t fake it. No, I am! But I think it also is, I think comedians come on and I’m like, yeah, what does this look like for you, for the ways that you’re doing? It doesn’t have to be a podcast. It can be write a joke about it or you write a story about it, or in the script that you’re doing, you bring an element of it. There’s so many ways. There is no right way to be good to the Earth and each other. There’s a lot of wrong ways to do it. Not doing anything is a wrong way. Like pouring oil into the ocean. Wrong, right? But if you’re like, “But I’m a surfer!”  I live in LA  and the surfing community has done so so much for the oceans. And even in LA they just passed an oil drilling ban.

MT: Like no pouring oil in the ocean anymore? That used to be a thing?

EG: It took a while.

MT: It’s 2022.

EG: But anyway, like, I’m like, oh, surfers are like leading. You know, in LA, they are some of the loudest voices. I’m like, yeah, everyone’s invited.

MT: That’s a good gift. I like it. It’s a big present. Took you a long time to wrap it. A little too many bows. You got a little carried away, but it’s still a present. It’s still gift-wrapped.

EG: “A little too many bows” is such good feedback just for me as an individual.

MT: Oh yeah, I agree. I’m the same way. I probably talk too much. I probably should have ended this podcast Q&A a while ago. But on that note…

EG: No this is great!

MT: Esteban, I really appreciate you talking to me, talking to our listeners, I think this is a really helpful way for us just to get around like, hey, what’s the point of this podcast? Like, what are the good things about it? And then it’s also nice to know you and just know more about you. You’re a good guy Esteban and I appreciate your work.

EG: Hey, Thanks for editing. And you’re a good guy.

MT: Aw, shucks.

EG: No. Thank you. And thanks for the whole team at Generation180 who is genuinely walking the walk in terms of flipping the script. And I think being really, really thoughtful and intentional about shifting some of those narratives. And also just like, I mean, yeah, I can’t I can’t believe truly, you said this. I can’t believe I get to do what I do, which is get support to, like, make silly jokes with people I love, about a topic I think is important. 

MT: All right, Esteban. I’ll talk to you the next time the podcast comes out.

EG: And we won’t speak before then. Remember our rule.