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03.31.10

Sarah Silverman's Climate Change Showdown

The comic known for her politically incorrect commentary spent Tuesday night moderating a semi-serious debate on global warming in front of a rowdy A-list audience. Lloyd Grove reports.

It was a dark and stormy night—and that was just on Sarah Silverman’s tongue.

“Shuuut uuuup!” she screeched into her microphone late Tuesday.

And then, a few minutes later: “Shut the f--- up!” (And to the audio engineer: “Louder! Turn up the mike!”)

Finally, admitting defeat: “I hate you guys right now.”

She had me at “shut up.”

“‘Putz’ is Jewish for a chubby sod,” Silverman explained “And doesn’t it seem like finger-pointers are sitting on a whole pile of shit themselves?”

Silverman—the cute-as-a-button comic best known for her socio-politically incorrect show on Comedy Central, her defunct romance with talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel and her genius music video, “ I’m F---ing Matt Damon”—was moderating a debate on global warming (Does it exist? Should we care?) called The Darker Side of Green while vainly trying to quiet the vodka and tequila-fueled revelers that the Lexus car company had assembled at Manhattan’s Skylight West.

It was a fool’s errand. Silverman would have had better luck shushing mating elephant seals on Guadalupe Island.

The stylish and increasingly intoxicated crowd refused to be silenced as Irish global warming skeptic Phelim McAleer—last seen wearing a polar bear costume and getting pelted with rotten vegetables at the Copenhagen climate-change conference—was pitted against American environmental polemicist Amanda Little.

“The people who boo,” she exhorted after a young man in front kept shouting obscene epithets at McAleer, “I think it’s good if you boo if you don’t agree with something, and it’s good to have opinions, but as a liberal with mostly liberal people here, I’m guessing—part of being liberal is being open-minded, so we have to not become what we don’t like, right?”

Wrong. Milling around in the back, and presumably better behaved, were such celebrities as Zach Braff, Emmy Rossum, Tyson Beckford, Reverend Run, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, and Daily Show stars Jason Jones and Wyatt Cenac—all lured to the great debate by the promise of free use of a brand-new Lexus hybrid CT 200h. A gleaming, white model had been hauled up to the sixth-floor party space.

“I’m not rich, so that’s why I have to come to these events—for the swag,” Jason Jones confided, half in jest but wholly in earnest.

As for the actual debate, the short stocky McAleer and the tall lithe Little did yeoman work—as did the redoubtable Sarah—even though they were nearly impossible to hear from 12 feet away.

Little: “My position on global warming is the same as ExxonMobil, who stated that the appropriate debate on climate change is not whether it’s happening but what to do about it… It the same position that Shell Oil, the Pentagon, the Pope, NASA… virtually every country on the planet and every executive of every major industry you can think of has made—which is that the science is real.”

McAleer: “What have we come to? That the most radical journalists in our world support a position that ExxonMobil, Shell Oil—the pope! The pope! They support the pope!... All these conservatives are obsessed with your bedroom. But these liberal environmentalists are obsessed with every other room in your house…And the radical journalists now are sucking up to power!”

Silverman, commenting on McAleer’s heavy brogue: “Okay, I made out a few of those words. It’s very difficult to understand you. I’m not that good with foreign people.”

Little: “So are you saying that these scientists are perpetrating a massive fraud on the global public to get some grant money?”

McAleer: “No, I didn’t say that at all.

Little: “So they’re perpetrating a massive hoax for what reason?

McAleer: “I didn’t even use the word ‘hoax.’ ”

Little: “You said it’s a campaign, right?”

McAleer: “I didn’t use the word ‘campaign’ either.”

Crowd: “You’re walking around the questions!”

Silverman: “We’re not trying to put words in your mouth, but we know sensically what you meant.”

Crowd: “Sensically!”

McAleer: “My point is that there are number of scientists who are trying to seek a solution to all these problems and the solution is anti-capitalist, anti-development, and anti-American. Why aren’t the Indians getting all these questions? Why aren’t we over in China investigating China? Because that’s where most of the pollution comes from.”

Little: “It’s a fact that have 30 percent greater concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than in pre-industrial times, and it’s scientific fact that carbon dioxide adds heat. These are not theories. They’re not ideology. They’re facts.”

Silverman: “Let’s try our indoor voices… What are your thoughts and feelings about Climate-gate?”—a reference to the recent controversy over British climate scientists cooking the numbers to reflect rising temperatures in a United Nations-sponsored study.

Little: “The idea that this somehow debunks climate science is ludicrous. To assume that these small handful of scientists are poisoning the well is kind of like saying that Phelim is a putz because he’s misrepresenting the truth, so therefore everyone in this room is a putz, because Phelim is misrepresenting the truth. It’s just not fair.”

McAleer: “What is a putz?”

Silverman: “‘Putz’ is Jewish for a chubby sod. And doesn’t it seem like finger-pointers are sitting on a whole pile of shit themselves?”

Little: “Absolutely!”

McAleer: “Well-moderated, Sarah! Well-moderated!”

In the end, Silverman hurled her microphone to the floor with an ear-splitting thump, and made a quick getaway.

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Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.