This week, Bill Nye joined The Last Laugh podcast to offer some advice to the 10 Democratic presidential primary candidates who will be participating in CNN’s upcoming Climate Crisis Town Hall. After all, the “Science Guy” has a lot of experience making the case for climate action on TV.
“Oh god,” Nye says when I bring up the appearance he made on Tucker Carlson’s show a couple of years ago. As one headline put it at the time, “Bill Nye appears on Fox News and it doesn’t go well.”
“The experience was just a lot of adrenaline,” Nye tells me. He was in Washington, D.C., where Carlson tapes his show. “It was a beautiful night, gorgeous, and Tucker Carlson was on the roof of the building doing his schtick from there.” Fox invited him on to talk about climate change and he agreed, making his first appearance on that network in nearly a decade despite being a semi-frequent presence on CNN and MSNBC.
“So we were going to go on the roof, beautiful night, this will be fun,” Nye thought to himself. But then the producers told him he wasn’t going to be on the roof with the host but rather in a small room on a lower floor of the same studio. “They moved me, changed my chair three times to throw me off,” he says.
During his introduction, Carlson mocked his guest as “Bill Nye the Psychoanalyst Guy” for claiming that climate change deniers suffer from “cognitive dissonance.” The host was clearly itching for a fight.
As the segment began, Nye quickly realized that every time he started to talk, Carlson would interrupt him. “Working as fast as I could, I took my phone out and tried to show him with a stopwatch that he interrupted me every six seconds,” Nye says. “So it’s hard to make a point with him.”
By the end of their nine minutes on screen together, Carlson was shouting at Nye, “I’m open-minded, you are not!”
“Carry on, Mr. Carlson, I’m sure we will cross paths again,” Nye told him, a bit ominously. They haven’t crossed paths since.
“He’s really drifted off, with respect,” Nye says of Carlson, who has become the most prominent white nationalist voice on Fox News under President Trump. “I mean he’s gotten odder and odder.” Besides the racism, Nye was enraged by a recent show in which he attacked the metric system.
“The other thing I wonder about Tucker Carlson is, he’s got four kids,” Nye says, turning more serious. “I just wonder how his children feel about climate change. They keep a pretty low profile. I wonder about it, because it much more difficult to meet a climate change denier who is young.”
Nye had a much better time making a cameo on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver earlier this year. “God, that was a blast,” he says of the sketch in which he lit a globe on fire to demonstrate the impact of climate change. As the longtime host of a children’s program, he has spent most of his career communicating his message in a kid-friendly way. But on HBO, he got to scream, “The planet’s on fucking fire!” at the top of his lungs. “It was heartfelt!” he says.
And yet Nye does not regret his attempt to get through to Fox News viewers on the climate crisis. “I’ll go back on there almost anytime,” he says, explaining that he was asked back shortly after his original appearance but said no at the time and hasn’t been invited since.
“I’ve offered to be on The Five and they wouldn’t have me on,” Nye adds of Fox’s afternoon roundtable show. “It wouldn’t be fun,” he admits, “but you’ve got to meet people where they are.”
“Let’s all go fishing at the other guy’s fishin’ hole,” Nye says, explaining that he means that literally as well as figuratively. “Because we’re more alike than we are different.”
When I ask if that applies to him and Tucker Carlson, Nye sighs and replies, “Yeah, I guess.” Like Nye, Carlson used to be famous for wearing bow ties on television. “He used to,” Nye says of Carlson, “but he lost his nerve.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Stand-up comedian and host of Comedy Central’s Good Talk, Anthony Jeselnik.