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Alice Snedden in a triptych of despair. Image: Tina Tiller
Alice Snedden in a triptych of despair. Image: Tina Tiller

Pop CultureFebruary 28, 2024

‘Ah, fuck’: Alice Snedden on the ‘complete and utter despair’ of trying to save the world

Alice Snedden in a triptych of despair. Image: Tina Tiller
Alice Snedden in a triptych of despair. Image: Tina Tiller

The comedian and host of Alice Snedden’s Bad News Saves the World talks to Alex Casey about feeling the climate fear and making a comedy show anyway. 

If Alice Snedden had been planning to see out the climate crisis from a house on giant stilts, it was on day one of shooting for Alice Snedden’s Bad News Saves the World that she had those stilts kicked right out from under her. “If the worst comes to pass, society is going to break down,” warned economist  Shamubeel Eaqub during the very first interview of the series. “There is no future scenario where the fate of humanity is not miserable.” 

Snedden remembers ending the day with a feeling of dread. “I had genuinely thought: it’s bad, but it’ll be fine. So then to hear that it’s bad and it won’t be fine was truly shocking to me.” 

It’s this journey of discovery that is explored in the special two-part return of Alice Snedden’s Bad News, a series which boldly announced its end back in 2022. “I kind of felt like I was getting too old for it, and that somebody who’s a bit more passionate needed to take over the format,” Snedden explains. “My wish is still that somebody else steps in, not because I think I am performing a public service or anything, but because I would just love to watch it.” 

Over three seasons, the comedian has delved into many thorny and complex topics in Aotearoa today, including the murky laws around migrant sex work, the morals of meat eating, and the toxic side of rugby culture. These explorations have led to many spectacularly strange scenes, such as a euthanasia-themed dinner party, handing out Weetbix to strangers in the name of charity, and even Snedden getting her boobs out on the set of Shortland Street. 

“There’s such a long history of political comedy, even in New Zealand,” Snedden says of the inception of the show. “Eating Media Lunch was the ultimate satire, even if it wasn’t necessarily always acutely political, and even Fred Dagg was satire.” Feeling like the modern moment required something biting, brave, and funny, Snedden decided she would, in another proud New Zealand tradition, just make it herself. 

Over those five years of Bad News, Snedden changed her approach to tackling tricky topics. “When you’re younger, you are more black and white about things. When you get older, there starts to be shades of grey and you can see the multiplicities around every issue,” she explains. As the series evolved, the outraged public stunts from early seasons made way for longer, more in-depth interviews with experts and people from a range of perspectives. 

“I realised it was very hard to retain that sense of indignation when it doesn’t seem to accomplish anything,” Snedden laughs. “It’s definitely made me more compassionate and has also made me realise the world is not as straightforward as I thought it was.” 

All that personal growth and nuance has prepared Snedden for her most daunting Bad News outing yet: exploring the climate crisis and, ultimately, trying to save the world. “The opportunity to do a one-off special appealed because climate change was the one topic that we had never tackled,” she says. “Honestly, mostly because I thought it was just too boring. The messaging is all death, doom and destruction, which I think people find very hard to engage with.” 

TFW death, doom, destruction

The challenge was to include enough of the bleak facts, while also giving people some hope. University of Canterbury physicist David Frame spells out just how off track we are to meet the Paris Accords, explaining that we need to deliver the same reduction in emissions seen during the Covid-era, plus half of that again, every year for 20 years. Economist Shamubeel Eaqub then predicts insurance retreat and that “large parts of the planet will be uninhabitable.”

Snedden’s response? “Ah, fuck.” 

Thankfully, there is still room for some laughs along the way. Snedden’s close friend and longtime collaborator Rose Matafeo joins her poolside in episode one to bask in both the summer sun and her own existential dread. “It’s the saddest physical manifestation of rampant capitalism,” Matafeo says of the climate crisis. “You are taking it quite tough, eh,” chuckles Snedden. “You should be as well – what the hell?!” Matafeo shoots back. 

Matafeo provides a bookend for the series. Image: Supplied

“She’s a real cynic who thinks the world is fucked, and I don’t really generally feel that way,” says Snedden. “It’s always funny to talk to somebody who is on the opposite side of the spectrum to me.” Matafeo was also the comedian guest back in the very first episode of Bad News, talking about tax evasion, and Snedden liked the symmetry. “It’s nice that she bookends the series,” she says of her friend, “but the main reason we did it is just because she was in town.” 

Other moments of levity in the series come from Snedden preparing for the apocalypse by getting special SAS training, but her most hopeful interview was with climate activist Mike Smith (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu), who is currently suing New Zealand’s biggest polluting companies through the Supreme Court. “He isn’t someone who is just saying, ‘oh, you can do these things’, he’s actually doing them,” says Snedden. “I think that’s an incredible lesson to people.”

Even if, spoiler alert, she can’t single-handedly manage to save the world herself, Snedden feels empowered after making the series to think about her own choices and contributions to the planet. “I’ve had all these emotions of complete and utter despair, but have now come right back around to: what can I control within my own little sphere of action? What can I be conscious of? How can I make an impact? Because it’s just not really an option to ignore it.”

You can always go and live in the bush. Image: Supplied

Her hope is that people feel some despair when watching Bad News, but not to the point of total paralysis. “I want despair to the point of small, moderate, habitual change,” she laughs. “I want people to see that they do have a moral duty to act here, but the required action is not out of reach. It’s not a requirement on one individual to solve this crisis, but it is a requirement of every individual to be slightly more conscious of what their impact is on the environment.”

As for Snedden, who freely admits she still eats dairy and is currently living across two continents, her individual climate action is the series itself. “The main function of it is just to be a reminder that the climate crisis is still there, and that just because you aren’t looking at it doesn’t mean it’s gone away,” she says. “It feels good just to keep it in the consciousness of people, which I hope is still a worthy contribution – even if I am sometimes bad at recycling.”

Alice Snedden’s Bad News is made with the support of NZ On Air. Watch all the previous episodes here.

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