As host and creator of award-winning podcast A Rational Fear, comedian Dan Ilic shames Australian politicians for a living. His bread and butter is a weekly satirical roast of the country’s news and its biggest political villains – with the help of some of its best comedians.
But when his idea to crowdfund a billboard shaming Australia as climate enemy number one at COP26 – the United Nations’ upcoming climate change convention in Glasgow – went viral, what started as another politically charged prank became his new full-time gig in less than two hours.
“I really wanted to go to COP. We were going to do A Rational Fear live shows [in Glasgow], but we couldn’t go because Greg Hunt forgot to read some emails from Pfizer,” he tells Broadsheet, grinning.
“So I thought, ‘What can I do? I can buy a billboard for $12,000.’ I didn’t have that kind of money to throw around, so I put [the idea] up on Indiegogo. Low and behold, I got the amount in two hours. After a day, I got $30,000. And I thought, ‘Woah, that’s more than I need. What else can I do?’ I thought, ‘Right, it’s time to think about more billboards in regional areas. And we’ll set the goal to $1 million,’” he says, laughing. “I did it as a joke, really.”
While the campaign currently sits well shy of the million-dollar mark at the time of writing, it’s at more than 10 times its initial goal. As part of the campaign’s perks, Ilic has teamed up with sustainable toilet paper brand Who Gives a Crap to offer boxes of limited-run bog roll for every $500 donation, plus a raft of other perks for contributions of every size.
He’s tapped Brisbane artist James Hillier for the first shame-inducing design (“Cuddle a Koala! Before we make them extinct…”) and is currently in the process of securing three billboards in Glasgow, plus a slew of others in regional Australia. There’s one going up in Torquay on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, another in Horsham, western Victoria (“strong Nationals territory there”, says Ilic), and two more in Armidale, NSW, and Melbourne’s Kooyong – the electorates of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg, respectively.
But that’s small change compared to what’s next. Shortly after his chat with Broadsheet, Ilic announced he’d wrangled the Godzilla of billboards – a 77-foot monster screen located between 45th and 46th streets in the middle of Times Square – for a full 10 minutes. From 6.40pm on October 14, he’s counting on every Aussie in New York to descend on Broadway to capture the moment on social media.
From there it’s on to Glasgow, where he hopes to digitally map a scathing slogan on the sails of the SEC Armadillo, the waterfront auditorium where the main COP26 discussions are set to take place.
“We’re working through it now. COP is very wary about overly political content, so whatever we put up has to be funny and smart. We’ll be submitting a bunch of stuff, but I would love to see our ‘Net-zero emissions by 2300’ billboard up there. I think that would be iconic,” he says.
Once the cost of the billboards is covered (Ilic is footing the bill until the end of the campaign), any leftover funds from the jackpot will be poured into “Jokekeeper”, a fund to pay creatives for work that “berates fossil fuel-funded candidates” ahead of the next federal election.
“I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say this election is one of the most important in the world, because it’s going to determine just how many gigatonnes of carbon get dug up, burned and put into the atmosphere. If one of the major parties gets in, it’s guaranteed we’ll never meet the targets we need to meet,” he says.
In 2019, an analysis by the Australian Institute ranked Australia as the third biggest exporter of fossil fuels, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia – making us a prominent dealer for the rest of the world’s consumption – and the 14th highest emitter of greenhouse gases globally. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has yet to confirm whether or not he will attend the COP26 climate talks.
“Scott Morrison loves to talk about the silent majority, but the actual majority wants action on climate change. It’s a very loud majority. And that’s what this campaign is all about – giving voice to that majority of Australians,” Ilic says.