Ilic is an Australian TV host, comedian, and journalist.
“I call myself an investigative humorist,” Ilic told BuzzFeed News Wednesday night. “I’m a satirist.”
This is Ilic’s first time at the global climate talks, which happen annually, but the Fossil of the Day awards actually began in the late 1990s. They’re run by Climate Action Network (CAN), an advocacy group that pushes to limit climate change.
Much of the presentation — the anthem, Ilic’s skeleton jacket, etc. — evolved from previous climate conferences. But the process of putting them all together each day begins in the afternoon, when CAN members vote for who should win and Ilic and his team go to work writing jokes and a script.
Ilic got the call to present at the awards just days before the climate talks began — he was skiing in Colorado at the time — but said the gig was a natural fit.
“[The talks are] such a dense process,” he said, “that if I can help simplify and bring the information down to a point where it’s really consumable for people, in a funny and engaging way, then I feel like I’ve contributed to the world.”
The show is produced, recorded, and shared on the internet by Woody Media, an Australian-based production company.
The people who accept the awards are in on the joke, and are given a moment to crack a joke/say how embarrassed they are by their country.
The entire thing feels a bit like Hollywood’s Golden Raspberries for the worst movies of the year, except that it’s happening in the middle of a major U.N. gathering that’s otherwise pretty staid.
Like much of the non-negotiating activity at the talks, the awards are explicitly a publicity stunt. Wael Hmaidan is the international director of CAN and told BuzzFeed News the point is to get attention. But the awards are unique for their irreverence; each night Ilic urges the crowd to boo, swear, yell, and mock world diplomats who earlier in the day were meeting just feet away. It’s a mix of advocacy and infotainment that is rare in world diplomacy.
That’s especially true this year, when authorities clamped down on demonstrations in the wake of terror attacks that killed at least 129 people in and around Paris. The resulting security concerns seem to have helped keep irreverence in short supply, which has made the Fossil of the Day awards one of the few things that actually feels like it has some bite to it.
Hmaidan said the awards aren’t just for jokes — in some cases they are actually an effective push for change. He pointed to Belgium, which won a Fossil award earlier in the talks. The award made headlines in Belgium, and over the following days the country became a more productive negotiator, Hmaidan said.
Though officials from the winning countries aren’t involved (unless they’re lurking unannounced in the audience), the awards are well known at the talks, and Ilic described them as a good way to goad countries — especially those susceptible to bad press — into taking action.
“A lot of what I do is finding the most fucked-up things in the world and making jokes about them,” Ilic said. “Because if you don’t laugh you’ll cry. And right now, there is nothing we should be making jokes about more, or trying to make more palatable, than [the Paris climate talks].”
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