Best Medicine: Powering Asheville with ‘pisskey’ and solar panel hats

THE END IS NEAR: Comedian Eric Brown, top left, is joined by his latest round of fellow local stand-ups to discuss tourism, sustainability and the apocalypse. Also pictured, clockwise from top right, Joe Carroll, CJ Green and Ham Daley. Photo of Brown by Cindy Kunst; photos of Carrol, Green and Daley courtesy of the comedians 

Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I think it’s a safe bet that anyone reading a comedy column in Xpress probably recycles, composts and generally gives a hoot and does not pollute. Is it enough though? What else can we do to help keep Earth from becoming a hellish sun-bleached wasteland filled to the brim with microplastics?

That question keeps me up at night. I don’t have all the answers, and all the giant conglomerates of the world don’t seem to have them either (or more likely don’t care). So it falls to us to take care of our home.

With this in mind, I have gathered three of the funniest and most environmentally conscious people that I know to figure things out. So please join the luminary CJ Green, the brilliant Ham Daley, the incomparable Joe Carroll and myself as we finally settle all the dire issues tied to sustainable living.

(Disclaimer: Neither Xpress nor the writers of this comedy article claim that any of these answers will definitively solve matters tied to sustainability, climate change or anything else. Unless, of course, it turns out the following suggestions work, in which case all Nobel Prizes should be forwarded to Eric J. Brown, comedian extraordinaire.)

Eric: Asheville relies heavily on tourism to survive. It’s the industry that keeps us going. But like any industry, we could probably be doing more for the environment. How can we make tourism in our town more sustainable?

CJ: I think since most of us cannot afford to go on vacation, we should enlist the tourists to become our volunteer assistants in the service sector. They won’t get paid, but they will get little discounts on purchases during their vacay. We’ll have them wear a pin that reminds residents to be kind to them because they are simply volunteers. I think this fits in line with a lot of the thinking of those in power, as they love having free labor, especially when that labor is paying for itself.

Ham: I see a lot of people (whom I only assume must be from the flatlands of the Midwest and also hate themselves like me) trekking up our lofty mountain roads on bicycles — with pedals. There’s gotta be a way to harness that relentless, self-loathing energy, because otherwise it’s just being used for what? Personal betterment and growth? Pshaw! We’re more industrial than that.

Also, you should be able to hop on and off of those Pubcycle tours. Kind of like the trolley but fueled by fermentation and force, not fossils (which is also a fairly decent tagline for our city).

Joe: As someone who has been on the frontlines of the Asheville tourism industry for a decade now, I can confirm that it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I am positive that my polyester tour-guide shirt has lasted longer than some of the marriages that it helped to usher in on party buses, party bikes and party sidewalks. Perhaps the best way to cut down on our carbon footprint would be to bring the Asheville experience to them. We could load up a Toyota Corolla with craft beer, percussive instruments and a massage therapy student named Harmony. Then we send them out to anywhere within 100 miles with a $200 stipend and an Alan Watts book on tape. Think of the experiences you’ll gather along the way, Harmony! It’s too bad that we can’t come with you.

Eric: Tourism is here to stay in Asheville. I would love it if we had more diverse industry in our town and more opportunities for the working class, myself included. That being said, tourism is the biggest industry we have, so I second CJ’s suggestion: Put the tourists to work. Now, tourists are by definition on vacation, so they’re not going to want to work, right? I propose that we trick them into working. We make up some sort of story; something about how much F. Scott Fitzgerald loved to volunteer with wildlife conservation, or maybe that the Vanderbilts were adamantly opposed to plastic waste. After they learn that no trip to Asheville would be complete without honoring the local history, they’ll be sure to pitch in, right?

As I’m reading this over, I realize how stupid that sounds. That’s not gonna work. OK, new plan. We develop Asheville-branded hats with solar panels built into them. At the end of their vacation, the tourists turn the hats back in for a free beer flight at some brewery in exchange for their help with the power grid. Foolproof plan.

Eric: Perhaps the biggest concern for sustainability is energy production and conservation. With power bills at an all-time high and with our state’s reliance on fossil fuels, what do you do to conserve energy around your home?

CJ: See, your boi, he be working a lot. So how I be naturally conserving power is by using the power of my job. Meaning, I’m using their electricity. See, I’m a Tar Heel at heart. So, I’m always looking for ways of getting one over Duke, no matter the branch. It’s all about the love of the game. I bring in to work power strips and charging devices I barely use — hell, some I don’t even own. It’s also where I prepare all of my air-fry meals.

Ham: I would recommend taking advantage of the many electric car charging stations here in Asheville. Just recklessly bust open the window of that brand-new Tesla and plug your phone in. Probably your laptop, too. The owner shouldn’t be too angry because you’re not technically stealing anything.

Another option: If all your devices are sadly depleted, just fake a fun “sleepover” night at your best friend’s house and use all of their outlets to charge your eight different devices and even your bicycle-car while they’re asleep. Harness that good Disney+/Max energy of theirs. Play it off as a silly prank if they confront you — that’s what slumber parties are all about, right?!

Joe: As I write this, there is an unopened energy bill sitting on my kitchen counter. It’s facedown as if it’s in trouble and I put it in timeout. It knows what it did but it’s never going to apologize. I think I’m going to wait it out to see who caves first. I also have a dog that is soothed by the sounds of my bathroom vent, so you better believe that thing stays on. I might be the wrong person to ask this question to. What do I do to conserve energy? I don’t know … sleep?

Eric: On the completely impossible chance that my solar panel hat idea above doesn’t solve our energy concerns, I guess we’ll have to rely on good old-fashioned energy conservation. So here are some things I personally do around the house to save on electricity.

I love watching movies, especially after a long workday. But watching them requires electricity, and my power bills are high enough. So, I will frequently start a movie I know that I’ll hate, get 20 minutes into it and turn it off in disgust. That way I’ll feel like I’ve watched a movie without using too much electricity.

I know what you’re asking — is that fun? No, absolutely not, but it keeps the power bills down. I also find that if you never use water, you never have to pay for the energy your water heater uses. Now, the City of Asheville does charge a base water consumption fee, so you can take a couple of showers here and there just to get your money’s worth, but don’t use hot water. If anyone asks why you frequently stink lately, just tell them you’ve been hiking all day. That excuse always works here.

But I’m pretty sure all of this is a moot point because my solar panel hat idea is going to solve the energy crisis.

Eric: Personally, climate change is the ecological issue that worries me the most. The thought of having to scavenge for gasoline in a sun-scorched wasteland a la Mad Max sounds like it would be fun for two or three days tops, but it’s not a future I really want. How do we as comedians get people to care about climate change and actually mobilize?

CJ: Personally, I can’t get anyone to do diddly squat. What I can get people to do is laugh and think about something later on after I’ve made them privy to it. I also like to think that the climate crisis is a hyperobject in the sense that it involves a huge array of aspects that intersect with social, technological and other issues. What I do is try to find ways to nestle people’s thoughts to those things by observing and highlighting the omitted logic of climate change. Things such as the lack of bugs on our windshields as we drive through the mountains. Or the toxicity of the rain as it is now versus when we were younger. All of these things are my job to catch audiences off guard in what I’m presenting them. All I can hope is that something sticks and it inspires them to dig more.

Now, in regard to how I’m coping with climate change: I’ve accepted that I’m going to have to learn to live off the land. Look, I’m athletic and Black, so I know the moment we hit the water wars, I’m going to get taken out or forced into some militia, which I would hate. Racism ain’t going nowhere, so you know I’m going to get all of the “difficult” militia jobs. So, yeah: isolation, baby!

Ham: The reality is I am ready for our impending doom. Always have been. As a lifelong Type 1 diabetic, I’ve had several bug-out bags on standby and have been banking on losing my legs at some point regardless. And if the world does collapse anytime soon, I am definitely not getting those bitchin’ futuristic robot legs about which I’ve always fantasized since the early ’90s — let’s be real. Anyway, I just read an article about a diabetic who turned their sugar-concentrated urine into whiskey (sweet, sweet pisskey, I’d call it). So, if that’s true and I got the apocalyptic goods “down there” (definitely no longer referring to my legs), I can pay people in booze to just cart my dismembered ass around AND fight bad guys to get me the insulin I need to stay alive. So, that is how I will mobilize. Literally. They will call me Sweet Pea. Because I’m a delight. A golden nourishing light in the darkest of days.

Joe: I was just listening to an interview that discussed the decline in popularity of dystopian fiction in recent years. One of their theories was that since our daily life has become more and more comparable to novels like 1984 and A Handmaid’s Tale, audiences are gravitating toward utopian fiction instead. People are more interested in imagining a world where humanity’s problems have been solved and we are able to coexist with nature. Perhaps the best way to motivate people to care about their environment is to show them what the world could be instead of what it clearly isn’t. That is why I will be trying out a new character at the local open-mic nights. “Stable Stan” once worked to provide basic care for houseless people but now that every human has access to medical care, shelter and food, he spends his days collecting specimens of rare heirloom tomatoes. I know, right!? Hilarious! I’ll let you know how it goes.

Eric: Back in 2020, during the [COVID-19] pandemic lockdown, I learned a valuable lesson: people were willing to die for vacations. I remember seeing people during that summer, breaking quarantine to go on very ill-advised trips. In one viral video, there was a fairly normal-sized swimming pool with conservatively 800 tourists jammed into it like so many highly contagious sardines. Maybe you remember it, too; it was all over the news.

That brings us back to our old friends from the first question: tourists. As the planet’s eventual heat death draws closer and the ice caps continue to melt, the water levels will rise and soon trips to Myrtle Beach, Charleston and the Outer Banks will be impossible, mostly thanks to these locations being completely underwater. So, the tourists will move inland, searching for higher ground, and they’ll probably end up here. It’ll be a real Waterworld situation.

This is not a new thought experiment. It’s been in the public consciousness for years. So why would that motivate people now? I read an article this morning that theorized that over half of all land used for coffee growth will be unsuitable by 2050. People will ignore a lot for their own comfort and convenience, but they will not ignore the death of coffee. Tourism runs on coffee. But 2050 is a long way off, right? I’m 35, so by 2050 I’ll be 62, and there’s a decent chance I’ll be dead by then. Especially if we end up in my theorized Waterworld apocalypse.

So, I say we indulge in one of America’s greatest pastimes: lying. We bump the coffee extinction timeline up to, let’s say, 2026. If you tell people that in two years there will be no coffee to greet them as they force their groggy spouse and two-to-five kids into their 9,000-pound pickup truck at 3 a.m. to go to Asheville to see the Biltmore Estate, they’ll suddenly be incredibly passionate about climate change. Or at least I hope so.

This is my backup plan if the solar panel hats don’t work out.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Eric Brown
Eric Brown is a comedian, writer, and most importantly, very cool.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.