The European Comedy Summit that never was – EU 2019

The struggle for a European identity

Themes: Europe

Humour form/genre: Video

Humour mechanisms: Humorous stereotype Parody Satire

Country: EU

Author: Jonas Nicolaï

Affiliation: University of Antwerp

Copyright: Bildundtonfabrik

What do we see here?

In 2018, the self-proclaimed “leading late-night TV talk-shows of the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, and Luxemburg” met up in Cologne, Germany to plan “the first annual European Comedic Summit for the determination of who is the greatest country in the world of all times.”

With the European Comedy Summit, these five horsemen of European satire envisioned a meeting of comedic delegates from all over the continent. In line with the parody style typical for the political comedy genre, the organizers dreamt of an EU counter-summit in Eurovision song format – complete with moderators, interpreters, and voting mechanisms – to be organized bi-annually at the Europe building in the capital of Europe, Brussels.

The idea for the European Comedy Summit grew out of the viral success of Dutch satire show Zondag met Lubach’s mock-promotional video “America First, Netherlands Second,” released in 2017. This comedic reply to then-newly-inaugurated US President Trump’s America First creed was quickly followed by German satirist Jan Böhmermann’s own version of the video. Soon after, the two joined forces to launch the online platform, inviting other European satirists to upload their version of the tongue-in-cheek parody of Trump’s protectionist policy. By 2019, over forty-one countries had joined, emphasizing the universal appeal of humour and parody as a site for reflection on topics of (trans)national identity.

Symbolic for the ongoing struggle for a European identity, the European Comedy Summit was eventually never realized and only remained a blueprint. Perhaps one day the seat of the European Council will be hijacked by parody parliamentarians. Or perhaps it will remain a utopian ideal similar to the European ideals it embodies.

Which public issue is being addressed here?

According to Ben Olinger, “satirical delegate” for Luxemburg, one goal was to overcome the crisis of representation between citizens and politicians by repackaging political discourse in affective and recognizable ways. Through a form of comedy which does not shy away from, but actively addresses relevant political issues, what the European Comedy Summit strived for was to facilitate a more bottom-up kind of politics, translating complex political themes to a mode of discourse universal to European citizens alike: the playful interaction with our differences, in light of our commonalities.

What does the humor do?

Nabokov said that if parody is a game, then satire is a lesson. The European Comedy Summit aimed to be both. By parodying the European Council, it playfully questioned political and national hierarchies and oppositions inherent to the organizational structure of the European Union. By meeting up in the heart of the European Union—Brussels—the European Comedy Summit would have been able to draw on the perceived authority of its location, yet its overt humorous format would have underlined the need for alternative forms of political discourse. Through the comedic showcasing of the stereotypes of each participant nation, the Summit’s satirical dimension lay in showing us that the European Union is not about differences, but about unity through a vision of a more entertaining form of European citizenship.

(For this text, an interview was conducted with Ben Olinger, co-creator of the European Comedy Summit and “satirical delegate” for Luxemburg. Transcript available upon request.)