What is the story behind the Brussels Press Revue?
It started years ago when I first went to Brussels, but it was a really small event for a group of 10-15 journalists, and it was literally one table for dinner in a restaurant. And then slowly this idea has gathered more and more interest, and suddenly people who were not journalists wanted to come as well. So we went to a bigger restaurant. Later, so many people wanted to come that we hired an entire room in the restaurant. Then, so many people wanted to come, that we hired a local Belgian community theater. And when we got to 350 people, the theater said that we cannot accommodate more people because of the safety issues. A friend of mine said that the show should grow and we put it on in a very fine, big Brussels theater that holds 600 people!
Pictures taken by Rebeka Dávid ⓒ Flickr
Six hundred people – this sounds like a huge event.
It sold out in a couple of days, which is crazy because it is not a very professional event. It is all written down in the last minute and we have our scripts on the stage. It is not a very sleek event, but it has become quite an event and people have started asking immediately after each show when the next one is going to happen.
What do you joke about during the show?
We put on songs, sketches, and comedy stand ups about the European Union. Last time it was called ‘Brexit at Tiffany’. One year, when Sarkozy was a president in France, in was named ‘Sarkozy fan Tutte’. These are mostly silly sketches, but somehow these silly jokes are a big thing now.
Who comes to the show?
We get people from different countries, journalists, politicians, commissioners, functionaries, and other professionals working in the EU milieu. We even have ambassadors from a lot of countries. A few years ago an American ambassador came, and his appearance caused a lot of trouble, because he needed to send his security team. They asked us whether there is a special entrance for an ambassador. I said no, it is a theater – there is just an entrance where everybody comes in. But they had to manage somehow.
Is it a big challenge to make people of different nationalities laugh at the same joke?
I think that in theory it should be. In fact, the biggest challenge is the language and obviously only those who understand English quite well will come – and even they sometimes have a problem getting some things. Most of the sketches are performed by Englishmen, but we also have Italian and German groups, whose style is totally different. As the audience grew from a dozen or so journalists to a crowd of nearly 600 people, with functionaries, lobby groups, and consultants making it as well, it makes it challenging to make everyone laugh. However, everybody enjoys the atmosphere even if they sometimes struggle with the interpretation.
You are a journalist – how come you are also a comedian?
I think that journalism and comedy have something in common – I mean, journalists tend to be a little bit rebel, bohemian, they like not to conform. And this is exactly what our event is about.
Pictures taken by Rebeka Dávid ⓒ Flickr
Do journalism and comedy somehow come together?
Well, some journalists are not funny people. I do not think that being a journalist and a funny person is automatic. There is no organic link between journalism and comedy. But if you live long enough in Brussels like I do, you begin to find a lot of things funny.
Are there any things you do not joke about?
In this year’s edition of the Press Revue we mostly focus on Brexit and it is one of the topics that is easy to joke about. But you are right, there are issues which we do not joke about for different reasons. For example, some people would tell us that we should refer to immigration issues as well, but I decided not to. So yes, there are some things, but not too many. The point is that we want to joke about politics, but we do not want it to be too heavy at the same time.
Do you think that comedy can play an even more important role such as fighting the regime?
I do not see anything wrong with that at all. It comes under the right of free speech. And political comedy can have an amazing impact in such cases. For example, if the comedian says something political on the national level, then a lot of people who would normally not act on such issue, start to support the political statement made by the comedian – either by going to his or her show, or, as it is common nowadays, by ‘liking’ their activity on social media.
For a fun ending: could you tell us your favorite political joke?
An old political joke which has been adapted for the “Brexit” debate is my current favorite: A thief with a gun stops a man in a street in Brussels and says to him: “Give me your money!” The man replies: “You cannot do this, I am the President of the European Commission!”. The thief thinks for a minute and then says: “In that case, give me MY money!”