From the power to make people laugh to the power to govern

Just because it’s funny doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously. The arrival of humorists in politics – like Guy Nantel who launched himself into the leadership race of the Parti Quebecois (PQ) last week – comes to shake the traditional framework of democratic representation by now placing a clown at the same level as the political elite on the footstep of power.

However, here as elsewhere in the world, it is also the disenchantment of the electorate, the loss of legitimacy of career politicians or even the cult of celebrity linked to the digitization of our social relationships that these amazing candidates end up telling on the present, estimate a handful of academics. Without making you want to laugh.

“The issue of the stray buffoon in politics is generally the most accommodating” to grasp the question, says Marie Duret-Pujol, specialist in theatrical studies at the University of Bordeaux Montaigne, in France.

Coluche was a pioneer in the field, but his gesture has never been seriously analyzed, adds the author, in 2018, of an essay on the history of the comedian’s candidacy for the French presidential in 1980.

“These people who play politics without thinking politics, who have atypical backgrounds or who have not gone through parties, bring up questions that detonate and that question the legitimate way in which we have to look at the world. It is also through them that the fractures between those in power and others are visible. “

Comedians can please because they don’t mince words. But afterwards, they will also have to survive in an environment that they describe as absurd.

Fractures at the origin of a cynicism or absenteeism which seems to want to direct the trajectory today.

The phenomenon is not new. However, it tends to multiply around the world. In recent years, a succession of comedians have effectively come to power in the wake of candidates who, after having left several without words, have nevertheless managed to fill their voices.

This is the case of Volodymyr Zelensky, a figure in the Ukrainian humor scene and hero of a popular television comedy, who became president of his country last year.

His last role alongside US President Donald Trump in an episode of intimidation, abuse of power and failed dismissal, however, was not what he hoped for at the start of his presidency.

In Italy, in 2018, the comedian and comedian Beppe Grillo also disturbed the country’s political chessboard by leading the 5-star movement, which he co-founded, at the head of a coalition government. Since 2013, this party, neither on the right nor on the left, has promised a more direct democracy. He had captured the cities of Rome and Turin. At the beginning.

In Guatemala, Jimmy Morales has just left power in January after being elected head of the country in 2015. The comedian specializing in mainstream comedy made this promise during his campaign: “For 20 years, I made them laugh . I promise them that if I become president, I won’t make them cry. “

Parenthesis: his presidency was marred by corruption and by an Amnesty International report which, last year, was concerned about harassment of civil rights defenders as well as the deterioration of freedom of ‘expression.

The art of staging

“It is fashionable today for famous people to run for politics,” said political scientist Isabelle Gusse of UQAM. No wonder. In recent decades, politicians have surrounded themselves with communicators who put words in their mouths, which put them in a form of staging political discourse and staging their personality. It is therefore not surprising to see people whose job is to play decide to enter the game of show politics now. “

Although this exploitation of notoriety for political purposes has known various cycles over the years – at the beginning of the last century, the wealthy businessmen, owners of newspapers and other notables of America inc. were also exposed to the ballot box – she now has a new space for communication to flourish.

“It’s not humor that is really at stake here,” says Normand Landry, Canada communications researcher and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Media Education and Human Rights. It is the status of the public figure who seeks to transform a reputation into political capital and who now has powerful tools to do so easily. “

The academic highlights, among other things, the intimate ties woven today by stars and their audiences on social networks. Links that now allow you to address crowds without having to go through traditional media, which are usually the spaces for validating the legitimacy of a candidacy. Or its destruction.

“When Coluche’s candidacy started to get serious [les sondages lui accordant plus de 16 % des suffrages], the media started to take it down, “says Marie Duret-Pujol. A treatment that modernity can thwart.

“Digital networks can transform a fan base into a political strike force,” says Landry. They also make it possible to directly transpose a close relationship into mobilization for the defense of a political program ”, and this, very often by imposing these candidates for rupture, who, paradoxically, know just as well how to cultivate the illusion for get elected.

“The current climate in democratic nations, with the disillusionment that inhabits it, is conducive to colluding relationships with celebrity,” says Ms. Gusse, but also with politicians suggesting that they are not afraid to name the things to distinguish themselves from an elite which, for its part, now faces mistrust, at best, and stigma, at worst.

“Comedians can please because they don’t mince words. But afterwards, they will also have to survive in an environment that they describe as absurd. “

Promise without disappointing

In Turin and Rome, four years after the 5-star movement came to power, it is especially the disillusionment that reigns today, particularly in working-class neighborhoods, where expectations were high after the promises of change and improvement.

Conversely, in Reykjavik, Iceland, where the humorist Jón Gnarr became mayor between 2010 and 2014, this disappointment was not expressed. “Comedians do not have a monopoly on disillusionment in politics,” says Marie Duret-Pujol. Career politicians too can disappoint by not keeping their promises. “

“With these comedians, sometimes the show is good, sometimes it is not,” adds Isabelle Gusse.

Particularly when the superficiality of the process ends up taking precedence over the rest.

“Superficiality has become the danger of our time,” says Normand Landry. Today, the striking, shocking, astounding and mobilizing short sentences have taken precedence over more complex messages and ideas that need more time to understand. “

An environment that benefits atypical candidates, like those of comedians, but also those of former stars of reality TV. “This now requires greater sophistication on the part of the voter to distinguish communication work from real mastery of substantive issues. […] We have entered an era where the machinery of persuasion and seduction must more than ever be deconstructed and “problematized”, because it occupies an important place in our political processes. “

What a comedian, upon entering politics, can ultimately also help to see.

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