Saturday

28th Jan 2023

Defending democracy by mocking Brussels? The viral 'Schuman Show' pulls it off

  • A scene from the Schuman Show cast's latest performancec in December (Photo: Kelly Agathos)
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It might seem like a theatre show making fun of EU politics, but underneath the surface it is also a mission to bolster European democracy.

The Schuman Show, a political satire and live comedy show about the EU has been making waves in Brussels in the last year with sold-out shows.

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  • Co-founder, Kelly Agathos delivering her monologue at the show (Photo: Korneel De Feyter)

It was born out of an idea to reform the storytelling about the EU, and fight misinformation and apathy.

Co-founders Greek American improv teacher, performer and trainer Kelly Agathos and Dutch investigative journalist Lise Witteman bonded during the pandemic over how to better communicate about the EU, and make it more accessible.

"We have a lot in common in terms of the way we saw the EU, the way we found it a shame that there is such apathy when it comes to European politics among non-Brussels people," Agathos told EUobserver.

"We bonded over this idea that there is so much euroscepticism because people don't know what the EU does," Agathos said.

They also shared the mutual belief that "Brexit happened because of misinformation, manipulated by the British media, but also a blindspot by UK national governments when it came to communicating back home what they do in Brussels".

"Not to say that everything the EU does is perfect, but let's at least have the stories out as they are, and communicate it as they are," Witteman said, who wrote a book about the lack of transparency in the council of member states.

For Agathos, a lot of inspiration came from US late-night shows, including Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, who explain complex, difficult issues using comedy. "Humour is a good way to entertain and educate," Agathos said.

'Everyone takes it seriously'

Witteman and Agathos started seriously thinking about a show after Agathos made a video making fun of Brexit arguments in a rap sketch. Through friends, and friends of friends they recruited a cast, and started gathering every Sunday to brainstorm.

The title is a play on the title of the film 'The Truman Show' and one of the EU's founding fathers, Robert Schuman. Confessedly, it was coined to avoid having to use the 'EU' in the headline which would likely turn off people.

The cast is made up of journalists, improvisers, actors, consultants, and former EU officials who believe that humour is the key to brining the EU closer to the people, and also to hold it to account.

"Everyone takes it very seriously," Agathos said, adding that writers have been taking classes, and there has been "blood, sweat and tears" poured into the show.

It premiered in September 2021, and has had a growing success in town, with two shows per month since September this year.

It struck a cord with the EU bubble who show up in the hundreds to laugh at the hypocrisy, and at times, the surrealism of the EU.

"They want to be able to laugh at themselves, and have pop-culture moment of their own," Agathos said.

"It is a misunderstanding that people aren't interested, you just have to know how to reach them," Witteman added.

Spotlight

All this was just the first step, aiming now for a bigger audience and funding from organisations who care about democracy. They also plan to create investigative pieces done in a studio.

Agathos and Witteman are not worried that what works in an EU bubble context will not work at a national level.

"Everyone understand bureaucracy, everyone understands the jokes in 'Yes, minister!'. We pick topics that are pan-European," Witteman said referring to their first investigative sketch about the meat lobby's influence on farmers' lives and EU policy.

The piece about the meat lobby

They hope their sketches (subtitled in the future) can also go viral on social media and reach a wider audience.

"The truth is funny, life is funny, news is funny," Agathos adds, "the ridiculousness is already in the story, we are just putting a spotlight on it."

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