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Bursting the bubble: The Schuman Show sends up EU shenanigans live onstage

15:17 22/10/2021

Brexit happened because there is no European Saturday Night Live. Picture it: A shared satire covering the ins and outs of the most diverse political machinery in the world would go a long way to introducing the masses to what the hell the EU is all about.

Countries that are not laughing together are not learning together, and that’s why a group of journalists and improv actors have created The Schuman Show, a live comedy send-up of EU people and politics.

“We don’t have a pan-European political pop culture,” says Kelly Agathos, co-founder of The Schuman Show. While European countries might have their own televised satire at the national – or in the case of Belgium at the regional – level, “international political culture is mostly focused on the US. You probably know John Oliver and Trevor Noah and Seth Myers and Steven Colbert.”

She uses these talk show hosts, famous for their politically oriented monologues, to describe The Schuman Show to people, she says. “It’s a cross between Saturday Night Live and a US late-night talk show.”

The power of taking the piss

Now in its 47th year, Saturday Night Live – or SNL – condenses American’s news, politics and pop culture of the day into a mish-mash of satirical sketches that can be cutting even as they are funny. And it has been crucial, says Agathos, in boiling down the ethos of US politics to bite-sized pieces.

Agathos (pictured, above left) worked in the EU bubble – from parliament to NGOs – for nine years before throwing in the towel to start her own business teaching improv. “During my time working in EU affairs, something that my friends and colleagues were always talking about was how bad the EU is at communicating about itself.”

Questions as simple as what is going on inside all those buildings to the more complicated how does EU policy affect my daily life are not being addressed, she says. It has led to low voter turnout and a general apathy to much more sinister outcomes, such as Poland deciding it is above EU law or, yes, Brexit.

The cast of The Schuman ShowThe cast of The Schuman Show

“I truly believe that Brexit  happened because the British population as a whole did not know what the EU actually did,” states Agathos. “They only heard mostly lies, or facts about the EU that were manipulated by the tabloids.”

Agathos and investigative journalist Lise Witteman bonded over this issue and then brainstormed about how they could communicate EU affairs in a way that would be engaging – that people would look forward to, that they would pay money to see, so to speak.

The Schuman Show is the result, and its launch event sold out in a few days last month. There were a mere 50 seats, so they found a venue for this month’s show – on 28 October – with five times that many. As of publication, there are four seats left.

People like it, she says, because they see reflections of themselves – if they are EU workers – or get a peek at an insular world if they are not. “The West Wing, House of Cards, Veep, all these shows about US politics also prove that people want to see this whether they are working in it or not. Because they are curious about that world.”

Ticket sales, says Agathos, prove that people “want to digest European news in a humorous way, and maybe also find a way to communicate about it with their loved ones across the globe.”

Sofagate

While The Schuman Show is live and staged in the heart of the EU, it is hoped that its videos on social media will reach people across Europe. “We have video content on our website and social media because we want there to be a Europe-wide conversation, and we want there to be a pan-European political pop culture. We will be doing more and more online as time goes by.”

One thing the group has noticed is that comedy can arrive spontaneously out of events that are indeed collectively shared. This became evident even at the try-out performance with a group of invited guests last summer.

“I put on a wig to play Ursula von der Leyen, and the first thing I did was sit on a chair,” says Agathos. “Because of sofagate, everyone laughed the moment I sat myself down. The show hadn’t even started, and we didn’t even think about that being funny. But it shows the impact of symbolic events, that they are immediately recognisable.”

Agathos is also behind ImproBubble, where she teaches improvisation as a way to communicate more effectively and confidently. “What we teach is that comedy comes as a consequence of the scenes you are playing and not as an aim in and of itself. Truth is often funnier than anything we can make up.”

Upcoming dates for The Schuman Show are 28 October and 25 November. Sign up for the group’s newsletter to be the first to buy tickets

Photos ©Seb Devienne

Written by Lisa Bradshaw