Italy loses its favorite punchbag: Silvio BerlusconiBy Michele Leridon
ROME—Italian comedians are in mourning after the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi, whose gaffes and scandal-prone profile provided satirists with easy pickings for nearly two decades.
“No one was like Berlusconi,” said Emilio Giannelli, cartoonist for the top-selling Corriere della Sera daily, whose caricature of a dwarfish Berlusconi in high-heeled shoes to make him taller has been famous for years.
“Berlusconi was the ideal subject. He broke the wall of sound of satire. Think of someone who said he wanted to call his party ‘Go Pussy!’” the cartoonist said of the billionaire’s latest in a long line of quips.
In a sketch on public Rai 3 television immediately after Berlusconi’s resignation, the comedian Antonio Cornacchione mockingly thanked Berlusconi on behalf of all of Europe’s satirists for giving them nearly two decades of material.
“You never abandoned us,” said Cornacchione, who has impersonated Berlusconi for years, as he reeled off some of the most famous gaffes, like making German Chancellor Angela Merkel wait at a 2009 NATO summit while he finished a phone call in front of her.
The sketch was only partly intended for comic effect – Berlusconi’s political, legal and sexual adventures have been a defining feature of Italian media, cafe chats and dinner party conversations for many years.
“Berlusconi sells. The only day when we had a dip in sales from the previous year was the day we didn’t have him on the front page,” the editor of a large left-wing daily told AFP a few months ago as Berlusconi’s star faded.
Ever since first entering politics in the early 1990s with a party named after a football chant – “Forza Italia” (“Go Italy”) – the colorful tycoon has in turns enthralled and disgusted Italians, but he was never boring.
Pierferdinando Casini, leader of the centrist UDC party, said a politician who personalized politics to the extent that Berlusconi did was also helpful for the opposition because he could be blamed if anything went wrong.
“Berlusconi has been a great alibi for everyone,” Casini said, adding: “The fall of this government will force us to confront each other.”
Il Messaggero daily said that Berlusconi “represented, for better or for worse, the axis around which national political life was organized.”
“His central role represented a hope for the half of the country that believed in him … and on the contrary a nightmare for the other half that said his political adventure was an anomaly to be defeated,” it said.
As Berlusconi aged and the economic crisis in Italy deepened, the number of Italians disillusioned with him has surged. In his latest poll, the media tycoon had an approval rating of just 22 percent.
He has continued to be a popular subject for conversation, however, exasperating dinner party hosts and dispiriting Italians abroad who have had to face the many jokes about Berlusconi’s bad boy behavior.
“When I go abroad, every time I say I’m Italian, I have to endure all the jokes about Berlusconi, the bunga-bunga” – a reference to Berlusconi’s allegedly raunchy parties – sighed one Italian executive.
With economics professor and former European commissioner Mario Monti taking over from Berlusconi, the hope is that he will reassure stormy financial markets with moves to slash Italy’s public debt.
Comedians worried about meager pickings could take some solace in one of Monti’s rare interviews in which the bureaucrat said: “Even though I’m not very good at remembering them or telling them, I do like jokes.”