Jokes to defend a disappearing Denmark

Comedian Michael Schøt is using politically-fuelled comedy to combat racism, prejudice and a Danish People's Party that is destroying everything that means to be Danish

“Only around 3,2000 people have arrived in Denmark and everybody is already panicking. Average Danes, commentators and – even worse – our politicians, saw four brown people in the same spot and their whole world collapsed. It is like we are competing in the world championships for who can be the biggest asshole.”

Michael Schøt delivered this damning verdict in a recent edition of his weekly online video monologue, Schøtministeriet. The format is simple: donning a white shirt, a tie, and with his hair slicked back, he talks directly to the camera on issues ranging from bestiality to terrorism. Each week his viewers – and with it his cultural and political impact – increases. More than half a million Facebook users watched his condemnation of Denmark and its reception of refugees.

“For ten years I pitched a satirical show to DR and TV2, but they were just too afraid to even touch it. So there came a point where I said to myself, ‘here is a problem, let’s solve it’. And now I’m not really interesting in doing it anywhere else – we have viewing numbers that kick DR3’s ass.”

The commentary comedian
In person, he comes across as more of a social commentator-cum-standup, rather than the other way around. His strong convictions take a front seat, rather than the jokes he uses to make his points. But he claims that when he was cutting his teeth in the nascent Danish standup scene in the late 1990s, his politically driven comedy was somewhat of an afterthought.

“I only realised how much my standup was based on being critical of society and politics when people pointed it out to me. I then started to mirror American comedians like George Carlin and Dennis Miller, who based their comedy on similar issues.”

There has never been a strong tradition for using comedy to tackle difficult social problems in Denmark, he points out. And while the standup scene has, in later years, started to embrace satire, in his early days he was advised to stick to safer topics.

“I was told by many great comedians who I looked up to and respected that this is not something you do. ‘No, no, no, you can’t joke about suicide bombs or the Israel/Palestine conflict’. I’m just glad I was too stubborn to listen – being the only comedian who is so clearly defined by addressing these topics has had an immensely positive impact on my career.”

The psychology of laughter
Exposing the failings and faults of society through comedy and satire stretches as far back as the Ancient Greeks, and Schøt argues that humour can accomplish something that news never will.

“The basic psychology of laughing is so powerful. You might not change how people feel about something, but you can make them see things in a new light – to reflect. Comedy makes people contemplate issues by making them more extreme. It makes the world larger to allow you to see the cracks.”

He has no qualms admitting that he wishes to expand Schøtministeriet to mirror The Daily Show format with more segments alongside the monologue. Earlier this year he started Schøtministeriet Live, twenty-minute one-on-one interviews with some of Denmark’s more prominent individuals. His interviews with integration minister Inger Støjberg and Danish People’s Party (DF) founder Pia Kjærsgaard were among the most memorable.

Støjberg became irritated after trying to deflect questions about her Facebook post that “Muslim teenagers” had ruined a trip to the movies. The interview with Kjærsgaard finished on an acutely surreal and humorous high point, as Kjærsgaard – whose party staunchly supports the right to publish the Mohammed cartoons – refused to complete a connect-the-dots picture of the prophet, saying that she “did not have enough time”.

“I am completely of the opinion that you should be allowed to draw Mohammed. In fact I have even done it on my show and you know what the funniest thing about that was? Nobody got mad. Because what matters are your intentions. When Jyllands-Posten printed the drawings they did it with the worst possible intentions – to provoke and to be massive assholes. They also weren’t funny and I think if they had been, they would have passed by peacefully.”

Despite Kjærsgaard’s unwillingness to participate in the drawing, he thought the interview went well. But other interviews were less successful.

“Some people have just been terrible. I did an interview with Konservative MP Nasser Khader earlier in the year and he was completely idiotic,” he says laughing.

“It was so bad that we decided not to post it online before the elections, as seeing Khader making a fool of himself might influence people’s vote. And we don’t think that should be our role so close to elections.”

The duty of speech
This month Schøt embarks on his latest standup tour under the title Ytringspligt (duty of speech). Despite the title, he says he didn’t intend to make a show dedicated to freedom of speech. But the week before he announced the show to the press, Copenhagen was hit by a terror attack against a blasphemy debate, leading to the assumption that free speech would be the central theme.

While it will feature free speech, and how it’s often used to discuss the wrong things, he is more focused on the way Danish society insists on making other groups more accountable for their actions than themselves.

“If twenty percent of a particular group have a particular opinion then we feel justified in saying everyone belonging to that group thinks the same way. Yet probably around twenty percent of Danes are racist, but we would never turn that into a generalisation about all Danes.”

Schøt believes that harnessing – and even creating – a generalised fear of ‘the other’ has become a career path for segments of the political class.

“There is no doubt that certain politicians make a living out of drumming up fear. They see three stupid Muslims in a mosque on Fuglevej and then all of a sudden all Muslims are crazy. The turning point was the 2001 elections when Poul Nyrup Rasmussen lost to Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Nyrup had always maintained that we were not going to sink to that level, but then DF came along and claimed that the problem was bigger than it actually was and that was when he lost the rhetorical battle. Since then DF has just been able run with it and nobody dares to go against their opinion.”

He maintains that the partisan political convictions of his early adolescence have long been replaced by a deep-seated dissatisfaction with a political system that creates false conflicts between superficially different political parties. He now views himself as an outside observer of society, guided by a moral humanism that opposes racism and prejudice.

“There is a form of racism in Denmark. It is not explicit, but rather under the surface. You see it in the way that many Danes will see a brown person and think ‘there is a non-Dane’, which is ridiculous. It stems from us having been such a small, homogenous, closed country on the outskirts of Europe. Things always progress slower on the outskirts, just like things change faster in Copenhagen than Esbjerg,” he jokes. “We just need to get used to the thought and then everything will be fine.”

The destruction of Danishness
The way Schøt sees it, it is not the influx of immigrants that has changed Denmark the most, but rather the party that campaigns under the slogan “give us Danmark back!”, DF – a party which has eroded many aspects he feels are central to the Danish identity.

“DF claims to want to preserve Denmark, yet they are the ones that are changing it the most. They challenge our involvement in international cooperation and treaties, which have always been a mainstay of Danmark. When I was growing up in the 1980s, it was incredibly Danish to be almost naively tolerant of others. In the 1990s we had large numbers of refugees coming from the Balkans and nobody complained. That has disappeared because we are becoming terrified of the smallest things.”

But it’s not just the fault of politicians – journalists also share some responsibility for drumming up fear.

“Over the last four years the polls have shown that the two professions people distrust the most are politicians and journalists. The media mostly runs on bullshit on repeat. I want journalists to press politicians to answer why accepting more refugees is a problem. When someone like (DF MP) Martin Henriksen posts a video saying that it is dangerous to house refugees so close to a kindergarten, they should demand that he explain precisely how it is dangerous.”

Despite his hard hitting criticism of Denmark, his answer to how his ideal Denmark looks proves to be an interesting one — “basically just like this”.

“All these things DF has tried to dismantle are still there in the public. We saw that when the refugees, we had told to stay out, stopped being abstract ideas on the internet and became humans standing in Rødby with their children., We suddenly felt embarrassed about making ads telling that mom to stay out. We just need to stop being afraid – everything will be OK.” M


By Elias Thorsson

Managing editor. @Eliasthorsson

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