I often hear from our people living abroad that our show is the only source of information for them about what is going on in their homeland. I think that people want to hear the truth, particularly when there is an ocean of lies and ‘spinned’ news, as you call them.
In his show – 24 Minuta, Zoran Kesić deconstructs all myths, lies and scams, stigmatizes every nonsense, and entertains the viewers with his brilliant humor. We talked to him about the burning issues in Serbia and the world. What does he like in the country? Our people? Our beautiful rivers and lakes? Our famous history? Our mineral wealth? None of that! „I’m not leaving this country because of the people – both the people close to me and those that I meet. My patriotism is people. They are my Serbia that I love the most in the world,“ said Mr. Kesić.
Back in the USSR, humorists Ilf and Petrov were given a luxury flat while Stalin laughed out loud at their ridicule of the then Soviet reality, while, on the other hand, people were sent to gulags for the slightest ‘serious’ criticism. How applicable is Oscar Wilde’s quote – „if you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh“ – today?
Well, it seems that times were better during Stalin, at least for humourists. Unlike the mentioned colleagues, I am still renting the flat that I live in. Laughter and satire are a nice shortcut to get the attention of readers and viewers. It is easier to process a difficult topic if it involves a joke. We, I mean our show, are interested in heavy topics, but we also chose to be humourists. Actually, I don’t believe that that is even a choice; we are simpy made that way and we are bored if there is no humour around. I am speaking about my team, of course.
They are two schools of thoughts when it comes to laughing (or mocking) about heavy topics. One school of thought says that if we mock awful things or bad moves done by those in power, we are stripping them down while revealing their true nature. We are opening people’s eyes and eliminating the prefix ‘taboo’ from ‘taboo’ topics by turning them into legitimate issues.
The other school of thought says that if you have a humorous approach to politicians and you mock them, we are atrophying; we are killing people’s justified anger. Instead of people angrily turning against those who make their life worse, satirists reduce it all down to jokes and laughter. In the first case we are directly working under the influence of foreign embassies, the West, the Vatican, NATO, Soros and the opposition, and in the second case, we are instructed by the authorities to be a tranquilizer for the people. Sooner or later, my team and I would have to come to a conclusion which one of these two are we.
Sometimes, people think that American formats cannot be easily used here, but you have proved them wrong. It’s the shows like yours that have become the release for civil frustration.
As fans of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, we wanted to try to make a political / satirical TV show like theirs. I always say that the great John Stewart was a big inspiration for us, but that our show has been developing independently from our American role models. It looks to me that our show is more bitter than our American counterparts’ which is due to the topics we cover. A release? Well, you can use that expression, but the show is not only the release for civil frustration, but for our, i.e. the people who create the show, frustration too.
Since social media have become alternative information channels, do you think that we can draw more social truths from today’s humour, the series like the Simpsons or the South Park, or your show, than from the spinned news?
I often hear from our people living abroad that our show is the only source of information for them about what is going on in their homeland. I think that people want to hear the truth, particularly when there is an ocean of lies and ‘spinned’ news, as you call them. We are not talking only about lies here because oftentimes, the topics that we are offering to our readers or viewers are even more perfidious than lies. Let’s use those abominable reality shows as an example. There are media which present portray themselves as serious, and yet, daily, they report about what is happening in those reality shows while ooohing and aaahing with contempt and disgust when they talk about what did the reality show participants did under the covers last night. “Please, click here to see the shameful programming that is poisoning our youth.” In such media world, truth is incidental. The seven of us, who make each episode, have no proof that our approach to politics, society, the Universe and life’s purpose is the right one. But what we can guarantee you that we stand behind everything we say in the show, and that our viewers recognize our honesty. On top of that, when we ‘wrap’ all of that into humour, we are irresistible, right?
You were quoted as saying once that there „is no way that we can become boring like Denmark’. Do you think that we can become ‘boring’ maybe like Spain because they did manage to keep their kooky southern spirit and yet be prosperous. What are the Balkan people doing wrong and why can’t they do the same?
I honestly don’t know. I find it hard to speak about the Balkan people, because I find it hard to speak about Serbs, Croats, people from Novi Sad, miners, mailmen, prostitutes… I view them as individuals, as people who have a name and who are important. I cannot understand how can someobody generalize or speak about mentality of certain nations in general terms. Historians have a better explanation why we, in the Balkans, live worse than the people in, let’s say, the Scandinavian countries. Still, there is no way I would live in a Scandinavian country even if you promised me huge riches. So, what do I love here? Our people? Our beautiful rivers and lakes? Our famous history? Our mineral wealth? None of that! I’m not leaving this country because of the people – both the people close to me and those that I meet. My patriotism is people. They are my Serbia that I love the most in the world
You said that your greatest satisfication was to irritate the people in power who have a decisive influence on our lives. Can David truly beat Goliath in the long-run? Can he re-shape the consciousness?
If you are talking about the show, Goliath is not the people in power. Actually, I stand corrected. It’s not ONLY the people in power. The Goliath that we are fighting against is first and foremost, stupidity, fakeness, insincerety, phoniness…
Truth is that I like to irriate those who irritate me. If there is nothing else that I can do, then I’ll do that. Our fight is in vain and we have lost in advance. There is no chance that we are going to win. But that doesn’t render this fight uneccessary. On the contrary, it is quite necessary. We need to sling mud at liars. Well, I would rather use the word „shit“ instead of „mud“, but I don’t think you are going to print that. The shitty face of a liar is easier to recognize. They won’t be able to trick people by hiding behind the mask of a benefactor, because people could smell the stench. They will go „oh, look, there goes that shitty face, I don’t believe him anymore“. Releasing fear is our mission. I don’t think that David will win over Goliath, but he will fight until the very end because that is the only thing he can do.
Is there censorship in the media? Did you feel it on your skin?
I can somehow compare censorship to rape where the rape victim is hiding because they are ashamed. Or because they want to preserve a marriage or keep a job. The rape continues and everybody else could see it’s a rape, but only the victim is ignoring it.
At first, my team and I tried to defend ourselves from censorship without anybody’s help. Then, we shouted for help when ‘the rapist’ would brazenly approach us. Maybe they don’t approach us anymore because they know we would ‘scream’. Sometimes, our TV station’s management thinks that we have overdone it with criticism, that we are not objective, that we are even vulgar, or that our comments were inappropriate and they ask us to change it. It is up to us whether we are going to listen to them or not. Such arguing back and forth happens only occasionally and definitely has no impact on what is our show going to look like. I have to say that, on a couple of occasions, I have noticed that the management was right and we took their opinion on board. On the other hand, the fact that the reruns of our show were taken off air two or three years ago without any logical explanation, speaks in favour of what I said earlier, namely that TV tolerates us (they have to because we have the biggest viewership), but still don’t want to see too much of us.
Following Bolsonaro’s victory and the victories of other „deranged right-wing“ politicians we are getting more material for satire and satire is going to be our main weapon because, by default, these politicians have no sense of humour.
There is more and more material for satire. Many of them have pretty radical ideas how to solve certain problems. Stupidity does not only grow in our part of the world and that is comforting to know. Our show is often targetted by certain ultra right-wingers who are accusing us of „demeaning our own people“. I think that these right-wingers are simply idiots and I would love them to know what I think of them. Shame on them! By switching arguments, they are now accusing us of being traitors simply because we are pointing to what is wrong so that we, as a society, can be more honest towards ourselves and our neighbours, and to be better, more successful and healthier. And these idiots, who have reduced patriotism to hating others – gay people, Croatians, Albanians, Catholics, Muslims, people who have a speech impediment – they are supposedly the only real Serbs. Horrible people! Just horrible!
What are your future plans now that you have established yourself as a brand professionally, and are a father and a husband privately?
If I told you that, I would have to kill you. And to kill you, I would have to lure you into an embassy first. There! An inappropriate joke for the end of this interview.
There is no way I would live in a Scandinavian country even if you promised me huge riches.
David will not win over Goliath, but he will fight until the very end because that is the only thing he can do.
Text: Žikica Milošević