ROME — Although Silvio Berlusconi emerged victorious at Italy’s regional elections last week, the Teflon Italian premier and TV tycoon will now have to share the country’s political stage with Beppe Grillo, a standup comedian with a bent for caustic social commentary and a highly trafficked blog, born after the comic’s ban from Italo airwaves.
Grillo, a mix of Michael Moore and John Belushi with a prowess for political punchlines, won a half million votes — 3.5% of the vote — in the five regions where his Five-Star movement ran on a platform mixing green themes with rage against Italy’s mainstream politicos. Grillo became a grassroots force in the 1990s when he organized a “Fuck Off Day” in 300 towns, rallying to remove Italian MPs with criminal convictions from parliament.
His blog (beppegrillo.it) is available in Italian, English and Japanese, and he was listed by Forbes as one of its 25 global “Web Celebs.” His posts are getting lots of hits from young Italians increasingly alienated by the country’s calcified politics, but Grillo also tackles bigger-picture issues, railing against nuclear power in Gaul, Euro-zone economic policy and Opus Dei.
In the late 1970s, Grillo had a busy career as a TV comic. But in 1987 he took a satiric swipe at then-prime minister Bettino Craxi during a show on pubcaster RAI. Craxi was later convicted for corruption, but Grillo was ousted from RAI and never booked on Berlusconi’s Mediaset. Instead, he began performing standup to packed outdoor venues; the Internet proved an ever bigger forum.
Berlusconi’s party conquered six of the 13 regions at stake in last week’s vote, snatching four from the center-left and prompting the PM, who now seems firmly in the saddle for three more years, to vow that he will push ahead with reforms, especially an overhaul of the “left-wing” judiciary. Grillo is expected to continue to rake Berlusconi over the coals.