Italy’s Beppe Grillo: Meet the Rogue Comedian Turned Kingmaker

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Francesco Zizola / NOOR for TIME

Beppe Grillo

Before sitting down to an interview with TIME, Beppe Grillo, the comedian who has upended Italian politics, stops to give his wife a goodbye kiss. “Ciao,” she tells him. “For goodness sake. Don’t create too much chaos.” When Italy’s elections resulted in a hung Parliament, with no party pulling in enough support to form a government, Grillo came out as the biggest winner. His Five Star Movement fielded a group of political novices on a platform of political renovation and took 8.7 million votes, more than any other party. But while his opponents have scrambled to try to build governing coalitions, Grillo, who didn’t stand for office himself, has refused to bargain with the old guard he considers the root of Italy’s problems. From his house on the Tuscan seashore, Grillo rails against his country’s political parties, marvels about the Internet and jokes about the papacy.

To what do you credit your success?
It’s the Internet. The Internet creates transparency, creates a change of mentality, brings people together. The Pope resigned, partly because of his health, but also because he started tweeting … The sheep wanted to talk with the shepherd. Centuries of tradition crumbled there. He understood it was no longer possible to continue.

You say you want to tear down Italy’s political parties. With what do you want to replace them?
With citizens, informed, honest, transparent citizens, who do their job with passion. Two terms and then they go home. There’s no money and no careers in this movement.

(MORE: Viewpoint: Why Italy’s Election Is a Joke)

What do you like less, the political parties or the media?
The worst is the media. Maybe the regional papers are O.K. But those that shape public opinion, seven television stations and three newspapers, they’re inside the system.

Why don’t you cooperate with the political parties?
They do this display of being against each other, but underneath, they’re the same thing. Left and right in Italy, they’ve always pretended to fight. Now, the agreements they’ve been doing in the shadows for 20 years, they need to do in the light. And if they do it, they’re dead. Politically dead. And so they need to unload their political unhappiness, their political disintegration, on me, saying it’s me that doesn’t create the government, that creates instability. But I can’t discuss with them.

Millions of Italians voted for you so that you would pass laws tackling corruption and the costs of politics, measures the Democratic Party — run by Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the center-left who is trying to build a government coalition — is willing to work with you to accomplish. Why not accept their offer?
They talk about the transparency of parties. We talk about dissolution of parties. It’s different. Wellington and Napoleon can’t find a way to cooperate. We’re something different.

The county is divided in two. Those who voted for [the other parties], they’re people who don’t want to change things. Because they have high pensions. With the crisis, the prices are low. Maybe they have two houses, and you take away their housing tax. We have 18 million pensioners, 4 million state employees, that’s 22 million people. Not all of them, but a big part, don’t want change because they’re surviving. The state is their employer.

But the discussion will change, because soon there won’t be public salaries or pensions. No money. The big industry is gone. From computing, mechanical, chemical, there’s nothing left in this country. The small and medium enterprises were holding on, but they’re closing by the thousands. How do we go forward? Finance? The state?

(MORE: Italy’s Elections: Split Vote Yields No Clear Winner and an ‘Unholy Mess’)

What does Italy need to relaunch?
A strong signal. Send them all home: close the parties, take away their money, immediately. An emergency launch of a guaranteed minimum income. Two or three operations, laws against corruption, conflicts of interest, separate the financial firms from the banks.

People here have always voted in exchange for something. You give me a vote. I’ll give you a job. Why did we become the biggest party in Sicily? Not because of me. Because there’s no more money. There are no more votes of exchange. Take the money out of politics, and politics takes another dimension. We need to suck away their money.

Many of your most reported upon proposals — the nationalization of the banks, the referendum on the euro, defaulting on Italian debt — are not in your party’s actual platform. Why not?
We still need to discuss it. And then we’ll write in the program. Give us time. I propose a basic idea. It’s not a political plan. It’s a view of the world. It’s not substituting one political class with another. We want 100% of Parliament, not 20% or 25% or 30%. When the movement gets to 100% when the citizens become the state, the movement will no longer need to exist. The goal is to extinguish ourselves.

Are you surprised that bankers, like Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs, have spoken positively about you?
I have to admit, it makes me feel … They’ve understood the winds of change. If there’s no work, if there’s desperation, companies closing, what are banks supposed to do? Keep speculating? There’s nothing to speculate on.

Do you have relations with groups like the indignados protest movement in Spain?
I went to meet the indignados. The two things were identical: get rid of the parties, put citizens in, limits of two terms, get the corrupted out of Parliament. But they were just in piazza. We went into the piazza too, but we gathered 350,000 signatures. We got in line with a table and our identity cards and gathered signatures. You guys stopped with piazzas, and then fought with police, with citizens like you. We’ve surpassed that. It’s not me coming to learn from you. You need to understand that with the Internet, you can do like us.

(MORE: How Berlusconi Upends the Italian Elections)

Are you afraid that if you don’t succeed, the same energy that pushed you up could push up darker forces?
I channel all this rage into this movement of people, who then go and govern. They should be thanking us one by one. If we fail, [Italy] is headed for violence in the streets. But if we crumble, then they come. Everything started in Italy. Fascism was born here. The banks were born here. We invented debt. The mafia, us too. Everything started here. If violence doesn’t start here, it’s because of the movement. If we fail, we’re headed for violence in the street. Half the population can’t take it anymore.

Do you think Italy should leave the euro?
I’ve never said I want to be in or out of the euro. I said I want correct information. I want a Plan B for survival for the next 10 years. And then, with a referendum we decide. The costs and benefits, let’s know what are they are. But first you need to inform.

If you just hint that you want to leave the euro, you’re crazy. There’s no dialogue. Just hint, and you’re a demagogue, you’re crazy, you want to drag Italy to default, you’re irresponsible. Just because you say, let’s think about this, what would really happen?

Did you learn anything about the use of the Internet from Barack Obama?
Obama, if he’s able to do 5% of what he says, is great. But he’s also imprisoned in a system. The art of the compromise, which was the art of politics, is no longer valid. Compromise needs to be between citizens, not between Republicans and Democrats.

From the Americans, I took the meet-up platform, from Howard Dean. He used it to gather money. I use it to gather information, to gather forums, not money. This we copied from the United States, the use of the Internet.

Many in Italy have accused you of being undemocratic, of making choices without consultation for your newly elected parliamentarians. What gives you the authority to negotiate or not with the Democratic Party?
There’s a rule in our movement. We don’t make agreements with parties. Whoever joined our movement signed on to this. If you enter into a movement like this, it’s a rule you agreed to. There’s nothing to decide. If you go play soccer, do you say you want to score goal with your hand? No, it’s only with your foot. Accept the rules.

What do you see your role being in a year?
In a year, I’ll be doing a global tour. I’ll do shows. And I’ll be the way I am.

Do you still consider yourself a comedian?
An extraordinary one.

MORE: Italy’s Political Mess: Why the Euro Debt Crisis Never Ended

887 comments
lellimaurice
lellimaurice

Italians that complain about this guy are either part of the whole mess that Italy has managed to get itself into or are totally oblivious to the mockery that Italy, as a nation has become. This is a country that taught the world how to eat, dress, create art, design cars and to share its natural beauty from top to bottom. No country in the world has what this country has and yet if these corrupt politicians are allowed to continue to suck every ounce of decency from this country, there will be no hope and only more demise. Unfortunately, Grillo is their only hope!

spe1977
spe1977

@morris_vincent Io dicevo prima quando è nato m5s,nei 2/3 anni prima delle elezioni, migliaia di attivisti quanta informazione potevan fare?

ROBERTO
ROBERTO

currently the situation is not easy, but it is also true that for many years the Government has not helped the citizen to live a decent live, there is no plan for maternity, if a woman becomes pregnant and does not have a stable working contract, often willingly remains without work and motherhood not covered (for cooperatives), with only a temporary job (lavoro a tempo determinato) and then subject to any kind of soppruso by the employer that otherwise don't renew the contract, many people can't afford the luxury of having a family, it is not true that children schoolit’s not a cost, not to mention the summer centers, 400 or 500 euro for a month and only one child, clearly banks do not give credit to those with fixed-term work, then you can be sure you will never have a House of your own, taxes are very high, but when you need some health services: dental, mammography and other similar services , you will be put on the waiting list for a year, imaging you need dental care and have to wait for a year!!! the cleanliness and quality of roads is awfull , where tax money is going to end up???, normal people must work until 65-67 years then they receive a miserable pension (500-700 euro), when nowadays one thousand euros is far from beeing enough to survive, Italian politicians Instead, after two and a half years in Parliament are entitled to pension, and have a good minimum output of 40,000 euros for a year work and something like 10,000 euros for every year worked in parliament, our liquidation tfr (what you receive from the employer when you retire or change job) you will receive it only when you definitely retire from job (beein 65-67 years old), when the value of of money will be definitely lower, remember many people die before arriving to “la Pensione”, so while millions of seniors work reluctantly, quite rightly, because "old" and many of young people keep on living they present beeing completely depressed without a job and without a future, companies today require graduation degree for any job, but want to give very low wages, the graduate, after years of study have to take what the market offers totally underrated and, disgruntled, usually those who can and dare goes abroad, and then we have to see our brilliant minds have a huge success abroad, with a huge prize novelecc. What they couldn’t do here becaus there’s no money ton invest in research field, at home they have not been able to show what tey’re able to, to them it is not allowed to express themselves, it is natural that after years and years of broken promises, people watch elsewhere, looking for hope elsewhere, I can't believe that Griollo will do everything that he promised, but I'm sure they will face ' problems, while our politicians do not face problems, do not give anything, don't even know the prices of essential items: like milk, bread, petrol, don't know the prices, ‘cause they do not pay for them. We have the record of having the highest number of European parliamentarians in a single State, and politicians with higher salaries, while people are struggling to find ways to get to the end of the month, if it is true that we have to make sacrifices, not let them continue to cut essential categories of jobs like scool, sanity, research and let’s avoid the to create more parlamentaries. if Grillo politicians didn't take more votes it’s because a large quantity of over 50 and over 60 are not connected to internet (it is certainly not in the interest of the Government), might otherwise have also had their chance to get real information, and not to receive them from traditional media, tv and newspapers that clearly belong to the major parties, I just say , i just want things to change, we can not go on the same direction. It will mean been a suicide.

mamie
mamie

Grillo 's slogans, ideas and methods are the same as Mussolini's. It's fascism again.He wants to "occupy" the parliament as Mussolini did with his "manipolo"( a small group) of fascists. Today's Young Italians have no memory of fascism. They say they want to eliminate political parties. What would they substitute them with? one-man-only Dictatorship? Precisely  as Mussolini, Grillo takes himself too seriously. He can't see how ridiculous he is: a fool. A fool who is driving Italy to complete disruption and disaster. Italy's government has passed from the hands of a jester to those of a fool. Grillo and his "sheep" pretend to ignore that a large percentage of the Italian population has NO access to the Internet. So their followers are only  among the native digitals- a minority in Italy. Fascism remains fascism, and no computer screen can disguise it.  

ManuelBelli
ManuelBelli

Instead of deriding an intelligent politician like Grillo you should try to understand. In the U.S. you have had Ronald Reagan, who was a former actor as president before us, and also don't forget that Mr. Schwarzenegger was governor of California for many years and both of them I would add with great success. One of the advantages of the democratic system is that anyone can set up a party and put the judgment of his ideas and work simply to the voters. The real paradox in Italy (and elsewhere I should ay) is that Mr. Grillo is a very serious well prepared politician in touch with the real need of people and society as a whole, whereas  full time "politicians" seem  comedians and loosers in comparison. We bring imagination to power, in a time when everything is just changing at the speed of light, and please do not forget we have  a long story in our contry and have sen so many emperors rise and fall, "the time they are a changing" if you don't like you can always keepyou keep to your  gray, corrupt and incapable but very "serious" politicians.


VilmaZuliani
VilmaZuliani

Grillo ha creato il Movimento 5 Stelle con molte iniziative mai viste prima la gente stufa dei vecchi politici lo ha votato ha votato Movimento 5 Stelle anche per protesta ....penso che bisogna pensare a un futuro di pace e non di guerre di dialoghi e non di liti e che la giustizia sia eguale per tutti ....il debito pubblico è molto alto siamo in recessione bisogna urgentemente trovare una soluzione....

Grillo è giusto che si faccia avanti ...M 5 Stelle loro sono dei portavoce ....ma ora cosa capita....

uneasy
uneasy

In a year this'll be "Rogue Comedian turned Nightmare." He talkes about playing by the rules? His rules. History shows us real, long term change comes from within the system, but Beppe wouldn't know that because the '68 wiped out teaching any history.  Brilliance is dangerous when coupled with wilful ignorance. I love most of what he says, but his lack of humility and hubrous will bring everyone else down with him. Don't fool yourselves; it's clear as day he basks in power as do the worst of them.

ZipReeper1
ZipReeper1

the clown of itality, the great reformer, wants a minimum wage? ha ha. let this circus burn.

Marie Chihil
Marie Chihil

it look like he sees us.. not humorous..

rebeccasperotto
rebeccasperotto

@TommasoSx8 e comunque...guarda l'ultima domanda e risposta dell'intervista che hai linkato...dice proprio questo...

rebeccasperotto
rebeccasperotto

@TommasoSx8 Ho detto che l'ha già fatto nelle realtà locali in cui il M5S sta già governando e spero lo faccia anche a livello nazionale.

mcc43_
mcc43_

@stephanfaris "If we fail we’re headed for violence inthestreet.Half the population can’t take it anymore." it's an ambiguous (yr?) wording

CarloCerioni
CarloCerioni

I am an Italian very worried. Grillo and his movement are very dangerous. They are speculating on popular discontent, they don't want to save Italy from disaster, they only want get power. They are preventing the constitution of government to force Democratic Party and Berlusconi to ally in a wide coalition. In this way Grillo can say to Italian people that right and left are the same thing, and push the voters towards his movement. Inside his movement there are no democracy (every word, every idea were decided not during a Congress, but by Grillo himself and his advertising consultant - the Casaleggio Associati - without any pubblic comparison). If the 100% of the italian parliament will be dominated by Grillo and  by his "grillini", the democracy in Italy will end. Nobody seems to notice...

morris_vincent
morris_vincent

@spe1977 informazione scarsa anche per grillo...parlava di signoraggio una volta!lui non è economista!sono temi relativamente nuovi questi..

Isabell17415448
Isabell17415448

@ROBERTO my God!|this man said the only truth,but obviously some one tells that is your point of view. Obviously the kiss-ass of Berlusconi

Isabell17415448
Isabell17415448

@mamie sorry where do you live my dear? you are liar what do you say is a great lies. we italians are able to use personal computer and now are able to change our future. Withouth Berlusconi we can change but now we must change some italian like you mamie who thinks  "that a large percentage of the Italian population has NO access to the Internet". If  you live in a cave the rest of Italy are able to communicate through their notebook, i-pad,pc etc  etc..........L'Italia non cambiera' mai se ci sono ancora persone che pensano che il cambiamento è uguale al fascismo. due urla e la verità amara fanno di un movimento nuovo un movimento fascista? Avete solo paura, siete così affezionati la vostro padrone che ve la fate sotto.ROMPETE LE CATENE E DATE UN FUTURO HAI VOSTRI FIGLI.....LO MERITANO!



Isabell17415448
Isabell17415448

@mamie  sheeps(plurale) le ha berlusconi, non ho mai visto tante persone senza dignita'!

Isabell17415448
Isabell17415448

@mamie ma perfavore, non dirmi che tu sei stata testimone del fascismo? sei tu che non sai chi è il vero fascista ecioè quello che imbecca i  giornali  e le televisioni e manda i  suoi leccaculo in massa davanti al tribunale di Milano!che vergogna. IO SN GIOVANEE  MA I PARTITI DI DESTRA  HANNO ROTTO CON IL LORO CIRCOLO VIZIOSO DI CORRUZIONE..Chi è il vero fascista?

TommasoSx8
TommasoSx8

@rebeccasperotto boh, sinceramente non penso che lo farà veramente. Altrimenti non si sarebbe proposto di andare da Napolitano ecc.. Vedremo

Florioalexuk
Florioalexuk

@CarloCerioni Stai scherzando?Apri un dizionario e analizza Democrazia e Repubblica...L'Italia e'Partitocrazia...e sono morti!

Isabell17415448
Isabell17415448

@CarloCerioni lo hai notato tu! che fortuna ! tu insulti gli italiani dicendo che siamo delle capre che non hanno pensiero e votano solo perchè c'è una persona che ha il coraggio di spiattellare la verita' senza mezzi  termini! tu sei uno di quelli che ama la vekkia Italia fatta di ladri e farabutti che hanno derubato me e i miei figli del diritto ad un futuro di dignita' e rispetto. E' pericoloso Grillo non perchè è violento o incita alla violenza ma perchè sta rompendo qualcosa che nessuno ha mai fatto prima: il circolo vizioso dei corrotti! siete voi che credete alla vekkia classe dirigente ad essere presi in giro, pensaci , ogni volta che si prendono i loro adorati stipendi o le strapagate pensioni..........se la ridono alle nostre spalle

RenatoRexPiccolo
RenatoRexPiccolo

@CarloCerioni im noticing it.But we are a few...in italy it always seems people has no memory at all.THIS is how fascism started....and democracy ended.I'm very very worried...indeed im TERRIFIED.

WalterScotti
WalterScotti

@GrazianoMurru79 @stephanfaris @Corriereit  Please tell me how a pacifist movement that is against war and, unlike PD, is against buying arms like the F-35, a movement who is against any kind of prejudice, either racial or sexual and that, again unlike PD, is pro gay marriage can be even compared with fascism.. Just because you don't understand how democracy works in the movement doesn't mean that there isn't. Democracy has ended a long time ago in Italy and this movement is trying to bring it back.

spe1977
spe1977

@morris_vincent È grave per un comunicatore come lui. Ora ti saluto ho una cena, Buona Pasqua.

Isabell17415448
Isabell17415448

@ROBERTO holy truth.I correct myself. sorry you know everybody in this site are english professors

WalterScotti
WalterScotti

@RenatoRexPiccolo @CarloCerioni  Please tell me how a pacifist movement that is against war and, unlike PD, is against buying arms like the F-35, a movement who is against any kind of prejudice, either racial or sexual and that, again unlike PD, is pro gay marriage can be even compared with fascism.. Just because you don't understand how democracy works in the movement doesn't mean that there isn't. Democracy has ended a long time ago in Italy and this movement is trying to bring it back.

Isabell17415448
Isabell17415448

@RenatoRexPiccolo @CarloCerioni sta storia del fascismo ha rotto.....ma vi risulta che Grillo ha ucciso qualcuno? vi risulta che possiede i mezzi di comunicazione o stampa? Non di certo, non è lui ad avere sto potere, pensateci......Berlusconi con le sue reti e i suoi giornaletti vi racconta quello che fa comodo e voi come tanti pappagalli ripetete cio' che i mass media riportano, che tristezza

morris_vincent
morris_vincent

@spe1977 dai magari continuiamo un'altra volta! Apprezzo la tua onesta intellettuale!Non sei come gli altri sudditi lecchini del professor A

Isabell17415448
Isabell17415448

@RobertoSaporito@Isabell17415448@RenatoRexPiccolo@CarloCerioniplease geoffrey chaucer, can you explain us, stupid italians, the real situation in Italy? you are so literate,  explain ,of course in english or in italian,if you can obviously.
you insult me and  Italians with your ridiculous English ....Be humble you're nobody to tell me that I write stupid things: little man

Isabell17415448
Isabell17415448

@RobertoSaporito@Isabell17415448@RenatoRexPiccolo@CarloCerionihow many times berlusconi has benn condemned? tell me ......how many investigations against him? do you know wise guy? men like you are a mystery.. . now tell me who tells stupid things? see man i learned english, but not now , many years ago. anyway i
 do not want to justify myself to you, little man

WalterScotti
WalterScotti

@RobertoSaporito @Isabell17415448 @RenatoRexPiccolo @CarloCerioni 
1) His car slipped on ice, it was an incident. Are you really condemning him for that?

2)Anyone can open a blog on the internet, having one doesn't mean to "control the media". Berlusconi owns 3 tv channel and a couple of newspapers, I'd say THAT is controlling the media. Also, PD has a website too so I don't see what's wrong with Grillo having one.

3) 4) Yeah, anybody who has a different opinion from yours is just writing "misunderstanding opinion". That's soooo democratic... 

(By the way, your english isn't that good) 

Isabell17415448
Isabell17415448

@RobertoSaporito   @Isabell17415448Se  Grillo è stato condannato pensa a quanti in parlamento hanno gli stessi precedenti! cominciando dal mastro burattinaio...ma che scrivo a fare a uno come te io non lo so! ormai le persone come te sn superate rassegnati e questo che vi fa incazzare? se nn capisci l'italiano usa google translator!

Isabell17415448
Isabell17415448

@RobertoSaporito @Isabell17415448 @RenatoRexPiccolo @CarloCerioni senti senti si è seduto in cattedra il piccolo leccaculo di turno! visto che sn italiana io scrivo in italiano e poi sapientone nn devi dirmi tu in che lingua devo scrivere. sei uno di quelli che ama sentirsi superiori agli altri solo perchè incolli due parole in inglese? chi ti dice che nn parlo inglese arrogante che nn sei altro! nn sei degno nemmeno di questo commento! scrivo in italiano xkè il mio commento era diretto ad un italiano! impara prima di esprimenre un opinione alla liberta' d'opinione o forse dobbiamo tutti pensare e scrivere secondo dei dettami ben precisi? piccolo uomo

RobertoSaporito
RobertoSaporito

@Isabell17415448@RenatoRexPiccolo@CarloCerioni

1) Yes, in 1985 Beppe Grillo has been condemned for murder and sentenced to 14 months.

2) he owns one of the most important Italian language blog and a blog for me is form of communication.. 

3) First to write stupid sentences here, try to inform yourself and don't  write misunderstanding informations like every Italians do.

4)This is an English site, you can learn English and try to explain your misunderstanding opinions to the rest of the world, not everyone speak Italian...