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Feature 08 Nov 17

The Show Always has to be Edgy

The uncrowned king of Serbian TV comedy, Zoran Kesic, talks about his TV show 24 Minutes, politics as an eternal source of inspiration, his critics, and his deep affection for his city and country.

Milan Radonjic
24 Minutes with Zoran Kesic. Photo: Facebook/ 24 minuta sa Zoranom Kesicem

For TV star Zoran Kesic and his crew, politics is an endless source of inspiration, mostly because it is often funnier that any satire could be.

His show, 24 Minutes, has ratings that are three or four times higher than any other show on O2 Television, making it a valuable, marketable asset.

“I like to annoy people who are not good or honest. I like to bother them. If I can’t do anything else to them, I can disturb them. So we are here, bothering those people,” he says.

Serbia’s political scene seems to be great for 24 Minutes but not so good for him as a citizen, he admits:

“Our Foreign Minister, Ivica Dacic, is great example. He may not know much English, ‘but look: he can sing, he can dance!’ Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin is also great value. I have noticed that as soon as I mention his name, people start laughing.”

He says he criticizes things that are wrong precisely because he loves his country and wants to make it better:

“I wonder if anyone really thinks that we do not like our country, nation, or the average Serb. It’s a really frightening thought.”

Kesic says that this perception actually angers him, as does feel the need to explain himself to those who doubt his patriotism.

“It hurts to think there are real people who perceive me like that. Really, I am proud of my country and of Belgrade and I have never even considered going someplace else to live.”

He says that when he and his crew make their show they are surrounded with likeminded people, and so it is easy to enter into the “beautiful illusion” that no one in this country is watching Turkish TV and reality shows, “and that no one is voting idiots into the parliament”. But it is not reality.

Asked about what he thinks of those who, conversely, say he and his team really are pro status quo, and serve as a kind of security valve, preventing the whole system from overheating, Kesic says that it’s interesting when people start labelling you both ways:

“All of the sudden we are the alibi that there is no censorship, or the security valve for the system. If someone thinks that is true, then fine, but we are not responsible for that.”

“Our idea has remained the same since we started the show up to today’s 116th episode. We want to criticise what we perceive as stupid and malicious. We want to have fun and fight against wrong things with satire. How this is perceived is not our problem.”

In his opinion, the only logical reaction of a thinking person in the current situation is to try and express oneself with humour and fight what you dislike.

The lack of serious critique in Serbia is a problem but that sort of work is not his thing, he says:

“We are into humour, and I believe we should not give up our work because someone else is not doing his [work], and decide to close down our show and make programs about agriculture, children, animals, or baby animals. I do not think we are a tranquilizer for the society. We are just doing our job. We are telling the truth.”

Zoran Kesic, in his sarcastic 24 Minutes show on June 20, portrays the violent attacks on Danas journalists right after

President Vucic’s inauguration in June. Photo: Facebook/ 24 minuta sa Zoranom Kesicem

 Army of little sheriffs

The star of 24 Minutes told BIRN he doesn’t notice people fearing to speak out in private. But it is a different picture in public:

“People are afraid that criticism of the government could cost them their position, salary, or even their existence and therefore even their family. This is huge problem in the media. In Belgrade, we are protected in this respect. But you learn about this when someone like this arrogant Mayor of Subotica comes along, and then you realise that the whole of Serbia is occupied by these little sheriffs, local Tutankhamuns. In such a small community [as Subotica] I am not sure if I would dare to bark so loud.”

Diversity is what he also likes about Belgrade, as well as its climate. Kesic grew up in Vracar, which is where he lives today with his family. He is particularly fond of Tasmajdan but also of Zemun. “I never lived in Zemun but every time I go there I have fun. My perception of Zemun is purely hedonistic, as I never get back sober.”

Talking about the pleasant part of fame, Kesic says that while he was not married and doing Fajront Republika show, most of his fans were female students aged between 20 and 30. Now, he says, it’s middle-aged woman and children: “I guess those younger ones have found some new favourites,” he laughs.

The real reason for his success, he says, are his spontaneity and “the natural charms of my personality.”

“And why not say my pleasant appearance? For instance, those News Bar [satirical show in Croatia] guys – they are good, but ugly beyond belief!”

Even if the laughter is bitter

A TV person all the way, having worked on this for over 20 years, Kesic made his debut in Studio B, where his mother got him into an audition:

“I always liked writing. And there was this tradition in school for the pupils who wrote best essays to read them in front of the class. I liked that; it was my first public appearance. But being a journalist was a bit boring, so I created my own stories. I made up news, edited them by myself, so I was always something in between journalist, author and actor.”

He says this level of creativity was not always welcomed. He sometimes got thrown out of editing rooms. But this has not put him off, as television is his great love.

Kesic says he tries to make sure his show is not vulgar, even if it deals with such individuals or behaviour. “On our show, I use foul language extremely rarely, of course with one exception, when I quote MPs in the Serbian Parliament,” he says. 

“It is pointless if we do the show in some calm flow. If it is not sharp and on edge, it is not our show. We have to be funny and make people laugh, even if this laughter is a little bit bitter.” 

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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