An Interview with Philipp Walulis “If you want to preach, you can pack it in.”

Walulis moderating his show
Walulis moderating his show | Photo (detail): © SWR/Gert Krautbauer

In March 2012 Philipp Walulis was awarded the prestigious Grimme Prize for his media-critical satirical show “Walulis sieht fern” (Walulis Watches TV). An interview about German humor, trash TV and perfect parody.

Mr. Walulis, your show “Walulis sieht fern” is regarded as a successful mixture of satire and media criticism. How did it come about, how did you get the idea?

I’m a big admirer of the British TV critic Charlie Brooker, who in his BBC show Screenwipe often brings out in a rather drastic manner the absurdity of television shows. But I’m also an honest consumer who loves to be entertained. And so I had the idea for a programme that offers both: fun to watch and at the same time something that stimulates you to think about what you’re really watching.

As with “Crime Scene in 123 Seconds” (Tatort in 123 Sekunden), a short parody of the longest running and most popular German crime series?

Exactly. The idea was to present in about two minutes the complete dramaturgy of a 90 minute crime show, along with all the absurd stereotypes that have developed in recent decades in this well-known format. That’s very entertaining and the viewer notes almost by the way that, right, at this point the characters always act so and so. And in the end the one who gets arrested is always the character the detectives suspected from the beginning.

The characters step, so to speak, out of their roles and explain the plot to the viewer. Was this meta-level your idea?

Yes, as far as I know that was never done before in a satirical programme. For me, it’s simply a very good means, on the one hand, of entertaining viewers as professionally as possible and, on the other hand, of introducing a level of reflection and criticism in the most charming way as possible, without having to operate with the infamous wagging finger. I personally find it horrible to be preached at. I’ve always found fascinating the possibility of, as it were, slipping people a little critical reflection through humor.

The clip on YouTube and Facebook now has over 450,000 hits. One reason for this is surely the impressive professional quality of the video. Obviously it’s very important for you that the parodies look as much like the original as possible.

That’s right. The individual episodes simply have to look good. I always find it sad when a good idea founders because it’s been badly realized. It should be postponed rather than sacrificed at the altar of mediocrity. Or focus just on formats that you have the means of realizing. On Walulis sieht fern we won’t soon be doing huge TV shows such as Wetten, dass..? (Wanna Bet That …?) because we simply don’t have the resources to realize them credibly.

Your parodies of casting or cooking shows are so well done that the viewer has to make a real effort to tell the difference from the originals.

Yes, and yet you also have to be clear about the fact that this perfectionism has its limits. I had to learn this, for example, with my fake music label Aggro Grünwald: a sort of “rich Munich snot rap” that I and my team apparently presented so convincingly that many people found it difficult to recognize the irony. I think the big challenge in the kind of parody I do is to indicate the irony in such a way that most viewers will understand it without making ardent satire fans feel they’ve been hit over the head with a thudding broad hint.

Especially as German humor has the reputation of being more folksy than subtle. Particularly observers from other countries repeatedly maintain that everyday life in Germany lacks a certain basic willingness to humor.

Maybe. And it’s clear that you’ll be able to fill huge stadiums only with blunt, crude humor. But German humor is also fantastically creative magazines satire magazines such as Titanic, which work with much and very subtle irony. Or many of my fellow satirists who are masters not only of mass but also subtle entertainment. Not to mention someone like Loriot, who developed his very own fascinating approach. German humor always was and still is very diverse.

Are there special rules for how humorous and at the same time intelligent TV entertainment works?

I think the entertainment should always come first. That lies in the nature of the medium. Criticism and spurs to reflection should be accordingly well packaged. If you want to preach, you can pack it in right away.

“Walulis sieht fern” (Walulis Watches TV) is a thirty minute TV comedy program that, since 2011, has cast both an entertaining and media-critical look at television formats such as casting shows, cooking shows and docu-soaps. The 31 year-old journalist from Munich Philipp Walulis and his team have worked for some time on innovative satirical projects, including the faked rap band named Aggro Grünwald, which presents rich people from Munich making fun of low-income earners.