The joke's on us

Israel TV satirist thrives on political turmoil

But Eyal Kitsis, frontman for hit Channel 12 show ‘Eretz Nehederet,’ admits that by now he is ready to make a ‘boring program’

Israeli actor Eyal Kitzis speaks during a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Flash90)
Israeli actor Eyal Kitzis speaks during a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Flash90)

As Israel heads into its fourth election in two years, the presenter of the country’s favorite satirical TV show has a request, and he’s only half-joking.

“I would like us to finally have a stable government and make a boring program,” said Eyal Kitsis, frontman of the Channel 12 show “Eretz Nehederet” (A Wonderful Country).

As much as Israel’s political turmoil may be straining the patience of the electorate, it has been television gold because “reality is crazy,” Kitsis told AFP.

“Elections and politics have really become entertainment in this country. Our challenge as a satirical program is to add a layer to it, to take it to the next level.”

On the show, a deadpan Kitsis often interviews a fake Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, portrayed as a smug character with a shiny gray-purple combover.

When asked tough questions, the pretend PM’s curt replies mysteriously make the questions disappear, keeping with “Bibi”‘s reputation as a political magician who survives any challenge, even a corruption trial.

Netanyahu has appeared on the show himself, alongside his comedy double.

Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (he’s on the right) on ‘Eretz Nehederet.’ (Channel 12)

While she’s not running for office, Netanyahu’s wife Sara is portrayed as the true leader of Israel who makes key decisions such as appointing the head of the Mossad spy agency.

Netanyahu’s luckless rival turned short-lived governing partner, former army chief Benny Gantz, is depicted as a mild-mannered “Incredible Hulk” character who tries to muster up rage as waves of former supporters call for his resignation.

While Israel’s last three elections have pitted Netanyahu against Gantz, Tuesday’s vote sees him facing a new cast of challengers — the centrist Yair Lapid, the right-wing contender Naftali Bennett, and right-wing Likud defector Gideon Sa’ar.

“All of a sudden there was a lot of suspense,” said Kitsis. “There are so many interesting topics that it also energizes the writing.”

The show’s creators have had fun mocking Sa’ar and pitting him in a hip-hop battle against Netanyahu and the other right-wing contenders.

“Once Sa’ar announced his party, also on the right, it led to a dynamic we didn’t have in the previous elections,” said Kitsis.

As Israel looks ahead to another election with a highly uncertain outcome, the show’s co-creator and producer Muli Segev wonders what’s next, especially if Israel ends up with a stable government.

“How are we going to do another season without elections?” he said. “We’ve gotten used to this situation where the country is always on the edge, always living an electoral campaign.

“Elections are always good for our program, even if not for Israel.”

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