News, Culture & Society

Shocking show called ‘Taboo’ breaks television records in Belgium

A shocking but ‘good-hearted’ show has broken television records in Belgium. Pictured, the show’s presenter Philippe Guebels

A shocking but ‘good-hearted’ show called ‘Taboo’ has broken television records in Belgium by telling jokes about paraplegics, amputees and minorities.

And it could be soon coming to a screen near you after wowing TV executives from across the globe at the MIPTV market in Cannes, France.

‘This is the show that laughs with people who you should not really be laughing at,’ says its presenter, comedian Philippe Geubels at the start of each Sunday night episode on the Flemish public broadcaster Een.

The line-up of ‘victims/guests’ on the first series included obese and poor people, dwarves, those with terminal and mental illness, gays, blind people and people of colour.

Geubels first invites them to spend a few days in the country with him where they tell their story to him and a documentary filmmaker.

A few months later the comedian invites them to a packed theatre filled with people like them to watch him do a hugely politically incorrect comedy routine based on them or their afflictions.

‘There are lots of advantages about having a child without arms,’ he tells an audience amid gales of laughter. ‘It won’t pick its nose or put its elbows on the table…’

The show has been watched live or on replay by more than a quarter of the country’s Flemish-speaking population, according to Een, and praised for helping to take on embarrassment and prejudice.

‘No matter how bad your situation is, you still have to be able to laugh. Not to laugh at people but to laugh at the little everyday things,’ Geubels told a theatre full of people with terminal illnesses and their families in one show.

The show’s producers Panenka said it had already been bought to be shown or adapted in the US, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Finland, Denmark and Norway, even though the first series has only just ended.

‘We had lots of letters congratulating us for what we did, with lots of new ideas,’ said producer Kato Maes, who is already planning the next season.

‘We choose the taboos for their potential humour. For the first series we didn’t dare to take on transsexuals or Jews,’ she told AFP. 

‘But it’s something to explore. We are never brutal, we always do it with respect.’