The Corner

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Would You Feel Comfortable Putting a Comedian Up against Putin?

It’s a boom time for comedians leading political parties or running for office.

The current Guatamalan president, Jimmy Morales, is a former comic actor. In Italy, Beppe Grillo founded the populist Five-Star Movement. And in Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky is a comedian who played a fictional president in a 2015 television series . . . and who just won the first round of that country’s presidential election with 5.2 million votes, almost twice the number of his nearest competitor, incumbent president Petro Poroshenko, who had just under 16 percent.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, French political playwright and public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy writes about a recent dinner conversation with Zelensky, and one portion is . . . not reassuring:

First, Vladimir Putin—his resolute opposition to Mr. Putin. “The guy has no look; he has eyes, but no look.” Mr. Zelensky wants badly to meet the Russian leader face to face. Why? “You realize that I can make even Putin laugh? A hollow laugh, but a laugh all the same. And all those Russian young people who know me very well will burst out laughing with me! What did you say about Coluche? The emperor has no clothes?”

It is good that Zelensky is resolutely opposed to Putin, but I hope he’s got a better plan than “make him laugh.” Yes, ridicule can be a powerful weapon against autocrats and dictators, but it’s rarely enough. There’s something unnerving about such a significant percentage of Ukrainian voters — who presumably would have their eyes wide open about the potential threat that Putin presents — and feeling comfortable entrusting their country’s highest office to a comedian.

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