“ESC is not my only ‘baby’ this year!” – we talk to Eurovision 2015’s Creative Producer

Photo supplied by Gregor Barcal

Austrian comedy writer Gregor Barcal will have a lot on his mind this May. Not only will he be co-writing the presenters’ scripts for all three of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest shows, but his girlfriend is expecting their daughter and the due date is 21 May, the day of the second semi-final! He took some time out of his busy schedule to answer Daniel Pashley’s questions.

As creative producer, what exactly will be your role in this year’s ESC?

Since November I’ve been working closely with Head of Show Stefan Zechner and Senior Creative Director Kurt Pongratz on creating, planning and organising content for all those spots in the running order beside the actual songs. Also I’m in charge for creative input whenever and wherever ideas are needed and asked for – within and outside the actual TV shows. Definitely not part of my job is my twitter account @ESC2015CP – so I just put 98% of my time and energy into that.

Given that you are a successful comic writer with a track record of comedy sketches on Austrian radio, we’re tempted to think you’ll be heavily involved in writing the script for the show (and in particular for the presenters). Is that true?

Finally somebody beside myself googled me! I’m flattered! But yes, I will be co-writing the scripts, but less as a comedy writer, more as the experienced TV-writer I am. I have already been writing for all three hosts Mirjam Weichselbraun, Alice Tumler and Arabella Kiesbauer hosting different Austrian TV-Formats (e.g. the Austrian Version of BBC’s ‘Strictly’ and several Austrian casting and talent shows. Google it!)

Will you be continuing with the tradition of comedy sketches started by SVT in 2013 (Lynda Woodruff the “EBU spokesperson” played by Sarah Dawn Finer) and continued by DR last year?

Can’t tell you anything specific about our show content. But I loved what SVT and DR did comedy-wise. And of course, we aim to produce three mostly entertaining shows as well.

What are the main challenges in writing a script which appeals to a Europe-wide audience (presumably in reasonably accessible English) without falling to lowest-common-denominator level?

Main challenge is to write stuff that works for the Europe-wide audience even if most of the commentators will be constantly talking over it. So when writing the script, I’ll be more concentrating on conspicuous expressions than on spoken words. That said, having a multi-cultural audience, you really have to be careful with metaphors and gestures (I’ve heard of countries where showing your middle finger to someone could be taken as an insult. Weird!)

How would you describe the Austrian sense of humour?

I don’t believe in those national differences of humour or in scientific analysing of humour. Some people like irony, some don’t. Same with puns, satire, black humour, practical jokes… But the slippery banana peel works worldwide! (If not, I would have to do a complete rewrite of our Grand Final’s opening).

Will you be trying to bring some “Austrian-ness” into the show? If so, how?

Of course every host country and host city of the ESC takes the chance to present themselves to a Europe-wide if not worldwide audience. Hopefully we’ll manage a good balance between “Austrian-ness” and “International-ness”.

How do you think Austrians see themselves compared to other Europeans?

Better skiers. And also… no, that’s it. We are better skiers.

Will hosting the ESC be a way for Europe to get to know Austria better?

That’s for sure, and hopefully in a positive way – otherwise we won’t have done a good job.

Have you watched the ESC much in the past?

Almost every year since I was a kid, but I wouldn’t consider myself as an ESC maniac. But last year I went to Copenhagen to see the ESC live for the very first time and boom – Austria won! So probably it was my presence – if only I had known earlier…

Some people think the ESC has become too homogenised in recent years with the productions becoming a bit samey – would you agree?

I would say, the music has become a bit homogenised – after those Schlager-years with strange – or let’s call it – extravagant performances the ESC in recent years has become more a radio-chart-friendly pop-show. And sure there are some certain dramatic structure elements in the ESC – we intend doing some things freshly and differently, but we’re not planning a revolution – the 60th Eurovision Song Contest will still be a music competition (phew!)

Is there anything else you think we should know? About you or the ESC?

Something personal: the ESC is not my only “baby” this year – my girlfriend is expecting our daughter on May 21st – the date of the 2nd Semi Final. Right, that’s really bad timing! And as timing is everything when doing comedy, my daughter could completely ruin my reputation as a comedy writer forever! So wish me luck!

Can you tell us a joke?

Sorry, I quit joking.

We’re not so sure that Gregor has really quit joking, as he clearly has a sharp eye for visual humour. Check him out here in his own expertly lip-synced version of “Merry Christmas Everyone”.

 

 

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My first Eurovision memory is watching the nervous Doireann Ní Bhriain present the 1981 contest from Dublin where of course Bucks Fizz won. So yes, I'm no spring chicken.

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