Irish Mock Bankers at Festival as ‘Lenny Bruce Meets Keynes’

David McWilliams
David McWilliams, a UBS banker turned writer and actor. McWilliams is one of the organizers of "Kilkenomics" in the town of Kilkenny. Photographer: Ros Kavanagh/Abbe Theatre via Bloomberg

Irish comedians are lining up to pillory financiers and lampoon politicians -- as investors dump the government’s bonds on concern that a rescue of the banking system will bankrupt the nation.

Satirists are making fun of events such as Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith’s planned distribution of cheese to needy families. That’s sparked a wave of puns, such as “You gouda be kidding” from opposition politician Andrew Doyle, and taunts that government policy is full of holes.

“Lenny Bruce meets Keynes” is how joint organizer David McWilliams describes Kilkenomics in the town of Kilkenny. Over four days, beginning tomorrow, comedians will interrogate investors such as Euro Pacific Capital’s Peter Schiff.

The festival follows in the Irish tradition for self-mockery and comes a week after the government unveiled 6 billion euros ($8.4 billion) worth of cuts. Unemployment has doubled since 2007, real-estate prices have plunged and the government is fighting to avoid an international bailout.

“Economists festivals tend to be so po-faced, so bitchy,” said McWilliams, 43, a former economist at the country’s central bank, central bank, UBS AG and BNP Paribas SA. “Whereas here the involvement of comedians gives people the permission to get involved. You can just rock up, and say: ‘Here’s my questions.’”

While McWilliams organized the event before the government cuts, he knows timing is everything in comedy. The jokes are pouring in, especially after the food plan announced a day after the cuts. “Cheese us Christ” and “Let them eat cheese” jibes have popped up on Twitter. “They say that cheese can give you nightmares. Now the nightmares are giving us cheese,” says an entry on Irish bulletin board It also has “Free cheese? They’ve all gone em’mental.”

Cat Laughs

McWilliams hatched the festival plan with Richard Cooke, the founder of the Cat Laughs Comedy Festival in Kilkenny, held each June. Cooke contacted him in an effort to understand how the Celtic Tiger economy imploded so quickly.

The collapse is just “incomprehensible” to many people, Cooke said. “Comedians take big ideas and make them accessible to a wider audience,” he said.

The economics festival features more than 20 events, with sessions including “The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own It,” and “What the Hell Just Happened.”

McWilliams’s 2009 book “Follow the Money” traced the roots of the country’s economic collapse. His show “Outsiders” ran at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in the summer.

While the lineup lacks the star power of a Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz, it features Schiff, who predicted the recession in 2006. Author Bill Black is also taking part, along with commentators from Iceland and Argentina and some local economists, such as Trinity’s College Brian Lucey.

Boom, Bust

“I wanted the people who got the boom and bust. Schiff got it,” said McWilliams. “Krugman’s great, I’m a big fan, but he didn’t get it.”

Five hundred tickets have been sold so far, with Cooke saying 1,000 would be a “fantastic result.” The festival will end with comedians reading from the works of economists and would cost about 100,000 euros to stage without volunteers, he said.

“People are working on this for free,” said Cooke. “It’s the most uneconomic thing about it. I believe in it, it’s worth doing.”

Kilkenomics runs from Nov. 11 through Nov. 14 at various venues in Kilkenny. Information: +353-56-776-3837;

(Dara Doyle writes for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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