Ode to Mikael Bertelsen and The 11th Hour
I have long been wanting to write an ode to Mikael Bertelsen but I have been a bit hesitant since he is Danish, does Danish television and speaks in Danish most of the time. Which means he’s not that easy to share with the non-Danish readers of this blog. But, fair is fair and he has made me return to television after some years of living perfectly well without it. Mikael Bertelsen hosts the late night show The 11th Hour, Monday-Wednesday at 11 PM on Danish national TV. It’s a classic talk show, kind of old-school: no music, no audience, no ladies in bikini (Italian readers will know what I’m talking about). The high quality of the show depends on Bertelsen’s profound and somewhat naive interest in his guests mixed with a sphinx-clad sense of humour. To cite Mrs Fairfax in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre:
“I don’t know – it is not easy to describe – (…) but you feel it when he speaks to you; you cannot be always sure whether he is in jest or earnest, whether he is pleased or the contrary; you don’t thoroughly understand him, in short – at least, I don’t(…)“.
Bertelsen’s guests come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes they are of current interest (like when he interviewed a crook who had just had his verdict after a very well-covered trial) but mostly not, mostly they are people who you would not expect to see on a television show. It can seem random but Bertelsen always manages to make some kind of link to current events from an odd angle or to just portray some small, more or less strange corner of society in an interesting way.
A typical show was like the one on the 10th of April. The first part of the show had translator of Homer and Ovid and professor of classical philology Otto Steen Due joining Bertelsen to answer some questions Bertelsen had received from the Danish woman’s magazine Bazar. Questions like:
1. What was your most horrible attempt at scoring someone?
2. What was your best score?
3. What would you prefer to be: ugly and funny OR hot and boring?
Since Otte Steen Due has recently translated Ovid’s Ars Amatoria (“The Art of Love” or Handbook in Whoring (“Håndbog i hor”) as Due subtitled it…) into Danish Bertelsen felt that Due could perhaps help him answering the questions via the expert Ovid. The result was that this archetypical Latin professor in the most dry-humoroured fashion spoke as a medium for Ovid.
Next Bertelsen went on the streets of Copenhagen to ask what people thought about a recent political reform. There he met a young guy whom he followed to an apartment where a group of male high school students were gathered to do some homework. Bertelsen thought that the apartment was very untidy and decided to do the dishes. So he did. He even went to the supermarket to cash the deposit for the large amount of empty beer bottles on the kitchen floor. On his way to the supermarket he asked other people about the political reform and then returned to the bachelor flat to do the last tidying.
The show ended, as always, with the guest saying good night to the viewers. Otto Steen Due said good night in Latin.
Other guests have been artist Olafur Eliasson (two nights in a row since Bertelsen felt he didn’t do a good interview the first time), an expert on animal behaviour who interviewed a dog, film director David Lynch (in English here) joined by a man in trance, and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes who played a couple of pieces and shared with the viewers that he likes sausages.
The show is wonderful because of Mikael Bertelsen’s talent of leading the viewers through the chaos of ideas he himself purposely created. The style is serious with a well hid but ever present Cheshire Cat smile. He is not out to get someone (like in this other show he did where he for example managed to add “you right-wing son of a bitch” after every question he posed to a right-wing extremist politician) which makes most of the guests join him in the Cheshire Cat smile. The result is a surprising cocktail. It is (almost) the only TV show communicating literature, art, music, film, and curiosities in general on Danish television and it manages to do it with political edge, poetry, and humour.
I love it and I am addicted to Mikael Bertelsen. May he always stay with us!