He came to office, it seems, on a platform of little else except his clowning…

A photo of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looking at the side.

Among the ins and outs of the war in Ukraine, the heroism of the speeches and public appearances of Zelensky stands out as something unlikely to be revised by history.Photograph by Paolo Pellegrin / Magnum

…particularly his role in a comedy series about the elevation of an ordinary bumbler to the Ukrainian Presidency. If he had a platform, we were assured when he ran for President, in 2019, it lay in mockery—particularly of his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, who conveyed a hard-edged appearance of authority. Once, when called a clown, Zelensky did not argue, but posted a video on Instagram of his own face with a big red nose upon it. The refusal to act like a grownup infuriated Zelensky’s opponents as much as Groucho Marx infuriated his political opponents in Fredonia, in “Duck Soup,” with his unseriousness.
In interviews with the French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy in 2019, Zelensky made it clear that he was quite aware of the interconnection between his place as a clown and his role as a leader. When Lévy asked him if he could make even Vladimir Putin laugh “just as he had made all Russians laugh,” Zelensky insisted that he could. Though, he then added, “This man does not see; he has eyes, but does not see; or, if he does look, it’s with an icy stare, devoid of all expression.” They are eerie words, since one of Bakhtin’s other great themes was, so to speak, the politics of gazing, how we emancipate ourselves from our own solipsism by trying to see life through the eyes of another—a thing no dictator or tyrant can achieve. “Laughter is a weapon that is fatal to men of marble,” Zelensky told Lévy, aphoristically.

Source: Volodymyr Zelensky’s Comedic Courage | The New Yorker