The Spanish comedian and television host Dani Mateo appeared in court on Monday as part of an investigation into a joke he made on the satirical news show El Intermedio, during which he blew his nose on the Spanish flag. The hearing began at 11.30am in the courts at Plaza de Castilla in the north of Madrid. The presenter exercised his right to not make a statement, meaning the session lasted barely 10 minutes.
“I am very serious,” he told reporters outside the courthouse, where he had arrived an hour before his hearing. “We have all talked a lot about the limits of humor. But now we are entering into the area of justice. As a citizen of this country, I’m worried because we are taking a clown to court for doing his job; and that worries me due to the image it creates of my country and my flag.”
The court hearing was scheduled after a judge agreed to accept a complaint filed against Mateo by the organization Alternativa Sindical de Policía – a labor union representing members of the National Police force – on the basis that the comedian had “offended Spain, its symbols, and thereby, the entire democratic society.”
The judge is investigating whether Mateo committed the crime of offense or public affront to the symbols of Spain, which is covered by Article 543 of Spain’s Criminal Code and is punishable with a fine to be paid over a 12-month period; and for a hate crime, which is covered by Article 510 and is punishable by up to four years in jail.
The incident took place on the popular show , aired by La Sexta on October 31. Mateo appeared in a sketch in which, he explained, he was going to read the only text that “genuinely creates consensus in Spain: the patient guidelines in a packet of [cold remedy] Frenadol.” As he read out the instructions for the pharmaceutical, Mateo pretended to sneeze and blew his nose on the Spanish flag. “Christ, sorry!” he joked. “I didn’t want to offend anyone. […] I didn’t want to offend Spaniards, nor the king, nor the Chinese who sell these rags. Not rags, I didn’t mean rags,” he continued.
The joke sparked a wave of criticism and the comedian was soon a “trending topic” on social media. In response, Clínica Baviera opticians canceled an advertising campaign in which Mateo appeared, while the Civil Guard publicly criticized his actions. “Not respecting the flag is not a joke, it is gratuitously offending those who feel proud of it.” Mateo later denounced the fact that he had received threats and insults.
Mateo is being investigated for a hate crime, which is covered by Article 510 and is punishable by up to four years in jail
La Sexta decided to pull the sketch from its webpage the next day, after becoming aware that people had been upset and offended by the show. “There was no political intention or editorial position behind it, it was just a joke,” said the show’s star and director, José Miguel Monzón, known as “El Gran Wyoming.” He added that if “the joke didn’t work,” by creating “social conflict instead of a laugh,” then it was simply a “gag that fell flat.”
The Olympia Theater in Valencia also canceled a show in which Mateo was due to appear, claiming that it did so after receiving threats of a boycott and threatening messages. The show did go ahead in the province of Ciudad Real earlier this month, although a group of around 60 people with Spanish flags protested against Mateo’s presence outside the theater.
Monday’s appointment with the justice system is not the first that the comedian has had to face due to his work on El Intermedio. He previously appeared before a judge over a joke he made about the Valley of the Fallen, the controversial mausoleum in the northwest of Madrid where the body of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco is buried. The case, in which he was facing charges of offending religious feelings and a hate crime, was eventually shelved.
Other actors and comedians in Spain are also awaiting decisions from the legal system. A court in Madrid is currently hearing a case against Spanish actor and activist Willy Toledo for offending religious feelings, after he made comments on Facebook insulting God and the Virgin Mary. Another judge in Santiago has accepted a case against the playwright Carlos Santiago, for alluding to “the balls” of Saint James the Apostle in the opening speech of the Carnival celebrations.
English version by Simon Hunter.