Gino&Michele: Screenwriters and Creators of Iconic Italian TV Show “Zelig”

Luigi “Gino” Vignali is one half of the duo, Michele Mozzati is the other. Together they are Gino&Michele: two artists who witnessed, interpreted and invented some of the most significant phenomena of the cultural industry Made in Italy. In 1976, a decision by the Constitutional Court of Italy liberalized local TV and radio broadcasts in effect eliminating public state monopoly.

Author:

Ilaria Verunelli
To read this article in Italian, click here.

How is it possible to work together for so many years?

Gino: When they asked Groucho Marx this question, he answered jokingly: “The three of us were working as one. Therefore two of us were always lazing about.”

I won’t ask who wasn’t working…

Michele: Good!
Gino: The one who doesn’t do is the one who is not speaking.

Luigi “Gino” Vignali is one half of the duo, Michele Mozzati is the other. Together they are Gino&Michele: two artists who witnessed, interpreted and invented some of the most significant phenomena of the cultural industry Made in Italy. In 1976, a decision by the Constitutional Court of Italy liberalized local TV and radio broadcasts in effect eliminating public state monopoly. Radio Popolare was then born in Milan and Gino&Michele became popular with their satirical show Passati col Rosso. 1978 marked the launch of Smemoranda: the datebook that became a cultural icon for generations of Italian students: Gino&Michele soon after joined the management. In 1983, Mediaset aired Drive In, a show that symbolized commercial TV of the Eighties. Gino&Michele are among the authors of the show. 1997, standup comedy debuted on TV with Zelig, one of the longest lived TV shows in Italy: it is co-created and co-authored by Gino&Michele. Maybe this partnership works because opposites attract: Michele is talkative, Gino more laconic. Michele says that Gino is off-key; Gino admits that is the truth. At the beginning, showbiz, standup, and satire were a pastime for them; it wasn’t enough to live on. Michele was working as an editor for a book series specialized in psychopedagogy; Gino was a controller for a big company

Gino: Back then, you could already understand who was working and who wasn’t…

Someone had to be business-minded.

Gino: Don’t reveal his name, leave them hanging…

They were born ten months apart, Gino in 1949, Michele in 1950. How they met, they have two different stories. Michele says that it was at a high school party, where they also met Gino’s future wife. Gino says that it was at one of Michele’s band’s shows. They both agree on the fact they have been working together for many decades.

Michele: Business relationships are like love relationships. There is that first moment where you say: Wonderful! She has my same ideas; we can share an entire world. It is when you are falling in love.

That is the easy part. Problems come later on.

Michele: See what I mean? The problem is in the middle: living together and enduring it. If you survive this very long period without divorcing, then, when you are about to die, you don’t separate at all! You tell yourself: with only a few years left, it’s not worth losing time with lawyers…

Let’s break it down. 1976 is a turning point for the artistic duo Gino&Michele.

Michele: It is the birth year of the liberalized radio stations. One day, I called Gino and I told him: “Why don’t we try a casting and apply for a program at Radio Popolare? It was the station of the progressive youth in Milan which we were part of. This is how the satirical program Passati col Rosso began. It gained a cult following with the young people in Milan and in other areas of Italy. So, this is the very beginning of our career. Gino, please, keep going, I’ve lost my voice.

Well, why don’t we talk about Enzo Jannacci – a star of the postwar Italian music scene, and the show Ci vuole orecchio.

Gino: It is 1980. After Passati col Rosso we decided to do a radio parody of a newspaper published in Milano and called L’Occhio directed by Maurizio Costanzo and published by Rizzoli. We named it L’Orecchio, and we put down the words of what would become in our mind the show’s jingle. At that time we were hanging out with Enzo Jannacci. He read the text and took it home. After two days he invited us over to have us listen to the music he had just composed. It was amazing. He never gave back to us saying: “Hey, no way! I will use it for my album.”

Gino&Michele both consider Jannacci as one of the greatest teachers throughout their career. While Gino recounts the story of Ci vuole orecchio, Michele stands up and takes the record cover off of the wall behind him. The collaboration with Enzo Jannacci opened the door to celebrity and television for the duo. In TV, they found two other teachers: director Beppe Recchia and author Antonio Ricci.

1983 is the founding year for Drive In, the TV program created by Antonio Ricci, which launched the careers of many great Italian comedians. How did you become part of this adventure?

Gino: We were lucky enough to be part of the caravels crews that discovered America (the Italian commercial TV, which Drive In embodies, was widely influenced by the US). Beppe Recchia, who was one of the most prominent Italian TV directors, called us because he was running several TV programs. They were broadcasted by Antenna 3 Lombardia, one of the very first Italian private networks.

Michele: That network was one of the richest

Gino: Beppe Recchia called us because he was in need of young authors and he immediately fell in love with us. He was the one who brought us in on Drive In, a program which he was directing and where we met Antonio Ricci. We learnt all we know about television thanks to these two gentlemen. I should say the few things that we know, because we do not consider ourselves as TV professionals.

If you are wondering how they have managed to hold together a career at the politicized Radio Popolare and commercial television (Drive In, with its sinuosity, inspired by Fellini, is a program that legitimized the exposition of women’s bodies – something from which Gino&Michele now dissociate), intellectual élite on one side and mass appeal on the other, Gino&Michele do not hide their duality. This enabled them to embrace engagement and (a sort of) disengagement, avant garde and pop culture.

Michele: You have to interpret Smemoranda in this perspective. In the late Seventies, a group of political students form Milan decided to create an agenda that would overcome the plain and trite academic diaries of the time. They called us, together with Nico Colonna, thanks to our popularity at Radio Popolare. In ten years, Smemoranda sold one million copies; a huge hit because the agenda wasn’t only a date book for writing notes but also had quotes by famous people.

About these people you are mentioning: among Smemoranda collaborators we can find Federico Fellini and Roberto Benigni. How could you involve such famous people?

Gino: It was all about personal relationships. All the editors, including us, were doing something else for a living. It was not difficult to involve people with such a standing. Moreover, when celebrities are asked to convey their thoughts to young people, they all are very receptive, because they know that young people are the fresh mind of society. You have to address them if you want to explore the world. 70% of people who contributed to the history of Italian show business, culture, cinema, and theater, they all have collaborated with Smemoranda. With one exception: we have always kept a distance from professional politicians.


About ZELIG

Zelig – a standup comedy show that aired from 1997 to 2016 – is the other hit of their professional adventure. It is “the show that peeks into what goes on in a theater.” Zelig, before becoming a TV show, was a Milanese club in Viale Monza 140 dedicated to standup. It is the farewell to the pure fiction of Drive In, with its pre-taped laughs and its extreme aesthetics that “made the program look like a cartoon.” Zelig is all live. “We decided to move the comedians’ families from the first row to the tenth” – Michele recounts. “None of them were laughing, if not for the sketch of their relatives. I was personally picking up in the gallery the people who would then sit in the first three rows. They were the ones that had not found the best ticket and that were sitting in the worst seat. They were the true fans of Zelig.”


 

Gino&Michele often visit the United States. America (the “Merica” of Quel blu di Genova, Michele’s last book which is about the story of blue jeans) fed the imagination of their generation. That generation was taught French at school, not English. “We are curious to read this interview in English”, Gino says at the end. At this point, for the interviewer it is clear that curiosity and desire to always explore new territories are keys to understand, at least a bit, Gino&- Michele. And, maybe, this is the secret of their alchemy

To know more:

Gino&Michele’s official website

Italy in their own words

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Interviews | La Voce Italiana Magazine
Luigi “Gino” Vignali is one half of the duo, Michele Mozzati is the other. Together they are Gino&Michele: two artists who witnessed, interpreted and invented some of the most significant phenomena of the cultural industry Made in Italy. In 1976, a decision by the Constitutional Court of Italy liberalized local TV and radio broadcasts in effect eliminating public state monopoly.

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