Ah, the 1990s. Life was simple. No internet or mobile phones. Three prime ministers for the whole decade rather than three in three months. And Friday nights peaked with Eurotrash, watched by folk returning sozzled from the pub or by schoolkids in secret, without their parents finding out.
Life in all its freakish and fascinating forms was there. S&M restaurants, pubic hairdressers, ballooning bosoms, nude golf, nude cleaners, nude a lot of things.
Guiding hapless viewers through this kaleidoscopic world of kink and chaos was Antoine de Caunes. In Britain he’s known as our cheeky French chum, in his home country de Caunes is like Stephen Fry – an intellectual wit who’s presented the César Awards (the French Oscars) a record 10 times and interviews the likes of Timothée Chalamet and Bruce Springsteen. (“I think that Bruce never saw Eurotrash and I’m glad for that,” de Caunes says.)
So he’s slumming it when talking to le Big Issue about Eurotrash’s enduring legacy. Let’s start there…
The Big Issue: What do you think Eurotrash’s legacy is?
Antoine de Caunes: Apart from Brexit?
You’ve said the aim of the show was to bring Britain and Europe together. Was that really the ambition?
That’s the way we put it now, in retrospect, but no. The first idea was to have fun and tell crazy stories. The way it was presented, like this small theatre, weird characters, it was very cartoony.
If Eurotrash had still been on air would Brexit have happened?
I don’t know. You can see from the other point of view and say that because of Eurotrash the Brits prefer to get away from Europe. The last show [a one-off special on June 17, 2016] was before the referendum. A few days later [June 23] people had to make a choice. And they said no, we don’t want to get along anymore with those guys.
What did you think of the decision we made?
I felt very disappointed, because I think the referendum was used by people from the extremes. Nobody really understood what was happening. They didn’t really take it seriously. Now everybody is having big regrets. I think we should all stay together in these crazy times we’re going through.
Do people in France actually care one way or another?
Yes, they care because the know that it might happen in France as well. We have the same kind of people who say we need to get out of Europe. Most of the people in France are anglophiles. We are very fascinated by you people because you are very different. You’re living on your own planet. It’s really mysterious for us. When I go to England I feel like I’m far away from home, not physically because we’re very close, but mentally it’s not the same way of looking at things. Not the same kind of humour. Not the same attitude in life. We pretend to laugh all the time but deep down we are very serious, you take things more lightly.
Eurotrash was the internet before there was the internet. It played an important role in preparing people for what was to come…
The difference is that we had an editor who will make choices and who prefers to pick up this crazy story instead of that one. On the internet you have absolutely everything, but you have really dark stuff that we never got into. It was never shot without people knowing exactly what we are doing.
Could Eurotrash still be made today?
I would enjoy that because the world has become so serious and judgmental. People make judgments all of the time – this is right, this is not right, this is good taste, this is bad taste, and I just can’t stand that. We are grown-ups.
But today, would some of the items on Eurotrash feel wrong? For example, there was a regular feature called Sit on Me, could you still do that in 2022?
Of course. It was about asking a supermodel to sit on my lap and to answer my questions.
After #MeToo, does it not feel a bit off now?
I do see what you mean, but there was not anything abusive from our point of view. They were supermodels, they didn’t care about being on a strange small TV show. They were coming to have fun. And I knew a lot of these people from shows I’d done before in France. The best example was Carla [Bruni]. Carla was a huge supermodel at the time and she was the first one to say yes, I want to say “please put the finger in my ass”. I said Carla, you’re a big supermodel, very beautiful, are you sure? “Yes, yes, it’s very funny.” Only thing, with the internet, after she became First Lady, it brought back the infamous sequence. But I never had the feeling that we were going against people’s will or that it was offensive to people who were participating. Honestly.
You must have bumped into Carla since. Have you ever reminisced about that moment?
I saw her in Italy not long ago because I was covering the Venice Film Festival. We had dinner together and she said it was so crazy. She’s a very funny girl.
All series of Eurotrash are out now on DVD and digital
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