What Makes a Good Eurovision Parody?

Comedy Features Eurovision
What Makes a Good Eurovision Parody?

This past weekend, a woman of exceptional talent won a European song contest, making her country proud while entertaining throngs of people. No, I’m not talking about Sweden’s Loreen in Eurovision, looking like a yaasified version of The Mother from Barbarian as she sang her second winning number, “Tattoo”; I’m referring to Ali Fox, who triumphed in the parody competition The Bureau De Change Song Contest with her Irish entry, the rap “KISS ME BABY.”

I went to The Bureau De Change Song Contest last Friday not really knowing what to expect. Thankfully, the Eurovision parody, held in Dublin’s Liberty Hall Theatre and featuring 10 Irish comedians representing various European countries, was just as silly and funny and all-engrossing as the original show at its best.

The Bureau De Change Song Contest was initially born out of frustration (as well as “pure self-indulgence”), founder and comedian Tony Cantwell tells me over email.

“The idea really came from the frustration of the RTÉ’s handling of the Eurovision,” Cantwell says, referring to the national broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), who coordinate Ireland’s entry to the contest. 

Ireland used to be the Eurovision champ; until 2023, the country boasted the most wins (seven, now tied thanks to Sweden nabbing the top spot this year) and the only contestant who’s won twice (again, upset by Loreen). Winning Eurovision comes with some responsibility, since the victor has hosting duties the next year—an expensive endeavor. In fact, the beloved Irish sitcom Father Ted has a 1996 episode poking fun at the idea that Ireland would send a surefire dud (in this case, Father Ted and Father Dougal’s “My Lovely Horse”) to keep from bankrupting the treasury after their winning streak in 1992, 1993, and 1994. Nonetheless, Ireland won yet again in 1996, mere weeks after Father Ted’s “A Song for Europe” aired. 

Since then, though, Ireland hasn’t had much of a chance at the Eurovision—save for the double trouble that is pop duo (and real-life twins) Jedward—tending to play it safe (again, big exception here for 2008, the year that Ireland entered the scruffy puppet Dustin the Turkey). The BDC Song Contest works well because it’s not just trying to parody Eurovision entries, but outdo them as well.

“I wanted to see that if you took 10 comedians, gave them a random country, full creative control, and zero budget (the first year the comedians more or less paid out of pocket for collaborators and costumes), could even one of us make a better song than the uninspired, vanilla, culture-neutral shite that RTÉ send every year,” Cantwell explains. “The tracks are online (with proceeds going to charity Merchants Quay Ireland), give them a listen yourself, but personally I think this year, 100% of the comedians achieved that task.”

The BDC Song Contest entries really do measure up. There’s “Light Me Up,” a hilariously graphic (and catchy) love song to an alien made by Michael Fry, representing Iceland; France’s Bond theme-inspired entry “Honeytrap” was produced by cool girl (formerly of Bitch Falcon) and sung by Peter McGann, who wore a frightening mask of make-up at the performance; and my personal favorite is “My Puppet,” in which a Greek children’s TV host (comedian Hannah Mamalis) goes X-rated. Written with Soda Blonde vocalist Faye O’Rourke, the song contains the genius line, “So much cum we’ll need a bucket / Show me how to suck it / I wanna be your puppet.” Poetry. 

That’s the beauty of BDC Song Contest: it comes from a desire to make something funny, yes, but there’s artistry behind it, with talented musicians collaborating with the comedians to create something that’ll bust guts but also get stuck in your head (and I can assure you the latter happened). 

“The comedians just called their mates who happen to be incredible musicians,” Cantwell says of the songwriting process. “Any of which, if given the chance, could whip together an Irish banger that could genuinely win us the Eurovision. There is no culture drought here, just a real failure to represent it. My songwriting partner is Adam Shanahan, who I met through my mate Nealo whose album he produced (and which was nominated for the RTÉ Choice Music Prize).”

The BDC Song Contest is hardly the first Eurovision parody; the most well-known is Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, the 2020 Netflix movie starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. While there are entertaining performances in the film—Dan Stevens is especially comical as Russia’s lascivious entrant Alexander Lemtov—the songs themselves play it just too straight. Most of them actually sound like they could be in Eurovision, which speaks to the songwriters’ capabilities, but not their comedic chops. 

“I didn’t hate [The Story of Fire Saga],” Cantwell shares when I ask his opinion. “But I’d have much preferred either a sincere A Star Is Born Eurovision contestant who comes from nowhere to win the contest, or a more densely surreal Zucker Brothers flick. What I like about our show is how absurdist it is. Gives us so much space for wild ideas.” 

It’s not just the content, but the format of the BDC Song Contest that makes it such an appropriate parody of Eurovision. Being a Netflix movie, Fire Saga is the sort of thing you might flick on when you’re home alone, scrolling through the streamer’s seemingly endless yet still somehow unsatisfactory options. It’s unfortunately the way many people consume pop culture these days: siloed off, maybe sending some messages about the show you’re binge watching but disconnected from real interaction.

The BDC Song Contest, on the other hand, involved a crowd of rowdy Eurovision fans, amping up each performance with our enthusiastic reactions. It reflects what makes Eurovision so very fun, which is the fact that it’s a communal viewing event, whether you’re gathered in a friend’s living room drinking beer, packed into a frenzied queer bar, or lucky enough to attend the event itself. Likewise, the BDC crowd was a joy to behold: we howled with laughter, one woman did her best Riverdance in the aisles when promoted by the hosts, and I had to turn to my friends every now and then to share a wonderfully astonished, Did they really just say that?

In the words of the victorious Ali Fox, I have to say to the BDC Song Contest—and all parodies that expertly combine artistry and absurdity—have I told you lately how much I love ya?

The Bureau De Change Song Contest entries are available on Bandcamp, with all proceeds going to the charity Merchants Quay Ireland.

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.

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