As one of Italy's best-known comedians, Beppe Grillo had often exposed political and business scandals as part of his routines, but in 2005 he published his first post on his blog, which established him as a public figure focusing on political and societal issues. In the ensuing years, this became the most visited political blog in Italy and was the launching pad for other online and offline initiatives.
Grillo is a genuine anti-establishment politician. He believes that the Italian political system is closed and corrupt. In 2007, he organized an event called 'Vaffanculo day' ('Fuck-off day'), a
message directed in particular towards Italy's party political class. A lot of Italians appear to agree -- since then, Grillo has become one of Italy's most successful politicians -- and he has done it all through a pretty unique blend of humor, organization, outspokenness about corruption and Italy's closed system of politics, and social media.
Following the success of 'Fuck-off day", Grillo set up his 'Movimento 5 Stelle' in 2009 -- a sort of umbrella movement under which candidates could run, as long as they did not belong to any party; had never received a criminal sentence; promised not to serve more than one term in office; and resided in the constituency where they stood for election.
Grillo refuses to talk to Italian media, preferring to communicate directly through his blog, and a lot of people listen. He is Europe's most social media savvy politician, with over 1 million Facebook friends, and 880,000 Twitter followers. He uses this -- and the wildly popular blog -- to proselytize, advertise, organize. As of November 8, 2012, there were officially 532 Grillo meet-up groups, containing 87,895 members and spanning 446 cities and 12 countries (although they were mainly based in Italy).
Grillo and his movement are now polling third for the upcoming Italian general election -- a growth rate that even UKIP can't match. My report on Grillo, released today, reveals his supporters to be frustrated, disenchanted with the Italian system, and highly motivated about changing it. Other political parties, in Italy and beyond, need to look at the frustrations Grillo is tapping into, and how he is able to channel them effectively. Nothing funny about that.