'Kabouter Wesley' episode about horoscopes.

Jonas Geirnaert is a Belgian actor/comedian, TV scriptwriter, TV host, animator and cartoonist, best known in Flanders as a member of the theatrical comedy troupe De Neveneffecten. After his graduation film 'Flatlife' (2004) won the Jury Prize at Cannes, he was contracted by the TV production company Woestijnvis. Since then, Geirnaert and his former college friends have served as writers, actors, hosts or jury members for humorous and satirical sketch shows like 'Neveneffecten' (2005-2006, 2008-2009) and 'Willy's en Marjetten' (2005), the talk show 'De Ideale Wereld' (2013- ) and the game show 'De Slimste Mens Ter Wereld'. Their investigative journalism series 'Basta!' (2011) made headlines when it uncovered the immoral tactics behind late-night phone-in quizzes, resulting in a ban on such TV shows in Flanders. Geirnaert and his wife Julie Mahieu also scripted the drama series 'De Dag' (2018). As a cartoonist, Geirnaert is most famous for his humor series 'Kabouter Wesley' (2008-2010), about the silly adventures of a misanthropic gnome. Its cult status increased when the series was adapted into weekly animated segments on the human interest show 'Man Bijt Hond'. Through YouTube, 'Kabouter Wesley' also gained notability in the Netherlands, long before the cartoons were broadcast on Dutch TV.

Early life
Jonas Geirnaert was born in 1982 in Sint-Kruis-Winkel, a sub-municipality of the city Ghent. The comic artist Morris - creator of 'Lucky Luke' - was great-nephew of Geirnaert's grandmother. Growing up, Geirnaert enjoyed reading Humo magazine, where the absurd cartoons of Kamagurka and Herr Seele left a lasting impression on his style of comedy. Another influential cartoonist was 'Calvin and Hobbes' creator Bill Watterson. As a teenager, Geirnaert discovered alternative sketch comedy like 'Buiten de Zone' and 'Monty Python's Flying Circus', followed later in life by the satirical TV series 'In de Gloria' and 'Het Eiland', both written and directed by Jan Eelen. Being a socially conscious person with a more serious side too, Geirnaert admires documentary maker Michael Moore. He is a member of the Belgian Marxist political party PvdA.

Stage comedy: Neveneffecten
Between 1999 and 2004, Jonas Geirnaert and his cousin Lieven Scheire studied animation at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. There, they befriended their fellow students and future collaborators Jelle De Beule and Liesa Naert. After school hours, Scheire performed as a stand-up comedian in the local Lunatic Comedy Club, where he won an award in 2002. That same year, Geirnaert and Scheire made their TV debut in the talent show segment of the human interest show 'Man Bijt Hond', broadcast on the public TV channel Eén. In the segment, contestants had one minute to entertain viewers, who could vote for or against the act. In their submission, Geirnaert and his cousin beat up a teddy bear against the roaring sounds of 'Killing in the Name' by Rage Against the Machine. They were not asked back, but one viewer - comedian Koen De Poorter - liked their act and got in touch. Geirnaert, Scheire, and De Poorter hit it off and - accompanied by Jelle De Beule - formed a theatrical comedy group. They named themselves 'De Neveneffecten' - "The Side Effects" in translation, with the word "neef" also meaning "cousin". The name is a pun on Geirnaert and Scheire being "double cousins": Jonas's mother is Lieven's father's sister, and Lieven's mother is Jonas's father's sister. The other group members are not related. The Neveneffecten sketches are absurd anti-humor, in typical college comedy-style. In 2003, De Neveneffecten won the First Prize at the Student Cabaret Festival in Groningen, The Netherlands.


Still from 'Flatlife' (2004).

Flatlife
In 2004, during his final university year, Geirnaert made an animated short as a graduation project: 'Flatlife' - drawing each frame completely on his own. Set in a cross-section of an apartment block, the comedy is built around the building's residents, who are unaware that their actions have negative consequences for the people in the nearby rooms. In a bold move, the student Geirnaert decided to submit 'Flatlife' to the upcoming Cannes Film Festival. His short wasn't even finished yet: by then only one minute was fully synchronized. Still, the Cannes jury accepted it as a nominee. They encouraged Geirnaert to properly finish his film, and in the end it won the Special Jury Prize. During his acceptance speech, Jonas Geirnaert urged people to "not vote for Bush" in the upcoming U.S. elections. This was a callback to documentary maker Michael Moore, who had the same message one year earlier, when his film 'Bowling for Columbine' won the Academy Award for "Best Documentary". Moore - whose 'Fahrenheit 9/11' won that year's "Best Film" award - was present in the Cannes Festival audience, and had a post-show chat with Geirnaert. Moore congratulated him for speaking out against president George W. Bush Jr., who was nevertheless re-elected later that year.

By winning the Special Jury Prize in Cannes, Geirnaert received much media coverage, especially since he was still a 21-year old college student and not an experienced film maker. He was even the youngest person to ever win an award in Cannes. Besides making Geirnaert graduate cum laude, 'Flatlife' went on to win the Audience Award for "Best Flemish Animated Short" at the 2004 International Festival for Short Films at Leuven, the 2005 Prix UIP Angers for European Short Film at the Angers European First Film Festival in France and the Audience Award in International Competition at the 2005 Tampere International Short Film Festival in Finland.

TV career in the 2000s
With Jonas Geirnaert becoming a media celebrity, the Neveneffecten stage shows attracted larger audiences, resulting in a 2004 DVD release. A year later, the four performers signed a contract with the Flemish TV production company Woestijnvis. Their first TV show, 'Neveneffecten' (2005-2006, 2008-2009) was broadcast on the Flemish public channel Canvas and popular enough to last two seasons. Each episode was a one-shot mockumentary, spoofing National Geographic, Discovery Channel, David Attenborough, Michael Moore and Canvas's own documentaries. The comedy was silly and absurd, but also contained socially conscious satire. Geirnaert and his friends combined their talents for almost every aspect of the creative process. They wrote their own scripts and made "educational animation" segments. To make scenes visually interesting, the young performers shot on location - their parody of ocean explorers in the episode 'Schatten Uit De Diepte' (2008), for instance, was shot on an actual ship at sea.

For the direction, the Neveneffecten crew could rely on Kenneth Taylor and two of their personal TV heroes: Bart De Pauw ('Buiten de Zone') and Jan Eelen ('In de Gloria'). De Pauw was so impressed with their ambition and dynamic approach that the Neveneffecten were brought in to co-write the second season of his own mockumentary series, 'Het Geslacht De Pauw' (2004-2005), broadcast on channel Eén. The program was a parody of reality TV shows about celebrity families, centering around De Pauw's supposed private life. While the first season was believable enough to fool some viewers, the second was far sillier. The Neveneffecten came up with so many cartoony ideas, that De Pauw had to tone them down a bit. In the seventh and eighth episode, the young co-writers played cameo roles as funny foreigners, with Geirnaert appearing as a Moldavian plumber. De Pauw and the Neveneffecten also co-wrote and starred in a wackier sitcom, 'Willy's en Marjetten' (2006), about the eccentric crew of a local radio station. This time they were allowed to go full-out. Geirnaert took the role of Marcel, a naïve weatherman. Episodes were often intercut with unrelated absurd sketches. 'Willy's en Marjetten' effortlessly developed a cult following, but the majority of viewers complained it was all too bizarre and juvenile. The show was pulled off the air, when only 11 of the 13 episodes were broadcast. In later years, 'Willy's en Marjetten' found a wider fanbase once fans uploaded episodes and scenes to YouTube.

Nonetheless, the Neveneffecten crew kept infiltrating Belgian mainstream TV shows. On 20 March 2006, a seemingly ordinary episode of the popular talk show 'De Laatste Show' was broadcast. Host Mark Uytterhoeven interviewed film director Jan Verheyen, who told him he was working on a new project. He wanted to stage events for the TV journal to replace actual video footage. Next came journalist Martin Heylen, discussing methods to travel by train or plane without having to pay tickets. Afterwards, two puppeteers were interviewed who claimed the were the real creators of the popular children's show 'Samson & Gert'. The broadcast ended with a performance of an over-the-top gay boys band. At this point, the interviews had become so ludicrous that the studio audience (and viewers at home) suspected that everything was staged. Indeed, the Neveneffecten had scripted this hoax. Uytterhoeven, Verheyen and Heylen were all in the act, while the comedy collective played the puppeteers and the boys band. In 2009, Scheire and De Beule discussed and debunked real-life conspiracy theories in their own weekly segment in 'De Laatste Show', titled 'Goed Gevonden' ("Well Found"). Jonas Geirnaert contributed the animated intermezzos, produced by animation studio Volstok, of which Thijs De Cloedt was co-director. The comedy group also wrote the daily soap opera feature 'Dokters en Dochters' ("Doctors and Daughters", 2008-2009) for the human interest show 'Man Bijt Hond', appearing at the end of each episode. Instead of performing in it themselves, they let amateurs play the parts. Adding to the overall awkward atmosphere were the overly unrealistic storylines.


'Kabouter Wesley'.

Kabouter Wesley
Jonas Geirnaert's best-known creation was developed by accident. In 2004, while he was working on his labour-intensive animated film 'Flatlife', he needed to relax his mind a bit. After long hours, he began doodling comics about a stupid gnome. Both the drawings and the comedy were deliberately silly, crude and childish, only intended for his personal pleasure. Four years later, he reused this character to launch a professional comic strip, 'Kabouter Wesley', debuting in Humo magazine on 18 November 2008. However, "professional" might not be the first word that comes to mind: Geirnaert deliberately used the same pseudo-infantile drawing style and silly comedy. The speech balloons with childishly handwritten texts are clumsily placed within the panels. Characters are constructed from quivery pencil lines, with overflowing colors, as if they were drawn by a child. Animals are barely recognizable, unless they address themselves as such. Main character Kabouter Wesley is a sulky, grouchy gnome who even makes Walt Disney's Grumpy look sympathetic in comparison. The easily agigated forest inhabitant finds himself in surreal adventures, meeting other gnomes, robots, extraterrestrials, animals and animate objects that constantly confuse or annoy him. The comedy is absurd, crude, but with an overall charming atmosphere. Gags often break the fourth wall and play with reader's expectations. Sometimes Geirnaert creates a farcical build-up, but then turns the narrative around with a ridiculous plot twist. Geirnaert was directly inspired by Lewis Trondheim's 'Mister O.', who has a cameo in the episode 'De Lotto' (2009). In Geirnaert's opinion, the overall jerkiness is what makes the comic work.

'Kabouter Wesley' quickly gained a cult following among Humo's readers. In the magazine's annual popularity poll contest - the Pop Poll - Geirnaert was voted "Best Cartoonist" twice in a row: in 2009 and 2010. Quite an accomplishment for the newcomer, since Humo's house cartoonist Kamagurka had continuously won in this category since 1976. Wesley also appeared in a special video game and advertising campaigns promoting streetcar rides to the Belgian coast. In 2010, the International Cartoon Festival of Knokke organized the first "Kabouter Wesley Day", with the Belgian Coast Tram temporarily transformed in Kabouter Wesley-style. The character had cameos in other Belgian comics; he appeared in Willy Linthout and Urbanus' Willy Linthout & Urbanus 'Urbanus' story 'Pedo-Alarm' (2012) and Merho's 'De Kiekeboes' story 'Omtrent Oscar' (2012). Nevertheless, the weekly 'Kabouter Wesley' comic series ran for only a year, with the final episode appearing in the spring of 2009.


Wesley with the swindler dolphin - the animated version is one of the most-watched 'Kabouter Wesley' episodes on YouTube.

On 31 August 2009, Wesley made a comeback as a weekly animated short, broadcast on Wednesday evenings in the human interest show 'Man Bijt Hond'. The animation was produced by studio Volstok, with Thijs De Cloedt as one of the directors. Geirnaert himself voiced Wesley, while most of the other characters were voiced by Jelle De Beule. Originally, the episodes were adaptations of previously published gag comics. Once these ran out, Geirnaert drew new episodes, that appeared in comic strip format in Humo on Tuesdays and then in animated form in 'Man Bijt Hond' on Wednesdays. Only a few comics were adapted into animated shorts. The animated 'Kabouter Wesley' introduced the character to a much wider audience. When fans uploaded episodes on YouTube, even more people discovered Geirnaert's creation, including viewers from the Netherlands. As a result, many people in the Netherlands were familiar with the animated shorts long before they made their official Dutch TV debut on the Comedy Central channel, on 22 January 2010. On two occasions, 'Kabouter Wesley' caused controversy. In one gag, a gnome confesses he had sex with a goat. A reader complained that "sex with animals is wrong". In an interview, the cartoonist dryly commented: "I couldn't agree more". In 2010, Geirnaert voiced a radio commercial for Humo, with Kabouter Wesley threatening to send children to "a school for special education, if they didn't buy the next issue." When teachers who worked in such schools protested, Geirnaert offered a public apology.


'Kabouter Wesley'.

Still, many enjoyed the unconventional comedy style of 'Kabouter Wesley'. Geirnaert was happy with his success, but also a bit surprised and embarrassed by it. Of all his projects - in which he put a lot of time and effort - it was ironically this "throwaway" cartoon that struck the biggest chord with audiences. In interviews, he was expected to talk in length about something which lacked barely any deeper thought or message. Amused by this fact, Geirnaert was quick to put its popularity into perspective, fully admitting his strip and cartoons were badly drawn and moronic comedy. The cartoonist also took the brave decision to quit 'Kabouter Wesley' at the height of its success. The final episode was published on 25 May 2010, with the last animated cartoon broadcast a day later. Geirnaert said he had run out of ideas and wanted to move on to new projects. A 'Kabouter Wesley' DVD compilation was released, as well as a large-volume comic book compilation: 'Het Grote Kabouter Wesley Boek' (Borgerhoff & Lamberigts, 2010). The huge format - 54 x 39,5 cm (21 x 15 inches) - was a deliberate joke to annoy readers, in line with Wesley's personality. Only a year later, a smaller and more bookshelf-friendly reprint was released: 'Het Kleine Kabouter Wesley Boek' (Borgerhoff & Lamberigts, 2011).

Since then, Kabouter Wesley only had a few irregular comebacks. He was featured prominently in Humo's pocket agendas for the years 2010, 2011 and 2012. The profits went to the Christmas charity project Music for Life. Material from the 2010 edition, spoofing horoscopes and zodiac signs, was later collected in the book 'Astrologische Zever!!!: De Horoscopen' (Borgerhoff & Lamberigts, 2011). The 2011 and 2012 agendas featured crossover comics of Kabouter Wesley with 'Joske het Debiele Ei' ("Joske the Moronic Egg"), a character by fellow Humo cartoonist Jeroom. Other new 'Kabouter Wesley' comics were one-shots to celebrate anniversary events or promote Humo, for instance in issue #4161 (2 June 2020). Over the years, new animated cartoons were made to promote Music for Life, 'Man Bijt Hond', Woestijnvis, Comedy Central or Humo. Still, Geirnaert always kept the merchandising of 'Kabouter Wesley' to a minimum. He doesn't want to sell out, as this would go against his personal principles.


'Kabouter Wesley' episode about fact checking.

TV career in the 2010s
Between 10 January and 14 February 2011, the Neveneffecten group made 'Basta' (2011), an investigative journalism TV series. Even though the show was playful in tone, Geirnaert and his friends were very serious about the issues they tackled. In one episode they made an appointment with a Nigerian Internet scammer and staged a police intervention where they were supposedly arrested before they could pay him. In another episode, they spreaded "fake news" to prove how easily overworked journalists pick up such stories and present them as real in the media. The most talked about episode revolved around late night phone-in quizzes, that promised gullible viewers financial rewards if they were able to solve seemingly easy puzzles on the screen. One of the 'Basta' co-workers - equipped with a hidden camera - joined the production undercover, and proved the contests were complete frauds. Viewers could never win, because the answers were rigged. As a result, people who called in were left with no prize money, only huge phone bills. The Neveneffecten used their undercover agent's insider information to their advantage. Through a number of calculations, they were able to crack the phone-in quiz's code and win the jackpot. After the broadcast, all Flemish TV channels announced the immediate cancellation of their late-night game contests. This media stunt made national headlines and increased their ratings. Still, the Neveneffecten decided not to make a second season, since by now they were too famous to operate in anonymity again.

In the talk show 'De Laatste Show', Jonas Geirnaert and Jelle De Beule hosted the weekly segment 'Gek of Geniaal?' (2011-2012), in which they tried out alternative housekeeping techniques. Together with Bart De Pauw, Bart Vaessen and Steve De Wilde, Geirnaert co-wrote the tragicomical TV drama series 'Quiz Me Quick' (2012), broadcast on Eén. It follows the trials and tribulations of a pub quiz team that tries to win a prestigious contest. In the second episode, Geirnaert had a cameo as a police officer. When the Woestijnvis production company started its own TV channel VIER, Geirnaert was closely involved. He is a recurring jury member in the popular TV quiz 'De Slimste Mens ter Wereld', which originally ran on Eén. Like all of the show's jury members, he doesn't just judge the answers of the players, but also cracks jokes at irregular intervals. On 29 November 2017, Geirnaert caused controversy when he joked about a real-life 2015 incident in an Antwerp supermarket where a lunatic threw acid in the face of a female employee. Many viewers were outraged, particularly because Geirnaert and Jeroom used it as a running gag. On 1 December 2017, Geirnaert wrote a right of reply. He apologized to the victim and their family and friends, but defended his right to make offensive jokes. He also pointed out that papers had sensationalized the matter for commercial purposes. Geirnaert also scolded journalists for asking the victim for an opinion about the matter, hereby throwing more oil on the fire. 

Geirnaert was a regular guest on Lieven Scheire's science TV show 'Scheire en de Schepping' (2012-2014) and the co-host of the long-running satirical news show 'De Ideale Wereld' (2013-2015). He also helped out with the program's sketch intermezzos and funny interviews on location. Jonas Geirnaert left the show after two seasons. When by 2017 'De Ideale Wereld' had moved to another channel, Canvas, he returned as an occasional co-host and contributor. In 2019, Jonas Geirnaert starred as manager Johnny Braeckman in the sitcom 'Geub' (2019), starring comedian Philippe Geubels. The cartoonist Jeroom was one of the series' scriptwriters. In 2018, Geirnaert and his wife Julie Mahieu created their first completely self-written TV series, 'De Dag' (2018), a co-production of VIER, FBO and ZDF Neo, made available exclusively on Telenet. Revolving around a group of bank robbers who take hostages, the show often presents the same events from different viewpoints: the criminals, the police and the hostages. Geirnaert didn't act in the series, but Mahieu played the part of a forensic expert.


'Wouter Beke' strip by Jeroom & Jonas Geirnaert (artwork by Jeroom), Humo #3703 (23 August 2011).

Collaborations with Jeroom
In the early 2010s, Jonas Geirnaert and fellow Humo cartoonist Jeroom collaborated on a few nonsensical comics about Flemish media celebrities for Humo magazine. One featured Wouter Beke, a christian-democratic politician with a rather stuffy public image. Geirnaert and Jeroom portrayed him as some kind of superhero, fighting against other politicians. In the end, the comic helped Beke gain fame among people otherwise uninterested in politics. During the 2012 and 2018 World Championship Football, Geirnaert and Jeroom also made a comic series about the Belgian national association football team The Red Devils, portraying the individual players in similar absurd adventures. Jeroom and Geirnaert wrote the gags and the stories together, but Jeroom was the sole artist. He took pre-existing photographs of the celebrities, which he "clumsily" traced and colorized with a computer graphics program. Geirnaert has also contributed jokes to Jeroom's satirical news column 'Het Gat van de Wereld' in Humo. 

Graphic contributions
Jonas Geirnaert wrote a word of approval for the Dutch translation of Joel Andreas' educational comic book 'Addicted to War' (2004), about the history of the United States' war-mongering policies and business interests. On the back cover, he praised the book as "the Fahrenheit 9/11 of comics". In June 2010, Geirnaert was one of several cartoonists paying tribute to Kamagurka and Herr Seele's 'Cowboy Henk' character with a special comic strip starring 'Kabouter Wesley' published in Humo. In 2017, he was one of many Dutch and Flemish cartoonists contributing to the collective homage album 'Gefelicitaart!' (2017) for the 60th anniversary of André Franquin's 'Gaston Lagaffe'. On 1 January 2017, several Belgian cartoonists and graphic designers, including Jonas Geirnaert, Jeroom, Gal and Zaza, teamed up to redecorate out-of-use "70 kilometres" speed signs. The signs had become useless after 70 km/h became the regular speed norm outside the inner city. The signs were exhibited in Studio Herman Teirlinck in Brussels and the profits went to the non-profit organization Rondpunt. 


Joris Geirnaert, portrayed on the back cover of the 'Kabouter Wesley' book.

Series and books by Jonas Geirnaert in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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