Okay, we’ll admit it. Ever since the news that Volskwagen had been intentionally cheating on emissions tests broke last September, we’ve been waiting for the day when Volkswagen found itself the subject of public ridicule at the hands of a clever publicity stunt or well-timed joke.
To date, we’ve seen plenty, ranging from Downfall parody videos in which Adolf Hitler loses his cool over Volkswagen’s deceit being found out through to the less fun but equally as poignant Das Problem campaign and the mildly disturbing Volkswagen Dark Side stormtroopers from Greenpeace.
But all of these pale into insignificance against the prank played earlier this week on Volkswagen at the Geneva Motor Show by UK comedian Lee Nelson (aka Simon Brodkin), who not only managed to prank Volkswagen at a live auto show but did it during the German automaker’s official press conference.
Moments after the start of the official presentation, during which Volkswagen board member Jürgen Stackmann drove onto the stage in one of Volkswagen’s facelifted 2016 Up! microcars, Nelson seized the moment to get on stage.
Dressed in a set of dark coveralls complete with white Volkswagen logo on the left breast pocket, Nelson appeared stage left with a wrench in one hand and a small box (with the words “Cheat Box” emblazoned on the front in white letters on a black background). Calling out to Stackmann as he appeared, Brodkin comically tip-toed across the stage making a beeline for the now parked runabout.
“I have ze new cheat box,” he called out to a bemused Stackmann in a faux German-English accent. “No one’s going to find out about this one. I’m just going to fit it now!”
Continuing across the stage, Nelson then proceeded to lie down on the ground in front of the Volkswagen Up.
“Thank you,” Stackmann can be heard saying over the stage audio system. “Okay… It doesn’t need to be repaired,” he continues, obviously flustered. “It’s a perfect car.”
As security staff arrive, Nelson continues the charade, getting up and addressing those on and off stage.
“No no no. It’s okay!” he can be heard saying. “Mr. Müller said it was okay as long as nobody finds out about it,” he continues, referring to Volkswagen’s recently-appointed CEO and former Porsche executive Matthias Müller (who replaced Martin Winterkorn as Volkswagen CEO shortly after news of the dieselgate scandal broke).
Nelson can be heard continuing his comedic routine as he is led off stage, as Stackmann tells the departing Brodkin to “enjoy the show.”
While some outlets have characterised Nelson’s appearance on stage as a ‘protest’ against the dieselgate scandal, it’s worth remembering that Nelson — like fellow British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen — is known for appearing in public as one of the regular characters portrayed in his BBC Three comedy television series. Indeed, back in 2013 the comedian found himself in court after posing as a professional footballer and gaining access to some high-end premiere football clubs where he posed as one of the team.
Just last year, he stormed the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury during Kanye West’s headline performance, then managed to sneak into an official Fifa press conference in which he threw a bundle of money at then Fifa president Sepp Blatter, proclaiming loudly that “this is for North Korean in 2026.”
While some would characterise his actions as great comedy, others would class him as little more than a puerile prankster. But whatever your views on Nelson the performer, we think you’ll all agree that this week’s dressing down of Volkswagen in Geneva — which likely will be remembered for a very long time — is at least well-deserved this time.
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