Urbanus has been brimming with comedic talent for decades
On 7 June 1949, Urbain Servranckx was born in Sint-Gertrudis-Pede in Schepdaal, Flemish Brabant. He was not destined to be a baker, warehouse manager or printer, as it transpired. But humour and entertaining people was something he was much more suited to. Under his stage name of Urbanus, he has brought many a house down in Flanders and the Netherlands and continues to do so. Originally he used the artist name Urbanus van Anus, but in 1982 he dropped the latter part.
It has been largely his hilarious sketches, funny songs and wonderfully nonsensical stage banter during his one-man theatre shows that established his reputation as a comedian since 1974. His totally bonkers videos on TV and later on DVD also brought him huge popularity and fame. He occupies a special place in the genre of humour, which is not an easy one. His style could be described as that of the common man, absurd, subversive, anarchistic, childish, morbid, sarcastic, cynical, at times vulgar and populist. He uses these ingredients to live it up as a cabaret artist, singer, guitarist, comic strip writer and actor - with tremendous success. He has also been a noted quiz master and game show panellist in the past.
By all accounts, Urbanus does not mince his words. His consistent defence of the right to freedom of expression has ruffled a fair few feathers now and then in times gone by. A good example would be his notorious and often-played hit Bakske Vol Met Stro ('Little Box Full of Straw') from 1979, a Christmas song that parodies the birth of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church did not particularly appreciate the song, owing to certain explicit lyrics, but the 150,000 copies it sold revealed that the public at large could see the funny side. The year after, the short film Het Laatste Avondmaal ('The Last Supper') had feelings running high here and there once more. When he sang Bakske during a TV show in 1984, Urbanus put paid to the controversy from 1979 in the form of a clever visual stunt, which was even less possible to ignore. But his repertoire of 150 songs also contains a whole host of endearing, intimate lyrics, such as in Als ik Doodga ('When I Die'), or social critique, as in Madammen Met Een Bontjas ('Ladies in Fur Coats') and Iedereen Beroemd ('Everyone Famous').
In 1983, Urbanus lent his name to the comic series De Avonturen van Urbanus ('The Adventures of Urbanus'), in which he goes on funny adventures from his fictitious youth. The debut album is called Het Fritkotmysterie ('The Chip Shop Mystery') - could it get any more Belgian? In the meantime, his 200th song is gradually hoving into view. From 1998 to 2012, he wrote the satirical De Geverniste Vernepelingskes and also penned the children's gag strip series Plankgas en Plastronneke and Mieleke Melleke Mol.
Urbanus also excelled on the big screen. He appeared in Hector in 1987, for which he wrote the screenplay along with director Stijn Coninx, who was then making his debut. At that time, it was the greatest box-office hit in Belgian cinemas ever and won the grand prize at the International Festival of Comedic Films in Chamrousse, France. The sequel, Koko Flanel, from 1990, smashed even Hector's record and remained the number 1 hit in the history of Belgian cinema for 18 years.