Speech by King Willem-Alexander on the occasion of the presentation of the Erasmus prize at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the Royal Palace in Amsterdam. I’m delighted that you’re all here on this special day, as we celebrate the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Erasmus Prize and honour the youngest laureate ever. 

A man who sells out venues all over the world. 
I understand from the Foundation’s director that we could have filled this hall four times over. 
So you are the lucky ones.

Sixty-five years of the Erasmus Prize. I have many fond memories associated with this award. It might surprise you, but I once sat on the lap of an Erasmus Prize winner. I suspect I’m the only one here who can say that.

Mister Noah, I can assure you that it is not a tradition to sit on the lap of a price winner.

And now, of course, I’m sure you all want to know who it was.

Well, it was Charlie Chaplin. A close acquaintance of my grandparents, and the winner of the Erasmus Prize in 1965.

That year, Chaplin shared the prize with Ingmar Bergman. He received it for his contribution to the cinematic arts. But of course he was much more than a gifted filmmaker. He was first and foremost a great humourist and a brilliant comedian. 

And that is a talent that connects him to today’s laureate.

Comedy is a tricky business. The best humour isn’t always appreciated by those around you, as I’m sure every father of three daughters will attest. 

Erasmus laureate Simon Wiesenthal once said, ‘Humour is the weapon of unarmed people.’ 
But it seems that wielding that peaceful weapon in public life is becoming increasingly complicated. And sometimes prompting fierce reactions. Even violence. 
But just imagine. A world without jokes, without absurdity and teasing, without irony and satire. Only endless and dull seriousness. It would be like being trapped in a dentist’s waiting room for life.
That’s no way to live.

Looking at our reflection in a funhouse mirror makes us better people. 
In fact, a bit of mockery is healthy.
I speak from experience.
Mind you, this isn’t an open invitation! As the expression goes, moderation in all things.

At a time when humour is under pressure, it speaks volumes that the board of the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation has chosen the theme ‘In Praise of Folly’, after the title of Erasmus’s most important work.

He himself didn’t think of it that way. He dashed it off in the space of a week. 

In his brilliant satire, Erasmus spares nothing and no one. The whole of human life is one continuous scene of folly. The more ridiculous a thing is, the more it is admired.

Erasmus wrote to his friend Thomas More, ‘If anyone is offended, they betray their own guilt, or at least  their own cowardice.’

And there he hit the nail on the head. Not being able to take a joke is often the result of fear or uncertainty. It’s a kind of mental block. But laughter is liberating.

Our laureate, Trevor Noah, knows that better than anyone. He’s a master of the liberating laugh. And in his work he builds bridges between continents, cultures and generations. 
An impressive achievement at a time when we’re all too eager to stay in our comfort zone and in our echo chamber. 

Above all, he weaves all of this into wonderful stories, much better than I ever could. 

As patron of the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation, I’m proud that we’re celebrating our sixty-fifth birthday with such a young, inspiring laureate from South Africa. 

Like you, I’m looking forward to what’s coming next. I wish you all a fantastic afternoon!

Thank you.