Early life and career
Grillo was born in Genoa, Liguria, on 21 July 1948. He studied as an accountant but did not finish university. After high school, he became a comedian by chance, improvising a monologue in an audition. Two weeks later, he was discovered by Italian television presenter Pippo Baudo. Grillo participated in the variety show Secondo Voi from 1977 to 1978. In 1979, he participated in Luna Park by Enzo Trapani, and in the variety show Fantastico.
In the 1980s he appeared in the shows Te la do io l'America (1982, four episodes) and Te lo do io il Brasile (1984, six episodes), in which he narrated his experiences of visits to the United States and Brazil. This led to his appearance as the protagonist of another show, developed especially for him, called Grillometro (Grillometer). In 1986, he appeared in a series of prize-winning advertisements for a brand of yoghurt.
Beppe Grillo (on the right) with Pippo Baudo
during the 1980s
Soon afterwards, his performances began to include political satire that offended some Italian politicians. In 1986 during the Saturday night television show Fantastico 7, he attacked the Italian Socialist Party and its leader Bettino Craxi, then Italy's Prime Minister, on the occasion of his visit to the People's Republic of China (PRC). As a consequence, Grillo was effectively banished from publicly owned television.
Exile from television
Since the early 1990s Grillo's appearances on television have become rare; according to Mark Franchetti, politicians are offended by his jokes. When one of his shows was allowed to be broadcast live by RAI in 1993, it obtained a record share of 15 million viewers. Grillo often accuses the public broadcaster RAI is "public financing for the parties" that abuse it for their own propagandist needs.
Grillo also took aim at the Italian Socialist Party, which directly led to him having less television appearance after the mid 80's. Grillo also criticized Biagio Agnes, then the director of the STET, for dishonest business practices. By the early 90's, Grillo was known for his anti-establishment comedy as well as the denunciation of public policies. While it did give him attention and the beginning of his political base, it also directly led him to the lack of television appearances.
Despite this exile, excerpts from Grillo's Five Star Movement political rallies are often broadcast on television, especially on political debate talk shows. On 19 May 2014, Grillo returned to Italian public television, RAI to participate in the popular late-night political debate talk show Porta a Porta as part of his campaign for the 2014 European Parliament election. The program attracted three million viewers. As of August 2015 , Grillo performs on stage in Italy and abroad. His themes include energy use, political and corporate corruption, finance, freedom of speech, child labour, globalization and technology.
Blog and web enthusiasm
Looking for another outlet, Grillo eventually turned to the internet. This started when Grillo met a manager of a small internet firm named Gianroberto Casaleggio. He expanded his influence to a larger audience with his website beppegrillo.it once the site was launched in January 2005. The internet was seen as an alternative source for media which ran contrary to the mainstream media. Hence, Grillo was able to gain many followers who became disillusioned with mainstream Italian media. Over time, it also became seen as the "headquarters" of the Five Star Movement and the main hub of its activity, rather than a physical location. A year after its launch, it became recognized by the Time magazine as one of the most influential websites to date. Despite the website's success, there have been a number of other websites used to ramp up support for Grillo. One such site by the name of meetup.com was used to organize rallies and campaigns making Grillo's progress even more apparent. The website was also used to discuss the political stances of Grillo as well as any other politically affiliated topic referring to Grillo.
Grillo maintains a blog in Italian, English, and Japanese that is updated daily. According to Technorati, the blog ranks among the 10 most visited in the world. In 2008, The Guardian included Grillo's blog among the world's most influential. He often receives letters from prominent figures such as Antonio Di Pietro (former Italian Minister of Infrastructures), Fausto Bertinotti (former President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies), Renzo Piano, and Nobel Prize Winners including Dario Fo, Joseph E. Stiglitz, the Dalai Lama and Muhammad Yunus. As Grillo became more and more involved in Italian politics, the use of his blog to convey a political message was accompanied by a strong emphasis on the role of the Web as the harbinger of new possibilities for direct democracy and for a fairer society, making Grillo one of the leading popularisers of digital utopianism in Italy. As of mid December 2017, the English and Japanese versions of the blog seem as permanently defunct. The last entry in the English section is from November 2015, and in Japanese from October 2011. The Italian version, however, continues to be updated daily.