Dario Fo, the Italian playwright whose work combines biting political observation with side-splitting comedy, won the Nobel Prize for literature Thursday.
Fo, 71, who is also an actor, has written more than 70 plays. He is best known for the plays "Comic Mystery," "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" and "Can't Pay, Won't Pay," which in the United States has been performed under the title "We Won't Pay, We Won't Pay.""With a blend of laughter and gravity, he opens our eyes to abuses and injustices in society and also the wider historical perspective in which they can be placed," the citation by the Swedish Academy said.
The prize this year is worth $1 million.
Fo has long been a major figure in drama, but his winning the prestigious prize could be considered a surprise choice; his name generally has not been included on critics' lists of potential winners.
"I am amazed," Fo said when reached by ANSA, the Italian news agency.
"What do you want me to say - that I didn't expect it? It's true, the jurors demonstrated courage, above all, in choosing someone like me," ANSA quoted Fo telling journalists who rushed to his house in Milan.
Fo said he learned of the prize while driving from Rome to Milan, when someone in a nearby car held up a sign saying, "Dario has won the Nobel." Fo's wife, actress Franca Rame, suggested to RAI state TV that her husband may have been teasing.
The playwright, however, is well-known throughout Italy. He and his wife also used to have a column in the weekly magazine of the left-leaning Rome newspaper La Repubblica.
Fo said he thought he was awarded the prize for his life's work and said he owed it partly to Rame, whom he married in 1954. "The Nobel, this Nobel, is also Franca's," Fo said. The couple founded a drama company together five years after they were married.
"I'd like to think that the consistency of our discourse was rewarded, or at least for years we have tried to be consistent," he said. "I realize that sometimes we've made mistakes and we've been too euphoric and light.
"This is the criticism I have for myself: to have sometimes used a triumphal discourse to face the theme of class struggle, even if by now only we call it that."