Last week, “The Music Producer” and I went to see a live showing of Bill Bailey. That’s right. Bill Bailey. In Berlin! For British people, when I say that, they are like:
“Nooooo. That’s fabulous that is.”
For Americans, they say:
“Yeah, Bill Hicks?”
“No Bill Hicks is dead.”
“Bill who then?”
“Oh never mind!”
Happily, this wonderful show was jam-packed with expats, visiting Brits, and “exposed” Germans and English-speaking Europeans who like stand-up comedy. Bill was here for his Qualmpeddler tour. “Qualmpeddler” is a brilliant mix of stand-up, stories, music and old-fashioned wit, distilled from Bill’s own extraordinary experiences and reactions to the modern world.
It was a great night. Bill was witty. The audience almost choked with laughter. Bill talked about his experience with South London teenagers who didn’t really know who he was other than “that man on the telly,” and I had tears of laughter in my eyes.
Bill Bailey is a man of talent and skill and so is Eddie Izzard. Both men came to Berlin and showed the people what a good performance in stand-up comedy can be.
Berlin is making waves and getting noticed.
Stand-up comedy is a new phenomenon in Germany but the English-speaking scene has been slowly moving out of the underground scene into the main-stream. I’ll talk more about that in a future post, for now though, my attention is with the Quatsch Comedy Club, in Berlin.
The Quatsch Comedy Club is the baby of Thomas Hermanns who is the founder and director of Germany’s first comedy club. Ever. And those shows have always been in German. Last year (2013), for the first time since they opened in 1996, they decided to put on an English-only production. That glory belonged to one of Britain’s top international stars – Eddie Izzard.
I was there. That show was out of this world! Everyone who was anyone in the capital city of Berlin, was there. I was on the 3rd row from the front. So yeah. Count me in!
That show was so popular that the Quatsch Comedy Club decided to take a chance and stage regular shows roughly, every two months.
Not only was I at the Bill Bailey show last week but I was also lucky enough to get the opportunity to interview the host and Master of Ceremony of the regular shows: Christian Schulte-Loh otherwise known as the “German Comedian.”
Christian is the host of Strictly Stand Up which is an act of three international highly respected English-speaking stand-up comedians. All the acts are regulars at the top comedy venues world-wide, so we’re getting good stuff. Of course, being Berlin, we get to hang out with the stars after the show too.
At the last Strictly Stand Up gig, the comedians practically dragged me out of the auditorium into the bar, ‘cos I was on my own that night. I left at 01.30 as it was a school night but let me tell you. I didn’t want to! Those comedians are totally mad!
Christian was very gracious and also very funny as I spent most of the interview giggling away unprofessionally and scaring the young mother in our hipster cafe. I decided to ask him some questions about the English stand-up comedy scene in Berlin and also, why he is so tall!
Where did your interest in comedy start?
Being German, I always thought people have to be; less serious. I thought. Somebody has to do that!
The truth is, when I was a kid, I discovered that I really enjoyed people laughing at my jokes, and being silly. I listened to lots of comedy as a kid and I thought, “I want to do that” at a really young age. And the idea grew.
Some people are a bit put off by the pretentiousness that can come with comedy, especially English comedy or comedy in English, so where’s a good place to start if you want to learn how to be a comedian or a good stand-up comedian?
A good comedian makes things look easy because it’s so good. Lots of people want to do comedy. First of all, anyone who tells their friends “You’re funny. You should be a comedian,” should be shot! Because those people then actually think “I’m funny. I wanna try it out” and then they just die out there on the new material, or open mic nights.
Don’t listen to your friends!
If you want to do it, just start doing it. That’s the only way. Don’t take a comedy course. That’s the worst thing. You can only learn by doing it. Just go on stage. Do it. Die out there. Do it again. Keep doing it. The first show is always bad. The first gig is never good. Not even the funniest person on the planet had a good gig.
Having visited various cities across Europe, which do you find yourself drawn back to?
The best cities I’ve gigged in, some of them several times, are Copenhagen (Denmark), Brno (the Czech Republic), Bratislava (Slovakia), Antwerp (Belgium), lots of British cities of course but that’s different ‘cos they’re native-speaker cities. Edinburgh (Scotland), Glasgow (Scotland), Liverpool (England) and Austria.
And the worst places?
The worst places I’ve gigged at were Bournemouth (England). Horrible. ‘Cos of the hen and stag parties, Sweden, ‘cos they are a bit politically correct. A bit squeamish and I sometimes feel that the stuff I do is not really compatible. Holland can be difficult. They grew up with pornography so they’re a bit. Whatever. But they don’t really laugh at stuff which is a bit weird.
I think the Dutch have a different sense of humour!
And where would you tip as an up-and-coming stand-up comedy destinations we might not think of? Where do you think the next place is?
The whole scene is growing and the whole scene is more connected than it used to be. The European circuit is now becoming one circuit; which is great. Berlin is definitely one of the places that you’ve experienced. In Belgium lots of stuff is happening. In Scandinavia things are happening. Big festivals. English shows mixed with Swedish and Danish shows. I would say, for the moment it’s Scandinavia, Belgium and Berlin. The next thing coming will probably be places like Croatia. They already have some English tours which I’ve done. That will grow even more I think, then linked up with all the places around there, like Serbia.
I am one of the very few comics that gig in most of the European countries. There’s not so many that do it because it’s still a young scene. I’m one of those young guys, and I also try to connect people and the other comics do the same and then promoters start to work together.
I think it’s great to say that the whole of Europe is becoming a circuit, which is really nice.
How did you decide on English Comedy stand-up?
I started writing in German when I was a kid. I already wrote bits but I was too shy to step on the stage and I thought I was too young and that nobody would want to listen to me.
I studied abroad in Belgium on the ERASMUS programme (the European Union (EU) student exchange) for 1 semester, and then I went to a comedy club in Holland. I understood some Dutch which is similar to German, and then I asked the promoter of the show “Do you also put people on, in English?” and they said “Yeah. We could do that. We’ll give you 7 minutes next week.” I worked really hard for those 7 minutes in English and then I did it. it worked OK.
Looking at it now on a video tape. I think it’s horrible.
People laughed a bit and it led to more work. They booked me for a few paid gigs which was amazing, so my second gig was already paid which was crazy. I was very happy.
How is the English comedy scene different from the German comedy scene?
You have to divide the comedy scene here into 3 circuits: The German circuit, the British circuit and the English-speaking European circuit. They are very different.
The British circuit is a very, very, saturated circuit with very high quality. A lot of comedians. And a very high level at the top. Extremely high. No limit. Massive DVD sales. Massive arena (stadium) tours for top comedians. TV heroes. A pyramid. Lots of comedians at the bottom. Lots of average or even bad comedians.
In Britain, you have to work your way to the top and it takes ages. You have to go to club and pub gigs, tour around for little or no money, and you even lose money! Nobody gives you a hotel. Nobody pays for travel cost. The audience heckle and insult you. And you die a horrible death.
It’s a madness.
Comedy in Britain is rock n’ roll!
The German pyramid is much lower so you don’t have that many people, superstars, or huge stand-ups. We have a few comedy stars so the pyramid is a bit thinner and smaller, and the whole market is different. More theatrical and well-behaved! The German comedians dress neatly and don’t look like bums. In Germany, they treat you better, and the way to the top is shorter.
The tradition of stand-up is still not well understood in Germany so when you tell people that you’re a stand-up comedian they say. “Great; but what do you really do?”
The European circuit is in-between the two. There’s not many comedians who do stand-up comedy on a regular basis because it’s so different. British comedians don’t really do the European scene as what works well in Europe are people who have an international approach, because of the language barrier. The Swedish seem to be doing well here.
You’re known for being “The German” one. How does that make you feel?
Being German in a foreign country is actually very funny. People like that because they think Germans have no sense of humour, and all that. Everybody has a strong opinion about Germans.
I had never performed in German until I was asked to perform in Austria. In German. It worked well and then I worked my way onto the German scene.
What did you enjoy most about comedy?
Free beer and the sound of laughter!
Who are your current favourite comedians?
Louis C.K, Jimmy Carr, Tig Notaro, Phil Nichol, Craig Campbell, Jim Carrey, Richard Pryor, etc.
Do you have any tips for people who would like to try stand up comedy in English or otherwise?
Nobody should think, “I want to be on the fast-track to comedy” because it will work against you, if you’re not ready. You have to go through all the difficult stages. I thought I was so funny until I went to a pub where all they wanted to do was have a drink and a chat, and I had to entertain them. They didn’t want to see me or listen to anybody but their friends. So I stood there, and I died. It was horrible.
You have to be able to entertain people who don’t want to see you. You’ve got to take and work the room. Work in the pubs in front of 6 drunk people. That’s the way to learn. Go through hell and work your way up.
Good to know!
So there you have it. If you want to have a go and try some stand-up comedy. Why not? You know you want to. Go to it; at the nearest comedy open mic night!
Approximate running time: About 2.5 hours. Not including the drinks and a chatter after the show!
For more information about the show please contact: Strictly Stand Up.
For more information about the venue please contact: Quatsch Comedy Club.
The next Strictly Stand Up show is on June 11th. Guest performers will be Benny Boot (Australian), Gordon Southern (UK), and Paddy Lennox (Northern Ireland).
This article is not sponsored and even though I received a complimentary ticket, all opinions and the cold glasses of wine that I happily drank, are my very own! Every week for the months of May and June, I’ll be writing about summer time in Berlin, and what to do when you get here.
Next week, I will be writing about the amazing Berlin Music Video Awards and in the coming weeks, the various outdoor summer festivals.
The 22nd Lesbian and Gay City Festival is taking place between 14.06.14 – 15.06.14.
Fête de la Musique an open-air street music performance day, will take place all around Berlin, on 21.06.14.
Berlin’s Mardi Gras the 36th CSD – Christopher Street Day Gay Pride festivity, will be on 21.06.14.
Are you coming?
Watch this space!
Have you been to a stand-up comedy show? Have you ever performed on stage? Do you know Bill Bailey?
See you in Berlin.
If you like this post.
Share it! Tweet it! Like it!