This article is from 2007.
While Germany is still perceived as humourless, its neighbour is rocking with laughter. The Amsterdam Underground Comedy Collective tell Brian Donaldson about anal sex, racism and hookers
It’s a balmy June evening in Amsterdam, and as I’m led into the bowels of Toomler, the city’s prime comedy club, the rich and dramatic history of the venue is being imparted to me. Formerly a mob hang-out, the club was closed down for a few years after a contract slaying was performed on the stairs outside. These days, the only dying permitted on the premises occurs on stage, usually during the regular open mic slots. The experienced gentlemen I am introduced to are more in the business of finding a killer gag, as Edinburgh audiences may well discover very soon.
Raoul Heertje, Theo Maasen and Hans Teeuwen are the three top comics in the Netherlands, and, having caressed their nation’s funny bones for over a decade are now looking to branch out and have a real go at the UK. Under the banner of the Amsterdam Underground Comedy Collective, the trio will lead proceedings with another eight stand-ups in tow on a rolling roster.
Is there such a thing as ‘Dutch humour?’ Can it be defined?
Hans Teeuwen We have a big tradition in Holland of cabaret, of long one-man shows and we’re from that tradition.
Theo Maasen The tradition would be to do some stand-up then sing a song and back to stand-up.
Raoul Heertje There was the time when the humour was absurd and then when it was really about nothing.
Hans When we started there was nothing new really emerging, then the Comedy Train stand-up initiative came along and then loads of comics came up after us.
Raoul Yeah, they were all imitating you, Hans.
Are there any obvious differences between Dutch and British humour?
Raoul One of the differences is that there are not many taboos here anymore. When British or American comedians come over here I tell them it’s not a big thing to joke about taking drugs or going to hookers, and people won’t laugh. I remember Scott Capurro was over and I told him that being gay and making jokes about it isn’t going to get you any laughs and after half an hour he said: ‘well, you’re not shocked at all’. And he had to be more creative.
Theo Also, here you can earn money doing stand-up or one-man shows but in America, comics have to turn to TV.
Raoul I remember when we were doing the Dutch version of Have I Got News for You, the executives were in shock when I said that they needed a big budget for writers, because they’re not used to that investment in people.
So, what is considered offensive in Holland?
Raoul What I think is offensive is if you really connect what you are saying on the stage to the people themselves. When I was in Britain, if you said things about the country, people really took it personally, about Britain not being a superpower anymore, and they got really upset. In Holland, people think “oh well, he’s talking about my neighbour, can’t be me”.
Hans I did this routine about having anal sex with the Queen and it was probably the biggest laugh I ever got. Nobody got offended, but then I did do this one bit about paedophilia and it got very quiet for a while but the relief came a few jokes later.
Theo I had problems with my last show because I did stuff about my parents being dead and I had a crucifix on stage and I started licking it at one point. In the theatres that was OK, but it got onto national TV and there were lots of emails and letters from Christians saying I was the devil.
Hans The only difference there is that the Queen did have the use of her arms so she could have defended herself.
What’s the story here with racist jokes?
Hans Holland has been so politically correct for decades and we have been raised so anti-racist that for us it can be almost a relief to make a racist joke because everyone would think: ‘of course, this guy is not really racist’. We can go so far in our irony because in our daily life, we haven’t really encountered racism.
Raoul I’ve heard things said by comedians that are really racist but because it’s in a theatre, then suddenly it’s OK.
What are your hopes for Edinburgh?
Raoul You can have that Olympic mentality to join and be there and have fun but I think we want to really do something and just to say that we did the Edinburgh Festival is not enough. It would be good to show people the kind of comedy that we’re doing over here and not be just another act.
I hear you’re big in Bath having played there in May?
Hans There was a really good review in the Bath Chronicle.
Raoul It spoke about how Dutch footballers put a lot into the British leagues in terms of creativity and intelligence and how there were Dutch comedians doing the same thing.
Hans I get it delivered every week.
Amsterdam Underground Comedy Collective, Assembly @ Edinburgh Comedy Room, the Tron, 623 3030, 4–26 Aug, 10.30pm, £8.50 (£7). Previews 2 & 3 Aug, £5.