By Alexander Nasse
New to doing comedy in the Netherlands? Coming soon to travel? In this group we get a lot of repeating questions. I thought it might be handy or interesting for newbies and travel comics to welcome you and maybe help you out a bit.
This is the second document I’ve written on International comedy in our country, check out part 1 on comedy cities outside of Amsterdam here.
In this document I’d like to discuss some cultural quirks and specifics about audiences you’ll find at Dutch shows. As a comic that performs 100+ times a year and therefor sees about a thousand sets every year in this country and sees hundreds of new faces pop up I thought it might be interesting to share some observations about performing in our country you could use. Take note that some of this is subjective and only one guy’s observation, I’m not preaching truth here. But maybe it helps!
1. “Dutch audience are terribly hard to win over”
You’ll hear this a lot. International comic comes to NL, lands his or her first punchline and gets a response they’re not used to. There’s some things to consider here. First of all, the Dutch tradition of comedy isn’t rooted in Stand Up as we know it from the hundred plus years from the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Most Dutch people didn’t grow up watching Dave Chapelle, we grew up with a uniquely Dutch cultural phenoma called Cabaret. Where Stand Up lives and breathes punchlines, Cabaret is a much broader art form that usually comes in the form of two hour shows with not just jokes but also songs, stories and sometimes poetry. Dutch crowds are often used to having a slower pace of entertainment.
Also, the Dutch are opinionated and by and large honest. A polite laugh at a mediocre joke isn’t on the cards. Perk? If you do get that big rolling laugh, they really love the joke. You murder in front of a Dutch crowd, more than just once? Probably means you’re pretty damn good. It’s not better or worse than you might be used to. Just different. If you walk into a night and you hear the majority of people in the crowd are local Dutch people, just take that in account. Mixed, expat and student crowds are like anywhere in the world. Gauge the crowd, listen to the set up of the mc in the opening minutes and you’ll know what kind of crowd response you’ll be in for.
2. Watch out for Dutch clichés
Yes there’s a lot of bikes here and they ride fast. Yes you can buy weed in a shop here. Yes there’s prostitutes in one small neighbourhood that the world knows about. Where expats, tourist and student crowds might still relate to this material, topics like that will make many Dutch people roll their eyes and dismiss you quickly. Consider that because of the 40+ years of marihuana decriminalisation most Dutch people don’t really care about weed, probably don’t smoke it and are not fond of the stereotype. Saying “you guys love getting stoned amirite” will make you sound like the tourist nobody likes. Of course solid material is solid material, and a killer joke is a killer joke, but you might want to come up with a really good one.
Oh, and scrap that joke about Anne Frank and going hiding as a punchline. We hear it a lot. Even Patton Oswald bombed hard with that during his show in Amsterdam the other night.
Lastly: saying ‘Holland’ instead of ‘The Netherlands ‘is sometimes perceived as annoying outside the provinces of Holland. And saying “what’s up Amsterdam” anywhere outside of Amsterdam is starting your set 0-3 behind anywhere in the country.
3. The stand up scene in The Netherlands is young, and the nights you’ll be visiting as a new comer are even younger
Stand up Comedy started as recent as ~25 years ago in our country. As explained earlier, the Dutch mainly (and still do) love a different, Dutch form of comedic entertainment called Cabaret. Stand up as a mainstream art form in this country was built up from the ground in a time that Richard Pryor was at the end of his career. One of my now favorite anecdotes ever is from a Dutch stand up that 25 years ago wanted to join the only (!) stand up night in the country by asking the bartender “how do I do this, is there a course you can follow?”, followed by a Heineken and hearing “you’re on third.”
Soon after that the two premier comedy clubs in Amsterdam (the only ones around for a long time), Toomler and Comedy Café barely had to compete with a couple of open mics in small Dutch towns. The wealth of stage time a young international open micer or new to the country comic can currently grab is mostly disconnected from that. Until two years ago there was besides the renowned club Boom Chicago and a couple of bookers no more than a small infrastructure for international comics to work out and an even smaller one where they could get get paid.
Consider that when having a critical view of the current scene that’s not as polished as other countries and cities in the world and it’s lack of financial opportunities. All of this is standing on the shoulders of a young scene to begin with, and most of the nights you are visiting are best viewed as starting out small businesses trying to do their best with very tight budgets. Take it from someone who now organises shows: budgets are tricky and tight. This is not New York or London. But things are getting better. And if you’re an international travel comic with ideas on how to make the scene better, I for one (and I’m sure I’m not alone) LOVE constructive feedback.