July 16th the Baum Haus Big Day Out brings a packed day of comedy to Berlin, with over twenty different acts all performing in English on an island in the middle of Treptower Park. I spoke with the organisers, Neil Numb and Dharmander Singh about what motivates them to organise events here in the hauptstadt, German humour and what we can expect from the Berlin comedy scene in the future….
1. How long have you been living in Berlin and what bought you here in the first place?
Neil Numb: I´ve been coming back and forth to Berlin for around 9 years now, at the start I was running a successful online business so I was pretty mobile back then, but every time I came back here I was staying for longer and longer, then I spent 9 months traveling round South America and when I got back to Berlin I just forgot to go back to Scotland, I have been here permanently for around 5 years now (I think), and love every minute of it, it really gets under your skin.
Dharmander Singh: I’ve been here around the same time as Neil. I was living in Birmingham and was working as an actor and teacher, as well as doing comedy and running my own comedy club (Custard Balti Comedy). I started getting a little bored of Birmingham so then made the decision to go to either London or Berlin. My partner is from Berlin and also my best friend was living here at the time so I thought, why not? Berlin has a good film industry so that also helped me decide. I had visited a few times in the past so I also knew what a great place it is.
2. Can you tell me a little bit about how you first got involved in events/comedy?
Neil Numb: I come from a night clubbing promotion back-ground, I was a professional DJ for 15 years and spent that time running clubs and events in Scotland, Australia & New Zealand. About 4 years ago in Berlin I started hanging out at one of the very few English Comedy events at the time here and some of the comedians from that show Caroline Clifford & Paul Salamone where organizing a 3 day professional comedy course and they convinced me to join, up until that point I had never even thought about doing stand-up comedy, so technically this is all their fault.
Then one night just after the comedy course I was out with my friend at a club called “Naherholung Sternchen” that has sadly closed down now, we spoke to the owner and he was really keen to have a comedy show there, so we launched “the Fish Bowl Comedy Showcase”, it was an easy step to go from promoting parties to promoting comedy, the actual performing of comedy was a little more complicated.
Dharmander Singh: I have been performing in the theatre since I was a kid so getting up and making a scene of myself is kind of in my blood. The first person to give me a job out of college (Janice Connolly) was also the person who got me into comedy. She was running a comedy workshop and convinced/ordered me to participate. I also come from a club and festival background as I did lots of walkabout theatre so that also got me into the promoting side.
When I came to Berlin I honestly thought that my comedy days were over, this was at the beginning of the English scene. I eventually started performing at the nights and then got to meet Neil. I played a few gigs for him and then eventually we started doing nights together. The rest is a hazy blur after that!
3. How long have you been running comedy events in Berlin? Any fun stories from over the years you can share?
The first time we booked comedian Josie Long for the “the Fish Bowl” she went to the wrong airport in London and missed her flight, we had started the show and she was getting another flight, when she finally arrived she want straight from the taxi onto the stage and completely rocked it, absolute professional. Then I was thrilled to watch footage of her show at Adelaide Comedy festival and she did a joke about the whole situation missing her flight coming to Berlin.
Dharmander Singh: I started off running a night called Eat and Laugh at East London Cafe which really helped my hosting technique. One night I asked Chris Glen if I could get a spot at Fish Bowl. He offered me the hosting job, as he couldn’t do it. That is when I really started working with Neil on the regular. I then became the regular host for Baumhaus as well. Eventually we decided to just do everything together as we worked so well with each other. We launched Cosmic Comedy together about 2 years ago and that’s been rocking it
There are many fun stories, a lot that I can’t share due to privacy and the fact my mom may read this. It’s Berlin so you can imagine the rest.
4. You’ve got a big all day event planned for July, can you tell me about it and what inspired you to put on this event?
Neil Numb : Yes we are really excited about the Baum Haus Big Day Out this month, we really think that the whole English Comedy scene in Berlin has reached a point where it’s time to start bigger annual events as a way to not only give our local comedians a platform to perform in front of bigger audiences but also as a way of attracting bigger international acts to come to Berlin, I just think we are ready as a scene.
Dharmander Singh: Yeah, we wanted to put a bit more focus on the great comedy scene that Berlin has. We were amazed at the response from comics all around the world who applied to play at the event. The venue is the same as where we run our night Shenanigans Island so we already knew what a beautiful location it was and knew how amazing we could make it.
We really do want to do something that hasn’t been done here before. The event is going to be manic, I am a bit scared but also very excited at the same time as we have over 20 acts to organise over one evening as well as the afternoon entertainment, food and music. We have some great headliners as well so that also helps.
5. Who are your favourite comedians at the moment?
Neil Numb: That is a tough question, I`m a huge fan of Ardal O´Hanlon (Father Dougal, from the TV show father ted) We were lucky enough to book Ardal a few months ago as part of his European tour, we were like giggling school boys going to meet him at his hotel. He was really lovely and it was great to get a proper conversation over some beers with him, sharing stories about starting comedy back in Dublin 20 years ago, it was really fun. Then I had the honour of performing with him on stage when I did the 20- minute warm up slot for him, totally the highlight of my comedy career so far.
But there are some really amazing comedians coming out of Berlin just now, Helen Bauer is a top tip to watch, she recently got through to the regional finals of Funny Women in the UK. Makes me proud to be involved in this scene.
Dharmander Singh: I really like Bill Burr for his no bullshit approach to comedy. I love comics who make you laugh and shake your head at the same time. On the flipside of that I also really like English cult comic Barbara Nice for her persona and how well she handles any type of crowd. She shows that you don’t have to be rude or controversial to be funny. In all the times I have seen her I don’t think she has ever cursed on stage or been aggressive to an audience. I have never seen a comic turn a room full of rowdy lads into putty in her hands quite like Barbara (ooer that sounds a bit rude)
6. Are there any places/events you shouldn’t miss in Berlin if stand up comedy is your thing?
Neil Numb: You have to check out “Cosmic Comedy” on a Monday & Thursday nights in Bar 1820, the atmosphere is amazing and free pizza is always a winner, but also “We are not Gemused” every Tuesday night is the longest running open mic in Berlin, it’s a cracking show. But there are so many great shows in Berlin. Once you scratch the surface you will find them all.
Dharmander Singh: I agree with Neil about Cosmic although I may be a bit biased. Cosmic is really a fun place to be at and also to perform. The crowd are something quite unique as they are really mixed from regulars to tourists to hipsters. It really has a great range of different ages attending which I think is also great for the atmosphere. I would also highly recommend “Teepee land Stands Up”. It is set in a great venue and also has a great atmosphere. Finally I would say you have to check out Baum Haus Open Air, purely because again it’s a great venue and also you can stay there and dance until Monday after the comedy show
7. Any advice for budding comics who would like to have a go at stand up?
Neil Numb: Just get up and do it. Stand up comedy is great for your mind, its a great way to turn negatives in your life into positives really quickly, you just talk about them on stage, no more negative. Berlin is one of the best places in the world at the moment to learn stand-up comedy it’s a really friendly and accepting scene full of nice people. If you’re thinking of doing stand-up just sign up for Cosmic Comedy and if you have never done stand-up before then you get priority on stage and we will give you 5 minutes to break your cherry, from there on in it’s just practice.
Dharmander Singh: Yeah, just get up and do it. Like Neil said, Berlin is the best place to try it at due to the high number of places to perform that actually have audiences. Different comics have different techniques so I would advise you to try lots of different styles /methods until you find the right one for you. There isn’t only one way to do it. If there were everyone would be a stand up (if they were crazy)
8. Lastly, Germans are stereotyped as not having much of a sense of humour do you think a lot gets lost in translation? Are there any German comics I should check out?
Neil Numb: That stereotype is nonsense, we have a huge number of German people coming to our shows on a regular basis and they really get into it. We have a lot of German comedians performing in English, I actually think that the English Scene is helping the German comedy scene, quite a few comedians that learned in English and have then gone on to do Comedy in German and are now all over German TV and really going places in Comedy.
Dharmander Singh: Germans are as funny as any other nationality if not funnier. Be that on stage or in every day life. One of the best things about actually learning German has been being able to interact with German people on an everyday basis. I am always having a laugh with random people every day.
Again I agree with Neil about the German comics but would also like to add Paco Hubener and Dominic Jozwiak into the mix. The rise of more German open mics has really brought in a new fresh wave of German comics.
By Hannah Graves
Cosmic Comedy : http://www.liveinberlin.co/cosmic-comedy/
Baum Haus Big Day Out // Comedy Festival : http://www.liveinberlin.co/comedy-open-air-festival/
Comedy in English : http://comedyinenglish.de/
Comedy Tickets For Shows : http://www.liveinberlin.co/tickets/