A seriously funny guy

Foto: T. C. Breuer In his travels around Germany and North America, Thomas C. Breuer has learned many things. One, above all, stands out: People like to laugh. They like to laugh at situations, they like to laugh at others and they like to laugh at themselves. Armed with his knowledge, a swift mind, an even swifter delivery, and the knack of observing life from an oblique angle, Mr. Breuer has gone where few German comedians have dared to venture. He has taken on the North American continent and delighted audiences wherever he has unpacked his suitcase.

His most recent visit to North America, after landing in Potomac, Maryland, took him to Santa Fe, New Mexico, then by train to Chicago, then on to Milwaukee, across to Boston, to Amherst, Massachusetts, then by train to Ottawa, a trek to South Dakota, then back East for shows in New York and White Plains, N.Y.

That's not the jagged tour that Thomas Cook Travel would have planned, but it suited Mr. Breuer just fine as he wound his way around the continent presenting his brand of quick-witted humor to audiences at Goethe Institutes, German-language schools and conventions. Mr. Breuer, 45, came with good credentials: 1,500 one-man-shows between Berlin and San Francisco, dozens of radio spots that have won him an appreciative following on both sides of the Atlantic and, having penned 17 books, the reputation of being a seriously funny author. In Mr. Breuer's case, a suitable oxymoron.

It wasn't always so.

"Fifteen years ago the tradition of the stuff I'm doing was not that common", Mr. Breuer said after presenting his two-hour show Sind wir habend Spaß schon? to an enthusiastic, standing-room only crowd in Ottawa. "Sometimes I came to a place and people said, 'We have never had a show like that,', and I thought, 'Ugh, I'm not a missionary' and it was really hard to sell the stuff I am doing. But that's no problem now and people know what to deal with. Now I have a name and I have a small audience that stays with me."

This was his 16th visit to North America. He grew up in Heidelberg (not really - T.C.) listening to American and Canadian Music on AFN, the American Forces radio network from the nearby military base. "It was rock music, folk music, like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn.... I was always interested in North American culture, reading the books, the people, television, movies. I always loved it."

These days, he is one of a breed, a single German standup comic plying his trade on these shores; driven by a love of North America, travel and making audiences laugh. Mr. Breuer gears his show differently for Canadians and American audiences. His material contains more about the U.S. because he knows more about that country. But that's slowly changing after visits to Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.

The Canadian jokes are coming.

"Fortunately," he says, "Americans can laugh at themselves, and Canadians can, too." His material ranges from rap to blues, and, in the latter he shows a musical talent on the harmonica. His cutting-edge observations take in the ways of life in Kentucky, and Québec, Oklahoma and Ontario, and, not to be overlooked speech patterns from Bayern to Niedersachsen.

But the comedy, accompanied by a multitude of twisted facial expressions, is seldom the same, regardless of the country. "It doesn't matter where it is," he says. "Even if you perform at the same club five nights in a row in Germany, it can be completely different."

And the audiences? They're the same everywhere. "They don't really differ that much," he says. "There's a lot of Germans in North America and they like to laugh. Normally, they say that the Germans don't have any humor. That's not true at all. I'm doing this for 21 years and to feed a family on this job... it takes some doing. People love to laugh."

The material comes from being wide-awake most of the time, by listening, watching people, watching TV, and reading newspapers." In his own way, he pokes fun at stereotypes, but his main target is language, its uses and misuses.

"German humor tends to be more political," he says. "In my jokes, it wouldn't make sense to make any references to German politicians, because if the audiences don't know the people, it's not funny for them. So, I don't do that here."

"German audiences still like the jabs aimed at their prominent political figures, although that has been watered down over the years. Now it's taking more on an American approach with quick one-off jokes and some comedians are really good on that. It's become Americanized. It bores me to death mostly, although some of the comedians are really good, really funny." In Germany it's getting quicker. You don't have the time, normally, to tell real stories, not on TV. It's different on radio. I don't do much TV, because there are so many people to tell you what to do and what not to do. I don't like that. I want to do my stuff, and sometimes I need space and TV doesn't give you that."

When Mr. Breuer's not writing jokes, he's writing humour books. "German literature has a bad reputation over here. Most Americans think that German literature is the most boring in the world and they're not too far from that. I think that sometimes it is really, really boring, and I try to be funny and a lot of Germans don't like that input."

"Well it's fun for me and it's always something to learn; and I make a little money; and a third thing is that I try to show people that they can have fun with the German language and many people don't know that. I very often have the feeling that people are grateful that there is someone on stage who doesn't underestimate them like they do on TV. I think they're glad that there is someone who respects them and their intelligence and try to work with that." "Hab einen guten einen," he says in parting.

© Keith Woolhouse, "Perspectives", Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 199
31.12.2012 - 19:00