Welcome to the strange world of Hans Teeuwen. The Dutch comedian – and friend of murdered film-maker Theo van Gogh – tells Brian Boyd how he makes sure nothing is lost in translation
AHANS TEEUWEN gig is quite an experience. The Dutch comedian, who performs in English, divides the room like no other. Fifty per cent of an audience travels with him on his surreal storytelling journey. The other 50 per cent just look at him blankly, thinking the whole affair is some sort of performance art hoax.
Quite a star in his native Netherlands, Teeuwen is also known as an actor, singer and film director. He was always quite content performing in Dutch until 2004, when his close friend, the film-maker Theo van Gogh, was shot dead by aMuslim extremist. He gave up performing for a while and during this period he decided he needed a new challenge: performing in English.
Successive trips to the Edinburgh Festival were very well received (Teeuwen also did a short theatre run in London) and he was brought to the attention of Irish audiences this year with his debut performances at Kilkenny’s Cat Laughs festival.
“I faced the same problem at Kilkenny as I did in Edinburgh,” he says. “You tend to get a good few heckles because people have no idea what this strange Dutchman on stage is trying to do. I really have to work hard to try to convince the audience that I can actually do this.
“The big problem I have is my sort of humour; I really have to suck them into that absurdist world. So much of humour is about recognition – it’s how comedy works – that if you don’t recognise anything in my set you can feel very left out. I do usually manage to suck some people in, but then you can get the situation where half the audience are laughing and the other half are looking at them wondering what they are laughing for. It can be quite divisive!”
Teeuwen describes his material as “about 80 per cent absurd and surreal and about 20 cent more about reality. I find that the more abstract stuff is more interesting from an artistic point of view. I used to do a lot of autobiographical stuff back in Amsterdam, but not so much anymore. Religion, though, still features – but I tackle that from quite a dark standpoint.”
Prior to going international, Teeuwen had sold half a million DVDs in the Netherlands, and he says it found it quite a comedown when he had to start all over again outside his country.
“My ego really suffered. I was used to