Utrecht is Funny

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I interviewed renowned Utrecht improv comic and MC Jurg van Ginkel about next year’s Utrecht International Comedy Festival. This made me laugh out loud. He’s a funny guy! He told me about himself.

He is a comedian who will not rest until the crowd has had a good laugh. And for that he is willing to go far. Very far. He is one of the founding members of Utrecht’s stand-up comedy collective the Comedyhuis. His performance after taking the hallucinogenic drug salvia during the Drugs Comedy Night in 2013 is already legendary. He also does freelance work as a journalist for regional radio-/tv-station RTV Utrecht, for which his preferred drug of choice is black coffee and shortbread. He is one of the organisers of the Utrecht International Comedy Festival on March 8 and 9 in TivoliVredenburg.

Where did the idea for the Comedy Festival come from?

The Netherlands had a couple of festivals over the years that focused on stand-up comedy. However, these were all one-off events or they folded after a couple of editions. We thought The Netherlands needed one definitive festival that was going to be there long term and that would actually invest in the scene by giving new talents a chance, and train them to reach the next level.

We also wanted to introduce different kinds of stand-up comedy such as absurd, improv, political, musical, etc.to an audience that was possibly new to comedy.

We wanted to put together a festival with lots and lots of passion, as opposed to some other events that would just book a couple of headliners and leave it like that.

At the UICF everything is about comedy: From the moment you walk into TivoliVredenburg until the end of the last show. And as we’re all comedians ourselves, we know what our artists need to excel and quite often it’s a cold beer!

This will be the sixth year of the UICF.

Is Utrecht a particularly funny city?

Are you kidding. Of course it is. People in Amsterdam are arrogant, which isn’t odd: it is a great international city which draws lots and lots of people from all over the world. So, people in Utrecht always have a bit of a chip on their shoulder as we’re not perceived as a very cool city. And this gave Utrechters a superpower. They have mastered the art of the withering put-down. “Doe maor gewoon, jochie” (just act normal, lad) is one of the most-heard phrases in the city. It’s this view that we’re all a little bit shit that turns the people of the city into natural comedians. No-one wants to hear about how wonderful your life in the big city is. But did you say you stepped into some dog doo-doo? Tell me all about it. That sounds hilarious!

So yes, people in Utrecht have a great sense of humour.

Why do you think we’re always tearing down buildings and putting them back up? Hoog Catharijne is basically the longest running comedic opera in the Low Countries.

Are you taking part yourself?

Some people in the organisation are comedians. During the festival, however, they mainly act as comperes/MC’s introducing the acts. We like all the focus to be on our esteemed guests! So I’ll be running around shouting names of comedians performing running off-stage to the other side of the building a lot.

Our specialties are many: some have very political material like Jeroen Pater, others are great at improv with the crowd (me), and some are just so damn charming like Hans Gommer!

For you what are this years highlights?

We haven’t confirmed any acts yet. So for now: the Food Street will be back with Indonesian sateh. That alone is a good reason to organise this festival every year. But don’t worry: we’re working on bringing some great comedians too. Last year’s highlight for me was Paul Currie: a completely manic comedian who dove into the audience, played with a rubber plant and basically just did an hour of the most inspired nonsense I have ever seen. People left totally confused AND happy. Amazing comic.

Does Utrecht inspire you?

Yes. The constant misery of navigating through a rainy city on a bike with roadworks popping up like mushrooms in a game of Super Mario motivates you to think of something funny so you at least have some fun in life. Paraphrasing American comic Doug Stanhope: “There’s a reason there are no comedy clubs on the sandy beaches of Puerto Rico. People are already happy.”

Where is your favourite place in Utrecht?

Wilhelminapark. I just sit down with some drinks and snacks from Albert Heijn and just chill. Oh, and Club Basis if you need you ears cleaned with some loud dance music. (They get it.)

Does Utrecht do enough for comedy?

The council could do more financially. There were some subsidies that went to some big festivals that I personally found a bit objectionable. We’re a small organisation that lives in the community and puts on comedy festivals all year round for people in Utrecht. To just give a bag of money to some outside agent that put up a couple festival-shows and then left, seems extremely short-sighted to me. But hey, we don’t mind gambling on whether or not we’ll be able to pay our mortgages every year. It keeps you energised!

Who would you like to see more involved in the festival?

Younger people, and especially people whose families maybe with an immigrant background (or whatever the correct term at the moment is, don’t mean to offend anyone). For the festival we’ve given workshops in Kanaleneiland/Overvecht trying to attract a new audience, but no-one showed up. Which is a shame. Stand-up comedy is screaming out for some new perspectives on everyday life. And I for one, would love to hear them.

Would you like to see more activities like yours or is one festival a year enough??

I would probably die if I have to organise more than one festival a year. But if you want to, go ahead. Maybe I’ll actually get to see some acts then.

Who should take the lead?

Comedy Clubs run by artists. I’ve worked in clubs run by businessmen and they just didn’t get it. Artists should do things themselves as much as possible, punk rock/DYI-style. And if someone then wants to throw a bag of money in our lap to help with promo, that would be much appreciated!

People should buy a ticket for the festival. Giving money to people who do cool stuff is the best way to make sure more cool stuff gets made.

Oh, and visit the Comedyhuis Club why don’tcha? We have weekly comedy shows and in 2019 there will be lots of English shows too.

 

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Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.

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