How Do You Book That!?
That is the question I’ve heard most often from other performers for the last 6 years. They are asking about my long term gig performing in a German Variete Theater. I’ve never really had a great answer (until now!) and that’s only because I started this blog. It has me thinking about what I can add to the conversation that has value. I think more information about one of the last remaining variety circuits is pretty valuable. For the most part the German Variete scene has been untapped by comedy jugglers. I’ve toured all over Holland and Germany for the last 6 years and I’ve only met two other comedy jugglers working the same places as me.
So….How Did You Book That?
I got the gig because I know a guy. I was living and working in San Francisco six years ago when I got a call from Germany on my birthday.They were wondering if I could be in Germany in a couple of months for an 11 month contract. I asked the name of the company and they said they were called the “G.O.P”. This is when I started to suspect it was a joke. When they told me I was recommended by Paul Nathan (master
bullshitter magician) I just KNEW it was a hoax. I told them I would think about it and get back to them. I called Paul to congratulate him on his excellent birthday prank and then I went on live T.V and was voted off of America’s Got Talent by 18 million people, a Canadian, & and two Brits. Not my best birthday. As I packed my bag for my flight (somehow AGT knew I wasn’t going through to the finals and had already booked me a ticket…strange) I checked out the G.O.P website in Germany…
It turns out…it’s a legitimate thing! I called them back and took the gig. They never asked to see any promo material or any questions really. I got the gig purely because Paul told them I was good (I wasn’t) and probably because at the time, if they googled my name I was everywhere. I also got the gig because they were desperate. They needed a skill based comedian for a show that was causing a lot of problems for them. No comedy acts in their roster would work with one particular cast,so they needed to find someone who had no idea what was going on. They also needed someone who was willing to sign an 11 month contract with that same terrible cast.
I was their man.
A few months later I was on a plane to Berlin for rehearsals. Now, 6 years later, I am entering the last week of my final contract with them. I signed onto this show 5 years ago. That’s how far ahead they plan.
So…how did I book that? For me the only answer is to be extremely lucky. I’ve since done some research on how other people can do it the normal way which I’ll be sharing this Friday in a new feature called “Who Books That?”. Stay tuned.
Why would I want to work in the German Variete?
The answer used to be money. When the Euro was strong you could make a killing. In the late 80’s and early 90’s comedy acts were making over a grand a day in the Variete Theaters…but that’s not the case anymore. In most theaters you are given a place to live while working for free and a couple of free meals a week. So you can still actually save quite a bit of dough.
While the pay isn’t as great as it once was you can still pull a decent wage. 6 years ago I started at 200 Euro a day. Most of the year you work 5 days a week (Wednesday-Sunday). In December a lot of theaters have shows every day which is hard work but totally worth it financially.
I got a modest raise every year I stayed with the company. Another Variety theater offered me twice that for a 8 month contract and I know of many long term acts who make 500 Euro a day. Not bad.
A word of caution though, there are still some costs: mainly travel, taxes, and visas. Most of the German Variete theaters do not pay for travel. Which isn’t a big deal for the Europeans they work with but for people on other continents it can be a real burden. They help you sort out your taxes and visas but you still have to pay fo them. They also require you have insurance in Germany.
These things are not that expensive but they add up. I paid 150 Euro for my visa this year and 200 Euro for 3 months German insurance. I spent about 2,000 on travel. I could have paid less for the visa. For 50 Euro you can get a sticker visa in your passport. The problem is that the sticker takes up two pages (or 8 stamps) worth of space. I’d rather pay a little extra and have the card version which takes up no space AND serves as an official ID. I don’t have to carry my passport around and my passport lasts a little longer.
It’s a sad truth, but there are not many places to do 8-10 shows a week for 3-12 months at a time any more. You can work theme parks or string together gigs to approximate the experience but it’s not the same. In Germany people come to see a Variety show. They are expecting singers, contortionists, and comedy jugglers. They want it. You get to crank out an enormous amount of shows in a short time for an audience that wants to see you. If it’s good enough for the Beatles, it’s good enough for me.
Finally, the greatest thing about working in German Variete Theaters is the sense of security. My first show here was an 11 month contract. I knew exactly what I was doing for almost an entire year! In comedy juggling that is so rare. After that I signed contracts for the next 5 years. I knew I was going to be in the show I am currently in 5 years ago! That’s some serious life planning. The G.O.P and I are talking about contracts in 2019,2020, and 2021! As a full time comedy juggler it’s great to have some parts of the year mapped out and concrete and to know what the next decade is going to hold.
What Kind/How Much Material Do I Need?
There is no real answer to this question. Funny material. Good stuff. Besides the trite answers I can offer two things I’ve witnessed in my time here:
1. Most of the comedy jugglers they hire fill the role of “clown” in the show. You are not expected to be a clown, just to fill the time they normally would. This means that you are covering transitions and helping acts on and off stage. In the show I am currently performing I have seven acts in the show. Most are around 4 minutes and involve me and the M.C covering a transition. This is a great reason to work on the 90-4-Whatever Rule. You’ll always be able to adjust.
Side note: One of the things I’ve found most helpful during my tenure in the German Variete is flexibility. Sometimes you will have to add an act into the show because someone is sick or injured. One of the easiest ways (for everyone) is to take one of your 90 second transistion acts and turn it into a 4 minute act. Or take one of your 4 minute acts and turn it into 11. Every time I’ve been able to say: “No problem. I can fill in the time” my employers and co-workers have been super greatful.
2. Most of the comedy acts have two featured acts in the show. One in the first half and one in the second. These acts are usually between 7 and 10 minutes long.
So, typically you will need two full length acts and a couple of little bits. It’s great to have a large body of work to draw from here. This is the perfect place to use those stupid human tricks you’ve picked up.
Do I need to speak German?
No. Not really. It certainly helps. I’ve seen a lot of acts be succesfull in English or pidgeon German and usually the simple act of trying to speak German is enough to win over a German audience.
However, if you work hard on your German your employers will notice. They love to see an act from outside Germany working hard on German. It makes them think you are a professional and that you care. So, you may not need it to work in Germany but it certainly helps you to get and keep work in Germany.
So You Think You Can’t Dance?
Too bad. Many German Variete shows end (and sometimes start) with a big group dance number. They are almost always painful and tedious. It is the sneaky German way of making sure that, no matter how great you do that show, your ego is whimpering by the end.
Do The Germans Have A Sense Of Humor?
They totally do! In fact, as a culture they are way more willing to wait for a punchline than any other I’ve ever seen! They will happily sit through five minutes of story for one punchline. It’s incredible. They really go for character based comedy and they invented “schadenfruede”. Anything that results in something bad happening to someone else is usually great.
They don’t really go in for the absurd stuff. They will get too caught up on the premise. Vhat I vant to know is, who let ze chicken get to ze Autobhan in ze first place?!
Also the German language doesn’t have any rules for compounding words so Portmanteau rarely work. It’s not funny or clever to say “Hangry” when they can just remove the space between “hungry” and “angry” to make a new word.
The German Variety Theater is a huge and un-tapped market.
Working in Germany is a great way to make money, have job security, and gain a ton of experience.
You don’t need to speak German for your act to work in Germany.
But you do need to try to speak German to get to work as an act in Germany.
Most theaters will expect you to fill the traditional “clown” role in the show by performing some transisition acts as well as Two main acts.
Be prepared to dance.
People say the Germans don’t have a sense of humor but they don’t think that is funny.