Dutch envelope-pusher announces runs at Soho and LST
Hans Teeuwen is one of the most remarkable comedians I’ve ever seen, so there were Fabrizio Ravanelli-style celebrations at LiF Towers upon learning that he’s back in the UK after a six-year break.
In his native Netherlands he sings in jazz and cabaret clubs – he being a brilliant musician – but in the UK he’s mainly known for his unique comedy stylings, after he did a load of gigs here between 2007 and 2010. During that period I saw him do three solo shows and I continue to be one of those people who bang on about how incredible he was. I will not be silenced. A DVD was made from his London shows at that time, and it’s currently going for £30 on Amazon. £30, for a DVD, in 2016.
If you’ve not seen Teeuwen before, he’s a bugger to describe. We can throw genres out there – absurdism, vaudeville, musical comedy, abstracted storytelling – and there are plenty of people to compare him to: Andy Kaufman certainly, Stewart Lee in deconstructivist mode, Vic and Bob for the silliness, Dr Brown in his child-like appeal and how he plays with sound and language (I would also throw Eric Cantona and Dr Seuss in there). Plus, there are videos (see below) of Teeuwen doing his stuff.
But as with the best comedians, his shows are an immersive experience that can’t easily be lifted on to the page. I know how annoying that sounds but it is true.
That’s not to say he always gets it on the nose, comedically. As with Kaufman and Lee he is the sort of comic who has the capacity to wilfully wind up an audience, and try their patience. His desire to surprise and provoke appears to be as strong as his desire to get laughs. It’s the sort of contrarianism you can get away with if you can deliver in spades elsewhere, like when Dylan or Bowie released shit albums.
In that sense, I don’t think Teeuwen sees himself solely as a comedian. I see him more as someone who’s performing some kind of experiment with the audience, trying to access something primal. Most musical comedians tend to parody style (Bill Bailey) or set up a funny premise (Rich Hall), but Teeuwen seems to prefer using rhythm to get people laughing. Rhythm. Like he’s some sort of comedy caveman. Similarly, words and movement are often stripped of all meaning and context before use, so become empty nodes that may or may not buzz your funny bone. It’s like he wants us to laugh purely on instincts, perhaps like how children laugh.
The palette he draws from isn’t restricted to comedy, either. I interviewed him for LiF in May 2010, and if I hadn’t lost 95% of the website in a catastrophic clerical error in 2014, I’d link to it. We spoke about his biggest influences on him as an artist and his answers were: Andy Kaufman, Mozart, Bridget Bardot, Lionel Messi, and Orson Welles/Francis Ford Coppola/Stanley Kubrick (rolled into one; bit cheeky mate). On Kaufman, he talked about “creating something beautiful in a world of hostility”; on the influence of film he said he liked “not having to build bridges between the bits that you do – bang, do this, then bang, do that”. That explains the discrete bittiness of his shows, which is a far cry from seamlessness you get from most British stand-ups.
Onstage, Teeuwen is a master of commitment to … well, whatever he’s doing. That could be making a jingle out of repeating his name, squishing a Mars bar with a sock puppet, rapping a homage to Dr Hemmington, singing a Nostradamus song, or giving God a handjob. He’s a man who takes his silliness deadly seriously, and that allows him to create the little worlds that he sucks us into.
What’s surprising about his act is that there’s remarkably little religion in it, considering he is well-known for his anti-religion/pro-free speech stance. He has been outspoken about Islam (though not exclusively Islam, his beef appears to be with all organised religion) and he even ended up on a Dutch TV show called Bimbos and Burqas having a vigorous discussion about offence/free speech. But when it comes to his live shows, he keeps things mainly nonsensical. That said, he does sneak some satire in under the radar, using wafer-thin irony to criticise misogyny and FGM, and abstract grunting (if I recall correctly) to target religion.
The trouble with all of this, is that it was a long time ago. Teeuwen doesn’t perform much of the funny stuff in the Netherlands, and six years is a long time in comedy, so he returns to the UK as a bit of an unknown quantity. Maybe these days he does hack material about going on holiday.
There’s only one way to find out.