Caro Meets Comedy Interview

Michael Mittermeier: Das Blackout

By | Published on Thursday 7 April 2016


Those of you who haven’t yet been fortunate enough to catch German stand up Michael Mittermeier in action will get that chance when he heads to Soho Theatre this month for a run of his critically acclaimed show ‘Das Blackout’.
He’s pretty well known in his native country, and has been making waves over in the US of late, so I thought I’d better put some questions to him now, before he gets too famous and important to talk to me.

CM: For those who sadly have not seen it yet, can you tell us a bit about ‘Das Blackout’? What are the themes?
MM: First, I have the authority from my aunty Angela to grant British people asylum in Germany. Yes we also can. And the show has a wide variety of topics. From my experiences as a German comedian in the UK and USA, to my firm belief that our end will be a zombie apocalypse. You will learn about German history after 1945: decades, for you, like the Bermuda Triangle of time. I’m gonna show how universal alcohol can be, because as a Bavarian, I’m from the base of the Oktoberfest Marines. There are so many questions I have to ask: Are Donald Trump and Boris Johnson twins who were separated at birth? Is Austria the nuclear energy nirvana? Greeks or Japanese at the end of the food chain? Will it be Bob Ross who will switch off the lights? And who the fuck is Bob Ross?

CM: Do you think cultural stereotyping is a harmful thing? Is it your intention, with this show, to make people think twice about making generalisations about people?
MM: It is only harmful if you let it harm you. There will always be cultural stereotyping, but when I, as a German comedian, make British people laugh hard, your cornerstone of German stereotypes crumbles. So now you will have to build better cars like us.

CM: How much do you think these archetypes actually arise out of national characteristics, rather than prejudice?
MM: These archetypes arise very often because of the lack of knowledge about the target group. I’m gonna tell stories about me growing up in the 70s in Germany. The audience get the picture of – yes I am a human being like you from the island, except for the fact that I was born in a tank and am wearing white combat socks. And you will learn that there is a dangerous R.A.F. out there which has nothing to do with your nice heroes.

CM: Presumably you have played this show to international audiences. Is the response different in different places? Are there jokes that work in one language but not the other?
MM: I always do current stories and improvisation about things which are going on in the country I perform in. But there are topics which have a different temperature in different countries. When I go on stage in the USA and ask: “Are any Jews in the house?” it is always a big thing, and it is like a laugh bomb – tick tick two seconds – and then boom the audience goes up. It’s not really a big topic here in the UK.

Then of course Americans are not so interested in whether England will leave the European Union or not. Okay, me too. No, that’s not true, I really will miss you. It would be sad if we have to build a wall like the one Donald Trump’s planning to build between America and Mexico. Though at least we Germans know a lot about walls. Donald, call us!

One of the best jokes I ever made in German just doesn’t work in English. It is about the fact that I call ‘tramp stamps’ on women’s lower backs ‘ass antlers’, because it looks like it. So if you do doggy style with a tramp-stamped girl, it looks like a deer is sucking your sausage. Not funny? Okay, so even my 134th attempt didn’t work out.

CM: I’d be terrified of doing anything that involved standing up and speaking to people in a second language. Did you find it scary to begin with? Has it got easier with time?
MM: It was scary in the beginning, but I like the risk of always crossing new frontiers. I did my first gig in English in New York in 2003, and I was shitting my pants, but the audience laughed and for me it was like an epiphany, making people laugh in another language. The personal benefit is so huge that you just do it and don’t think about what could happen.

Once in Capetown I did a routine about ugly English men. A big guy got very angry, he shouted at me: “You fucking German Nazi, I’m gonna beat you up! Two world wars – one world cup!” So I shouted back: “Fuck you! I’d rather lose two world wars than shoot penalties like you English!” So his friends held him back, because they found my retort funnier than his verbal attack. Thank god, I think he would have killed me. And it is indeed easier after many English speaking gigs.

CM: You’ve taken a couple of shows up to the Edinburgh Festival. How did you enjoy your time there? Will you go back?
MM: I loved my two Fringe runs. For four weeks it was like being in an extreme comedy monastery, with a lot of friends and whisky. I definitely will go back with my new show ‘Wild’.

CM: You’ve done lots of TV stuff, haven’t you, in Germany? How does it compare to touring stand up shows?
MM: Nothing compares to live stand up. I never did a whole TV series, just live appearances and some TV specials. TV is a good forum to speak about politics and take a stand in front of millions of views. In the last couple of years I started huge shit-storms among German right-wing extremists. They cannot deal with satire and humour. That’s my weapon against them.

I also did some documentaries; one, for example, about the brave Burmese comedian Zarganar who was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison. Sometimes as a comedian you have to go into reality. It was a life changing experience for me (not least because I nearly got arrested in Burma for illegal filming). But I’m proud that we played a small part of getting him out of prison.

CM: Are you looking forward to being in London? Other than performing, what will you do while you are here?
MM: I love coming to London, and I love the Soho Theatre, a perfect place for one hour stand up shows. I’m gonna meet a lot of friends and colleagues in London and have a good time.

CM: What’s up next for you?
MM: I’m in the middle of a big tour of Germany, Austria and Switzerland with my new German show ‘Wild’, which continues until the end of next year, and I am doing a run of ‘Das Blackout’ in New York in the summer. I’m also writing a book, ‘The World For Beginners’. So life isn’t boring…

Michael Mittermeier performs ‘Das Blackout’ at Soho Theatre from 11-17 Apr. See the venue website here for more info and to book tickets.

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Picture: Thomas Schweigert