How did Bill Burr start his career

Text: Bernhard Hiergeist
Photos: Sebastian Wells

I. GERMANY BOMBS

Hans Thalhammer had actually already lost his laughter. In terms of humor, he is nowhere to be found in Germany in 2016: the carnival delivers the same hand-made speeches, cabaret artists the same reminders and the same comedy staff does their same work on television. But then Thalhammer grows a funny bone.

Back then he had time and some money on his side. Thalhammer is 33, a trained carpenter, has worked here and there and has just closed his own company. So he doesn't do much at first: he sits around at home in Munich and watches video clips of stand-up comedians. Especially in English. He brings the Americans and British into his own apartment via YouTube or Netflix. One, two, many. For a year, he says, he was only lying in bed with a laptop.

So a funny bone. To grow a funny boneThat's what the Americans call it. Thalhammer sees and analyzes. Why do viewers laugh at one joke and not laugh at another? He develops a feeling for gags. He discovers entertainment that challenges him, that scares him off. It's a new world and Thalhammer wants to be part of it.

Of course, they are further ahead elsewhere than in Munich. Thalhammer takes a look around the Berlin stand-up scene and thinks about it: Can't that be transferred to Bavaria?

A narrow cellar in Munich's Maxvorstadt a year and a half later. Thalhammer is in Wooden crane on a stage that is more of a podium. He built it in the corner himself, not a square meter. In front of it a small bar with a bartender. 50 people sit crowded in the dark. Yes, continue is the name of the event. Thalhammer is on stage as a presenter: once, twice, fifty times.

Even the fiftieth time, he explains the principle: Everyone can go on stage for seven minutes. Experienced comedians who want to work on gags. Or people who are trying this out for the first time. Thalhammer takes the microphone from the stand, swings the cable. “Great careers have already started here. And some careers were already over after an appearance here. ”He gets his first laughs. “You will see: sometimes that's good. And sometimes it's not so good. But please give the comedians all applause and respect for the fact that they dare to do it. "

The whole evening is one lucky bag. The audience doesn't know whether they will laugh or be embarrassedly silent. No matter what the answer is: you have something to tell.

A year ago it was Yes, continue one of the few opportunities to perform in Munich. Today you can do it almost every day of the week. This is not only the case in the other big cities, Hamburg, Cologne, Berlin. A network of shows spreads across the country, there are also events in Leipzig, Bamberg, Mannheim or Plettenberg in the Sauerland.

Artists like Hazel Brugger, Felix Lobrecht, Tahnee or Shahak Shapira are no longer only known to insiders. A cultural change is evident in all of this: Stand-up is perceived as an art form. As a craft that everyone can learn, as a skill that everyone can hone, and as a philosophy that everyone can discuss.

It is clear where the scene is looking: to the USA. In May 2019, German Netflix has 207 so-called comedy specials in its program, most of them by American artists such as Bill Burr, Amy Schumer or Dave Chapelle. If that's not enough, just watch the comedians live. They used to avoid Germany on their tours. They are now filling halls here.

On a journey of discovery through the country, one realizes that stand-up comedy is changing the way people laugh in Germany. Where is the humor going in the country?

Stand-up is art. And philosophy.
And craft that everyone can learn
That such a development doesn't happen overnight and that it can be painful can be seen in the basement of the Wooden crane observe. Thalhammer handed the microphone over to a brave 17-year-old who now has to learn one of the iron laws of stand-up comedy: Everybody bombs. Everyone can and will fail on stage. Everyone will drop bad jokes like bombs on the audience that they would like to hide in the bunker.

The ventilation hums softly, and every cough and throat clearing can be clearly heard. The guy on stage gets tangled up in his notes on the smartphone, then in his mind. Those who are sensitive to moods gradually get a queasy feeling in their stomach. Frowns, irritated sidelong glances in the audience. The jokes might catch fire with the buddies in the schoolyard. Not here.

What the young man delivers can be found embarrassing. But you have to admit: That's brave, damn it.

At some point, seven long minutes are over, the comedian goes off. Polite applause. It's hard to say who is more relieved - the artist or the audience. The 17-year-old hands the microphone over to presenter Thalhammer.


“First appearance,” calls Thalhammer. "So tell me: what was it?"

Yes, what was the reason? This is difficult to answer in retrospect - but why should you think about it? All great comedians are alike, every good comedian is good in his own way.

The young comedian has meanwhile disappeared into the darkness of the cellar. From the crowd it comes out cautiously: "I should have looked at this more often, better prepared ..."

“Stand-up is difficult, preparation is not wrong,” says Thalhammer. “But I'll tell you what: people want to laugh. Nobody here is interested in your feelings. ”The moderator is getting the laughs now.

“The second appearance will be completely different,” says Thalhammer. "Or not. You will see that then. There is also something good about it: if you are bad, nobody remembers you. "

No Bill Burr has fallen from the sky yet, of course. It is important to leave the comfort zone, to try something and perhaps to fail. Where else is the experience supposed to come from?

Germany has a long cultural history of humor, but it also has a difficult relationship with it. Before laughing, it must first be clarified about what. Cabaret? Or comedy? Only then do you worry about whether something is really funny. You can forget to laugh about that.

It was easier to be funny
In the past few years a third category has been added: the satirical debate. There is hardly any humor in Germany without an instruction leaflet, without an accompanying debate in the features section. Can you make jokes about women with double names? Is it allowed to run for satire in elections like “The PARTY”? Are you allowed to joke about an AfD member whose swimming trunks have been stolen? It was easier to be funny.

Humor is usually no longer to be had as humor, but rather as self-affirmation and demarcation. On the one hand: jokes about the AfD, Donald Trump or East Germans. On the other: do-gooders, "lying press", social justice warriors. One thinks that cabaret should flourish in such politically heated times. But this thought is deceptive.