10 fév. 2022A Guide to Stand-Up Comedy in Luxembourg
The rituals of stand-up comedy, this codified performance art linked to the most ancient forms of prehistoric storytelling, see practitioners grab a microphone and bare their souls, satirise the ills of society or talk about their penises. Whether brows are high or low, vocal chords tend to tremble with laughter.
Unbeknownst to many Luxembourgers, the country has a thriving stand-up comedy scene. It was set up by and mostly caters to the English-speaking expat community, although the odd show in Luxembourgish, French and Russian is novel no more. Two clubs compete for the attention of the public. There is Luxembourg Comedy, run by Deepu Dileepan, who continues the legacy of Joe Eagan’s foundational work. And there is the more recent LLOL, Luxembourg Laughing Out Loud, run by Carlos Salomon. Both invite touring comics from abroad and organise weekly, free open mics, on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. Open mics see veterans try out new material, finetune their routine or invite daredevils from the audience onto the stage.
Today, I talk to Sundeep Bhardwaj, one of said veterans. Sundeep is a banker by day and a comic by night. He has performed internationally, including at the renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We meet at the Grund pub Updown. If the Lascaux caves are too much of a drive, come by on a Thursday night and enjoy the primitive art on display in Updown’s basement-cave, between its dimly-lit stone walls. In the conversation that follows, Sundeep sheds some light on stand-up comedy in Luxembourg.
Guide to stand-up comedy in Luxembourg.
I hope that can be you tonight, Sundeep. We’re at Updown. Imagine I’m someone who’s never been to a show before, can you walk me through it?
In Luxembourg, it’s a very casual affair. Not like open mics in some of the bigger cities around Europe or around the world. Here, one of the things you’ll see is that there are lot of comedians and one of the rules that we use in Luxembourg Comedy at Updown is “You show up, you go up”. This is what Deepu says. There’s no need to sign up, there’s no need to send an e-mail. If there are twelve comedians, everybody goes up on stage. At the same time, you can see all of the comics are working very hard to write and come up with new material. It’s a mix, because the other open mic which happens at Bei der Gare, it’s a completely different atmosphere. They’re not so strict on the time limits. I’ve seen people go on for like twenty minutes. If you’re going to an open mic in Luxembourg for the first time, you walk in, it’s going to be completely unexpected. It’s going to be a real mixed bag of very different comedic styles. It’ll also feel very casual, as if you’re just with a bunch of friends.
I was going to ask you about the differences between Luxembourg Comedy and LLOL, but you already went into that.
There are a few more differences. One is the venue. This venue for Luxembourg Comedy has a real comedy club atmosphere. It’s down in the basement. There’s very little space. Low ceiling. People are all very close to each other. It’s a little more professional in my opinion because things are run very tight over here. And it has a very different clientele. The other one is near the Gare. It’s a huge space, so sometimes, there are more comedians than audience members. Put these two open mics together, it gives you an amazing opportunity to try jokes in two very different audiences and spaces, you know?
© Mohsen Hosseini
Writing material is a big part of the process, right? What’s your approach to writing?
My approach is to start from my own experiences. I literally structured my first hour of material for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival based on everything that has happened in my life from the time I met my wife to the current time. So it was just writing down your experiences and then sitting down and trying to make it funny. Some of the material is, I’d call it a little deeper, with more meaning and talking about racism and raising kids. You know, travelling to different countries and experiencing that as an Indian. So for me it was completely experience-based. I do very little observational comedy. I always start by writing down my story of what happened and then it goes through a few iterations of, ok, this is part of the story, but it doesn’t feel like a part of the story when I’m telling it to people. After performing it for the third, fourth, fifth time, you figure out what to remove. So the first time I tell a new story, it’s a really frank account of what happened and then I remove stuff, make it funnier, add a few things that are not real. That’s my approach.
Can you consciously remember the moment you decided to become a comedian?
Yeah. I used to be part of Toastmasters. It’s a public speaking club. I used to do a lot of speeches there and I won a couple of Humorous Speech contests in my club, then in Luxembourg, then in the surrounding region like Belgium and France. And then a few people came and told me: “Oh, you should do stand-up comedy.” And then, the first time I came to see an open mic was when I went, wow, ok, I have to do this. You see a bunch of people being funny and you also see people who are not funny trying to do something funny. Both of them are equally encouraging. Dave Chapelle was once doing this show and somebody in the audience told him: “Watching your show inspired me to do stand-up comedy.” And Dave Chapelle said: “Well, that’s not a really good endorsement of my comedy. That you’re just sitting in the audience thinking: I can do this.” But it is one of the biggest motivators for stand-up comedians, when you see somebody doing well, but equally someone who is not doing well and you think that you’re funnier than them. Why not give it a try?
There’s a bit of a competitive edge to it.
So it wasn’t a childhood dream. You just stumbled across it.
Yeah, I just stumbled across it. And I started very late. I started comedy when I was thirty-nine years old.
If your childhood self would see you on stage, what would he think?
He would be really shocked, like my family and everybody else who saw my stuff on video and on Facebook and saw my posters. When I went to do an India tour, they were like: “Where did this come from?” I used to never speak up in front of any one of these people. They thought I was a quiet, serious guy. It would have been a shocker, seeing that this was going to be my future, as a child.
Does the step towards Toastmasters club come from wanting to speak up?
It comes from my health problem. I have polio. For a really long time, like twenty, twenty-five years, I tried to hide my disability from people. When you have an insecurity, you try to kind of hide all the time. Speaking in front of people, standing on stage, where everybody can see your disability, is the furthest thing from your mind. When I got the opportunity to do this, it was like therapy. It’s one of the best ways to get rid of your insecurities. It was for me. It was a big challenge to try and do it. The first time it worked, it was great, and I started to write material about the disability. But then again, same thing. It was really serious and I had to make it funny. And once it was funny, it was the best thing I ever did for myself. To just get up on stage, because when you walk on to the stage… When I walk, I limp. And people would see me and they’d be distracted. Unless I address the elephant in the room, they’re not going to really listen to the jokes. So one of my first things that I always do on stage is talk about my disability, so it gets out of the way. Make everybody comfortable. But going back to your question, I started trying to give myself a challenge. Like, can I actually do this? Face my… demons, let’s say. That’s how it started.
That’s very inspiring.
© Mohsen Hosseini
Do you see other comedians doing that as well, addressing their weaknesses?
Yeah, you see it in a few comedians. It’s not a very big thing. Actually, many comedians don’t talk about their personal experiences. A lot is observational comedy and stuff. And you can see a lot of people struggling, like, oh, I got this great story about my family, about my mother, going through certain problems and… the struggle is, how do you make it funny? You can do a TED talk, but the biggest problem is making it funny. It can take really long time and it can put people off from talking about it. I see a few people doing it. For whom it’s really visible, like a physical thing, I see them doing it a lot more, because they have to address it. I saw some guy on Britain’s Got Talent or something, a guy who can’t speak but he uses a microphone like, a recorded voice on a thing, but it’s really funny. He talks about his disability. And if you see a guy who’s very short, like, I don’t know …
A small person.
Yeah, a small person. There are very famous comedians who are doing this right now and I’ve performed with some of them in Poland. There are some famous American comedians who are like that. They obviously have to talk about it. It’s part of their routine. I think it’s a lot more difficult for people to address issues which are not visible. A mental, psychological issue or something in your family, it’s not necessarily at the top of your priorities to talk about it.
What do you hate the most about stand-up comedy?
That’s a tough question. I can’t think about anything that I hate about stand-up comedy, but being a comic, it’s very competitive, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Yeah, I don’t know.
So it’s not an unhealthy relationship, a love/hate thing?
Oh no, it’s not unhealthy at all. For me, it’s been a lifesaver. It’s been really cool.
Getting some Sun-deep answers here.
(Laughs) No, it’s like this: When you work in a bank in Luxembourg and you’ve got this whole weird lifestyle where you’re stuck in this rat race, working, doing stuff that you see in movies, you know, people are just dragging themselves through life, like in The Matrix; this is the blue pill or the red pill. Every evening, you escape and do something that’s fun, that’s creative. I’ve always been a very creative person, so I’ve dabbled, I still do, at writing, I do photography, I acted in this movie, this series. It’s on Netflix now, which is funny.
Exactly. And during this whole pandemic thing, I did a rap song, I made a video, so it’s just like, where else can I be creative? Stand-up comedy. It’s been great.
Thank you so much. Any shoutouts you want to give?
To all the people organising here, in Luxembourg, all the comics, everybody. Deepu’s doing this stuff in Luxembourg Comedy, he’s kept it going, but all the other comedians as well. Like, today I’m not performing here, but I came out to hang out with people, which is such a good way to get away from the daily grind. Come here, just shoot the shit with people, talk, grab a beer. All the comedians are just amazing, very supportive people. That’s it.