Dutch Courage: After the Murder of His Friend and Collaborator Theo Van Gogh, Comedian Hans Teeuwen Inherited the Title of Holland's Defender-in-Chief of Free Speech. He Talks to Brian Logan

By Logan, Brian | New Statesman (1996), January 14, 2008 | Go to article overview

Dutch Courage: After the Murder of His Friend and Collaborator Theo Van Gogh, Comedian Hans Teeuwen Inherited the Title of Holland's Defender-in-Chief of Free Speech. He Talks to Brian Logan


Logan, Brian, New Statesman (1996)


Some comedians have nothing interesting to say about the world--and say it interminably. "Their message," says the Dutch stand-up Hans Teeuwen, is that, "'We have so much; in Africa they have nothing. Oh, the injustice! Let's be nice to each other.'" Teeuwen is the opposite: he has urgent, insightful things to say about the world, but (at least in his comedy) refuses to do so. His absurdist stand-up set was the most electrifying comedy at last year's Edinburgh Fringe. Yet its most remarkable quality was its silence on matters political, given that Teeuwen has been a militant campaigner for free speech in the Netherlands since the assassination of the film-maker Theo van Gogh, his friend and colleague, by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Muslim zealot, in 2004.

Van Gogh's killing has become a cause celebre in the tortured tale of Dutch multiculturalism, as have the controversial careers of the politicians Pim Fortuyn (who was murdered in 2002) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, with Holland emerging as the stage on which the drama of Europe's accommodation with Islam is being most vividly played out. Van Gogh was first shot and then had his throat slit with a kitchen knife on an Amsterdam street after collaborating with the lapsed Muslim MP Hirsi Ali on a film, Submission, that attacked the treatment of women under Islam.

The murder fired up Holland's already high-octane debate about "multi-culti" and Enlightenment values. It also turned the spotlight on those who, like Teeuwen (who made the film Interview with van Gogh in 2003), shared the slain director's passion for plain speaking and might react angrily to his death.

Teeuwen's response was a curious one. Since van Gogh's killing, Holland's best-loved comedian has not performed comedy in his home country. Nor will he do so again. He denies this is in protest at the murder, claiming simply to be seeking new challenges--such as launching an English-speaking stand-up career and rebranding himself in Holland as a Sinatra-inspired lounge singer. Last summer, his fellow Dutch comedian Theo Maassen told me, "[Hans] is scared about what might happen if he says what's on his mind", and Teeuwen admitted that "we're running out of big mouths in Holland, and some people look at me as the next big mouth in line". But he later broke his silence to speak at the opening of a memorial to Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam, where his a cappella burlesque on religion ("Christians and goat-fuckers, everyone participates/Jesus and Muhammad on a public toilet") reassured doubters that this is one big mouth who won't be shut up for long.

What he won't do is address politics in his comedy. "Artistically, for me, that's not interesting," Teeuwen says. Judging by the 20 minutes he performed at Edinburgh (his forthcoming London show will be an hour long), he prefers Dadaist nonsense--albeit nonsense performed with such psychotic commitment that it feels as urgent as the Apocalypse. "When you do surreal stuff," says Teeuwen, "you have to give it some sort of necessity." In Edinburgh, he applied this rule to a routine in which his failed-magician father struggles to teach a rabbit to talk, to a wickedly catchy ditty about Nostradamus, and to a remarkable aural symphony of indecision as the comedian is forced to state a preference between black-and-white or colour films.

I usually have zero tolerance for so-called "surreal" stand-up, but here I was pinned to my seat by the G-force of his comic personality. That doesn't surprise Teeuwen, a scholar of humour who thinks hard about what makes nonsense funny. His aim is "to constantly think, 'What state is the audience in now? What do they least expect?'" This is not an intellectual process: "Comedy is more interesting when you don't know what it's about but somehow it strikes a chord." Instead, Teeuwen scores his act like discordant music. "There's a rhythm in the way people talk--all those gestures and intonations and pronunciations. And I use that rhythm without any logic. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dutch Courage: After the Murder of His Friend and Collaborator Theo Van Gogh, Comedian Hans Teeuwen Inherited the Title of Holland's Defender-in-Chief of Free Speech. He Talks to Brian Logan
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.