Berlin and Back Again: a Comic’s Tale

As I write this I’m safely back in Montreal. The trip was amazing but I’m elated to be home and to quote Bilbo Baggins I was beginning to “feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread”. It’s strange leaving a lush warm climate like Lisbon to come to snowy Montreal, but I was excited to get back and even kind of giddy walking home from the metro, trudging through fresh snow. My apartment felt a tad off as my room was a mess from the friend who was staying in it, but it was such a relief to finally return to my own space.

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“Why is he referencing a book from 1954 that came out as a movie in 2001, either way it’s a dated reference” -Bilbo Baggins

When I wrote my last blog we were heading to a room to sublet for 3 weeks in Berlin. I found it though the cycle hosting website Warmshowers. We arrived on a Sunday evening. The streets were full and covered in graffiti and a little foreboding. At one point a man even got out of his car and beat another guy with a rolled up magazine. So Shannon and I were apprehensive about the neighbourhood we were about to stay in.

We had to climb 4 flights of stairs with our bags and bikes. Parking them in the entrance, and we began to look around the space that would be our home for the next 3 weeks. Elias, the young man who’s room we were subletting, had taken mediocre pictures. We thought we were renting just a wee bedroom, but to our chagrin we had a massive living room to ourselves as well. Our roommate for the stay was Christian, an astoundingly kind young German musician who was an absolute delight to live with. One night he took us to a crazy anarchist compound that was an abandoned building complex occupied by squatters, where we watched a live sludge metal show.

 

 

 

The Berlin arts scene and the city itself were incredibly vibrant. I hit up some “open mics” many of which that had 50 people eagerly in attendance. On one of the last days in Berlin my fiend from my home town Kevin produced a music show in an amazing venue that had almost a 1000 people show up!

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Kevin packed this place out, maybe there will even be a comedy show here in 2019?!?!

The city of Berlin is charming and gorgeous. It feels lived in but hospitable, with canal networks and a wealth of parks. One major highlight was the Russian WW2 monument. It was one of the most stunning parks I have ever seen. The massive statue of a Russian solder with a sword holding a child and crushing a Swastika was easily one of the most bad ass things I’ve seen. The symmetry and lay out of the park made it feel like a place you would acquire a new epic weapon in a video game.

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Doesn’t this look like an area you’d find some sweet loot?

In terms of cycling highlights, I built Kevin a bike using some abandoned parts and a local bike co-op. I also built a bike for Matt (a musician I met in Edinburgh and randomly ran into in Berlin) out of a pile of thrown out bicycles. We also had to leave our bikes in Berlin as it was no longer feasible to get to our future destinations by bike in the time period. Fortunately Kevin was kind enough to store them in his basement and I will be back next year to continue joke pedalling Europe!

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Bringing Kevin his new steed.

One of the few low points was when Shannon was pick pocketed by a child on a busy street while we were eating dinner. The weirdest part was when I suddenly realized I was profiling every immigrant child as a potential suspect. Conducting oneself like a racist police force over one incident is a horrible feeling.

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Are these kids running for fun? Or are they fleeing the scene of the crime, sometimes it’s hard to tell…

Our next stop was Bern, Switzerland where we stayed with my friend Alan. In a classic case of things coming full circle,  I hosted Alan a number of years ago while I was at university in British Columbia. Both of us suspected our paths would cross again. He was my first encounter with a truly passionate cyclist and I was his first encounter with a idealistic hippie. We ended up changing each others outlooks on life for the better and were excited to reunited after a number of years.

Alan’s home was nestled in the Swiss country side we had a stunning place to stay in a massive old farm house with a gorgeous view of the valley, surrounded by farm land and ponies.

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View from Alan and Tara’s

Alan and his wife Tara treated us to a big highlight meal raclette. Maybe the best meal of our trip. It involves an astounding amount of cheese, a huge variety of toppings and you get your own personal grill to melt the cheese on.

 

 

 

I had also lucked out with some great gigs in Switzerland as an Australian comic connected me with a small tour that was happening. Awesomely enough my friend Imaan (whom I also met in Edinburgh) was headlining. So I got to middle for him in Basal, Zurich and Bern. Imaan stayed with us one night in Bern and we all went to a fantastic short film festival which was some of the most moving and entertaining cinema I have ever seen.

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Downtown Bern

It was again time for us to move on. So we headed to Basal where our flight was weirdly actually out of France. After months of hearing German and Swiss German it was a delight to a hear a language I mostly understood, French!

Our next stop was Barcelona. While in Berlin I made a new friend in a fellow comic named Daniel. Daniel was someone Shannon and I both felt a kindred connection with. He helped me line up a few sweet gigs in Barcelona as he was one of the founding members of the English scene there. Shannon had lined us up a great Air BNB, we were the only ones in it for the first few nights but some Quebecers joined us for the last few nights and made the place feel significantly less haunted. Barcelona was wonderful, warm and tropical, with exotic birds hanging out in the palm trees.

We often walked through the Gothic District which is the city’s oldest district. The architecture/design is gorgeous, imposing and ancient, which is why we decided to stay in an air bnb there. As I am quite cheap I insisted we find a budget friendly place and Shannon scored us one, which unfortunately had no windows and was by far the worst place we stayed on the trip. We did however hike up to the castle to get a stunning view of the city.

 

 

 

Comedy wise I managed to jump on a number of shows, including my favourite show of the trip and where I felt I had my strongest set. Two comics run a show in an old bank that’s been converted into a bar. They sold out the show and had 120 people crammed into this great space with low ceilings and the crowd sitting around the stage. It was one of those sets where everything landed and each bit just seemed to flow together. I left feeling really good about how my comedy was progressing and being a “big fish in a small pond” tends to boost your confidence significantly. Lucy and Hannah (the show runners) were very cool and we all went out for tapas one evening a few days later.

 

 

 

 

On our last night in Barcelona we stayed with a local comic named Matt. He had booked me on two other shows. Matt and I really hit it off and Shannon and Matt’s partner Marion also got along swimmingly. We crashed in their spare room and it was a really nice last night in the city.

Both drained, we headed to our final stop Lisbon. I had two random shows lined up and I knew the comedy scene was very new there. However, everyone encouraged us to go and I would say that the Portuguese people were the kindest folks in Europe. Lisbon was another stunning city, being both lush and vibrant and we hiked up to the castle one afternoon.

 

 

 

I had such little juice left that sight seeing was a low priority for me. The first place we stayed was a gorgeous old manor house with 12-14 feet vaulted ceilings that was run as an air bnb. Unfortunately there were bars on the streets below so neither Shannon nor I slept well.

Tensions we’re building as we were both tired and getting a little frustrated. Her parents were going to join us for a few days and I was a tad apprehensive. They were treating us to a super nice three bedroom air bnb that had a view of the city. We had the place to ourselves the first two nights. And when Shannon’s parents arrived they were a bit of a god send.

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View from Air BnB

I adore Shannon. She is bright, beautiful and intelligent. She has a voice that will sometimes calm me even at my most restless moments. We had lots of laughs and good times, but two months traveling together 24/7 can wear on people.

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Shannon’s favourite thing in Lisbon— a giant outdoor escalator!

So Shannon’s parents gave us a bit of a buffer zone. One afternoon we all went to Sintra— a world heritage sight outside of Lisbon. It’s by far one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Specifically we went to a place called Quinta da Regaleira where a millionaire with obsessions of masons, templars, symbology and potentially the occult had commissioned his massive property to be turned into what I can only describe as Rivendell the Elven city from Lord of the Rings.

 

 

 

Comedy wise I had two shows. The first was overall well run, and despite an undeveloped english scene it had lots of potential. I did 26 minutes to 100 people in a great little space. The second show was a few days later at the same venue and I encouraged people to check it out as I’d be doing 40 minutes for that one, the longest of my sets on the trip.

However, this one turned out to be a total shit show. Despite the organizers having the best intentions, it was impressively brutal. The host had almost no experience and there was 50 or so people in attendance including Shannon’s parents and a number of people from the previous show.

We had some jazz musicians who were great. They performed for 40 minutes, then a quick intermission. The host went up and said “now its time for comedy” and things immediately started to go off the rails. He then followed with some meandering material, zero crowd work and like 52 total seconds of being on stage. He’s new so it was fine. Then he brought up the first act who was doing slam poetry in Portuguese. The poet was charismatic and seemed like a nice fellow. Those who spoke Portuguese would offer the odd chuckle at the end of some of his versus. For whatever reason after he was done the host got up and said “hey you’re the only black guy in here, if it was 300 years ago you wouldn’t be performing on stage we would be auctioning you off” the audience and I were dumbfounded, then he just brought up the next act.

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Surely this will be the low point!

This is where things somehow got much worse. I had met the next comic outside and he seemed fine but this might be the worst set I can remember. There were no jokes, no laughs and tension that I found overwhelming. I flagged the producer and asked how long he was suppose to do “like 10 minutes” he replied. I suggested we get him off the stage but as the scene is super new they didn’t understand that you need a light to notify people to get the fuck off the stage. I gestured at the comic to get off and he gave us this look of “fuck off I’m doing my thing”. Unfortunately his “thing” was mostly rape jokes. It felt like an eternity though I would estimate it was in the 6-8 minutes range. Not a laugh was heard. This dude had the mic and the audience was in a hostage situation.

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This would have been a reasonable response from the audience

Rarely have I felt so uncomfortable. Shannon came and found me freaking out by the bar. The deafening silent and agonizing material was unbearable. I couldn’t watch him. I heard him try a joke that’s punchline was something like “then he slams his big black cock down”. He paused for laugher, which again there was none.

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this is fucking baaaaaddddd…….

When talking to Shannon’s mom after the show she said she wanted to boo at several points, but as she knew I was on the show she didn’t want to be rude. I discourage most heckling and often silence is enough for most comics to learn, however once in awhile folks your gut is going to tell you to boo someone and sometimes people might deserve it.

Some audience members rightly began to walk out. I was super anxious as this was my last set and the culmination of my last 3.5 months of work. Would it be fair to try and do 40 minutes of comedy to a group of severely traumatized people? The crowd members who were leaving came and said to me “dude we’ve seen you and we we’re excited but this is brutal”. I asked them to wait and that we would get this self indulgence unaware fuck wad off the stage. The host and producer were both new to comedy and trying to figure out how to make it work in a fledgling scene. We again motioned for him to get off the stage but he ignored us, I was so surprised that the audience had endured so much but everyone wanted this to end.

Then it hit me. I knew what to do to end this verbal diarrhoea. I began to clap. He looked at me with frustration and distain, but the whole audience quickly joined in. We triumphantly clapped him off stage.

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Yay his unbearable abomination of a set has ended because of our applause. He must realize it was a sign of discontent rather than support!

The host got back on stage and rather than address the horrendous mess we had all witnessed, he instead indulgently said “now it’s my turn” and began to try some of his material. I pulled the producer aside “dude I need to get up there”. He agreed and fortunately after a few minutes of zero laughs from the host he just randomly announced my name. I rushed to the mic and for some reason he continued introducing me while I was on stage trying to grab the mic.

I should add that the whole time the host was sitting in the FRONT row filming things on his phone. And the comic who had taken the biggest shit on stage I’ve ever seen was also still in the front row!

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I don’t always offend entire rooms but when I do I confidently sit in the front row…

I opened with “thanks for coming out people, and as from what you’ve seen so far comedy is hard” a laugh and little sigh of relief came from the shell shocked spectators. In the end I managed to do 41 minutes to an audience that had just seen some shit. Overall I was proud of what I was able to do. The guy continued to sit in the front row and after a few minutes I addressed him “dude you did 6 minutes of rape jokes, I’ve been doing this shit for 5 years now and you know how many I have in my set? None cause they are hard to write and can be traumatic.” I got a big applause from the audience.  I’m not going to censor anyone, but you’ve got to be aware, and this comic demonstrated a lack of awareness the likes I’ve never seen.

The level of the hosts incompetence and that comics bombing gave me so much stress that I mused to the audience that as a result of witnessing this “we would all collectively get diarrhoea”. In a bout of ludicrous irony when walking home with Shannon and her parents I had to dart into a bathroom as I almost shit myself somehow self fulfilling my diarrhoea prophecy.

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UH OH! I must have a severe intolerance to terrible comedy.

After the show there was a nice young man who watched the first show. He was from Edinburgh, Scotland, the very place my whole adventure started. He came up to me and said “hey man good work tonight. We’ve been to the Fringe and we’ve seen some shit. But I have never seen anything as bad as that first chunk. You handled yourself really well considering the hole you were in. That’s impressive”. That compliment meant a lot and it was an ideal book end to this whole crazy adventure.

This blog was a long one and I tried to cut it down. I really appreciate anyone who’s been reading this and I hope it’s been entertaining. The aim is for this to be funny and informative but it’s also a diary for me to look back on and relive the trip.

Thanks to all the people who helped me along the way. Especially to my lovely girlfriend Shannon who gets credit for all the photos. Despite numerous ups and downs she helped me grow in the last few months and I’m grateful to have her in my life.

I will 100% be back in Europe again next year. This is as confident and competent as I’ve ever felt as a comic. And to all my Canadian people keep your eyes peeled this spring as I am looking to bring a pretty sweet show across Canada. Currently trying hard to work out the logistics.

Thanks for reading,

Qapla,

Dion

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