According to Wikipedia, The Netherlands has some 370 of such nationwide known Dutch professionals, while English readers only know about 25 of similar experts throughout the whole world. What unique work do these hundreds of people the best the world over?
Sorry for the suspense, but first we need to talk about Dutch Pride. When you ask the Dutch to talk about their greatness, you generally get no answer. When hard pressed, they might say that the Delta Works are great, but then one of them will say: after hundreds of people drowned.
In the WW II, the Dutch had some bad experiences with Nationalism and Militarism. The Dutch rather keep out of strife and power games. That’s better for commerce. My theory is that that is how Dutch Pride got hidden five hundred years ago. Too much chauvinism is bad for business and wide world trading.
However, I can prove that the Dutch have Pride, but hidden so well that they themselves don’t realize it. My proof? When an American says: O, those Dutch, we are instantly livid.
Dutch arrogance actually made that the Dutch languages is only spoken by some 20 million people, while the same superiority complex in the British made English such a widespread language. How so? The Dutch felt that their language was much too lofty for the aboriginals in their colonies, so they kept it to themselves. However, the neighboring Islanders felt bad for the peoples they occupied and decided to bring them some civilization by teaching them English.
Who are these special people?
So now we understand that the Dutch are not braggers. But not only from humbleness do the Dutch stay silent about these mystery workers only famous to them. The Dutch simply do not think that these professional are anything to boast about to foreigners. They won’t talk about them to them, except when they need to explain their absence and unavailability for going to them on an evening. They will not drag tourists with them. They have no clue that this is sensational. But among themselves, the Dutch will speak about it with much passion and fondness.
No, I’m not talking about legal hashish, which the Dutch do not touch so much, because when it’s legal it’s not half the fun. Neither do I hint at the red-light district, which is visited more by tourists than by the locals, for the same reason. Nor do I refer to flower bulb farmers or windmill owners – the Dutch would not know hundreds of them by name. Yes, we had Johan Kruijff, but the Dutch have no trouble talking about our sporty heroes. I’ve left The Netherlands 25 years ago, so I don’t know most of the new generation, but I still would recognize pictures of 70 of these Dutch masters I’m going to talk about.
One of the problems in talking about these stars is that they work in Dutch and any attempt to translate their profession is doomed to fail. The Dutch use a French word to label them: “cabaretiers“. Their work is known as “cabaret” or also as small art (“kleinkunst”) in contrast with the “real” art: classical theatre, drama.
Dutch cabaretiers perform on stage. The greatest would have one-(wo)man shows. They may tell stories – but they are not merely story tellers. They may sing, but they are not merely singers. They may act – but they are not merely actors. They probably make you laugh like crazy, and sometimes cry – but they are not merely humorists or clowns.
Maybe they are more than all of the above because they are educators and activists. The most defining is that they are moralists. They try to improve their audience, the country and the world. To make you laugh, cry, think and be happy again.
The latter is most important because rain hits the Low Countries 364 days a year (last year the summer fell on a Wednesday) and Calvinism is still hitting hard in the Northern Netherlands, despite rampant secularization. Yes, the Dutch are friendly, but also over-serious. One professor Psychiatry of mine (the famous Prof. P.C. Kuiper) suggested that depression must be a sort of a mental relative of the common cold: everyone seems to suffer from it. I add: and it can hit you any moment and there is no cure and so you just need to let the disease run its course.
If they would have worked in English, cabaretiers would have been known the world over. The tragedy of the world’s minority languages. (More astonishing is that there are within Dutch hundreds of dialects. I knew a guy from the Province of Limburg who said that he could recognize from someone’s dialect from which of the 20 sections of his city of birth someone was.)
Would it not be more efficient if just all people would begin to speak the same language? This might be more efficient, but a mother tongue and a dialect make you extra connected to where home was, form an identity, are an important part of a culture, connect you to history, and erasing that is cultural genocide. The Dutch without their cabaret would stop being the Dutch.
Types of Cabaret
Now I will show you the types of cabaret that Wikipedia presents in English. And under that, I will show you the same from the Dutch Wikipedia. The difference: in Dutch there are names connected to the types. The Dutch would never say: We don’t need this comedian – we already have one who does more or less the same. If they were good, there was a place for them.
Cabaret can be roughly divided in 10 different types. However, these are artificial dividing lines; cabaret shows are most of the time a compound of elements from the different types.
The cabaret performer plays with language, sometimes poetic, but often is he or she rock hard and hateful.
The cabaret performer analyses in his/her stubborn manner actual, social and political topics.
The cabaret performer tells an often slightly absurd story with a moral packed in it.
The cabaret performer plays with music, for example by twisting or combining familiar melodies.
The cabaret performer tells (seemingly) nonsensical and absurd stories and plays idiotic types.
The emphasis is less on text in the show of this cabaret performer, and relies more on acrobatic stunts and jokes with props and devices.
Here the cabaret performer eludes on his ‘liberating through laughter’ role. By bypassing on laughter and applause, is the cabaret performer waving his unloading function away and refers the audience to himself, by which the audience stops being his audience and is led back to independence.
An iteration of storytelling cabaret
The cabaret performer quickly switches between the different styles/types of cabaret, types, or songs.
In this the cabaret performer is a guest at a government, institution or a company, and he/she directs his/her satire to the subject on location.
Now in Dutch:
Cabaret valt grofweg in de volgende tien soorten te onderscheiden. Dit zijn echter gekunstelde scheidslijnen; cabaretvoorstellingen zijn dikwijls een samenstelling van elementen uit de verschillende soorten.
De cabaretier vertelt (schijnbaar) onzinnige en absurde verhaaltjes en speelt idiote typetjes.
Voorbeeld: Toon Hermans, Hans Teeuwen, Urbanus, Najib Amhali, Bert Visscher, Andre van Duin, Tineke Schouten.
Hier onttrekt de cabaretier zich aan zijn ‘door de lach bevrijdende’ rol. Met het omzeilen van lach en applaus, ziet de cabaretier af van zijn ontladende functie en verwijst hij het publiek naar zichzelf, waardoor het publiek ophoudt publiek te zijn en wordt teruggeleid naar de eigen zelfstandigheid. Voorbeeld: het Spinvis-pauzeprogramma in de theatertournee van 2005.
Vergeleken met het Nederlandse cabaret is het theatrale element bij stand-upcomedy beperkt. In plaats van langere nummers en muzikale onderdelen bestaat het slechts uit korte humoristische anekdotes.
Voorbeeld: Raoul Heertje, Jörgen Raymann.
cabaret op maat
De cabaretier is te gast bij een overheid, instelling, of bedrijf en richt zijn satire op het onderwerp ter plekke.
Some more names
Wim Kan was my hero throughout my youth. He became most famous for his political satire. Unfortunately for foreigners, every page of his comic monologue (“conference”) text would take six pages to explain all the references to people, historical or political issues and puns. But he could also talk for twenty minutes about nothing. About one empty chair in the packed house. Or a word he made up but pretended to be existing.
Not as well as Toon Hermans, because he could do it for a whole evening. You might not understand his jokes, but when you listen to him on YouTube, you hear his tone of understatement and how people laugh non-stop.
Wim Sonneveld had a phenomenal warm singing voice, so he left us dozens of beautiful song interpretations. However, he also became famous for hilarious sketches, in which he plays one of two odd (or not so odd) types.
But next to the Great Three, there were dozens of minor stars, and many of them did remarkable things too; and besides the minor stars hundreds of starlets. I’ll name you a dozen not mentioned above, without saying that the ones not mentioned were any less important. BTW: quite amazing that there are more leading stars than the three dozen mentioned before.
It is not always clear who is still “only” a comedian, singer, poet, or entertainer, and who should be regarded a cabaretier. My criterion is the above: was the goal of their work to be moral, trying to improve their audience, the country and the world.
These cabaretiers could be grouped for their class background, their ethnicity (Jews) and religious background, their sexual orientation, the provinces they came from, their generation and no doubt in many more ways. I will not undertake such a job here, also because in the end of the day they were all both refreshingly unique and had overlaps with several others.
Fien de la Mar was before my time and therefore I will stay silent about her, except for the following point. I once heard a recording of her talking and thought that it sounded like one of the characters that Wim Kan used to tell funny stories.
There was Jacques van Toll. He must have written hundreds of unique virtuous humoristic songs (cabaretliedjes), but he sold them to cabaretiers or published them under pseudonyms, so the exact amount is unknown. He probably wrote most songs the Jewish cabaretier Louis Davids ever song, but during WW II, he also wrote, with the same enthusiasm, for the Nazi occupier. He would write even more under-cover after that, because the Dutch were eager to find scapegoats to label wrong (“fout”) after the War, to compensate for the fact that most of the population had been wrong for being docile and obedient to evil. (However, the February Strike stands out as the first time in world history that a general working class strike was organized to protest and stop the first Nazi deportation of Jews. They held out 36 hours, but in the end, the act was more important than success.)
Tom Manders performed as a vagabond, Dorus. He left us an enormous amount of songs and sketches. Maybe his role as drifter spoke to the Dutch because we are trained to be so over-responsible and over-serious. (Compare Swiebertje and Pipo de Clown. Which unfortunately does not mean that the Dutch were any good to the Roma, before, during or after WW II.)
Don Quishocking, the name gives it away, tried to shock. Any taboo had to be presented by the ensemble. Intellectual and sharp.
Jules de Korte. Dozens of beautiful songs, sometimes very sharp. Sixty years ago, he had the courage to sing a song (“Romeo and Julio”) in defense of homosexual love for the then still conservative Dutch. He himself was not gay. Remarkable, especially because he seemed not such a revolutionary and was much loved among Dutch Christians.
Godfried Bomans. His funny words often sounded very sincere; his sincere words often seemed very funny. Smart people didn’t know how to classify him but the public was fond of this owning class guy who had chosen the arts over a ‘respectable job.’ Also reality and fantasy were no contradictions for him, so that it often was unclear if a story he told had truly occurred or not at all. His reassurance that this really had happened could easily be part of the plot.
Simon Carmiggelt. I would call his humor a combination of tart and mild, culminating in simple wisdom. Born a working class guy, he always stayed a member of the populace – and loved. For those days, he died not so young. I remember him saying in memoriams for dozens of Dutch artists. I often wondered: who will eulogize him? His dry melancholy was not an act. While it fit finely with the regular Dutch attitude to life, and maybe therefore helped his success, it was no doubt fed by his not so jolly father and the death in a concentration camp of his older brother and only sib, who was caught by the Nazis for resistance work, which news also killed his father. Simon also did “illegal” work but survived, and afterwards typically did not talk about his selfless idealistic heroism. (My theory is that only the silent ones survived, and if a trait saves your life, it’s hard to give it up.) His prewar jolliness did not return. But his sense of humor did shine through his somber tone, almost like a twinkle in the eye in a serious face, and so did his principledness.
Annie M.G. Schmidt. She was called the Second Queen of The Netherlands, maybe for two reasons. Her poems, songs and stories for children were known, read and sang throughout the Kingdom – she was at least as popular as our charming simple Queen Juliana; and secondly, her work often dealt with silly kings, queens, princes and princesses. She knew how to employ children’s imagination. She also wrote radio drama, plays and musicals.
Guus Vleugel became the most known for the songs that he wrote for Jasperine de Jong, in which he often put things upside-down. In one song, for instance, Queen Juliana doesn’t feel much for continuing her job, but the posh members of the royal court join forces with the left and the trade unions to keep their jobs – and win.
Jonny & Jones. Sang in quasi English – their last songs in German. Romantic, nonsensical, political or humoristic, but each of them upbeat and light-hearted. They were murdered in the Holocaust. Amazingly, I found on YouTube no less than 33 different songs sung by them, including half a dozen from their concentration camp time.
I could easily expand on the above descriptions and add 50 more but I think that you must have gotten my drift by now. If you want to know more, Google and Google translate.
Now, don’t tell me that only the Dutch can do this. Look at Tommy Cooper. He was very popular in The Netherlands not for nothing.
There are four yearly competitions for new cabaretiers. The well is not drying up. The Dutch will be crazy about cabaret for years to come – but they won’t tell you.