Greg Shapiro Teams Up with Ken Parsons for Berlin Mini-Tour Oct. 2023
27 sept., 2023
UNSUNG HEROES: Comedy veterans Greg Shapiro and Ken Parsons team up to tell stories of their early days. Ken Parsons was busking in Berlin in the days of 1989. Greg Shapiro was one of the originals at Boom Chicago theater in Amsterdam. Together they perform a mini-tour of Berlin.
poster design by the excellent Emily Higginson
Comedians Ken Parsons & Greg Shapiro:
Both were born in ‘68, the year of tumultuous change and revolt.
Both left their native lands to seek their fortunes abroad.
Both have stuck to their guns and have watched the projects they helped kick-start flourish.
Greg achieved critical acclaim with his voice of Trump in the viral video ‘Netherlands Second’. Ken set up a series of autonomous comedy stages which soon became renowned and have featured international acts, prompting Time to dub him ‘The Maestro of the Underground’.
Be a hero, too and try and catch them! All of the shows will be great but the Finale of the Tour at the brilliant Cosmic Comedy Club will be the one to head to if you want to see the show in its longest form!
Geil, ey! Toppie, hoor!
Greg Shapiro and Ken Parsons: The ‘Unsung Heroes’ Berlin 29 Sept – 3 Oct
29/09 The Wall Comedy, Friedrichshain
30/09 The Wall Comedy, Friedrichshain
01/10 East West Comedy, (open mic try out) Kreuz-Kölln
02/10 Karakas Bar, Mitte
03/10 Cosmic Comedy, Mitte
BIOGRAPHY GREG SHAPIRO Greg Shapiro: Comedian, American, Dutchman. (And the voice of the ‘Netherlands Second’ video with imitators like Neo Magasin Royal). Shapiro was the host of Comedy Central News: “because Dutch news is news too.” His voice has appeared on ZDF’s Heute Show. And he helped establish the Amsterdam comedy theater Boom Chicago, helping launch the careers of alumni like Seth Meyers, Jordan Peele and the creators of Ted Lasso.
With Boom Chicago, Shapiro performed shows in memorable settings. He performed a show on 9/11. He has performed for the King of the Netherlands, French President François Hollande, and NATO. He has also performed on moving buses, student living rooms, and once in the Business Class section of a KLM 747 flying to Chicago. Shapiro’s latest standup special is Greg Shapiro Saves the Climate: 60 Minutes of Climate Good News.
BIOGRAPHY KEN PARSONS The Wall Years
Ken comes from Plymouth but together with his friend Chris Stevens they formed a band called Who’s Rachel?
Ken- as if in an ETA Hoffmann tale- went on to study German and was assistant teacher at the Robert Koch school in Kreuzberg, aptly enough in Berlin’s ‘Grimm Kiez’. Ken wrote a thesis on folklore and the style of his stories can be called ‘punk parables’ or ‘urban fairy tales.’
VULTURE.COM – The Best Comedy Books of 2023 (So Far) by Brian Boone, who writes about comedy
“As far as generationally significant, tone-setting, comedian-developing institutions go, Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade, and their many affiliates, get almost all the attention and credit. But there’s a third, and until now, largely unheralded player, and that’s Boom Chicago. Many of today’s most thoughtful, emotionally and politically driven comedians honed their chops at Boom Chicago, an American theatrical and improvisational comedy troupe that primarily operates in Amsterdam. Jordan Peele, Seth Meyers, and Amber Ruffin are all veterans, and it’s where Brendan Hunt and Jason Sudeikis met and first worked together. Ted Lasso wouldn’t have happened without the frenetic, patient, performer-driven lab-like atmosphere of Boom Chicago. The mock-self-aggrandizing of the subtitle — The 30 Most Important Years in Dutch History — belies how Boom Chicago just is that important to 21st-century comedy. The baby-faced photos of current legends are fun, but the book’s tone of fascination and how the sausage is made provides a compelling account of how improv is crafted, and how Boom Chicago’s approach informed so much of its participants’ later work.”
“Large swatches of the book look and read like an oral history, in which prominent and not so prominent BookChicago alums prattle on, reminiscing about moments in BoomChicago’s rise from a ragtag group of improv comedians performing in 1993 in the back of dive bar to hothouse for creating future celebrities to a bone fide part of Dutch comedy world. As oral histories go, it’s not bad stuff.”
“when it comes to comedy in Holland, Boom Chicago is a winner.”
“Much of the book takes the form of conversations between Boom stalwarts and this unusual format works brilliantly,”
“a must-have for Boom fans and, indeed, those interested in comedy in general.” It says a lot about Amsterdam that for thirty years it has sustained, nay, gloried in and cherished an English speaking comedy venue. I don’t know about New York and Chicago but there has only been The Comedy Store in London that exceeds the longevity that Boom Chicago has enjoyed in the Dutch city. …when it comes to comedy in Holland, Boom Chicago is a winner.
..this book is, inevitably, a stroll down memory lane. And fascinating stuff it is too. In the lengthy introduction by founders Andrew Moskos and Pep Rosenfeld we learn how Boom Chicago was born and how, against the odds, it survived and grew to maturity.
Much of the book takes the form of conversations between Boom stalwarts and this unusual format works brilliantly, being much more personal and illuminating than a straightforward narrative. So, there are contributions from all the usual suspects, most of whom will be familiar to fans of Boom. To jog their memory there is a list of alumni from 1993 to 2023 which, according to a quick count is in excess of one hundred and thirty.
Boom Chicago presents The 30 Most Important Years in Dutch History is clearly a must-have for Boom fans and, indeed, those interested in comedy in general.”
12 Sept., 2023
In its first 30 years, Boom Chicago Comedy Theater started the careers of Seth Meyers, Jordan Peele, the Ted Lasso creators – and me. Now it’s time to share some classic tales from their Origin Stories. Time for Shapiro Boom Chicago Tales!
I came to Amsterdam to work with the Boom Chicago comedy theater for just one summer – and 30 years later, I’m still here. Along the way, I’ve worked alongside so many now-famous folks, playing improv comedy – where the Golden Rule is Make your partner look good onstage. “Make your partner look good!” And looking at their careers – versus mine – I think I did my job extremely well.
BOOM CHICAGO TALES FROM THE ARCHIVES
In this video series, I share some backstage stories – from 1 person you might have heard of and 1 person you might not have.
This episode: Jordan Peele & Dave Buckman.
You might know Jordan Peele for winning an Oscar for his film Get Out in 2017. But back in 2001, he started playing comedy with us in Amsterdam.
As Jordan writes in the Boom Chicago book: “The biggest laughs I’ve ever been part of, or seen, were at Boom Chicago. Going to Amsterdam actually gave me more experience as a writer and a performer and as a human being than I would’ve gotten anywhere else—and with no better people.”
Unfortunately – according to Jordan – these days he says he can’t remember a lot of specifics from back then, because he smoked a lot of weed. From my book, I wrote: “Jordan smoked so much weed he was like Cinderella: at midnight he’d transform after 12 bongs.”
Jordan smoking weed was the inspiration for a classic character bit. In the days after 9/11, performing comedy was hard. One of the first jokes we dared making on the subject was Jordan Peele and Dave Buckman portraying al Qaeda spokesmen in Afghanistan – as stoners like Cheech & Chong. Their act even made the news as the first comedians to joke about 9/11. And Jordan smoking weed was the inspiration.
Greg Shapiro Guest Column: THE SEVEN WONDERS OF THE DUTCH WORLD
8 Aug. 2023
As seen in the 2023 edition of Corporate Housing Factory Special:
The Seven Wonders of the Dutch World
India has the Taj Mahal, Rome has the Colosseum, and the Netherlands has: The Entire Country. Well, at least the 26% that was created by the Dutch people. First, there was the sea – and the Dutch said “Let there be land.”
…Why isn’t the Netherlands included in the Seven Wonders of the World? Maybe it’s because – as much as Dutch people like digging – they dislike bragging. Or, in Dutch: ’Scheppen goed; opscheppen niet goed.’
Here are seven Dutch marvels of engineering that I think deserve more credit.
1. Schiphol Airport. Every time your plane lands at Schiphol, just imagine the conversation going on in the cockpit: “Schiphol Tower, we are descending to ZERO meters above sea level. That must be the runway, right?” Wrong. The average runway at Schiphol Airport is three meters below sea level.
2. The Amsterdam Canals. Historically, Dutch people have treated their natural habitat as something like a Lego base plate. This is why so much of the Dutch landscape looks like it was made out of Legos: Straight piece here, straight piece there. The time when Dutch people could finally afford curving pieces? They’re still talking about it.
3. Zevenbergen. Nearby the lowest point in the Netherlands. Zevenbergen translates to ‘Seven Mountains.’ Its highest point? Two meters below sea level.
4. The Maeslantkering. The Port of Rotterdam is protected by this massive storm surge barrier, and each one of these two sea gates is about as long as the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Yet in Paris, if you want an Eiffel Tower t-shirt from the tourist shops, you can find one easily. But in the Netherlands, can you find a Maeslantkering t-shirt anywhere? NO. Instead, what do most Dutch tourist shops feature on their t-shirts? The marijuana leaf. Why doesn’t the Maeslantkering get more credit? Somebody must be smoking something.
Book Release Today! The first Boom Chicago book review is in: “30 years in the history of a comedy club in a way that totally defies expectation.”
4 July, 2023
As a contributor to this book, I can say I’m very happy with the way it came out. And here’s a review that agrees with me. Reviewer Jack Helbig wrote about Boom Chicago years ago in The Chicago Reader in the theater’s early days. And here he is reviewing the book Boom Chicago Presents the 30 Most Important Years in Dutch History. Helbig writes: “It is at once a book hard to put down, and hard to read straight through from start to finish. (I did a lot of skimming; you will, too.)”
Jack, you have no idea. This book first appeared with a Dutch publisher in 2018 for the 25th anniversary, and it was even more of a mismatched patchwork. This new version is totally revised, by author Matt Diehl. He went to great lengths to create a readable oral history of Boom Chicago’s first 30 years.
Helbig: “Large swatches of the book look and read like an oral history, in which prominent and not so prominent BookChicago alums prattle on, reminiscing about moments in BoomChicago’s rise from a ragtag group of improv comedians performing in 1993 in the back of dive bar to hothouse for creating future celebrities to a bone fide part of Dutch comedy world. As oral histories go, it’s not bad stuff.”
I’m glad he remembered to mention the “not so prominent.” I feel included. Indeed, I was a contributor to this book, along with Rob Andristplourde. Since we both arrived at Boom Chicago in the early days, we were there for many signature Boom Chicago events. Hence, Yes we took part in the interviews. And we contributed the ‘Meet the Cast’ section, full of anecdotes about all the “prominent” as well as “not so prominent” alumni.
As I like to say in my show, yes I have worked at Boom Chicago alongside many talented people – some of whom have found huge success in the US. Seth Meyers started his career in Amsterdam in 1997, Jason Sudeikis played at Boom in 2000, and Jordan Peele started his career at Boom Chicago in 2001. Together we played improv comedy, where it’s all about teamwork, and the Golden Rule is “make your partner look good.” …I think I did my job maybe too well.
Seth Meyers had no idea what to expect when he got a job in 1997 performing at a fledgling comedy club in Amsterdam called Boom Chicago. He was in his early 20s, and had never traveled outside of the United States. He had to apply for a passport.
“I knew not one thing about the Netherlands,” he said in a recent interview. “My first thought was to get some good hiking shoes, I guess because I thought I was going to Switzerland. And then I showed up in literally the flattest place I ever lived.”
On the occasion of the company’s 30th anniversary, its current cast and famous alumni — including Meyers, the “Ted Lasso” co-creator Brendan Hunt and the comedian Amber Ruffin — are celebrating by staging a two week festival in Amsterdam next month. They’re also releasing a book, “Boom Chicago Presents: The 30 Most Important Years in Dutch History.”
“We got to be onstage four or five nights a week, and that was never happening for us in Chicago,” Meyers said, “Also, we got to be in Amsterdam in our early 20s, and surrounded by all these other talented people. It felt like a time of ascension, not just for me but for everyone around me. It felt like a really special thing we were doing.”
Seth, I totally agree.
FYI – the NYT article is by Amsterdam’s own Dutch-American author Nina Siegal. Her book The Diary Keepers is amazing: The Diary Keepers
For the Record here was the first time Boom Chicago was in the New York Times (here in the NYT Int’l edition), in 2003:
Greg Shapiro Contributes to the Boom Chicago 30th Anniversary Book
14 June 2023
Finally, a proper oral history of the Boom Chicago Comedy Theater – and I got to contribute! About 30 years ago I came to Amsterdam to perform for one summer, and I never left. Along the way, I got to work alongside now-famous names, such as Seth Meyers, Jordan Peele and Kay Cannon. And the comedy form we all played was improvisation, where the Golden Rule is: “Make Your Partner Look Good Onstage.” And looking at their careers, versus mine, I like to think I did my job VERY well.
The book features a foreword by Seth Meyers, a voorwoord by Ruben van der Meer, a BackWord by Jordan Peele – and a Who’sWho Section by me (and fellow Boom Chicago lifer Rob Andristplourde). Author Matt Diehl teams up with Boom Chicago founders Saskia Maas, Andrew Moskos and Pep Rosenfeld to write the book. Rob and focused on the some of the juicy anecdotes that did not get covered in the oral history interviews. Such as:
-The time Seth Meyers improvised with an audience member who pretended to be retarded.
-The time Jordan Peele got into a rap battle with that guy from Seinfeld.
+ The reason Amber Ruffin’s tooth was hanging on the wall.
And I added this bit about myself:
“Greg almost moved back to the US like Pep – until he met a Dutch woman named Inez (who was working in the Boom Chicago office). On the eve of his wedding to Inez, Greg’s bachelor party was crashed by Inez and a number of Boom Chicago cast members. These included Kay Cannon as a naughty nurse, Liz Cackowski as a Catholic school girl, Jen Bills as a cop, and Holly Walker as a straight-up dominatrix. Together, they performed a girl band version of the Boy Band song from the show called “That’s What He Likes.” And no, it wasn’t inappropriate! Because the only actual semi-stripping was done by Inez. And she is Dutch.”
(Here is a pose from 1994 with the founders of Boom Chicago Pep Rosenfeld and Andrew Moskos.)
Pre-order “Boom Chicago Presents the 30 Most Important Years in Dutch History” here:
Boom Chicago 30th Anniversary Book: “Boom Chicago Presents the 30 Most Important Years in Dutch History”
An exciting history of the improv group you’ve never heard of that changed comedy in America—this is the story of Boom Chicago in Amsterdam as told by its founders and most famous alumni
“It’s kind of crazy, the impact on culture so many Boom Chicago alums have had. Boom was where I became my best comedic self: the excitement of Amsterdam, the freedom of that environment, the letting loose—it’s magic. There’s no better training ground.” —Jordan Peele
“Boom Chicago should have ended up on the scrap heap of ‘Terrible Ideas Americans Have While Stoned in Amsterdam.’ But when you stubbornly love one thing (comedy) as much as another thing (Amsterdam), you just believe they should be together. And here we are—thirty years later, Boom Chicago is alive and kicking.” —Seth Meyers
“Working at Boom Chicago was an unbelievable experience. Thank goodness someone was smart enough to write it all down! You’re lucky ’cause you get to read about THE most exciting, fun, and illegal time I’ve ever had!” —Amber Ruffin
Featuring interviews with
Meyers, Peele, Ruffin, Jason Sudeikis, Ike Barinholtz, Greg Shapiro, Kay Cannon, and many more; and a sixteen-page, full-color insert with both behind-the-scenes snapshots and images from live performances.
What do Ted Lasso, Get Out, Late Night with Seth Meyers, 30 Rock, A Black Lady Sketch Show, Breaking Bad, Saturday Night Live, Girls5Eva, The Colbert Report, Inside Amy Schumer, Pitch Perfect, Key & Peele, The Daily Show, MADtv, Rick and Morty, The Amber Ruffin Show, Horrible Bosses, Portlandia, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Suicide Squad, Superstore, How I Met Your Mother, Wicked, The Pee-Wee Herman Show, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Broad City all have in common? They all feature writers, creators, directors, or stars who got their start at Boom Chicago.
Having risen roughly to the middle of Chicago’s cutthroat comedy scene, Andrew Moskos and Pep Rosenfeld decamped the Midwest for Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1993 to start their own improv comedy troupe, Boom Chicago. In a foreign land with zero tradition of English-language humor, Moskos and Rosenfeld unwittingly created the finishing school for some of today’s most groundbreaking comedic talents. They (along with coauthors Matt Diehl and Saskia Maas) document this journey in the definitive oral history Boom Chicago Presents the 30 Most Important Years in Dutch History.
From its stages, Boom Chicago went on to launch cultural game changers like Seth Meyers, Jordan Peele, Amber Ruffin, Jason Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt, Ike Barinholtz, Kay Cannon, and Tami Sagher (and that’s just a partial list). At Boom, these young upstarts honed their craft in front of unsuspecting foreign audiences and visiting dignitaries like Burt Reynolds, Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay, Dutch royalty, and the Netherlands’s prime minister—all while navigating a world with legal weed and prostitution, annual holiday celebrations involving blackface, cookies with weird racist names, and football that has nothing to do with the NFL. From this culture shock, this collective created a more topical, inclusive, tech-savvy humor that would become the dominant comedy style of our time.
Praise for Boom Chicago:
“The Groundlings. The Harvard Lampoon. Second City. These comedy institutions have been supplying Hollywood with a steady stream of talent for decades. Well, there’s another name—almost as influential—that you’ve never heard of: Amsterdam’s Boom Chicago. Huh?”—GQ
“A small theater in Amsterdam became the most influential American comedy factory you’ve never heard of . . . Boom alums have had a significant hand in many of the shows that defined the past two decades of comedy.” —New York
Greg Shapiro returns to host Pepijn’s Comedy Club in English for Season 2023-24.
Shapiro’s first season hosting at Theater Pepijn featured top comedians, sold-out theaters and great reviews. Additionally, next season will feature extra dates:
‘STAND-UP COMEDY IN ENGLISH AT PEPIJN IN THE HAGUE’
Michael Hasted, ARTS TALK MAGAZINE 14th April 2023
Stand-up comedy is a funny thing; funny peculiar – and, of course (hopefully), funny ha-ha. This was demonstrated last night at the Theater Pepijn comedy club in The Hague which was staging its now regular English comedy night. …consisting of comedy ambassadors from America, China, Romania and India. That in itself could be the basis of a good joke – “An American, an Indian and a Romanian walked into a pub . . . “, but I digress.
Greg Shapiro as Host of Pepijn’s Comedy Club in English
The evening was MC’d by the doyen of English language comedy in The Netherlands, American Greg Shapiro. His relaxed, easy-going style got everyone in the mood and this was continued by the first act, Mohna Joshi, an Indian lady of a certain age who one would have thought was a very unlikely candidate for stand-up. But although much of her act was about her sex life and problems distinguishing between her vibrator and the TV remote control, it was all very laid back and in the best possible taste. More aggressive, but equally focused on her sex life, was Romanian Luana Elena Matei. The second half of the show consisted of Sid Singh and Weina Ma, the only, and I say this with no fear of contradiction, young Chinese lady performing stand-up comedy in English in The Netherlands.
(photos: Greg Shapiro)
I had rather gone off small club stand-up in the UK because it got rather too boisterous, too much drunkenness and too much vulgarity but last night at the Pepijn was a very civilized affair. …One thing that puts some people off in stand-up is the fear they will be picked on, with the comedian insulting or humiliating them. Nothing like that last night; it was a really good atmosphere and everybody had a good night out. More English nights are planned at the Theater Pepijn so if stand-up is your entertainment of choice, there you go.
I’ve taken my international standup set to Brussels, to Paris, to Zurich… and so many comedian friends have told me: “You have to check out the English comedy scene in Berlin. There are so many shows! You can do 2 or 3 a night!”
What they meant was: “You can do 2 or 3 shows a night… and make about €30!”
Of course I took the train. Because I’d heard bad things about DB Deutsche Bahn, so it’s good for material. And quickly enough a German passenger claimed my seat (good luck trying to reserve a seat via Dutch rail…)
Indeed, the train to Berlin was way overcrowded. And when we arrived at Berlin Central Station, there was big welcome sign for all the English-speakers: “Travel if you dare.” Wilkommen!
I played my first show at a bar called Oblomov (in Neuköln), for the enigmatic stage animal Rohit Bhatia.
What a loving little audience! And as soon as we were done, the bar crowd spilled over into our room and put on music, but not for dancing. They were just standing in the stage lights and posing. It was like they were doing a parody of Mike Meyers from Saturday Night Live: “And now is the time on ‘Sprockets’ when we dance.” The bartender explained it to me this way. “Amsterdam is wild, but Berlin is weird.” Keep Berlin weird.
Friday night my international set killed – KILLED! In fact, I had two gigs – meaning I had to get from a bar in West Berlin to Comedy Cafè in East Berlin. And this was a highlight of my trip: I rented an e-bike and jetted through town at twilight.
It felt like all of Berlin was one big green space – with apartments and shops in between. (And indeed, someone said Berlin is the greenest capital city in Europe.) I even tried out some jokes about biking in Berlin – on the Sonnenallee – and the audience gave an audible “Oooh!” Because “No one dares biking on Sonnenallee!” Well, this Amsterdammer does.
On Saturday I checked out Cosmic comedy, where I hope to play in October. On Sunday I played The Wall Comedy Club, and one of my favorite things to do is to take portraits of the other comedians onstage and send them after the show. My final show was for EastWest COMEDY in front of a familiar red curtain.
It was very warm while I was in town, so I found myself wearing my trademark suit and tie, but with shorts instead of suit pants.
Someone described me as a human mullet. “Business up top, but party down below.”
Doing my part to KEEP BERLIN WEIRD.
See you in October, Berlin! I’ll be touring a double bill with Ken Parsons.
22 March, 2023 ArtsTalk Magazine reviewed my book again! This time it was for their online supplement, and it’s an all-new review.
My third book debuted in 2020: THE AMERICAN NETHERLANDER: 25 Years of Expat Tales.
Greg Shapiro: The American Netherlander. Book Review
by Michael Hasted. November, 2022
“The book is full of apposite observations, canny advice, witty asides and some nice cartoony illustrations. It could well have been entitled The Netherlands – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly because, like the Dutch, it does not pull its punches.
“Greg takes us, chapter by chapter, through the different aspects of Dutch life and how to cope with – sorry – appreciate them. We learn of course about about sex and drugs and the ubiquitous coffeeshops. We find out more about bike etiquette. And …serious though it is, the Zwarte Piet subject is treated in an easygoing, unpreachy, unjudgmental manner.
“The last section of the book re-utilizes Greg’s previous book How to Be Dutch: the Quiz. This section is both funny and informative. Again, this is broken down into sections like bikes, health care, politics and … err… Zwarte Piet.
Book Review ‘Shapiro funny, informative’
“There is even a ‘Oh, I never knew that’ section which lists, in rhyming couplets, things we never knew were Dutch. Like half the place names in New York City, LED lights, multinationals Philips and Shell, the microscope, the discoverers and namers of New Zealand, etc etc.
“To round it all off there are pages of photos of shop signs taken by Greg over the years, showing how Dutch can produce names and words that we English speakers find amusing. For example a hair dresser called Down Under Hair or the Bad Hotel or the Dutch senator called Tiny Kox. You’ve got to love ‘em.
“The American Netherlander provides us with lots of information about the Dutch persona and way of life and is the result of not only Greg’s personal experiences and insights but a lot of thorough research as well . Oh and the laughs, don’t forget the laughs.”