Was that me performing standup in a global livestream called Summit for Democracy? Yes, it was. introducing a new category of performing: Greg Shapiro Summit Standup.
I got a call from a friend who works at the Dutch foreign ministry. Was I aware of this ‘Summit for Democracy’ thing? It’s an initiative of the Biden White House, to push back against authoritarianism worldwide. There are various themes hosted by different countries, and the Netherlands gets to host the Freedom of Speech.
Would I be willing to perform three minutes of standup for this Summit for Democracy livestream? I said yes. “But,” he said, “the livestream might not be live in America, because they might want to censor some of the content. In fact, you want want to make a joke about that…” Oh, believe me I did.
I said: “I was told that this Freedom of Speech livestream was originally NOT going to be live in the United States, because they might want to censor some of the content. …Censoring the content? About the Freedom of Speech? Ah, America! We’re almost 250 years old, and still trying to grasp the basic concept of irony.”
“Censoring content is very hot in America right now. On the Far-Right, you’ve got people banning books because they talk about homosexuality, or they suggest that slavery might have been racist. And then on the Far-Left they’re censoring books because they use the N-word, or they’re written by Roald Dahl. Oddly, banning books is one thing that could unite the Far-Left and Far-Right in America. And then we will have truly learned the meaning of the word IRONY.”
You can watch the 3-minute monologue here, BUT please note the students sitting behind me were apparently instructed: YOU WILL BE ON CAMERA! DO NOT LAUGH!
THE SUMMIT FOR DEMOCRACY LIVESTREAM
The entire Livestream is worth a watch. Did you know how many initiatives are already in place to push back against anti-democracy disinformation? Samantha Power (USAID) explains. The Dutch Foreign Minister talks about ‘PersVeilig’ to protect journalists from harm. And Amanda Bennett talks about how Voice of America & Radio Free Europe are a vital source of news, even in Iran.
Here’s a teaser for the livestream (I’m in it briefly):
+ You can watch the whole live stream here:
CLICK HERE for more about Summit for Democracy events.
Greg Shapiro is a Dutch American comedian who gathered world fame with his vocal impersonation of Donald Trump in the viral ‘Netherlands Second’ video. He started his career as a member of the comedy group Boom Chicago and became a popular speaker at business events. “Humor is the safest option at a serious business event.”
Greg Shapiro was seven years old when he saw the first season of Saturday Night Live. “That’s when I knew I wanted to be a comedian. And I found out that John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Bill Murray all started their careers at this one theater called The Second City. And it was in my hometown, Chicago! ‘The Second City,’ as in ‘New York first, Chicago second.’ …It was indeed my destiny.”
“Totally changed my life, bigly. Hyuge! Hahaha. I don’t know if the ‘Netherlands Second’ video changed my life, but I did enjoy hearing that it was used by the Dutch foreign ministry for trade missions! Personally, I used my Trump impression for a whole standup show – as well as for conferences like The Next Web. We interrupted the show with screens saying ‘Donald Trump Live by Phone’ and had me doing a voiceover from offstage. Then Trump would improvise his reaction to how the conference was going so far. It’s a formula we used many times since!”
When is humor a good recipe for a serious business event?
“Humor is always good. Even during a serious business event, humor can actually be the safest option. I recently hosted an event where the CEO wanted me to create an informal atmosphere – a ‘safe space’ for the audience to feel comfortable asking the difficult questions. And sure enough, someone asked about accusations of ‘greenwashing.’ The CEO gave a serious answer and admitted that in the past few years the accusations were partly true. And that’s why they’d appointed their first-ever Chief Sustainability Officer. Once he was done, I turned the humor back up to 100% by saying that if anyone complains about Dutch companies not being green enough, remind them that Shell Oil is now located in the UK.”
What is your expert advice for hosts and speakers who want to be funny?
“Good news! You don’t have to do anything – just be yourself. As we say in improv comedy, ‘Truth is funnier than fiction.’ All you need is a good co-host to help you be yourself. You need a good wing man!”
Hire an Event Organizer for Christmas – by Greg Shapiro 16 December, 2022
Dear Corporate Event Planners, IT’S NOT TOO LATE to HIRE AN EVENT ORGANIZER.
There’s a noticeable trend I’ve observed this year: some of the wealthiest companies in the country are making rookie mistakes at their events.
The good news: Hooray! The Covid lockdown is officially behind us, and we can have Christmas / Year-End events again.
The bad news: No one remembers how to organize events anymore! Remember Marloes / Marlies / Marjolein? The one who USED to know who to call to organize all the events? She left during the Great Reset, didn’t she? And you didn’t replace her yet, did you?
The FIRST thing she would do is: HIRE AN EVENT ORGANIZER. But too often I’ve seen this logic this year: “I’ll organize it myself. How hard can it be?” And now you’re finding out the hard way: HOW HARD IT CAN BE.
STEP 1: THE FOOD.
Recently, I was at an event where I heard:
“We wanted a Christmas party where everyone is invited. Even the kitchen staff!”
Who’s going to serve the food?
“We’ll just use the kitchen staff – they’ll already be there.”
And yes, the food was served – but no one cleared the plates. The half-eaten food just stacked up on the tables, like at a fraternity party. “Merry Christmas!”
STEP 2: THE TECH TEAM.
“I’m sure the location will provide their own technician-?” Yes, and – they know how to set up the gear …but they don’t always know how to run it. I was at a major B2B event, where they’d hired an A-lister TV personality to play host for a crowd of 700. They’d even put up video screens to beam the host to the tables at the back – but they forgot to turn them on. The result: half the crowd couldn’t see, and they talked through the whole show. “We paid enough for the TV star – why should we also pay for extra technicians?”
STEP 3: THE ENTERTAINMENT.
“We’ll get the DJ we hired last time. And we’ll hire that comedian I know from the gym!”
Result: The comedian is expected to perform in front of the DJ set-up. Aka: Amateur hour.
Or – yes they thought of a stage, but no they didn’t think of lighting. Or background.
“And who needs to hire an MC? I’ll just do it myself.”
Last time, our host introduced the first comedian DURING the first course of the meal. Making sure everyone was eating and chatting instead of listening. The result was this:
It was something like a horror show.
HIRE AN EVENT ORGANIZER for Christmas.
Here is a list of event organizers I like to work with. CALL THEM!
And hire back Marloes / Marlies / Marjolein as soon as possible.
LEF Marketing & Events
Anyone I’m forgetting? I’m making my list and checking it twice…
Greg Shapiro ‘NETHERLANDS CHEERLEADER’ – Speakers Academy Magazine, 2022-23 by Jacques Geluk
Greg Shapiro is world-famous, ever since he perfectly imitated Donald Trump’s voice in Arjen Lubach’s ‘Netherlands Second’ video. (It’s since been viewed almost 30 million times). Shapiro is already known in the Netherlands for his work with Boom Chicago comedy theater, and previously as host and writer of Comedy Central News. Now, he is also an author and vlogger, and he frequently focuses on the Netherlands and Dutch innovations – a self-proclaimed ‘cheerleader for the Netherlands.’
Shapiro moved to the Netherlands in 1994 and is married to a Dutch woman. “Came for work, stayed for love.” By now he has lived here more than half his life, hence he knows both American and Dutch culture quite well. He often gives a ‘Masterclass’ in Dutch culture called ‘Culture Shock Therapy,’ or additionally ‘How to Be Dutch: the Quiz.’
Given Shapiro’s unique Dutch-American status, he is a popular bilingual speaker at major events. He is known for hosting or performing for NATO, for the president of France, and for King Willem Alexander. “I’ve lived here long enough to be proud of the Netherlands, but I’m still American enough to not care how loud I am about it,” says Greg in his native language. “I am frequently asked by Dutch or multinational companies for business events, often to talk about culture shock. I confront the stereotypes like sex, drugs – and Dutch cheapness. Then I go into more detail, realizing that it’s actually better here than I was used to in America. As ‘The American Netherlander’ [which is also the title of his last book from 2020], I am already a fan of Dutch inventions, innovations, water management. I’ve become a kind of cheerleader.”
Shapiro finds it interesting that the ‘Netherlands Second’ video has been used by Prince Constantijn and the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency during trade missions – as a kind of business card. “And as far as water management is concerned, yes there’s the Afsluitdijk – a marvel of water engineering. And there’s the Deltaworks in Zeeland – but also the New Orleans Deltaworks, built with the help of Dutch engineers at Royal Haskoning. It’s like the old commercials from Centrale Beheer: ‘Have a problem? Better call the Netherlands.’ Hurricane Katrina? Better call the Netherlands. Containership stuck in the Suez Canal? Better call the Netherlands (Boslkalis).”
“So many examples to mention! And not only foreigners are surprised to learn these companies are Dutch – it’s Dutch people too. Dutch folks are not giving themselves enough credit. That’s where I come in. And I’m collecting new examples all the time – for the shows and projects I do for clients like TU Delft, for Mosa Meat (lab-grown ‘cultivated’ meat) and for Wageningen University & Research.”
Event Host of the day
As an ‘improv comedian’, Greg Shapiro is also the almost ideal event host of the day. He puts guests, audience and organizations at ease with a lot of humor and always without being rude. If something goes wrong with the sound, a speaker who is not comfortable, the timing or the connection during a webinar… he improvises immediately, thanks to his many years of theater experience. “The unexpected actually makes it all a bit more lively and interesting for everyone.”
Greg Shapiro NETHERLANDS CHEERLEADER – in het nederlands
‘Een Cheerleader voor Nederland’
Hij is wereldberoemd sinds hij de stem van Donald Trump perfect heeft geïmiteerd in Arjen Lubachs ‘Netherlands Second’ video (inmiddels bijna 30 miljoen keer bekeken). Greg Shapiro is al bekend via Boom Chicago theater en als gastheer en schrijver van Comedy Central News. Nu is hij ook auteur en vlogger, met als onderwerp Nederland en Nederlandse innovaties. Hij is een zelfbenoemd ‘cheerleader van Nederland.’
Greg Shapiro woont sinds 1994 in Nederland en is getrouwd met een Nederlandse. Doordat hij nu al meer dan de helft van zijn leven hier woont kent hij zowel de Amerikaanse als de Nederlandse cultuur heel goed en kan hij ze naast elkaar leggen. Vaak geeft hij een ‘Masterclass’ in Nederlandse cultuur die heet ‘Culture Shock Therapy,’ of zelfs ‘How to Be Dutch: the Quiz.’
Mede daardoor is hij een gewilde tweetalige spreker op grote evenementen, voor zelfs de president van Frankrijk, de NAVO, en voor Koning Willem Alexander. “I’ve lived here long enough to be proud of the Netherlands, but I’m still American enough to not care how loud I am about it”, zegt Greg in zijn eerste moedertaal.
“Ik word meestal gevraagd door multinationale bedrijven voor grote B2B evenementen. Vaak praat ik over cultuurschok, de stereotypes met thema’s als seks, drugs – en de Nederlandse bescheidenheid. Daarna ga ik er dieper op in, beseffend dat het hier eigenlijk beter is dan ik gewend was in Amerika. Eigenlijk ben ik als ‘The American Netherlander’ (wat ook de titel is van mijn laatste boek uit 2020) al fan van Nederlandse uitvindingen, innovaties, watermanagement en andere technieken. Ik ben een soort cheerleader geworden.”
Hij vindt het interessant dat de ‘Netherlands Second’- video is gebruikt door prins Constantijn en het Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency tijdens handelsmissies als een soort visitekaartje. “Wat het watermanagement betreft benoem ik net als in de video de Afsluitdijk, een wonder van waterengineering, en maak ik de connectie met de deltawerken, en met de New Orleans deltawerken gebouwd met hulp van Nederlanders. Even Nederland bellen. Ik heb zo veel leuke voorbeelden te noemen! Vaak zijn buitenlanders verbaasd te horen dat de uitvoerende bedrijven Nederlands zijn. Maar vaak zijn ook Nederlanders zelf verbaasd! Dat verwerk ik allemaal in mijn lezingen, voor TU Delft, voor Mosa Meat (kweekvlees) en ook voor een project met Wageningen Universiteit & Research.”
Greg introduceert ook zijn vernieuwde YouTube-kanaal, Climate News Comedy, met nog meer voorbeelden uit Nederland.
Als ‘improv comedian’ is Greg Shapiro bovendien de welhaast ideale dagvoorzitter. Hij stelt gasten, publiek en organisaties op hun gemak met veel humor en altijd zonder grof te zijn. Als iets misgaat met het geluid, een spreker die zich niet comfortabel voelt, de timing of de verbinding tijdens een webinar… improviseert hij onmiddellijk, Geen probleem dankzij zijn langjarige theaterervaring. “Het onverwachte maakt het eigenlijk allemaal nog wat levendiger en interessanter voor iedereen.”
Greg Shapiro: ‘Dutch Direct vs the Elephant in the Room’
11 October, 2022
As ‘Dutch direct’ as you think may be, it still helps to have an American by your side. Dutch culture prides itself on being ‘Dutch direct,’ which is an indirect way of saying ‘rude.’ Sometimes I get hired by Dutch companies to host their events, to help ‘bridge the cultural gap’ between the older Dutch management and their mostly younger, more international staff. Practically, that means I get to share the stage with them and demonstrate how to not get upset when they say ‘Dutch direct’ things like “I wouldn’t have chosen that outfit” or “Ha ha – that joke didn’t work.”
Lesson Number One: start off by removing the tie.
To show how well integrated I am, I will sometimes respond to Dutch directness by teasing Dutch people right back. It makes the boss more human! There was one Dutch CEO who had a real ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ attitude. He liked to answer questions by saying “Okay, look…” But he was speaking English as a second language. So frequently – instead of saying look – he would use the Dutch word kijk. Luckily, he didn’t pronounce it the ethnic slur way. He said it more like “cake.” So I pointed out that – if he was going to start off every point talking about cake, there had better be some cake by the end of the day. (There was.)
DUTCH DIRECT + Yank Joke
For another event – for another ‘Dutch direct’ CEO – there was an elephant in the room. That’s partly why they’d hired me: to help keep the day loose and informal, so the audience would feel confident enough to ask the difficult questions. And the employees did ask difficult enough questions, about sustainability,about equal pay, about fair hiring… But then came a question about accusations of fake sustainability claims, ie ‘greenwashing.’ The elephant had arrived!
The CEO explained that he took the greenwashing accusations very seriously. He admitted that just a couple years ago those accusations would have been partly true. I said “I was here a couple years ago, and I can confirm! The last time I hosted for you guys, you had one HR manager saying ‘sustainability would be a good idea,’ and now she’s on the board as the first ever Chief Sustainability Officer. …And if anyone still comes with complaints that Dutch companies aren’t green enough, remind them that Shell Oil is now located in the UK.”
In theater school, one of the coolest things to do was ‘site-specific’ theater. The least cool thing to do was corporate entertainment. BUT – as I quickly realized – 90% of corporate shows are ‘site-specific.’ I’ve done shows on location at offices, pop-up performances in historic buildings, and even a standup set in the business class section of a KLM 747 to Chicago.
So when I was asked to talk about my ‘weirdest gigs ever’ for the ELEKTRA Podcast, I said YES. The interview was in Dutch, with plenty of English thrown in. I talked about performing for a Dutch bachelorette party in the mid-90’s, when they chanted something to me during the show. It was months later when I realized “Broek uit! Broek uit! Broek uit, op je rug!” meant “Pants off! Pants off! Pants off, on your back!” Yes, Dutch women are very direct.
Example: Weirdest Gig Ever
Here’s an excerpt of my book THE AMERICAN NETHERLANDER: 25 Years of Expat Tales.
I was hired with Boom Chicago to do a Christmas show for a major fashion label. Apparently, there were rumors that their Dutch office might be closing, and everyone’s jobs were at risk. Luckily, the rumors were not true! At the show, the boss was going to give the good news, and then introduce us to help celebrate.
One day later, the organizing committee had changed their minds: Since we were Americans, the boss would introduce us as upper management from the New York office. Then we’d address the bad rumors, and the boss would reveal: it’s a joke! And then he would give the good news. Weird, but okay!
Then – on the day of the show – the idea had changed again. The boss did introduce us as upper management from New York. But then he lied to his entire staff and said, “You’re all being laid off.” Next, he laughed and left the stage. We had to cut in and say, “It’s a joke! We’re hired comedians.” And then we had to do a comedy show.
Dear reader, if you can think of a worse way to start a comedy show, please insert that image here. (For example, he could have yelled, “Fire!” Or he could have actually lit the theater on fire.) The result? The audience hated us. But the boss seemed genuinely happy.
Greg Shapiro Hosts CitizenM TV Episode 2
20 June, 2022
Thanks, Covid! After the 2020 Lockdown canceled Christmas, CitizenM hotel group had to reinvent their annual Christmas party as a TV show in January. Thus ‘CitizenM TV’ was born – with me as the host. It went so well that I was invited back to host the live Christmas party in 2021. But would we be able to have a live Christmas party…?
NO! The latest Covid lockdown kicked in on 18 December, and canceled everything. Which is EXACTLY what CitizenM had predicted when they decided to make CitizenM TV Episode 2. Again, with me as host.
I must admit: when I’d hosted the first CitizenM TV, I’d never stayed at a CitizenM hotel before. I’d been to meetings at the Amsterdam Zuid location, just because it’s a cool place to meet. For Episode 2, I did my homework. I got to do an overnight ‘staycation’ at the Amsterdam Amstel location. And since then I understand their motto ‘affordable luxury.’ More than that, they recognized me from the TV show, and they treated me like one of the family.
The concept for Episode 2 was to show me warming up before the show – IN a CitizenM hotel room. Hence – WARNING: CONTAINS SOME MALE NUDITY. Episode 2 was again produced by Dutch media company GRNDPA. And this time they gave me more to do: I got to interact with CitizenM office staff, dressed as ninjas. And I got to play a mustachioed gym coach (inspired by Ted Lasso’s alter ego Led Tasso). That’s why you can see me yelling at CitizenM employees like Boyan.
Again, I got to chat with founder Rattan Chadha and CEO Klaas van Lookeren, and I noticed that yes they felt even more relaxed and on-message than in Episode 1.
Looking forward to seeing a live Christmas event this year… But if it ends up being CitizenM TV Episode 3, I won’t complain.
Comedian Greg Shapiro hosts CitizenM TV, Episode 2 (Dec. 2021). Produced by GRNDPA, NL.
Greg Shapiro and the Office Jester Team Up for Trump Video 24 May 2022
We were both experts in corporate speaking, specifically comedic corporate speaking. Yet we came to our positions from completely different routes. I was a comedian / corporate speaker, and he was an academic / court jester.
1) Comedian / Corporate Speaker. Me, I started out at theater school, and I quickly transitioned to improv comedy. I came to the Netherlands to work with the Boom Chicago comedy theater in the booming 1990s – when every Dutch business became an e-business, and every Dutch office transitioned to English. Hence, Boom Chicago was quickly called upon to perform comedy for business events. Many, many business events: for Philips; Heineken; KLM; Shell; Unilever. All the biggies.
According to most comedians, corporate entertainment is the worst. “Vanilla jokes for boring events, just to get a paycheck.” But I quickly realized it can be the opportunity to ‘speak truth to power.’ We comedians can make jokes about the boss that the employees can’t. It doesn’t have to be ‘vanilla jokes.’ It can be more like a roast. Closer to the comedy speech at the White House Press Correspondents Dinner: you make jokes about the president to their face. Or, as I put it at Boom Chicago years ago: “We make fun of your boss in front of your boss, and the one who has to pay for the whole thing is your boss.”
2) Academic / Court Jester. I met Juri Hoedemakers at a networking event for Speakers Academy in Rotterdam. Juri was the man who had done his PhD on the role of the jester in the modern ‘court’ known as ‘Upper Management.’ Sounds familiar! It turns out we had come to the same place from different directions.
Juri had just written his book Gezocht: Hofnar. Reflective voor Leiders en Leidinggevenden.
Of course he did this all in Dutch (at Erasmus University). And now he’s speaking for corporate events about the importance of reflection for business leaders. According to his research, every leader has a blind spot, which is to take oneself too seriously. Leaders need jesters to help their message connect with their teams.
Juri was of course a fan of the Trump voice I did for the ‘Netherlands Second’ video on Zondag Met Lubach. So I did a quick voice recording to promote his book.
And here it is. [Video created by Jeroen Smolders]
HOW NOT TO LIVESTREAM: a Greg Shapiro Online Mini-Show
25 March, 2022
Comedian Greg Shapiro follows up his tutorial ‘How NOT to Zoom’ with a new livestream mini show: HOW NOT TO LIVESTREAM.
Now that we’re all ‘Post-Covid,’ who knew The New Normal would still include Working from Home? Well, surely by now we’ve all mastered the basics of Home Studio video conferencing… NOPE.
Time for a new training strategy: HOW NOT TO LIVESTREAM. Kick off your next online meeting with 5-10 minutes of ‘Sharing WORST Practice.’ Whether you use Zoom, Teams, or whatever – Shapiro’s interactive presentation will parody the Seven Deadly Sins of video conferencing.
Including: Flimsy Webcams; Unflattering Angles; Terrible Lighting; Embarrassing Backgrounds; Green Screen Fails; and yelling at your kids when you think you’re on mute.
Do yourself a favor and start your next video meeting with a guaranteed icebreaker. How NOT to Livestream. Because sometimes the best HOW-TO is How NOT to.
“Hi, it’s me Greg Shapiro. Here to remind you how livestreaming from your home studio can be easy and fun! [knocks over camera]
Now that we’re all working from home, your internet connection has never been more important. So give your cable a little jiggle to make sure it’s secure. [livestream froooo-zen]
If you’d like a pro-tip life hack, you can make sure that your lighting makes you as attractive as possible. Me? I’m using a diffuser, which I got from the camera shop for just €60. [injures self with fold-out prop]
Who needs an expensive home studio lighting system, when you can rig a series of desk lamps tho this clothes hanger? And who needs an expensive laptop stand, when you can use this simple household ladder? [displays embarrassingly amateur setup]
Now, if you want to look really professional, you need to make sure you have a virtual background. And that means you need to get a green screen! [injures self with fold-out green screen]
Once you’ve got your green screen and your lighting in place, it’s time to pick an appropriate background – and start livestreaming, like a pro. [shows wildly inappropriate virtual background]
Remote Meetings Are Dead; Long Live Hybrid Meetings!
7 March, 2022
In February I was called upon to do two separate events for Janssen Pharmaceuticals in Belgium – both remote meetings. Now that Covid restrictions are lifting in the Netherlands and Belgium, you might expect a return to 100% live events ! And you’d be wrong. Looks like hybrid meetings are the New Normal.
The first remote meeting was an expat event, and I was asked to make a 20-minute tailored video.
Would there be enough material about cultural quirks in Belgium? Oh, yes. But how far should I go in making fun of Belgium? I started out with “Who knew one country could drink so much beer? Even the children drink to excess – at least that’s what I assume since the national mascot is a boy urinating.”
I sent in my video – via WeTransfer. Would they approve? Would they even watch it before plopping it into their meeting? I didn’t hear anything back… until after the day of the meeting. The subject heading said “LOVED IT!” Phew. “We used your video at our event yesterday and it was great. It really hit the right note and was enjoyed by all. We hope to see you again – hopefully F2F next time.”
Remote Meetings Are Dead; Long Live Hybrid Meetings!
Indeed, we were hoping for F2F Face to Face next time. But the next time was a hybrid meeting. Which was fine! The second Janssen remote meeting was produced by Co-MANA, who created a pop-up studio in Belgium. There was a giant LED wall, with projections that could change themes for the two-day event.
Also, there was a dedicated screen with a dedicated link to the internal Janssen team leaders. And there was a live monitor – with a prompter screen, which doubled as a link to the Q&A moderator. Then we ended with a live band, who played during the interactive quiz.
It would have been nice to have the team leaders on location, as well as the band. Heck, it would have been nice to have a fully live event. But if Hybrid Meetings are the new normal for now, I gotta say this meeting was great.