2023 WAS A BIG YEAR FOR THE ROLE OF COMEDY IN LIFE
I have always loved comedy. That’s why we started Boom Chicago. But last year, I observed something change. Suddenly comedy wasn’t just something fun to do like mini golf (or the more offensive Dutch term midgetgolf). The value of comedy on an artistic, political and social level increased tremendously. And for me personally, it even delivered a sweet suite hotel upgrade in Paris. While some theaters complain that audiences have not returned after the pandemic, Boom Chicago’s biggest year in 2023, our 30th anniversary, shows that comedy is only growing in importance.
Chris Rock had the top special on Netflix where he finally talked about “The Slap.’ The top two box office hits were not Marvel superhero films but comedies, namely Barbie and Super Mario Bros. The latter technically qualified as a comedy, although some have disagreed.
Then in December, the cast and I were at the Royal Palace on the Dam for the awarding of the Erasmus prize to Trever Noah, which was only the second time the prestigious Dutch humanities prize had been awarded to a comedian. (The first was in 1965 to Charlie Chaplin.)
In his acceptance speech, Trevor said he ‘always thought that the power of laughter in spite of pain is a remarkable force. It has the ability to break down barriers, to open our hearts, and to remind us that even in our darkest moments, there is light.’ He concluded with the line of the night referring to the €150.000 prize: I am very proud that after 220 years, a South African has been able to take a few resources from the Netherlands back to the Cape.’
Afterwards King Willem Alexander and the Princess (ex-Queen Beatrix) were just hanging around talking with the assembled Dutch comedy and business royalty. Boom cast member Matt Castellvi charmingly called him Dude and got this selfie. Not only was it a wonderful night for the field of comedy, but it wasn’t the first time I met the King. I performed for him the year before when I hosted the American Chamber of Commerce 65th anniversary event. How’s that for a double name drop?
Our book also dropped this year: The 30 Most Important Years in Dutch History. Co-owners Pep Rosenfeld, Saskia Maas and I were flown to New York to be a guest on Late Night with Seth Meyers to talk about our very funny oral history of Boom Chicago. Another one for the bucket list with the added bonus of two days of dinners and drinking with the Meyers’ Family. See the clip here. Their wonderful photographer also captured some nice backstage moments. Shout out to our Flemish fans. As viewers of Seth know, our book is number one in Belgium!
This past summer, we were also featured in a large article in The New York Times. We went on our book tour through America, with sold-out stops in New York, Chicago and LA. In New York, Seth hosted the event, Nicole Parker came from her Broadway show to sing a song and Amber Ruffin, Holly Walker and Tarik Davis and others joined the panel to tell stories about their Boom days.
The Chicago event was at the legendary iO theater where Pep and I began our improv careers, and our LA event featured an overstocked panel of LA-based Boom folks hosted by Ike Barinholtz and ended with a rare performance of Brendan Hunt and his band Elvis Prestello. The concept is an Elvis Presley impersonator plays only songs from Elvis Costello. Welcome to Brendan’s crazy head. Jason Sudeikis stopped by to see the old gang too.
Keegan-Michael Key‘s comedy history book came out this year as well and Boom Chicago made it in. Although I have told the story ‘Key met Peele at Boom Chicago‘ many times (As must be clear by now, Boom is not shy about our alumni), it was nice to see Keegan write that his and Jordan Peele’s friendship began (before MadTV) at the Boom Chicago-Second City stage swap in 2002.
We celebrated our 30th anniversary big this summer during the 3rd edition of the Boom Chicago Comedy Festival. The festival, organized by Boom Artistic Director Stacey Smith has been growing every year and this summer was the biggest yet. No wonder with our lineup. The stellar current cast was all over the festival with various special
guests. We presented sold-out shows from Seth Meyers at Tuschinski and Brendan Hunt who performed Five Years in Amsterdam and premiered a new show. Ex-bartender Jelke van Houten and her comedy beau Henry van Loon tended the bar on closing night.
Arjen Lubach was back again at the festival and once again number one on the prestigious Dutch Media 100 list. The much richer businessman and producer John de Mol, number one for a generation, has not seen the top spot for two years and was dethroned by, yes, a comedian.
Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema was another exciting festival guest. On stage she thanked Boom Chicago for Ted Lasso a show she said was important for many during the pandemic. The Amsterdam episode in the third season of this hit comedy was the best marketing the city could have wished for. I did three short interviews with her so the cast could improvise a show/musical about her life. She was quite funny herself and sassed me back. Not bad for a politician. I dare say she charmed and won over the somewhat sceptical crowd. Of course, the cast knocked the show out of the park.
Back to Henry van Loon… It was at the afterparty at our house that he and Saskia Maas connected about InterActing, our theater school for teenagers with autism. His mother had always worked with kids with challenges and, before she died, he promised to continue her work. After learning more about InterActing, he said this is it and become our ambassador. Not only does he help to grow the foundation, he also works with the students as he is excited about improvisation himself. Welcome to the family, Henry!
The Boom Chicago Academy also had a great year with now more than 150 students enrolling for our offer ing expanded to include stand-up comedy, musical improv classes and courses from visiting comedian-teachers from around the world. This diverse group of people takes classes to be part of a comedy community, to feel more confident presenting and to learn comedy. Unlike in the early days, ‘actor types’ are the minority of participants, superseded by ‘regular people’ who see the value in comedy in their lives.
When Brendan came to town, he was very impressed with our current cast the best in years. It is great that after 30 years our own shows continue to impress and break new ground. Our shows have gotten broader and more ambitious as well.
WTF Improv is a new show designed to use as many people from the audience as possible. Groups celebrating and teams at work both appreciated a show where we could say yes to the question we get all the time: ‘Can you do something with this person from our group in the show?’
Last Minute Stand-Ins was a show that combined accomplished actors and our improvisers to make a show that showcases the best of both groups. Pep Rosenfeld and Greg Shapiro swung back hard with Politically Incorrect with a sold-out run that will be even more in demand as the American election approaches in 2024.
Tragedy Plus Time Equals Comedy showed that, yes, we could make an innovative comedy show out of people’s sad and even tragic stories from their life. Not only were the shows very funny, but the audiences felt they were at something emotionally real and special. Our Sunday show SNL fires on all cylinders and has become perhaps my favorite Boom show.
Our venue has grown into a creative hotspot on the Rozengracht for a wide range of exciting visiting comedians like Michelle Buteau and Randy Feltface but also our very own Najib Amhali. Not only that, but comedy is also growing in languages other than English and Dutch. In 2023 we had foreign comedians from Greece, Egypt, India, Lebanon, Italy and Romania performing in their mother tongues, using comedy to connect with foreign-born communities.
Standing in the theater for these shows was quite surreal. They looked like standups. The spoken rhythms felt like stand-up. I even laughed absently at some of the punchlines since they felt funny. But I certainly didn’t understand them. The audience at these inevitably sold-out shows loved them even more as these were the chance to see big stars from their home countries in a theater with only 350 people.
Not just at our home base on the Rozengracht, but comedy had a greater role at ‘serious’ conferences and corporate events. For the second year, I hosted the prestigious DPW Amsterdam, earning me the undisputed title of Best Procurement Comedian in the world. Of course, I am the only Procurement Comedian in the world (and therefore also the worst).
Co-founder Pep Rosenfeld again hosted The Nordic Business Forum for 10.000 people and received the highest speaker ranking of the conference. A comedian beat out some of the world’s top speakers!
And finally, when my wife and I stayed at the Kimpton Hotel in Paris, our junior suite disappointed with a strange layout that made the sleeping area very small. When I went downstairs frustrated, I explained the situation to the front desk person. She was sympathetic and moved us to a beautiful and spacious prestige suite. Why? She said that although I was complaining, I was also funny. The line that got me a top suite? ‘When I saw my original room, I felt like I had slept with Mrs. Kimpton and I’m sorry.’
It was a good year for comedy, comedians and Boom Chicago in particular. In these challenging times, laughter is a very powerful stress reliever that unites people. And making the Kimpton staff member laugh also made a great three-day weekend in Paris even more special. Let’s see if we can make it an even better 2024!
Andrew Moskos, Co-founder, Boom Chicago