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Last Updated: Friday, 18 January 2008, 08:30 GMT
Comedy king in exile
By Stephen Robb
BBC News

"Blissfully, painfully funny." "Electrifying." "Outrageous and surreal." "A force of nature... a genius at work."

The arrival on these shores of an overseas comedy megastar performing his first full-length shows in the UK has prompted rapturous press coverage.

Hans Teeuwen
Hans Teeuwen is a household name in his native Netherlands
But it is not this month's long-awaited appearance of US comic-turned-movie star Chris Rock that has generated these particular superlatives (although he has earned plenty as well).

This ecstatic praise is from previews of the two-week run at London's Soho Theatre, starting on Friday, by Hans Teeuwen.

Never heard of him? That's exactly how he likes it.

A huge star in the Netherlands - "the Dutch equivalent of Eddie Izzard", according to UK comic Adam Bloom - Teeuwen has decided to transfer his career to a foreign country and foreign language.

"It's more exciting to do it somewhere where nobody knows you, and do it in a foreign language and for people in a different country," he says.

"It's a lesson in humility. For character-building, very, very interesting."

Further testing his character, Teeuwen will appear before London audiences having performed almost no comedy for almost four years - and none at all in his homeland.

Danger subject

The start of this hiatus coincided with the 2004 murder of his friend Theo van Gogh, killed by a radical Islamist after the TV showing of the Dutch film-maker's movie featuring abuse of a Muslim woman within a forced marriage.

Teeuwen says that his break was planned, after more than a decade performing stand-up, but admits that the killing "didn't exactly make me enthusiastic to start again".

Theo van Gogh
Van Gogh: A radical Islamist was jailed after confessing to his killing
"Theo being a friend of mine, if I would have been still performing, I am not really sure how I would have dealt with the subject," he says.

"Normally when I did controversial stuff I did it very bluntly - to do it so rude it almost became absurd.

"Obviously it would be very hard to do that or very dangerous to do that, for instance, talking about the Prophet Muhammad."

While avoiding tackling the subject on stage, Teeuwen has regularly done so on TV debates and elsewhere after finding himself thrust into the role of prominent free speech campaigner.

"In my heart, I would rather be just a comedian and not get involved in any kind of politics or political discussions of this kind," he says.

But he admits that in the wake of the Van Gogh killing his thinking on the subject of freedom of speech was "compulsive", probably as a "way to deal with the trauma, just because the actual event was too horrible to get a grasp on".

Eighty per cent nonsense and absurdity, and 20% something else
Hans Teeuwen describes his act
Free speech is "non-negotiable", he says.

"It's as fundamental as equal rights for men and women. These are the basic ideas of a free society - they are crucial."

He adds: "There is this subject now that has emerged over the last nine or 10 years which is very, very controversial. You can literally lose your life over it.

"Before that, I couldn't think of any subject that has the same risk."

Despite his conviction, his stand-up shows almost completely avoid politics.

Absurdist act

The comic performed as part of the Amsterdam Underground Comedy Collective at last year's Edinburgh Fringe, where critics regarded him as one of the finds of the festival.

Teeuwen's firecracker of a performance... for danger, intensity and to-hell-with-it idiosyncrasy, is unlikely to be bettered at this year's [Edinburgh] festival
The Guardian

As soon as Hans Teeuwen takes to the stage, the room crackles with a rare comic energy
The Times

His surreal show included a magician trying to teach a rabbit to speak, a sock puppet eating a chocolate bar, and Teeuwen playing Popeye the Sailor Man on his cheeks.

Teeuwen calls his act "80% nonsense and absurdity, and 20% something else - either semi-autobiographical or controversial or political".

On the eve of his London run, he adds: "We'll see if I like it and see if the audience likes it, and if that in both cases is the case, then that might be my restart as a stand-up comedian."

But he adds: "It could turn out into just another bloodbath without any fun at all - that is the risk I take."

That warning notwithstanding, a successful translation to the UK comedy scene looks certain.

Hans Teeuwen is performing at London's Soho Theatre until 2 February.

Van Gogh killer jailed for life
26 Jul 05 |  Europe
Dutch murder account up for prize
04 May 07 |  Entertainment
Life of slain Dutch film-maker
02 Nov 04 |  Entertainment

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