George Schorschi came to Germany from Phoenix, Arizona and now runs a comedy circuit that tours around Germany. Based in Düsseldorf this copywriter and stand-up comedian sees comedy as a lifeline for expats, helping them to see the lighter side of life in Germany.
Seeing as you’re an American and the most controversial election in US history is about to take place, tell us who you’d like it to be – Trump or Clinton?
Definitely Clinton. Even before Bernie pulled out; I liked his ideas but I knew they would be very difficult to get done. I feel like we went through that with Obama. As a young adult I thought he could really bring change, and he has done so much, but against such a large opposition it just wasn’t possible. With Clinton I’m happy to see a large portion of Bernie’s ideas integrated in the Clinton platform. Ultimately I think we need someone with her expertise in the White House.
Did you get to vote?
Yes I did, but I come from what’s known as a red state. This time there is a chance of Arizona turning blue as we have a large Hispanic population and as you know, Trump has not been kind to them (or anyone, really). But it’s very conservative so we’ll have to see. I seriously looked into third party options this time but there were no serious alternatives, just some weird “Boiling Frog” party that looks like a joke.
Talking of jokes… how does a comedian end up in a country that’s not known for its sense of humour?
I studied Theatre at the Arizona State University and about three years in I thought – what am I going to do with a Theatre degree? So I took German as a minor. My mother speaks German (among other languages) and she’d told me all these amazing stories about Germany and Europe and I thought it would be fun. Long story short, when I finished studying I decided to move to Germany and study in Heidelberg and reconnect with my ex – which of course didn’t work out. But I stuck it out because as much as I love my family and friends back home, I didn’t see myself returning there at the time. You get this feeling back home that people just get stuck there and never leave, and I felt that if I went back I’d become one of those people. So I decided to study further and went to a school in Berlin as an international student and added a third major in International Business Management. I did an internship in Düsseldorf as part of the program and after I graduated, I decided to stay.
So you chose Düsseldorf over Berlin?
I liked Berlin a lot. I thought it was a lovely city, but a lot of what people find great about it – the fact that it’s cheap and crazy things happen there – is because no one has any money and people are often distracting themselves by doing crazy things. It’s a great place to live out your wild twenties but then you think, “I’d really like to have a job and salary and health insurance…”
And you have all those wonderful things now?
Yes, I work at an advertising agency in Düsseldorf as a copywriter.
How easy has it been for you to find work here?
It’s been incredibly difficult. I hopped around so many different jobs and did pretty much anything at the beginning, from washing dishes to serving the breakfast buffet at a hotel. In Berlin companies almost only want you on a freelance or project basis. There’s a bit of a feeling in the expat community that you’re being used and then dismissed. If you’re not an EU citizen then you’re seen as a disposable resource. I remember one company that offered to write you a letter so you could stay in the country. So many expats flocked to that. But the company would write the letter, use the people up and then leave them twisting in the wind.
How did you get into comedy?
I started doing improv in high school and then at the Arizona State University I took a comedic writing course. I find that my humour comes over better face to face than in writing. People take things very literally in writing and you can’t explain it to them; like my passive aggressive quiz, that got some interesting feedback and people not really getting it and saying – but that’s not passive aggressive, that’s just simply aggressive… It was satire, an exaggeration.
I loved it, I thought it was spot on. Was it based on your recent experiences of erroneously breaking the kind of German rules that you can only know about if you’re German?
I actually wrote that post as a response to recent events, like yelling at me for throwing my trash in the wrong bin, which in fact was the right bin, for cycling on the pavement because there was a tram in the way on the road, and so on. I was just so angry, I had to write it.
Do you get a lot of that?
I found a note from a neighbour on my door the other day that said “your door also closes quietly,” so yeah, I get it often enough. I’m even planning on starting a Tumblr where expats can contribute their notes as well!
Being able to take out your frustration in your stand-up routine must help. How did the ‘circuit’ start?
I studied in Heidelberg for a year and two years after I left a friend was running a show there. I performed and thought to myself, this could be a really great thing. When he offered me the chance to run it I was happy to take over and was put in touch with O’Reilly’s which has locations in Heidelberg, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt (among others). Later I found Hudson’s in Essen and Scruffy’s in Karlsruhe thanks to some friends. I have a bunch of comedy pals from Berlin who act as the hosts and supporting who comes out for road experience and growing the scene. Then we have a headliner position which is almost always someone outside Germany; in the past we’ve had headliners from the UK, Canada, the USA, India, anf Australia. It’s really a learning circuit- we introduce new talents and show the audience comedians from outside Germany. It’s kind of a passion project of mine and I’m really happy with the progress, I’m now working on kicking it up a notch and turning it into something even bigger.
Why do you think English language comedy is so popular?
For expats, stand-up can be an important lifeline. When things get a little hard it’s important to stop and really appreciate what the world has to offer. That’s what makes comedy so potent in DE.
How do you mean?
Compared to the UK, or US, or in fact most other English speaking nations, Germany can seem a little straight laced and buttoned down, that’s why I believe comedy does so well here especially for expats. It’s tough when you get here – there are so many rules and ways of doing things that you just have to learn the hard way. So they come to a comedy show and get to laugh at things. A lot of people thank me for doing it. They get to feel like they’re back home in some comedy club and get to have a good laugh about the crazy things that happen here in Germany.
What do you think about German stand-up comedy?
I particularly enjoy some of the sketch comedy on TV like Knallerfrauen, that’s really funny. But I find the stand up has a style of its own that’s different from English language comedy. The Berlin scene is really interesting as there’s a huge amount of English speaking comedy, shows every night. Lots of German comedians are reaching out to do joint shows, some are switching to English and others are creating these mash up shows. They’ve also recently opened the first official “home” for English comedy, Comedy Cafe Berlin.
Is comedy simply funnier in English?
My personal opinion is that it’s a bit like opera – it’s better in the native language, like Puccini in Italian and Wagner in German. I think stand-up is such an English art form in its structure and fluidity and the way you can set up a joke with a punchline at the end. In German the structure doesn’t always lend itself to a punchline on the end – that’s where you have to put the verb.
With that in mind let’s set up the ending here. What advice would you give to new arrivals?
Buy a real winter coat. I come from the desert so it took me a while to work out how to dress for winter here and deal with the changing seasons (I still struggle). So I bought myself some thermal inlay boots and a big puffy coat and now I’m prepared for whatever winter throws at me.
What are you looking forward to most in the next month or so – apart from a Clinton election win?
Going home for Christmas first of all. And also another round of the circuit from November 27 till 01 December. Then we’ll have a winter break and be back for another circuit in January – because let’s face it, you really need something to laugh about at in Germany during January!