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Madrid City in English
Friday 24th of November 2017
Rachel Morgan 1305 29th of April 2013 by editor 4th of May 2013
Left to right: Dáire McGill, Dan Feist, Toni Rodriguez and Just Shaun.
Comedy without borders

The Freshly Squeezed team present stand up and improv comedy in Madrid, but they also host Spanish performers who want to test their routines in English. Rachel Morgan chats to them about the lure of language and laughs

Your palms are sweating. In front of you is a sea of eager faces waiting patiently for you to bring a smile to their lips. You know every word and pause of your routine, but your monologue is not in your native language. Will your vocabulary, timing, and the cultural references withstand the test?  It’s a scenario that’s faced each month by Freshly Squeezed’s Ole Stars, a showcase of Spanish comedians who are courageous enough to present their material in English. The outcome can make the expression “dying on stage” an even greater risk, but there is never a shortage of willing performers. 

 

A culture shock
Self-doubt finds its way into the psyches of all stand up comedians, but performing in a second language to an international audience provides a whole new set of issues for the monologuistas to consider. Photo by Soria Castro “There are things you can’t say in English. There are words you just can’t translate and you think, ‘Oh, I have to say it in Spanish,’” explains comedian Gerald B Fillmore García, who is bilingual. The diversity of the audience can also prove difficult, with problems finding ‘common ground’. “It’s incredible because, for example, you have to deal with people from Spain, England, the USA, and maybe a girl from Serbia,” he adds. Stand up is not the only string to Fillmore García’s bow—he does everything from commercials to sketch comedy. “I’ve done loads of commercials, from Orange and Vodafone to McDonalds, Kit Kat and Nescafé. I did Nintendo with Penelope Cruz about two months ago. I’m happy and I’m married. I’m really married!”
    Pablo Ibarburu is another Spanish performer trying out in English. He’s a big fan of comedy stemming from the USA, and bemoans that he has issues with trying to appeal to Spanish audiences generally. “My biggest problem is that I try to do things that make me laugh. The audience in Spain doesn’t like the same stuff because I grew up with an entirely different culture, which was American.” Ibarburu credits his interest in comedy to shows such as The Simpsons, Seinfeld and Friends. Feeling culturally distant from the Spanish entertainment industry, he finds refuge in the Freshly Squeezed crowd. “This audience here is amazing,” Ibarburu says, in a genuinely grateful tone.

 

Stand and deliver
Each performer has his own way of coping with the mix of cultures in the audience. Kikín Fernández, a comedy veteran, is very familiar with the demands of a Spanish crowd. He explains, “We’ve all got different senses of humour, but they more or less work the same. But language is the medium—the way you deliver—and you have to think in the language that you’re going to deliver in.”
    Fernández talks to me having just completed his first English comedy monologue. He recounts: “Right before, I thought I was going to forget everything because it was the first time for me in English and I had to write a new routine for this show. I don’t like to learn a routine too much because then it’s not so fresh when performed.” In order to avoid sounding like he’s reciting a premeditated speech, Fernández prefers to clear his mind before a show, and to come up with jokes spontaneously. It’s much easier said than done, but improvisation in stand up monologues is employed by many comedians.

 

Home talent
Toni Rodriguez, Dan Feist, Just Shaun and Dáire McGill make up the regular Freshly Squeezed team of English-speaking comics. Rodriguez has similar feelings about improvisation. “When you’ve got the freedom to just waffle, that’s when I enjoy it most because I don’t like writing,” he smiles, “so whenever I waffle and get a crowd that will let me waffle, that’s great.”
    Despite the intriguing mix, many of the audience members are native Spanish speakers attempting to immerse themselves in English, meaning the jokes at the Freshly Squeezed showcase require a sort of universality in order to be successful. Dan Feist, an American, reveals his process: “There are some times you think of a topic, and then ‘Oh no, the Spanish people wouldn’t understand that,’ and so you move on.”
    Feist tries to keep his jokes original rather than to style them to fit the audience’s cultural viewpoint. However, he remains conscious of the limited English that some of the audience members possess. “I try to use vocabulary that they’re going to know. If they’re not going to know it, I try to imitate or to act out the idea.” He gives the example of a friend who performed a routine about dandruff, which was demonstrated by dusting imaginary flakes off his shoulders. “That’s the universal sign for dandruff,” he says.
    Just Shaun, from Ireland, expands on the language theme. “Stand up comedy comes out better when it’s done naturally. Wordiness is not good. I don’t have a huge vocabulary anyway, so keeping it simple comes easy!” Dáire McGill, also from Ireland, has learnt from experience about referencing individuals. “Cultural references are as important as language,” he says. “It’s one thing to refer to Whitney Houston, but another to try the name of Patrick Kielty, an Irish comic, for example.”

 

Stage fright
Though the Freshly Squeezed comics are no novices, none of them is immune to the classic bout of butterflies in the stomach. No matter how many times a stand up comic performs, his or her inner critic is always at work, which heightens when presenting in another language. According to the Freshly Squeezed comedians, their normal emotions before a performance range from absolute dread to disassociation and numbness.
    Getting nervous before a show isn’t completely counterproductive, however. Dani López, another Spanish comic testing material in English, puts a positive spin on the parade of doubts. He explains: “When I am not nervous, I’m afraid, because it’s good to have a few nerves.” However, he doesn’t recommend using alcohol to pacify the fear. “One day, I was performing solo for an hour. The first half-hour was OK, but the mistake I made was taking a whisky in the recess. The second part was awful, the worst of my life. Since that day, I never drink when I work.” Drinking and joking: a disastrous combination.
    Some comedians attack nerves by clearing their minds and letting the jokes fly. “Today, I just went up on stage, I don’t know what happened, it just came out. I don’t know what I said,” Ibarburu divulges. “Maybe I insulted someone. I don’t know if I insulted your mum. If I did, I’m sorry!”

 

A balancing act
The Freshly Squeezed comics each have various projects occupying nearly every minute of their time. Finding equilibrium between work and their personal lives is a constant battle. Feist, for example, juggles three different careers: writing, teaching and performing. “There are some weeks when not all of my projects coincide, and I’ll try to dedicate that week to calming down,” he reveals. “Normally there are two or three weeks each month where I have to balance writing comedy, remembering the comedy, writing an article, doing my classes and taking care of my family. It can be difficult.”
    Often, the stress and pressure of having so many tasks and performances can become a serious health risk. Rodriguez recounts the time that he had a full-blown panic attack from work-related anxiety. He laughs as he retells this weighty event, explaining that his friends encouraged him to make a comedy routine out of it. He shot down their idea until he was on stage a few days later and spent a full 15 minutes joking about his panic attack. The crowd ate it up, and he revelled in the effect it had on his audience. It’s clear he has no problem poking fun at himself for the sake of entertaining. He looks at me. “I look forward to my next panic attack,” he grins.

The Freshly Squeezed Comedy Nights, and Ole All Stars, take place at the Beer Station, Cuesta de Santo Domingo, 22 (Metro: Santo Domingo). May dates are Sun, 19, at 7.30pm, and Fri, 24, at 9pm. The Ole Stars, including Borja Sumozas and Francho Aijón, are on Thurs, 30 May, at 9pm. To reserve tickets, see www.freshlycomedy.com.


Further information & Map: Beer Station

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Great take!

Guest's picture

Loved your article... I will check this out when I'm in Madrid in June!

Great review...

Guest's picture

Loved the review... I'll definitely make it over there when I'm in Madrid in June