I’ve always had a fascination with England: their people, their humor, their language. But I never really encountered English people, other than the drunk NATO soldiers at shitty clubs in my German hometown Celle. The only time I approached an English person was when I was 14 and on a class trip to London. „Um, excuse me, can you tell me ze vay to ze topshop, please“, I bravely asked a woman in the street, nervously with my best school English and in front of my class mates. She grunted „äh, ich sprech’ auch deutsch!!!!!“. I was both humiliated and impressed that, in this busy street, I picked out the one German.
The last time I was in Britain was eight years ago at a summer school in Twickenham, in southwest London. My job was to take care of spoiled international kids. We would go on a hike around town and suddenly our three kids from Dubai went missing. Turned out later, they despise walking and got into a cab, without any notice, and drove back to the school. They also stopped at a Pizza Hut. I wish I had been a kid from Dubai.
I visited England a few times during my „cruise ship incident“ 2012-2014. (That is, for months I hosted Bingo onboard a German cruise ship with a character I developed just for the game: Bingo host „Bingrid“, a stickler for the rules, openly dismissive, and always annoyed with all guests. Believe it or not, I was regularly mentioned in the customer reviews under „what we liked about our trip“. Hosting Bingo with an alias also helped me not to go mad and jump off the railing. “It’s not really me who’s shouting out numbers at people every single night while floating on an ocean.”)
That being said, the ship stopped at rather alternative British tourist destinations like the industrial port of Southampton, and some harbor two miles outside of Dover – which was absurdly advertised as „London“ in the cruise’s brochure. That’s why these visits to Britain don’t count. It’s an insult to any country when three thousand cruise guests and a grumpy bingo host are out on parole for a few hours in a different country to take pictures and in thirty years find a photo and say „oh yeah, I’ve been there“.
Last week, I finally set foot on the island again and visited my friend Sam, a sound artist from South Korea, in Liverpool. Finally, I met real English people.
Here are my field notes, that I jotted down while walking:
Liverpool, June 12th 11.30 am
Everything does look English, I totally forgot. It’s like a parody of what I remembered Britain was like. I walked out of Sam’s home and within ten minutes I saw: a guy without a shirt, three woman that looked just like Katy Price, a dozen old people with long faces that looked like props from the old Mr. Bean series, a man in an electric wheel chair definitely going over the speed limit while dragging his overweight dog behind, three people that I apparently passed too closely so they reflexively said sorry. And of course kids in uniform. I followed them into the Liverpool cathedral. They had a children church service and all their gospels sounded like Mumford & Sons.
Liverpool, June 12th 4 pm
A book store had one shelf labeled „humor“. Does a German book store even have one humor book? I picked up a book called „Nomad“ by Alan Partridge. A comedy character portrayed by Steve Coogan. His kitsch cover just mesmerized me. A creepy bloke (a new English word that I learned and like) stood behind me and said „you should get that book hahaaaa“. I asked why. He shouts „This is everything that is wrong with this country“. Now I regret not having bought it.
Liverpool, June 12th 11pm
I went to a comedy club but didn’t perform. I need to analyze them first before I’m in the responsible position to make them laugh. You know, war preparation. There was a language problem, though. The people here speak scouse, the thick Liverpool accent, which to me is Dadaist art. (In a cafe a woman said, I think, „we have Pringles, Twix and Kitkat“ but all I understood was „eh ih huh twinkles pricks and quick quacks“). I laughed hysterically the entire show about my mishearings. It didn’t help that I sat next to the most drunk woman in the room, who was there with her three sons, she wanted to set me up with. That I understood.
I also understood the funny headliner’s English because he’s from Malawi. Daliso Chaponda asked the crowd „who of you grew up poor“. Everyone cheered. And then „who of you grew up rich“. So I clapped, because I thought „well I won’t be the only one, I clearly didn’t grow up super rich but definitely not poor either“. I was the only one who clapped and everyone laughed at me. Well there’s my first laugh!
I had so much fun, I totally forgot I was there to do research. I realized how comedy is a fun, violent volleyball game. Saying something on stage, i.e. sending out energy and waiting for the reaction, for the energy to hit the back of the room and hit you back in the face before sending out the next words.
My friend Regina thought of a TV format: “Ingrid’s search for the global punchline”. I travel from country to country, from comedy club to comedy club, bar to bar. I observe which laughter unites us, which separates us. I take field notes of what people laugh about. Where do people draw a line? What do they find funny about the world, themselves, me? My next episode will be already next weekend, when I perform in Vienna here.
(Two of the photos here were actually taken in Manchester, just to be accurate.)