‘What a week that will be,’ says Jeroen Woe (41). And that while they don’t really feel part of the showbiz world and they kind of hate premieres, says Niels van der Laan (41). Because yes, being reviewed remains difficult. When asked how he can deal with that: “Moderate. Two stars for me.”
It is not without reason that we talk about dealing with and the consequences of criticism, because that is the theme of their new cabaret program NG. Part of this topic arose from responses to their wildly popular TV show Until heresuccessor to the equally successful The Quiz. Van der Laan: “We notice from the reactions to that that some subjects are very sensitive.”
In NG we see the ‘theater-Jeroen’ and the ‘theatre-Niels’, as they call it themselves: they are not themselves, but they play themselves. Just like they play a collector, a confidant, a well-known singer and a doctor. The performance is a biography of Jeroen Woe and the mysterious title of the performance appears to be the phonetic rendering of his surname in Chinese. “We had a lot of fun with the idea of making a performance about one of us as a duo,” said the main character.
We hear about Woe’s Chinese and Jewish background and about his history with cancer. That makes Woe a ‘Jewish cancer Chinese’, concludes Van der Laan halfway through the performance. This may sound insulting, but in the performance Woe believes that he can derive certain rights from this qualification: he should be allowed to make jokes about Chinese people, Jews and cancer that the traditional Dutch Niels van der Laan is not allowed to make.
In a motley collection of sketches, songs and set changes, we see what happens to someone who is not used to being criticized. What was the source of inspiration for this?
Woe: “In recent years, people who have always had the highest jobs and the most opportunities suddenly received criticism. On discrimination issues, metoo, sustainability. You saw that they were not used to that and often could not deal with it at all. That criticism is often justified, of course, but we thought it was interesting to go a step further: it is simply not nothing if you receive criticism and are not used to it.”
If you make a rude joke on TV that puts a group away, you also kind of say that you’re okay with that happening
Van der Laan: “What we find so fascinating is what criticism sometimes produces. If people have heard enough times that they are racist, they become one. At first they weren’t, but that’s what criticism does: it breaks something. You saw it very nicely with the people who blocked the highway a few years ago as a pro Zwarte Piet demonstration. They were told that they were racist and then responded along the lines of: go back to your own country.”
Who is to blame in this story?
Van der Laan: „We are concerned with the way in which the debate is conducted. I am also against Zwarte Piet, but you may wonder whether it is wise to dismiss people as racist. [Van der Laan speelt sinds 2018 de rol van ‘hoofdpiet’ in het Sinterklaasjournaal, waar sinds 2019 geen zwarte piet meer in voorkomt, red.] It’s just like people talking about ‘cunt Moroccans’. If I were called that, it wouldn’t make me behave any better.”
Woe: “There’s nothing harder than being criticized for how you’ve always done it. You see that with the Zwarte Piet protesters, but also when someone is commented on his origin. The result is such a fundamental uncertainty. This often manifests itself in anger and unreasonableness.”
In the performance Jeroen tries to be more authentic in response to criticism, but he actually achieves the opposite.
Van der Laan: „We really wanted the Jeroen in the performance to radicalize in being authentic. If I’m only allowed to find something about what I really am, then I’m going to be all that, is his reasoning. We had to think a bit of men like Johan Derksen. One of his last riots was about that candle, but you can sense that his stories will get more and more extreme. It’s not even about whether those stories are true, it’s just his counter-reaction to what he sees as crazy correctness.”
Going on your mouth in the theater hurts less when people like your TV show
Your performance contains various sketches about political correctness: we see a conversation at the hairdresser, a collector at the door. Do you think we are going too far in correctness?
Woe: “Sometimes. I do get annoyed by people who say that you should first read a very thick book about slavery, before you can say something about racism.”
Van der Laan: „I think it is okay to disapprove of racism if you have not read such a book. But you should not then become the advocate of less racism, because then you don’t have that card.”
Woe: “I think we sometimes go too far in correctness, but that will straighten out on its own. Sometimes things get out of hand, but that doesn’t mean the initial idea isn’t right.”
Van der Laan: “That is our substantive starting point for many scenes in the performance. It is about the superlative that often follows in response to criticism. Like: Oh, I can’t eat meat anymore? And I’m certainly not allowed to drink cow’s milk anymore?”
Woe: „The reflex is then often even more radical: Then I will eat foie gras. Come here with that goose!”
Do you recognize that reaction?
Woo: “Certainly. I found writing certain scenes quite confronting. I recognize the anger when you see everyone sitting in Ibiza on Instagram while you do your best not to fly. I’m learning more and more that you shouldn’t let things like that get you down. You have to set your own limits and use your common sense.”
We stole the convenience of telling something to a room from TV
When it comes to too much correctness there is also hypocrisy or hypocrisy lurking.
Van der Laan: “That’s right, that’s also in the performance. We have tried to make Jeroen use everything to show that he is good. That is actually a reaction to a strange phenomenon: as a society we have agreed that you are good if you do certain things in public. For example, appearing on TV with your children or telling about the war. Then people automatically think: that is a good person. While that doesn’t necessarily have to be true.”
Woe: “Such a Marco Borsato who went to sing a song on TV with his daughter. Abusing your children in such a way to show that you are good yourself, I find that so bad.”
In your performance you sometimes make quite serious jokes. Do you dare more in the theater than in ‘Even tot hier’?
Woe: “I think different rules apply in the theatre. We also really enjoy pushing the boundaries on TV, but I do think you have a certain responsibility. If you make a rude joke on TV that puts a group away, you also kind of say that you’re okay with that happening.”
Van der Laan: „And an essential difference is that people cannot leave the theater to get chips. Excerpts from Until here should be able to stand on their own because people can view them individually. We had to get used to that in the beginning. In the theater we make quite a lot of bad jokes, but we dare to do that because people see the whole and can hopefully place it in a context.”
Have you gotten better at the theater through your TV work?
Van der Laan: “I think so. We used to feel very much like a fourth wall in the theater, while now we can pretend to be ourselves on stage much better. We have stolen the convenience of telling something to a room from TV.”
Woe: “We are now more daring in the theater. Going on your mouth hurts a little less if you know that people already like your TV show.”
Van der Laan: „Due to the frantic pace at which we Until here By the way, we have also started to work much more efficiently for our theater performances.”
Until here can be seen weekly on NPO1 from Saturday 12 November. Thursday October 6 makes Until here chance to win the Golden Televizier Ring
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 6, 2022