11 years ago I met a German guy in a town called Merida in Mexico, his name was Patrick. He was a mad bastard with an infectious laugh and beautiful energy. He had just bought a 1954 Plymouth and named it ‘Rolf’. It was a piece of crap. I, along with a bunch of others set off with him in this beast of a vehicle death trap and it had all sorts of troubles. We’d push start it, put bricks under the wheels, attached string to the windshield wipers to make them function and pray each time we went downhill that the brakes would work. Nobody died and somehow he ended up driving it all the way to California where it still lives.
We sometimes Skyped and followed each others adventures, he and his wife Peggy cycled from Germany to India. They got married on an island in Belize when he sprung the idea on her and there was no way off the island for her to escape! Having a connection with Belize, he once ordered some Cacau Beans to be sent to Germany to distribute to chocolate makers. Nobody wanted them because it was cheaper to produce chocolate bypassing that process. So, with an angry father-in-law who had a full garage of beans, he decided the only way to get rid of it was to make chocolate himself.
Fast-forward to today and Choco Del Sol is a thriving family run business, organic made chocolate located in a 12th century castle in the middle of nowhere. It is exactly the kind of thing that I'd expect from this person and it's obvious he's my friend. We surround ourselves with likeminded people. For several years I’ve had the lure from Patrick to come work and live here. “C’mon Marcus! Come live in a castle and make chocolate!!” he’d scream down the camera on Skype. I mean, isn’t it every child’s dream to play in a castle and eat chocolate!? How can you resist such an offer!? But I’m a sensible person with a career and of course always considered this to be a silly idea… until yesterday.
We came to a compromise and decided that if I was going to come play, it’d be to do a stand-up comedy show in English in the castle. Because I don’t do things in half measures! It’d be my first ever show in Germany. And in its 800 year history, the first for Rochsburg Castle too! Go large or go home.
We’re both mad enough to know this was a terrible idea but that we could also make it work or at least have fun trying.
Rochsburg Castle isn’t easy to get to, its situated in the countryside outside of a small town with only German speaking residents and its a very conservative area. The biggest place nearby is Chemnitz which still has the largest statue of Karl Marx on display from the communist era. He wasn't the funniest of the Marx Brothers!
Would this right wing region be good for comedy?
When I arrived I was picked up in a VW van, the "new" Rolf and this vehicle is full of character, everyone in the town knows him! We settled into the realisation that this wouldn’t be a sold-out show. But that didn’t matter. This was something we both wanted to do and something I’ve learnt in comedy is; instead of worrying about the people that aren’t there, focus on the people that are there. But first we had to hope some people turned up! The show date fell on a holiday too which meant maybe people would stay away or have other things on, or it meant maybe people would be looking for something to do. We contacted the local radio station and we laughed as we heard my name mentioned on the airwaves in the VW as being a “hot tip” for things to do! There wasn't much else going on let's face it.
The TV station posted about the event on their Facebook page but saying it was tomorrow and not today. So we wondered if people will turn up Friday instead.
During the day the castle was busy, loads of people coming in and out, of course barely an English speaking person in the mix. I sat at my laptop getting my next show tour planned and mapping out where I'd go next. An old German guy started talking to me. When I said I don’t speak German several times, he just kept talking at me in German. As if I’d eventually figure it out. This wasn't a good sign.
The resident caretaker of the castle was kind enough to let me play dress-ups and I wore the armour he had made. Some 26,000 rings he has linked together! The suit weighed about 21kg. Wearing it was amazing and made me feel sorry for the horses that had to carry those wearing it. It was so heavy I could barely lift my sword. I’d have been a dead soldier in battle for sure!
When it came to showtime, a friend I’d met in Nicaragua who now lived in Dresden drove an hour to see the show. That alone made me chuffed. Her Italian boyfriend didn’t come because he didn’t speak English. I would’ve been happy if he did just to make up numbers. I came out to see that there were 10 people sat around the table sampling chocolate and drinking wine.
This was my audience and we had to make a decision if we’d go ahead with the show or not. I've done plays to smaller crowds, and normally at a comedy show, if there’s more people on stage than in the crowd you don’t do the show. But when you’re in a small town in Germany in a castle and 10 people have come to see a comedy show, there’s no excuse not to do it. Only one of them had actually been to see live stand-up comedy before, so they didn’t know any different.
For me, this was either going to be a really tough gig or an experience I can learn from and embrace. I treated it like I’d been booked to entertain a dinner party. Which is something I never want to do by the way. Instead of using the stage and creating a gap between us, I just let them stay where they were to keep it intimate and comfortable and stood at the end of the table and began. There were moments I stopped to explain jokes or certain words, but even that was funny.
I had applause breaks like it was a theatre piece. There were stories I’d never told on stage before and things just flowed. Everyone was getting into it and there were big laughs and smiles. Some confused faces and some translation occurred but nothing that threw me off. When I finally stopped, I’d done 90mins. In front of 10 people. 3 of whom worked at Choco Del Sol. Nobody complained that it was a small audience, after all, this has never been done here before and the fact that anyone came at all was a minor miracle.
Patrick, Peggy and myself were all overwhelmed that we managed to pull it off.
They told me that the audience were all saying great things about it in German.
I was met with such warmth and genuine appreciation.
And we drove home in Rolf all smiles.
Our crazy little idea worked. Albeit on a small scale in a large setting.
The venue is unique and breathtaking and it's definitely the first time I've had to cross a drawbridge and slay a dragon to get to a gig, and so we’re already talking about bringing other German and non-German speaking comedians to the castle.
Last night won’t go down in history as a career defining show, there are no promoters scouting at these gigs, there will be no Netflix deal to come of it. But it most certainly will sit fondly in my mind as one of the greatest shows I’ve done for so many different reasons.
In my 19 years of performing comedy, I’ve died a few deaths, I’ve had hecklers and bad gigs, I’ve also had 5 star reviews, standing ovations and sell-out shows, but I’ve never before performed 90minutes to 10 people in a chocolate factory in a 12th century medieval castle to an entirely German audience in Deutschland before!
A true artist should never do what they do for the money, but for the love..
Van Gogh never sold a piece of art his entire life. He was also a mad bastard who cut off his ear so make of that what you will! My passion is travel, comedy and challenging myself to push the boundaries in my work.
If it’s an easy gig, I’m already bored. I crave new and exciting experiences and I love throwing myself into these random situations to see what happens.
After last night, my pockets may be empty, but my heart is full of love for the people around me and what we achieved. And as an artist, that’s all I can really ask for.