London-based American globetrotting comedy and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, 85, has briefly returned to the UK from Amsterdam where, below, she found time to jot down a few generalisations.
Don’t blame me!
I believe women in the UK are the most advanced thinkers in the world: liberal, open-minded, ambitious and proud of who they are.
But they cannot hold a candle to Dutch women.
The girls in Amsterdam do not take shit from anyone. They ride their bicycles in their fancy dresses and their sensible shoes (no helmets). They pay their own way and do not consider it polite for you to offer to treat them: they call that patronizing.
They are gorgeous, tall, blonde and independent. They tell you exactly what they think. They are NEVER wrong. AND they are loyal to each other. Do not ever try to criticize someone’s friend here; you will be ground to dust. I find that comforting. I am always sticking my foot in my mouth or stumbling into the wrong opinion but I know my buddies here will protect me and stand behind me, even though they might call me later to tell me what an idiot I am.
My generation – fools that we were – believed women’s work is to cook, clean and pick up after men and children. Not the girls in Amsterdam. You cook for yourself here and take responsibility for your own mess… no-one else’s. What a freedom!!!
The Dutch respect individuals’ right to make decisions about their own bodies in this country. My darling friend Nina is an abortion doctor. If you forgot the morning-after pill or the condom broke, she will help you set things right. Euthanasia is legal here as well. It is a comfort to me to know that, if I start getting loopy, one of my friends can ship me over to Amsterdam and, with a little heroin and a lot of wine, I can cross over to the other side. Just like that.
No lingering around, helpless and drooling, for me.
Amsterdam is a delightful city, vibrant and filled with interesting things to see and do, but the local food is execrable. These people love fries drenched in mayonnaise and greasy frikandel, a hot dog filled with greasy chicken, pork and veal, deep-fried and smothered in curry ketchup or applesauce. Everyone here loves pancakes with lots of sugar and anything not sweetened is deep-fried. If that isn’t horrifying enough, the Dutch love candy sprinkles on toast for breakfast. No wonder the incidence of diabetes has spiked here and so has obesity.
Dutch parents are known to take their children to an abandoned place like a forest, give them a sandwich and a bottle of water and let them find their own way home. They call this “Dropping” and it is a beloved tradition here. One Dutch woman put it this way: “You are literally dropping your kids into the world. Of course, you make sure they won’t die, but other than that, they have to find their own way.”
I personally have been trying to find my own way for 85 years 11 months now. No luck so far.
I was in Amsterdam to perform at its famous Comedy Café, where I was to headline for four days and feature for one. On the way there, on my first night, I passed several coffee shops where the smell of pot almost literally knocked me off my feet and, when I looked inside, I realized that the only people there were tourists. The Dutch do not smoke weed. They prefer something stronger like cocaine or meth.
And they aren’t very fond of tourists either. Last year alone there were more tourists in Amsterdam than there are people in all of Holland. They clog the streets and pee in flower boxes. They also spend billions on trinkets and nonsense that boosts the economy and the Dutch love money. The only thing they hate about the Euro is spending it.
My first night was a Tuesday and the audience was sparse and a bit of a challenge. They were from everywhere in the world, but very few had English as their first language. Getting a laugh is not easy when your audience is processing what you say and translating it back into their own tongue. What I do in that situation is talk slowly and pause after my punch lines. Amy Schumer gave me that advice at least twelve years ago: “When you say something funny, WAIT. Then, they will figure out that they are supposed to laugh.”
And, in Amsterdam at least, she has proven right.
The lovely thing about returning here so many times (this is my fifth visit) is that I see the same comedians and each time I see how they have sharpened their jokes and improved their timing. I also hear comedians that have not changed their set in years and I have heard them say the same thing so much I can chime in on their punch lines.
I get the problem. It is really difficult to carve out a never-fail joke and, when you finally get one and get the timing just right, you are loathe to let it go. It is exactly the same philosophy as allowing your child to make his own mistakes. He will often make a bit of a mess at first but eventually he figures it all out.
A new joke needs understanding, love and persistence. You have to prune it and rearrange the words. You have to figure out the pauses and the emphases. But for most of us the agony of a silent audience, if we don’t get it right, is too painful. We are terrified to take a chance. So we stick to the winners for years and years and years.
Dutch audiences are very forgiving and very kind. They do not follow a particular comedian unless is he is wildly famous and I do not play in those big name expensive clubs that feature TV stars. In the places I perform, the audience come to have an affordable night out and a good laugh. The line-up means nothing to them and they rarely remember you from one show to another.
Next week, I am in Farfa, Italy, where I will stay in a monastery and show the nuns what they are missing.
(NOTE: Euthanasia is currently only legal in Holland in cases of “hopeless and unbearable” suffering.)