This Saturday, Berlin comedians Rohit Bhatia and Filippo S. Fico are hosting a comedy show called Escape from Alexanderplatz. What’s it about? The over-saturation of tourists in Berlin at this time of year, which is defined by cheesy selfies and people asking for directions. But naturally, there’s an undertone–this show strikes a similar chord to Escape from Alcatraz, the 1979 thriller starring Clint Eastwood who tries to escape a high-security prison. Once you move to Berlin, it’s hard to leave. Are Berliners stuck here? This show is definitely for locals who laugh at the outside perception of Berlin, but maybe even themselves. On a recent night, Bhatia and Fico took some time to answer a few questions about the Berlin comedy scene and their upcoming show.
Local Suicide: How did you become comedians?
Filippo S. Fico: This is a difficult question because comedy is what I like and what I do, it sounds lame but it’s what I need to survive. I started less than two years ago in Chicago, I was doing improv and theatre. I was making political jokes, the instructor said it wasn’t funny until I did the punch lines with the piano. It was complete nonsense. Hilarious.
Rohit Bhatia: I started a couple of years ago, I used to play in a band in Bombay. When I moved to Germany, I was working as a writer doing a humor column. I met a bunch of Finnish people who found me hilarious and they weren’t high or drunk. They said they wanted me to come to Finland and do comedy and I started to do standup, using some material from my humor column. But really, I was waiting to renew my visa and I was doing nothing, it was looking pretty bleak and I couldn’t afford therapy.
LSD: So this new comedy show is based around tourism in Berlin in the summer. How did you come to the idea and what is it about?
Fico: It’s about tourism and it’s metaphorical. It’s Clint Eastwood. The idea for us was to break free from something—the boredom of people, the clichés. We just want to speak our minds. We are prisoners of this city in different ways, but everyone wants to come here. There’s a lot of bullshit involved but we are about bullshit. The title is about my own desire to break free. I want to break free even from making sense. It’s a state of mind.
Bhatia: It’s about prisoners trying to escape, like “Escape to Alcatraz.” People come here and think it’s just a great city, so cool, but it’s not the free sex heaven they think it is—people don’t work to live—fuck off. You are still getting cheques from mom. That’s a façade when you are from outside or you come from a higher social and financial mobility; anyone who spends three months here can write a glowing review on Trip Advisor. But they don’t realize the privilege they have because of their passports and skin colour. They don’t realize people who don’t have these privileges are enslaved and working to keep the illusions of this being a free city and a democratic country. Don’t you realize it’s almost a decade that the right wing is in power here? A few districts are cool for you because you’re fucking driving the rent up. But I feel stuck here; it’s not a very happy existence here. But hey, it could be worse, that’s what everyone says, you could be dead. This kind of existence of the alienation of anyone who is not white, the stigma of refugees and the confusion that they’re zoo animals in an asylum home. This is what I talk about in my comedy, race relations and immigration. It’s we want to get away from these clichés and Berlin is not all people say it is. It’s a statement against vulgarity.
LSD: How long have you lived in Berlin?
Fico: We’ve both been here five years. You’ll never be integrated into the place. It’s not the German language, from my perspective as an Italian person, in Europe there are judgments going on. It’s far from being a unified continent. This is a bubble, even in the comedy scene, in the expat scene. It’s not the real deal. They don’t call themselves an immigrant, they call themselves an outmigrant.
Bhatia: I don’t know if an expat is an immigrant, does the immigrant want to leave their country? Or are they forced to because of economic and social necessities? Is an immigrant someone close to a refugee from a non-warzone? Come on, really. You could call yourself Mickey Mouse for all I care.
LSD: What is the Berlin English comedy scene?
Fico: We have comedians who do open mics and split shows with a theme, which is what we’re doing. it is an independent, self-produced show.
Bhatia: It is vibrant but the theme “Escape from Alexanderplatz” of the show is about different worlds and different perspectives and different levels of vulgarity. For example, a 24-year-old can live in Berlin on a visa and go perform in Paris. I can’t go to another European country, like England, I have to turn down shows because I can’t get the other visa to go and come back to Germany. Some comedians are aware, some are not. Anyone with a half a brain can run an open mic, but to run a successful one, like We are not Gemüsed and Cosmic Comedy, they keep a high level of quality. Usually it’s about putting your friends onstage, like one open mic I know in the north of the city where a bunch of hipsters stand around a washing machine and don’t laugh because they’re apathetic.
LSD: What inspires you to keep you going as comedians?
Fico: I can only say I am learning everyday; this has changed my life. I’m happy to do it. what keeps me going has something to do with love, strangely enough. You give up doing something you like? That’s bullshit.
Bhatia: Despite my background as a reporter of crime in Bombay and the fact that I’m a cynical person, I still like making people laugh. I think some white guy once said “If you want to tell people the truth, you have to make them laugh or they’re going to kill you.”
Photos by Nadja Sayej