After years of having its top talent grabbed up by New York’s top houses of funny, a small but influential Dutch comedy troupe has finally made its debut here. Last week, the English-speaking Amsterdammers of Boom Chicago kicked off a Governors Island celebration of the quadricentennial of the founding of New York (as New Amsterdam) by the Dutch; a performance last night included both a funeral for the N-word and an improvised musical ode to bongs. But the small troupe has already infiltrated almost all comedy meccas in the city. The current showcase (which continues through September 20) is the first-ever chance for New York’s comedy scenesters to see Boomers in their backyard.
Seth Meyers, head writer at Saturday Night Live and anchor of its Weekend Update, is Boom’s most famous alum. His SNL cast mate Jason Sudeikis is also a Boomer. So is Allison Silverman, the onetime Emmy-winning executive producer of The Colbert Report, where she worked with fellow Boomer Pete Grosz. Boomer Joe Kelly, a co-producer on How I Met Your Mother, is writing Neil Patrick Harris’ lines for his debut as Emmy host. At 30 Rock, Liz Cackowski, Kay Cannon, and Tami Sagher are all Boomers. And Nicole Parker, who just wrapped up a run as Elphaba in Wicked here on Broadway, is a Boomer. And then there’s Burt Reynolds — he’s not a former member, but he is a fan.
You’re probably thinking, how hard can it be to make Amsterdam’s stoner tourists laugh? “Stoners,” Meyers tells us, “are actually the worst audience. They might laugh at a joke. But they might just as easily laugh at a hat. And being in a foreign city strips you of easy, quick pop-culture jokes. Boom really makes you learn how to dribble with your left hand. It’s the building blocks of humor rather than the quick or flashy stuff.”
The storied (and crowded) comedy institutions in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago — Channel 101, the Groundlings, the Harvard Lampoon, ImprovOlympic, Second City, et al. — are the Harvards and Yales of comedy. “But Harvard and Yale graduate lots of losers and assholes,” said Andrew Moskos, one of Boom’s founders. “Here I was, telling people that they didn’t have to suffer Chicago winters or wait their turn in New York or L.A., that they could come to a city of potheads and prostitutes and start performing onstage right away. It sounded like a scam, or like the comedy version of that movie Hostel.”
Moskos sometimes worried that Meyers’s success was a fluke, but in 2002 he noticed that half of MADtv was made up of Boomers — four onscreen actors and a writer. He credits the team’s tight-knit nature for developing strong but supportive talent. (The entire troupe is currently comprised of nine people — six men, three women.) “If you’re an asshole genius, that doesn’t work with us,” he said. “We really neutralize any big swinging dicks.”
Last week’s debut included improvised bits about a Dutch-Yankee mash-up where cabbies all have wooden clogs, the hidden dangers of throwing a backyard barbecue on the anniversary of 9/11, and the masterful discovery that a secret object was, in fact, a Chia Obama.
James Kirkland and Amber Ruffin look to be the next big things out of Boom, having just finished their pilot for a Daily Show–style satire for Dutch television. They are two of the four performers in “The Holland Globetrotters,” the Governors Island show. And Kirkland, 28, stole scene after scene in his debut.
Boom has had a bumpy ride. Moskos is particularly proud of a letter from the Dutch government telling him he wouldn’t succeed. He framed it. “And now,” he added, “with this festival, they wanted to put their best Dutch foot forward. And that meant us.”