By Ryan Meehan
Performing all around the Big Apple and the rest of the country, Clara Bijl became a prolific writer of cutting, witty, internationally flavored comedy. She was a semifinalist in Comedy Central’s Laugh Riots competition, she performed in Holland’s “The Comedy Factory TV Show,” the 2005 and 2006 New York Underground Comedy Festival, the 2008 Detroit International Comedy Festival; and she wrote for the hit Swiss TV show. Comedian Clara Bijl is our guest today in 5 Questions.
FOH: You were born in Paris, raised in Switzerland, went to school in Germany, and now live in Los Angeles. How many different languages are you fluent in?
CB: I’m fluent in French and English, but manage to hold my own in Spanish, German and Dutch after a few drinks. When I was a teenager, my parents sent me to school in South Carolina to learn English. I don’t think they anticipated the speech therapy needed later on to help me get rid of my southern drawl.
FOH: Could you tell us a little bit about the whole experience of working as a writer on “Le Petit Silvant Illustre”? How does humor in that part of the world differ from the way we interpret comedy here in the states?
CB: I loved writing for “Le Petit Silvant Illustré.” Each episode was about one subject, “recycling, learning, dancing, funerals…” The producers would send me 10 different subjects at a time and I had 4 weeks to try to explore as many different angles as possible in finding humor in those subjects. I was living in New York at the time so I was able to try my jokes in clubs before sending them back to Switzerland. Audiences in NYC are notoriously tough, if the material resonated with a midnight crowd at the Comic Strip, my hope was that it would translate well for the European audience as well. I don’t think humor differs much between Switzerland and here, a good joke is a good joke. As long as people can relate to what you’re saying, they’ll laugh. The presentation of the material might be where differences still remain. The concept of a stand-up comedian is still newer in Switzerland. Audiences are more accustomed to one-person shows or sketches in which one comedian would be a hairdresser for 7 minutes and then he’d be a butcher for a 5 minutes sketch. The concept of one-mic / one-person in a small club talking about his or her day is becoming more popular but still, some people aren’t sure what to make of it yet.
FOH: Who are your favorite comics to work with when it comes to performing standup? What is it about those people that makes you feel so comfortable?
CB: Ted Alexandro immediately comes to mind. We recently worked together a week at the San Francisco Punchline. We’ve known each other for years; we used to bump into each other at the Comic Strip in New York. Ted has always been really nice, encouraging and supportive. He’s a great guy, fun to be around. Lenny Marcus in New York City is also one of my favorites. Lenny’s a great friend; he’s an awesome comic and a great comedy writer. I love his act but I think he’s even funnier off stage. He’s always one of the first people I approach when looking for feedback on a script or a spec.
FOH: What have you noticed that you do different than other comics when it comes to the actual writing process itself? Do you enjoy the editing/tweaking process or is it something that you dread?
CB: I’m not sure what I do different from other comics. I know that I should write more, I should work more on my material. I try to read the paper, keep up with current events and try to write jokes around them, but that hardly happens. Most of my material tends to come from conversations or during the course of my regular everyday life. I usually start with my angle and then build a set up around it. Once I have that, I try it on stage. I play around with it over several sets to see how the audience reacts to various versions. I record all of my sets, so I listen to every version back an continue to tweak things around until I feel I have the right combination of setup and punchline.
FOH: What would you like to do in the entertainment industry that you haven’t already done? Do you have any desire to direct?
CB: I want to have more collaborative projects with other comics and writers. I was mostly by myself in front of my computer or my notebook when wrote for le petit Silvant, now I’d like to be in a writer’s room with other writers. I’ve been fortunate to be able to participate in a few pilot writing sessions, which has only further inspired me to collaborate with other writers more often. I would love to direct. I’ve directed 3 short films in the past; I’m currently working on another one. We’ll shoot before the end of the year. It’s a 20 minute comedy about refugees who move to America.
FOH: What’s next for Clara Bijl in the twelve months to come? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
CB: The short film will be the focus of the first part of the year. I’m performing at the 2013 Charleston Comedy Festival. This year, I’d like to put a collection of essays together – something about being French and raising an American Child in America.
November 16th, Cobbs in SF, with Paul Reiser
Charleston Comedy Festival January 16th – 19th, 2013
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