Merijn Scholten will play a performance on his own for the first time this season, under the title Team Solo. After years with the duo De Partizans, he wanted to come up with something other than sketches for two people. “When writing for a duo you fall into certain patterns and roles. It’s always those two guys. It’s a nice shape, but I wanted to get rid of that. I had the feeling that I would not be happy if I continued.”

The dissolution of De Partisans was a remarkable step, because the two could count on jubilant reviews and an enthusiastic audience from the start. The duo won the Leids Cabaret Festival in 2013, received the Neerlands Hoop for the first program and in the third and final performance, Life in itself (2019), they were at their best: pointed, thoughtful and witty.

In a café in East Amsterdam, 38-year-old Scholten weighs his words over a mint tea. On stage he is a lively, fast-talking comedian, but off stage he proves just as much an overly self-conscious speaker, who constantly corrects himself and can wonder aloud whether what he is saying is so special.

Scholten was an employee of the satirical programs This was the news and Nails with Cups a trained copywriter. He was also the author of De Partisans. “At a certain point we agreed that I would write the lyrics.” That’s how he wrote Life in itself. “After which Thomas and Floris van Delft, the director, contributed a lot and filed and tinkered with the scenes. It got better from that dynamic between us. In the end, we made the performance together.” But if you write all the texts and provide the blueprint for a program, then you can do it alone, he concluded.

On his own, he has now become an Instagram phenomenon, who has amassed more than a hundred thousand followers in a short time with satirical one-minute videos in which he plays silly little men. Also in Team Solo he plays similar, and a few of the same, absurd and grotesque types: including a worked-up radio DJ, a man with a fascination for the nautical, a down-to-earth Groningen man and an influencer. They are figures who are mainly at odds with themselves and are as tragic as they are laughable. They all have their own voice or accent. The approach is similar to that of De Partizans, who also played recognizable characters.

Why the choice not to be on stage as yourself?

“I did try it, at comedy theater Toomler. One time I started out as myself, the other time as a character. To see where I got the most pleasure and energy from and to explore how I could best express myself. The character I start the performance with, the influencer, who also ended up on Instagram, originated in Toomler. I had so much fun with that that I thought: this is it. Playing other characters creates a wealth of possibilities.”

Why can’t you do that yourself?

“I can do it, stand-up, because I was once hired as a regular stand-upper at the Comedytrain. But I found myself being too apologetic and introverted. And in all those characters I am indeed myself. They are all offshoots of me.

“Some comedians are brilliant as themselves, but I often think: now I look at a type, but then for ninety minutes at one type, the type that someone has made of themselves.”

How do you arrive at a type, a voice?

“It starts with the voice. Then the words come automatically. I don’t think about that. Those words come naturally. It’s almost never that I hear someone talking and then think I can use it. It arises as a joke arises, from the goo that goes around in your brain.”

Take that somewhat feminine man, an ex-nurse, who becomes a flash delivery driver. How did you come to him?

“It happens to be somewhat based on someone I know. Then I have an idea of ​​what kind of person that is. It is someone who propagates that we will manage, but at the same time the tragedy is dripping from it. He lets you walk all over him. A sweet person who drowns in modern times. He puts his best foot forward. Christmas alone? Then I’ll still hang garlands.’ Me and myself: team solo.”

The voice of the corps ball, the Zuidas type, men who are very satisfied with themselves: that suits you well. How did that happen?

“Allowing your inner bastard is wonderful. I’ve seen a lot of those types too. As a student I was with Albertus, in Groningen. Not a body, but almost. That’s where I stared my eyes out. And I live in Amsterdam and the money world is dominant in this city.

“In many of the characters I play there is some form of criticism. Basically in everything I do. At the same time, it is nice if people can laugh about it anyway – without thinking about what exactly I want to say with it.”

What do the characters you play have in common?

“The figures I sketch are often lonely figures. They are, as it were, together with themselves. In my opinion, society consists largely of lonely people, who together do form a whole.

“A number of these figures originated in corona times, such as the influencer and the Groninger. I started filming myself: a solitary activity during a period when we were all separated from each other. The term ‘team solo’ certainly comes from there.

“I understand that people call what I make types. But I want them to be characters, real people. The difference is in the lifelikeness. You have to have the idea that you could have a conversation with such a figure.”

Photo Roger Cremers

What drove you to make those videos?

“The theater was closed and I felt like doing something. I thought: I’ll start for myself, I’ll give up something (a successful duo) and then it’s nice if I can also reach people solo. I wasn’t on Instagram before I started making videos. But I got fascinated and it’s terrible heroin.”

The fact that you studied artificial intelligence for a year is reflected in the performance. Why?

“I was really a computer nerd, who found comfort and security behind his laptop in his room. I can connect that to the fact that the world is now ruled by similar boys and girls, who want to offer everyone safety and shelter in computer systems. With the ironic fact that I find my audience through Instagram myself.”

What did you do as a computer nerd?

“I programmed myself, built computers. I still edit video and make digital music. I make the songs and the music in the show myself. Making music is what I do until the last hours.”

In a monologue that is more serious in tone, you criticize social media and the tendency to live online. This is what you call a ‘hunger strike of the mind’. Why do you want to lose that?

“I knew: I want to put ideas and people together and try to build one coherent world out of them. As a columnist Nails with Cups I gave my view of the world and that is what I want in this performance. Absurdism and social views must interact and become a whole. That’s my quest. That monologue has a bit more melancholy in it than the other scenes. I’m melancholy myself and it’s nice to have that color in it.”

Is it a statement about modern times?

“There is unease about how the world has become. Everything has become measurable, we are stuck in systems, which makes you wonder how much freedom you still have.”

He interrupts himself and says: “The problem is that I hear myself talking.” Monter: “Well, I’ll keep talking. What I mean: do you go to a restaurant because it got an 8 in a review or do you go there because you walked past it once when the sun was shining nicely, the trees were in bloom and the place made you feel good? I sometimes feel that people want to live within a certain bandwidth, where everything is supposed to be ‘good’. But if life is supposed to be error-free and predictable, the sense of adventure and the fun of failure are lost.”

Your ‘directing advisor’ Micha Wertheim said that the performance should be a long sketch, as it were. You call it one world. What kind of world are we with you?

“A world in decline. You can call him dystopian. You see people with little sense of introspection. But for me it is also a world with love and compassion for those people. I see them and think: you only became that way because of how your life turned out. A twenty-year-old filming himself is also trying to survive in his world.”

How do you make that funny?

“It is indirect. I listen, observe. Later, a layer is added: the irony. The representation is what comes out when I observe the world for a while.”

What is irony to you?

“A form of relief. People say irony shuts out, but it also connects people. Through Jiskefet I used to feel very understood. Looking at that made me very happy. Because I thought: there are other people who see it too. They see how crazy everything is that people consider normal. That is comforting in humor, in irony.”

For cabaret prize De Poelifinario, a cabaret artist must choose a category. What will it be: entertainment or engagement?

“Having to choose is bizarre. I like to make people laugh out loud, be entertaining. But I still choose commitment. Because it indicates a viewing direction for what I make. You can laugh and then check back at home afterwards to see what ideas about humanity have come up.”

Merijn Scholten: Team Solo. Premiere 23/11, Kleine Komedie, Amsterdam. Tour until the end of 2023. Incl: merijnscholten.nl

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