Tim Whelan: standup and quit your day job

My first memory of performing was when I was 7 or 8 in primary school. My friend Chris didn’t want the role he got as “The Wind” in the story of “The Sun and The Wind” – so the teacher suggested I do it. It’s still by far the largest role I’ve had to date. I had a cape and everything!

I’ve always sung in choirs and even formed a barbershop quartet in school (NERD!), going on to sing in a mixed a capella group at university, called the “Alternotives”. I basically lived “Glee” for three years.

Performing took a backseat after that: I took a strange turn after studying German and became an accountant, but that misdirection just turned out to be a phase. Luckily I grew out of it.

Since moving to Berlin, I’ve taken vocal training and started to sing professionally. One thing led to another, and now I sing in operas and operettas all across Germany. That was the result of a few serendipitous coincidences, the kind you only really get when you put yourself out of a comfort zone.

The idea of standup comedy took a bit longer to gestate.

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I still wouldn’t consider myself a standup comic. It takes years and years of practice to really hone the craft and I have utmost respect for the profession – I’ve been doing it for 6 years and now tour regularly. That’s around 400 shows, but I’d still consider myself at the beginning of my career.

Only the guys who’ve been doing it 20 years, or even their whole lives, can really claim to be comics. And even they have great respect for the craft.

It’s a dark art, but one I love. In particular the chance to further it in Germany is exciting, combining my language skills and love of standup.

Rooms full of laughing Germans is a very satisfying result, when it happens.

I’ve always had a wonderful time in Germany – from the first Bier and Bratwurst on a school exchange trip, to a year with friends learning German in the pubs of Göttingen in 2006.

The idea to do comedy in German struck when I was still an accountant in the UK. I didn’t know what form it’d take, and I was completely stepping into the unknown.

I quit a fairly promising, comfortable career, and moved to Berlin in November 2010 with just a handful of scribbled jokes.

Years later and I’m performing standup and comedy songs in German and English, as well as singing in opera choirs. I did something like 120 gigs last year – so one every three days, in 20 or 30 different cities. Slowly I’m getting to make a living from it.

It’s not easy, but I’m happy with the choices I made and where it’s brought me so far.

Leipzig – and Noch Besser Leben – is definitely one of my favourite spaces to do comedy. Allen Edwin Butt from the U.S. started a comedy night here which I continued for a couple of years, and now the magnificent Liliana Velasquez has taken on the mantle, along with that of Freudian Slip Club in Berlin.

I’m excited to call back to see how it has developed, and help to form whatever wonderful thing it has morphed into.

By Tim Whelan

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