How Duesseldorf Gave Birth to ‘Stand-Up Tragedy’

Famous Duesseldorfers include Kraftwerk, Heinrich Heine, and Josef Beuys (sort of).  Plus, never forget that Robert Schumann went insane in this city!  Unfortunately, few of these names rings a bell outside of Germany (although they should, they should!).  Therefore, I’ve been on the lookout for other famous Duesseldorfers. 

And I found one. The one, the only, the inimitable Brother Theodore:

Brother Theodore (11 November 19065 April 2001) was a German monologuist and comedian known for rambling, stream of consciousness dialogues [sic] which he called "stand up tragedy." He was born Theodore Gottlieb into a wealthy family in Düsseldorf, Germany, where his father was a magazine publisher. Theodore attended the University of Cologne. Under Nazi rule, he was imprisoned at the Dachau concentration camp until he signed over his family’s fortune for one Reichsmark. After being deported for chess hustling from Switzerland he went to Austria where Albert Einstein, a family friend, helped him escape to the United States. He worked as a janitor at Stanford University, a dockworker in San Francisco and played a bit part in Orson WellesThe Stranger before moving to New York City.

His ‘act’, if you can call it that, explored what would happen if you re-animated Schopenhauer, glued mutilated chunks of a silver wig on him, stuck a gun in his back, and ordered him to ‘be entertaining.’  Here is BT from one of his sixteen legendary appearances on the David Letterman show.

Now, I’ll admit, a little of Brother Theodore goes a long way.  In fact, 2 minutes or so is enough to last most people their entire lives.  But I couldn’t get enough of the man. As I watched the flickering, glowing television screen in my suburban home, I thought to myself: "One day, I must go to live in the city that brought forth this diseased man-child!"

Some of Brother Theodore’s other aphorisms:

"The best thing is not to be born. But who is as lucky as that? To whom does it happen? Not to one among millions and millions of people."

"All the great spiritual leaders are dead …. Moses is dead …. Muhammed is dead …. Buddha is dead …. and I’m not feeling so hot myself!"

"Her hair was of a dank yellow, and fell over her temples like sauerkraut, her face was sweaty like a chunk of rancid pork…"

"What this country needs, and I’m not joking, is a dictator. I feel the time is right, and the place congenial, and I am ready. I will be strict but just. Heads will roll, and corpses will swing from every lamppost."

12 thoughts on “How Duesseldorf Gave Birth to ‘Stand-Up Tragedy’

  1. Oh, goody god. Don’t forget his outstanding performance as one of the Klopeks in the most underrated film ever, “the ‘burbs”. All I am saying is: Is that a Slavic name?
    And he was from Düsseldorf originally? Unglaublich.


  2. Hey Norbert,

    Ach! The bloody country codes. What an annoyance. I’ve had a lot of experience with them, since I’ve got DVDs from 4 country codes in my collection. Here are a few things I’ve learned. First, I’ve heard that most upmarket DVD players have a semi-secret feature that will let you defeat the country-code firmware. You call the manufacturer and beg and plead. Friends of mine have managed to get this done, usually by claiming to be some sort of media type who needs to review all sorts of DVDs, or by claiming to lead a bi-contintental life.

    Second, there is software that that will defeat the country-code protections on your computer. One version, for instance, is called, ‘DVD Region+CSS Free’. I don’t know about the legal technicalities, but you can still apparently download it, so it must be legal!

    One day, I hope country codes will be abolished in the name of brotherhood among nations.


  3. Have you heard about the new movement called “improv tragedy”? I wonder wither you would trace its genealogy.


  4. Thank you Andrew! I’ll try to find out more, though my player is already a few years old and might not even have that semi-secret feature you described.

    Totally agree with you on the abolishment of country codes (what the hell were they invented for anyway? – could only have been a joint effort by the film and the technology industries in order to make more money).


  5. Vielen Dank, Madde. Leider ist bei meinem Player “Codefree-Schalten nur durch Hardware-Umbau möglich”. Die US-DVD des Films hatte ich noch nicht gesucht, ich war einfach davon ausgegangen, dass es sie gibt (vielleicht falsch).


  6. The DVD will come out sometime in the indefinite future, according to the directors’ website.

    I’ve sent in a request for information about release dates, formats, etc. I’ll post as soon as I know anything. And Norbert, you obviously seem to have a computer, so you can always watch it on your computer. In fact, if you get in touch with me by email, I’m sure we can work something out that will be beneficial for all parties (hint hint).


  7. > Norbert: Totally agree with you on the abolishment of country codes (what the hell were they invented for anyway?
    > – could only have been a joint effort by the film and the technology industries in order to make more money)

    Those darned capitalists, always out for a profit! Why can’t they be like Jesus, or else, should that fail, like GJ commenters, who toil and type for God’s love? That said, country codes might very well be an ill-conceived marketing strategy, however, that’s not evil – it’s stupid. But don’t you despair about ill-begotten legislation: there’ll always be a lawyer around, willing to help evade what needs evasion – ¡Viva Vaduz! Else, let’s have those kleine Fluchten balmy chance presents with even the better off. Let’s donate the savings to Unicef the neighbourhood purveyor of first class organic foodstuff.


  8. I didn’t know him so far. The audience seems to be somewhat too excitable, the shrieks of laughter that tad forced, Letterman’s mirth one of politeness. Theodore is likeable and a character – possibly he is more likeable (and thus esteemed) than truly amusing. To me at least, his act didn’t live up to Andrew’s description.

    Isn’t, say, Gerhard Polt’s misanthropy much more refined and nuanced, Polt’s acting more inspired? Mind you, I’m not into rankings – Theodore is gifted, but just not that much my poison. I couldn’t find a Polt video showing one of those monologues that are glum, grim, melancholic and bizarre, but as for the art of well crafted excitement, here’s him ranting on a Hämorrhoidenpritsche and a Brunzkachl of the ogsoachte variety – he rightly feels, that both is quite beneath him. Dialect and vulgarity may seem to hinder comparison, but the art of wilfully spilling endomorphines is one that both comedians practice. Sound only, sorry, here you can hear and watch him telling the cormorants off, who much deserve it. Grim and bizarre, but not that much glum and melancholic, so I’ll have to look for better references.

    All that said, Theodore looks great and his English is peculiar, so I can relate to him quite well after all.


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