Comedian joins campus columnist panel

Boban Benjamin Braspenning: A columnist on stage

Boban Benjamin Braspenning
Boban doet een 'Baudetje'. Foto: Martine Jansen

“Hi, Martine!”
“I’m at the bar! On the couch!”
“Wait, what? Oh, it’s tomorrow (insert emoji of grinning face with a drop of sweat)”
“Nevermind, I was here anyway and I’ll be here tomorrow too”

The next day, Boban Braspenning walks into the bar of the Parnassos Cultural Centre, in Utrecht. It's a little bit past one. Equipped with a guitar case and a backpack, he excuses himself: “Sorry about the misunderstanding yesterday. I somehow got the dates mixed up. That actually never happens to me.” He's not absent-minded, only busy.

Next year, he will be travelling all over the country with his new show Boompje Beestje (in Dutch only, Ed.), which is why we’re in Utrecht this afternoon. Although he now lives in Amsterdam, Braspenning can still be seen in his hometown often, where he plays football with his old club, USV Hercules, and rehearses the show. "Did you know this is where it all started? Here, at the Parnassos bar, is where I had my first ever performance with two friends. I was still a student.”

Did your studies influence what you’re doing now?
“I write a lot about inequality. Mostly about economical inequality. I studied Management and Organisational Science because I wanted to know how banks work. Like how money is made and then distributed by those same banks; what is the role played by our tax system play in all of this? During my Master's in Communication, Policy & Management and Applied Ethics I delved deeper into these topics and came to the conclusion that the weakest shoulders carry the heaviest burdens. Now I use this knowledge in my shows. In that sense, my studies have certainly contributed to what I do now.”

With a name like yours, it's to be expected that you'd be interested in the financial world...
“In he fifteenth century, there was a coin named Braspenning. So, yeah, it’s quite appropriate. My first name, Boban, was inspired by the Croatian soccer player Zvonimir Boban. It means 'son of God.’ But my name sounds posher than it is, really. I’m not posh at all. I grew up in Voordorp, a vinex district. Later we moved to Bilthoven — but the 'wrong’ side of the railroad, not the part with all the villas. There, I was seen as the posh outsider. I kept playing soccer, though, which kept me grounded. But I still find it hard to relate to those two worlds. On the one hand, there’s all that luxury, which is beautiful and impressive. On the other hand, there's the inequality it exudes. There’s a friction there.”

How did you get involved with comedy?
“I used to make funny critical songs about the people in my study association, Histos, and I found out I was quite good at it. Then, for my graduation research, I asked moral philosophical questions to bankers and I noticed that they really didn’t have the language to answer my questions. I thought to myself: 'we need a children’s book about banks'. So, I wrote rhymes about it and made drawings to go with them. That's when a creative bomb sort of went off. My work was picked up by the theatre group De Verleiders, which features the Dutch actor Pierre Bokma. He put me on the stage of the Carré theatre, in Amsterdam, on a sold out night. And that was the start of my career as a comedian.”

Were you nervous?
“I don’t think there’s anyone out there who's never had stage fright. A performance like that always does something to you. It certainly does something to me. You have to wind yourself up, switch yourself on. That’s why after a show I always socialise with the guests. I’m usually full of energy after a show and doing that is a good way to unwind. But I also think it’s important to talk to the audience afterwards. People come to the theatre to listen to you, so it’s good to know what they think. Engage in a discussion. Or not.”

Kind of like a reverend?
“Yeah, I’m afraid so. A little bit. Long ago, people went to the church but, today, there aren’t many places where groups of people who don’t know each other come together in a room to listen to an engaged story. I want to create something that makes people think but that also makes people laugh. I make upbeat cynicism. I want to hold a mirror up to people.”

Do you hold that mirror up to yourself as well?
“I do and I’m not always happy with what I see. I’m a pretty principled guy but, when push comes to shove, do I actually put my money where my mouth is? I'm not the only one who has that problem, of course. Young graduates who start making a bit of money are a great example. Most of them just want to make sure they get their things in order and that's when you really find out what your principles are. Being against gentrification but then moving into a house in Lombok, for example. That's a common dilemma. I live in Amsterdam across the street from the Artis zoo. As a lawyer and consultant, someone with a lot of privileges, I was able to get a newly-built house for myself and my girlfriend. Now I have a mild housing shame but that's what it's all about. This is when it gets exciting."

So, you'd describe yourself as a columnist on stage?
“Yeah, you could see it like that. I react to what I see in society and pour it all into a shape. A shape I hope strengthens the message or has a nice twist in it. Columnists do the exact same thing.”

What do you hope to read from the contestants in the 2023 campus columnist competition?
“I’m going to look for creative witticism. How the shape relates to the message. Is it light-hearted? Is there a sense of humour in it? Does it draw you in? Does it surprise you? I love Pieter Derks' radio show. I’m impressed by his cleverness. I also like the Dutch columnists Marcel van Roosmalen and Paulien Cornelissen, whom I find very authentic. Starting columnists often fail by wanting to do too much. Too many topics, too many ideas, too many angles. But creating something means making choices. Finally, don’t worry, people forget things quickly. Just go ahead and do it.”

Interested in watching Boompje Beestje? There are dates all over the Netherlands. On April 21, 2023, Boban Braspenning will be on the stage where it all started: the Parnassos Cultural Centre.

Join the campus columnist competition!
DUB is looking for two new columnists to succeed our current Campus Columnists in 2023. To participate, all you have to do is send us two columns, which will be judged by a panel of experts. The winners will not only get to publish columns on DUB regularly but they will also get the Erik Hardeman stipend, worth 1,000 euros. The two columns must not be longer than 500 words. You can send them to before December 1. All students and employees linked to the university on January 1, 2023, are eligible. More details here