Klaus Richter opens his monologue: “I am Klaus. I am a sad German man who goes on trips.” Part travelogue, part cry for help, Klaus relates his trips to Williamsburg, to Disneyland, and on ayahuasca. The one-act monologue, written and performed by comedian Nick Zielinski, is entitled “Be Not Afraid, Klaus,” and was performed last Friday at a (literally) underground theater at the Tea Factory Lofts. Walk through someone’s kitchen, down a rickety wooden staircase in total darkness and you will be at NXT LVL, a theater space with shiny black walls, exposed light bulbs, and wide wooden benches. Here, in an accented monotone and with a perpetual thousand-mile stare, his only prop a white porcelain horse head, Klaus tell us his impressions of America in general and our little part of America in particular.
The obvious criticisms of hipsters in general and Williamsburg in particular have been trampled to death by the obligatory jokes about the commercialization of cool and quirk for quirk’s sake. We, however, living here (Williamsburg, Bushwick, America), as much as we’d like to deny it (or more likely confirm it with a “what-can-you-do” shrug of the shoulders) are part of the engine that drives these voracious systems that turn styles and whole neighborhoods into products. Klaus—a tourist, a foreigner, an outside eye—can look at us all afresh and make our own culture seem strange again.
The targets and tropes of his monologue are familiar—witches in Williamsburg, cool for sale, the pretentious claims of yoga studios, and, of course, Disneyland as ultimate symbol of all that is beautiful in America but up close reveals itself to be a manufactured mirage, a parody of our own self-deception. But these observations, filtered through Klaus, are fresh, funny, and surprising. Klaus is a normal man, a sad man but a normal man nonetheless, who tries to move through life doing the right thing. Yet the right thing always seems to turn into the wrong thing. His illusions are pierced one-by-one and deflate until they are as flat and lifeless as his monotone. He goes to Disneyland to visit Splash Mountain; it is not a mountain but a wet hill, “a parody of the American South.” He tries to set a white horse free from its fenced-in captivity; it is hit by a Nabisco truck moments later and killed (“there was blood and cookies everywhere”). In Williamsburg he goes to a vintage store to buy a shirt; the cashier rings him up for $300. He tells her, “my every moment is agony.” She giggles. He laughs too, “because I like to laugh while I’m getting fucked.”
Our same old problems—how to avoid buying the synthesized formula for cool in all its forms, how to be a person and not just a parody of a person, how to cope with a pervasive cynicism and barely repressed anger about the state of our culture and ourselves—are made new again through the bewilderment of an outside observer. There is no answer, at least not from Klaus. “I’m not sure what inspired Klaus to write his show,” Nick says. “Probably that feeling you get when you turn off a ceiling fan and watch the blades until they stop spinning.” The answer from the show itself, or from Klaus’ creator, might be that it’s all really funny. It’s also really awful. But hilarious. Also just terrible. But in the end it’s all just really, really funny.
The show was MCed by Sean Hart, and comedians Ross Parsons and Johnny Bizarre opened.
You can catch the next performance of “Be Not Afraid, Klaus” will be at 9PM on Friday, December 6th at NXT LVL (175 Stockholm St. #102).