Patti Basler

"It frees your mind"

Patti Basler has come into her own as a cabaret artist. She tells us that the academic reasoning skills she learned at UZH come in handy when looking for just the right punchline.

Interview: Roger Nickl; translated by Gena Olson

Patti Basler, how does one become a cabaret artist?

Patti Basler: It’s not something that you can just suddenly decide to do. You already need to have a certain mindset. I’ve always been very good at witty repartee, something that a lot of people find funny. Today I’m in a career that matches my way of thinking – true to the motto of "become who you are".

What do people generally find funny?

An element of surprise, for sure. But humor in and of itself isn’t something universal. I perform in a lot of very different places: In Switzerland, Germany, Austria, in cities, in rural areas. The audience always reacts totally differently. In rural areas, for instance, I have to speak a bit more slowly, and it takes longer to get to the punchline. Timing is central in cabaret. It’s something you always have to adjust based on your audience. Also, these days you can no longer assume that everyone has the same shared body of knowledge. It’s not like it used to be when everyone watched the same TV channels. Today there are countless ways of getting information, so there is less and less knowledge that everyone has in common. That means you’re basically left with political cabaret or dealing with everyday situations, but that’s something that I’m less interested in.

You were an upper secondary school teacher and then studied educational science. Has UZH taught you anything useful for your cabaret career?

I approach things in an academic way, by taking an objective position, even in my role as a performer. I take kind of a bird’s eye view of a topic. This helps with the art of comedy, as it frees your mind. As a satirist, I of course have an opinion, but I try not to use this to take sides. Academia helped me develop this independent way of thinking.

Can academia be humorous?

Definitely. Research is often preoccupied with details. For outsiders, the titles of doctoral theses alone can sound absurd and funny. This is the stuff that comedy is made of. Imagine an anthropologist researching the effects of C-sharp minor on Aboriginal dances in the Australian outback. From an academic perspective this can be totally relevant, though.

Your current show is called “Frontalunterricht” [Chalk and Talk] and the follow-up show is called “Nachsitzen” [Serving Detention]. It seems like you haven’t left behind the world of teaching?

Well, the shows aren’t exactly steeped in pedagogy. But there’s still the old rule of writing what you know. This also holds true for cabaret artists. The topic is a really rich source of material though. There’s so much shared knowledge – after all, everyone attended school at some point. “Serving Detention” is actually just the same show as “Chalk and Talk” – for everyone who didn’t get it the first time.

What’s your best short joke?

I don’t do jokes, only punchlines or poems. For example, this German pun that pays tribute to a famous egg-laying hen: “Eine eierlegende Eierlegende komm zu ihrem Eierleg-Ende.”

Patti Basler

Cabaret artist Patti Basler studied educational science at UZH. She appears regularly on Swiss television and is currently on tour with her shows “Frontalunterricht” and “Nachsitzen.” This year Basler was honored with the Salzburger Stier cabaret prize for her work.