“I clean up my dog’s crap [on] the world famous Museumplein”

Emmy-nominated comedian Pep Rosenfeld, co-founder of improv club Boom Chicago and director of content for Boom Chicago for Business, moved from Chicago to Amsterdam some 20 years ago. He first came to Amsterdam to buy hash for a European trip, speaks Dutch worse than the queen and would have liked to have had a conversation with politician Pim Fortuyn—although not in Dutch.

How did you end up in the Netherlands?

My best friend, Andrew Moskos, and I were doing that very American thing of doing a study program in Greece. So, we flew to Amsterdam, and then we were going to do that two days here, two days there trip through Europe. We started in Amsterdam, obviously to buy hash for the trip.

We bought the hash, we used it, and then we had what we would classify as the best stoner idea ever, which was we should totally do a comedy show here next summer. They speak English, and there’s a lot of tourists.

We thought it would be a great summer project. But deep down, I think Andrew knew it was more than that. He thinks that way. I don’t, but I thought it would be a great summer project. And it was, it was fantastic. We conned another two people from our high school into coming out.

And then we were like, well, we made a little bit of money. Let’s invest that money back into a real space. Because the first year we worked in the back of someone’s bar, a seedy old salsa bar that no longer exists. And every summer it got a little longer.

How do you describe yourself? As an expat, love pat, immigrant, international, or something else?

What’s a love pat? Love pat sounds like what I wish I got from the security people at the airport. I’m an Amsterdammer. That’s what I am. I don’t think I’m any of those other things.

I’m one of the myriad of people who lives in a fantastic, international, beautiful city. And I’ll stay until the good lord takes me from this earth. Or I find a reason to live in Barcelona or Lisbon.

Do you speak Dutch? And if you do, how did you learn it?

I do speak Dutch, but not nearly as well as I should after all these years.

I took lessons, and I always did poorly in those lessons. And then I went down to the nuns for a week, and my Dutch got super-duper better, but still not great. And then it’s slowly declined since then.

I just signed up to start classes with italki, an online language lesson platform with real teachers on a real platform, where I don’t have to go anywhere. I think that’s going to be good for me.

But Dutch folks do make it hard. There was a time once where I was at a party, and I was talking to somebody about whether or not you can mix beer and apple juice for whatever reason. And this dude goes: “I don’t think you can do that because of the, uh, what’s the word?” And then he and his friends have a quick Dutch conversation, and he goes: “Oh yes, because of fermentation.”

And I thought if fermentation is a word you know, then I quit. I’ll never be at that level.

But my kids speak Dutch, and I feel you miss a lot of them growing up. I miss dinner conversations. The two of them and my wife, they rat-a-tat, and I’m like, you gotta back that up.

I made dinner for one of my sons and two of his friends once, and we were all sitting at the table, and I was like: “Hey, good news! This dinner’s gonna be an English lesson for you three, because I cooked dinner for you, and we’re speaking English.” And we did.

What’s your favourite Dutch thing?

The answer I usually give to people, and it might still be true, is biking. The thing that we used to do for fun as kids when I was growing up in Evanston, Illinois is how I got here today. My commute is a bike ride, and that’s pretty awesome.

But Amsterdam is just a gorgeous city. Sometimes I’m biking down the Herengracht to get here and I just have to stop and take it all in and remind myself how lucky it is that A: I live here, and B: the Germans bombed Rotterdam instead of Amsterdam.

So, it’s just the appreciation for the city, especially as your vintage grows. For example, I walk my dog on the Museumplein, so this place where I clean up my dog’s crap is the world famous Museumplein. This is my life.

How Dutch have you become?

Well, I think I’ve always been a little less American than most Americans, so it’s a hard question. I’m probably more forthcoming with honest feedback to people. But I still try to couch it so that I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings, unlike Dutch people.

And that might just be something that happens when you get older, too. That might not be getting more Dutch. I don’t know. I don’t eat mayonnaise. I’d need a Dutch person to tell me. My wife is Indonesian Dutch, so she would also say she’s not Dutch.

Which three Dutch people, dead or alive, would you most like to meet?

I guess I’d like to meet Herman Brood and just talk about crazy rock and roll, drugs, suicide.

I’ve been fortunate to meet a couple of people that I’d like to meet. I met Maxima once, and I was trying to determine whose Dutch was better, mine or hers. The clear answer was hers, and this was before she became Queen.

I’m having trouble thinking of the second one.

The third one is obviously the hotel staff person who brought John and Yoko their stuff at the Hilton. I’d love to hear what that was like. I love John. But I’d love to know how bad that room smelled when they were love-inning there.

Oh—Pim Fortuyn. We used to make fun of him in the show back when he was around. But he really changed Dutch politics, either for better or worse, depending on who you talk to. It’d be very interesting to talk to him. But not in Dutch.

What’s your top tourist tip?

I have two.

The number one these days I keep telling everybody to go to is the STRAAT Museum over at the NDSM-wharf. It’s a graffiti art museum, but I don’t think that really does it justice. It’s set up in one of those old ship-building warehouses, so you just can’t believe how big this building is when you walk in.

And the murals are equally big, like three and a half meters tall, and there’s usually one stacked on top of another and they’re all surreal and cool and freaky. Herman Brood would appreciate it. It’s just such beautiful, wild, cool stuff. And that’s become my newest thing. Plus, the ferry boat ride there is almost worth the price of admission.

The second place, I think, is the Verzetsmuseum Amsterdam, the Resistance Museum. Everyone wants to see the Anne Frank House, but I feel like that’s just a slice of the resistance story. When we first got here in 1993, it was all about the heroic Dutch resistance. But about 10 years ago, they revamped it and now it’s really more fair and accurate. It’s about: what would you have done?

My friend Andrew, a sociologist, used to say that you can always tell the countries that really resisted the Nazis because they don’t build resistance museums. They resisted.

Tell us something surprising you found out about the Netherlands…

I’ll tell you what surprised me when I first found out, and it’s a joke with Greg Shapiro, so I’m not going to take credit for it. But we used to joke that the Dutch were very not racist, they were very tolerant. He used to joke that the Dutch would say, “Of course we’re not racist. We never owned slaves. We bought and sold them.”

And I never realized that when I first got here. I don’t know what went wrong in my world history, but they didn’t have slaves like Americans owned slaves.

But I mean, at some point, if you’re the one doing the selling… they were just the business people who facilitated the trade.

We think of the Dutch as such heroes of tolerance and as a shining example of non-racist behaviour that the Americans could look to and learn something from. Yeah, well, that’s very convenient. If you stir up slavery somewhere else, you’re going to be racist.

If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?

I might go and spend it at the Sauna van Egmond in Haarlem. It’s just a great sauna in the Netherlands.

I’d also take a train out to Utrecht and have brunch at The Streetfood Club because I think it’s great. And I can make a reservation there, unlike at Bakers and Roasters, where you can’t really reserve. So that’s the morning.

Then I guess I’d come back to Amsterdam. If it’s a nice day, I’d have a cup of coffee in the park. It also depends if my dog is part of the team. Well, either way I’d go to the Vondelpark and have a beer at the Blauwe Theehuis.

Pep Rosenfeld was talking to Lauren Comiteau.

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