- Daily & Weekly newsletters
- Buy & download The Bulletin
- Comment on our articles
Lack of official status is no laughing matter for Belgium's comedians
The coronavirus pandemic has had a strong, detrimental impact on Belgium’s cultural sector. Comedians have been particularly affected, especially those working in venues far from the circuits financed by government subsidies. In this environment generated by the health crisis, many – such as Vincent Taloche, one half of the famous comedic duo he formed with his brother Bruno 27 years ago – are shocked to learn that their jobs are not even officially recognised.
The Taloches have taken it upon themselves to fight for the cause of struggling comedians. By seeking help for the many contemporaries who have contacted him during lockdown, Vincent realized that the Federation Wallonia-Brussels did not recognise his sector.
“When you go to the website of the Minister of Culture, you see the link to performing arts,” he says. “So, I click and there I see that the theatre is recognised, dance is recognised, fairground arts are recognised, the circus is recognized ... But the world of humour? Not at all!”
“When we started asking for help,” he continues, “I learned that I was not an artist. Officially, we do not exist as artists, we are in the ‘event’ branch. That's when I first thought there was a big problem. And I thought, why shouldn't we take advantage of this unprecedented crisis in 2020 to say: are we ever going to agree that humour is an art?”
Vincent Taloche is convinced of this and that as an art, comedy should be recognised, and supported, as such. Humour fills concert halls and is a great gateway for the general public to theatres and culture, he says. "Most people come to a theatre for the first time in their lives thanks to humour," he says. “Just for that alone, it would make sense for us to be recognised."
Vincent and his brother Bruno have launched a project to create a federation of comedy professionals in Belgium which can support and defend a sector particularly affected by the crisis and which has not been able to benefit from the lifelines provided by the government to other areas of the cultural landscape.
A meeting is planned next week between the Taloche brothers and the Minister of Culture Benedicte Linard to discuss the project.
“Why shouldn't this art form be helped by subsidies or tax breaks, since we're not entitled to it at the moment?” Vincent asks. “There is such an interesting pool of comedic talent in Belgium, and it is recognised more and more in other countries... I think it's time to provide this talent with financial and human resources so that this can grow. We are told all the time that we need to laugh... But then, let's help ourselves!”
The Taloche brothers' project has gained the support of some fifty Belgian comedians, including Kody, Bruno Coppens, Guy Home and Florence Mendes. In the long run, they even plan to create a school of humour, just like the one which already exists in Quebec. The aim is to support young talent.
“Through our TV shows and festivals, we have always wanted there to include at least one or two novice comedians, to introduce them to the general public," says Bruno Taloche, the eldest of the two brothers. “I think they need even more support at the moment, and if we can give them that support, we will try to do that.”
Farah is one of those young talents who is excited by the project launched by the Taloches. The Brussels comedian took to the stage of the Kings of Comedy Club in Ixelles five years ago. However, she soon realised that humour was not welcome in all theatres.
“Stand-up five years ago in Belgium was a bit of a niche artform," recalls the young comedian. “As such, some cultural centres would say ‘no, we don't offer stand-up shows because it doesn't correspond to the values of cultural dissemination’. I imagine they are people who have never seen stand-up shows.”
Little by little, things have changed, but for young comedians who are just starting out, a real structure, even a school of humour imagined by Vincent Taloche, would be invaluable.
“We're all a little self-taught at first,” says Farah. “Where do we start? We'll see if there's an open stage somewhere, do a bit of tinkering. They say the stage is the best school, but I think if you want to make humour your job, you must have a school for that. So really, Vincent's project is crucial in Belgium.”