The Amsterdam Improv Group That Launched Seth Meyers, Amber Ruffin and Jordan Peele
The first thing to wrap your head around is why an improv comedy club in Amsterdam was called “Boom Chicago.” That one is easily explained — the club was started by two funny Chicago expats who got baked one night in a (legal) marijuana cafe and decided to take a leap. Rather than looking for Dutch comics, they held auditions in Chicago in the late 1990s and somehow assembled an all-star team of future comedy stars.
That group included Seth Meyers, Amber Ruffin, Jordan Peele, Emmy-winning writers for The Daily Show and Colbert Report and co-creators of Ted Lasso (including, eventually, Jason Sudeikis). Which brings us to the second thing to wrap your head around — how did unknown comics from America win over audiences in Amsterdam, not exactly a city known for its comedy? In fact, a city clerk wrote the club’s would-be founders with a warning, “Dutch people do not want to see a show in English, and tourists don’t want to see a show at all.”
Turns out, the clerk was wrong. Boom Chicago is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with the help of its now-famous and forever grateful alumni, many of whom were having trouble breaking through in improv-happy Illinois. “We got to be on-stage four or five nights a week, and that was never happening for us in Chicago,” Meyers told The New York Times. “Also, we got to be in Amsterdam in our early 20s, and surrounded by all these other talented people.”
“At Boom Chicago the learning curve is steep, man, but once you get it, it is the most fun a person can have,” Ruffin explained to the Times. “It was the perfect place for a young person to learn — the perfect mix of partying and then having to deliver.”
That city clerk was right about one thing — the Dutch are a tough audience. “They don’t give it away for free, the Dutch,” Meyers clarified. “There’s not really a language barrier, but I just think they are discerning. I have a great affection for the audiences I had there because it was the truest bounce you were ever going to get.”
Meyers is headed back to Amsterdam next month for the 30th-anniversary celebration. (Hey, with a writers’ strike keeping him on the sidelines, why not head back to the legal pot cafes?) “The hardest part about coming back to Amsterdam is how nostalgic it makes me,” he lamented. “It’s just achingly sad how much I miss that time there. It felt like a time of ascension, not just for me but for everyone around me. It felt like a really special thing we were doing.”