Laundromats give comics a spin


COLOGNE, Germany -- Have you heard the one about the missing sock?

Jerry Seinfeld could spin a half-hour of material out of the mysteries of the Laundromat. But German standup king Klaus-Jurgen "Knacki" Deuser has gone him one better. He's built a whole comedy brand between the colors and the whites.

Deuser's show "Nightwash" is the flagship of Comedy Central's neophyte German-language channel. It's fairly standard standup fare: a live, somewhat drunken audience chortling along with the newest funnymen.

But while the show -- and Deuser -- is all flash and style, "Nightwash" had very humble beginnings. Frustrated with the lack of venues for live, not cabaret, comedy in Germany, Deuser decided to put on a no-frills show in the only location he could find -- a 24-hour Laundromat.

"If you were a standup comedian at the time, there was no place where you could really hone your craft," Deuser recalls. "There was a standup wave in the early 1990s but the people who came out of that all became famous, got TV deals and moved on. For the newcomers, there was no infrastructure -- no circuit of comedy clubs like in the U.S."

The idea caught on, first as an insider tip and later attracting the attention of local public channel WDR. "Nightwash" was born.

For viewers used to slick HBO comedy specials, it's hard to imagine how back-to-the-basics the original "Nightwash" was. Just Deuser on a tiny wooden platform next to the tumble dryers. Featured comedians had to squeeze by the audience to get to the "stage." Part of the fun of watching the WDR show was seeing the puzzled stares of night owls passing by outside. It soon became the favorite of insomniacs.

"It was a strange thing. We were on late and WDR kept moving us around, but the ratings were always great," Deuser says. "We were on a regional channel, but traveling around the country, I noticed everyone knew 'Nightwash.' We had become a brand." A brand that seemed tailor-made for Comedy Central when they launched a German-language channel last year.

"Comedy Central was looking for something unique that would make them stand out, give them a name in Germany, and give them access to the latest new comedians," Deuser says.

Now, instead of moving from wash salon to wash salon, "Nightwash" has a swanky home in Cologne's Gloria theater. It is bigger than ever and can boast of being the launching pad for a new generation of Teutonic comics.

Inspired by the original "Nightwash" idea, comedy fans across Germany are setting up standup stages in the most unlikely locations -- school basements, cafes and, of course, Laundromats.

"It's become a real network of clubs where comedians can practice their craft," Deuser says.

Thanks to "Nightwash," German comedy now has an audience -- and a future as bright as freshly bleached Y-fronts.