Despite being tacky tourist-bait outside Waverley station and the butt of a thousand jokes, there is something uplifting about the skirl of the bagpipes, especially for a sentimental old Caledoniophile like our editor Robert James Peacock. Imagine his delight at learning there was such a thing as a Danish Bagpipe Comedian, and he was coming to the Fringe. This called for an interview. So, here it is, a chat with Mr Danish Bagpipe Comedian himself, Claus Reiss…
How does a Dane end up playing the bagpipes?
Believe it or not but it’s actually because of John Farnham. After the second chorus in his 80s hit You’re the Voice there is a bagpipe solo. I saw the music video as a young child and that’s the first time I heard bagpipes. From that moment I thought bagpipes were the coolest instrument ever! I started listening to it and Danish television also broadcasted Edinburgh Tattoo each year which I followed closely on the TV.
I took me more than 10 years to make the decision to move from an interest in the bagpipes to actually start playing them. I started back in 1998 in a Danish pipe band called Aarhus Pipes & Drums.
Are you any good at the bagpipes?
I’m a humble guy, but yes. I’ve won a lot of solo competitions in Scandinavia (and yes, there was more than one of us in each competition!) In 2012, I competed at the World solo piping championship where I won the grade 2 event (the equivalent of the Football League Championship), but still, there are a lot of Scottish pipers who are way better than me.
Another thing, I would never do comedy with the bagpipes if I weren’t good at playing them. That would be disrespectful to the instrument and culture.
How did you get the idea to combine bagpipes with comedy (apart from the fact that some people think they sound ridiculous)?
I presume that you forgot to end the sentence in the parentheses so I have done that for you: ……that they sound ridiculously AWESOME!
Before I did comedy, I played some private gigs just to pay for student life (meaning beer and kebabs). People would start commenting on the music. For example, they would say that the sound was ridiculous. I don’t know why people keep saying that…
So, I came up with quick responses and that worked for me. I’m an unpretentious guy and you have to be that when you play this instrument in Denmark.
One day I heard about an open mic, and I started to develop some jokes. I went on stage and the audience liked it! I thought to myself, “stand-up is easy!” At the next open mic, I showed up with new half-made jokes and I bombed. I also bombed the next time and the next so I started taking it very seriously and built my act up slowly.
How do you feel about bringing a show to the home of the bagpipes?
I have no worries. I can play and tune the instrument. I think there are some conservative pipers who think my act is inappropriate and the bagpipes are not made for playing 99 Luftballoons or the Titanic Theme. But when I did my first show in 2013 there were some of the top Scottish pipers who came to see the show and they had a great time. Well I think so, because they didn’t puncture my bag.
There’s a lot of pride in the bagpipes here in Scotland. How fast can you run from a mob of angry Scotsmen?
That’s a very relevant question, because I always perform in my Nike running shoes. Before a gig I always check where the stage exit is and find a dumpster in an alley close by where I can hide. If they are very close to finding me, I just play the siren sound on my bagpipes.
You’ve found an interested comedy niche for yourself. Aren’t you worried about copycat bagpipe comedians?
My jokes can easily be copied but when I do my show my focus is also to create the humour in the now using impro and audience interaction. So I would say no, because you can’t copy timing, delivery and the Danish charm. 🙂