‘Senior Executive Comedian’ Arnout Van den Bossche: “In het bedrijfsleven moest ik meer komedie spelen dan op het podium”

“In business I had to play more comedy than on stage”

Stand-up comedian Arnout Van den Bossche was active in corporates as a civil engineer, until he decided to focus on comedy, which he had been interested in for some time. He won Humo’s Comedy Cup, sold out the Lotto Arena twice with his show Burnout for Beginners and is now brooding on a new performance, in which he will focus on coaching. A self-proclaimed ‘senior executive comedian’, he cherishes his freedom above all else. “My luck factor? Things can go wrong with your company, but as an entrepreneur you always stay in the driver’s seat.”

His first show, which he started touring in 2010, was called The Relationship Whisperer, in which Arnout Van den Bossche examined the differences between men and women using a flipchart as a consultant. For successor Burnout for Beginners he eagerly drew on his past in the corporate world, where he said he had to “do more comedy than on stage” – a fact that can lead to burnout for many people.

That Van den Bossche after his tour with the Relationship Whisperer almost fell into the black hole himself, provided additional input: for years he had seen colleagues drop out due to stress and pressure, and now it happened to himself. In more ways than one it was Burnout for Beginners so ‘Life as it is: the workplace’.

Hold up a mirror

“My first aim was always to amuse people. They were not supposed to come to my show as a form of therapy,” the comedian laughs. “That being said, business leaders and other professionals often came to me afterwards to say how recognizable they all found it. And the is also recognizable: email conversations with a colleague who just sits next to you, endless meetings, clumsy PowerPoint presentations, the beautiful appearance of things that are glossed over or concealed, the ease with which you can hide in a corporate and pretend to work, … ”

My first aim was always to amuse people. They weren’t supposed to come to my show for therapy

These things happen all over the business world, and there’s a lot of humor to be had from them. In addition, people seem to be pleased that a mirror is held up to them and everything is named in a funny, non-peerative and, above all, non-judgmental way. I just didn’t talk about working from home and Teams meetings, because people do that Real were fed up (laughs).”

(© Pieter Verhaeghe)

Smile with coaching

Arnout Van den Bossche is currently thinking hard about his next show, which will focus on ‘coaching’. A rewarding subject for comedy, if you know that in the Netherlands in 2013 ‘only’ 478 lifestyle coaches were registered in the Chamber of Commerce compared to no less than 5,073 in 2021, which amounts to an increase of 960 percent.

Literally anyone can become a coach”, says the comedian. “Moreover, during the lockdowns we have been shot en masse in the ‘working on yourself’ and ‘becoming a better version of yourself’ mode – both privately and professionally. So there is also a lot of humor in it. Just take the fact that coaches contradict themselves so often: one minute they encourage you to get out of your comfort zone but when that fails, they claim you should have stuck to your core competencies (laughs). They are always right of course.”

Gossip moment with colleagues

Van den Bossche does more than just make comedy. He is also an ambassador for Monopoly@Work, the variant of the world-famous game that is not about the purchase of shopping streets, but of company departments. For example, as a player you can become the owner of the HR, IT, finance, marketing or sales department, the helpdesk … Or you can buy the entire company and become CEO.

Actually, I’m just extending the concept of workplace humor from my shows into a board game”, he says about it. “Monopoly@Work is the perfect excuse to relive recognizable work situations in a fun way. Of course it can be played in a family context, but I think it is especially amusing among colleagues. I especially had a lot of fun with the texts on the Community Chest and Chance cards. Some examples? ‘As a trade union leader you receive 100 euros from each participant’. ‘Your restaurant bill will be checked by the tax authorities, pay a fine of 100 euros’. ‘Gossip moment with colleagues, go back three places’. That kind of thing. You may learn something – in the end Monopoly was also developed at the time to teach the ‘people’ how to handle money better and what it was like to buy and maintain a hotel – but the main purpose is to have fun. ”

“Intriguing: people who play it always seem inclined to buy the boxes that correspond to their own function or department – if you work in sales, you will want to buy the sales department. For example, I always insist on having the ‘Events’ box, but that is the light blue one that you encounter first and therefore yields almost nothing (laughs).”

(© Pieter Verhaeghe)

Black snow

Touring with his comedy, thinking about texts on Chance cards,… Above all, Arnout Van den Bossche enjoys his freedom as an entrepreneur. “The boss who emails you in the evening asking if you want to read a document with which he has to go to a customer tomorrow morning: I no longer have that. Today I am master of my own agenda, and that is worth gold. As an independent entrepreneur you always remain at the helm, even when things go badly. No one can throw you out. Elon Musk who puts thousands of people on the street after he took over Twitter: messages like that don’t make you happy. But I have no fear that it will be my turn in a reorganization.”

I’ve also seen black snow, when the corona crisis broke out and my shows were abruptly stopped. But I remained in control

“Note, I also saw black snow when the corona crisis broke out and my shows were abruptly stopped. But I remained in control. In retrospect, it even had an advantage: during the lockdowns, apparently a lot of people watched YouTube videos of me, which increased the demand for new shows. Consequently, I have been lucky with Burnout for Beginners to be able to do a kind of bonus tour.”

“On the other hand, I will soon start to have a long time try-outen for my new show and my income will therefore drop again. Only no shareholder will come tapping me on the shoulder to demand more returns. For me, that freedom is an enormous happiness factor.”

“One more thing: I don’t want to focus on business in my comedy to stay focus, or else people will expect me soon Burn-out voor Beginners: The Revenge”, he concludes with a quip. “That being said, I’ll be okay for that companies continue to play, albeit not in the form of a hall show. Rather some recognizable sketches. Inspiration will always come from that world!

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