The Friendliest Place in the Universe: Love, Laughter, and Stand-Up Comedy in Berlin
Author: Hillary S. Webb
University Professors Press, 2022
Like many in the fall of 2017—a year into the Trump/Brexit era—I found myself becoming increasingly dismayed by the world’s turn toward what appeared to be a kind of hyper-xenophobia. On a whim, I traveled to Berlin, Germany, for a week’s vacation. There, I found renewed hope and personal healing in an unexpected place: Cosmic Comedy, an international stand-up venue described as “The Friendliest Comedy Club in Europe.”
Down in that dimly lit, beer-soaked basement, I watched with surprise and delight as the club’s two co-promoters, Dharmander Singh and Neil Numb, gathered a group of culturally and demographically diverse comedians and audience members, transforming them from strangers into supportive allies. United by the mutual desire to laugh at the absurdities of the human condition.
I wondered: Could Cosmic Comedy’s intentionally devised “culture of kindness” be an anodyne to our hostile world? Fixated on the possibility, I returned to Berlin a few months later, determined to uncover the secret sauce for creating bonds of empathy between strangers.
As with all journeys of the mind and heart, my investigations took me through myriad highs and lows, including the unwelcome realization that collective joy has a dark doppelgänger—the “madness of the crowd”—and that I, myself, was as susceptible to its intoxicating influence as anyone else. In the end, however, The Friendliest Place in the Universe: A Story of Love, Laughter, and Stand-Up Comedy in Berlin is a humorous, heart breaking, and, ultimately, hopeful look at the nature of human togetherness.
What Readers Are Saying:
“At once a playful romp and a serious inquiry. Through her observations of the Berlin stand-up scene, Webb discovers life lessons that readers will treasure.”
— Richard Hoffman, author, Love & Fury: A Memoir
“Hillary S. Webb invites us to join her quest for meaning and community in a time of great change and competing challenges. With humor and insight, she shares lessons for all of us grappling with contemporary life, drawing upon philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and personal growth. It’s not just a trip; it’s a journey that hints at archetypal experience.”
— Elayne Clift, editor, A 21st-Century Plague: Poetry from a Pandemic
“The Friendliest Place in the Universe offers a ground floor perspective on grassroots stand-up comedy, a struggle for personal discovery, and a love letter to Berlin all wrapped in a thoughtful cultural analysis of the potentially world-changing spark of communal joy that comedy and performance can offer. Come for the free pizza and schnapps—stay for the characters, their stories, and the community.”
— Matthew R. Meier, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication & Theatre at DePauw University & co-editor, Standing Up, Speaking Out: Stand-Up Comedy and the Rhetoric of Social Change
“Webb transgresses the conventions of academic writing, exploring what is at the centre of anthropological research on popular culture while also revealing what is elusive—its impact on people’s lives. Her exciting description of what she experienced raises big issues: transnationalism, politics, and knowledge-production.”
— Cassis Kilian, University of Mainz, author, Attention in Performance: Acting Lessons in Sensory Anthropology
“Webb turns an anthropologist's eye to the existential search for meaning in this layered look at the microcosm of a multicultural comedy club in the age of Trump. Surprising, insightful, and an excellent read!”
— Lyralen Kaye, writer/director, Assigned Female at Birth, a Web Series about Some Bodies
“Webb's ability to capture details is masterful, whether she is describing street scenes in Berlin, the social dynamics of a comedy club, or the swirls and eddies of her own thoughts and emotions. This is a journey readers will want to go on.”
— Alexis Rizzuto, former Senior Editor, Beacon Press