Circus comedian reveals comic side to the Swiss

Rocchi in action during a performance at Circus Knie. Knie/swissinfo

The Italian-Swiss comic, Massimo Rocchi, likes to poke gentle fun at the normally serious Swiss.

This content was published on August 24, 2003 - 11:56

He told swissinfo it is a key element of his performance as guest of honour at the Swiss National Circus Knie, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year.

The Italian-born cabaret artist and comedian has been nicknamed “the poet of laughter” for his comical look at everyday life in Switzerland.

swissinfo: What’s the difference between performing on stage and in the circus ring?

Massimo Rocchi: I think the theatre is a bit like a football match: you’ve got 90 minutes and if you get a bit bored, you don’t have to run about too much, you can let the ball pass between the players and use sneaky tactics. This means that not all of the match is up to performance standards.

In the circus, however, it’s like taking a penalty kick. You haven’t got much time, three minutes, sometimes five but never more than seven for your slot in front of the public. You’ve only got a minute to win over people at the circus, so you have to make an immediate impression.

swissinfo: You have said that Circus Knie is the best circus in the world. Why?

M.R: Other circuses, circus schools have also said it, as well as my colleagues in the artistic world. Every circus artist dreams of working for the Knie family. I think they’re the best in the business because at circus Knie nothing is left to chance. The animals are extremely clean, highly trained and have lots of space. If there’s a problem, the circus director wants to know straightaway.

Secondly, the Knie family had a sensational idea to hire comedians from different backgrounds, above all from the theatre, rather than from the circus.

This is a unique mix that you don’t find anywhere else in the world, it doesn’t exist in other circuses in Germany, France or the United States. What’s more, Circus Knie is a huge thing for such a small country as Switzerland.

This tour has been a dream come true for me.

swissinfo: Which aspects of Circus Knie remind you of Switzerland and which aspects of Switzerland remind you of Circus Knie?

M.R: Circus Knie is completely different to the image you tend to have of Switzerland. The image of Switzerland abroad is banks, insurance and chocolate. Circus Knie is pure imagination.

swissinfo: Do the Swiss have any imagination?

M.R: The Swiss are a people who have built motorways on mountains, a people who have ensured that you can get up to 2,000 metres high in a jacket and tie. The Swiss have defied a pretty tough landscape.

They are a people of practical imagination. The Swiss have demonstrated great creativity in many cultural fields. But also in industry; there’s a small Swiss company that produces a diesel motor element and if it closed, then even the mighty Mercedes Benz would have to shut down.

swissinfo: Do the Swiss inspire a comedian like Massimo Rocchi?

M.R: Of course! All my work is inspired by little details. My entire performance is based on my experiences of Switzerland.

Swiss bureaucracy, apart from being truly marvellous, is also quite funny. A good bureaucracy needs rules and regulates these rules with rules based on other rules and so it all gets rather complicated. Other traits I find comical are the fear the Swiss have of making mistakes and how they are afraid to laugh at themselves.

swissinfo: You are a great observer of all things Swiss. What, in your opinion, is the cement that holds the country together?

M.R: First of all, it’s the railway. In Switzerland, you only have to get on the train and you have the impression that you are already there. Another factor common to the Swiss is the desire to remain resolutely independent, but added to this is a sort of gentlemen’s agreement that allows them to fight among themselves. Of course, living together is also made easier by a positive financial situation.

swissinfo: But on some days, even in Switzerland, there’s not much to laugh about.

M.R: But you don’t have to always laugh. It’s important to have humour. Someone who laughs doesn’t necessarily have a sense of humour. Perhaps someone is funny if, when they get up, they accidentally put on a white and a red sock. Humour can’t be bought and can’t be made.

There are also people who don’t smile and are very funny. A camel’s face, such as you see at Circus Knie, can be much funnier than someone telling jokes. You can’t just laugh on command.

swissinfo, Mariano Masserini (translation: Isobel Johnson)

In Brief

Massimo Rocchi has been nicknamed “poet of laughter” for his lighter look at Swiss life.

He is guest of honour at Swiss National Circus Knie, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary.

Italian by birth, he came to Switzerland in 1984.

Rocchi is both a cabaret artist and comic and has won prizes both in Switzerland and abroad.

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