Ferkel Johnson is a passionate clown, burlesque artist and maitre de ceremonie and it feels he just naturally belongs onto the stages of the cabarets, theaters and circusses where he enchants his audience. At the moment he features in the Gin Palace Cabaret and is putting on his own show A night with Ferkel Johnson in Berlin but is soon off to Switzerland to do shows with his newly founded Das Karfunkel Kabinett. But just before all that he was nice enough to do a lil indieberlin interview. Enjoy.
An indieberlin interview with Ferkel Johnson
indieberlin: You live in Berlin for more than 10 years and often leave Berlin to perform for small town audiences. Do you feel there is a difference in small-town- / big town audiences?
Ferkel Johnson: The atmosphere for every show is different. It depends on the size of the venue, the number of performances and the audience.., however, sometimes it feels that in a small town the people are at first a bit more reserved and distant but if you win them over they seem to be more welcoming and open to showcases whereas in a big town like Berlin you might get a feeling from the audience that they’ve seen it all and are not so easily impressed. Both audiences have their challenges and I like them equally.
Are there some particularities in the Berlin audience?
Ferkel Johnson: Well, in Berlin there is such a variety of shows and each of them has their own flair to it. You find at Pinky’s Peepshow for instance a more rock’n’roll club kind of audience, at Sunday Soiree it’s more about sitting down and enjoying a cocktail in an intimate atmosphere or the Gin Palace Cabaret where there is all the grandezza, exquisiteness and decadence you can expect.
indieberlin: You work in circuses as a clown, you’re a maitre de ceremonie and you do burlesque shows. Do you have a favourite for one of those kinds?
Ferkel Johnson: Not really, it just varies from time to time. After I got back from the last circus it was good to have a break and do burlesque. At the moment I’m more into hosting shows. But in general I love it all the same and I’m currently setting up my one-man-show “A night with Ferkel Johnson” where I combine everything that I do.
I feel honoured to be able to say that I’m a clown
indieberlin: Have you ever been confronted with prejudice regarding being a clown or a boylesque performer?
Ferkel Johnson: Well, once in a club I started chatting with a woman and when she asked me what I did for a living I answered “I’m a clown”. She frowned, looked at me and said: “Then you must lead an interesting life” and turned around and left. In the english or more american language there’s the expression “ to be or to act like a clown” which is used as a derogative term. But here in Europe the clown has a 1000 year old tradition and historically was an important and influental figure like the court jester. So I feel actually quite honoured to be able to say that I’m a clown. But I also have received critique from fellow circus artists that I have downgraded to a naked-dancer. I guess when you cross genres some people might feel threatened or betrayed.
To me the source is the same, especially when you look back at vaudeville, music hall or the European “Volkstheater” in the 18th and 19th century. They already had acrobats, clowns and travesty artists in their shows.
indieberlin: What do you feel when you get into a costume and when you enter the stage?
Ferkel Johnson: I feel the adrenalin rushing in and get all energetic. At the same time my mind goes blank and I forget all my lines and have no idea what I’m supposed to do on stage. But as soon as I enter the stage and I greet the audience and receive the first reactions it’s all back and from then on we play and flirt and feast!
No second guesses and no regrets!
indieberlin: Any regrets concerning working in show biz?
Ferkel Johnson: Yeah, no retirement plan! But seriously, no. I knew it wouldn’t be easy and I still struggle at times. But someone said to me only 24 hours before starvation you’re allowed to start worrying and whining. At this moment things are looking quite promising so no second guesses and no regrets!
This Gin Palace Cabaret is also my sort of farewell show
indieberlin: We will see you this friday in the Gin Palace Cabaret. What can we expect? Where in Berlin can we also see you perform?
Ferkel Johnson: This Gin Palace Cabaret will be special because it is also my sort of farewell show. I will be leaving for Switzerland where my girlfriend and I have founded “Das Karfunkel Kabinett”, a mini circus with a tiny tent and our vintage fire truck. We will be touring the country and do shows and don’t know if we’re ever coming back! Although there are rumours that I will be back in town for the Berlin Burlesque Festival in September. So this Friday is going to be extra special with a wonderful cast, beautiful shows and some surprises.
Interview: Mia Morris / All photographs: Kalena Leo Photographer
GIN PALACE CABARET with Ferkel Johnson, Friday, March 27
Grüner Salon in der Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz
more of the Berlin program and the wonderful performers