Come to the cabaret
Although I am a shameless Puritan, I enjoy Dutch and German cabaret.
I particularly like Youp van 't Hek. Hans Teeuwen is funny, but more painful and less my taste. Youp has a humor and range of feeling that translates very well for me. And that starts with his clear manner of speaking (even when he's talking like a motorcyclist weaving at a 100 miles per hour through a traffic jam). He is often lewd, but that just goes with the territory.
Have you discovered the cabaret?
Toon Hermans is at the foundation of modern cabaret and one of the greatest comedians in general, off all time. The inventor of the one-man show, and a personal hero of mine. He also is a polyglot! I have not only discovered the cabaret, I was born with it.
Youp and Hans are 2nd and 3rd in my list. I also like Theo Maassen and Herman Finkers.
Toon Hermans is one of what was called the big three of (post-war) Dutch cabaret.
The other two are Wim Kan and Wim Sonneveld. I think you might like them as well.
Dutch cabaret is probably not what most Anglophones expect when they see the word. It's a mixture of stand-up comedy (although usually with a lot more story-line), with political and social satire and usually some songs sometimes with the same funny angle, sometimes a more serious intermezzo.
If you know some Dutch just go and see, and you'll understand. :) There is a lot of material on youtube, but this usually are just fragments. Watching full conference (show) usually adds a lot to the experience, because of the story-line (and jokes related to this story-line).
If you don't like swearing, you'll probably have a hard time liking most of Dutch cabaret. I think Herman Finkers is one of the few exceptions, he still has the direct and harsh Dutch humor, but no swearing.
A monument not mentioned yet is Freek de Jonge (used to be part of the duo Neerlands Hoop), some others I like:
- Waardenberg De Jong (usually quite theatrical)
- Javier Guzman
- Brigitte Kaandorp
- Wim Helsen (Belgian)
- Wouter Deprez (Belgian)
- Klaas van der Eerden
- De Vliegende Panters
I know I'm missing a great deal of what's going on. I assume I'm missing most of it, in fact, because - although each of these performers is very different - the humor and the story-telling require almost saturation levels of interest in the the culture, the news, and especially the language of the Dutch to keep up.
Not long ago, you could get a laugh just by saying "Helder!" or "Toch!?", or "Doe eens normaal!" You might wonder, "what did I miss"?
That happens all the time, for me. So, it is far above me indeed. But, when a whole crowd laughed after the name Andries was mentioned - no explanation - I got the joke! Experiences like that made me feel part of a club, and helped me a little, to understand the significance of cabaret.
For insight into Dutch culture, politics and events, but especially into the Dutch language, each of these artists gives a different point of access. It's gratifying, every once in a while, to say Aha! I understood that reference!, that word-play!, and to laugh or to cringe at whatever it is.
I guess that being willing to be offended - without needing to approve of being offensive - is part of the entrance fee I've been willing to pay, to understand Dutch. I'm glad for these other names, like Herman Finkers, and the older ones, too.
I think it's great that you want to watch cabaret, even though you miss a lot. But indeed the key is things you do get, and I bet that next to the language you also learn a lot about our culture and maybe even more important: a different point of view. And the upside is that you can watch things again in, say, a years time and you'll get a lot more. :) Oh and an English colleague of mine said that we Dutch really like our puns and wordplay, so it's definitely no shame to be miss jokes in Dutch comedy.
Also the other way around it's the same thing. When I watch US or UK comedy there are a lot of things I miss. And I'm not just talking about people I don't know, but when watching comedy, with such a vast array of cultural references and wordplay, it's just the way it is. In some areas I may know as much English as the next guy, in others I'll barely match a 10-year-old.
BTW talking about Dutch culture and cultural differences, I bet you'll really like this blog by a Canadian woman living in the Netherlands.
It's not cabaret, but I think Van Kooten en De Bie (sometimes shortened to Koot en Bie) should also be mentioned. In the 70's and 80's they made television shows with sketches which were hugely popular and influential. They contributed a number of still common words and sayings to Dutch. And their fictitious political party caused quite a stir in the country see Dutch wikipedia. You can easily say they are the Dutch Monty Python.