Comedian, writer and musician
Claudia de Breij (1975) is a comedian, writer and musician. She became one of the most important comedians of her generation in recent decades. Her comedy style is nuanced and forgiving, but at the same time activist and determined. In recent years, she has marked her status as a leading politically engaged comedian by doing the national New Year’s Eve comedy show three times.
Claudia de Breij was born on March 13, 1975 in Utrecht. She had a pleasant childhood in Utrecht, and later paid tribute to the city in a song. She obtained her high school degrees in Culemborg and studied general literature at Utrecht University for two years. After she was rejected from the Amsterdam Academy for Contemporary Music Theatre (Kleinkunstacademie), she continued to build her career on her own. She participated in the Leids Cabaret Festival (1997), came third in the competition for the Wim Sonneveld Award at the Amsterdam Cabaret Festival (Amsterdams Kleinkunst Festival) (1998) and joined the management of Frans Rühl.
She became known for her cabaret performances The wild freshness (De wilde frisheid) (2002), Claudia Sucks (Claudia Zuigt) (2004), Hello dear people (Hallo lieve mensen) (2006) and iClaudia (2008), as well as for her radio and television work. In the meantime, she also developed her skills as a columnist and writer. Claudia released several CDs and DVDs with recordings of her performances and songs. For her music, she had already been working for some time with musicians and composers Sander Geboers and Rogier Wagenaar. In 2006, Hello dear people was nominated for the cabaret prize Neerlands Hoop. In 2010, her performance Hot Peace (Hete vrede) was awarded the Poelifinario, the prize for the best cabaret production of the season. She was the first woman to receive this award, and would remain the only female award winner until 2019. In 2015 she received the Louis Davidsring from the previous owner, Herman van Veen.
The opening song from Hot Peace (2010), ‘Can I be with you’ (‘Mag ik dan bij jou’), became a big hit. She originally performed it as a love song, but on later occasions, for example in her show Dice (Teerling) (2014), she accentuated its humanistic, political side.
From 2005 to 2011, Claudia de Breij was married to Connie Kraaijeveld, with whom she has a son. In 2011, she moved in with her new partner Jessica van Geel and their two sons in Utrecht. In 2016 they got married. Because of her artistic work, her contribution to the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights and great social commitment, Claudia received the high ranking royal decoration Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion from the mayor of Utrecht in 2021.
Feminism and homosexuality
Claudia de Breij’s work seems to have a traditional form, but has also been influenced by stand-up comedy and pop music. In her early work, she turns against the boring middle-class life, a classic cabaret theme which is reminiscent of Youp van ‘t Hek’s work. For example, her show Claudia Sucks includes a song about an ugly new housing estate:
How small are the trees
How little atmosphere there is
Too true to be beautiful
The weather was also much nicer on the model
However, she distinguishes herself from her male predecessors with her feminist approach, which is visible in her entire oeuvre. For example, in Claudia Sucks (2004), she criticizes the Bible from a feminist perspective, in Dice (2014) she makes a passionate plea for the first woman on the moon and in both #Now (#Nu) (2018) and her New Year’s Eve show in 2022, she speaks out against those who claim that since the #MeToo movement, flirting has become almost impossible.
In line with her contemporaries, Claudia indicates in the early 2000s that her work is not socially committed. She considers social commitment in artistic work as something of the past. She emphasised that she did not want to make comedy about her lesbian orientation, as she did not want to be labelled as a ‘lesbian comedian’. Nevertheless, homosexuality already slightly emerges as a theme in her early work. In Claudia Sucks, for example, she performs the song ‘No Song’ (‘Geen liedje’), the lyrics of which criticize the liberal dogma that gay emancipation has been completed.The song starts with a rendition of the liberal voice:
This is not a song, there is nothing to sing about
There’s nothing wrong and we shouldn’t moan about it
This isn’t a song about all those bad things
Because there is nothing left for us to achieve in this country
However, that sentiment is soon deconstructed:
(chorus) There’s nothing wrong
(Claudia) Unless you were born in Ankara, or Staphorst, or at Paleis Soestdijk [one of the Dutch royal palaces]
(chorus) There’s nothing wrong
(Claudia) Unless you want to work for the army, the Dutch national soccer team or a pre-vocational high school in an underprivileged neighbourhood
(chorus) There’s nothing wrong
(Claudia) But let go of each other’s hand when there is such a group of loitering teens
Kiss outside the city, but not too enthusiastically on the street
And smile when they ask which of you two is the female
And just smile when they ask if you’re not always missing something
Claudia de Breij’s work is characterized by a soft, light-hearted tone and a search for nuance and community. When she was confronted in an interview in 2004 with the question how innovative her work actually is, she gave a poignant characterization of this style:
“My work is innovative in that it is not all worked up […] That is why it is fresh. It has air.”
Presenting herself as a nuanced doubter, Claudia also responds to the coarsening and right-wing shift of society. She makes this point explicit in Hot Peace (2010). She is way ahead of her time here by pointing out that politicians are increasingly behaving like comedians and clowns. She wonders aloud what the shocking political style of a right-wing populist politician such as Geert Wilders means for traditional cabaret, where humour is also frequently used to shock. She considers:
“Everything has been turned around. Comedians used to say: “In The Hague it’s all dirty, lying bastards!” Now they are saying that themselves all the time in The Hague. They are taking the bread out of our mouths, aren’t they? […] Politicians have started making cabaret, should I then start playing the nuanced politician?’
Although she still phrases her statement as a question in this bit, in the following years Claudia increasingly presented herself as a politically engaged comedian who is looking for nuance. This makes her one of the few female comedians who chooses governmental politics as the explicit theme of her performances.
It is therefore no surprise that national social democratic broadcasting company BNNVARA asked her to do the national New Year’s Eve comedy show in 2017. This genre, in which the comedian addresses the entire nation on the last day of the year and speaks words of reconciliation and reflection, turns out to fit her perfectly. She was invited again in 2019 and in 2022 to create and perform the national New Year’s Eve comedy show. With her approach that aims to put things into perspective, Claudia, more so than predecessors such as Freek de Jonge, Youp van ‘t Hek and Lebbis en Jansen, aligns with the tradition of Wim Kan (1911-1983), founder of the New Year’s Eve comedy show on radio and television.
In 2021, Claudia’s status as an influential political comedian was emphasized once again when it was announced that she had been asked by the Dutch Government Information Service (RVD) to write a book about Crown Princess Amalia in collaboration with the Crown Princess herself.
Although Claudia has always tried to bring people together and put things in perspective, she has become more activist over the years. Her work is in line with the renewed activist sentiments of the past decade. Her first New Year’s Eve show (2016) and her performance #Now (2018), in which she declares herself in favour of gender equality and makes a plea for non-violent resistance, seem to mark a turning point in her work. Typically, Claudia does not present herself as a radical innovator who is ahead of the troops, but as someone from the ‘reasonable middle’ who is willing to listen to a progressive vanguard. In the run-up to her 2019 New Year’s Eve performance, she states in an interview:
“To some people it may seem like I am running in front, but that’s because I listen to a vanguard group and then I can say: guys, look, I think it’s actually like this.”
While Claudia in Dice still criticizes the emotional tone of the debate about the Dutch blackface tradition of Saint Nicholas and Black Pete (Zwarte Piet), which became a burning issue in Dutch debates about racism, in her New Year’s Eve performance of 2019 she emphasizes that we need anti-Black Pete activists like Quincy Gario because they dare to lead the way. And while in Dice she still talks about her friendly relations with the frontman of the conservative Christian political party SGP, Kees van der Staaij, with whom she fundamentally disagrees but whom she values as a human being, in 2019 she cuts all ties with the politician via an open letter in her column in a popular TV-guide. She does this because Van der Staaij signed the Nashville statement, which calls for restrictions on the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
In the same year, Claudia performs part of her New Year’s Eve show in traditional costume. In doing so, she not only pays tribute to Aletta Jacobs, famous Dutch feminist and champion of women’s suffrage, but also emphasizes that she feels pushed back into traditional gender roles by the flared up right-wing Christian struggle against abortion and gay rights.
Nevertheless, the tone of Claudia’s work always remains hopeful. For example, she ends her New Year’s Eve show in 2022 with a scene from Swan Lake, performed by the ballet dancer Olga Smirnova who was forced to flee from Russia, and concludes with the words ‘Everything will be fine’, pronounced in Ukrainian.
In 2010, ‘Hot Peace’ (‘Hete vrede’) was awarded the Poelifinario, the prize for the best cabaret show of the season
Claudia de Breij sings about Utrecht in her show Claudia sucks (Claudia Zuigt) (2004)
The opening number from Hot Peace (HeteVrede) (2010), ‘Can I be with you’ (Mag ik dan bijjou’), became a big hit.
‘New housing estate’ (‘Nieuwbouwwijk’) from the show Claudia sucks (Claudia Zuigt) (2004)
‘No song’ (‘Geen liedje’) (2004), Claudia’s sung critique of the liberal dogma that gay emancipation is complete.
Dick Zijp, Comedians without a cause: The politics and aesthetics of humour in Dutch cabaret (1966-2020). Thesis Utrecht University, 2023. Online available: https://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/425894
Geke van der Wal, ‘Claudia de Breij: “Ik ben vroeg uit het paradijs gevallen,”’ De Volkskrant, 7 december 2002.
Dick Hofland, ‘Claudia de Breij: “Ik leef op dit moment een beetje als een groot kind,”’ Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant, 27 december 2003.
Renate van der Zee, ‘De tropenjaren van Claudia de Breij,’ Opzij, 1 april 2004.
Gidi Heesakkers, ‘Claudia de Breij: “Leuk hè, dat het demonstreren weer terug is?”’ De Volkskrant, 12 december 2019.
Claudia de Breij in her first program The wild freshness (De wildefrisheid) (2002). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlaxP_3pB1U
In 2010, Hot Peace (Hete vrede) was awarded the Poelifinario, the prize for the best cabaret show of the season. https://www.bol.com/nl/nl/p/hete-vrede/1002004011928061/
Platinum single for ‘Can I be with you’ (‘Mag ikbij dan bijjou’), Sept. 2014, Photo: ANP Kippa. https://www.ad.nl/show/claudia-de-breijs-mag-ik-dan-bij-jou-is-vlaamse-kerstactie~a1d801bc/
Claudia de Breij and singer Waylon gave a recital in Utrecht Central Station for the video clip for their duet ‘Miss you so smooth’ (‘Mis je zo glad‘) (2016). Photo: Marnix Schmidt. https://www.ad.nl/utrecht/claudia-de-breij-en-waylon-geven-concert-op-utrecht-cs~a3e317ef/
Through her column in a popular TV-guide, Claudia de Breij criticized the leader of the conservative Christian political party, Kees van der Staaij, in 2019, who supported the Nashville statement. https://tweedekamer.sgp.nl/actueel/nieuws/een-briefje-back-aan-claudia-de-breij
In 2021, Claudia de Breij received the royal decoration Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion from Sharon Dijksma, mayor of Utrecht. Photo: Hollandse Hoogte / ANP. https://www.libelle.nl/shownieuws/carriere-claudia-de-breij-bekroond-met-koninklijk-lintje~be262b81/?referrer=https://www.google.com/
Claudia de Breijand her wife Jessica van Geel in the popular magazine Linda (2022), https://www.linda.nl/personal/ Relations/claudia-de-breij-jessica-vrouw-erbij/
Claudia de Breij in the Utrecht city theatre, in December 2022, published on bnnvara.nl
Claudia de Breij in the music cellar in her house in Utrecht, photo: Olivier Thijssen, https://www.ad.nl/show/claudia-de-breij-divers-kelder-in-samen-muziek-maken-is-elkaar
Claudia de Breij and dancer Olga Smirnova in the New Year’s Eve Conference 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xsl_NIJIhE0
Photo above: Claudia de Breij, photo: Corbino, Beeld en Geluid, https://wiki.beeldengeluid.nl/index.php/Claudia_de_Breij