The funny American

24th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

We talk to Tom Rhodes, host of the Kevin Masters show, about how he landed the job as the David Letterman of the Netherlands.


When Tom Rhodes arrives at a café on Amsterdam's Museumplein, he's a little sweaty from the bike ride on a balmy autumn day, and dressed in an untucked Babe Ruth t-shirt, jeans and Puma trainers.

He is considerably dressed down from his television role, in which he is usually found on Tuesday nights on the Yorin network, smartly attired in pin-striped suits, even during the taped segments when producers send him out to visit swampy Dutch farms or talk with teenagers in provincial towns.

Rhodes, who is 35 and American, is the host of the weekly Kevin Masters Show, an intriguing concept in which he interviews and jokes in English with Dutch celebrities — everyone from film babes like Katja Schuurman of the recent Dutch film Oesters van Nam Kee to members of parliament — in front of a Dutch audience at Amsterdam's Rozentheater. (There apparently is no Kevin Masters and the name is a mystery even to Rhodes.)

The show mimics American late-night talk shows like those of David Letterman and Conan O'Brien. There is Rhodes, the host, guiding things from behind a desk with his own branded coffee mug. He is backed by a city skyline, which in this case is Amsterdam. There is a live band with requisite jocular black leader (rapper E-Life), and there are silly skits and interviews with the audience.

It's a safe bet that Tom Rhodes is the first English-speaking comedian in world history to be working as a talk-show host in a country where English is not the native language.

"The whole fact that the show works I think is a testament to how smart Dutch people are," Rhodes says.

"There's nothing unique about the concept," he says. "The whole thing that makes it unique is the fact that I'm an American reacting to Dutch culture and being taught Dutch culture."

On each show, Rhodes is led through an "inburgering cursus" that quizzes him on Dutch knowledge, and producers attempt to milk laughs out of his outsider take on life here.

Occasionally from faces of audience members, you get the feeling that they're uncertain how to react to this American-style format. But Rhodes says he hasn't felt the need to adjust his style to suit the Dutch sensibility.

"That's the life of a comedian," he says. "When you're expecting a response and nothing happens. I mean, that shit happens in Peoria, Illinois."

Rhodes started visiting Amsterdam five years ago, doing stand-up comedy routines at the Hilton's Toomler comedy club. Eventually he started dating a Dutch woman and began spending more time in the Netherlands. That nearly came to an end in December, he says, when the two split up and Rhodes contemplated leaving the country.

But the next week he got a call from producers at Yorin looking to cast an American host for their new talk show. Rhodes got the job and taped a 14-week half season of shows that started airing in January. The show proved successful enough that it has been expanded to an hour and is running a full season.

Rhodes, who grew up primarily in Florida, has performed extensively in clubs in the United States and in recent years in London, Paris and other European cities.

He prepares for interviews with his Dutch guests by reading background prepared by the show's staff and watching tapes of the guest's performances. While he is oblivious to much of the Dutch celebrity world, he has pressed his producers to invite a couple of favourites.

These included Wubbo Ockels, the first Dutchman to travel in space (Rhodes grew up near the space shuttle launch site in Florida) and crooner Lee Towers.

"Lee learned how to speak English from Elvis Presley. This guy is who Elvis should have been. 'I believe in my dreams', he said that about three times. 'How did this happen for me? I believe in my dreams, Tommy'. I'm like sitting there talking to Elvis, man."

One guest they couldn't get on the show was the late Pim Fortuyn. "He said no because, I was told, because his English wasn't strong. That's a really smart political move. Why look weak if you're trying to get elected?"

But if they choose, guests always have the option to stick with Dutch. "The producers have said if it comes to that, we'll get a translator," Rhodes says.

Rhode says he'd like to see the show go five, even 10 years, giving him time to learn Dutch.

"It'd be great if five years from now I'm doing the show in Dutch. That would be the ultimate compliment to these people that they took some Florida hillbilly and taught him the Dutch language."

The Kevin Masters Show, starring Tom Rhodes, is broadcast Tuesdays at 10pm on Yorin.

Todd Savage is a frequent contributor to Expatica who also writes and edits for Het Financieele Dagblad's English edition and the Holland Herald.

Subject: Expat profiles

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