Trevor Silverstein is a comedian, actor, and improv artist who hails from NYC. He’s also the co-host of The BOSS, an improvisational comedy podcast that is part of the Bear Radio Family. We met with Trevor to talk about his inspirations as a comic, his life as a creative, and his involvement in the recent Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Referendum.
So Trevor, where are we grabbing a coffee today in Berlin?
We’re going to my go-to coffee shop around the corner from my place in Schillerkiez, Neukölln. It’s called Pomeranze.
And how long have you been living in Berlin?
I’m originally from the US but I’ve been living in Berlin now for almost six years. I moved here with my partner, Matilde who’s also a podcaster and a comedian. We met in New York and as she was in the midst of reapplying for a new Visa, we decided to shake things up and move to Berlin.
I had spent some time here as a student but we didn’t know how long we would stay or if it even constituted a real move, but now, after six years, we don’t have any intention of leaving. We really love living here.
Were you funny growing up as a kid?
I definitely thought I was funny, but I’m not sure if I was that funny, but I like to think I have matured since then and that my sense of humor has improved.
Nevertheless, I have always been interested in comedy and film. I used to make a lot of really, really dumb sketch comedy videos with friends growing up, super embarrassing stuff that I’m glad has never seen the light of day. While they may have shown a small inkling of promise, for the most part, they were probably just embarrassing, so I’m pretty content to have them hidden away forever.
My interest in comedy really began when I decided to be a filmmaker in college. I didn’t begin performing until I came to Berlin which is funny, because now it’s the bulk of my work.
What was it about Berlin that made you want to perform?
While I had been interested in comedy in New York, I didn’t have much of an interest in performing it, only in writing it. When I came to Berlin, that changed.
There are almost no stakes when you do comedy here. You’re not worried about the hierarchy of the industry, you’re not surrounded by people who want to get famous, particularly if you’re a comic who performs in English. The city is merely a space to experiment. This freedom allowed me to become comfortable as a performer, moving me away from writing and onto the stage.
Your podcast, The BOSS sees you and your co-host Steindor Jonsson open the stage of the Comedy Cafe Berlin to a different group of podcasters each week. These various characters are, of course, played by the two of you and your various guests. How did you come up with this unique show premise?
I wish I had a Steindor my co-host with me because if I’m honest, I don’t fully remember how we came up with the exact premise of the show. We’re good friends and we met through the comedy scene, and at some point, he must have approached me with the idea of making a podcast.
Looking back we didn’t really have any ideas, we just knew we wanted to do it as a live show. We both also had an interest in character comedy and in improvising characters and so we decided to pretend like it’s an open stage show that anyone could sign up for, even though anyone attending could clearly tell that these were performers playing characters.
If you were to physically attend the show you would clearly tell that these were performers playing characters, but when you listen to it in a podcast version, you get a little bit of suspension of disbelief as to who these people really are. That can feel really playful and exciting.
How is doing improv on a podcast different from doing it on a stage?
There’s not really a huge difference. The only major difference with our podcast is that we have pre-decided characters and in a normal improv show, you wouldn’t have any of that. You would discover everything as it’s happening in real-time.
Other than that, the only difference between our show and a normal improv show is that we’re sitting down the whole time. The idea that we’re on a panel is pre-built into the premise of the show, so we aren’t faced with situations where we have to pretend we’re driving a car or anything. Each episode is rooted int the fact that this is supposedly a real, sit-down recording. This saves us a lot of trouble.
When did you become interested in improv comedy specifically?
I had taken some classes back in New York at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. While I really enjoyed them, I just saw improv as a tool I could apply to my writing, not as an independent art form itself.
When I moved to Berlin I took another class and that’s when I became really interested in it. I met and collaborated with Nacho Sanguinetti and we started to branch into really experimental stuff. We began pushing established formats, creating different shows, and just looking at improv as its own special form of art.
This showed me how cool improv can really be and no matter what, I still think that improv is just the coolest, no matter how much it gets made fun of by other people in the comedy world.
Despite being a seasoned performer in Berlin, do you ever get nervous?
Normally, I would say I don’t get nervous, but with COVID, I’ve found myself getting a little nervous again. COVID changed my mentality. Suddenly, being in a room full of people felt like a threatening situation. I still may be recovering from that a little bit.
What comics have had the biggest impact on your comedy?
The person that has had the biggest impact on my comedy is Tim Robinson. He has a show on Netflix titled I Think You Should Leave and it kind of opened a new portal for me in terms of my work. I fell in love with it. When I take a step back, I can clearly see the impact this show and its writing have had on my comedy.
Your career here in Berlin has had been pillared by the Comedy Café Berlin. Tell me a little about why this space is so special to you.
The Café opened all these doors for me, both socially and professionally. I would go as far as saying that I’ve met almost all of my most significant collaborators here.
I think it opened only a month before I moved to Berlin. I remember seeing the crowdfunding video they made and thinking “Hmm… This didn’t exist when I came to Berlin as a student.” From there I came to the space to see some shows, take some classes, and started to meet this amazing community of people there. At the time, I wouldn’t have imagined that six years later, I would be so directly involved with the space, but here we are!
How do you find life as a creative in Berlin compared to that in the U.S.?
I find Berlin is a really nice place to work as a creative because you don’t have to work yourself into the ground in order to just pay your rent.
If I was still living in New York, living the life I lead would be impossible. Sure, scattering your attention across numerous different creative projects isn’t easy, but at least I can work on things that I really care about and still lead a normal life. That simply wouldn’t be possible in NYC. I’d have to do about six times the amount I work to lead the life I live here there.
While in NYC you gained experience in some pretty fantastic spaces such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. While internships like these are incredible experiences, they often come at great sacrifice for young creatives. How do you feel about the huge unpaid internship culture that exists in creative industries?
I feel pretty confident that it’s bad. That’s not something I have to think too hard about. First of all, it’s, it’s exploitative. I mean sure, you’re gaining experience, but you’re also doing legitimate work that you deserve to be paid for.
Secondly, and what’s probably worse, is that it awards privilege. It stifles opportunities from people who don’t, and can’t, do unpaid work. I’ve been very privileged to have had these lucky experiences, but other people aren’t so lucky, and that’s not exactly fair.
Last week, Berliners voted to socialize a huge amount of housing in the city in a referendum that was powered by Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteigen Tell me about your involvement in this movement.
I was first introduced to DWE via the political party Die Linke. I agreed with their messaging, but I was apprehensive to become more involved because, well, it’s a German group and my German isn’t fantastic.
In Germany and Berlin, only citizens are allowed to vote in referendums and big elections. In a city that is comprised of almost 85% renters, only German citizens are the only signatures and votes that are valid. I mean, that’s crazy! In January of this year, I became aware of DWE’s campaign called “Right to the City for All” which aims to change that. They believe that if you’re living in a city, you should have a say over how it’s run, and I believe that too. As a renter, I wanted to vote in the referendum that happened in September, but I couldn’t, so I started working with them in other ways instead.
I organized a rally at Tempelhofer Feld and most notably, posted a tutorial on cheerleading routines that we developed to perpetuate our campaign group’s message. We wanted to highlight the fact that as migrants, the only role we can play in these elections is that of a cheerleader. We can’t have a say in how the country is run, we can’t vote in important referendums, we can’t participate.
The irony of it all is that photos of us dressed as cheerleaders received a huge amount of press coverage throughout the campaign however, none of them gave any context as to why we were dressed as cheerleaders, which is pretty ironic. No one ever sought to ask about or interview the activists that were specifically doing the cheerleading. This is a real shame because it wasn’t just this fun, pep rally, thing, there was a real message behind it.
However, hopefully, it played a part in securing the referendum vote or at least caught some people’s attention and encouraged them to ask questions.
What has the atmosphere been like within the DWE communities since the referendum?
Amazing. We were electric about the victory because not only did we actually win, but we won by such a significant margin. The result has left us all with this incredible energy and I’m pretty confident that that’s going to continue, which is key because we need politicians to know that this momentum is not going to go away.
My whole experience with DWE has just been so great. I’ve met the most inspiring, relentless people and I’ve done things I never would have thought I’d do. It’s been pretty transformative. In hindsight, it’s probably one of the most defining things I’ve done this year.
And finally, how has being a part of the Bear Radio Network helped you and your podcast?
If I’m not mistaken, we were one of the very first podcasts on Bear Radio, so we’ve been around from the get-go!
Since then, we’ve seen the network grow from strength to strength. Our partnership with Bear Radio helped us to grow our audience and introduced us to a listener base that we probably would never have met. Having this support has been a huge, huge help for us and we’re super grateful.