Review: Toon Hermans, the colors of a clown (2005)

Toon Hermans, the colors of a clown (2005)

Directed by: Coen Verbraak | 80 minutes | documentary| With: John van Elk, Wim Hazeu, Youp van ‘t Hek, Maurice Hermans, Michael Hermans, Gaby Hermans, Herman van Hove, Hans Koppes, Paul de Leeuw, Benny Ludemann, Frans Molenaar, Hugh den Ouden, Coen van Orsouw Jr. , Ida Schrijver, Herman van Veen

When you say Toon Hermans, you immediately think of “snieklaas” or the Amsterdam theater Carré. His name is inextricably linked to this large theater on the Amstel. Toon Hermans, together with Wim Sonneveld and Wim Kan, is called the Big Three. They were the ones who gave Dutch cabaret a different face in the last century. Their vision and their humor have been a great source of inspiration for many comedians who came after them. The documentary ‘Toon Hermans, the colors of a clown’ tells the story of Toon. Born in 1917 in Sittard, he grew up in reasonable wealth. However, his father loses a lot of money during the great stock market crash in the 1930s. The bitter poverty that hit the family afterwards has shaped young Toon. At a young age he has a revue show in Sittard. Due to his success with the revue show in Sittard, which he has had at a young age, he soon ends up in Amsterdam.

In 1955 he takes a unique step. He was the first Dutchman to go on stage alone to joke and sing: the one-man show was born. Toon’s life is largely determined by his wife Rietje. She is the mainstay of the always wavering Toon. She is ‘the block of concrete’, as one of the sons calls it, on which the whole family leans. The death of his wife is therefore more than a great loss for Toon.

The documentary shows a tone that we don’t all know. The good thing is that many close friends, people who really knew him, have their say. Then you get a nuanced picture of the smiley face of yesteryear. His drive and his perfectionism come to the fore. And also that everything he did was not ‘just’, but all the steps, all the jokes and winks had been rehearsed beforehand. The months-long rehearsals with his band, and that for a few songs in his show, are the responsibility of the artist Toon Hermans. Especially book publisher Wim Hazeu can tell you tasty about the ‘dark’ sides of Toon Hermans.

Although he was not a nice person at times, everyone speaks with great respect and admiration about his talent. The fact that he couldn’t play an instrument, not even read a note, didn’t bother him to tell with colors how he wanted his songs to sound: simple, straight from the heart.
“Play fewer notes, I know you can play the piano,” he says at one point to pianist Coen van Orsouw. His songs and poems are simple, but very effective. Toon was a master of timing and could turn silences into undulating bursts of laughter like no other, just by standing there. A lot of ‘modern’ comedians can learn something from that. However, the documentary is not a series of famous conferences, but a beautiful intimate portrait of a man who shaped Dutch cabaret. With unique images from the private archive and special stories, told by people who have experienced Toon Hermans up close.

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