The last Levy conference of 2021 on December 21 saw hundreds of registered attendees tune in online to listen to Andrew Moskos talk about how he and two friends (Pep Rosenfeld and Ken Schaefle) tried their luck in the early 1990s and have imported Chicago-style improvisation to Amsterdam. The trio created the famous Boom Chicago, a thriving business that despite pandemic restrictions puts on comedy shows on three different stages, teaches improv classes to hundreds of enthusiastic students, and consults companies to spice up corporate events, presentations and communications with creativity and humor. The Levy de Moskos Lecture is the first to feature a speaker from outside the United States.
Moskos described his childhood in Evanston, attending and graduating from Evanston Township High School and Northwestern University, and visiting Amsterdam with his best friend, Rosenfeld. They fell in love with the city. (Lots of legally available marijuana didn’t hurt either.) They were joined in Amsterdam by Schaefle and one evening, after a night of merriment, they had what Moskos describes as “the best stoner idea of all time ‘: let’s introduce Chicago style improv comedy shows to the Dutch!
After a good night’s sleep, it always seemed like a good idea. All three were optimistic that it might work for several well-founded reasons. The Dutch are friendly, speak fluent English and welcome tourists. Many multinational companies are based in Amsterdam, providing a large influx of expatriates and foreign visitors.
They wrote to the Amsterdam Tourism Board to present their idea and seek advice. Moskos said the head of the tourist office responded almost immediately and sent him a typed response by fax: “Your idea will not work. The Dutch don’t want to see a show in English. Tourists don’t want to see a show at all, ”and listed additional reasons why they should reconsider their decision.
Statistically, she might be right, but Moskos, Rosenfeld, and Schaefle were 23, brimming with optimism and energy, and had no family or financial obligations. They were not deterred and pursued their dream. The now famous rejection letter is framed and hung prominently in Boom Chicago’s office. And the author of the rejection letter? She is now a singing fan.
Today Moskos, as the co-founder of Boom Chicago, is a semi-famous successful entrepreneur who organizes, writes, and performs at international conferences. Rosenfeld is co-founder and chief content officer of Boom Chicago for Business; his TEDxAmsterdam Conference on “The Power of Comedy” was introduced in 2011. Schaefle left Boom Chicago in 2006. He graduated from Albert Einstein Medical School in 2014, where he is an assistant professor of medicine and works part of each year at an Einstein-sponsored hospital in Uganda. A Levy lecture from October 14, 2020 on his work in Africa can be viewed here.
Now in its 28th year, Boom Chicago employs approximately 40 people and is led by CEO Saskia Maas, the company’s first official employee. She started helping out by reading Dutch business documents for the team and handling administrative issues. Moskos said that as the business has grown, her skills have become critical to its success and now she is indispensable.
Maas and Moskos are married and are the parents of two sons. Moskos sincerely appreciates and appreciates Maas’ contributions to the company, fully aware that he works for her. (He also happily brags about “making it to the top” of the business.) Today, Boom Chicago resides in central Amsterdam in a former cinema, which he renovated and reconfigured to suit to the needs of the growing business. The new design includes three theaters (a main stage with 330 seats, a space with 100 seats and an attic with 35 seats for small productions) as well as classrooms, offices, studios and a large bar that can accommodate 200 people. .
In addition to developing and putting on a full comedy show five days a week, Moskos said much of the business is focused on Boom Chicago for Business, which works with companies looking to integrate humor and creativity in presentations, events and communications “to make their message more interesting and helps them connect with their audience.” The services it provides may include creating videos, interviewing key business leaders, coaching, moderation or hosting, or anything else that will help the client connect with the audience they tries to reach.
Moskos warmly spoke of watching the many comedic talents who made their debut on the Amsterdam stage of Boom Chicago. Famous alumni include Seth Meyers, Jordan Peele, Amber Ruffin, Jason Sudeikis, and Kay Cannon. Boom Chicago is a great training ground as successful performers learn to make people laugh in a new environment where they are totally out of their comfort zone. They can perfect their art five days a week. They write and play and make strangers laugh – the perfect training ground for writing for TV.
Levy’s audience was engaged throughout the interview. One person wrote in the chat box: “I saw a [Boom Chicago] show in 2012. The international audience was wonderful. It was a great experience. “Many attendees expressed interest in visiting Amsterdam and Boom Chicago once travel restrictions are lifted and the pandemic is finally over.
Moskos thanks his parents for their unwavering support for his wacky idea, even going so far as to buy an apartment below his apartment and that of Saskia. It was Moskos’ mother, Ilca, who suggested her sons be possible speakers of the Levy Lecture. Andrew and Peter are both subject matter experts in totally different fields of comedy and police, respectively. Presentation Levy by Peter Moskos also held on October 12, 2021.
Andrew Moskos’ concise summary of his level of public recognition in the Netherlands reads: “Everyone will take my call. That doesn’t mean they’ll say yes to what I ask. They will briefly entertain my ideas, and it’s a good position to be in. Yet how many other comedy writers can say they coached and co-wrote Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s speech at the Dutch Correspondents’ Dinner? Nothing.
Andrew Moskos’ Levy lecture is available online here.