“Your Life Is a Joke” by Oliver Polak on Netflix: It’ll be okay

Christian Ulmen believes that Oliver Polak could have written something like a new Maya the Bee song. So an intro song for a TV show that’s so good that you’ll be singing it long after you’ve seen the show. It is quite possible that this is true, that Ulmen is right in his assessment at the beginning of the show. “Your Life Is a Joke”, the song, is actually terrific. So much seventies soul, “a mixture of Philly sound and Barry Manilow”, says Polak himself in the video call, such a warming text that at the beginning of his new Netflix show one would almost be led to the following working thesis: the intro song is perhaps the best thing about the show.

Then it is not. Your Life Is a Joke, the show, easily keeps up with the song. By the way, Polak is responsible for both. The song was written together with the musician Erobique (“Vacation in Italy”). And with the show he creates something that is as rare as a really good children’s show: a really good comedy show, and that in Germany.

Your Life Is a Joke is an interview format for Netflix and consists of three episodes in the first season, in which Polak each has a day with actor Christian Ulmen, rapper Nura or singer Jennifer Weist von Jennifer Rostock spends. At the end of the day he roasts them, bringing two established forms from the American comedy world together in one broadcast: Conversations in a beautiful old car, see Jerry Seinfelds Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and roasting, that is, making fun of others in admiration.

How could you not feel close to someone who sings for you in the manta?

The program begins with Polak picking up his guest in a beige Manta, after a little small talk, putting a hand on the back of the passenger seat and then going off. “I would like to be with you during the day, never again alone without you / Show me everything that you like or that gnaws at you”. Polak explains from his Berlin apartment, with dyed blond hair and a black beard, that it was good to just start singing on television, “when people like Peter Alexander or Rudi Carrell used to sing”.

The singing is a good icebreaker, for audiences like Manta co-drivers, because Polak didn’t know any of his guests well before the shoot. And how could you not feel close to someone who, huddled in a little manta, sings for you as if it were the year 1978, the name Barry Manilow and the song “Copacabana”.

"Your Life Is a Joke" on Netflix: According to self-disclosure "Pioneer of straight American stand-up in Germany": Oliver Polak.

According to the self-report “Pioneer of straight American stand-up in Germany”: Oliver Polak.

(Photo: Frédéric Schwilden)

It continues with Christian Ulmen, Nura or Jennifer Weist then to places of their choice. Elmen chooses the hardware store, Nura a nail salon, Jennifer Weist a gym. And now, of course, it’s about getting to know what Polak manages to do surprisingly quickly and without embarrassment. He has conversations in which he gets himself naked as quickly as possible. In the hardware store he says that he no longer has testicles after two cancers, Ulmen tells Manta that he yells at his children too often.

Polak says that it is not his goal to tease something intimate out of his guests. That may be true, but on the show everything about him really presses to become as human as possible with the people. After a few hours he cuddles with Christian Ulmen in the lake, and Jennifer Weist talks about her personal “Me Too” moments from her early music career. It is Polak’s great warmth that makes this possible – and the conversations are fun and equal.

By the way, Polak calls himself “Pioneer of straight American stand-up in Germany” on his website. He’s been interested in comedy, as he says, for fifteen years. It was then that he discovered Sarah Silverman on the Internet. In the meantime, Polak visits the legendary comedy cellars of New York – on the one hand to listen to, but he also performed there himself before the pandemic. He loves American comedians, not only the edgier ones like Louis CK, but also the family-friendly entertainers like the late-night presenter Jimmy Fallon, who recently presented a charming German actor named Matthias Schweighöfer to the USA on his show. “There is a lot of love that resonates,” says Polak.

"Your Life Is a Joke" on Netflix: At the end of the day there is a toast.  Polak with rapper Nura on stage in "Your Life Is a Joke".

At the end of the day there is a toast. Polak with rapper Nura on stage in “Your Life Is a Joke”.

(Foto: Netflix)

On the other hand, Polak is also a bestselling author and says: “I haven’t read more than 15 books in my life, really.” One of them is “Generation Golf” by Florian Illies. He had the voice in his head when he wrote his first book, “I am allowed to do this, I am a Jew”.

Telling good jokes about others is not easy, but neither is telling good jokes about yourself

Your Life Is a Joke can be seen internationally on Netflix. It is the biggest stage for Polak so far, most recently the small talk show Better than war made for the RBB. He would like to keep playing them. After the first three episodes he could imagine a lot of people with whom he would do the show straight away: Otto Waalkes, for example, or, even better, filming in New York with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons from Kiss. But why not Shirin David or Matthias Schweighöfer, who was able to show his good sense of humor with Jimmy Fallon, or a politician? “Markus Söder disguised as Shrek!”

Taking life as a joke is a good idea, even for an entertainment show. At the end of the day with Ulmen and Co. Polak will make jokes out of the conversations and tell them on a stage in front of the audience and the guest himself. The Spirit: You are completely ridiculous, Elmen, but I like you. “Don’t worry, it’ll be okay / but maybe it’ll do a little weeeeh,” it says in the intro song, and that’s how it is. The roast is not the best thing about the show, but it doesn’t make it worse either, which can be considered a success, especially in this country, given the severity of the discipline.

Telling good jokes about others is not easy. But neither does telling good jokes about yourself. From American comedians, Polak learned to make humor out of his biography. The basis of his comedy career is this sentence: My name is Oliver Polak, I come from Papenburg in Emsland and I am a Jew. “Sometimes I think,” he says in the call, “if I were even more open, everything could be even better.” Polak is already making television with a friendliness and soul that is not often seen in Germany.


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