How We Met: Henning Wehn & Jake Wood
'The difference between Jake and his character, Max? Fewer people want to do him in'
Henning Wehn, 38
Since starting out as a warm-up act for comedians including Stewart Lee, Wehn (left in picture) has carved out a successful career as the self-styled 'German Comedy Ambassador to Great Britain', appearing on TV and radio shows including 'The News Quiz'. He lives in London.
In 2004, when I'd just started doing stand-up, schlepping round open-mic nights, I bumped into Jake, who at the time was rehearsing a play by his friend. Jake was a stand-up in the play and thought the best way of rehearsing was to perform his material at gigs in character. I enjoyed it: his character had a motto about everything, which got longer and more confusing as he went along.
He stood apart, as he had far more stagecraft than anyone else. Afterwards we got talking and went for a pint. I had no idea that he'd been in all sorts by then – such as Vera Drake – as I'd only recently arrived in the country. He took me under his wing and began inviting me to all sorts – street parties, black-tie dinners – and introducing me to all things British, as well as my first work contacts.
Germany is never much of a topic between us, although once football comes into it, there's always some talk about German-ness. For us it's more about a shared love of London; he's shown me the city's human side, which is far from the idea on the continent that there's little social contact and everyone leads their own lives.
Jake had a massive life change when he joined EastEnders in terms of being recognised on the street. I remember standing outside the Betsey Trotwood pub [in Farringdon] with Jake. It was in 2008, when there was a plotline that his on-screen wife had attempted to bury him alive, for infidelity. This bloke came up and shouted to him, "There you are, in one piece, while people try to do us in. It's you and us against the world, mate!" Jake took it in his stride, responded in character, and everyone felt satisfied; it's what being a good actor is about.
I'm not much of a soap-watcher but what I like about EastEnders is the way they talk, with lines like, "Leave it out, you muppet", which sounds hilarious.
The difference between Jake and his character, Max? Jake and I have far fewer fights and there's far fewer people wanting to do him in.
Jake Wood, 40
Best known for playing Max Branning on 'EastEnders', Wood has appeared in films including 'Vera Drake' and 'The Illusionist'. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two children.
I was rehearsing for a one-man show for the Edinburgh Festival in 2004, written by my playwright friend. As a form of preparation, we thought it would be good to do some open-mic stand-up. His material was good and I'd always fancied giving it a go, so he'd book me in to some nights as my character, Tommy Kay. I did a few gigs and by the end I'd even been offered a few paid slots.
One of the spots was at the King's Head, in Crouch End, north London, and Henning was on the bill that night. His opening gambit was about recognising that people here thought Germans didn't have a sense of humour, but he didn't find that very funny. He was very nervous but it added to the comedy. We met in the bar after and the people producing my show approached Henning about doing some paid spots in Edinburgh. I then hooked up with Henning in Edinburgh and we went to see some stuff together. His show there was hysterical and clever.
Back in London, I started showing him different sides to the city, taking him to black-tie events, and people were drawn to him as he was such an interesting character.
We've played a lot of golf together since and although it's always great fun, and I'm quite competitive, he's only slightly less incompetent than I am. At the beginning I'd constantly joke about how [as a German] he couldn't get out of the bunkers. But he tired of that quite quickly.
I got him a few jobs here and there. There was one at a friend's wedding that was a typical drunk Essex wedding: he had to stand up on a table to get attention. I don't take credit for his success since; it's down to working six days a week for nine years and now he's been on radio and TV.
It's incredibly brave to come over to England to make an English audience laugh when it's not your first language. I'm not sure I could go out there, overcome the language and the cultural barrier and crack Germany. But he's smashed through it – and he's also been educating me in German comedic traditions, which is far more slapstick than ours.
I'm contracted to EastEnders, but I enjoyed doing stand-up and in the future I'd like to go back to it. I look up to his comedy craft, so when I do, I expect I'll go to him for some tips.
Henning Wehn's UK tour, Henning Knows Bestest, runs to 8 June (henningwehn.de)
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