Thursday, 19 June 2008


Comedian Michael Herbig - better known as « Bully » - is the number one superstar in Germany, where he is the equivalent of Mike Myers, Alain Chabat (Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra) and Mel Brooks in one single person. His TV comedy shows are very popular and his blockbuster movies smash historical records of the german box office. Manitou’s shoe and Dreamship Surprise - Period 1, respectively parodies of the Winnetou movies and of the Star Trek universe, are two monuments of the comedy genre on film.

Michael Herbig, younger, you wanted to study at the Münchener Filmhochschule. Did you want to become a filmmaker ?

Michael Herbig : Unfortunately I was rejected from the Münchener Filmhochschule. So I am a perfect autodidact and have been for over 24 years. I started making films at the age of 12. You could say I invented « Dogma » back then : no light, no sound and a shaky camera.

What are your favorite movies and your favorite directors ? Why ?

Michael Herbig : In principle, when I pay for my movie ticket, I want to be entertained. I love the old Hitchcock films. When I watched Psycho and The Birds, I wanted to become a director from that moment on. I also admire Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. E.T. and Forrest Gump definitely belong to my all-time-favourites.

Your career started with a morning show, Langemann und die Morgencrew, on a local radio station in Munich. Could you tell us a few words about your work on this show ?

Michael Herbig : After my rejection from film school, I landed in the radio business, but as I neither saw a presenter, nor a journalist in myself, I started developing my first comedy-series. In 1991 I started in the morning show as a comedy-sidekick and produced the show until 1995.

Is Radio a good training for aquiring the feeling of timing and situation necessary for comedy ?

Michael Herbig : For me the daily radioshow was an ideal training for timing and the development of characters - sort of « movies for the ears » !

What did you do after radio and before jumping into the world of television ?

Michael Herbig : In fact, the jump into the world of television started parallel during working for radio. When the TV-show Bullyparade began on the ProSieben channel in 1997, I was still producing a weekly comedy-show for radio, that was broadcasted nationwide.

There is a contemporary german style of comedy which is very close of the spirit of Saturday Night Live with a great sense of parody. Have you models or references in this kind of humor ?

Michael Herbig : I grew up with Mel Brooks and the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker movies, like Airplane.These films hit my taste of humor exactly and have certainly inspired and influenced me.

Your first success on german television was the adaptation of your radio show Die Bayern Cops...

Michael Herbig : At first Die Bayern Cops was a sketch-show for radio with more than 800 episodes each about 2 minutes long. Later we shot 75 episodes under the title Die Männer von Isar 3 for a local TV-station. The series is about two loveable policemen, who try to avoid any kind of assignment day after day. I am very proud, that even the Munich Police laughed about Die Bayern Cops.

In 1996 you created herbX Medienproduktion GmbH, your own production company.

Michael Herbig : The first major production was the first season of the comedy show Bullyparade for ProSieben. Basically I created the production company to be able to work in peace (laughs).

Bullyparade is a great comedy show that spun off the characters of your movies Manitou’s shoe and Dreamship Surprise - Period 1. On this show you worked with a wonderful team of comedians like Christian Tramitz and Rick Kavanian. How did you meet them ?

Michael Herbig : I’ve known Rick Kavanian for almost 18 years. We are close friends, have the same humor and enjoy working together, which is very fortunate. When Rick went to New York for a year in 1995 I looked for a replacement for Die Bayern Cops and found Christian Tramitz, which worked out fine from the very first moment.

When Rick came back we naturally worked as a trio. That was the beginning of Bullyparade. We just worked on what we really had fun with.

You directed the comic duo Erkan & Stefan (Erkan Maria Moosleitner and Stefan Lust) in their first movie, The Bunnyguards (Erkan & Stefan), which can be described as « Wayne’s World meets James Bond ». How were you chosen to direct such a production ?

Michael Herbig : Until then I had only directed sketches, no full length movie. One day producer Philip Voges offered me the job as director for the movie Erkan & Stefan. Voges liked the sketches of Bullyparade so much, that he was confident I could manage a movie. It was a great opportunity and I am still glad that everything went so well.

Manitou’s shoe is more than a parody, it’s a tribute to genre and to major cinematographic influences. Was it important for you to go further than the Bullyparade skits to create a movie that could be enjoyable as a parody but also as a genre movie less the parody ?

Michael Herbig : The main characters were well-established through the TV-show Bullyparade, but the sketches had a kind of trashy look about them. It was very important for me from the beginning that the version for the big screen to look like a real Western. Credible actors and locations, a big orchestra, Cinemascope and absolutely no trash !

The main idea was to put two charming characters into a world, where they don’t really belong.

A comedian like Mike Myers was amazing in 54. Would you like to play a non-comic role and to direct a non-comic movie or a more intimate project ?

Michael Herbig : At the moment I feel quite at home in the world of comedy. Below the line it is mainly about entertainment and emotions. Who knows, maybe I will shoot a thriller someday. To stick spectators in their seats, to frighten them, can be funny too.

Dreamship Surprise - Period 1 is your latest movie. Your main target is the Star Trek universe, so appreciated in Germany that there was even a german response called Space Patrol (Raumpatrouille Orion). According to you why is Trek so popular in german-speaking countries ?

Michael Herbig : Probably because it has been repeated on TV for 40 years.

Was it hard to choose the subject of your next movie after such a success as Manitou ? Why Unser (T)Raumschiff and not Sissi ?(1)

Michael Herbig : Dreamship Surprise - Period 1 was the first democratically chosen film in the world ! I let the audience of Bullyparade vote via internet for 13 weeks, which movie I should make next. (2) If Dreamship Surprise had bombed, I could have said, it wasn’t my decision (laughs).

Have you seen french parodies such as La Tour Montparnasse Infernale and Asterix et Obelix : Mission Cleopatre ? Do you know french comedian and filmmaker Alain Chabat and his work for TV and cinema ?

Michael Herbig : Of course I know the Asterix. Although I must confess, that I don’t have the opportunity to watch what is done for French TV very often. But I love the Louis de Funès movies very much !

On what are you working currently ?

Michael Herbig : Currently I am wrapping Christmas presents.

Director Frank Coraci (Around the world in 80 days) explained us that for him comedy is the art of the created the unexpected funny effect. what is your own definition of comedy ?

Michael Herbig : One can make fun about anything or anyone, as long as the people it concerns, can laugh. Comedy should never be offending.

(1) Unser (T)Raumschiff is a series of sketches of Bullyparade (like the Sissi parody with Michael Herbig as the empress) in which the characters from Dreamship Surprise - Period 1 were born.

(2) The public had to choose between entre Manitou’s shoe 2, Sissi - The Menopaused years of an Empress, A Movie nobody expects anything from and Dreamship Surprise !

(Interview done in 2004)

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