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An Interview With Cabaret Star Bernie Dieter

13 April 2019 | Billie Manning

Bernie Dieter's Little Death Club is headlining Underbelly Festival for the next 10 weeks. We caught up with Bernie herself to chat about hosting her show, climbing on the audience, gin bars and why cabaret is so important in 2019.

London Calling: Tell us about your show, Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club.
Bernie Dieter: It is basically the funniest, most debauched cabaret club this side of Berlin. It’s my show, I have a beautiful 4-piece Weimar punk jazz band. We have all original songs, so in the spirit of cabaret it’s satirical, it’s social commentary. It’s also quite filthy. I also have some of my beautiful friends, some of the best acts in the world coming to perform: gender-bending contortion, drag, a French mime who is very disillusioned with his life, we have fire-breathing. It’s the perfect night out in our spiegeltent.
 
LC: You say it’s quite filthy - how do you get the audience warmed up enough to push their boundaries?
BD: That’s one of my special skills, I think. I like to mingle before the show, make sure everyone’s relaxed, having a drink and seeing who might be up for a little bit of audience interaction. I open the show with a song that usually results in me climbing all over the audience, getting them to touch each other, stroke each other’s thighs, touch my thighs, really breaking down those barriers of ‘ooh, we’re in a theatre’. In a spiegeltent, there’s no fourth wall, we’re all here having a kind of lock-in party together and anything could happen. I think if you break down that fourth wall, people immediately loosen up and really get involved.

Bernie Dieter
Bernie Dieter © Ayesha Hussain

LC: Have you noticed any differences in how audiences react in all the different countries you’ve toured in?
BD: Absolutely! Some are more conservative than others. We just went to Adelaide festival in Australia which was definitely a slightly more reserved crowd. I used to live in the East End and London is always a lot of fun, because initially there is a lot of that British politeness, but as soon as you pierce the surface there’s a beautiful sense of humour.
 
LC: You must be excited to be back then!
BD: I am, I can’t wait! There’s so much happening in the city. Columbia Road Flower Market, all the little tiny dive bars and pubs you just stumble across in the middle of the night. I’m very excited to be back.
 
LC: Do you have any favourite bars to go to in London?
BD: So many gin bars! Because I’m going to be in Southbank, of course, there’s one in Soho called Mr Fogg’s. They have a million different gins und it’s a bit old-worldy but has a good modern edge with good modern drinks. It’s beautiful, I love it there. And also one of my friends was a bartender there for some time so I used to get very good drinks specials. And lovely people, which always makes a place, I think.

Little Death Club, Edinburgh Fringe - courtesy of Rod Penn (1)
Little Death Club at the Edinburgh Fringe © Rod Penn
 
LC: Are there any other shows at Underbelly you’re particularly looking forward to?
BD: Well, this weekend I’m going to go and see my beautiful friend Le Gateau Chocolat. He is phenomenal, absolute diva, beautiful, lycra-covered. Complete asshole, which he wouldn’t mind me saying, but a beautiful baritone voice, the best in the world, so I will definitely be going to see him. 
 
LC: And any particular part of your own show you’re looking forward to sharing with the London audience?
BD: That’s difficult! I love all of it. I love singing my original songs, the music is really phenomenal. Kind of punk-rock, satirical, funny, but also saying something. At one point there is a beautiful ballad I wrote called Cracks in the Mirror, which is about something we’ve all experienced: that time where you look in the mirror and think, ‘Is this the woman I thought I’d grow up to be?’ and I do it as a duet with our gorgeous, gender-bending aerialist, who used to perform with the Australian ballet. He does beautiful aerial ballet on a hoop, and I get emotional every time. He really embodies that struggle that so many people face with coming to terms with gender identity. It’s a really beautiful moment.
 

Bernie on stage

LC: That sounds lovely. Have you always been a singer?
BD: Yes, ever since I can remember. I was always writing songs and performing, from a very young age. I grew up in Germany, and when I was 16 I ran away from home in Köln and went to live above a drag club in Berlin, and the queens were always a huge inspiration. The way they can transform themselves, make an audience laugh hysterically, sing along with joy and really get people to connect with each other - which is something that I always try to have in my show. I think that’s something the world is missing right now, we are all hiding behind our screens and not engaging with the other beautiful freaks and weirdos in the room.
 
LC: That must have been quite the experience, living above a drag club at 16.
BD: Well, you know, my Oma owned a circus in Germany just before the war, so she taught me a lot. She got me my first drink at the age of 6 or 7, so I was quite worldly-wise already. It was definitely a crazy time.
 
LC: So this is definitely in your blood!
BD: It definitely is. And it is, scarily, a similar political climate to what she faced at that time - people are being told that difference is something they should be afraid of, which is happening again. That’s why I think cabaret is really relevant, this art form that’s really looking at what’s happening in the world, challenging things.

LC: We look forward to seeing the show!
 
Bernie Dieter's Little Death Club is at Underbelly Festival Southbank 18 April - 23 June 2019
 
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