Hazel Brugger isn’t a flashy or boisterous comic, but in-between the simple anecdotes and observations is a smart underlying sentiment.
As well as holiday content, Netflix seems to be doubling down on international stand-up specials at the moment. Coming hot on the heels of Ari Eldjarn: Pardon My Icelandic, the hour-long Hazel Brugger: Tropical, a special filmed among fronds of foliage on a picturesque riverside, delivers another helping of culturally-specific comedy without the bombast or eccentricity of better-known comics. Hazel, a pretty but nonetheless severe-looking blonde wearing a sporty jacket over casual jeans, isn’t a commanding stage presence, but her anecdotal style is engaging and helped by the intimacy of the setting. Tropical is like a conversation among friends, and while most of the material is fairly standard, the underlying theme stuck with me.
Hazel puts it this way: “Honest tolerance is worth more than feigned respect.” She doesn’t lay this out in such clear terms until close to the very end of the set, but the attitude is detectable all the way through. She’s saying this in defense of tolerance, which is always taken as an insult. But, as she puts it, tolerance is a good thing. It implies you’re willing to put up with someone as they are; that you have no desire to change them. It doesn’t matter whether you like or respect or agree with them — it just matters that you’re willing to let them be. I’ll take little away from this special other than this sentiment, but the sentiment will definitely stay with me.
Most of Netflix’s global audience will be, like I was, unfamiliar with Hazel Brugger, so Tropical works as something of a primer. She goes into her childhood — she and her siblings were only allowed to watch as many minutes of television as the number of pages of a book the weakest link had read — to her current 50/50 living situation between Germany and her birthplace of Switzerland. The show is entirely in subtitled German and is culturally specific enough that many references will be lost in translation. Some stuff, though, is universal. She has a go at geese for being arseholes, and the outdoorsy setting provides a moment of brilliance when a gaggle fly by while she’s slagging them off. She also reserves some ire for a scruffy-looking owl-type thing called a kauz.
The set has less sexual content than you might expect from a female comic, though there are bits about femininity, such as providing her very old, very white, and very heterosexual gynecologist with a urine sample. Her parents are cast in a slightly new light after the strict TV situation when she explains how excited they are to be grandparents to her brother’s baby. The kid will dethrone her as the youngest of the family, a prospect she doesn’t relish.
A lot of this is funny in a charming, low-key sort of way. But it’s Hazel’s guiding principle of tolerance that shines through. I’d be interested in another special a few years from now, after she’s done a bit more living, to see if she still feels the same way. I hope she does.