Joking aside

Comedian Guy Landolt ( Yves Bachmann / ETH Zurich)

Comedian Guy Landolt ( Yves Bachmann / ETH Zurich)

Guy Landolt had just begun a run of solo stand-up shows when, completely out of the blue, he was hit by two strokes within 24 hours. Among other things, the comedian lost the ability to speak. Following intensive training, he’s now back on the stage.

"The great thing is that I was already a bit stupid before the stroke, so there was a limit to how much damage it could do," says Guy Landolt prompting laughter from the audience. The Swiss comedian is on stage for his new one-man show Schlagfertig, a play on words in German that shows how he is using humour to strike back against fate. Three-and-a-half years have passed since he suffered two strokes within the space of 24 hours, leaving him paralysed, partially blind and unable to speak. "The funny thing is I never felt my situation was particularly bad," he says. He struggles to put into words how he felt after the stroke, describing it as a kind of trance, but there’s one sensation he will never forget: "When I closed my eyes, there were no thoughts, nothing - just a huge emptiness in my brain."

That was more than three years ago, and Landolt now lives in a small two-room flat on the third floor of a Zurich apartment building - with no lift. Intensive courses of physiotherapy have restored his ability to walk, though he still can’t run or grip things firmly with his hand. Apart from a slightly reduced field of vision, Landolt’s sight has also returned to normal. "Nobody knows what else I might be able to achieve," he says. "No doctor wants to take the risk of being proved wrong!"

Learning things by heart - a vital skill for any comedian - is still something of a struggle. Before his stroke he performed one-man shows in Switzerland and Germany. He even lived in Berlin for a while to cater to his increasingly hectic schedule. In Switzerland, he played one of the three groundhogs in the musical Ewigi Liebi (Eternal Love) together with the other two members of his band Trio Eden. He had already signed the contract to reprise that role for the show’s tenth anniversary - but before it could start, the stroke stopped him in his tracks, and a different actor had to step in.

But Guy Landolt doesn’t let frustration get the better of him. He’s too busy training his body to perform better, especially his voice. He spends one hour a day reading aloud, and it is clearly paying off. He can’t articulate his words as clearly as he did before the stroke, but he’s making huge progress - and his doctors are pleasantly surprised. Learning to speak again allows him to pursue his vocation and perform onstage as a comedian. "My voice nowadays reminds me of how I used to talk when I was drunk at 3 a.m. in a bar," he says, prompting more laughs from the crowd.

Corinne Johannssen