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Otto Waalkes, often called Otto for short, full name Otto Gerhard Waalkes (July 22, 1948, Emden) is a German comedian, cartoonist, actor, musician, director and master of simultaneous voice acting. He is the author of a little elephant invented under the name “Ottifant” which has become a key character in many children’s books, CDs and cartoons.
Otto grew up in the family of the artist Karl Waalkes and his wife Adele, together with his older brother Karl-Heinz, who, unlike Otto, did not leave his native Emden. The parents were devout Baptists and members of the Evangelical Free Church, whose school Otto attended at Sunday school. He became the owner of his first guitar at the age of 12, and in 1964 he made his debut with The Rustlers to perform a song by The Beatles. Otto was the leader, singer and guitarist. The group toured East Friesland for five years.
In 1968 Otto passed his matriculation examination (Abitur) at the Emder Gymnasium and two years later he was admitted to the faculty for art education at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts. In Hamburg, Otto made his first appearance on the stage of Danny’s Pan Folk Club, where he could earn five marks for a 10-minute performance. He then shared a flat with fourteen neighbors, including Udo Lindenberg and Westernhagen. To finance higher education, Otto continued to take the stage in small clubs.
Otto’s own stage role was influenced by some German comedians who preceded him, such as Heinz Erhardt and Ingo Insterburg. Otto began to enrich his appearance with puns, parodies, satire, funny gestures and grimaces. For his earlier hits, Otto translated sketches from the Woody Allen programs of the 1960s, modifying and shortening them slightly. The venues to which he was invited gradually became more and more spacious, for example the Westfalenhallen conference center in Dortmund.
In 1972, Otto Waalkes met his future managing director, Hans Otto Mertens. Since no existing company wanted to publish Otto’s music, Waalkes and Mertens founded their own label “Rüssl Räckords” after a big concert by “The Rustlers” in Hamburg, with which the first LP was recorded and sold in the same year with a circulation of 500,000.
In 1973, Otto began a ten-year collaboration with the writer and artist Robert Gernhardt, first on a television show, later Gernhardt published Otto’s books and was involved in the screenplays of his films. In the years that followed, Otto acted a lot in films, dubbed the roles of various characters of foreign films (mostly animated) into German, directed his thematic shows on many German television channels, was a screenwriter, director, author and illustrator of printed books. On August 1, 1987, Otto opened a house in a converted old pharmacy near the town hall of Emden, which is called “Dat Otto Huus” in the East Frisian dialect. On the first and second floors of this house is a museum displaying memorabilia from the early days of Otto’s career.
In the 1989 comedy, Otto is a foreigner from Friesland. According to the film’s plot, friendly and adventurous tour guide Otto Gross lives in a lighthouse and sells tourists a local souvenir – a mini lighthouse made out of toilet paper. Otto’s role-playing characters were: “Reporter Harry Hirsch”, “Frau Sucherbier”, “Head Forester Pudlich” and “Herbert von Karamalts”. Otto’s most famous character was a little elephant called “Ottiphant”. Otto began including the elephant, originally painted to decorate vinyl records and CDs, in comic stories that he published in various newspapers. Gradually, based on comics with the Ottifant and his relatives, a series of drawn cartoons was created.
Otto is considered one of the most successful representatives of German humor. In 2004, Otto’s film “7 Dwarfs – Men Alone in the Forest” was seen by almost seven million viewers in German cinemas. In 2006, the sequel “The 7 Dwarfs: Forests Are Not Enough” received the Golden Screen Movie Award.
In the television series “Our Best Comedians.” In 2007 on ZDF, Otto took one of the top three places out of the fifty actors nominated, including with Lorio and Heinz Erhardt.
The Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, Stefan Weil, who presented Otto with the Order of Merit of Lower Saxony, quoted important questions from the comedian in one of his television shows: “Where do we come from?” Where are we going? And what are we doing at the moment? “.
In the 2015 anniversary exhibition entitled “Otto – Born to Play the Fool” (Otto-Born to Be Stupid), which was shown on ZDF to mark the 50th anniversary of Otto’s artistic activity, the following words could be heard:
“Many of Otto’s sketches, songs and rhymes, which have long been part of a collective memory and cultural heritage, are recited by heart by adults and children alike.”
Comedy is always a game of expectation and surprise. …
And out of the chaos a voice spoke to me: “Smile and be happy, it could be worse!” And I laughed and was happy – because it got worse. …
I made my film for purely mineralogical reasons – I needed gravel.