Frank van Pamelen

'Having no idea turned out to be the best idea of all'

Frank van Pamelen: No idea

Column 1 min. Frank van Pamelen

Comedian, writer, poet, grand artist and alumnus Frank van Pamelen reflects on his studies at Tilburg University. Or KUB, as it was called in his day.

“I don’t know,” I kept saying. When they asked me what I planned to do with my studies. Humanities. Well, you try being the first person in the family to go to university, and then choosing to study something as vague as language and literature. All around me my cousins, neighborhood friends, and schoolmates were going into factory and office jobs, and I’d buried my nose in books. How was I ever going to make a living with it? I had no idea.

Well, you try being the first person in the family to go to university, and then choosing to study something as vague as language and literature.

I wanted to do something with language, and I didn’t want to teach – that was about it. And I knew Tilburg a little. So I chose to study Letteren there. A new program. No graduates as yet – just a little group looking for sense and self. And, gradually, something starts to happen. Something starts bubbling and sparking. Some of the other seekers turn out to be kindred spirits. They urge me to start writing. I take on running the faculty magazine, found a cabaret group, attempt to write poems, get on stage. I start to breathe; to live. My tongue has been freed – not so much through my study program, but by everything and everyone around it. 

That was all a long time ago. In the meantime there have been thirty years, 35 books, 12 cabaret shows, six musicals, three revues, countless songs, kilos of columns, and a city poet laureateship. I do more things with language than ever – on the radio, in the theater, and in newspapers, books and bundles. That’s not thanks to my degree, but thanks to my studies, which were how all of this got started. And where is it all leading to? Where do I want it to go? “I don’t know,” I keep saying. I’m still saying it. I’ll just see. And that suits me just fine. Having no idea turned out – for me, at any rate – to have been the best idea of all.

Photography: Frank van Pamelen