KLM Podcasts – Episode 2 – The Outsider

KLM Podcasts – Episode 2 – The Outsider


Somewhere.. deep in the interior of Kenya in the dusty village of Ugunja. Bus brakes squeal to a halt A tall and lanky young man steps out and squints in the sunlight His name is Samba. I get dropped off the bus and.. I am in the middle of nowhere. There is a few people
hanging around and they are all staring at me like I am really strange. I am there with my suitcase. The guy who was supposed
to pick me up is not there. And I did not feel welcomed like everyone is staring
at me like who is this outsider coming
into the village and so we are walking. He takes me to where
I am going to stay and we are walking through these dirt roads and all these trees and it’s just empty and isolated and there is no electricity. There is no water and it’s just you know nature. And he shows me where
I am going to stay and I am in this hut. And I am like oh my god this is what I wanted. These are the first seconds of a journey that would determine the rest of Samba’s life. The trip that changed everything! Hi, I’m Jonathan Groubert and this is the Journey. The Journey is an original podcast from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines where we meet extraordinary people whose lives are transformed by travel. To find out how today’s guest Samba Schutte ended up delighted to be in a primitive hut in the middle of nowhere Kenya means going a few years back to another African country Ethiopia. This is where Samba grew up. And let’s make this even more complicated he is not Ethiopian. I mean I hope you have
Google maps on you because it is really like you need to know your geography. My father is from Holland and my mother is from Mauritania which not many people know but it’s a country in West Africa under Morocco. It’s pretty huge. It’s basically the Sahara desert they got me I was born in Mauritania and when I was two we all moved to Ethiopia which is on the other
side of Africa and that is where I grew
up till I was 18. Samba’s father was an international
aid worker who met Samba’s mother
in Mauritania. Famine in the horn of Africa meant a move to Ethiopia and international schools
for Samba. So it’s really weird at home because we speak French with my mom because in Mauritania they speak French and we speak English with my dad and I speak English with my brothers and sisters. But all around us we had to learn Ethiopian. And because of his father he also needed to learn Dutch. We had a Dutch embassy where they had the Dutch school and every Saturday a kid’s dream come true we had to go to Dutch school. So you go to school from Monday to Friday English, French and then on Saturday morning you have to go to a school
to learn Dutch which was a nightmare and I did not like it. And so after the age of 12 I stopped learning Dutch. His background his lanky height and mixed race looks made him something of an outsider not only at school but everywhere really. Kids did not know what to make of me. You know I am half black
and half white and I was growing up in Ethiopia and so I didn’t belong in
the group of Africans but I also didn’t belong in
the group of Europeans and so I was bullied because I was different and so what I did was I developed jokes to make fun of my bully and I made fun of him in front of the classroom and everyone started laughing and then he stopped bullying me the next day. So it was like humor was my boxing gloves. Boxing gloves whose jabs and uppercuts were sharpened by the odd VHS tape of American comedians that would make their way
from his family in Holland to Samba’s TV. He watched them over and over. I did not know what standup
comedy was. I just knew that there was
something out there where you could stand on a stage and tell stories and make people laugh and feel good and I really was attracted to that. When Samba turned 18 he decided to leave Africa for college. He had a Dutch passport and family roots so it was kind of
a natural choice to move to the Netherlands. But having a Dutch passport doesn’t actually mean you ARE Dutch especially if you don’t
speak the language. I could not even go to
like the supermarket and try to speak Dutch because they were so frustrated with how bad it was that they just end up speaking
English with me. But.. I knew I had to learn it if I wanted to get a career in Holland and so I started to
push myself to to learn the language and what was really strange was this theme again
of being the outsider. I started studying theater. Basically I was learning how to direct write and act and so I studied at the School
of Arts in Utrecht. I knew I wanted to be a storyteller and so one day there was an open stage show and anybody could go on stage and do something like perform and so you know what I said I am going to do a monologue as an actor and so I wrote this funny monologue. And I went on stage and all they had was
a microphone and I grabbed the microphone and I started doing my
funny monologue and people are laughing and laughing and laughing and after this monologue someone walks up to me
and he says how long have you been
doing standup comedy? I said, what is standup
comedy? You know. He is like, this is what
you were doing on stage and I was like oh, like is that standup comedy? He’s like, yes! And so I was like “Oh my God, I just did my first standup comedy show!” And like most aspirational
standup comedians in 2005 Samba decided to spend
his college internship teaching improv… in Kenya? They tell you to go on exchange to a country for three months and I really had a strong
desire to go to Africa to really get in touch again with my African roots because I was in Ethiopia I was not considered African. But I really wanted to go to Africa to experience being an African in Africa and so I found this group in Kenya who does theater with
different communities and they basically use theater as a way of dealing with the issues in their societies. They told me you
have to go to this village called Ugunja where you are going to work with different kinds of groups I was like, perfect. This is the exact experience
I wanted to experience Africa and Ugunja sounded really African and so I was like let’s do it! So he did it. Samba traveled to what he called the real Africa truly far from everything familiar. He was ostensibly there to
give theatre workshops but he could have done
that anywhere really. Samba the eternal outsider chose Kenya to find a sense of belonging of home. As it turned out this was the trip that would shape the rest of his life. So I take the 7 bus ride to this very remote village and I get dropped off the bus and I am in the middle of nowhere. There is a few people hanging around and they are all staring at me
like I am really strange. I’m there with my suitcase. The guy who was supposed to pick me up is not there. And I did not feel welcomed like everyone is staring at me like who is this outsider coming into the village and so we are walking. He finally shows up and he takes me to where I am going to stay and we are walking through these dirt roads and all these trees and it’s just empty and isolated and there is no electricity. There is no water and it’s just nature. And he shows me where I am going to stay and I am in this hut. And I am like, oh my god this is what I wanted. It’s basically just a
bed in a small hut. The toilet is about
100 meters away and I go to check out the toilet. It’s a hole in the ground with cockroaches coming
out of it and there is a little shower where you use basically
seven cups of water cold water to shower. That’s all you get seven cups of water. And I was like this is it. This is what I wanted. Samba says he wanted the Africa where there were no tourists no internet and no comedy tapes. He wanted to be just an African amongst Africans. Well you know what they say, “Be careful what you wish for…” The first day was terrifying. Everything in me wanted to leave because I never grew up with that even though I grew up in Ethiopia because my dad is Dutch we still had a better life than a lot of my friends but there was something inside me that African side of me that really wanted to experience being in this in having this to know what it is to understand my roots better and so as terrifying as it was with the lack of everything I still felt this would enrich me somehow. They had their way of life. And I was entering this way of life for the first time as an outsider but I wanted to be a part of it. And yes, there was poverty absolutely and in this village one in three people were infected with HIV and in my first night sleeping there at 4 in the morning I heard death wails you know people chanting at night and everything. So yeah the first night was terrifying but I was like, you know what I can survive here. I can make it here for
three months because this is a part of me too. Samba got his wish. He got a simple hut to live sweat and contemplate in. He got sick from the food. He got malaria. And he got a roomful of fellow outsiders: underage criminals and people who were HIV positive. They were all lumped in together to make…. something… {Samba at work, talking in the classroom} I worked with juveniles you know people who were
being punished for a crime little kids and I did not know what crime exactly until I finished working with them and then people told me by the way that guy you are sitting next to he murdered his parents. You know that kind of crime but for me it was about the connection I was having with these people. I did not see him as a murderer. I did not see that person as having HIV. I did not see this person as being a refugee. I was connecting with human beings who were telling
me their story who were using
theater and art as a way of connecting
with one another and that made it all the worthwhile. When rehearsals were done this group of outsiders shunned by their society had created a play which they performed in the center of the village. They start hitting pots and pans and dancing and making music and then people are
attracted to the noise so they come check it out and slowly start attracting
the crowd around you and then you do your performance. Samba would leave work
at the end of the day and retire to his simple hut. He says he was inspired
by these people and how despite their extraordinary differences they made a real connection with each other and their village through theatre. And then… then he’d think about himself. And so I slowly started to realize what do I have to offer. I have this weird advantage of being from both worlds of being the outsider and the insider. My father is European and my mother is African. So I have the European coming into Africa and I have the African coming into Europe. My father is white my mother is black. So I have the white man
coming to Africa and I have the black man
coming to Europe. I have my father who
is a Christian and my mother
who is a Muslim and I was raised with
those two religions and they were able
to live together and so I was like I have all these different
cultural differences but still I am united with them inside me and so I can be
the ambassador for all these different cultures to exist together in peace. It’s possible. Look at me I am fine. My parents are fine and so if I can use theater or something like comedy to connect all these people and to show how similar we are despite how different we think we are that’s the key to really pursuing my dream and what I want to do. And so if anything that village experience as traumatizing as some
people may think it was it was it was so profound because that’s where I
realized my role in what my role could be for being comedian being a storyteller. Samba was inspired by his insight. His fragmented identity was no longer a weakness but a strength. I think it was one
of my last nights and so you know there is no electricity. So as soon as the sun sets everything is pitch black and I remember just sitting outside my hut and there are little fireflies out there by the trees and then there is billions of stars in the night sky and there is sounds of nature popping up at night and something in me told me you know just write something. It was that night that I was like I need to I need to create a plan. I need to go back to Holland with a mission so I don’t forget what I achieved here in these three months. Basically in that hut is where I realized what I have to offer as a performer. So I developed my identity as a comedian in that hut. In a dark night with the mosquitoes biting my feet writing this plan by candlelight in my diary. And Samba was serious
about this plan. Really serious. I made a plan for the next five years of what I wanted to achieve in my life and how I would achieve it and the last thing after those 5 years was move to LA. I am going to go go back to Holland after Kenya. I am going to do my standup comedy in Dutch. I am going to participate in a competition that will launch my career as a comedian with this new message. I will build on that and eventually the end goal will be to move to America to Los Angeles to continue giving this message. A few days later Samba returned to Holland. The speed of life in the west was an overwhelming culture shock. Everything was moving
so fast in Holland and there was internet that worked very
fast in Holland and there was distractions on mobile phones and everything but I was like I am not going to forget I am not going to forget. So I printed out my 5-year plan. And so I started to do standup comedy in Dutch with my new identity. I used to just do standup
in my regular clothes but when I came back to Holland after Kenya I started doing standup comedy wearing an African shirt and jeans to symbolize me coming
from two worlds and barefoot because I wanted to remember
the feeling of walking barefoot around
in that village. He wrote a one man show about his life and struggles. It went so well he entered the country’s
biggest showcase the Leids Cabaret Festival. If you win that you can basically count on bookings in the whole country. The show was called ‘Kun Min Woni An’ which is Mauritanian for ‘I am who you are’. And that was the theme of the show. I wanted to do a show about coming from two worlds and how my whole life that made me feel like an outsider but then by the end of the show I realized that it’s a gift that actually brings people together and so I wrote the show I practiced it. And when I was accepted
to participate in the Leids Cabaret Festival I remember on the final night I was sitting on the stage and I remember that moment in the hut where I had visualized this moment that I am about to launch my career in Holland as a known comedian. This is the moment where everything happens. I did not expect to win but the results came in and 90% of the audience
had voted for me for the Audience Favorite Prize and then the jury had no criticism on my show which was the first
time that happened in the history of the Leids Cabaret Festival. We have nothing to say. You are the winner of the Leids Cabaret Festival and so that night I won both the jury and the audience prize and boom! The dream came true. This was a big deal. Samba’s win was even the top story on that evening’s news. So, when you heard that you’d won what went through your head? I have the video of that too and I you see me on stage so confused and so in disbelief because this moment that I had focused on for three months so specifically in that hut and that I’d worked so hard on when I moved back to
Holland after Kenya after that trip and and seeing it come true the moment that would help me make my dream come true on moving to LA it was – I was in disbelief. So after that,
everything exploded. From the next
day onwards I suddenly was on
different interviews for TV shows and
magazines and newspapers and I was touring with my show that I’d won
the final with around the country and I was booked to do
a one man comedy show. So I had to write that and
I wrote an 80 minute show that I did with that same theme
of coming from two worlds but still being united. And that show did really well and I toured around the
whole country of Holland for 3 years with that show. Doing at least 120 shows
around the country in different theaters and at the same time, for Dutch people
who were living abroad. Samba performed in Turkey,
Malaysia, Indonesia, Curacao and even Libya before the fall of Gaddafi. Everywhere he went,
people laughed at his self-deprecating humor and understood his message
of the joys of diversity. {laughing sounds} I see that they’re not
that different.. these major religions
of the world. You know the same
basic principles.. Same foundations,
same god. Yes, one is better at dealing
with cartoons then the other.. but you know.. They’re not that
different! So I was like you know,
why not combine them. Just be Christian and
Muslim and Jewish too. Then I’ll always have Fridays,
Saturdays and Sundays off.. It’s perfect! Genius! Samba was a hit! He was a star! He was making good money.. And he was ready.. to give it all up.. because he still
had a 5 year plan.. written by candlelight,
in a dusty Kenyan hut. Yes, the fame was
fantastic.. and the money was
fantastic.. and I was living
such a comfortable life. But I knew that my message
was not just for Holland. I have to move to the market.. that has the biggest reach.. which is Hollywood. This is where messages
are heard loudest.. around the world. Hollywood. It wasn’t an
easy decision. In 2010.. Samba had a new show
in Dutch.. and 80 dates booked. He took a trip to Portugal to mull things over. And there.. walking in the woods.. he came upon.. a tree. This tree reminded him of
the trees near the hut.. in the village in Kenya. The place where he’d made
his other big decision. So.. ..and Samba admits this
sounds a little nuts.. He sat down.. and he asked the
tree what to do. And the answer was.. trust life. Trust life that when
you follow your heart everything will work
out for you. I had no idea.. how I would get
to Hollywood. It’s not easy just to
move to LA. You need a visa. You need an agent. You need some kind of
connection to start your career. And I had no idea how that
would work out, but I knew I had to make a
decision first. And then trust life. Like I did in that village.. and just let go
and keep it simple and follow your heart. So I went back to Holland told my managers in the theaters,
I’m stopping.. I am moving to LA. And they all called
me crazy and what are
you doing.. ..you are star. You have all this stuff.
Are you crazy? You’re gonna lose it all. And so they said, you’ll
never perform here again your career is over. But I knew I had to still
listen to myself and follow my heart. His Dutch agents weren’t
the only ones who thought moving to
LA was a bad idea. Everyone called me crazy. The people who were
close to me did not want me to
lose all this because.. they were afraid for what would happen
for me in LA. Because you hear
these stories of people who fail miserably
and have nothing. But, I knew that I had made it through.. the roughest, toughest time
in the village. So in 2010, Samba packed
up and moved to LA. Once there he signed up
for a showcase in which a whole bunch
of aspiring stars perform for a whole
bunch of hungry agents looking
for talent… So basically you present
a monologue.. to agents and
if they like you.. they will represent you.. and so I could not find
a monologue that represented who I was.. as a person. So I wrote my own
monologue. About coming from two
different worlds.. and how all these
cultures.. are inside me.
That how no one knows what I am because of that. And so I performed this
monologue in front of 21 agents.. and 7 of them wanted
to work with me. And so I was like.. Boom! My message has resonated
with these people. My name is Nikkolas Rey. I am the owner.. agent of the
Alvorado Rey Agency in Los Angeles. Nikkolas Rey is the
agent who signed Samba after the showcase. We reached him on
the phone in LA.. I saw him in the
showcase there. And when I saw him,
I thought.. Wow, this guy’s great. So I invited him for an
interview to the office. And here I have him do
a call reading and some improvisations. And then I realised I wanted
to work with him because he was so talented. And I’ve been working with him
ever since. And what exactly was so
special about him.. that you thought to yourself ‘I have got to sign this guy’? Ah, his energy. His energy was very,
very high. And he was very happy. And he was very present. Well he’s very unique
because of what he represents. He’s a combination of races and he’s very tall and he’s very funny and he’s very quick. So I had to get a visa.. to work here as an artist And.. check this out.. This is the name of my visa.. Alien.. of Extraordinary Ability. Let me just say that again cause it makes me feel so good ALIEN OF EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY That’s the real name of my visa! You could Google it! Someone at immigration
came up with this name. Someone was there at a meeting on a Tuesday afternoon just going.. I just wanna go home.. But we’ve got to come up
with a name for aliens with talent.. ah! I just want to go home and watch this movie
with my wife.. Ah wait, what movie are you
guys going to watch? E.T. It’s about this alien
with extraordinary ability.. Oh my God,
yes! Samba’s standup is
getting noticed. Like a steady gig
at the iconic.. Comedy Store. It’s one of the biggest
comedy clubs in Los Angeles.. where artists like
Rich Pryor started.. and Jim Carrey.. and Robin Williams.. and I participated in
a competition there and I won that contest. And the manager saw
me performing.. he is like,
you know what kid.. you got something. I want you to perform here
every week. On the stages and so that’s how I got into
The Comedy Store working as a comedian. And while American comedy
is often edgy or profane. Most people get Samba’s
message of positive inclusivity. I think it’s a wonderful
thing to have.. a mission to have a goal to do besides acting. It’s good because the world
is becoming dark. You see, we’re all
coming together and uniting into
one thing. So I think that’s part of that. And Samba is no longer an Alien of Extraordinary Ability
by the way. He just got his Green Card which makes him a permanent resident
of the United States. He also recently
got married. He and his American wife
now live in the place he always dreamed of.. My studio apartment is in
like Hollywood. So we are here.. You can see the Hollywood sign
from my backyard. What’s the building called? This is the Harlow. All the buildings on this street
are named after.. actors. There is the Monroe.. there is the Clark Gable.. there is Harlow
where we are living. So euh.. yeah, it feels good
to be among the stars. An agent.. an apartment close to
the Hollywood sign a Green Card… Samba says he’s ready for
his next step: major tv.. and movie productions. There was a couple of films I did. Right now the Tiger Hunter Which is about an Indian immigrant
moving to America. And, I play one of the
characters there. Like I said,
I’m an immigrant guys.. As you can tell.. I’m Dutch.. No? Then get that from
the height.. No nothing? I know I don’t look
Dutch guys.. alright.. I know what I do look
like though.. Cause on the streets Freekin’ Indians.. Always walk up to me going.. Hey brother… I go woah woah..
look buddy.. I get it.. But no,
I’m not Indian.. And they’re really
pushy right! Hey, no no, look at my dog when
I’m talking to you.. You are Indian! No, I’m not Indian.. You are very tall for
an Indian.. You look like an avatar.. Samba says it was tough coming
to America on his own. You have to find your way and you have do it by yourself but I think because of
the experience in Kenya.. I was already used to that. And knew that I would be fine.
I would survive. My ultimate goal is to
be very successful.. in my career as an actor and a comedian. Spreading this message
of unity. To make a lot of money
and to have enough influence.. that I can help poor societies. And people who
are suffering.. To come together to help them sustain
themselves. And not only have this
message of unity but to actually do something
about giving equal opportunity. To everyone. But Samba,
you are just one person.. What makes you think
you can do something about it? I know! It is. It’s one person. But if anything that
village taught me.. is that it only takes one person to tell you.. something good about yourself. Or something positive
and inspiring and it can change your life. One person at a time and if I can change a
few minds in my life time. I have achieved what
I wanted to do. Hopefully that person whose
mind I have changed will change someone else’s mind
and then spread it out that way. And how will you know
you’ve succeeded? I think when at the
end of my life.. I get to talk to a tree.. And he tells me,
you know what kid.. you did it! Samba Schutte If you want to know more
about Samba Go to our website:
podcast.klm.com. You’ve been listening to
The Journey. An original podcast brought to you
by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. To hear more stories about
the trip that changed everything Go to podcast.klm.com. And why not review us on iTunes. It helps other listeners find this podcast. Thank you for listening. I’m Jonathan Groubert.

4 thoughts on “KLM Podcasts – Episode 2 – The Outsider

  1. Interesting and moving story, thanks for sharing it, KLM. I love flying KLM and the content you share on social media. – Tudor (@withTudor on all social media platforms)

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