At 90, Emil Steinberger is always ready to make jokes

He was a post office worker, graphic designer, film and theater entrepreneur, author, actor and cabarettist – but above all “Emil”: on January 6, 2023, Emil Steinberger will turn 90.

On January 6, 2023, Emil Steinberger will celebrate his 90th birthday.


Despite his age, the Lucernois is still active. It was not until the beginning of November that he finished his “Emil schnädered” program. In September, he was honored for his body of work during the presentation of the Swiss Comedy Award. He is also present on the virtual stage – for example with a photomontage of the Brazil-Switzerland World Cup match published on Twitter, with him as a laughing scorer.

Emil Steinberger showed that he could also be serious, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when he signed an open letter to the Federal Council in April with more than 100 Swiss cultural actors. They called for “resolute action against the financing of the war by Switzerland”.

Political statements, however, do not go through the scene at home, but through the “private Emil”, said Mr. Steinberger during an interview with SRF1 on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

From civil servant to graphic designer

Emil Steinberger discovered his love for the stage while still working at the post office and part of a theater troupe. In 1960, to the dismay of his parents, he gave up the security of his job as a civil servant to become a graphic designer.

“Emil” plays in cabaret ensembles like the “Güggürüggüü”. Then follow the first solo programs, again written by his school friend Armin Beeler and marked by local politics: “Emil und die 40 Räuber”, “Emils Neid-Club” and “Onkel Emils Hütte”.

The native of Lucerne then played in the dining room of a hotel – there was no house for small stages in Lucerne until he founded the “Kleintheater” in 1967, which still exists today. His first wife, Maya, runs the house, in which also perform international stars such as the clown Charlie Rivel or the actor Gert Fröbe.

Encouraged by Franz Hohler

At the “Kleintheater”, Steinberger broke through at the end of the 1960s with “Geschichten, die das Leben schrieb” and “E wie Emil”. It was the cabaret artist Franz Hohler who encouraged him to write his own plays.

In the 1970s, Steinberger’s ‘Bünzli’, ‘Emil’, achieved immense popularity. Thanks to this character, Switzerland could laugh at itself. Watching back issues recently, he himself amazed at everything that came to mind, Emil Steinberger told SRF1.

French-speaking success

“Emil” existed on record, on the radio, on television – and at family celebrations, when young people re-enacted a popular skit. In 1977, “Emil” toured Switzerland with the Circus Knie. He performs in Germany and, speaking “federal French”, in French-speaking Switzerland.

But Emil Steinberger is not just a cabaret artist. As an actor, he played in 1978 in “Swiss Maker” by Rolf Lyssy, one of the most popular Swiss films. In Lucerne, he is also a cultural entrepreneur: in addition to the “Kleintheater”, he founded the “Atelier” cinema and manages the “Modern” cinema. It also has its own graphics office.

A break and a new beginning

In 1987, the Lucernois gave its last performance. Aged 54, he retired. In 1989, he divorced his wife Maya. From 1993 to 1999, Steinberger lived in New York, where he met and married his second wife, Niccel Kristuf.

Back in Switzerland, “Emil” lives in Montreux, then chooses Basel as his place of residence in 2014. He returned to the stage successfully: he played “Drei Engel” 900 times for 15 years from 1999, offered “Lachzig to his audience on his 80th birthday. Then followed “Emil – No einisch”, “Alles Emil, oder?!” and “Emil schnädered”.

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At 90, Emil Steinberger is always ready to make jokes