Comedian with a head for business

August 25, 2023

Unteregger is a successful comedian and ETH alumnus with a doctorate in medicine – and he happens to consider regular activity much more important than always following a healthy diet. Unteregger soon made new friends, seamlessly switching from the Basel to the Zurich dialect of Swiss German. In 1997, he embarked on a degree programme in food science at ETH Zurich. Unteregger also relished the diverse, interdisciplinary nature of his degree programme, and particularly the broad knowledge it gave him of economics and business management. And that’s how I got started as a solo comedian.” He quit his job and soon had the Swiss broadcasting company SRF knocking at his door.

“I absolutely adore cake. And, as a food scientist, I have to test desserts on a frequent basis to check they’re still up to scratch!” says Fabian Unteregger with a wink as he settles down for our interview at the famous Sprüngli Café in Zurich. Unteregger is a successful comedian and ETH alumnus with a doctorate in medicine – and he happens to consider regular activity much more important than always following a healthy diet.

His early childhood was spent in Bottmingen, a municipality close to the city of Basel. Eventually, a job opportunity led his father to move the family to Zurich. Unteregger soon made new friends, seamlessly switching from the Basel to the Zurich dialect of Swiss German. This talent would later come in handy for his impressions of Swiss celebrities, which have since made him a household name. From the Zurich vernacular of Christoph Mörgeli, a member of the Swiss National Council, to the Basel dialect of tennis ace Roger Federer and the Wallis variety of federal councillor Viola Amherd, he mimics the regional language and vocal mannerisms of his chosen subjects to hilarious effect. As well as having his own stage show and radio programme, he is also a regular guest on television – yet comedy is only one facet of his extraordinarily diverse life.

From ETH to the US

His chief interests at secondary school were chemistry and biology, a preference for sciences that continued into his university years. In 1997, he embarked on a degree programme in food science at ETH Zurich. “I wanted to study something that’s relevant to everyone, and nutrition ticked all the boxes,” he says. His time at ETH also sparked an interest in mathematics, and he was particularly drawn to subjects that offered real-world applications. Most appealing of all was the research on ice cream conducted by Erich Windhab, now an emeritus ETH professor, whose findings were readily adopted by industry.

Unteregger also relished the diverse, interdisciplinary nature of his degree programme, and particularly the broad knowledge it gave him of economics and business management. “I never intended to work for a food company,” he says. “That’s why I looked for a job in marketing after my degree, because I figured that’s an important topic for any company.” It wasn’t long before he was hired by a US multinational as a product manager.

TV opportunities

With his wealth of talents, becoming a teacher was still very much an option. An ETH teaching certificate in his pocket, he applied for a post as a biology teacher at the secondary school in Wiedikon, where he had once been a pupil. But his certificate said “food science”, not “biology”, and the school had to give preference to biology graduates – so he was soon left pondering a new career direction. In retrospect, he feels this was one of the best things that could have happened to him; suddenly, the performing arts became a real option. Alongside his day job, he started getting involved in “theatresports”, a competitive form of improvisational theatre, gradually honing his stage presence over the course of a hundred or so shows. It was then that Unteregger tapped into an entrepreneurial streak that seems to have benefited him through much of his career: “After all that group improvisation, I realised that, from a marketing perspective, I needed a standardised product, something predictable that other people would recognise. And that’s how I got started as a solo comedian.” He quit his job and soon had the Swiss broadcasting company SRF knocking at his door. Before the first episode of the satirical late-night show Giacobbo/Müller even aired, Unteregger was already part of the team. His star has been on the rise ever since. Unteregger became his own boss and successfully turned his comedic talents into a career.

The source of this news is from ETH Zurich