Born as Hans Peter Kerkeling in Recklinghausen, Germany.
At secondary school in Recklinghausen, Hape Kerkeling and some fellow students formed a band ("Gesundfutter", meaning "health fodder") and brought out a record ("Hawaii"). Kerkeling started out his career as a comedian in radio, working for various German broadcasting companies.
The real breakthrough came in 1984/85 when, still aged only 19, Kerkeling got a role in the "Känguru" television comedy show. The best-known character in this show was the little boy "Hannilein", played by Kerkeling, an irritating child with red hair in a pudding-basin style, dungarees and sitting on giant-sized chairs, who commented on the world of adults.
Later came guest appearances and sketches on the Radio Bremen show "Extratour". Then in 1989 Kerkeling started up his own comedy TV show, "Total Normal" ("Totally Normal") This show, which criticised the media, had a totally new format and was awarded several television prizes such as the Goldene Kamera, the Adolf-Grimme-Preis and the Bayerischer Fernsehpreis.
On the show, Kerkeling wrote television history on April 25, 1991 when he dressed up as Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on a state visit to Berlin and almost managed to get into Schloss Bellevue to meet the President of Germany for dinner. The satirical song from this show, "Das ganze Leben ist ein Quiz" ("All life is a quiz") made it into the German pop charts.
On December 10, 1991 in German television talkshow, the filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim revealed that Kerkeling, among others, was gay. In 1992, Kerkeling's first film came out: "Kein Pardon", which he directed and starred in, as well as helping to write the script. In the same year, Kerkeling turned down an offer by the big public broadcasting company ZDF to work on the prime-time show "Wetten, dass..?" and instead, without his previous partner Hagemann, moved to the independent television sector with the show "Cheese".
In the second half of the 90s, Kerkeling worked once more for ARD, presenting the show "Warmumsherz" ("Heartwarming"), and filmed several popular television films ("Willi und die Windzors", 1996; "Die Oma ist tot", 1997). "Club Las Piranjas" (1995), a send-up of club holidays, went on to become a cult film.
In 1999 Kerkeling returned to success with his Sat.1 show "Darüber lacht die Welt" ("What makes the world laugh"). He also presented the yearly fundraising gala for the German AIDS fund Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe. In 2003 he was awarded the Deutscher Fernsehpreis (German Television Prize) in the category "Best Entertainment Presenter".
In January 2004 Kerkeling made another film entitled "Samba in Mettmann". In May 2004 and a year later in May 2005 he presented the "Großer Deutsch-Test" (a national test show for German grammar and spelling) and in October 2004 the "Großer Deutschlandtest" (a test about people's knowledge of Germany). In April and May 2006 he presented the live TV show "Let's Dance", a German version of "Celebrity Come Dancing"/"Dancing with the Stars", with Nazan Eckes.
Hape Kerkeling lives with his life partner and co-author Angelo Colagrossi in Düsseldorf. Colagrossi wrote a large number of texts and sketches for "Total Normal" and other shows, and co-directed the films "Kein Pardon", "Willi und die Windzors", "Die Oma ist tot" and "Samba in Mettmann".
Since Spring 2005, Kerkeling has presented the show "Hape trifft!" (which is ambiguous in the German language and may be translated as "Hape hits the spot!" or "Hape meets!") show, produced by Günther Jauch's production team i&u TV on RTL.