The Czech Republic lost one of its most popular humorists on Monday when Miloslav Simek succumbed to leukaemia. This year the well-known actor / comedian whose career spanned forty years, would have turned 64. Active until just before his death Mr Simek had planned to tour several towns in the Czech Republic to stage and pre-tape episodes of 'Politicke haraseni', the popular satirical programme he hosted with comedic partner Zuzana Bubilkova at TV Nova. The expression Politicke haraseni could be loosely translated as Political Harassment but Political "Rumblings" might also apply. Pointing barbed but good-humoured criticism at political developments of the day - the programme had a deep impact on popular culture for years.
To get an idea of the show's impact imagine no other was more regularly quoted during office coffee breaks the next day - the show especially in the early days was very funny. It also served an important antidote to trials and scandals and tribulations of the newly emerging political culture following 1989, while inviting politicians themselves on stage. One had to display a certain amount of courage to brave the spotlight. Former guests included former prime minister Milos Zeman, Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, and former Prague Mayor Jan Kasl. The last threw Mr Simek off-pace during his appearance, when he played on the name of his predecessor former Mayor Jan Koukal. How? In Czech "koukal" means "to watch" and on the programme the new mayor ad-libbed he wanted to accomplish more in his new office than his predecessor - who, he suggested, had done "little more" than watch the grass grow.
It was those kinds of appearances, along with Mr Simek's own classic one-liners, that helped his programme become as popular as it was. Lines delivered in a deceptively ordinary tempo, but bubbling with a gleeful punch-line underneath, made Mr Simek a staple in Czech homes every single week, while Mrs Bubilkova played a decidedly effective foil, sometimes savvy, other times innocent. Miloslav Simek cracked occasional non-political jokes as well - once telling his partner he had caught a draft when he had forgotten to close Windows - meaning the computer operation system - not the window in one's home.
Mr Simek's death came as an unexpected shock and leaves questions over who will now run the theatre he founded, named after his partner Jiri Grossmann who also died of leukaemia in 1971. Policticke haraseni will understandably now come to an end, with a final "Best of" broadcast on Saturday, February 21st. Still, it is more than likely fans will be given ample opportunity to rediscover the comedian's body of work, spanning from his years at one of Prague's most important theatres in the 60s, Divadlo Semafor, to the Jiri Grossman Theatre, to acts taped with other funny men like Jiri Krampol for TV. It is also likely Zuzana Bubilkova will continue the work she and Mr Simek had planned, though it is now too early to tell what form that will take.
Czech comedian Miloslav Simek: 1940 - 2004. His humour will be missed and political satire in the Czech Republic won't quite be the same without him.
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