Stand-up comedy takes centre stage in Prague

Stand-up comedy does not have a terribly deep tradition in the Czech Republic although that is changing. Now, a new festival called PRAHAha, to launch on Thursday, November 3, is bringing more than 50 performers over 10 days to six venues in the capital. If you’re a fan of stand-up in Prague, or have even dreamed of trying your own material on an open mic, this is your chance.

Lynn Tourki, photo: Lynn Tourki’s archiveLynn Tourki, photo: Lynn Tourki’s archive I spoke to the festival’s Lynn Tourki, asking first how the idea for the new fest came together.

“The idea came together last year when comedian Dieter Nuhr was in Prague and the founders were attending the show and sat with the German ambassador and the cultural attaché and came to the realization that Prague was really missing really good international stand-up and to the conclusion that it would be really good to try and put Prague front-and-centre on the stand-up comedy scene.”

Obviously you have different forms of comedy but is it fair to say that stand-up does not really have a long tradition here?

“I think it is. You have HBO’s Na stojáka series which started in 2004 and you have smaller shows here and there, mainly in Brno and Prague, but there is not that much happening internationally. An exception would be the Louis C.K. shows at the end of the summer.”

Iva Pazderková’s ‘Dumb Blonde’, photo: YouTubeIva Pazderková’s ‘Dumb Blonde’, photo: YouTube I saw one of those shows at the Rudolfinum concert hall which followed Prague’s Congress Centre. Both of those shows sold out, so obviously people want to see great acts and there is an interest in stand-up here.

“I saw the first show and it was very interesting but the space was too big and the acoustics at that venue are not great. But as far as I could tell, there were many Czechs there, not just expats. So there is an audience here for more stand-up.”

You mentioned HBO Czech Republic: do you think its programme went a long way in introducing the format to audiences here? Obviously, it launched a few careers or brought wider attention to acts like Iva Pazderková’s ‘Dumb Blonde’ and many others.

Dominik Oždian, photo: Dominik Oždian’s archiveDominik Oždian, photo: Dominik Oždian’s archive “It is possible that HBO did have an impact, they certainly have the tradition, and in the meantime you have people like Dominik Oždian who owns the Crown Comedy Club is helping us with the festival and he is a part of Na stojaka as well; in short, the audience for stand-up is growing.”

If we turn to PrahaHa, some festivals start small but you have gone ‘all in’: performances in three languages (English, Czech, German) ten days, lots of performers, tell me more about what is coming up.

“We have about 26 shows, two workshops, two open mics, the comedians are from 13 countries, from Argentina to South Africa. We have performers like Adrián Minkowicz, Mark Palmer, Anastasia Goncharuk, and many more. We wanted to really focus on different types of humour from around the world: the Germans are known to ‘not have’ any humour, Czechs have a specific humour, British humour is very dark and up to the point. We wanted to bring as much as we could to Prague.”

Christian Schulte-Loh, photo: YouTubeChristian Schulte-Loh, photo: YouTube So even though all the performers put on the same jacket formally, there are of course many differences among the acts, in terms of persona, subject matter, and overall approach.

“Of course. For example, Christian Shulte-Loh, a German comedian, is doing two English-language shows and one in German and he is always pointing out the worst of German history as in yeah, we were the Nazis, but then he also takes on American history. So I think people will enjoy the many different approaches and aspects. And then there are the workshops were visitors can learn tricks of the trade. Not just people studying or working in comedy have signed up, but for example some business people as well. And some can try out their talents if they sign up, for a small fee, for the open mic.”

Photo: www.audio-luci-store.it, CC BY 2.0Photo: www.audio-luci-store.it, CC BY 2.0 Many people secretly have dreams of trying that out. Others are into karaoke, others want to try their hand at this.

“That’s right. And some can show what they’ve got.”

Will the professional performances be taped for later viewing?

“We have an agreement with all the acts to tape their shows and will edit parts later and probably show that on facebook or provide portions for some media.”

I suppose also to lay the ground for the festival for years to come…

“Exactly.”

For those who may be lazy to come out, who say they’ll catch clips on youtube or elsewhere, what are they missing?

“They are missing the chance to take part in the whole experience, to interact with the comedian, to be made of a little or to make fun themselves. We have one comedian who really likes to engage the audience and even goes among the audience, so those are all memorable aspects you won’t get from watching online.”

There is a thing about stand-up as well: if you go to a concert, a band which has been touring might not give it everything but still pass muster, but with stand-up you can’t really just phone it in…

“Absolutely. The venues are all small enough except for a couple so the comedians are up front and can build a rapport with the audience but that is something which they enjoy.”