The Gay Agenda is a stand-up comedy show created in Prague in April 2019 by Jackson Smith, an American English teacher with stand-up aspirations. So far there have been four sold-out shows with the biggest and, according to the California native, best, to come on January 25.
What began as a showcase for a variety of underrepresented talent — the show features Czech, American, Jewish, Indian, Mormon, and senior acts — and a handful of Smith’s friends, has also become a fundraiser: the first show raised over 14,000 CZK for HIV/AIDS relief efforts in Prague. Subsequent shows helped raise funds for TransParent — an organization devoted to the acceptance of trans and non-cis persons.
The convivial gay club Patra hosted the first four shows, but The Gay Agenda has grown so popular that organizers have relocated to a bigger venue, the newly opened Distrikt 7 Klub.
Proceeds (including 10 percent of the entire bar earnings, courtesy of Distrikt 7 owner Jakub Kubíček) from the new show “Till Death Do Us Party” will support Jsme Fer, a campaign to increase public support for the marriage equality of LGBT people in the Czech Republic.
Smith has managed to grow a handful of performers into a comedy sensation adored by Czech and expat audiences alike. He says that when it comes to intercultural art, the best comedy is personal.
“It’s fine to have a facade, it’s fine to have a shtick. But when you can go deeper — when you can be vulnerable, it transcends cultures and adds human value. When you manage to be deep and funny at the same time, that’s gold,” he says.
Jackson, who was diagnosed with an aggressive type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma several years ago, often takes his own advice joking about the experience in his routine. Many of the performers also mine their personal lives for material.
In advance of the upcoming show we spoke to Smith, who relocated to Prague in 2017 about growing up gay, and how Czech audiences have reacted to the show.
What were you like in school, were you the class clown? Did you get bullied?
My teachers would say that I was disruptive. Loud, but smart, and I always contributed to the conversation. I did get bullied yeah — I got called a faggot and stuff. But as soon as I came out — which I did relatively early on — all the teasing stopped.
Truth time: do you think you’d be just as funny if you were straight?
I think I’d have a harder time getting recognition. There really are a lot of comedians out there. It helps to stand out. Part of the comedic art form is about transforming pain using humor. In this society, sadly, that means gay people have a lot to work with.
Speaking of that. You’ve had two cancer diagnoses and have been very open about your battle. You use it as material for your jokes, and there’s even been an article about it in the Czech press. What’s the hardest thing about going through something like that in the public eye?
People come up to me all the time saying “You’re such an inspiration: I have cancer, too, and you beat it…” and I like that. But then they want me to tell them what to do. And I’m like — I’m NOT a doctor! I don’t have the answer to cancer.
You might not have the answer to this one, either. I don’t even like stand-up, but your shows are like church. It’s not just the acts, it’s everyone in the audience. Why do I — a straight woman — feel so good in the company of sassy gay men?
There’s an age-old alliance between gay men and women, and I think partly it’s because gay culture has always admired women who rebel against society. Our female comedians are smart and raunchy. The women in the audience are free-thinkers who enjoy a good laugh. It all adds up to a really great atmosphere.
The material is, of course, edgy and people would be disappointed if it wasn’t. But does it ever happen that a performer crosses the line? And if so, what do you do?
I never tell anyone what to say — or not say. I let the audience decide. If a comedian makes a joke that is more offensive than funny, they won’t get the laughs. If that happens often enough, your whole set suffers for it and eventually, you just won’t get those chances to perform. It’s not censorship — it’s Survival of the Wittiest.
Let’s say I’m gay-friendly and have a few jokes. How do I get a set in your show?
What I say to aspiring comedians is: get your material together and rehearse your set, over and over until you really know it. Then hit up every open-mike you can find and test your delivery out on a live audience. Once you’ve seen what works and made the necessary adjustments, invite me to an open mike. If I like what I see, I’ll give you a shot.
What’s next for you?
Travel! I would love to take The Gay Agenda on the road. There are neighboring countries that don’t have anything like this and really could use it. And I’m looking forward to joining up with Kristýna Haklová (founder of Velvet Comedy) and five others for a tour. How fun does that sound?