From this summer’s sold-out double billing of American comic Louis C.K. to the highly anticipated December performance of British stand-up and actor Eddie Izzard, comedy is suddenly a hot ticket in Prague, despite the fact that the Czech people are not exactly known for their mirthfulness.
A new festival is hoping to change all of that by promising a return to the golden era of Czech humor and, like the Fringe Festival before it, create an annual event that will put the Czech capital on the stand-up map.
We spoke with Lynn Tourki, director of the upcoming Prahaha International Comedy Festival, about the history of Czech comedy, the local stand-up trend, and what to expect from Prague’s first-ever laughfest.
Stand-up comedy has come to the Czech Republic in a big way. Why now?
This can be explained by the new development of political satire worldwide and the fact that Czechs are now better in languages, so they can attend international shows without being afraid of the language barrier.
What inspired you to launch a comedy festival in a country not exactly known for its sense of humor?
Czechs have a very specific, dark sense of humor and very often turn to sarcasm, very similar to the British one. See Karel Havlíček Borovský’s Epigrams from 1845 or the Jára Cimrman plays by Šebánek, Smoljak, and Svěrák.
Is there a stand-up comedy tradition in the Czech Republic?
Stand-up [has been around] since 1785, when there was a desire to promote the Czech language under the Austro-Hungarian empire. Theaters like the Hybernia were opened for this purpose.
The Czechs also had comedy troupes focused on policital satire such as Red Seven, the Revolution Scene or the Liberated Theater between and during the World Wars. Very popular artists from that time were E.F. Burian, V. Burian, Werich, and Voskovec.
Many stand-up comedians use unfamiliar pop culture references; will yours localize their acts?
Stand-up comedians learn as much as possible about the country they are performing in. We’ve received many questions concerning Czechs, some comedians are even arriving a few days before the show to soak up the Czech mentality.
You have comedians performing from over 12 countries. Explain the key differences in their comedic styles.
Germans have a tradition of political cabarets and are not afraid of making fun of Angela Merkel, Czechs remain rather subtle while making jokes about politics or corruption. The English-speaking acts bring a plethora of themes, be it [commentary on] racism, feminism, blondes, or rednecks. Comedians from Eastern Europe [Poland, Romania, Hungary] enjoy a good laugh about post-Soviet Union experiences.
Who are the Czech Republic’s most famous comedians? Who are the top acts from other countries?
The biggest Czech names are Iva Pazderková, Ester Kočičková, Petr „Nasty“ Cerha, Petr Vydra, Jakub Žáček, and Dominik Heřman Lev. Among the artists who will attend are Adrián Minkowicz (AR), Marcel Lucont (FR), Mark Palmer (SA), Nathan Caton and Zoe Lyons (UK), and Andrew Maxwell (IRE).
The best places to catch live comedy in Prague currently?
Here in Prague you can see it in various little bars, either organized by the bar owners for their friends, or in smaller scenes like Phenomen or Royal, these latter are usually organized by Dominik Heřman Lev’s Crown Comedy Club.
Are you expecting a lot of Czechs to attend or more foreigners?
We are expecting around 6,000 visitors. So far we have noticed that the popularity rate among Czechs and foreigners is 50-50 for English speaking shows.
What has been the biggest challenge in putting this together and what are you planning for next year?
As it is the first season, almost everything was a challenge: from creating a good international roster to finding original and unique locations. In addition to theaters, we chose lesser-known venues.
We are already planning a second season for November 2017. We are in touch with an American comedian who belongs to the top-5 stand-up comedians worldwide, but I cannot spoil the surprise!
Prahaha International Comedy Festival (Nov 3-12) will present a series of performances, workshops, and open-mics. For tickets vist www.prahahacomedy.com.