How one Englishman ended up doing stand-up comedy shows in Slovenia

Gavin Mackenzie finds laughing easy in Slovenia (Photo by Anja Mahne)

Gavin Mackenzie – uphill in Slovenia (Photo by Anja Mahne)

In Britain, club owners say that the demand for comedy seems to be falling off.

It is not the same in Slovenia.

I have been talking to Gavin Mackenzie.

He was born in Cambridgeshire, went to university in Bournemouth, then moved to Exeter. He obviously has itchy feet.

“It was in Exeter that I first started seriously thinking I should try comedy,” he told me this week. “Even as a kid it had been among my ‘Things I want to do when I grow up’. But I did not get around to it until after I moved to Stoke-on-Trent, where I got a girlfriend who told me about a club she knew in Manchester.

“She persuaded me to have a go. The club was The Frog & Bucket where I did my first two gigs at the Beat The Frog ‘gong’ show. It is a great club, but I can see in retrospect that the ‘gong’ format is not ideal for a first-timer. I did not do stand-up again for another 5-6 years.

“By that time, I was living in Bournemouth. One of the reasons I got back into comedy was that our mutual friend Bob Slayer had started performing and his frequent Facebook notifications about shows got me thinking: I should have another pop at that. I saw a poster advertising an open mic night, got in touch with the promoter and had another pop. That was in April 2010.

“Most of my gigs were in Bournemouth, but I did others in Southampton, Bristol, Exeter, London etc… and an eight-night show with three other Bournemouth comics at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011.

Gavin performed comedy for two years and “was starting to get bored and put off by many aspects of the industry/community/culture of comedy in the UK. But,” he says, “that’s not why I moved to Slovenia… I just had a hunch that it might be a good place to continue doing stand-up.

“I’ve only done three gigs in the seven months I’ve been here, but they’ve all been good. The first two were new material/open mic type deals and the third was a paid (50 Euros) half hour spot on a double-bill alongside a Slovene comic who’d been out of the game for a while.

“Nobody involved in the paid gig had seen me perform – not live, not even in a video. They gave me the gig because some friends of mine – who had also never seen me perform – persuaded them to. Nobody had heard of me or the other comic, but the show was packed. Over 100 people, I think.

“People were standing along the sides of the room because all the seats were full. It was a small, fairly remote town, were there wasn’t much else going and it was only 3 Euros to get in. But the main reason it was full was that people love stand-up here. People keep telling me the same thing here – people here NEED stand-up. They need a laugh because times are hard.

“There are genuine economic, social and political problems here, but I think there’s more to it than that. This is a young country and I get the feeling it’s going through a kind of difficult adolescence. The infancy in which there was hope and some promise of Slovenia becoming a ‘little Switzerland’ is in the past – though I think the potential for that still exists.

Slovenia could still be a 'little Switzerland'

Slovenia could have been and could still be a ‘little Switzerland’

“Now people are grumpy and resentful of the harsher reality that has emerged. Slovenes often complain about how much Slovenes complain about everything – They’re rather like the British in that respect.

“I would say the difference is that they lack our British stiff upper lip, perhaps, because of that sort of national immaturity. The American comic Doug Stanhope says that the UK is the best place to do comedy because the British need comedy as we’re such miserable bastards. I think the same theory could apply here.

“My gigs here have gone very well and I’m told there will be more shows for much more money on the way. Probably not enough to go full-time pro, but hopefully semi-pro alongside my fledgling English teaching career.

“I could probably have got to this point in the UK eventually, but it would have taken a lot more grinding that I don’t think I would have much enjoyed. And it’s not about the money anyway. I like to tell stories and develop ideas in my performances and I was getting really frustrated in the UK with 5-10 minute slots that I just could not fit my best material into.

“I perform in English over here. Slovenes find it very funny when I speak Slovene, but that’s mainly because I can’t speak it. It’s a real novelty for them to hear their own language spoken by foreigners, especially when I say stupid things like You fucking gay dwarf and Pee in my glass. But I haven’t done anything like that on stage. Not yet.

“The audiences are almost entirely locals who are fluent in English, as almost all young Slovenes (and many older ones) are. I don’t have to adapt very much at all, though one of my friends brought her mum and had to explain to her what ‘wanking’ meant. I know there was a group of Spaniards and at least one American at the second gig I did but, other than that, I’m pretty sure it’s been Slovenes all the way.

“So far, I’ve been the only English-speaking act on the bill each time, but one of the promoters I’ve gigged with also does English language shows where he brings over a British, Irish, American, Canadian, Australian or whatever comic as a headliner and has Slovenes performing in English as openers. He’s got me shortlisted to be an opener on one of these nights at some point.”

So that is it.

There is hope for comedy in Slovenia.

And perhaps hope for Slovenia in comedy.

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Filed under Comedy, Slovenia

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