Just over a month ago, I posted a blog about UK-based US comic Lynn Ruth Miller’s extraordinary up-coming world travels. Later this week, she is off for seven days work in Dublin.
She has just returned from nine days performing in the Czech Republic. This is (part of) what happened there.
I arrived in Prague and within minutes I had demolished a bottle of wine. It seems the city is fuelled on alcohol and dumplings… but who am I to judge?
My first comedy show was in Brno.
I stayed the night in a huge apartment that automatically turned on lights whenever I stepped into the room and was filled with encouraging English sayings, like: You are what you want to be… Life is for living… and Please do not put anything other than you know what in our toilets.
The city is filled with ex-pats who have come here to live because the cost of living is low, the people are friendly and the preponderance of alcohol soothes the ruffled mind. These people use beer to jump-start the day.
We returned to Prague the next day. I stayed in a very retro flat with all kinds of old-fashioned furniture and one ton of mosquitoes and spiders. I felt like a pin-cushion and scratched in very embarrassing places.
The comedy show was at a hostel and the audience was thirsty for a laugh and Czech beer. The accepted routine is a large mug of local beer with a whisky chaser and two dumplings to line the tummy. The audience was from every corner of the globe including a former teacher from Boston who had taught in LA, Okinawa, then moved to Mexico, then Prague and now makes jewelry and does improv; a Japanese comedian from Tokyo; and a guy from Manchester who was the only one who got my jokes.
The next day I tried my hand at teaching a comedy workshop to five eager would-be comedians. I realized once again that people have to have a sense of funny and, if they do not, no matter what they say, it won’t get a laugh.
I learned a couple things about would-be comics however. They will fight to the finish to keep a bad joke. They cannot understand the concept of set-up > punch. It is more long diatribe and feeble ha-ha. And, if one friend laughed at one of their jokes once, they think it is sure to become a classic. I knocked off a bottle of wine and – believe me – I needed it.
After dinner, we went to a tapas place with the woman from LA who lived in Okinawa and Mexico and is now a Czech citizen. She has lived in Prague for 15 years and still cannot speak Czech. I am told it is the most difficult language in the world and it seems to ignore vowels. Another bottle of wine down the hatch and the evening was very sparkly… or what I remember of it.
We talked about the Czech attitude toward sex and equality. It seems women have always had to work and are on an equal basis with men when it comes to salary and promotion. The MeToo movement doesn’t really make sense to these people, mainly because Czech men do not come on to women.
I cannot figure out whether they do not make the first move because they are ashamed of their bodies or because they have no vowels.
Porn is a way of life here. It is their substitute for not getting any. They all watch it and that is why Czech people think they have excellent technique when in reality you have to be an accomplished gymnast to do what you see on film. I have given up the idea of finding a Czech lover. It is far too risky. I have osteoporosis.
My second comedy workshop was in a café. Four of my students showed up and I heard their attempts at a five minute set which was horrifying. We all worked together to try to help each other tighten up the diatribes they had created and I hope I am not deceiving myself when I say I think we made progress.
This has made me evaluate why people become stand-ups. I am convinced we are all misfits who have never been able to make ourselves heard in conventional areas of life. Humor is a great facilitators and when we manage to make our buddies laugh we think: “Well, I’ve fucked-up everything else, maybe my real talent is doing stand up.”
It never occurs to people that stand-up is an art and has to be continually revised and re-evaluated to be effective.
I suspect that is why so many people start off in this very challenging and demanding career like an atomic explosion and then peter-out when they realize that getting laughs involves work.
The reality is that finding venues to PUT those laughs in is a boring grind. I was talking to one very enthusiastic new comedian who said: “It is the journey I love, even more than the success.”
Hopefully she will not mind the pitfalls, roadblocks and road crashes. Those of us who stick to it are bruised, wounded warriors. For me, at least, it has been well worth it.
When I listened to my students in this second session, two of them got what I thought we were after. The other two were determined to pontificate about racism and sexual misdirection without giving us anything to even smile about.
I spent Sunday eating Belgian food (a coq au vin that was a lot more vin than coq) and drinking copiously as they do here and then going to The Jazz Club Reduta to listen to a lot of music I danced to in the forties in Toledo, Ohio.
That involved a few more bottles of wine, several beers (each one different of course and arriving in a different shaped glass) and a couple of whiskeys – so I cannot remember many details of the day, just a warm fuzzy feeling and muddled brain.
Czech Cafes are always especially charming with flowers on the table and very clean toilets. (Obviously, when you are my age, this is a determining factor.)
They eat a lot of pastry evidently and do not seem to gain weight… but the alcohol I consumed might have blurred my vision.