We go on with exploring stand-up scenes around Europe, even though stand-up has come to a screaching halt in spring and probably again this autumn. Today we dive into the scene in the Czech Republic. It’s a neighbour country of Germany but history and language make the relationship feel a little distant. In order to change that, Prague based comedienne Lucie Macháčková will officiate as guide.
Setup/Punchline: Lucie, can you remember the first set you ever played?
Lucie Macháčková: Yes, it was about the fact that I don’t have a driver’s license. Everyone is always really surprised about this. Oh my god, how can you not drive? And I am more like: When you drive you cannot drink, so why would you drive anyways? It wasn’t the best or worst gig I ever had. And I still use parts of it until now.
Why did you stick to stand-up?
Actually, I am a rather introvert person. I had never done any theatre or even public speaking. That didn’t really interest me as a career. I just wanted to try it out. Then I was absolutely smitten by how awesome, how difficult, how adventurous and exciting it was. With stand-up you don’t need a big production or fireworks. You just need your own thoughts to entertain an arena of 2000 people. And you can even make money with this.
Are you doing stand-up full time?
No, I have another job. Not because I wouldn’t be able to make a living out of stand-up. I chose not to. I like writing and a lot of other things.
You studied scriptwriting at the university. Did this help with your stand-up?
Stand-up ruined me as a normal writer. I do it so much, I write so much, I am used to thinking in jokes. When I come on stage, I always want to make the audience laugh within the first six seconds. I want to make them know immediately that this is gonna be funny. Whereas, as a scriptwriter, you don’t necessarily focus so much on jokes. You focus on the storyline, on building characters or developing atmosphere. In stand-up you only have one job. But you could say: Being a writer, playing with words to create jokes has always worked for me.
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Could you describe your style of comedy?
So there are wordplay jokes and oneliners. This works in Czech and in English. When I perform in English, I like to open with introducing myself. Lucie is easy, but my surname is kind of unpronouncable. Then I say: But it scores very highly in Scrabble. Or I say: I am short, as you can see, because my mom is short and my father is a hobbit. I talk about being a woman in her 30s, about being single and trying to find love in a bigger city. I talk about my family and a lot of observational stuff. I like my humour sharp and a bit controversial. I would say it’s not that controversial, but audiences sometimes are a little surprised.
Why is that?
In February I was playing in Munich and I did a joke: I love massages, my whole family does. My grandma even died during a heart massage. People in the Czech Republic seem to love this. In Munich the audience laughed, but also seemed to be a little taken aback. Also in the UK it happened to me that people were sometimes a bit shocked. I find this very interesting. Maybe it is because I am a 1,55 m tall blonde girl and people are surprised by things that can come out of my mouth. There are not many female comedians in the Czech Republic. It’s quite extreme.
There are roughly ten „active“ comediennes here. I’m usually the only girl on the line-up. Stand-up is fun, but it is also very demanding. You have to work at night and you have to travel a lot. And you have to deal with a lot of rejection. You perform for drunk people who shout rude, sexist stuff at you. Show us your tits and so on. Not every woman wants to deal with that shit, let alone as a career. And I don’t even blame them.
What is the stand-up scene and audience in Prague like?
In Prague there is no comedy club, that means a place that would be devoted to comedy only. We have about five places where you can watch stand-up on a regular basis and a lot of places like little bars where they organize stand-up gigs once or twice a month. And we have a very vibrant English scene due to many expats living here. People are familiar with the concept of stand-up, there is a show on the Czech branch of Comedy Central which has been on the air for four years and is becoming more and more popular. The audience is mostly millennials, I’d say, but also older people. Middle or upper middle class, people that are interested in culture and have some money to spare for a fun Friday night.
And outside of Prague?
You can watch regular shows in Brno or Ostrava, the second and third biggest cities in the country, and you have a little bit of a comedy scene in Ostrava. I would say: The farther away you travel from Prague, the older the audience gets. The humour is a bit different, of course, but it’s still nice and people like to laugh. People know this kind of culture from television. I am part of a group from Prague where we often travel around the country and play a lot of shows in little regional towns or even villages.
Germany has a long humoristic tradition, but the concept of British or American influenced stand-up has been observed suspiciously or even looked down on for a long time. How is this in the Czech Republic?
Oh, it’s similar here, but maybe not as condescending as in Germany. Czech people value stand-up because they value humour very highly. We have a history of great storytellers, Vladimír Menšík for instance. In the 60s and 70s he was a very popular theatre and television actor and he also used to perform stand-up. Of course it wasn’t called stand-up, but it basically was. He was telling stories in a funny way. And these roots of comedic storytelling are very important in our lives.
When it comes to storytelling or joketelling, how important is the factor truth for the stories and jokes?
Let me tell you a little story of a joke: My favourite thing is to write jokes that are history based. In February I played in Munich, a city which has quite an importance for the history of the Czech Republic. So I joked about this: I am spending my Valentine’s day in the most romantic country in the world – Germany. And in my hotel room I got a call from the reception. They wanted me to come down to sign something. I told the receptionist: I am Czech, we are in Munich. How about we do it old school and you sign it for me?
I am German, I live in Munich and know the term Munich agreement, but, and this must sound incredibly arrogant, just had to check the Wikipedia articled to fully get this joke. Did the audience at the time get it?
Oh, it worked awesome. I would say that most people roughly know what the agreement is about. I know that not so many people are interested in this. But I really love this historical stuff.
Well then, what a great coincidence the receptionist called you.
Oh, no, no, no. The receptionist didn’t call me. I totally made that up. The only true thing is that I was in a hotel in Munich.
The point I’m trying to make is: Of course there is truth in comedy. I wouldn’t talk about being divorced when I am not or talk about a trip to Australia when I’ve never been there. My ideas are based on truths. And then again, comedy is also based on my imagination. I cannot wait for life to give me jokes, my life is just not funny enough! It would be very limiting to base my stand-up on funny real-life things. Life is feeding me with little clues and ideas, but my thoughts are funnier.
Is anything off-limits for you?
I like dark humour, but I would never joke about rape or violence against children for example. I always ask myself: Would I be able to tell the joke in front of my mother?
What about the sex stuff then?
My parents can stand dark humour and they can stand jokes about my sex life. They are sensible people and they understand that what I do is stand-up. That doesn’t mean that it’s true word to word. How strange would that be? When I’m hosting and the show is all male I have made the joke before: I have three comedians for you, three men. That is exactly the number of men I slept with today. You would have to be really stupid to think „omg, she slept with three men today, what a slut“. If you are thinking that, irony is obviously a foreign word for you. Then good luck with comedy.