The Slovenia Times

A Quest With A Single Goal: Laughter!



Not so long ago stand-up comedy was a rare and exotic type of entertainment in Slovenia. On the whole, it was known only by those familiar with the English-speaking comedians from TV or, often, the internet.
But times have changed. Now there are many and varied Slovenian stand-up comedians, even if no one can quite pinpoint when the scene exploded. "It has come out of a years-long process which has formed into stand-up that we know today," argues Dominik Maher from Maribor's Institute of Culture. The Institute incorporates, the central organiser of stand-up comedy events in Slovenia. "The main 'culprits' for what we have now are the eager individuals and groups which stubbornly persisted in doing what they wanted to do despite the non-existence of today's venues and stand-up culture in general."
Those stubborn individuals are a diverse bunch, says Maher: "Stand-up in Slovenia is very heterogeneous; comedians come from versatile environments and age groups, and have different experiences and backgrounds. There are also many female comedians despite the fact that Slovenians generally perceive stand-up as being a male thing." Lucija Ćirović, one of the pioneers of Slovenian stand-up comedy, agrees: "Unfortunately a lot of people here think that a stand-up comedian must be a man which I find utterly ridiculous. Stand-up comedy cannot be judged by one's sex, race, weight, status, sexual orientation, hair colour, ethnicity, clothing and the rest of such 'parameters'."

Key to success: being genuine

On the Slovenian scene there are both amateur stand-ups and those like Ćirović who are experienced actors. Ćirović says there are differences between the two groups: "Professionals are used to the stage and know how to deal with it, also they are used to various interpretations of texts and using their body and voice as a trained instrument." However she believes this does not guarantee a good stand-up performance as the foremost ingredients for a laughing audience are sincerity and authenticity. "If mastering the stage is a definite plus for professional actors and actresses, a minus can be a too theatrical interpretation of the material which kills the stand-up genuineness. On the other hand the non-professionals can take the most out of their naturalness and freedom from theatrical limitations, but incomprehensible speech and poor expressiveness can be reasons which make their performances bad. To cut a long story short - there is no formula that would help one judge who or what makes a better stand-up comedian."
Which is not to say there isn't a recipe for a performance - Ćirović says it simply has to consist of stage, light, microphone and at least one stand-up comedian. But not everyone can be a stand-up: "For a good comedian stage presence is important, that is their energy and manifestation which should be interesting simply as it is, without the comedian doing or saying anything. Furthermore there is their sense of humour and original and well-prepared material," she asserts. "Another feature of a good comedian is that they turn their weaknesses to their advantage and this is what makes them funny and unique. I believe that if a comedian thinks something is funny the audience will probably laugh at those things as well. So the key is to practise the material outloud and find the right words and ways of saying it."
So who are the Slovenian stand-up comedians that shine brighter than others? Maher says this is extremely debatable: "Everybody has their own favourite. Different people find different things funny and have different preferences. So singling out stars should be a matter for each individual."

Taming of the audience

Maher believes that each topic that is well interpreted by a comedian who fully stands behind it can be a success since "the audience respects the straight-forwardness, recognises the deeper truth and links this with a real-life story that perhaps happened to them or their friends and family which makes everything even more funny." Ćirović, on the other hand, fears that there are certain topics that will never go out of fashion in Slovenia: "The majority of the Slovenian audience unfortunately prefers humour based on jokes which are full of Balkan swear words and sex."
Perhaps in part that's because the audiences are often novices when it comes to stand-up comedy. "In the the United Kingdom, where they have a long tradition of stand-up comedy, it is the most normal thing for the comedians to talk to the audience from the first rows and include them in their jokes, in Slovenia this is not the case," explains Maher. "People are not totally ready for this yet, but eventually we are going to get there too," he says confidently.
Ćirović notices differences between female and male audience members: "My experiences show that women make better audience members because they laugh loudly and are not shy to express their feelings. Men often laugh 'inside' which makes the situation for the comedians harder as they don't hear the feedback and thus have difficulties finding orientation as to where should they direct the show and jokes. But these are just general observations, there are exceptions of course." She agrees that the development of stand-up comedy in Slovenia - in terms of the wide range of its comedians, jokes and genres - is preparing the audience for different situations and also, in a way, educating and raising them.

Also in English

It is not just natives who are giving stand-up performances in Slovenia. It is also possible to enjoy performances from foreign guests who are usually well accepted by the audience and so draw large crowds. But since they speak in a foreign language, there are challenges to be overcome. "The comedians needs to figure out to what extent they are understood, they have to take into account the cultural background and the context of jokes they wish to deliver which is by no means an easy job," says Maher.
It's a situation with which Ćirović is very familiar, having given performances in foreign languages: "Each performance which is not in your mother tongue is a special challenge, especially because you need to put yourself in completely different shoes which you don't know or sometimes even can't relate to." The comedian is limited by the language and its tiny nuances, cultural differences, mentality contrasts and other local characteristics of each country. The nature of the audience also needs to be considered; not least its familiarity with stand-up audience. But there are advantages too, says Ćirović: "As a foreigner you are exotic in a way and your language and pronunciation mistakes can add to your funny factor." In her latest foreign language stand-up project, her first in English, she focuses on Slovenia and its sights. The act is primarily aimed at foreigners visiting Slovenia: "I translated existing material which I felt appropriate for the audience and wrote some new things, made especially for people who don't know Slovenia; I really focused on the English language and its peculiarities. The phases that follow are equal to other performances - learning and practising and then performing and making everything even better."

Time for catharsis

Ćirović is giving the performance monthly in one of the hotels in Ljubljana. But comedians now perform in a wide range of venues - bars and clubs play a role but they have also managed to breakthrough into theatres and other cultural institutions. Maher sees it as an indicator of the quality and credibility of the performers.
Comedians usually prepare their material themselves but with the immense popularity of stand-up comedy and the growth of corporate performances they are sometimes asked to include some jokes about the firm or its activities. "Comedians then adjust the existing programme according to the audience, the company and what it does," says Maher. "Only rarely are parts of the performance commissioned; this takes a lot of effort and time."
Stand-up comedy seems to have become an omnipresent part of Slovenian entertainment. One of the reasons may be that, unlike the one-way communication that prevails in most live entertainment, stand-up comedy offers the audience to interact with the live performer. "It is a direct comment of the person on stage, observation of life around him or her which is often spiced up with a social critique. All this forms a unique experience that attracts people to stand-up comedy events all around Slovenia," says Martina Ipša, a successful comedian herself. "The chance to highlight some problems, laugh at them and make them smaller sort of works in a cathartic way. Laughter makes everything better. Stand-up is a form of fun, but is at the same time much more than only that and thus it will continue to flourish."


More from Nekategorizirano