Stand-up comedy in Czechia brings people and cultures together with laughs

Ahead of several major Prague comedy events, we spoke with promoters and comedians about how stand-up comedy is closing the culture gap.

Christopher Sebastian

Written by Christopher Sebastian Published on 09.11.2022 19:00:00 (updated on 09.11.2022) Reading time: 5 minutes

If you asked a random person in 2002 where to find a good stand-up comedy show in Prague, they would likely have no idea what you were talking about. But fast forward to 2022, and it’s one of the most rapidly growing forms of live entertainment. Shows are popping up so frequently that it’s hard to keep up. 

In the live entertainment universe, English-language stand-up comedy is bringing out both Czech and expat viewers in record numbers for evenings of laughter and fun. It may be a common way for foreigners to enjoy a night out, but for many Czechs, it’s still a novelty. 

Ahead of some major comedy events including, an upcoming performance of The Comedy Store in the Czech capital, the opening of a new comedy club, and the Prague debut of a superstar comedian, slated for this spring, we talked to some Czech stand-ups and promoters to get the lowdown on the laughter.

Dominik Heřman Lev is a key originator of the Czech stand-up comedy scene. He credits Netflix and YouTube as major contributors to the rise of the genre’s popularity among Czech people. Streaming services in the 2010s introduced viewers to the types of blockbuster stars that people wanted to see. And networks like HBO, at the time, didn’t place licensing limitations on clips uploaded to YouTube because it helped with discoverability.

The Comedy Store, Nov. 11|Rising UK stars Sarah Keyworth, Emmanuel Sonubi, and Funmbi Omotayo will take over Lucerna Music Bar on Nov. 11 as part of the next installment of The Comedy Store in Prague. Ondřej Pojzl, spokesperson for Live Nation which is bringing the trio to Prague said that the capital's English-speaking population has been instrumental in helping Czechs catch the comedy bug. "In September we hosted Celeste Barber for the first time in the Czech Republic and it was sold out months before the show." Live Nation plans to bring more big acts to Prague next year, he said. "Prague has a strong expat culture and is a huge tourist draw so it's perfect for these kinds of events."

Taking note of how locals react to YouTube clips of various comedians helps Lev keep his finger firmly on the pulse of who will be successful before Czech audiences in-person. His intuition has paid off. Lev’s Instagram is filled with photos of him casually posing with celebrities he brought to Prague like Jim Gaffigan, Eddie Izzard, and Jimmy Carr.

Carr was one of his standout shows in 2016. Lev boasts two sold-out and astonishing performances in one day, nearly crashing the ticket-ordering system.

His success isn't strictly because of the native English-speaking community in Prague. In fact, he insists that the audience is split about 60/40, with Czech people making up the slightly larger share. Stand-up comedy acts as a bridge between Czech and Western cultures.  

A history of Czech comedy|Lev and Haklová say Czech standup comedy was nonexistent a decade-and-a-half ago. Lev said most of the comics and productions focused on sketches where people dressed up. “It took a lot of years to learn how to do proper stand-up comedy when you are not hiding behind a costume and all that. Where does Czech live comedy go from here? “The new generation has role models. I'd say there are maybe 15 people who can make a living. And then you have perhaps 20 more who do stand up on the side but still have a regular job. Me? I just do stand-up comedy and I'm getting paid. That's my job. That's what I do.”

“The ages range between about 25 and  50. Most of them are people who were already exposed to English in school or traveled a lot or just have to use English in their daily job so they're able to pick up on the jokes quickly and enjoy stand-up comedy in the original form,” he said.

Local Comedian Kristýna Haklová is very pleased by the explosion of funny people coming to her city. In the early days of her career, she had to travel to places like Berlin to find audiences for her shows. Haklová, another pioneer of the Prague comedy scene opened Velvet Comedy, in 2017 as the first weekly English stand-up show in Prague.

The venue has created opportunities for local and traveling comedians ever since. She’s also the co-founder of the Metro Comedy Club, which opened in early November and holds the distinction of being the first dedicated space for stand-up comedy in the Czech Republic. Most shows are performed in the English language, with special events in Czech and other languages.

Photo via Metro Comedy Club.
Photo via Metro Comedy Club.

Haklová doesn’t think it’s easy to quantify what Czech people find funny or what draws them to a specific style of humor, be it in Czech, English, or otherwise Czech tastes are remarkably diverse. There are so many things that Czech people find funny that it may be easier to describe what they don’t like. For example, they are very much over pandemic humor, which is probably universal.

Because Czech preferences are so remarkably diverse, so too are the acts that Lev brings here. Every show is different so there’s always something for everyone. And naturally, each newly announced performance brings both fans and critics. It comes with the territory.

Lev, who will soon announce a show headlined by superstar stand-up comedian Tom Segura in April 2023, said matter-of-factly, “Some people will love it, some people will hate it. And you know, those people will argue about it on the internet. [They’ll say] Ohh I hate that guy. And that's what you see in discussions under articles or Facebook comments.” 

He also opines that the worst comedian is one who is funny for everybody. “If you do material that everybody enjoys, I think you’re just going for the cheap stuff, the easy jokes. You don't have anything to say. Because if you really do, you will divide people.”

But when the lights go dark and the spotlight hits the stage, there aren’t often divided opinions, and heckling is rare. Czech or foreign, everyone has a great time. 

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