This week, Kafkadesk spoke with Alan Szymula, who co-organises an Improv Comedy Jam night in Krakow, and shared his views on improv, Krakow and Polish humour.
Tell us more about what’s happening on October 10th. What can we expect?
Well for starters, you can expect a lot of fun and laughter! We’re bringing together various improvisers from different groups here in Krakow. For more or less two hours, we’ll be playing some short and funny games, some you may recognise from comedy shows in the UK and the US, like Whose Line Is It Anyway, along with longer more scenic forms, where we build up characters and their stories. All of which will be completely improvised based on suggestions from the audience. None of the scenes have happened before, none of them will happen ever again… that’s the magic of improvisation, everything happens only here and now!
Sounds great, who organises these events?
They’re organised by guys from “Improv comedy in Cracow”. It was created by Alan Pakosz from the Ad Hoc comedy and improv group, who also organises Improv Comedy open mics on a regular basis. This time I’m happy to have co-organised it – and I hope the event will be a blast!
So how did you get into comedy, improv and theatre?
I started being interested in theatre when I was around 13. I watched numerous plays and participated in theatre workshops. Ironically, my good run ended when I started my studies… in Kraków. But thankfully, I got back into it three years ago. I went to see a friend of mine perform a tiny piece of stand-up for the first time, and as I watched him, I envied him and thought to myself: I can do that too! So, after preparing my own stand-up act, I decided to participate at an Improv Open mic, the day before my on-stage debut, in order to familiarise myself with being on stage, the crowd, and stage-fright… and it was an amazing night! Since then, I’ve tried to participate in every improv event I could find and gradually fell in love with this wonderful art… and all that thanks to a bit of envy!
What’s so great about it then?
I tell you what, for me, the amazing thing about improv is that it doesn’t matter how hard and difficult my day has been, no matter how bad my mood could be, 20 minutes of improvisation and my spirit is lifted, and all worries are washed away… improv does miracles indeed!
How do you find the theatre and improv scene here in Krakow?
This won’t surprise anyone when I say that the theatre scene is really well developed here in Krakow. There is a huge variety of theatres and world-class plays for every taste. In terms of comedy – it’s fairly ok. There is the Comedy Lab group that operates in Artefakt Café and organises Stand-up and Improv shows at least every Friday. There are a couple well known Stand-up artists and Improv groups. The best known and most experienced Improv group in Krakow would be Ad Hoc. They have recently started their own Improv school, which is doing great things for the community, bringing along new, fresh and enthusiastic people. But this has not always been the case, I’m under the impression that the comedy scene in Krakow had been quite stagnant for a while, and that it only started booming in the last two years or so.
What influence would you say do expats have on the scene here in Krakow?
I believe expats play a vital part in building the English comedy scene. Sometimes they are one of the main contributors. We can see this especially in the Stand-up scene in Krakow, where things are run by people from Germany, the UK, even Mallorca or Budapest – while the guy who started it all was from Australia. For Improvisation though, apart of people from Poland we have one Austrian guy, who is also doing great job.
Is comedy easier in English than in Polish?
Yes and no. The English language seems less complicated than Polish, the puns are easier to deliver, the sentences are shorter. However, when it comes to Improvisation, you require a great command of the language to be able to react quickly and not everyone here are native speakers. For me personally, I really like improvising in English, I find it very light and enjoyable.
Is there such a thing as “Polish humour”?
For years, Poland was under imposed communist rule without much freedom of speech. This significantly stopped any form of comedy from growing. Movies, cabarets… they were really balancing on the edge of what was accepted or censored. This forced artists to try and deliver their ideas by really working on nuances. Anything too obvious would have immediately been blocked, often followed by prosecution and even imprisonment. Only since 1990 have artists become free to say whatever they wanted. But in the beginning, they were mainly commenting on old government systems and it took comedians a couple of years to realise that there were many more subjects that you could laugh about!
So you think comedy can have a social and political reach?
Well, it does. We can see a couple of groups, especially doing cabaret, who are strongly inspired by politics and create lots of sketches where they comment on the current political situation. I’m personally not a fan of it. For me, improvisation and comedy is actually a way to avoid unpleasant subjects, like politics. I find humour much more pleasant and appealing… when it’s politics-free.
What’s your favourite Polish joke then?
Oh ok. So there’s the Devil who captured a German, a French and a Polish guy. He gave them each two tiny metal balls and told them whoever will show him the most incredible trick with these balls will be let free. There other two will perish in hell for eternity. They are all locked in secure rooms, with no windows, chairs, lockers, just concrete walls, and floor. After 2 days of solitude, the Devil visits the German guy, who shows him his trick. He throws one ball in the air, then throws the second one. They hit each other and land perfectly in separate corners of the room.
– Quite impressive, says the Devil, let’s go see the French guy!
They visit French guy who puts one ball on top the another in his left hand, throws them in the air and they both land on his right hand, still one on top of another.
– Oh, that’s really something! Says the impressed Devil, can the Polish guy beat it?
They visit the Polish guy. And what did he do? He lost one ball and broke the other.
Don’t forget to check out Improv Comedy Jam tomorrow… and it’s free!
Artefakt Café, street Dajwor 3, 20:00, October 10th
As well as more Improv comedy in Cracow.