Balkan Espresso at the 2010 Leicester Comedy Festival

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

The scale of the challenge facing the Slovenian and Croatian comedians of Balkan Espresso shouldn’t be underestimated. To come from countries where stand-up is still a relatively under-developed art form, and perform in a second or even third language in the most fertile nation in the world for live comedy must be a daunting prospect.

So we should thank Tin Vodopivec, Vid Valic, Marina Orsag and Ivan Saric and the compere (who never gave his name and wasn’t listed) for making the trip to the Leicester Comedy Festival and providing one of the more intriguing offerings in the programme.

That the Balkan stand-up circuit is still new is evident from their choice of material, which tends to be drawn from the same list that many a rookie draws from, not knowing much better.

Orsag told of flavoured condoms, of going to public toilets and of how the T-Rex had short hands; Vodopivec complained that you can’t hear what train announcers say; and Saric told us how there was lots of dope in Amsterdam and, for variety, how there was lots of dope on the Dalmatian coast, where he lives. When Valic proclaimed how dope should be legalised, the cheer was limp, as we’d heard it all before. No, there probably wouldn’t be any wars if all the leaders were high – but that’s exactly the sort of realisation that strikes everybody the first time they get high, too.

This is all obvious, Route One stuff, or sometimes more directly ‘inspired’ from more established comedians. Valic’s talk of men not needing to wash their hands after they pee because their dick hasn’t been anywhere dirty is very familiar, while Eddie Izzard’s fame has clearly spread to the Balkans given how own they reach for ‘Steve’ as the unlikely name of anyone in their stories, just as he does.

Look beyond the often obvious material, though, and there are glimmers of potential – often when they move away from the script, despite not working in their mother tongue.

Despite his occasional lapse, the charming Vodopivec, pictured, probably had the most original material, with some astute observations about Slovenian and Croatian language, football referees and his sport-ignorant girlfriend. Even when on well-trodden territory such as drunkenly going on the pull, the punchline was nicely put.

Our mystery compere, with a hefty beard and heftier frame, also had some strong lines, though he kept most of them until late in the show, after ploughing through some less inspiring quips about his weight. It’s always going to be more interesting for a British crowd to hear a bit of material about a Slovenian poet than it is about his size, for novelty value alone.

Saric – clearly the most Izzard-influenced – stuck to well-tested formulae rather too much, although the odd aside or tagline suggests he’s capable of thinking further outside the box than he did; while Orsag had a perky appeal, and she can also pull unexpected conclusions from familiar set-ups, even if that was the exception, rather than the rule.

Valic, however, was the least inspired of the bunch, and although talking about the mythological Daedalus promised originality, it would up – somehow – as impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sean Connery. Not the freshest of tricks, but it did play well to the crowd.

So the night might not have soared, but it certainly provided a fascinating insight into the state of another nation’s stand-up scene. It will be even more interesting to see how it develops when the comics form their own personalities and outlooks, rather than being so heavily influenced by what already exists.

Review date: 9 Feb 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Midas

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