Comedian Sia From Iran On Being Funny On Stage In Europe

Stand-up is becoming more and more popular all over the world, and a lot of venues hold "open mic" events where those who want to perform for the audience can try their luck. Stand-up comedy is now taking hold in Central and Eastern Europe, and we wonder therefore what it takes to be a stand-up comedian there? Is it true that they can live by performing just a few days in a month? How long does it take to work up the jokes, and is it hard to prepare the jokes and not to offend anyone at the same time? We have spoken about this and a lot of other stereotypes about stand-up with a stand-up comedian, Siavash Alaghmandan Motlagh. He is originally from Iran, but he lives in Slovakia, and speaking for himself he says that he is extremely forgetful, he lacks focus, and he is amazed by the wonders of life on planet earth.

Siavash started his career with a Slovak comedy group called Silné Reči. He is a teacher, and as he points out, he was in desperate need of a second source of income, and that is how he started his career as a stand-up comedian. One of his friends asked him to give stand-up comedy a try since he always took joy in entertaining people. After he got a first laugh from a room of 250 people, he liked it immediately and knew he wanted to be a stand-up comedian. He performs in numerous parts of Slovakia from Stará Turá to Košice, to Martin and Nitra, Bratislava and even Kremnica, but also in Austria and the Czech Republic.

I started performing with Silné Reči as an official crew member after three open mic try-outs, so we were performing all around Slovakia and all was well apart from one problem. As we went forward, there was more and more pressure on me to write more Slovak jokes as the crowds we performed for were all Slovaks. This was becoming increasingly difficult for me, and I felt like every time I wrote a good Slovak joke I was closer to running out of Slovak things to say as my Slovak is not that great. So, I asked the founder of English-style stand-up comedy in Slovakia, Jan Gordulič, to help me start an English group and with some ups and downs and difficulties we did it. And I’ve been doing English comedy with Joke’s On You for a year and a half now.

At the moment Siavash and his Joke’s On You stand-up comedy crew have plans to perform all over Europe, and they have planned performances in cities like Wroclaw in Poland, Brno and Prague in the Czech Republic, Budapest in Hungary, and Graz and Vienna in Austria. Even with these performances, unfortunately, stand-up is not yet popular enough for stand-up to be Siavash’s only source of income.

As Siavash explains, his beginning started “without the glory of a vision or a particular mission” – he was just doing it to see if he could. But as he went forward he realized that he was very passionate about it, and he wanted to spread and expand it as far as he could. Comedy for Siavash is more than a way of having fun or entertainment – it’s a tool for social interaction. His inspiration comes from English-speaking comedians, and there are a lot of them, so as he says it would be silly to name any.



-I often use it to connect with people, or sometimes use it to study them and regularly as a defence mechanism and sometimes just to break the silence. For me it isn’t stressful when people expect me to be funny. But I absolutely hate it when people ask me to tell them a “stand up joke” or do a short “set” for them. If you want to see a performance, come to the show.

His main jokes are about himself, and he tries not to stick to certain topics as it can become tiring for people to watch. He explains that preparation for the shows takes much time and that we have to break it down to preparation and delivery. Preparation consists of writing, rendering, and rehearsing. As he says, the writing is usually an ongoing process as you develop your jokes and add new bits and pieces to them as you grow as a comedian, so he can’t really put a certain time on it. In his experience, a good comedian has to write at least 5 to 10 hours a week when he is performing in the near future. And then he has to perform and perform and perform to master a set – all and all it is a process that may differ from comedian to comedian.

-I do use my personal life and personal situations to write jokes because those are the ones that work best. When a situation or a story is real, somehow people relate to it more easily, and when people relate to a joke, that is when they understand it. At the end, what you want is for the audience to relate to you, you want to be the personification of the voices in their heads. You want them to say,“Oh! I was thinking about that earlier today!”

There are rumours that stand-up comedians are more popular with certain people, especially with girls. As Siavash says, he knows plenty of ordinary guys who do well with people and girls without being comedians and plenty of comedians who are just terrible with girls.

-But if you are the lucky kind who carries the charm off stage then being funny is definitely attractive to many people. Often attractive enough for some girls to forget they’re just talking to an “ordinary” guy. When I started with stand-up comedy I already had a girlfriend who I’m engaged to now, so I can’t really say I have any particular anecdotes on this topic.

And what about heckling?

Siavash explains that it is not always easy to make jokes without offending someone. As he says, heckling is a huge part of stand-up culture, and responding to hecklers is also a big part of the routine. Throughout the history of the phenomenon many people have performed in many different styles and the definition is quite broad, as it is with many other forms of expression.

One of the things we are trying to do here is the culture of stand-up. I’ve been heckled before and naturally what I try to do is to put down hecklers to the point that they won’t dare heckle again. Sometimes people take this personally and stay after the show to talk to me about it. That’s an unfortunate situation to deal with.

He says also that just hanging out and meeting really interesting people is a great thing in stand-up, but the absolute best thing about comedy is the indescribable feeling of having a room full of 500 people laugh at what you have to say. The worst side of stand up is dealing with a bad performance, it is an instant feedback sort of thing. If you have a bad performance, it can feel really horrible.

He has heard a lot about Czech comedy and that there’s a strong scene going on in the Czech language but he has yet to experience the real English scene. He is very excited, and he cannot wait to try out Prague’s stand-up show for the first time, on April 25th. If someone wants to apply for a stand-up comedian and come to open mic his advice is simple: Just go for it!

Keep in mind, it only takes one performance to know whether you want to continue or not! Once you write as much as you can and do as many performances as you can. Everyone has bad performances, do not give up!

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