"Does Estonia have a stand-up comedy tradition?" So one Australian Swede named Louis asked me weeks ago. I never answered, but during long walks along the overflowing Emajõgi in Tartu I turned the question over and over again, trying to find one.
Despite the Estonians' taciturn public image, they actually are a humorous people. They have funny writers (Andrus Kivirähk), funny sketch comedy groups (Kreisiraadio), funny actors (Jan Uuspõld), funny 'journalists' (Mart Juur), and even funny politicians (Edgar Savisaar), but do they have a verifiable stand-up comedy tradition?
I would like to tell you that, yes, they had a week-long Laugh In during the St. George's Night Uprising in 1343. Or how about Johan Voldemar Jannsen's gut-splitting intro monologue to the first ever National Song Festival in 1869? And who could forget Gustav Ernesaks' bawdy attempt at musical comedy, "Sillamäe Slapstick"? Sadly, it isn't so. To date, Estonia has lacked its own Chris Rocks. Until now.
On April 27th and April 28th, the Tartu Comedy Festival 2010 will take place at the Eduard Vilde Lokaal ja Kohvik. Each night's performance begins at 8 pm, and admission costs 50 EEK. Another performance is scheduled for April 29th at the Drink Baar in Tallinn.
Both the festival and the Tallinn performance boast the "best comedians from around Scandinavia" and one could see them as another example of Swedish empire-building in its former province. The aforementioned Louis Zezeran is one of the prime movers behind the festival and will be performing there. Based in Stockholm, Governor General Louis has enlisted other Nordic imperialists, most notably the notorious Finnish propagandists Phil Schwartzmann of Finland for Thought and Zöe Chandler, along with American Swedish soldier of fortune Joe Eagan to take part in the shows.
Of course, what imperial project would be complete without local collaborators? Fortunately, Estonia has always been a jackpot of sorts for imperialists, an over-flowing well of unscrupulous characters out to make names for themselves in the service of whoever is asking. This time around, Andrei Tuch, who will basically do anything for money, will be on hand to represent Estonia, while other miscreants and ne'er-do-wells tapped for the festival include American Estonian playboy Stewart Johnson and Baltic German monarchist and warlord Eric von Ungern-Seufert.
So, after thousands of glacial years, an eternity of darkness, Estonia will at last have its stand-up comedy. The only question that now remains is how funny the show will be. Considering the potent, even toxic mix of wit and A. Le Coq, it is likely that things will get out of hand.