This was the fist time that the Croatian Teachers’ Association, HUPE, had invited British and Irish stand up comedians to their annual conference and I suspect it won’t be the last. It was the first time that I had experienced stand-up comedy at an ELT conference and as the final event after David and Hilary Crystal’s Shakespeare show, it put the icing onto HUPE’s 20th birthday cake and created more laughs than I can ever
remember at any other ELT event I’ve been to.
In fact David and Hilary Crystal, sitting on the front row, were immediately drawn into Jeff Leach’s routine as he teased them on whether they were a couple or not, imitated David’s Welsh accent, shared banter about Macduff and invited them to follow him on twitter.
“Are you on twitter Sir?…You are?..Will you follow me on twitter? That would make my year. Look how cool he is, he was like …maybe. I’ve got to be honest,I’ll see how many people I’m already following and if I can fit you in, I will.”
Jeff was our MC for the night and the 250 or so female Croatian teachers along with a few other teachers from Serbia, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Hungary, Bosnia and Slovenia, the US and the UK,and maybe the few random men in the audience, were quickly seduced by his charm as he invited them/us to room 505 on many occasions throughout the evening, although it was rumoured that one teacher mentioned after the show that she herself was in room 505 and was worried about how many people would be knocking on her door later into the night!
Whatever the truth of the story, room 505 has now become legendary on Facebook amongst HUPE conference goers and can never be mentioned again without a big smile and many fond memories of a sex addict half Russell Brand and half Tin-Tin. Has anyone at any of HUPE’s 20 conferences ever got up in front of an audience and declared themselves to be a sex addict? It didn’t happen in any of the talks and workshops I’ve attended.
The Role of Stand-Up Comedy
I asked the guys about what stand-up comedy was all about two days later in Rijeka. Jeff started off by saying:
“Something that speaks directly to you, for me personally, empathising with a comic on stage, finding something what they’re saying inside yourself and making a personal connection and, like I say, just good laughter. You need to make people laugh, you can make them think but you wanna make them laugh first.” And Jeff at the end of the evening while still on stage said:
“Outside of being funny as well I guess it’s the idea of learning a bit more about English culture and about how we share stories over there and how that transposes to what you do in your classrooms every single day which we are grateful for, cos you teaching young people how to speak English better than us means that they can come and enjoy our comedy, so thank you…..” .
Paddy’s take on this:
“The grandest way we can justify what we do, and not that I want to justify what we do, is that you had the court jester,
the only person given license to make fun of the king, we’re the ones who reflect what people are thinking, and might on the ground be thinking, that’s alternative comedy, it’s
observational stuff and poking fun at politicians…we’re kind of getting a little bit more political now…I don’t do political stuff though, its not my bag ..that’s the currency it has that makes it valid. It shouldn’t be racist or homophobic though.”
I asked a few teachers what they thought of having stand-up comedy at ELT conferences and these were some of the answers.
“Having stand-up comedy as a part of the social event at HUPE conference that was held in April this year was a real refreshment. Talking about social events at ELT conferences in general, this one really made a difference, and what’s more important, it provoked a very
enthusiastic response. It showed that introducing modern and not so mainstream forms of art at a “serious event“, such as a conference ,can be very exciting and inspiring. We all stepped outside our comfort zone, something a teacher must be ready to do. We all laughed at witty and cheeky humour, and laugher, as Jeff Leach said at one point is a “fantastically healing aspect of society“, it helps us bond, and it did so. What also crossed my mind was that stand-up comedians and teachers have quite a lot in common: establishing a relationship and developing rapport with the audience/students, the importance of both verbal and body language in doing so, mixing things prepared with spontaneity, “sharing stories, ideas and trying to empathize with each other“, creating both a relaxed and thought-provoking environment, which might ultimately result in a chuckle, giggle, laughter, belly laugh or a roar and taking risks, that’s what we have in common as well. both stand-up comedians and teachers try and experiment a bit in order to find out what might work well with their audience/students.”
Mirna from Serbia.
“It was such a breath of fresh air to have a colorful threesome of comedians at an ELT Conference that I’m even considering they should become a staple at such gatherings! Jeff, Alfie and Paddy left their hearts on the stage at HUPE 2012, and I would be more than happy to see them perform in Macedonia very soon! Yet what we were all wondering about the next day before leaving for home was if anybody had entered Room 505 and left it in one piece!”
Aneta from Macedonia.
“Campaigns promoting products and services are trying to make us believe that innovation is everywhere. However, the reality does not often fullfil one’s expectations. Personally, I am a great fan of innovation of any kind whether in teaching, learning or in one’s personal life. I like changes. There are certain cases when an innovative idea is not promoted in advance but it turns out to be indeed revolutionary. And this is the case of including stand up comedy at ELT conferences. If performed with cultural awareness and sensitivity, as it was at HUPE conference, an innovative approach might gain a lot of fans. Stand up comedy at the HUPE conference was a bright and successful idea. I suggest it might serve as an inspiration for others not in the sense of copying but rather in the sense of enforcing creativity.”
Daniela from the Czech Republic.
“I liked it a lot. it was great having that amount of laughter after two days of learning through different kinds of workshops. And what I liked the most is how they, the comedians, prepared for their stand- up, making jokes about teachers, Croatians in general and they
compared it to situations in England. So, we could, in a way, learn something as well. they connected with us, the audience, talking about their lives.”
Ana from Croatia.
“I think that social events at conferences are meant for fun after whole day’s sessions and serious stuff. I also think that our lives in general are getting more and more difficult in all respects, so we sometimes need to forget about everything and let things go. There are also some of us in our let’s say “golden age” and if we can forget about this fact for only a moment, we have done a wonderful thing…”
Dubravka from Croatia.
“Laughing at someone’s jokes makes you live longer – so, why don’t we do it more often…Laughing at London Comedy stand up comedians makes you die laughing – not everyone can do that.That was an amazing evening that we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives. Seeing a couple of them doing it so easily and then hundreds of people laughing at them so hilariously made me forget everything bad in this world, at least for an hour or two. The jokes they just let out of their sleeves, their stories that made us love them just a bit, and, finally relaxed people and the whole atmosphere…”
Lidija from Croatia.
” Apart from bringing great fun to the conference, the stand up comedy is also very authentic as it brings language and cultural references from the native speakers. On the other hand, it was great to see comedians adapting their materials to the audience which reminded me of us teachers doing the same things in our classes. Also, comedy is often produced from the subtlety and intricacy of language and as a language teacher I really enjoyed some of the puns and witty remarks.”
Marinko from Croatia.
“It was great to see live English comedy. Everybody was having fun and it was good to relax after hard work (teachers need that, too :)”
Irena from Croatia.
“Well, we heard genuine English humour and could test both our language & culture… Some people of my generation said it was too loud & too much dirty language… but, like always, degustibus… Most of the people liked one guy in particular, the ladies will remember the number of his room on their death bed! They were refreshing, genuine and every conference should have something like that!”
Višnja from Croatia.
“I think that people at the conference need relaxation after the whole day of working, sitting, listening…and there is no better way than LAUGHTER!! People expect HUPE to be fun, and not only hard work…
So, that was the main reason for inviting them…Also, you know that we always try to have smething new at HUPE, so I BET it was really something BRAND NEW!! It was a bold thing to do but having guts paid off well!”
Ksenija from Croatia.
London Calling Live
And here is some of the show for your enjoyment or to enjoy again:
Nino Bantić, a Croatian journalist working in London and the guy who brought the comedians to Croatia, believes that stand up comedy is an important part of British culture and well worth exporting. “When I was a student we were not
only learning just the English language but about English culture, this language that is quite alive… but stand up is also an important part of English and British and English speaking culture and I think this is a natural choice.”
What is obvious is that lots of people liked it at the HUPE conference and I think if you have a session after the stand up where people have a chance to talk to the comedians about stand up comedy then that would be an added attraction enriching and deepening the whole experience.
Rapport, Reflection, Risk, Respect, Empathy, Spontaneity, Humour and Hrvatska
The areas of developing rapport, spontaneity, empathising with your audience, respecting your audience, the role of humour and laughter, pushing back the boundaries and moving into areas which involve a certain amount of risk but which engage and involve people and getting people to consciously reflect more on everyday familiar things, but from a different perspective, are areas which we as teachers certainly share with stand-up comedians. And it may be that we have a lot to learn from each other, especially when we go to other countries and enjoy their hospitality. And wasn’t it Lidija who said the more we laugh the longer we live?
Jeff captured us on camera at end of the gig and got us to do a Mexican wave. If you were there, click on the photo and see if you can find yourself and if you weren’t there click on the photo and see if you can see any of your friends. Can you spot the Welsh linguistics professor who’s still thinking about following Jeff on twitter?
Finally, this was the interview I did with Jeff, Paddy, Nino and Vince before their next gig in Rijeka. Am looking forward to the next ELT event with some stand-up comedy,these guys would,I’m sure,be definitely interested in bringing their wicked, playful,charming and engaging brand of humour to your conference at the mere drop of a glass of rakija,a bite of burek or a strong shot of coffee in one of those wee squirrel cups Paddy has grown to love so much, provided he doesn’t mix it with too many chestnuts.
Hvala za zve! Stand up ELT, comedians and teachers of the world unite, where will the next ELT comedy be…… Čakovec?