Tallinn to host a comedy festival with feminist shows: “These shows are going to be loud. Really fucking loud”

Tallinn is to host a comedy festival in August 2022 where an openly fierce and feminist – and, as such, an aptly named – comedy collective Clit Comedy Club and Friends will perform, and the organisers promise to be “really fucking loud”.

The Tallinn Fringe Festival has been around since 2016, hosting artists of all kinds in a month-long celebration of the arts. Estonian World spoke with Mari Krõõt Volar, an Estonian comedian living in Germany, and American comedian Erin Crouch, who started doing comedy in Estonia and now lives in Germany, about their plans for the 2022 Tallinn Fringe Festival. Their show, the Clit Comedy Club and Friends, will run from 18 to 21 August at the Heldeke Club in the Kalamaja area of Tallinn.

Mari, tell us about your Estonian roots and your journey to do comedy in Germany.

I’m sure that just like all parents out there in the world, mine also desperately wanted me to choose my future profession based on the least profitable industry possible. And so, look at me now – making mommy and daddy proud each and every day by performing feminist comedy to the six English speaking comedy fans in Germany!

Actually, my road to comedy, like all the other best things in my life – including the start of my actual life, was an accident. And yes, I’m an avid oversharer. Future audience members – you have been warned! Also, please, do come to our shows. We’d love that very, very much. But, I digress.

I had just moved to Cologne, Germany, after a couple of really weird years living between Tallinn, Cologne and London, and something in my dark and mysterious Estonian soul told me that unless I sign up to a local English-speaking open mic, I’d never feel happy ever again. And so, I made a deal with the devil, went to a seven-road crossing, sacrificed my three drops of blood and signed up. Three years on and against all better judgment I’m still at it.

Regarding my Estonian “roots” – just look at my bloody “Truth and Justice” (Krõõt was one of the characters in Anton Hansen Tammsaare’s epic, “Truth and Justice” – editor) inspired name! I’m as Estonian as can be. I’ve even made Germans celebrate midsummer. That’s how Esto this chick rolls.

Mari Krõõt Volar. Private collection.

Erin, what’s your connection to Estonia and to comedy?

I actually started doing comedy when I was living in Estonia in 2016. I went to an open mic and thought, I can do that. One of my first jokes was about how Estonians told me it was healthy to let your kids sleep outside, but I guess mine didn’t get it, because he didn’t make it until midnight before he was beating on the door, asking to be let back inside. I’ve been living in Germany now for the past two years, running a comedy show on the military base and doing gigs all over – that’s how Mari and I met! I’m very excited to come back to Tallinn with the Clit Comedy Club for this run of shows.

What makes Heldeke the perfect place for your show?

Mari: The Clit Comedy Club is an openly fierce and feminist comedy collective. We love all things weird and meaningful and Heldeke is definitely both of those things. I first performed there last summer and ever since have wanted to put on a proper Clit Comedy show there. Heldeke is a building with a long and sordid and pretty fantastic history as far as comedic poeticism is concerned. It used to be a brothel. A full-on, post-Soviet Estonian brothel. And so going into a space that most definitely degraded and abused women and saying yeah, we’re going to take up space here and shout it from the rooftops – it feels like a sort of a full circle thing, in the light of what women’s rights are going through globally at present. Consider it our first riot act.

Erin: I also did a show at Heldeke in 2021 and was drawn to the space. It’s so cool! There’s a working sauna! I am excited to see how we can build the shows over more than one night.

Erin Crouch (left) and Mari Krõõt Volar (right) with a fellow comedian at an International Women’s Day comedy show. Private collection.

The group of comedians is very diverse. What has drawn them all to Estonia this year?

Mari: As much as I’d love to say how famous Estonia is for welcoming female performers and how open it is to foreign voices, I can’t. Because I would be at least borderline lying. These women are coming with us because we all have a common goal – to normalise seeing different people on stage and hearing more marginalised voices in the stand-up sphere. We’re all friends and have worked with each other before (there are few of us who are meeting for the first time, but we have all brushed shoulders in different comedy spaces all over Europe).

Our comedians are from India, the US, Ecuador, Finland and Estonia, and yes, it feels pretty diverse, but honestly – it’s just scratching the surface! And we will keep scratching!

Erin: The space for female comedians in Europe is much smaller than what we have in the US, so it’s not a surprise that we all keep bumping into each other. I’ve been a big advocate for Estonia ever since I lived there, and I’m always proselytising about why people need to visit – this seems like a natural extension. I had comedian Glenn Wool on my show in Germany recently. A lot of people know his dad is Estonian, and we chatted for hours about performing in Tallinn. I like to hope more and more comedians will make it part of their circuit.

Erin Crouch (fourth from left) and Mari Krõõt Volar (second right) at Festrogen, a women-centric standup comedy festival hosted in Luxembourg. Private collection.

Tell me more about feminist comedy and how it looks “Estonian style”.

Mari: I think that’s a question we can best answer somewhere around 22 August when we’ve had all the shows. And I think the people most suited to answering this are not those on stage, but in the audience. And don’t get me wrong – feminist comedy already exists and happens in Estonia. We’re just trying to import it even more and way louder. Loud is not really something often associated with Estonia, but – that’s what these shows are going to be. Really fucking loud.

Erin: I used to hear a lot of “I don’t think women are funny” when I started in Estonia, and I’m happy to see the scene is getting more and more diverse. I know about 400% more Estonian women comedians than I knew from when I lived there, and it’s made the scene so much funnier and richer. I’m just glad to be able to come back and see the evolution.

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