Nino Bantic was brought up on a diet of English humour, a mixture of Monty Python and Only Fools and Horses, a start to life that has obviously left him with a soft spot for English comedy. Born and raised in Zagreb Nino started his career for the cult radio station “Radio 101” as a comedian and has since moved to London where he has continued working in the media. In his spare time Nino started London Calling Comedy Club which started bringing over English stand-up comedians to Croatia in 2010 and this year are part of the organisation for the Eddie Izzard tour in the region. I caught up with Nino to chew the cud and discover what it is about wacky English comedy that tickles his funny bone.
Explain the idea behind London Calling Comedy Club. How difficult was it to get the comedy ball rolling and what have been the reactions?
The idea was to bring the atmosphere and experience of a classic London comedy club to Croatian audiences. In my view, there was an obvious lack of good urban entertainment in Croatia. London is a big city and is undoubtedly the world centre of the comedy club scene. Life in big cities can be quite hectic and the comedy clubs play an important role of maintaining the mental hygiene of the people who live there.
Even though Croatian citizens live in much smaller and less stressful cities, it doesn’t mean they aren’t exposed to the pressures of everyday life: money, work and the future. For a little while, at least, they can forget about all of that and enjoy some good quality urban comedy.
Upon my arrival in London, I discovered comedy clubs and they were my version of a gym. I simply wanted to bring this experience to my friends as an experiment. We started in 2010 with humble beginnings in the legendary BP Club in Zagreb. It was a jazz club whose owner was a famous jazz musician Bosko Petrovic. He was open to the idea of bringing this new type of urban entertainment into his club. Unfortunately, Bosko passed away in the first few days of 2011 which meant that he never got to witness our rapid expansion of our project. The first number of shows saw an average audience of about 80-120 people. The word spread around the city and quite soon we ended up doing three nights in his club. We were always full. We were encouraged by the positive response so we decided to visit other towns. Within a few months, we established followers in Osijek, Varazdin, Cakovec, Rijeka, Sisak and of course, Zagreb. Now, London Calling Comedy Club brings comedy acts on a regular basis (every month) to Croatia. Each month, around 800-1,500 people see our shows. We bring 4 comics each monthly tour, which means that over 40 comics have entertained Croatians in more than 70 shows over the course of the last 2 and a half years. We hope this year to extend our reach to Dubrovnik, Zadar and Split.
How did you personally get involved with the London Calling Comedy Club? And what is it about English humour that “hooked”?
Before I joined the world of international journalism, I was a radio comedian, founding member of cult radio comedy show called ‘Zlocesta Djeca,’ on Radio 101. So, the London Calling project was a sort of reconnection with my youth. I’ve been living in the UK for 17 years but I feel the most creative years of my life were spent enjoying working on Radio 101 in Zagreb. I wanted to, with London Calling, connect my two cities. We all grew up by watching excellent English sitcoms on TV. It’s important to note that these sitcoms left such an impact because they were not dubbed but subtitled. This helped, as still does today, people to understand English better. For example, my generation fed on Monty Python in the same way new generations are feeding on comedy on YouTube. Croatians, and generally speaking people in former Yugoslavia, have a special spot for English comedy in their hearts.
Eddie Izzard is touring in Croatia and will play Dubrovnik. What have been the reactions from the Croatian market and how are ticket sales going?
It is important to note that his tour is not part of the London Calling programme, but London Calling is organising the tour for the region of former Yugoslavia, in cooperation with Mick Perrin Worldwide, Eddie’s tour managers. Shows in Belgrade and Ljubljana were sold out weeks before the event. Now we are a month away from the tour and the tickets for the Zagreb show are almost gone. Two thirds of tickets in Osijek have been sold and we have just started sales in Dubrovnik. Frankly speaking, we are expecting a full house in each city. The reaction, judging by tickets sales, is a very positive one. I hope people will enjoy watching Eddie.
What plans do you have for the future? Can we expect to see more top names in Croatia this year?
As I said earlier, we will continue the London Calling project in smaller, more intimate venues to recreate the particular sense of a comedy club atmosphere. There are more than 300 comedy clubs and venues in London alone with an amazing variety of comedians. Without a good club scene, the stars of today wouldn’t be where they are now. We want to help these comics to perform in front of a variety of audiences to help them polish their acts and gain international experience. Of course, we have big plans for the future, and we hope to keep bringing the big names of comedy to Croatia. It is difficult to arrange something like this. It takes months to coordinate with everyone, so we’re not promising another big star before the end of this year. But, stay tuned and keep laughing…we’re not going to disappoint you.