Clocking in at 6 foot something, Tomasz Biskup dominates by design alone. For a man of his stature, he has a quiet reserved energy about him – not shy, but almost. He speaks in short sentences, no small talk, no asking about the weather or the price of eggs. He helps set up the audio equipment, stands at the back of group photos and paces slowly at the back of the room before it’s his turn to go on stage. That’s when he turns it on.
A hush settles on the audience and we’re all enamored by his joke about a language meetup. Hanging on every word, Biskup takes us on a roller coaster that is his experience with expats in Krakow. He’s a professional: he knows how to form each sentence to draw us in and maximize the laughs. And the laughs are nonstop.
He’s the standout of the night, and of course he is – he’s been doing comedy for more than 10 years. Confidence and stage presence like that only comes after a decade of being in the spotlight. Biskup started in a Poland quite different from the one today – a Poland without a standup or improv scene. He’s been forging his own way for years and that, in addition to his own talent, has made him a master of the craft.
Biskup’s humble beginnings stem from his student days, when he put together a performing arts group in the style of Polish sketch comedy, kabaret. From there, he moved on to the group Kabaret PUK, with whom he still performs, before joining one of the first improv groups in Poland, Grupa AD HOC. His background in kabaret, improv and sketch comedy led him to standup, where he’s been for the past 4 years. He begrudgingly describes his standup style as intelligent and dark in the same moment (he’s too modest for his own good) but he highlights his experimental side. Where other comedians often choose one form – cabaret, improv, sketch or standup – Biskup continues to be involved in as many projects and types as possible. He has created and hosted two monthly open mic nights in Krakow, encouraging new talent. He’s also a staple in the English Standup scene in Krakow, and he’s the anchor of the upcoming Krakow Fringe Festival show “Local Boys”.
His youtube channel, consisting of standup clips, cabaret videos and his newest endeavour – a sketch where he plays Polish vlogger “Paweł” – has videos clocking more than 200,000 views. He also runs a blog about comedy which has tips and advice for up-and-coming Polish comedians videos as well as posts about his events and comedy in general.
The easiest thing about standup for Biskup? The travelling, surprisingly. “When you compare it to sketch comedy where you have bags of props, and also rehearsals where you have to gather people together – there’s no need for that in standup. I just need to be in a room for half an hour and that’s it,” he says. With classic influences like George Carlin, Terry Pratchett, Monty Python, Louis C.K. and Polish Kabaret Potem, Biskup also cites sketch comics Key and Peele and the youtube channel “Epic Rap Battles of History” (ERB) as his favourites. The hardest thing about standup for Biskup is the same as any comic might answer – trying out long sets of new jokes for the first time. “It’s crazy stressful, and there’s no easy thing about standup comedy,” Biskup admits.
Still it seems there’s nothing else Biskup would rather do. Attending workshops put on by sketch groups, starting from the ground up and building a career as a comedian isn’t for the faint of heart. Biskup’s love of all things comedy pushes him and those around him to be better.
Biskup is quick to compliment the experimenting done within the English-language standup scene. He highlights Krakow-based comedians Richard Lucas’ work with masks and visual comedy and Konrad Piwowarczyk’s on-stage characters as a main difference between standup in English and Polish. “Polish comedians try only to talk, mainly experimenting with words and not with props or characters and I feel the need to promote experimentation in comedy,” Biskup notes. Different forms of comedy are welcome at his ongoing open-mic, Otwarta Scena Komediowa, where magicians and slam poets are known to try their hand at comedy alongside more traditional acts. When asked who the comedians to watch in the New Year are, Biskup sings praise for Wroclaw-based American comic Jim Williams. “I hope Jim gets back to doing more standup in Polish because he’s really hilarious – he’s one of the best standup comedians in Poland,” says Biskup.
One of Biskup’s goals for 2017 is to do more standup in English and to get involved with some festivals outside of Poland. Catch him locally first at the Krakow Fringe Festival, which runs from June 15th-18th, 2017. Tickets are available online and at the door for Biskup’s show and full-festival passes are a steal at 100zl/person. Polish speakers are invited to see the “Best Of” Biskup on May 28th at Teatrze Szczęście.