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Irish humor

A new project brings comics across borders.

Published: April 18, 2012 (Issue # 1704)



  • Irish comic Dylan Moran.
    Photo: IGOR MEERSON AND ANTON BORISOV

Dylan Moran, best known for his role as the Irish alcoholic Bernard Black in the U.K. series Black Books, became the first native English-speaking comedian to perform stand-up in Russia last week.

The 1980s and 90s saw the birth of the rocker in Russia and a subsequent frenzy for foreign music: Now, in 2012, the way is being paved for the same flurry of excitement this time for international stand-up comedy.

Morans performances on Thursday and Saturday evenings at Chaplin Hall were part of a joint experiment organized by Igor Meerson and Anton Borisov of the hit Russian TV show Comedy Club together with Mick Perrins U.K. agency Just for Laughs Live.

The general format of stand-up comedy in Russia is a 10-minute stint, with little or no prior experience, learning on the spot and frantically responding to the audiences jeering or applause. Stand-up has existed amongst the student community for a while now and is present at Open Mic nights held at Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art, but the program is still in its experimental phase. Accordingly, the organizers of Dylan Morans shows felt that there was much to be gained from a dialogue between Russian comics and their Western counterparts.

Its not just the Russians who benefit. The opportunity to perform in another country is also a cultivating experience for Western comedians, according to Nick Handford, a representative from Just for Laughs Live.

Russian stand-up is such a learning experience that it is immediately interesting for anybody coming here, and not only that: Hopefully this will open the door to bringing Russian comedians over to the U.K., to broaden our horizons even further, said Handford.

On the challenges of performing a routine that would be entertaining to a Russian audience, Moran said before his show Saturday: I may have built up in my head the differences between East and West and thought, I must find out what works here just because I dont know it; I dont know what people talk about and how they conduct themselves I didnt want to go on and be talking to myself; I wanted to be talking to people about the reality of their lives.

Everything was covered in Thursdays show, from the citys controversial new law banning homosexual propaganda to imprisoned oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Despite the rapturous applause that Moran received throughout the show, and even with the translation being delivered through earphones to the non-English-speaking portion of the audience, at times, the language barrier proved insurmountable. Having got tied up in explaining a hat box as a box of hats, he exclaimed, exasperated, I dont know why Im repeating myself thinking it will be any clearer!

Linguistic difficulties are one thing, and only to be expected, but cultural differences are not as easily reconciled. Moran commented during his show that it was especially difficult to know when the audience found something funny because unlike in the West where people generally just laugh out loud, people in Russia tend to clap as a sign of approval. Russian people obviously laugh through their hands. I wonder, do you also cry through your knees? he joked.

In the end, the cultural differences proved too much for the courageous comedian and he ended, visibly disappointed, telling his audience that they seemed to have become disconnected.

For all of us, [the project] is a big thing because apparently nobodys done it before, Moran said later. So, you know, we just wanted to see whether it would work. You cant have everything you want and it might not be the best gig, but thats not the point. The point is just: Can we make this work somehow? Were at that stage, you know, very early days in the lab.

The lab work is continuing, with more Western comedians soon to be confirmed as coming to grace the stages of St. Petersburg. It looks like international stand-up comedy is well and truly on its way to Russia.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Aug. 28


Learn more about the citys upcoming municipal elections during the presentation of the project Road Map for the Municipal Elections being presented this evening in the conference hall on the third floor of Biblioteka at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. Steve Kaddins, a coordinator for Beautiful St. Petersburg, which gives residents an online forum to lodge complaints about infrastructure problems in the city, will be on hand to answer any questions. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to all.



Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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