I was greeted at the airport by Igor and we drove across town in his friends Hummer. It was only a H3 but still a fitting introduction to Russia. We drove about an hour across St Petersburg to get to the venue and I realised how big this city is. You can fit 6 of Estonia into just this city. Then I realised how Estonian I am for comparing everything to the size of Estonia.
Igor informed me that tonight was a test night, they havn’t done shows at this restaurant before but they have guys who have come from all over the Soviet Union (I love it when they use that term) for their TV filming on Thursday and we can have a trial tonight. The other comics are cool but don’t speak much English. In fact no one speaks much English but its ok, everyone is warm and nice to me.
Igor and I start to talk about my jokes and it soon becomes apparent I will have to rework my stuff. He is laughing at a few of them but sometimes we need to change how I say the words. Igor is a switched on comedian and can come out with jokes fairly easily. Give him a topic and he has found an angle in it. We decide that I should be writing about Russia, my time here (even though it has been 3 hours at this point) and we find a way to refocus my estonian jokes to say “ah yes in Estonia we are very much like Russia” in an attempt to bond with the audience. I tell him about some of my experiences in Estonia and he tells me what Russian people might find funny. An example of two jokes
1) In Estonian pelmeeni (dumplings) are very common, I cook them all the time, so you can tell I dont have a wife
Schtick? Oh yes. A little sexist? sure. but it seemed funny at the table.
2) For the first year of living in Tallinn I lived in a Kruchovki apartment. The walls were so thin I became friends with my neighbors.. and my neighbors neighbours… and my neighbors neighbors neighbors…. I could also talk to the guy in the apartment above me…. he would just lean down through the hole in the floor.
They didn’t go for the first one but they did like the second one. The second one had more meat to it (no dumping pun intended here) and a small act out. This also correlates to what I saw of the Russian comedians, mostly big men being loud. Made me happy we have Keiu and Janika in Estonia. However gender roles seem different here. I am yet to find out how many female comedians they have.
OK but joke #2 had a second part, a joke Ive been doing for ages where I say “I think Kruschovki apartments should have been named after another Soviet leader… Gorbachev…because they both have dirt on the roof”. They didn’t get this AT ALL. Deathly silence. The original joke says “because they booth have a stain in the ceiling”, I was advised “stain” and “ceiling” were difficult words. Was it the change in wording? Or do history jokes just not work here?
I also said “I know 4 words in Russian, Dah, Net, Specbia and Sooka (yes, no, thank you and bitch/whore). So the last word gets a cheap laugh. I then continued “I think I could live for a month in St Petersburg just knowing those words (I think the idea of that joke is solid but I didnt deliver it right)… OH and if I learn one more word “comrade” I could become president”.
That last tag was probably not funny and far too subtle for any audience or FSB member present to get.
I had a few chances to improv and they worked well. The crowd were nice and didn’t mind to yell things. My opening joke was about being told this (far out) suburb was the center of St Petersburg and a guy yells “this isnt the center” and then I went on at him for explaining the joke and it was fun, so they did understand me. Then I tell a joke about girls wanting a visa and a guy yelled “but russian women want to stay in Russia”, however he was middle aged, fat, balding and had a blonde drunk bimbo in a short pink dress sitting on his lap “sir, go back to putting your face in her breasts” got a good laugh from the crowd.
I would say the crowd liked easy jokes about Russia and dick jokes. My ended was all dick jokes and that got them back a bit. Also this crowd is very new to stand up, this isn’t their main venue and we are quite far from the center, so it maybe cant be my only barometer. Today I will go and experience St Petersburg and tonight write some new jokes about this town to perform tomorrow.
Igor and Anton are the stars of the show and they improv great. Ive watched a lot of comedy in other languages and you can learn so much even when you don’t understand the jokes. They do a double act and clearly have their shit down, Anton gets on the stage and talks and talks and Igor then drops in with a perfectly timed comment which kills the crowd. I really want to have these guys out to Tallinn and Riga. Ive decided I need to be a comedy promoter who does shows in 3 languages.
I had some warm reactions after the show, people coming up and thanking me using the few words of English they know, which is sweet. We drove back downtown to the apartment I’m staying in and we stopped at a supermarket to get some breakfast. I went and got some bread and cheese and noticed that all the packets were individually tagged so you cant walk out of the shop with them. For a 1 euro packet of cheese. Ok rough neighborhood. I got excited when I saw one of the packets though.
“Hey Igor, look they have Eesti Juust here!”
Igor gave me a confused look of “what the fuck are you talking about?” and I realized, of course he doesn’t understand it says “Estonian cheese” and Russia has no such language law that everything has to be in Russian too. I guess when your language is as big and dominant as Russian you can afford to have people confused about their diary products.