Now that’s a funny thing

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So there’s a Muscovite, an Italian and a Russian who’s studied in Australia sitting in a bar… Well, a café on this occasion, but you get the idea. An untraditional beginning to an old joke format, but certainly one that managed to get its fair share of laughs from a difficult audience. Moscow Comedy Bar is a year-old labour of love for Ivan, co-founder and compere of a comedy line-up intent on winning the hearts and splitting the sides of an inexperienced stand-up audience. There’s a regular crew of comics, joined by willing entertainers at their increasingly popular open mic nights. So, how is it possible to house a bunch of homeless comedians and attract a loyal fan base to their venues around Moscow? I went along to find out at their special gig at Lumiere Hall.

Moscow is not a hotbed of stand-up comedy. Pregnant pauses and uncomfortable silences bridged the gap between jokes and laughter, with polite comedians patiently running through a mixture of well-prepared and improvised routines while audience members tried to work out what their role was in the scenario. Bean bags were dotted around and provided comfortable vantage points for the primarily Russian audience. For an experienced comedy audience the surreal nature of the surroundings – including the bean bags and a lack of alcohol – were tranquil rather than uncomfortable. Temporary venues often have their own quirks but these performers were like old hands, putting themselves and the audience quickly at ease. Their more regular bar-based venue makes for a rowdier, slightly more alcoholic alternative experience.

Selection_036One of the most difficult aspects of stand-up comedy is being able to cater for your audience. When that audience is predominantly Russian and the level of English is mixed, there needs to be a way of gauging exactly how high to pitch the language. This performance was constructed as an ‘English lesson’ for the masses, with Ivan compering and warming up the crowd with titbits of linguistic fun interspersed with Gleb and Cristiano delivering full-scale routines. The approach worked well, the members of the audience increased their levels of response as the evening progressed and some people even chipped in with their own remarks. I suppose the polite nudge of ‘This is just like communism. We’re all in in together’ was just enough to spur on the crowd into supporting the performers.

So, what about the comedy itself? The highlight of Ivan’s set was most certainly dancing his way through English tenses. It’s not an easy language to learn, but robotic waiter impressions crossed with a strange adaptation of something akin to your auntie doing the Agadoo apparently makes it easier. Gleb’s Australian accent has allowed him to escape his mum, the typical ‘emotional terrorist’ who worries about him leaving the safety of Moscow for the underground dog-fighting scene in London. His travelling anecdotes play well in front of a mixed nationality audience This complemented Cristiano well, the Italian influence allowing a humorous look at life in Russia from an international perspective. I found myself chuckling away, identifying with the observations and wondering in agreement: In what other country would it be acceptable for on overweight grandmother to sit in the corner of the changing rooms at the swimming pool, make you choose a password to remember so you get your clothes back safely, then watch you get changed?

Is this a good addition to the Moscow nightlife? As a devotee of live comics in my pre-Moscow days, I have missed the chance to go and laugh along at other people’s observations. We’ve all worked in offices with the wannabe comedians or silently hankered after our fifteen minutes of fame. Now there’s a platform for these small ambitions to be achieved. The raw passion of the contributors and their smattering of talent ensure that these nights will continue, grow and succeed. With more international followers and additional contributions from the bar-room comedians, the journey is sure to be full of laughs.

Find out where upcoming comedy shows are going to be by checking out the schedule on www.moscowcomedybar.com or maybe check out and like the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MoscowComedyBar.