Abi Roberts – 'Stand-up is very new in Russia and audiences are certainly different'

Interview: Abi Roberts – 'Stand-up is very new in Russia and audiences are certainly different'

Welsh comedian tells us about her adventures performing stand-up in Russian in Russia

As Abi Roberts takes her Anglichanka (Russian for 'English woman') show on tour, the Welsh comic tells of her time doing stand-up in the Russian language to the Russian people and their very Russian reaction:

'When I first went to Russia as a kid in the 1980s, it was a huge culture shock. Flying Aeroflot is like EasyJet but without the luxury. As we took off, the seats slid backwards. Someone hadn't screwed them in. When we came back, a Russian engineer "repaired the plane" by whacking the wing with a hammer. That was the former USSR for you.

'When I said I was going to Russia to perform stand-up in English and Russian, people said "hasn't someone done that?". Nobody had. Eddie Izzard said he might do it, but he ran 27 marathons instead (something I won't ever do). Stand-up is very new in Russia and audiences are certainly different. They just don't react in the same way as UK audiences do: a typical Russian audience will shout 'OOO-rahh' and slap their thighs. Doing stand-up in two languages is also like, well, imagine patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.

'Everything has changed on the surface and yet the Russia I knew is still there: black bread "chorny xhleb", sweet tea in a glass with lemon slices and multiple toasts at meals. Lenin is still in Red Square but there's a Bentley dealership next to him. There are still shops for the elite and most Russians can't afford to shop in them.

'Back then, gay culture was underground but in Putin's Russia it's very dangerous if you're gay. As a westerner, you're being watched everywhere; but it's not microphones in lamps you have to worry about now, it's the monitoring of your laptop's contents.

'I'm dead chuffed to have been the first UK stand-up to perform in Russian and at least when I flew back, there wasn't an engineer banging the wing with a hammer. And I didn't have to run 27 marathons either.'

As told to Brian Donaldson

Abi Roberts: Anglichanka is on tour until Thu 19 Oct.

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