Viv Groskop, an English comedian, actor and journalist who grew up in Somerset and plans to later this year appear in Russian concert halls in St. Petersburg and Moscow. “For the last five years I started doing stand-ups for Russian audiences in London,” she says. “I’ve performed at a French university with a theatre group, spoken at official events, and in the 1990s toured the former Soviet Union, which led to me being wooed by state television in Georgia. Out of curiosity and a belief in discovering my roots, I began to speak at Russian universities, to say the least.
Speaking Russian and translating Russian comedy material is a difficult task. In general, I don’t think that translating jokes works very well. You say in Russian that you have three children. With three children there is a lot to laugh about. The fact that it is taboo to hate your own children in Russian is laughable.
The timing needs to be adapted to the other language, and you need to adapt it to your own language level and language. You also have to translate the mood of the joke. This will turn the joke into another language.
It’s like telling a three-year-old a joke that thinks you’re cute, but the joke doesn’t make sense. It is understandable that some jokes get lost in translation, but Viv points out that there is no Russian audience for you. In a comedy audience, you try to read aloud to everyone in the room. With jokes, you stand in front of a Russian-speaking audience who have decided to live in Britain for the rest of their lives.
They will understand British references to middle-class politeness and awkwardness, while Russians who do not live here will no longer care to laugh at how painful it is to learn their hellish language. Foreigners from any country can follow our topics in any part of the world and they are a great help to comedians in general because the Russian sense of humor is so different from ours.
When I recorded the BBC Radio 4 series It’s Just A Joke when I recorded my mates and I interviewed many Russians about what they thought was funny. Many of the jokes were politically incorrect, but what I broadcast were jokes that people in Britain would have made fifty or sixty years ago. Not everyone finds these jokes funny, but I find it funny that speakers like taboo jokes.
They were very relaxed and relaxed about it. After five years of performing comedy in Russian, she enjoyed some great performances, such as her performance as a Russian stand-up dancer with Igor Meerson earlier this year in front of a Russian audience at the East European Comedy Festival in Covent Garden. Stand-up comedy is what it is, she says, but she’s had a few less good nights.
The trustees of Pushkin House, a Russian cultural centre in London, regularly host comedy events. I learned the hard way that no one wants to joke about the KGB or the Russians when they live in London – everyone prefers to applaud the punchlines and laugh.
She was abused by someone she didn’t understand. Much of my material is bloody difficult to convey because it is difficult to understand Russian, and her heckling was helpful in that regard. She thought she was Russian, but I wasn’t. Her discovery of her ancestry changed her approach to language.
I have a Jewish name that means fathead. I bought a book of Yiddish jokes. There’s a stand-up comedian who’s honed his craft, and I’m like him.
Chris grew up in a town called White Rock on the west coast of Canada, which is a particularly good place to grow up as his first language was English but his parents enrolled him into a French immersion program from kindergarten and his courses in science, history and gymnastics were all in French until he was five years old. After graduation, he moved to France for a while. He worked as a landscaper, janitor in a hostel and a few other odd jobs while he was a bum.
That pretty much solidified it in my head. After learning French at school for so many years, I am drawn back when I explain that I haven’t had a chance to speak it for a while, but I remember what we talked about at school. You might think that I would find it easier to translate the material into English if I spoke French fluently so early on, but that does not seem to be the case, and word economy has become my best friend. It is as if, a few hundred years ago, the Canadian French had split off from the French, and I use the word ‘French’ when someone says’ revolution ‘.
It forces me to work on jokes as much as possible. It also helps me to see how much fat the English version ultimately improves. Imagine doing this in English and standing on the drop.
It’s a bit like trying to figure out the French term for desire. It sounds as if a lot can be lost in translation, especially when using words that have not been spoken for hundreds of years. Desire is a very literal term in the USA It is “to wish for the better” and one must express a wish.
I couldn’t believe I couldn’t remember. So I tried to translate it, and the crowd stared at me. They’re so nice, they’re bilingual, so I broke down a little bit and asked them to tell me and they did the same. I have a recording of it now.
Since Canada is a multilingual country, the ability to speak both English and French helped to promote Chris and he was able to get gigs when he started on the stand-up scene. In the English scene there are two comedy clubs, one that burns uninsured money and one that is much more supportive, as well as small theatres and plenty of well-attended bar shows. This makes it a great starting point, but with such a small and supportive scene it can be difficult to try to become professional, especially as many comics leave after a few years.
The French scene is the opposite. The shows seem to be full every night, and the comics seem to build their own fan base. I wish I had done French comedy when I was hesitant, drinking and smoking was an easy way to pass the time. French comedy seems a lot more silly and surreal given the heights of the imagination, while the English side tends to be right in the middle. The style is also very different from what I do.
I only made my first appearance in France when I moved to London. It is a little surprising to hear someone say that they have never performed in French during their stay in Canada, but having tasted the joys of drinking and smoking for myself, I understand why. My first appearance in French was at No. There was a great French show in Islington.
I wish I’d been there for a better night, but I’ll be back.
Everyone laughed at my jokes, laughed at some of my attempts at translation. I wondered if French audiences would forgive him for encountering the dreaded comedy of death. It was crazy to put it in writing, it meant something terrible was going to happen next time, but I had a good time.
In my limited experience, French audiences are not as combative as many English-speaking ones. They root for actions whose first language is not French, and even when I screw things up, they support them. I never felt that there was anything that made me laugh out loud, but the mood in the crowd is more that we all come together to have a good time and let ourselves be.
When I speak English, the first thing I learn is that everyone swears and confuses their feelings. When I heckle him, he doesn’t understand me. Never a second language or too much alcohol.
It sounds to me as if gigs in different countries and with different cultures are always exciting, but as an interpreter it stands out for him. He loved it at a chaotic late night show at the Zulu Comedy Festival in Copenhagen, where they grabbed as many comedians as possible from the bar of Danish comics, and he put us on stage and the MC started pulling the premise of the fish bowl, where you think of a joke and go to the microphone and tell it and get ridiculed for a week. He loves it, and since the show was in Danish, one of the acts had to translate for him, so he had to guess.