Garik Oganisyan: "How long can we stoop to a whole new low?"

Standup comedian Garik Oganisyan was born in Grozny, grew up in Saratov, and made a career as an independent standup comedian in Moscow. He was a resident of Standup Club № 1 on Arbat, worked for Urgant, participated in the YouTube project "Poraraz Birazza" (time to understand - tr. paronymy). Garik went to all the protest rallies and joked about political issues. Once he even paid an administrative fine for Lyubov Sobol. The artist commented that "the native of Grozny finances the opposition". Two months after the start of the war, he organised a stand-up project Ari StandUp in Armenia.

Tell us about yourself

— My name is Garik Oganesyan. I am a standup comedian. I live in Armenia since March.

Your first thoughts and feelings on February 24?

— I got up at about 8 a.m., went to the news, and didn't get off the phone until about 12 o'clock. Then we started texting comedians frantically. We have a comedian's group chat, and there was a kind of panic going on. Nobody knew what to do. And we agreed, so that everyone wouldn't be difficult by themselves, to meet at the standup club on Novy Arbat. And we did. There were a lot of us, about 40 comedians. And we were trying to make jokes about these topics, half of us were brain-dead, half of us were coming in and saying, -what's going on, what to do?

On "Evening Urgant," we joked about the war a week before the war, absolutely not thinking that it would start. I mean, if I had known there was such a big chance, I probably would have said: "Let's not make these jokes." But, we were all absolutely sure that we were going to make jokes, everyone was talking about the war, it was some new trend.

Why did you leave Russia?

— Everyone was in a state of "confusion. Plus it's a difficult decision to leave the country anyway. You have to come to that. And for the first weeks I sincerely thought, perhaps in a state of affect, I thought that maybe if we all had gone to the streets, it would have somehow affected the situation, it would have been over quickly.

There was a vivid moment when I was walking with the band Pornofilmi. We were in the centre of Moscow, and no one was there. It was a Sunday. It was Boris Nemtsov's memorial day. Here was me and the guitarist and the lead singer of Pornofilmi, and we were walking and there were street musicians standing there. And the lead singer of Pornofilmi picks up his guitar and starts playing his songs. It was right on the Kuznetsky Bridge, in the centre of Moscow. I think how symbolic and cool it would have been to have people come out around it. And then there's the main punk protest band. The lead singer comes out and plays. But no one was there. And what's also funny is that there were animators there in animal costumes who recognised him. So there was me, the guitarist, the street musician, the zebra and the tiger. That's the kind of protest we had on a day when the whole square was supposed to be standing. I came home and thought, well, apparently I'm like a grain of sand in the sea, I'm not going to change anything. And I guess I need to take care of myself, my creative plans, and the opportunity to speak out.

Has your attitude toward the war changed over time?

— It must have been an absolute shock in March. But I always catch myself thinking, when I monitor the news, that I never tire of being surprised by the news. It's like it's time to get used to it, but when Putin suggests making a truce for Christmas for a few hours, something still breaks inside me. I'm like, yes, how, how much more can we stoop to a whole new low, how much more can we?
And the attitude, I do not know, in waves, depends on my internal state. You can define some waves. For example, after the September news about mobilisation, all of a sudden the direct mail around me revived and all my friends remembered that I was in Armenia. They started writing, "Maybe we can come? We are all in a panic." We tried to help as much as we could.
I communicate with my relatives who live in Ukraine. I can't abstract wherever I am. I have been to many countries this year, and I always monitor the news anyway, follow the situation. That is, I can't give myself a news detox.

What is your relationship with your relatives from Ukraine?

— We write each other, they support me. It's strange, of course. They supported me in my decision to leave. They write that they are proud of me. I write them not to worry. It is a very complicated correspondence. I do not know what to write, what to wish, for example, for the New Year. All the words, such as peace, health, which used to be trivial, now took on meaning. And you're like, man, I've had this written to me so many times before, and now it's so important, that maybe I don't need to write it all. They already know. It's impossible to convey these emotions that I felt towards them, but I think they feel and see.

I try to filter my words lately, especially about some of my experiences, because I realise that there are people who are feeling much worse. And then I think, don't devalue yourself. And then I think again that no, after all, people are living in hell there. And I'm more or less alive and well, thank God, I can perform.

How do you make jokes during a war?

— It's important for me to make jokes about the agenda. To convey my thoughts and my position on the agenda. Because I think that's one of the few things I can do right now. One of the few things I can do is talk to my audience about it somehow through jokes, through identifying problems and topics. If I'm as serious as possible all the time for me, probably as a comedian, it's not right.

That's what I like about stand-up comedy independent is that you're just broadcasting your mood. Even if you're angry about something, you can translate it very coolly into bitter humor, into black humor. It's cool. I mean, it's not a wedding host situation where you always have to be "Good evening!" even if you're hurting in your soul. No, that's what I like about being able to go out and share my vibe. Then September happened. We started coming out here. We had endless standups. Because people apparently didn't know where to go in Yerevan, but they knew that we had "Ari Stand Up Club". And they came, and there was a much louder reaction than in other places. That, apparently, was the peak. And when you said something against Putin, there were almost these (frightened) sighs in the audience. And we were like, "Oh, come on, calm down, you've already left, everything's fine. Then people started getting used to it. Because people have, it's all said, logical stages, and it's getting too much jokes like that.

Is it possible to have an independent standup without political themes?

— Independent standup is probably about how a person feels. It's very personal. That is, how people with self-censorship perceive everything around them. A lot of independent comedians have a problem right now — immigration, losing their jobs, and I think it's logical for them to talk about that. I don't know, in general, about independent comedy, how much should it be politicised? But the fact that current processes affect every comedian and every person in general, and I think that should be reflected in the work of independent comedians. That said, again, there are comedians who make jokes in the "space" genre, for example, that's abstract humour. And they've never had jokes about politics. Why would they make jokes about politics now, when it's just not their thing? They just go away and keep making abstract jokes.

You're Armenian, why didn't you have a career in ComedyClub?

— Oh, my God, how stereotypical.

How did this happen?

— I don't even know. You're Armenian — go to the Armenians. Throw some  dolma at me as well. Well, first of all, because the heyday of "Comedy" was before I started doing humor, and then I did not move towards "Comedy". And what's going on at Comedy now is, I absolutely see it, some narrative tasks that Tina Kandelaki probably hangs on the guys. It's in every single number, even the innocuous ones. I came across an issue where Demis Karibidis and Timur Batrutdinov are doing a miniature depiction of a realtor in Yerevan renting an apartment to a visiting IT guy for, like, a billion dollars. Then it turns out that it's not Yerevan at all, but Abkhazia. The point is, it can be done in a funny and witty way, as far as I'm concerned, and there may have even been some funny jokes there. But the IT guy, in the role played by Timur Batrutdinov, is shown to be incredibly stupid. You can feel this stereotype being imposed on him, that he's gone, and he's like, "Here I am, you know, the carsharing caterer, I'm all that." And the realtors say to him, "So you've never worked in a profession?" I'm thinking, "Oh, well, the whole country's watching, there's these millions of hits." Oh, yeah, they show us these dumbasses who left, these young people. I understand how much it works for the common people, how much they can be bought by it. Look at the show on which, for example, Shaman comes on, I really recommend, the cartoonish "How to Brainwash People". Shaman comes on, the first thing Malakhov says, he asks: "Here, please tell me, just unprecedented success has come upon you, how's that?" And he's like, "God willing." And everyone in the audience was like, "Ohhhh!" And I was like, "Man, it's so obvious!" In the eyes of an audience that's sitting somewhere in the provinces right now, in Penza, in Samara, I don't want to offend anybody, but Shaman is such a good boy, a believer, well done, polite, polite with adults, let's love him. Although, I don't think Shaman really cares about what's going on. It seems to me that CTC is now a channel with a position to promote this line through entertainment shows: Buzova's song with Azamat, when "You took and traded Buzova for Georgia!"

When and how will the war end?

— I'm watching a lot of interviews on this topic right now, and I don't think anyone has said the exact date in any of them. The exact dates now cause a comical effect, because all the time I'm doom-scrolling, I see the news like Putin has 3 seconds to live, Putin has 5 minutes to live, Putin is already dead. I don't think you can talk about predictions, because no one knows that, no one knows at all. And as for how it will end, it seems to me, in any case, it will end with the dawn of Ukraine and a very difficult time for Russia. This is something that can be predicted plus or minus. It will be very hard to change anything in Russia, no matter who comes to power. Even if Putinism falls completely, it's a very long process based on the huge number of Z-patriots who now live in our country, it's a very difficult future.
In Ukraine, I think everything will be fine. I think on a wave of enthusiasm and sound patriotism, fair patriotism, there will take off in all spheres.

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