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Minnesota Has a Russian-Speaking Comedy Scene?! 

Yes! And it’s bringing big laughs (Громкий смех!) and support for Ukraine to the 10,000 Laughs Festival.

Provided|

Andrey Madan (left) and Lev Frayman (right)

This Saturday, comics from Minneapolis and Seattle will perform sets entirely in Russian at Comedy Corner Underground. Show producer Andrey Madan, a Russian expat who’s lived in America for nearly 25 years, has been performing Russian-language comedy in the Twin Cities for the better part of two decades. 

“There is a game in Russia called KVN. It’s kind of a combination of SNL-type skits and a competition where people try to answer questions very quickly and very funny—Ukrainian President Zelenskyy used to play it. It’s very popular in Russia, and so we formed two teams here in the Twin Cities that would play it,” Madan says of how he got started in comedy here. “We would travel to other places to compete and perform.” 

The team eventually disbanded, but Madan kept on the comedy scene, eventually landing on hosting a Russian-speaking open mic that has taken up residency at Comedy Corner Underground periodically over the past 15 years. 

“We call it КАМИН,” Madan explains. “In English it sounds like ‘come in,’ like you would come in and perform. In Russian, it means ‘fireplace.’ We started doing that around 2006 or 2007 as a way to help develop new talent and get new people on stage.” 

As host, emcee, and performer, Madan says his show sells out instantly almost every time. When the war between Russia and Ukraine began back in 2014, Madan decided it was time to pause things, as he was worried that hosting a Russian-language show during the conflict would be in bad taste. 

“The Russian language became contentious,” he says. “A show in Russian wasn’t a good idea. The Ukrainians I spoke with stopped speaking Russian and started speaking Ukrainian.”

During his break from comedy, Madan became executive program director of the Protez Foundation, a nonprofit based in Minnesota that provides prosthetics and essential support to Ukrainians who have lost limbs during the Russian-Ukrainian war. “Even though I don’t speak Ukrainian, I am truly pro-Ukraine,” he says. 

Still unsure of how it would be received, he decided to return to comedy in July of this year with a charity show in support of Odesa and his foundation. 

“Andrey reached out to me about a year ago and the first thing he said was, ‘Hey, just FYI, I’m a Russian who is not in favor of what’s happening in Ukraine.’ Which was good, because that would have been a big non-starter,” CCU general manager Bob Edwards says with a laugh. “But I’d had the chance to see the amazing work Andrey was doing with the foundation and was like, ‘Shit man, you’re already doing comedy. Let’s try and do something really good.’” 

Little did they know at the time that a large contingent of Ukrainian soldiers would attend the show. 

“They were OK with us speaking Russian,” Madan says. “Everything was great. Bob met a lot of the soldiers that day and he was energized about helping us and the foundation, and now here we are.” 

That brings us back to Saturday's sold-out show as part of the 10,000 Laughs Comedy Festival, "представляет: Красавицы и Чудовища." Madan will take the CCU stage once again, along with co-producer Lev Frayman and headliner Ksenia Elkun, who’s traveling from Seattle. All proceeds from the show will benefit the Protez Foundation, which is the official nonprofit partner of this year’s fest. 

Edwards says the decision to include Madan’s show in this year’s 10KL festivities was a no-brainer. 

“Comedy is so hard to translate linearly,” he says. “As a comedy producer, even if you don’t speak the language you want to be able to feel the energy from the audience, and like, they’re hanging on every word. You get that from this audience. The name ‘Bob Edwards’ might be a dead giveaway that I don’t speak Russian. But if you’ve been around comedy long enough, you can tell they’re doing it right, even if you don’t speak the language.” 

While this weekend will be a major milestone in Madan’s mission to continue to showcase Russian-language comedy in Minnesota, his plans extend far into the future. 

“The war brought a lot of Ukrainians here,” he says. “Thousands and thousands of Ukrainian refugees are here, and a lot of them are from the eastern part of Ukraine where they speak Russian. My goal is to hopefully get more people onstage. We do our open mic at CCU four times a year. The next one is November 30. Hopefully, we can find a few other people who are really good and make a show that we can take to other cities and perform. That’s kind of a longer-term thing for me.” 

For now, Madan is just happy to bring comedy and support to Russians and Ukrainians who need it most. 

“I love it. I love standup comedy and I love helping develop new talent,” he says. “And I want to continue channeling my financial energy into something I find interesting.”

10,000 Laughs Russian Comedy Show
Where:
Comedy Corner Underground
When:
4:30 p.m. Saturday, October 14
Tickets:
This event is sold out

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