New Jokes about the Main Thing

11 Dec 2021–19 Feb 2022

Exploring the nature of contemporary urban humour.

New Jokes about the Main Thing is included in the project When Gondola Engines Were Taken into Bits — A Carnival in Four Acts, whose participants reflect on the relevance of the idea of carnival as a universal form of celebration today. During carnivals, laughter acquired a special, festive form it became “universal”, “targeted at everything and everyone, including the carnival participants themselves.” And it was laughter in public, which largely depended on the physical presence of people in a common space. They laughed together- just as audiences for stand-up routines do today as they sit or stand near the comedian, who also makes jokes about him or herself, about the audience, and everyone else.

New Jokes about the Main Thing focuses on the nature of humour, a constant companion of the carnival tradition, and presents contemporary Russian comedy to audiences. At three stand-up lectures, comedians will talk about their understanding of the nature of funny and what kind of humour has influenced them most. At the showcase concerts of the informal femstandup, Alternative Comedy and Improv associations, the comics will present different aspects of urban humour.

Stand-up comedy appeared in Russia on the wave of popularity of Western comedy genres. Initially it was just one of many “imported” comedy formats. But as it developed in Russia, it acquired therapeutic and liberating qualities. And it fit in with the local traditions of satirical performances, in which humour has always been one of the few ways to share experiences, to make public statements in the absence of a public arena, and to adapt to reality while at the same time viewing it critically.

We do not think that the audience will be greatly surprised by the existence of comedy at GES–2. In the last couple of years stand-up has already become a part of urban everyday life, and it can be seen in theatres, museums, and cultural centres. However, for us, this project has at least two institutional tasks. First, to engage and create a dialogue with people who are more interested in stand-up than, say, contemporary art. Second, to look at humour partly through the prism of contemporary culture, to see the effect of the juxtaposition of humour and art.

– Maria Kramar, Stepan Ovchinnikov, Evgeny Ukhmylin, project curators