201. Nikolay Kulikov: A Russian Comedian in London

Nikolay Kulikov is an award-winning Russian screenwriter and stand-up comedian. This year he spent a couple of months living in London (and also briefly in Dublin) performing stand-up comedy. I saw one of his performances in English on video and thought he was very funny! So, I decided to contact him for an interview to find out more about him, his experiences learning English, his views on performing to British & Irish people, and how he feels about life in Russia these days. I hope you enjoy the episode! **Please be aware that this episode features some rude language and swearing** Right-click here to download.

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Here is an email I sent to Nikolay, inviting him to be on the podcast, and his reply:

Dear Nikolay,

My name is Luke Thompson and I am an English teacher and stand-up comedian. I do a podcast called Luke’s English Podcast. It has listeners all around the world, and many of them are from Russia. Recently one of my Russian listeners sent me a message with a video of you performing stand-up in Ireland. I thought it was really funny. You’ve got great jokes and a lot of talent.

I was wondering if I could interview you by Skype some time and feature the interview on the podcast. Essentially, I’m interested in your story. How did you learn English? What made you start doing stand-up? Where have you performed around the world? How is your comedy received in Russia, particularly some of the slightly controversial things you say about the place?

I think you’d be a great guest and my listeners would enjoy hearing from you. You will also be heard by thousands of people around the world so it would work as publicity for you too. Let me know if you’re interested in being interviewed over Skype some time, perhaps next week.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

All the best,

Luke Thompson

Nikolay’s Reply:

Hi Luke!
It was a pleasure to receive such a wonderful letter.
Yes, let’s do this! I’ve got a lot to talk about and it can be real fun.
Next week is excellent.

ninja_tune_largeThanks to Anna Khazan and Natalia Dalik for bringing Nikolay to my attention and helping me to contact him. You’re my LEP Ninjas!

Nikolay’s Stand-Up in English in Ireland

Find Nikolay on Twitter, YouTube and VK Nikolay Kulikov

The Spoon Thing from The Matrix – “There Is No Spoon”
You might have heard Nikolay and me talking about a spoon in this episode, and wondered what we were talking about. You might have thought, “There is no spoon” – what do they mean? If you found that to be a little bit mysterious, let me explain it to you!

It’s from a scene in the movie The Matrix (1999).

I don’t know if you’ve seen the film, but the basic premise is that the human race has been enslaved by machines. The machines have connected everyone to a computer programme which replicates the real world. It’s an incredibly convincing simulation of real life. It’s so convincing that most people don’t realise that it’s just a dream, and that in reality they are slaves to machines. Some people have “woken up” and realised that the reality in which they are living is just a dream. Those people form a rebellion in order to fight against the machines. They are able to move in and out of the matrix whenever they want. One of the key members of the rebellion is a guy called Neo (Keanu Reeves). Some of the others believe he is the chosen one who will allow the humans to defeat the machines, but in order to do so he first has to learn to understand the nature of the matrix (in fact just a computer programme) and then to control it from within. In the first film we follow Neo as he learns about the matrix and begins to understand how to control it. One of the concepts at the heart of this film is that reality is just what we perceive – that there is no ‘reality’ there is just the way we perceive the world through our senses, and if you learn to control your senses, you can then control reality. The things we see are just our imagination. We’re living in a dream, and it may be possible for us to become lucid within the dream, and therefore control everything that happens all around us. It’s deep, man. There’s also some wicked kung fu.

So, the spoon thing.
There is a key scene in the film in which Neo learns about how to control the matrix. He encounters a boy who has learned to bend spoons using only the power of his mind. The boy holds up a spoon, and it bends. Neo is amazed and asks the boy how he does it. The boy says “You have to realise that there is no spoon. There is only you.” What he means is – you have to realise that the world you see is just created by your senses (which are being controlled by the matrix programme), so in order to bend the spoon you have to remember that the spoon does not exist, and that it is just the product of your senses. If you can control yourself, then you can control the world around you. Neo picks up the spoon and for a moment he manages to make it bend. This is an important moment for Neo, and after this he learns how to control the matrix, and then fight back against the machines which are enslaving the human race. You can see the scene below (YouTube video).

Some people think the film is a profound meditation about the nature of reality. Other people just think it’s an awesome kung-fu movie. For me, it’s a bit of both – philosophy and kung-fu. It’s a good combination!

  • Deniz

    Luke’s English Podcast! Only podcast that gives you chance to meet the dark side of Fyodor Dostoyevsky! I laughed really hard, but I should say that this episode was mediocre at the beginning however towards the end it turned out to be brilliant.

    By the way, I know what Nikolay is trying to say about smiling culture in Moscow, I can confirm it’s kind of same in Istanbul. You “shouldn’t” look happy -at least smiling- in some parts of the city to spread that wave “I’m not new here buddy, buzz off!”.

    Last but not least, I felt same thing in some parts of Vienna too. Could it be some black magic created by Habsburg, Romanov and Ottoman families?

  • Dmitry

    One important thing was said – humour without actual news, politics, economics and
    its critical comprehension, making fun of something really influencing our
    life, humour, based only on household and weather is a shame for a comedian!
    It’s primitive, boring and useless! While in our Motherland it’s almost
    impossible to hear live sharp humour for the last several years.

    To those compatriots, who were hurt by Nickolay’s humour – guys, keep in mind that all the comedians have
    to exaggerate a bit. I also think that his Dublin pitch is not that genius… but
    it was OK. the audience he appealed to was laughing! Isn’t it the result?

    BTW, 2 years passed and there are obvious and pure political
    prisoners in Russia… SAD but TRUE.

  • Ivan

    I changed my mind about Nikolay after watching the video with him.

    Is it funny? Really?

    We have a lot people in Russia who hate Russian and Russians, we are strongly divided society. It’s okay to have another beliefs.

    I hope someone sold him the citizenship of another country, and I would like to listen then what kind of jokes he would be able to produce without offending Russians.

    Feel free to count me as biased one, drunk, stupid, wash-brained by devil propaganda, and bitten by Putin, just a person from Nikolay’s talk.

  • Ivan

    Nice one!
    I love the way how you joked together.

  • Catherine Bear

    Loved this episode. Piece of nostalgy: non-smiling dark people with kind hearts, young padawans bending spoons, Neo being chased by an evil Elrond.
    Nikolay speaks a pritty good English. I think people with artistic talent are good at pronunciation and intonation learning, because they can mimic people. Also he has a positive energy in his voice. I think he is a nice guy. :)

  • I disagree about swearing in tv shows.
    Today we have a lot of swearing it tv comedy shows.
    And it’s all happening when children do not sleep and watch.

    Our comedians can tell what they want, all the crap things, it’s just beeped while insulting phrase, but everybody now what exactly has been told.
    Sometimes it’s funny but mostly there’re abusive and insulting speaches.

  • Ivan

    Hello Luke, hello everyone.
    Unfortunately Nikolay’s prospective is very narrow treating whole Russia from typical Moscowit’s point of view. You would never assess UK just on your London experience, wouldn’t you? If there is so much diversity on such relatively small island as GB, than try to imagine diversity in this huge territory, covering 1/6 of planet’s land, occupied by dozens of different nationalities, following all possible confessions! Moscow, as any other overcrowded city is very stressful and depressive. Among Russians Moscow jokingly considered to be a “unrecognized republic” simply because it has nothing common to the rest of the country beside the language. I’ve been living in many different regions of Russia from Northern Siberia to Black Sea coast. They are all unique in terms of culture, same time being united by hospitality and kindness of their residents. So, Luke, you are always welcome to come and explore Russia in all her varieties, from sunny sandy beaches of South to eternal frosty deserts of North, from ancient Russian cities of West to wild forests of East. Just one advice – never start your journey from Moscow! Ever!
    Regarding swearing. While its normal to swear in close circle of friends, its very uncommon to swear in public places and in presence of children. Its considered to be very offensive and rude. Having a 3-year old daughter I really glad about this ban on TV and radio swearing.
    Last thing to mention. All these twenty years of Ukrainian independence Crimea was to Russia as Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland.
    By the way, my name stars with “E” sound like English, and not with
    “I” sound like Irish)))

    • Thanks Ivan for your perspective. I would love to explore Russia one day!

      • Ivan

        Yeah, perspective is the right word.
        By the way, Luke, we have few good stand-up stages here in Rostov-on-Don. It would be a great pleasure to see you performing here one day. Hearty welcome is expecting you!

    • Ivan

      And I should agree with that.

  • Elena

    Неllo Luke.
    I’ve been to London very often. To say the truth I have to live about half a year in UK and half a year in Russia. I don’t want to say anything about what sergey ildar and others said. I’d just like to say about my feelings. I hate to come back to Russia since last year. I think our people gone mad. I can’t watch the TV. I can;t read the paper in Russian. I’m so glad that I can read all over the world’s papers and i can see any TV all over the world. And then I can make my own opinion about the whole world and about everything that happens in Russia today. I’d like to thank you for my understanding in English. I’m 45. I saw the USSR. I remember everything. But I don;t remember such an awful despite between people like nowadays. I only may hope that everything will be finished well.

  • Sergei

    Dear Luke! Considering the number of your site’s visiters from Russia, I think that it is all fine about Indonesia, Vietnam and so on but I suggest that you should consider a trip to Russia to meet our country, hospitable people and their genuine (not formal) smiles. Dostoevskiy spirit, Putin’s regime, Kulikov in prison in a year etc., what on earth a rubbish he told you. But the most important thing is that the huge number of listeners around the world might think that all that crap is true! He was talking a lot of crap! And one more thing, I doubt that just only a lot of energy in wriggling,making faces, a loud idiot laughing without witty jokes whatsoever are enough for being a real stand-up comedian…but it’s my opinion. Sorry!