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!