26.01.2022

Semyon Altov: “To be smart, a clever ruler does not need to surround himself with fools”

On April 1, at the Palace of Arts of the Leningrad Region, an evening of humor by Semyon Altov “The world survived because it laughed” will take place. Our colleagues from “Fontanka” talked to the classic of the genre in advance and seriously, nevertheless having heard a couple of exclusive stories.

– Semyon Teodorovich, in “Home Concert” for our online project # bezantrakta you aptly said that the audience’s laughter, the reaction of the audience is an integral part of the performance of a humorist and satirist. After all, even in music it is not so – a musician can play by himself, for his own pleasure – and an artist who reads satirical stories to himself is already strange. How did you survive the pandemic?

– There are people – if we are talking, for example, about actors – who cannot live without a stage. And for many, leaving the stage is tantamount to leaving life. I live quite calmly without performances, I am phlegmatic by nature: if I have something to eat, I can do it without a stage, to be honest. Although I am writing something all the time, and, of course, I need confirmation that insanity and I have not yet merged.

I know that Mikhail Mikhailovich Zhvanetsky – and this is a person whom I have always worshiped and we had normal relations (and even once Mikhail Mikhailovich in Riga, when I was reading something, shouted: “Bravo!”), – wrote mostly in Odessa. And after he worked for a month or two, they boarded a barge with people close to him, quite famous in different areas, there was still, as I understand it, a wonderful table, and they sailed, and he read what he had written. This first reading was very important: even he could not always know exactly what kind of reaction the text would cause. He was guided by the reaction, something to rule and only then went out into the hall.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a barge. To my family, although they were all with a sense of humor – our wife, son, grandchildren, and dogs we had a sense of humor – I don’t read. They, as maximalists, began to rule from the first word. I asked: “Let me finish reading!” And this braking knocked down. I stopped reading them. I go out to the hall and there I check – shifting, of course, with proven things.

And we also had royal poodles, big – wonderful dogs, the best years we lived with them! – I read to one of them, black, his name was Bruce. He did not understand anything, but how he listened! His nostrils were moving, his eyes were bulging, his ears were moving back and forth! And I knew from his face that everything was fine. After reading, the poodle could safely go out in public.

– You even then aphoristically said: “Laughter is a sign that you are understood.” This is not only about the relationship between the humorist and the public, but also about life. What do you think, can a couple be happy in which the husband and wife have different sense of humor?

– It will be difficult for them. But if they love each other, they will patiently go to the common level.

By the way, word order is very important in humor. Once I was driving to “Strela”, a man came up in the vestibule and said: “I am your admirer, I tell your aphorisms in companies, I have great success.” Interested in: “What?” And I had this phrase: “If your wife left you and you don’t feel sadness, wait. The wife will return, and with her sorrow. ” And he recalls: “Well, of course! You have there, in my opinion, like this: “If your wife left you, and you did not notice, – well, to hell with her!” “And he whinnied at the whole train.

I can imagine what “success” he had with such a reproduction.

– Well, by the way, and vice versa. One and the same phrase can be pronounced in such a way that it will sound like a joke in one situation, but not in another. For example, Putin here joked: “Whoever calls his name is called that.” Was it funny? Or is this not a joke – how do you assess from a professional point of view?

– Our president has a good sense of humor. I do not know how the other heads of state are joking and whether they are joking, but he has this paint, and it adds points to him.

– Do you think he specially studied this? In general, can you learn a sense of humor?

– Just like with an ear for music: if it is not there, you can pick up a Stradivarius violin, but if there is no ear, nothing will work. But, on the other hand, if someone has no ear for music, he does not drop out of society. If a person does not have a sense of humor, he often suffers, he is touchy. I have noticed, though, that people with no sense of humor who take themselves seriously do well up the corporate ladder. Because they force those around them to take themselves just as seriously. Many officials and higher-ranking comrades have a bad sense of humor. But with everything else they are good.

– They have something good. But how does it affect us that at the top we have people without a sense of humor?

– Well, you see how we live.

Remember there was an anecdote. One of the greats came to a tailor to sew a suit, and he made it for a long time, almost a month and a half. Finally, the customer comes, puts on a suit, everything is fine. And he says: “Listen, how are you not ashamed! God created the world in seven days, and you have been sewing this unfortunate suit for more than a month! ” The tailor replies: “So look what a world he has!”

– By the way, have you noticed that jokes have disappeared from our life?

– Jokes have disappeared as a common form of reaction to what is happening. But the humor has become much more: at least I, like you, are probably constantly sent to my mobile phone. There are jokes, pictures, a lot of vulgar things, but there are graceful funny things. They sent me here: “The father says to his son, getting into the car:” Now I will take it back in the garage, you will tell me when there will be a wall. ” Gives back – an eerie rumble! The son says: “Dad, the wall was exactly at 4:45 pm!” Funny.

I have a feeling that people start their morning with such mailings. Because the brain is blocked by negative information, this is a protective reaction of the body, “pills” to look at the surrounding reality more calmly.

– I’m more about something else: before, people, getting together, constantly told each other just jokes. And now this is not happening. Why do you think?

– Partly, as I said, because the stream of things sent out has increased: I have six, eight, ten stories in a day. As well as others. Therefore, it is difficult to surprise with something – everyone knows the same thing. And there are so many of these jokes that even a young man hardly has enough memory to preserve all this.

– How do you think it happened that humor became a business? After all, the biggest stars now are stand-ups.

– I said somewhere: “Now some, jokingly, earn serious money.” This is true, because we were loners, and the Comedy Club guys are a factory, a serious business! There, as I understand it, there is a group of people who write texts and come up with dialogues, recapitulations, endings, and so on – and a group of actors. There is a lot of money! I know that many people of my age have a negative attitude towards all this: they say, it’s gone! As a professional, I will tell you, there are very funny texts, like played miniatures, Garik Bulldog Kharlamov is a comedian from God! “Uralskie dumplings” are closer to what the older generation is used to, but also great!

When the stand-ups started, I called my wife: “Look!” I liked it. But then, apparently, the money went. Probably, the money is not bad, they began to behave cheekily, a checkmate started, and an optional one. Someone told me that they, as professionals, take the phrase, for example, “Mom washed the frame” – it’s not funny. But if you add “your mother” at the end, then the same phrase will cause laughter from the audience. Therefore, often – squeals. After which – a large laughing audience. And today already without beeping. This is professionalism in a bad sense of the word: it must be funny at any cost.

– When we agreed on an interview, you asked me if I even know who you are. And in my house, by the way, even your book is – from the “Golden Series of Humor”, dating back to the 90s. But what do you think, will stand-ups arouse the interest of readers with their texts, if they are not given live, but printed?

“I’m not sure, not sure. We used to talk in companies using Zhvanetsky’s phrases, he, in addition to talentedly selected words, also had the author’s acting intonation, energy. Zhvanetsky was worried that the intonation was going away in the book. But those people who knew him, heard him, loved him read and hear his voice.

How was I remembered? I had stories. “Bribe” from the newspaper “Soviet Sport” – the whole country knew it! Zhvanetsky said that this is the best humorous story of the Soviet period. There is a story about tram 49th, aka 25th – running on two routes at the same time. About the statue of Hercules. Such things – plot – are remembered. And if it’s just a miniature, built on reprises, as it is mostly with stand-up artists, you will not remember it, although you can, by straining, remember what it was about.

I have parables, fables, they have plots. Just like in music. I understand this is a receding nature: my musical preferences are the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, because for me the melody is the plot. I am indifferent, politely speaking, to rap. Well, of course, there’s no music there, but this quick projection of words, when they want to say something to me in a hurry, but I don’t have time to hear it.

Just like there were battles recently: people come out to insult each other in the presence of a large crowd of people. If you want to insult me, let me hear where you sent me! If at the same moment I have to have time to send you, I am at a loss. Maybe juggling with words itself attracts people, like the TV show “Improvisation” is a good topic, although wild laughter causes what they immediately, without thinking, say. I’m still used to thinking first, and then talking. It turns out this is optional.

– There is humor, and there is satire. Previously, it felt like there was more satire. There were the same “Dolls” by Shenderovich, there was, of course, Zhvanetsky, “The Country Officer”. Is there a place for satire in the modern life of society, in the modern political world? Or has this door closed smoothly – perhaps just behind Mikhail Mikhailovich?

– Something is happening in society that I don’t really like. Permitted criticism is, and there is unresolved criticism. I have never touched on these topics, but on April 1, I will perform at the Gorky Palace of Culture – the Palace of Arts near the Narvskaya metro station, and somehow I thought about it. Here, they say, a dissenter – they say, this is bad. But, first of all, if you look at the very word “dissenting” – these are thinking people, right? What if there is something sensible in these thoughts? And often the dissidents were people whom the country was then proud of: Akhmatova, Zoshchenko, Babel, academician Korolev, thanks to whom the rockets flew and our cosmonaut was sent – he was in the camp! I’m not talking about Academician Vavilov, when they shouted: “Genetics is the corrupt girl of imperialism!”

I sometimes think about the Brezhnev times: how good it was, in all the newspapers – the same thing! Heavenly life! Yes, there was little money. But we didn’t know what to do, when there was a lot of money, no one came to that. They were happy about a little: I lived in a communal apartment until I was 15, although today not everyone knows what it is. There were 29 of us in the apartment, and our happiness was that we had no idea that there are separate apartments in the world. We lived normally, because everyone lived like that. When Zoshchenko, they say, was first translated in America, they wrote in the preface: what a genius writer, he came up with a surrealist move – a communal apartment! Different people live together! They decided that this was a fantastic device, a fiction of the author.

– Well, now there are still a lot of communal apartments, everyone still knows about them. At least St. Petersburg is reputed to be the communal capital of Russia.

– We lived on the corner of Borodinskaya and Zagorodnoye, these were former generals’ apartments. Then, years later, some kind of television brought me there, and I fondly recalled how and what went on there in those distant, not-bad years …

– And how did you get along with your neighbors? Did you laugh at them? Otherwise, they will not be allowed to create a museum, as is the case with the Brodsky Museum.

– Firstly, my mother was a quarterly representative, that is, the eldest. And we had a more or less peaceful apartment. And secondly, when we went there a few years ago, none of the former residents was left there, except for Zhenya – who was then a girl, but now it is already clear how old she is. So who can remember me there?

– Did you generally use your sense of humor as a weapon?

– There was a funny story – perhaps it can be told. I speak quickly enough, and often indistinctly, but a couple of times it helped me out.

When I was just starting, but I was already moderately well-known, I spoke at some evening, somewhere people were sitting at the tables – obviously, a corporate party, as it is now called. I spoke, music was playing. I can’t dance, so I got up and said: “Thank you, all the best, I went.” The woman sitting next to me decided that I was asking her to dance: she couldn’t make out the words while listening to the music. And he says: “With pleasure!” I realized I have to dance. After the dance, we sit down, I waited for silence and already distinctly say: “All the best, I’m leaving!” A neighbor says to me: “Can I invite you to speak?” I say, “For God’s sake.” She asks: “Can I record your phone number?” And these are Soviet times. I wonder: “What phone? I, like everyone else, have no phone at all. ” She says: “But you need him ?! Write down my phone number. ” I am writing down. I come home and tell my wife. She says: “So call!” I called – silence. I think: played. Then I got through – she says: “Come.” Gave the address. I come – the central telephone exchange, she is the chief engineer of the central telephone exchange. And three days later I had my personal phone at home. This is how, thanks to illegible speech, I received the gifts of fate.

– Have you watched the film “The Comedian”, did you like it?

– I didn’t like it. Either I somehow personally perceived: when you know how it was, and you know specific people, you cannot look detached.

– What was wrong with him?

– I do not remember.

– But it happened that all sorts of ranks, generals were summoned to comedians to their gatherings?

– I – no, I did not rise above a certain level, but the most popular, famous ones were called, of course.

– Whom, for example?

– Well, Mikhail Mikhailovich. He talked amusingly enough. Although it is humiliating, all the more, as we said, there are mostly people without a sense of humor. Reading in silence and understanding who you are reading to is quite painful, I think.

– Do you think the modern government needs such an Arkadyev, a jester in the classical sense, who will tell the truth? Will she want to listen to him?

– I think the authorities might want to listen to him if he came to their restaurant or bathhouse. But I don’t think he would joke in public. They are again afraid, it seems to me, of some other opinion. Although there were jesters at all times, and they had an important function. They conveyed to the ruler a different view of what was happening: what if there is something in this and will be useful to you? If you are a smart ruler – collect all opinions, then you will make the only right decision!

– Does your sense of humor change over the years? How do you try to track other people’s changes in their sense of humor? Or are you not trying?

– Over the years, I have formed my own view, something of my own, and a fairly large number of people still need it and understand it. Even young people are part of it, of course. I understand that stand-up and Comedy Club form their audience, there the humor is “thicker”, with such machine-gun “bursts” – I don’t have that. Well, even then, even when I was “short” for laughter (it happened), I always knew that I had said something to them, tried to convey some idea.

When I started at Literaturnaya Gazeta, there was a Club of 12 Chairs, whose editor was Ilya Suslov. How he shouted at me! But he hammered in: “What do you want to say ?!” And here it is in my youthful minds, obviously, stuck: I always want to say something. Otherwise, why did I leave? To make you laugh? Although I have just funny phrases, I always strived for more. Not to “open your eyes” – the eyes are already on everyone’s foreheads today. But say something. For example, I had a parable about an old fly beating its head against glass (“Only overcoming difficulties will you feel like a human being.” – Ed. ).

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