Oleg Denisov starts his set well with some serviceable gags about skinheads, Pussy Riot and Russians abroad but these soon dry up and a more reflective and wistful tone emerges. He repeatedly refers to himself as a ‘political comedian’ and part of the ‘Moscow intelligensia’ which is apparently meant as a self-deprecating dig at the lack of transferable skills an Arts degree offers.
Denisov is undoubtedly an erudite performer who could be described as wry or amusing but his informed material leans towards edutainment instead of hilarity. This can be attributed to the considerable amount of time dedicated to circuitous and meandering explanations and overlong set-ups which are undoubtedly interesting but not necessarily funny.
It is quite a feat to perform comedy in a second language but it is evident that language is not the obstacle to his jokes. There is a sense that Denisov may prefer the spoken word aspect of his act and he’s certainly on safer ground when he relies on his informed and Internationalist persona but less sure when trying to deliver punchlines.
Some stronger elements are his biography which focuses on the effect of capitalism upon the fledgling Russian state and explanations of Russian ideology and methodology are some of the most resonant moments of his set. Surprisingly for a travelling comic Denisov almost abstains from casting his philosophical eye on the current British political landscape but cryptically implies that the ‘No vote’ in Indyref should have gone in the other direction had Russia been consulted.
The nominal theme of this set is the dichotomy between the original Scandic meaning of troll and it’s contemporary in the globalised world. The introduction of this idea comes at the start of the set and is only re-introduced at the end which fails to cement a thematic through-line to utilise this callback.
If Denisov idenitifies and builds on the more biographical aspects of his act then he may have something more comedically substantial for next year but for a one hour show there is an imbalance between set-ups and jokes, however his confidence and comic understanding indicate that he may benefit from expanding into the spoken word/storyteller arena.