In an exclusive interview with the Kyiv Post, the well-known Ukrainian stand-up comic Vasyl ByDuck, a permanent member of “Underground Stand-up”, explains how stand-up comedy helps in the fight against the Russian invaders, and how to make camouflage nets properly. 

[Pavlenko] Why is stand-up important right now? How does it help people get through the war?

[Vasyl ByDuck] Stand-up supports our victory in three ways. Let’s start with how it fosters a good emotional state. People come to the shelter to unwind, watch streamed shows in the evenings, and relieve stress. They feel calmer – it’s a kind of therapy. Secondly, stand-up isn’t escapist. The topic is always the war or related to the war. So, the reality of the war is kept in mind and stand-up doesn’t allow it to fade into the background. Thirdly money raised through the daily stand-up streams goes towards the war effort. The stand-up artists have agreed to donate a part of their earnings.


[Pavlenko] How much money have you raised for the Armed Forces of Ukraine?

[Vasyl ByDuck] In Ukraine, stand-up shows or improvisations are held every day. Some of the artists donate around 20 percent of their income to the armed forces of Ukraine or volunteer organizations. Others donate 25 percent – or 30 or 50, or even 100 percent to these causes. Since the start of the full-scale invasion, “Underground Stand-Up” has shown 82 streams. Each stream earns between 20 and 60 thousand hryvnias. So, I think, a lot of money is being raised.

[Pavlenko] What is “Underground Stand-Up”?

[Vasyl ByDuck] “Underground Stand-Up” is a stand-up club founded by Svyat Zahaikevych six or seven years ago. There are several permanent members, or residents, of the club, including me, Nastya Zuhvala, Anton Tymoshenko, and also Serhiy Lipko who will come back from the front line when we’ve won this war, and then he will perform again.

Photo by Olizitch

[Pavlenko] Why the name “Underground”?

[Vasyl ByDuck] It’s “underground” in two ways. It was underground because it was something new.


[Pavlenko] When was it founded?

[Vasyl ByDuck] Six or seven years ago. The very beginning was maybe 11-12 years ago, but “Underground Stand-Up” is six-seven years old. Initially, it was underground because only a narrow circle of people knew about it – it wasn’t mainstream. We performed in basements. So, the name “Underground” comes from there. What’s more, there was no censorship. The second reason is that now, because of the war, all our performances are held in basements.

[Pavlenko] So stand-up was an underground phenomenon initially, but then it became more popular in Ukraine. What made stand-up popular in Ukraine?

[Vasyl ByDuck] It happened because we never stopped developing.  Although we weren’t earning anything and were having to spend a lot of time on it, the genre was growing. There weren’t any TV shows. So, we didn’t have mass audiences.

[Pavlenko] You say there were no stand-up TV shows. What about “Comedy Club,” for instance?

[Vasyl ByDuck] No, it’s not stand-up. And anyway “Comedy club” doesn’t exist now.


[Pavlenko] How has the war impacted stand-up as a genre? Did everybody just start telling jokes about the war?

[Vasyl ByDuck] The war changed everything. The war impacted the comics themselves, and stand-up is a very special genre – a performance has to do with the comedian’s personality, their experience, and reflections. Under the influence of all that, they carry information into the world. So, it’s not only a question of jokes about the war – the jokes come from the comedians’ own experiences. Like other people’s experiences, they are difficult and tragic. Stand-up comics transform these experiences into humor to reduce stress for themselves and for the audience.

[Pavlenko] How do you manage to keep your sense of humor during a war? I think it’s a traumatic event for every Ukrainian.

[Vasyl ByDuck] I don’t know. Everyone’s different. I think that once we have achieved victory, we will have a lot of experience. We will remember it all and analyze it. For now, I’m closed to this. I have admitted this pain a few times. Helping, volunteering, communicating with people, etc. all help to stop the pain.

[Pavlenko] Could you name, other famous comics against whom you want to pitch your wit on stage?

[Vasyl ByDuck] Your question seems to refer to the “League of a laughter”. In stand-up, there is no competition. There is competition among clubs. There is no competition among stand-up artists. We all communicate with each other. You go on stage, and there’s no room for competition. Occasionally somebody creates a joke, and you think, “Why didn’t I think of that?” But that just makes you work harder. You don’t think:  “I’ll kill him, and he won’t tell that joke anymore!” Sometimes, I see funny comics and think that I need to work harder to get that kind of result.

Photo by Olizitch

[Pavlenko] You told me that there is competition between clubs. Could you name any competitive clubs?

[Vasyl ByDuck] Stand-up is intended for an audience. In Kyiv, anyone can attend any stand-up performance. Clubs strive to get people to attend their shows. Healthy competition works, so clubs make podcasts and do interviews.

[Pavlenko] Are there forbidden topics about which you wouldn’t joke and why?

[Vasyl ByDuck] That’s a personal matter. There are moral boundaries. For me, I don’t joke about tragic places that can trigger sad emotions.

[Pavlenko] You mean, you need to joke so as not to hurt your listener?

[Vasyl ByDuck] Well, listeners are ready for jokes when they come to stand-up comedy. If they go to stand-up, they understand that the performer might cross some boundaries. But there’s a war going on, and you can joke, but you can still think about what it’s all about. So, stand-up is a particular genre. Each artist has his or her own feelings about this and acts accordingly.


[Pavlenko] Why did you go into stand-up comedy? Why not theater, for instance?

[Vasyl ByDuck] You say, “Why not theater?” It all started with theater – the “Club of the Cheerful and the Smart”. Then the “Vorobushek” (“Sparrow”) theater of the absurd appeared. Then, in Kharkiv, the stand-up club opened. In Ukraine, if you wanted to remain independent in a creative field and not work according to your educational background, you have to do a bit of everything. So, I worked in theater and entertained children in funny outfits as a birthday party animator.

[Pavlenko] When was that?

[Vasyl ByDuck] It was 10 years ago. I started doing stand-up because my wife told me to.

[Pavlenko] That sounds like a joke!

[Vasyl ByDuck] No, it’s really true.

[Pavlenko] How does Ukrainian stand-up comedy differ from American stand-up?

[Vasyl ByDuck] It’s like when you are a guest at the birthday party of an American, a German, an Australian, or a Ukrainian. It seems like the same kind of event, but the parties are all different. People bring different gifts and give different toasts. Americans wish for one thing, Australians for another – that dingoes won’t nibble at your vegetable garden. It’s the same with stand-up. We are all united by one genre – stand-up, but because cultures differ, people are different, so stand-up is different. The other important difference is that Ukrainian comics have been performing for 10 years, while American comics have been doing it for 60.


[Pavlenko] To finish up, could you tell us an interesting joke about the war?

[Vasyl ByDuck] You know, it’s always the same. The interview’s great and at the end…”Let’s tell a joke that nobody is going to laugh at!”

[Pavlenko] No, tell us a “good” joke!

[Vasyl ByDuck] It’s difficult because stand-up is not just about words. People will read the words, and they will read them in their non-funny voice and will imagine somebody on the stage. The stand-up is a voice and a way of behaving, and much more. Ok, let’s try one – Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, I’ve been volunteering, and one of the things I do as a volunteer is weave camouflage nets. I’ve gotten so good at camouflage nets that I can’t find them anymore.

Photo by Olizitch


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