In 1965 he joined the Moscow Aviation Institute. He was also a member of their handball team. During his years at the Institute, his health suffered a bit from living in the dorm and from the food he had to eat while being a poor student. Or maybe it was the drinking, considering he underwent treatment years later for alcoholism. In any case, he had to give up his dreams about being a famous handball player. His father had wanted his son to become an engineer, and for a time he worked as an aircraft engine designer, even inventing an atomizer used in aircraft engines. This atomizer remains on display at the Moscow Aviation Institute. It was at this time that he became more involved with theater, becoming a head of the Moscow Aviation Institute's Students Theatre. In the beginning of 1980's Mikhail Nikolaevich worked as a writer and editor in the comedy section of the popular magazine Юность ("Youth"). However, after about 6 months he quit due to endless battles with censors. He started comedy and satire performances at this time, working first at the Dzerzhinskogo club on Lybyanke Ulitsa.
Since that time his career began. His early years seem to be marked with humor mostly aimed at life in Soviet Russia, including the bureaucracy and government and inefficiency of life at that time. He has over the years become a very notorious artist in Russia. He gives extensive interviews on a wide range of topics, rather far removed from comedy or satire. His concerts are always sold-out. He claims to get more mail than any minister of the Russian government. He has published several books, dvds and audio cds. He is especially famous for making jokes about Americans and George Bush also, which certainly enhances his reputation these days. Along those lines, he also currently claims that he was refused a US Visa because of his jokes about George Bush and the American government. However, in contradiction to those more recent statements, in a 2002 interview with Komsomol'skaya Pravda, he says he had a multi-entry US Visa, which he crossed off in protest of American athletes flag-waving behavior at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Usually Zadornov anecdotes are based on cases which he had seen or read in real life or which people from all over the country have sent him. Much of his humour concerns government and his perceived stupidity of people. All humor is strongly cultural, and I find that much of his humor regarding the US is less factual and more about Russian perceptions. One of his most recent efforts was titled "I love America" and I am sure readers can imagine the nature of jokes on that comedy CD. He has never been accused of being particularly nationalistic and considers Putin to be rather soft. He futher admits to admiring Lukoshenko for being a strong leader. If it seems contradictory to dislike America for standard of living, aggressiveness, and nationalistic pride - and to praise Lukoshenko as a strong leader - his point of view is not uncommon within Russia and parts of the former CCCP.
Mikhail Nikolaevich gives many extensive interviews, and generally speaks on a wide range of largely political topics. As such, he often sounds more like a political activist or politican wanna-be than a satirist, writer, or comedian. He travels extensively and many of his photographs online depict him at exotic locations on his travels.
It should be noted that Russian monologue comedy and telling of "anecdotes" varies from the stand-up comedy with which English speakers are familiar. Russian comedic monologues are generally "an oral reproduction of a pre-scripted text." The style tends to be more satirical and literary and non-improvisational (I can't imagine that comedic improv would have been popular with Soviet censors). Often the comedian or satirist adopts a double-voiced narrative style or plays the role of a rural outsider in order to make commentary on modern life. It should also be noted that Russian анекдоты (anekdoty) are different from anecdotes in English. The Russian variant are nearly always comedic and often fictional ... they are basically long jokes or satire. Conversely, anecdotes in English are generally short, true-to-life incidents of some interest or humor.
Russia Zadornov Anekdoty Satire Comedian Latvia
by Mikhail Zadornov, 1983 (translation by Eric Konkol)
Comrades! You must conduct yourselves with a high degree of cultural refinement when resting in our new, comfortable rest home, seeing as it was completed on the memorable 47th anniversary of the beginning of its construction! And it received its certification of completion ahead of schedule--a full two years before the construction was finished.
So, first of all, about the rooms... Our rooms, comrades, are new, spacious, and comfortable! Each one has space for twelve cots. Therefore, in the rooms it is categorically forbidden to smoke, litter, walk, and, most importantly, talk, taking into consideration the excellent audibility between the rooms as well as the poor ventilation, arising from the absence of windows which the builders, in their haste, put not on the outside of the building, but between the rooms.
Furthermore: remember, since the builders didn't manage to install locks in all the rooms, you should take all your things with you when leaving the room, even for a short period of time!
Many people are interested to know: will we be giving out towels? Good news! We have a new laundry! However, it has been under repair since before it was built, so towels will be distributed according to strict regulations: one waffle towel for every room, and two terry-cloth towels for every three floors! I see worried faces. You're asking, how will we dry ourselves? I can allay your fears, comrades: you won't have to dry yourselves at all, because, in both our 18-story wings, the water doesn't get higher than the basement, and only in the spring.
Now about the elevators! Our elevators, comrades, are also new, spacious, and comfortable! However, since they aren't the same size as the elevator shafts, you can see them right here through the windows--there they are, standing in the courtyard. True, these aren't all the elevators. As part of our rational economic policy, we turned several of them into changing rooms on the beach. Only, I don't advise any of you to change in them. The automatic doors have rusted and don't always work. As a result, in each of them there is currently one guest from the previous tour group.
A few words about the beach. The beach, comrades, is our greatest joy! Spacious and comfortable! However, since we rent it out to 23 other rest homes, you have to try to grab space on it the evening before the day you want to go there. And while sunbathing during the day, you have to be careful, because, in the interests of the economic use of materials, the builders put the railroad line on the beach. And the train passengers have the habit of throwing things from the windows: empty food tins, bottles, etc. Recently, for example, there was an unfortunate incident on the beach and one person died after the director of the dining car was thrown out the window of the dining car.
A few words about swimming. There is nothing better for invigorating the organism than swimming in our sea. But this season, I don't recommend that anyone swim in it. At this moment, a very dangerous bacillus is spreading in the sea. And we only have one doctor at our rest home. Moreover, he's a young specialist who recently graduated with all 3's (grades of "C"--Trans.) from the Omsk Polytechnical Institute.
Comrades! Of course you'll all dreaming about losing some weight here. Good news! You will be assisted in reaching this goal by our new, spacious, and comfortable dining room, construction of which will begin in the next Five Year Plan. So far we've got its boiler house ready and we'll be eating there in seven shifts: first shift on Monday, second on Tuesday, and so on.
What else can I tell you to gladden your hearts?
Awaiting you in our rest home are all possible entertainment opportunities: discoteques, Saturday work parties, holiday trash-collection assignments! There are also various sporting competitions in such new types of sport as swimming in bags with your eyes closed.
Comrades! I understand that many of you will want to return home as soon as possible! Good news! For departures there is a separate ticket booth. True, you are, unfortunately, too late to order tickets there. This is because, in the interests of observing an orderly sale of tickets, guests must order tickets for departure exactly three days before their arrival.
And in conclusion: If someone doesn't like something, you can write a complaint. We promise that all your complaints will be promptly reviewed and those making the complaints will be kept here for a second session.
Well, that's it. I wish you all a good rest, invigoration, and, mainly, that you all return home!
by Mikhail Zadornov (bad translation by W. Shedd)
Our people are capable of doing business. Is it a joke? Even a country which makes nothing, achieves first place in the world by the size of its stock exchange. It is the second greatest impudence of our people since the October Revolution.
Tell me, your joint-stock company trades with the West. What does the West buy from us?
Russian Businessman: We make many things better than the West - metal shavings, sawdust, glass splinters. Nobody in the world expected such speed and resourcefulness from our people.
We don’t allow the sale of raw aluminum to the West – we’ve decided instead to sell soldier's aluminum spoons. Since there is a prohibition on the export of lumber, each little spoon is packed in a small wooden coffin. There are no more bottles for beer - we have decided to pour beer into polyethylene packages. It is doubly beneficial. Before, these guys would get drunk on beer and then break the bottles over each others heads. Now, they drink a couple of bags, blow them up, slap their friends on the head playfully with the bags, and then go home … all without traumas and bruises!
Before now, these were considered the possible Eighth Wonder of the World: The Eiffel tower, and Notre Dame Cathedral, and Venice. Now it is known: the Eighth Wonder of the World is Russian business!
One joint venture even has managed to sell Panama our warm blankets. Before they met Russian salesmen, Panamanians didn’t understand why they need warm blankets - it is so hot at night their chickens lay hard-boiled eggs.
So it isn’t clear, who started all this talk about the degeneration of our people?
About ten years ago on TV the head of the Department of the Interior said, "It is a lie that in Russia there is no talent or skill. There is much talent … all of it is in prison”. There was this guy in prison who invented a device to counterfeit money. Seven years he was in prison and no one found his device. It was almost time for him to be released, when he is standing at the doorway of his cell. He opened the door and 10 ruble bill drops out of a jamb. He closes the door and a 25 rubles appears. Angrily, he punches the door … and a 100 ruble bill falls. Such a genius! Everyone said so and congratulated him. And then they added five more years to his sentence!
In it there is an essence of truth about our business. Talents have rushed from prisons … to where? To construction and business. Who was in jail ten years? That president. Who was in for five? That vice-president. The only place that creates more businessmen than our prisons is the Central Committee. So who are now businessmen? The Central Committee and crooks!
And foreigners cannot understand, why Russia in only two or three years had businessmen in unpolished shoes and the ties looking like a piece of a dog’s ear, and looking the exact image of the party poster "Did you volunteer to be a trolley bus driver?" Thus without any computer, calculating in their mind or as a last resort on accounts, they can estimate in eight seconds what the net profit will be if you sell to China two barges of galoshes in exchange for a brick plant which will be established at a purchased collective farm, acquired with a loan taken from a bank, secured by a bribe in the form of a painting sold to the Louvre created by some idiot clerk, painted in the socialist realism style and named "Budonni at the bed of the ill Gorkii ... ".
Here are all the miracles of the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Someone sews caps which Lenin wore.
Someone has learned to forge the signature for sheets of Murzika cat.
Someone trades in the paintings of Tizianо Vecellio. He swears that all of them are originals, as he bought them from directly from Tizianо himself.
Guys from the next joint venture company have contrived to buy up furs from northern natives in exchange for expired lottery tickets. They told them it is new Russian money.
Recently someone has organized the coproduction of perfume between Russia and France. The perfume will be provided by the French, and we will provide the bottles … left overs from kefir.
Why, where ever you look – everywhere is business!
Trolley buses are ornamented by advertising of tourist trips to Greece for 2000 dollars. As though those who go by trolley bus, can go to Greece for 2000 dollars!? If they can go to Greece, it is only by this trolley bus!
Tell me, you chairman of a joint-stock company. Do you consider, today's business benefits our simple people?
Businessman: Certainly. We recently exchanged our submarine to Zimbabwe for 150 disposable syringes. Two syringes have even gone to the collective farm where I was born. Collective farmers are very grateful to us for them. They say that all of them are using the syringes two years. Although in Zimbabwe they used them for only three months.
However, the greatest business gains have been in Russian advertising!
"If you put money in our bank, you will have only one problem – trying to get it back!!!"
And our people have endured Germans and Poles and Tatars. Our nation had been ill with communists and now here was our heaviest test - Russian business. If after that test, something remains for ourselves - such as little tree stumps, metal shavings, sawdust, broken pieces, and dust - it may finally be possible to say outloud: "You are rich, poor Russia!"
References and Resources:
April 10, 2002 Komsomol'skaya Pravda Interview where he discusses dislike of America and crossing off his Visa
SovLit.com translation of "Conversation with a Rest Home Deputy Director ..."
Russian Humor and Soviet Satire Page
Humorist.ru Mikhail Zadornov Anecdote Collection
Peoples.ru Mikhail Zadornov Biography and Interviews where he discusses further his dislike of America and his alcohol treatments.
Between Literary and Subliterary Paradigms: Skaz and Contemporary Russian Estrada Comedy by Olga Mesropova