Uzbekistan: Russian stand-up censored over political gags

Uzbekistan: Russian stand-up censored over political gags
No laughing matter: Poperechny had his sound turned off every time he veered toward something topical. / screengrab from footage of Tashkent show
By Eurasianet March 16, 2023

A Russian stand-up artist known for his often-political act has complained that his set to a crowded theatre in Uzbekistan’s capital was censored whenever the subject turned to President Vladimir Putin and other touchy political issues.

Danila Poperechny, who styles himself as Russia’s answer to US comic Louis C.K., wrote in an Instragram post on March 14 that his microphone was turned off during sensitive sections of his act “upon the instruction of local law enforcement.”

“Literally every single time a joke or the subject in some way had anything to do with current affairs, they just cut off the microphone in the middle of the act,” he wrote.

Around 50 minutes of the show was muted in this way, Poperechny claims. At one stage, censors with their fingers poised over a mute control turned down the sound on a joke just because it included the word “Russia,” he said.

“It felt like I was back home,” he quipped.

Officials in Tashkent have trodden an intensely careful line in dealings with Russia over the past year or so. On the face of it, relations are very cordial and economic cooperation remains deep. Uzbekistan has tried at the same time to refrain from conveying the impression that it supports Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

Censoring a political act like Poperechny’s is of a part with that overall cautiousness. Allowing him to freely deride the Russian government on a Tashkent stage might be perceived as a tacit endorsement, so the compromise appears to have been to let him perform, but to require the venue to vet the content of the act.

News website reported that venue managers first began disabling the microphone when Poperechny turned to the subject of his relocation from Russia, the war in Ukraine and Putin. In a brief piece of footage posted online, audience members can be heard shouting “shame” after the venue pulled the plug on Poperechny. 

The show was managed by concert agency Da! (Yes!), which has, according to its Instagram page, previously also organised concerts for such acts as Russian hip-hop band AIGEL and an Israeli indie duo, Ice Hokku.

Eurasianet was unable to reach Da! for an explanation about what happened during Poperechny’s performance.

The crude censorship has predictably drawn much social media derision.

“Sorry Poperechny, and that’s why our country is called CANNOTISTAN,” wrote one Twitter user.

“It was so embarrassing. It felt like I was the one muting the microphone. Forgive us for this disgrace,” a fan responded under Poperechny’s Instagram post. Many others expressed similar expressions of regret and voiced their gratitude for his performance.

Poperechny’s show in Tashkent was part of the “Merry / Life” international tour which began in October. Like many fellow Russians, the comic, together with his wife, relocated abroad in response to his country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking on his YouTube channel, the comic has explained that he moved to Los Angeles because he found it impossible to work in Russia and had grown weary of a “constant sense of danger.”

Back in Uzbekistan, meanwhile, it is journalists and social media users perceiving as commenting too editorially on events in Ukraine who are the ones in danger. US-funded media outlet RFE/RL reported a few weeks into the war that outlets and bloggers had received warnings from the security services to stay neutral in their coverage. 

When he was on a recent trip to the Surkhandaryo region, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said in public remarks that “major countries” were pressing Uzbekistan to “take a side.” He did not spell out what this alluded to, but it was evident this was a reference to the Russia-Ukraine war. 

“This is a very complicated time. Major countries are asking: ‘Uzbekistan, what side are you on? Enough of being neutral. You need to join one side or the other,’” Mirziyoyev said, citing the alleged appeals he has received from foreign partners.

He did not clarify which countries have been making this request.

This article first appeared on Eurasianet here.