Semyon Altov, humorist with a gloomy face

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Satirist, humorist Semyon Altov is always recognized by the audience by his monotonous voice and impenetrable facial expression. But that's just on stage. In life, Altov is an unusually smiling, even laughable person and, of course, a great storyteller. On the eve of the only speech of the satirist at the ANU – Museum of the Jewish People on March 20, where he will read with his “trademark” in the voice of old and new stories, Semyon Teodorovich spoke about new humor, attitude to stand-up, Raikin and much more.

A few years ago, you were talking to young stand-up artists about how humor changes over time. Since you definitely have something to compare – so how does humor change?

Everything changes over time. We once replaced someone, now they are replacing us, and at the same time, while we are talking to you, somewhere in the cradle lies a baby with a pacifier in his mouth, who will replace these wonderful guys of today . Everything is fine. Since life has become much more compact, the tempo-rhythm of life has changed, and the humor has changed accordingly. I used to take pride in having long stories. About my famous story “Bribe” Mikhail Zhvanetsky said about him that this is the best humorous story of the Soviet period. I read it for 18 minutes. He was very popular. Time passed. And I felt that something had to change. I stung him as a result from 18 to 8 minutes and stopped reading. He didn't keep up with the times. Although now I am returning something abbreviated, and it goes well. Therefore, I also intuitively have a lot of such – for a minute, for one and a half sketches, In general, I am younger in what I write and do.

You once made “SHOW 01” with a company of comedians, with whom you traveled around the country in the 80s, and it was very topical. How much was stand-up at that time?

The amazing thing is that “The Show” lasted for 10 years, it was a real bomb at that time, but there is not a single television recording. It was a draw program, and we collected stadiums. Arlazorov, Yakubovich started with us, Polunin came up with Asisaya with telephones in our presence. A lot of great artists have grown out of this show. “SHOW 01” changed the stereotypes of that life, it was a hooligan program for those times, which was a crazy success. Unexpectedly for everyone, including us. We didn't think it would stir up that country so much.

Did what you did back then sound like modern stand-up?

With stand-up, which has existed for a long time in America, of course, there is something in common. It's the same, but without paper. I don’t watch everything, I don’t like everything, but there are really talented guys, and the texts come across very nice. But this is different. Pay attention, very many of them shout jokingly, or joke shouting – and the hall is so a little excited, reacting brightly to every joke.

You said that one of the differences – the fact that stand-up is always without a piece of paper, and humorous satirists always came out with records. Do you need paper? Surely you remember all these texts by heart?

Here you are deeply mistaken. I do not remember anything. I began to prepare for sclerosis in advance, and now one thing coincided with the other. I had a case when I read the first page, then the second, but there was no ending. Oh no. I usually have a mess with papers that I shift all the time. A voice is heard from the hall: “Excuse me, how did it end?” I say, “I'm sorry, I don't remember.” The same man yells: “Give me the phone!” Many also wrote it down, and at home I read the story to these people on the phone until two in the morning. When I know that there is a piece of paper, then nothing needs to be kept in memory.

Are writing for others and writing for yourself different things?

Never specifically, except for Arkady Isaakovich Raikin, under whose dictation I corrected the texts, I did not write. To everyone else, I gave ready-made texts, the same “Magdalene” Shifrin, who still listens very funny. Gena Khazanov read especially a lot of mine: “Hercules”, “Choir at the Embassy”, – sharp things for those times.

Did you do Raikin's last performance with Raikin, “Peace be to your house”?

Once a journalist asked me : “And what did you feel when you found out that your performance was the last for Raikin?” – Well, he ruined a man (laughs).

You said that Raikin corrected the lyrics.

He did not correct, he asked in his quiet voice to add something to the text, some words. When I came to him, he always saved his strength, which he already had a little, and rested a lot, because he had suffered two heart attacks by that moment. Raikin was lying on the couch, I sat next to him and read. And, if the ottoman began to shake, then he laughed, and everything is fine. If the ottoman did not react, then something was wrong.

You yourself went on stage at some point, although you did not originally intend to perform in public.

I am a chemist by nationality. Where, why is it all? I myself was surprised that, it turns out, I can compose words into stories, it causes laughter, people need it, and they also pay money for it. Everything came together. Although I have almost no intonation at all, I mumble on one note, and this is the trick. I am always recognized by my voice.

A comedian cannot help but be relevant. What is the program of your only performance at ANU – Museum of the Jewish People “The world survived because it laughed”?

I don't think I have any cross-cutting theme. First, what unites all normal people around the world – it's anxiety. And I don't want to talk about it all the time, as many do. It shortens life, plunges into depression. Whatever it is, life goes on…

How relevant is what was written earlier?

What is good about the world – this is because almost any work written at any time can become a classic, it is always topical. Therefore, “Hercules”, which was read by Gena Khazanov, can be performed until the end of days. But I continue to write new things, and the audience knows that I am always something that I have noticed, seen, heard, and will tell. Here we are in Israel checking into a hotel, and the woman at the reception asks: “Who is this?” They answer her: “This is a famous person, Semyon Altov.” She: “But who doesn’t know him?!” And this happens at every turn.

When you write your lyrics, do you laugh at them yourself?


Evening by Semyon Altov “The world survived because it laughed” will be held at ANU – Museum of the Jewish People on Monday, March 20, 2023.
Starts at 19:00.
Tickets and additional information: 03-5008080
Address: st. Klausner, 15, Tel Aviv

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