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Russian standup comedian faces police investigation following complaint that he ‘offended the feelings of believers’

Source: Meduza
Alexander Dolgopolov / YouTube

At only 25 years old, Alexander Dolgopolov has a hefty list of career accomplishments. The Moscow-based standup comic has released two solo specials (both of which topped two million views on YouTube) and appeared on the country’s most-watched online talk show, where host Yury Dud called him “the most underrated comedian in Russia.” Now, the young Muscovite has another item to add to that list: He is under investigation by the Moscow regional police force.

On January 21, Dolgopolov posted a police notice on Instagram. It was sent to the St. Petersburg standup club HopHead Tap Room, where the comedian performed on April 5 for one of his YouTube specials, “Another Hour of Jokes.” The notice includes a link to the video and asks HopHead’s employees to confirm that the special was produced there. It also asks for additional information about the performer.

The police letter stems from a complaint submitted in January 2020 by a resident of the Moscow Suburb Orekhovo-Zuyevo, where Dolgopolov performed on November 29, 2019. The Telegram-based outlet Baza suggested that the person who submitted the complaint may have been offended by an extended joke in the comedian’s routine that centers on the Slavic name Bogdan and its literal meaning, “given by God.” The bit mixes profanity with jokes about Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Dolgopolov himself told Meduza that he has not been notified of a particular aspect of his performances that may have drawn the police’s interest. The Moscow regional headquarters indicated in turn that the comedian’s act is only under investigation and that no criminal accusations have yet been brought forward.

However, Dolgopolov has lost no time in telling his followers that “the entire government is after [him].” In a conversation with Meduza, he emphasized that he would not change his act to comply with “repressive laws written by uneducated bandits.” He also pointed toward “the early twentieth century” as an example of the “payback” Russia can expect if it “discriminates against atheists” through laws like the country’s ban on offending religious believers.

Armen Gandilyan, Dolgopolov’s manager, said all ticket sales for his client’s shows have been suspended until his legal situation is clarified. “We suspended sales because we don’t want people to waste their money if something happens to me,” the comedian himself explained.

It’s not the first time Alexander Dolgopolov has gotten into trouble for his jokes, though it is the first time he’s gotten into trouble with the law. In 2017, while performing in Kazan, Dolgopolov made fun of the name of a small town in the region, saying “Derbyshki” could well be the word for bits of undigested food in human waste. When Derbyshki residents began threatening the comedian and demanding an apology, he responded with more jokes at other performances.

In the last four years or so, a number of legal spats have emerged between standup comics and Russian Orthodox religious figures. At various points, they have involved accusations of offending the feelings of believers, inciting hatred, and promoting extremism. One conflict led to a criminal case and a trail: After video blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky played Pokemon Go inside Yekaterinburg’s Cathedral on Spilled Blood, he spent several months in pretrial detention and ultimately received a suspended sentence. That case was brought forward in 2016.

Update: Dolgopolov has left Russia to wait until his legal circumstances are clarified, his attorney said.

Reporting by Pavel Merzlikin

Summary by Hilah Kohen