Legendary Soviet satirist Zhvanetsky dies aged 86

·2-min read
President Vladimir Putin expressed his "deep condolences" to the family legendary Russian satirist Mikhail Zhvanetsky, pictured together in 2012
President Vladimir Putin expressed his "deep condolences" to the family legendary Russian satirist Mikhail Zhvanetsky, pictured together in 2012

Mikhail Zhvanetsky, a legendary Russian satirist and stand-up comedian who ridiculed the absurdities of Soviet life and was known for his quietly subversive humour, died on Friday at the age of 86.

"You have left us forever," Russian pop diva Alla Pugacheva said on Instagram, announcing Zhvanetsky's passing. "My friend, you are unforgettable." 

The cause of death was not immediately announced.

Born in the city of Odessa in Soviet-era Ukraine and trained as an engineer, Zhvanetsky took up comedy in the 1960s and eventually became the Soviet Union's most beloved satirist.

Humour played a huge role in the Soviet Union, allowing satirists to bypass political censorship and ordinary Russians to vent their anger and frustration.

Zhvanetsky was so popular he was allowed to mock the realities of the Soviet existence, such as food shortages and officialdom, without getting arrested.

His works were recorded on audio tapes and many knew his sketches by heart. A short balding man, he read his monologues in a deadpan manner during his one-man shows.

He did not shy away from criticising Russia in his later years. In 2015, he joked that the country's pro-Kremlin television was "not for smart people."

He liked to say that the history of Russia represents a "fight between ignorance and injustice" and one of his most popular jokes asserts that "vodka in small doses is harmless in any quantity."

He boasted that President Vladimir Putin quoted him too.

Putin expressed his "deep condolences" to the satirist's family, the Kremlin said.

"His stories, his aphorisms, his sharp words have become a symbol of an entire epoch," Putin said in a statement.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, himself a former comedian, also expressed his condolences and said he counted himself among the satirist's "ardent fans."

Ordinary and prominent Russians took to social media to bid farewell to Zhvanetsky.

Viktor Shenderovich, an anti-Kremlin author and satirist, said he felt orphaned.

"He was a genius," he said. "We consist of his humour, his intellect, his tenderness. Many millions of people."

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