Avant-garde, Underground and Art house of Soviet TV

In the center: Andrey Knyshev and Viktor Kryukov. Serious moment of “Funny Guys”, 1986.

The program “Funny Guys” (“Vesyolye Rebyata”) was released in 1982 on the Central Television of the USSR by the creative tandem of Andrey Knyshev and Viktor Kryukov. These were created for the first time in the genre of the author’s video-collages. They became a stunning tele-avant-garde success of the era of stagnation, and then perestroika. In contrast to traditional programs with “talking heads”, the audience saw a rich bright visuals, dynamic editing, a cascade of video tricks and gags with witty voice-over commentary, live unprepared interviews on the streets, the first Soviet “real” video clips, hidden camera shooting, experiments and innovations in all genres. And, of course, bold for that period “forbidden” youth humor, banter and pranks – also in the form of ingeniously filmed sketches and parodies.

At the same time, in each program, (there were only 7 of them, plus 2 special issues and some separate sketches), there was also a meaningful and topical social satire on different subjects: kitsch, vulgarity and tastelessness, environmental problems, young families and divorces, youth music, human relationships, etc. All this was sometimes on the verge and even beyond the bounds of what was allowed within “correct” Soviet ideology. Today, something like this, would seem rather naive and old-fashioned, but in those ideological and economic conditions, it was a real breakthrough. Today it is a part of the history of Russian TV, culture and the whole Soviet youth generation of the 80s, simply because it was a breath of fresh air and a niche for self-expression of talented young people and the Soviet “underground” of that time.

Many popular rock and pop musicians first appeared on TV in the “Funny Guys”: clips of the banned “Aquarium” with Boris Grebenshchikov, “Bravo” with Yevgeny Havtan and Zhanna Aguzarova, the “Center” by Vasily Shumov, “Aria”, “Rock Atelier” with Chris Kelmi and Pavel Smeyan, singers Vladimir Markin and Sergey Minaev, some songs of “Mashina Vremeni” (“Time Machine”) and Andrey Makarevich, and the first and only “English-language” clip starring “Master of Russian Rock” Alexander Gradsky.

Many premieres were prepared or even filmed, but did not reach the audience due to censorship: Russian bard and poet Alexander Bashlachev; the group “Magnetic Band” with Gunnar Graps; “Last Chance”, “Football” with Sergei Ryzhenko; sadly, the first unique shooting of “Brigade-S” with Garik Sukachev and Sergei Galanin was lost somewhere in the bowels of State TV for decades, luckily it was found recently.

Among the now famous personalities, showmen, actors, producers, and even diplomats and Ministers who debuted on the screen in this program “with a light hand” by A. Knyshev were: Dmitry Dibrov, Leonid Sergeev, Sergey Shustitsky, Igor Ugolnikov, Alexey Lysenkov, Andrey Stolyarov, Alexander Gurevich, Eugene Voskresensky, Alexander Akopov, Mikhail Lesin, Alexander Rezalin, Alexey Maslov, and many others.

The following were also participating in the “Funny Guys” programs over the years:

  • Igor Tarashchansky, Alexander Bagdasarov, Alexander Prokopovich — musicians, graduates of the Moscow State Conservatory
  • Musical parody group “Metfond”, MARHI (A.Oskin, A.Ignatov, S.Dain, M.Bensman, G.Klyachev, V.Balutin, A.Gundarin, M.Malinin, A.Vorkunov)
  • The team of “chemists-musicians” from the Moscow Institute of Chemical Technology (V.Poprishchin, V. Teslenko, D. Tartakovsky, S. Gavrilov, E. Kulygin)
  • Arthur Shidlovsky and Alexey Jazlowski — Directors and producers, now living in the USA
  • Alexey Prozorov, Ruslan Kozlov, Viktor Serpionov — philologists, journalists,
  • Sergey Veretennikov, designer and publisher,
  • Anton Berezin, children’s writer (“Drakosha and company”, etc.)
  • Alexander Mikhailov, actor, singer (“Formula of Love”,”Mikhailo Lomonosov”)
  • Group of musical eccentrics “BIM-BOM” (later “Ex-BB”) by V. Levushkin
  • Alexey Neklyudov, actor, “the official voice of the 1TV Channel”
  • Andrey Gasyuk, diplomat, the adviser for culture of Embassy of the Russian Federation, writer
  • Alexander Sirin, actor (Lenkom Theater)
  • Authors-humorists, student theaters and Amateur actor groups from different Universities (MGK, MHTI, MARHI, MIPhI, MIPT, MTILP, MISI, ERPI, KHPI, Theater schools: Shchukinsky, Moscow Art Theater Studio School, etc.) and many cities of the country – Kazan, Rostov-on-Don, Kharkiv, Baku, Yerevan, Gorky, Leningrad, Voronezh, Odessa, Naberezhnye Chelny, and many others.

And in addition:

  • Igor Kirillov, announcer, Central Television, USSR
  • Konstantin Kinchev, rock musician, “Alice” rock group
  • Alexander Sukhanov, bard, poet
  • Veronika Dolina, bard, poet
  • Mikhail Zadornov, satirical writer, (first appeared on screen as the leader of the MAI Students Theatre, 1979-80)
  • Viktor Veselovsky, “chief administrator of the humorous 16-th page “Club 12 chairs “, “Literary newspaper”
  • Anatoly Malkin, producer, President of the television company “ATV
  • Andrey Razbash, producer and host, the first video editor of the program
  • Gennady Gokhshtein, General producer, TV channel “Russia”, VGTRK
  • Tatyana Alexandrova, Director, producer, TV channel ” Theater”
  • Anton Nosik, blogger
  • Gennady Starshenbaum, psychologist
  • Alexander Zheromski, pantomime actor and Director
  • Tatiana Leibel and Vladimir Nikolsky, dancers
  • Oksana Fandera, actress
  • Mikhail Ashumov, Director and producer
  • Alexander Levchenko, entrepreneur, public figure
  • Leonid Timtsunik, actor and Director
  • Nikita Semyonov-Prozorovsky, actor, dubbing Director
  • Raphael Tsitalashvili, illusionist
  • Navruz Akhmedov, actor, producer, participant of the show “Voice 60+” (2019)
  • and many more still.

And this, of course, is not counting the “heavy artillery” – winners of state awards, writers, scientists, athletes, recognized cultural figures who gave weight to the programs and helped pass censorship barriers. Among them: puppeteer Sergei Obraztsov, writer Arkady Strugatsky, poets Andrey Voznesensky and Rimma Kazakova, composer Rodion Shchedrin, champion figure skaters Irina Moiseeva and Andrey Minenkov, film Director Rodion Nakhapetov, academician I. V. Petryanov-Sokolov, fashion designer Vyacheslav Zaitsev (who was also often restricted on TV), sociologist I. V. Bestuzhev-Lada, and others. In perestroika times, those who found themselves sometimes in difficult relations with the TV bosses — such as Alla Pugacheva, Mikhail Zhvanetsky — played the role of significant authorities in the program.

Censorship was a constant problem for the creators of the restricted, disobeying and provocative program, that was lying for weeks and months on the shelves awaiting for the verdict of the “main producers” and Deputy chairmen of the Central TV and aired sometimes on tape with a lot of cuts after endless rework. That’s why one of the main questions of the audience at the screens was not only “Who invented all this?”, but also “Who gave them permission?”and “How did all this get on the screen at all?!»

Therefore, the program that was released in this form from 1982 to 1990 (the last special issue – February 1992), which reflected the spirit of the time and absorbed so many features of that time, resisted the era of stagnation and outstripped perestroika on TV, eventually acquired the cult status. It still makes you laugh and nostalgically reminds ageless representatives of “older youth” of their juvenility, reckless student years and fun and joyful minutes at the screens. And for young viewers and new creatives it can give a master class in the field of wit, ingenuity, video art, genre experiments. Even adjusted for time and place, the program made with a minimum of equipment, in difficult conditions, surprised both domestic and foreign professionals, and ordinary viewers at the time, and it still does. It is not surprising – the classics do not age.

As it was written in the review of the program in the newspaper “Pravda” in the early perestroika times (this fact itself was amazing – in the “Pravda” write!) :

“…And in this sense, the program “Funny Guys” for our television is the same milestone phenomenon as the film of the same name* – for our cinema.”

* “Funny Guys” – the famous first Soviet musical Comedy, filmed in 1934, directed by Grigory Alexandrov, (also khown abroad as “Moscow Laughs”)


* In the early series of “Funny Guys” of 1980-81, which preceded the thematic “video collage” issues of 1982-90, programs under the guidance of script writer Andrey Knyshev, with Director Valery Nadolenko and host Alexander Maslyakov, were a youth humorous TV contest.

Its winners went to the popular satire and humor Festival in the Bulgarian city of Gabrovo in the summer of 1981. Among them were the bard from Kazan Leonid Sergeev, students from Rostov Dmitry Dibrov and Viktor Serpionov, musicians from Moscow Conservatory Sergey Shustitsky, Igor Tarashchansky, Alexander Bagdasarov and Alexander Prokopovich, who later took part in the “collage-trick” editions of ”Funny Guys”.

The jury of the contest “Funny Guys” and among the guests were composer Nikita Bogoslovsky, actor Alexander Shirvindt, cartoonists Vitaly Peskov, Sergey Tyunin, satirical writer Leonid Lench, photographer Viktor Akhlomov, outstanding Turkish writer Aziz Nesin, etc.

* In 1978, before joining the staff of the Youth Editorial Office of the Central Television, A. Knyshev was a member of the jury and co-author of the program, in which the young ‘funny guys” contestants were: the future TV host and producer Vlad Listyev and Nurali Latypov, later “TV expert” of the club “What, where, when?” (“Chto, Gde, Kogda?”).

* TV presenter and journalist Leonid Parfenov starred in the musical issue of “Funny Guys” (1986) in a parody “interview”. In makeup, with a beard, he portrayed a conservative “village writer” who criticizes modern rock music. The episode was not included in the program for censorship reasons.

* One of the participants in the issue “Me and the others” (1990) was a boy Kirill Shishov, now a well-known figure in the field of modern financial media technologies.

* In the voice-over music design of programs, fragments of music from Western bands and artists (Czeslaw Nemen, Ottawan, Empire/Methusalem, Art of Noise, Iron Maiden, E. L. O., Madness, etc.) were sometimes used without specifying the names and approvals from the authorities.

* A fragment of the Beatles song “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was first shown on Soviet television in the musical issue of “Funny Guys” in December 1986 with the mocking title “Premiere of the song!!!” – 23 years late.

* The video for the song “I would sleep in the grass of the steppe” by “Rock Atelier” with Chris Kelmi and Pavel Smeyan in the issue “Ecology” (1983) was aired only once and was later cut due to censorship complaints.

* Most issues of the program “Funny guys” due to the “ambiguous reaction” to them after the broadcast of ideological bosses and veterans of labor were not re-broadcast, despite the existing practice at that time. The exception, in particular, was the issue “Ecology” (1983), repeated twice, once during the Festival of youth and students held in Moscow in 1985.

* The release of “Funny guys” on the theme “Ecology” (1983) received a Special Prize at the International Festival of environmental films and programs in Royan in France. The award had the slogan “Wake up the youth!” The creators of the program, however, learned about the event in hindsight, and the prize, which was awarded to the official, was never held in their hands.

* After previewing the issue of “Evening of Parodies” to the chief TV executives in December 1984, A. Knyshev was personally called “to the carpet” by the Chairman of the State Committee for Television and radio Broadcasting S. G. Lapin. The program was closed for almost 2 years and returned to the air in 1986 only after the change of the head of TV.

* “Funny Guys” is sometimes compared to the British “Monty Pythons”, despite the fact that there was almost no opportunity to get acquainted with foreign TV production behind the iron curtain, and the creators of “Funny Guys” managed to see English programs for the first time only when the first few programs were already on the air.


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