The Russian invasion of Ukraine is starting to take its toll on the government-run entertainment companies in charge of keeping a complacent viewership laughing at state-friendly sitcoms and Kremlin-approved prank shows.

A report from the Ukrainian publication Ukrainska Pravda was recently posted on Yahoo! News, in which they claim that the Russian television station TNT (not to be confused with the basic cable channel responsible for Inside the NBA) has been forced to cancel or postpone a slew of popular comedy programs due to a mass exodus of Russia’s top comedians out of the bellicose country. Apparently the constant threat of conscription by kidnapping is enough to push performers to leave Russia and take all the funny with them.

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They tried to get Smirnoff to fill in but it turns out he's Ukrainian

According to the article, the migration of comedy out of Russia began when TNT appointed the aggressively pro-Kremlin journalist and producer Tina Kandelaki as its new manager back in February, right as the country started the “special military operation” in Ukraine that was supposed to last just a few weeks, but has since evolved into a drawn-out war that has depleted Russia’s resources and put considerable pressure on its populace to support the invasion with their money and their lives. 

Following the sharp turn toward more nationalistic, pro-war programming, TNT and Kandelaki are faced with a company-wide talent drain as comedians leave the Motherland for safer harbors, which has led to the mass cancelation of popular shows. “TNT has therefore suspended the production of several comedy shows, including Improvizatsiya ("Improvisation"), Improvizatsiya.Komandy ("Improvisation.Teams"), Gde logika ("Where’s the Logic?") and Dvoye Na Million ("Two for a Million"),” Ukrainska Pravda reported. “The new season of Comedy Battle has also been postponed until next year.” 

Kandelaki and TNT have gone on the defensive since such reports first leaked, with Kandelaki claiming to Russia’s RBC news agency that, "Our leading comedians stayed in the country, they never left: Pasha Volia, Misha Galustian, Timur Batrutdinov, Demis Karbidis, Marina Kravets and others. The shooting (of shows) is in full swing. I can definitely say 2023 will be one of the brightest in terms of the number of premieres, shows, TV series and reality shows.”

The comedy community in Russia has been drawing increasing attention from the government as President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on dissidence reaches every section of the state-controlled media. The members of a Russian satire group called BARAKuda were arrested last year after they filmed a sketch that showed a drunk politician blowing up a campaign poster for Putin with a grenade launcher, a joke that earned them charges of “extreme hooliganism,” which can carry a prison sentence of up to eight years. (Since TNT is hurting for comedy programming, we’d like to formally suggest that they produce a show with BARAKuda and call it Extreme Hooliganism. The name works better for a prank show than a felony charge.)

The cultural impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is likely to lead to more issues of desertion and dissidence the longer the war continues, and the comedy clubs of Moscow might not be the only entertainment enterprises hurting for talent as more and more civilians either flee the country or are dragged to the front lines. The circuses, however, aren’t going anywhere — we’re told that the clowns remain at the head of the Russian Army.

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