Memoirs of a Player

A. V. Men’shikov, “KVN”: Past and Thoughts. 1991


Translated by Christine Evans

Men’shikov was the captain of the KVN team of the Moscow Engineering Construction Institute (or MISI, in its Russian acronym) in the late 1960s. He joined the staff of Central Television’s Youth Programming Desk (which produced KVN and other game shows) in 1975. In this post-1991 memoir, he looks back on one of the more memorable matches of his career as a KVN captain.

The TV team that produced KVN received a “nudge” from their bosses about the fact that only student teams appeared on the show. And where, they asked, was the working class? … So not long afterwards we found out that our next opponent would be a team from a textile factory, called, if I’m not mistaken “Liberated Labor.”

Well, we decided, labor it is! Even if it is liberated we’ll give them a run for their money!

And then our “agents” gave us some interesting news. It so happens that, as is the usual practice in textile factories, the majority of textile workers are unmarried women, and that meant that the team, and even the captain, would be female!

(By the way, among our “agents,” whose job it was to find out secrets about the script and about our rivals, the most successful was Volodia Semago. Much later he became an entrepreneur, a wealthy man and a deputy of the State Duma of Russia ).

The day of our match with the textile team arrived. Naturally, it was the day of the March 8th holiday [International Women’s Day]. Obviously, the TV staff had determined that on that day, or rather evening, the jury would be especially well disposed toward a female team.

On that evening we were charm itself. We gave them flowers, kissed their hands

But sport is sport. And KVN is KVN.

Our rivals’ collapse began with the warm-up. Its rules were as follows: name two completely different things or concepts, and find a way to combine them.

We dealt with our rivals’ questions and dealt with them wittily. Although I absolutely cannot remember what masterpieces of humorous improvisation we came up with at the time.

But I do remember our questions and our answers to them.

–Cat and mouse?
Inarticulate answer …
–Cat and mouse: just a cat!

The hall applauds

–Ice and flame?
Inarticulate answer …
–Ice and flame: cognac in the refrigerator!

The hall applauds vigorously.

–Water and stone?
Inarticulate answer …
–Water and stone: “Borzhomi” [a Georgian mineral water] to prevent kidney stones!

The applause strengthens.

–A lamb and three little stars?
Inarticulate answer …
–A lamb and three little stars–the winter uniform of a colonel!

Deafening ovation!

I remember how the jury was chuckling. I remember how Nikolai Nikolaevich Ozerov [a famous Soviet sports commentator and frequent member of the KVN jury] took the microphone, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, and announced the result: thanks to the “sheep-colonels” we won the warm-up with some fantastic, unprecedented-on-KVN score–either 12-2 or 17-2, I cannot remember now, but that kind of blowout in the very first contest had never happened in the whole history of KVN.

Later both the TV staff and we had to deal with a lot of unpleasantness. Every day Central Television’s Youth Programming Desk [which produced KVN] received outraged letters from colonels who were offended by the “sheep” joke. The poor chief editor, Valerii Aleksandrovich Ivanov, tried his best to smooth everything over in the [Youth Desk’s] answers, saying “the MISI students did not mean it that way at all” and “they were only thinking of the not entirely successful style of colonels’ hats.” And so on …

Anyway, to return to that match, our lady-rivals were crushed, and did not have anything memorable to show for themselves.

We, however, had a fairly charming “Homework Assignment” [a regular contest on KVN that was written and rehearsed in advance]. In keeping with the theme of the day it was called “A Hymn to Woman.”

For the opening we brought out examples of “visual agitation”–posters and sculptures that, at that time, “beautified” our everyday life, and which featured images of women.

These were posters, from which red-faced, thick-nosed female shock workers exhorted you to fulfill the production plans ahead of schedule, while pale-bluish mothers asked that we get our measles vaccines on time …

But the chief “masterpiece” of our collection was a sculpture, which we borrowed from a park in central Moscow, entitled “Woman with a Goose” (although in the park it went by the name “Girl with a Swan”). When we rolled that plaster monster out on stage, the whole hall fell to the floor with laughter. And we, having shown how not to treat the female image, sang a charming lyrical song in praise of womankind!

And so, we won that match and were named Champions of Moscow for the 1967-68 season.

Source: Музей радио и телевидения в Интернете.

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