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From Russia with laughs

UNLESS you’re a close observer of new talent on the UK comedy scene you might not have heard of Olga Koch. But it’s likely you soon will have. The super-smart Russian-born 25-year-old was nominated for best newcomer at the last Edinburgh Comedy Awards, and is now touring her unusual, and very funny, debut show, Fight — about ‘my family history and how it mirrors the last 30 to 40 years of Russian history.

‘Over the last 40 years we have come from the Soviet Union being this completely closed-off dictatorship to it dismantling right before our very eyes and then Russia having to build everything from scratch,’ she explains.

Giving too much away here might spoil the journey for those who get to see it, but the show begins with what sounds like a story from a spy drama, and is framed around the fascinating career trajectory of Olga’s father. He rose quickly in Russian politics and played a key role in formulating the system, which inadvertently laid the groundwork for oligarchy.

‘I tell a very over-simplified version of this in the show because I am absolutely not an expert, but essentially because everything was starting from scratch in privatising all the industries in Russia, a few people were able to abuse it because of the ignorance of everyone involved. It was a system that was very easy to take advantage of.’

Family pictures — many featuring an alarming level of Chicago Bulls merchandise – also provide a rich seam of comedy and the whole thing is seasoned with a lot of spicy, relatable material about being a millennial woman. As she puts it: ‘There are a lot of d**k jokes in there for a show that has so many serious things to describe it.’

Olga grew up in St Petersburg, then moved to Moscow, picking up an American accent from US TV shows. She moved to the UK for secondary school, and on to university in the US — when she started waking up to the power of comedy as a persuasive device.

‘Because of my background, I was quite conservative, in terms of things like homophobia, sexism and really pronounced gender roles.

‘When I came to the UK and US I remember being shocked, but also defensive, about what I thought was right. The only thing that could possibly have changed my mind was not people preaching to me, but poking fun at the hypocrisy or inconsistency.

‘The shame of that made me change my mind, and in retrospect I thought how cool it was that you can change someone’s mind in that way.’

She’s been doing sketch and improvisation since she was 19, but only started stand-up three years ago. ‘I think the first coherent set I wrote was about how my dad is my boyfriend. I was playing about with gross stuff like, “His ex looks just like me and she’s really p****d off.” Some people were really on board with it and some were, “What are you doing?” she laughs.

That confident comedic voice, blended with a gritty touch of darkness and underpinned by a serious intellect guarantees that we’ll be seeing some compelling work from Olga. She’s definitely one to watch.

Olga Koch’s Fight On Tour is at Soho Theatre, London, until Saturday and then touring, rocknrolga.com