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How Comedian Olga Koch Is Transforming the UK Comedy Scene

From St. Petersburg to Soho Theatre: How Olga Koch Is Transforming the UK Comedy Scene

Olga Koch | Photo source: James Deacon

Olga Koch is a chameleon, but not in the traditional sense. A Russian-born comedian with an airtight American accent, a computer science degree from New York University, and a Twitter feed full of NSFW jokes, she blends into the UK stand-up scene by perpetually standing out. Yet, there's something universal about Olga and her humour — a fact that helped land her a nomination for "best newcomer" at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards in 2018 (after snagging BBC New Comedy Awards in 2016 and 2017, at that).

Today, at age 27, her comedy sets are a carefully-crafted blend of self-actualised and self-deprecating jokes, interwoven with dark truths about sexism, capitalism, and the fact that Vladimir Putin tried to kidnap her father. Because, of course he did.

POPSUGAR caught up with Olga last fall — shortly after she performed If/Then (the show she's now taken on tour across the UK) at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe — to discuss everything from her childhood in Russia, to her feelings about Mr. Blobby. Unsurprisingly, she brings the same wit and energy to a pancake breakfast as she does to a stand-up routine, seamlessly blending toilet jokes with astute observations about Western culture throughout our conversation.

"My first 13 years were mostly Russian," she explained. "So, like, everyone here in the UK knows about Mr. Blobby. But I learned about Mr. Blobby when I was 25 years old. . . . It's almost easier to write comedy because I get to see it from a different angle. It's much harder to write when it's inherently part of your life — to take yourself out of it and be like, 'It's weird that we did this.'"

This approach is part of what makes Olga such a powerful, relatable comedian. She's able to pinpoint and unpack aspects of English and Western society that we've long accepted as normal, no matter how silly or nonsensical they may be (like the bright pink and unnervingly spooky Mr. Blobby). In If/Then, for instance — a show about first loves and computer science, among other things — she calls out the double-edged challenges that come with being a woman in male-dominated fields, like comedy and coding.

"When I flirt with guys, they get very excited about the traditionally masculine things about me," she joked. "Honestly, if another guy tells me how cool it is that I like computers, burgers, and beer, I'll tell him he has unresolved feelings for his friend Greg."

Beyond these quips about subverted gender norms, Olga's equally quick to utilise more traditionally 'feminine' traits in her routines — using emotion and vulnerability to craft deeper connections with her audience.

"If I go on stage and I say something super vulnerable . . . the audience will be like, 'Oh, this is my friend because she's being so vulnerable with us," she explained. "When in reality, it is so calculated. I am in complete control of what it is that I'm letting you see and not letting you see . . . It's definitely different for women, and I think that maybe makes it more interesting and fun to play around with."

Attend one of Olga's shows (10/10 recommend!) and you'll notice just how calculated and well-engineered they are. Yet, it all feels completely authentic — she casually laughs along throughout her sets, as though she's telling you stories over pints, not performing to a sold-out audience at London's Soho Theatre.

Better yet, the stories she's telling are so absurd and hilarious, they're practically stranger than fiction.

In Fight — Olga's special for BBC Radio 4 — she explains that her father accidentally helped create the Russian oligarchy and once vanished from his home in the middle of the night ("It's the best story I have and it's not even mine," she claimed). In If/Then, she talks about seductively asking her ex to take her to cemeteries and strip clubs on their first date. And in Bride — the show she's currently writing and testing — she shares anecdotes about attending an American boarding school in the middle of Staines-on-Thames, and making out with strangers in rent-by-the-hour moving vans. (Modern romance, am I right?)

Needless to say, Olga Koch is a curious character, and her humour's as thought-provoking as it is bizarre and laughable, literally. Her performances feel like a mashup of Broad City, Fleabag, and an old-school Bond film. "All of it, genuinely, is just a deconstruction of my identity," she said. And it's all truly a joy to watch.

Image Source: Photo by James Deacon
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