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Russian Comedian's Donkey Joke Falls Flat

  • RFE/RL

Russian comedian Sergei Svetlakov has had a lot of success since he turned professional in 2000.

As one of the writers with the creative team Comedy Club, he's behind one of the most popular comedy shows on Russian television and has received multiple awards. He also acts, including dressing up in drag as a Russian policewoman, and is a rising film star.

But Svetlakov, 35, may have gone a step too far when he and some business partners decided to open a restaurant in Kyiv. It had to be outrageous to fit his image, so outrageous it is.

The restaurant, built at a cost of $1.5 million, is called "Eshak" and serves Uzbek fare in the center of the Ukrainian capital, already an unlikely combination. But the joke didn't stop there.

By choosing the word "eshak," which means "donkey" in Uzbek, he also chose one of the ruder things one Uzbek can call another. It's a bit like slapping your guests silly as you serve them rice pilaf.

Then, to make sure nobody missed the place, Svetlakov added a real donkey to the mix, one that stands outside the restaurant like a braying billboard and can be heard for blocks around.

Neighbors Not Amused

It wasn't long before the neighbors began to complain. As the restaurant packed in customers, the fun never stopped but neither did the braying -- like a television laugh track that couldn't be switched off.

Sergei Svetlakov may have to find a quieter donkey.

Sergei Svetlakov may have to find a quieter donkey.

The neighbors immediately above the restaurant, which occupies the entire ground floor of a tower block in the usually quiet Pechersk district, telephoned city authorities and even wrote a letter to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Before long, their chorus by day was almost as loud as the roar from the restaurant at night. They couldn't sleep, the neighbors said. The smell of the hookah smoke was unbearable.

The rattling of the restaurant's ventilation system was shaking their apartment walls and making the plaster crack, they said. The cameras the city administration installed in the street to monitor the situation were peering through their curtains instead of surveying the crowd.

As in any good reality show, something had to give. And it did. Two weeks ago, the neighborhood woke to an eerie quiet. The donkey, like a joke gone flat, had been quietly wheeled off-stage.

Today, the donkey occupies a stall at the city racetrack, the Kyiv Hippodrome, while the restaurant and neighbors decide their next moves.

The restaurant hasn't closed and still wants to bring the donkey back for a second act. But the neighbors want Svetlakov's whole show canceled. It's up to the city authorities to decide and, like any good television judges, they are not revealing how they will vote.