KVN (КВН; Клуб весёлых и находчивых, or “Club of funny and inventive people”) is a famous Russian sketch-comedy show and game show. It’s been running on and off (mostly on) since 1961—it barely even skipped a beat during the fall of the Soviet Union. For its humor, mentality, popularity, and long-running-ness (and its three-letter title), it can be compared to SNL.
KVN the phenomenon consists of a number of leagues of people who gather to play the game. There are both official and unofficial leagues, but only teams in the official ones can make it to the highest leagues—the Highest League (Высшая лига) and the Premier League (Премьер лига), which are the ones that air on TV.
The format of the show is that various teams compete in humorous games: they try to give the funniest answers to questions asked, perform skits, and do improv comedy. There are a few constant games—the introduction/visiting card; the “warm-up” (разминка), or the game of funny answers to questions; various acting games; and a musical game. The show’s host, Aleksandr Maslyakov (Александр Масляков), has been leading the show since 1964.
The show was initially live, but switched to being recorded at some point, since many of the show’s jokes were ideologically questionable and needed to be censored out. The first iteration of the show was canceled in 1971, signaling an end of Khrushchev’s thaw. But the show returned in 1986, again following the changing Soviet tides. Maslyakov returned as the host, and a jury of distinguished guests joined him in each episode. The show became even more popular, and was even aired in the US and Europe.
These days the show is still going and still popular, and now more in official favor than it used to be—Putin even dropped by in 2011 for the show’s 30th anniversary. In the most recent season, 2016, team Aziya MIX (Азия MIX) was named the champions of the Highest League of KVN. Many alums of KVN have become well-known actors—in fact, it seems like almost every well-known actor did their time on KVN.
Creators: Sergey Muratov (Сергей Муратов), Albert Axelrod (Альберт Аксельрод), Mikhail Yakovlev (Михаил Яковлев)
Host: Aleksandr Maslyakov (Александр Масляков)
Production company: Main redaktsiya of programs for youth of the Central Televideniya SSSR (Главная редакция программ для молодёжи Центрального телевидения СССР; Television Creative Association of Aleksandr Maslyakov and Company (Телевизионное творческое объединение Александр Масляков и Компаниа)
TV channel: currently ORT and Perviy Kanal (ОРТ, Первый канал); KVN TV (КВН ТВ)
KVN’s official website, the International Union of KVN.
A recent episode of KVN, 2016: