Ukrainian comedian Dima Watermelon on war humour and why Putin is not a joke

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Some believe that humour always helps but not on the 24 February 2022,when the Russian invasion of Ukraine left nothing to laugh about. Ukrainian comic Dima Watermelon said:  “I don’t think any Ukrainians will ever forget the moment where they were. It’s like asking Americans about 9/11.” 

Except for Ukrainians this time their whole existence as a sovereign state was under threat. Dima remembers exactly where he was that day. In Munich getting ready to fly to South Africa where his wife comes from. Dima had been living in Berlin for several years after moving from Finland as a student. 

How does one switch from IT to stand-up comedy?

After finishing his studies in Berlin and starting to work in IT, Dima began doing live stand-up performances. That’s when Dima became a full time comedian and a regular in the lively Berlin stand-up comedy scene. That’s where having a surname like Watermelon helps. It is his Ukrainian surname Kabyh translated into English. We met Dima before a live show in a well-known comedy venue in Neukölln, in West Berlin. 

Joking about the war is like addressing “the elephant in the room”

Originally political jokes weren’t really Dima’s thing. But circumstances, even in the world of laughter force you to adapt.

“I never wanted to be a political comedian. But because of the war I need to address it, it’s like addressing the elephant in the room. So of course I end up writing more jokes about war and about Russia and about Putin. Humour is important because this is one thing people always have. You know, you can laugh and you can feel better when you laugh.“

And some of his jokes aged better than he would have hoped for. When he first started as a comedian back in 2018, he joked that if someone asked him about his nationality, as he is from Ukraine, he first had to check the news:

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A post shared by Dima Watermelon (@dimawatermelon)

During his live set, one member of the audience asks him why he’s here and not there. Dima asks the man for a one-to-one after the show to talk further about this issue. He must continue, the house is full and people have paid for the show – they want to be entertained. 

We asked Dima a similar question before his comedy hour “Culturally Inappropriate aka Ukrainian Dream” began. Dima thinks it is a difficult question but says if he was conscripted and there wasn´t any other option yes, of course, he would go. He´s not sure what he really has to offer. He feels certain groups of people aren´t really fit for the army and artists fall under this category, but he did receive basic military training as a radio operator for air space systems.

Dima’s hometown is Irpin, now sadly known because of the war

And of course his comedy is in a foreign language – English. He has  never really done stand-up in his native language. Although he was brought up bilingually in Ukraine, his mother spoke Ukrainian, his father Russian, he has always spoke Ukrainian.

 Dima is from the eastern suburbs of Kyiv a place called Irpin which is now known as one of the places where the Russian push in Ukrainian was halted in the first months of the war.  Dima didn’t even used to say he was from Irpin to people, because it was unknown, he just said Kyiv. Now it’s on the map, like so many others places in Ukraine that nobody really knew before the war. Dima hasn’t been back to Irpin since the war begun. 

A resident sits outside a house ruined by shelling in Irpin, outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

As much I’d like to go there. I don’t want to see it in my eyes and you know what I mean, because, it’s like half of my hometown was destroyed. I grew up in Irpin and Bucha and watching pictures from Bucha was like, I couldn’t sleep for 48 hours…

Dima Watermelon
Stand-up Comedian

That was really heart breaking, I would like to, to keep those places nice in my head, in my memory. I’m not sure what the right thing to do is.“

“Take the war seriously and supply Ukraine with more weapons”

One thing Dima is sure of is that people in the West and western Europe don’t take the whole situation seriously enough.

“I just listened to Putin and Russia. They’re not playing and they’re serious. And this idea that they will stop in Ukraine and they will take Crimea and Donbas and they will stop, it’s just not true because as I said, Russia was consistent over 20 years of grabbing, of restoring, like Russian Empire, the former Soviet Union.”

According to Dima the West needs to be much more involved and realise the seriousness of the situation. “I hope, the Western world will take this war more seriously and to actually supply Ukraine with more weapons and not just supply leftovers.”

The Ukrainian community is more closely knitted than ever before

Dima feels very pessimistic about the future for Ukraine and for Europe too. He feels things can only get much worse. His hopes are that  he, his family and friends will survive this ongoing nightmare.

“One thing that has changed is that Ukrainians have become much closer as a nation of people.” 

 Other big changes have also taken place in his life. Dima´s mother for example arrived in Berlin as a refugee. They too have become much closer than they were before the invasion. 

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A post shared by Dima Watermelon (@dimawatermelon)

Dima says the stereotype about people wanting to come to Germany for financial benefits is not really true. People especially older people like his mother do not want to be here. There’s no joy living in a city where it’s very difficult to find accommodation as a refugee, where the bureaucratic hurdles are so difficult many would rather return home.

He jokes that she would rather hear sirens than face German bureaucracy every day. “

Putin only has war to offer, nothing else

Dima adds that Putin can only offer Russians war and nothing else. He has no way back, no way out, even if he was offered a peace deal in his opinion. He adds ”Putin is serious about the Baltic countries.” Dima thinks they are also on Putin’s invasion list. “He hates Poland. We need to take it seriously.“ 

And in one of his sets he jokes, that as he is an Ukrainian comedian, the public in Western Europe and the public in Eastern Europe have very different expectations, when it comes to his material and to his jokes about Russia.

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A post shared by Dima Watermelon (@dimawatermelon)

Dima knows that with inflation and the costs of living crisis, the daily quality of life has deteriorated for most, even in Western Europe: “But at least people here are not dying. 

“I hope it will sort itself out magically. But yeah, let’s take it seriously, guys.“

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