Originally from Ukraine, Santa Barbara comedian Andrey Belikov has been described by fellow comic Jason Love as “the face of comedy in Santa Barbara.” The UCSB alumnus is the producer of Laughology, an UCSB-based comedy program, and Santa Barbara’s own Comedy Hideaway, which recently made its home in a side room of Petrini’s in Goleta.
The busy comic and new father took time on Saturday to talk about his journey and about what the future holds for him and for Santa Barbara’s comedy scene.
Tell me a little about your background and how you got started in comedy.
When my family came to this country, we had $200 dollars to our name and the flames of a collapsing superpower behind us. My mother developed paranoid delusional disorder (almost like an incurable schizophrenia) and too many of our relatives all died in the ‘90s.
Fast-forward to today, I’m a working comic, and my brother is a top NASA astrophysicist. Somehow we made it, and it was thanks to my dad’s humor. No matter what, he found a way to make us laugh and give us hope. As my mother’s condition got worse, I found humor was the only way to reach her even momentarily; otherwise, she was a loop of madness.
When you see homeless people walking the street, just think, that could be someone’s mother, could have been mine some nights. I spent years navigating the mental health world, and I saw two kinds of people: Most couldn’t even begin to understand; the rest had their hands tied by our horribly broken system. It protects people’s right to destroy themselves, even if these choices are brought on by mental illness.
I see people around me every day pushing through their own unique tragedies. Through comedy I’ve learned life never gets easier — we just get better at dealing and laughing through it, and enjoy and love those moments we get to. If I can help spread that message through my comedy, maybe it would somehow validate the hard life my family went through.
What material do you find works best for you when you’re performing?
Something that’s honest. Some comics focus on the joke and the mechanics, but audiences these days really yearn to hear someone speak truthfully and really make themselves venerable up there. In order to not repeat something everyone has already heard, you really have to dig deep, and sometimes you find some painful memories down there. That’s what they really want, to see you able to laugh about a seemingly impossible life experience that maybe they are going through, too.
How do you think audience’s expectations have changed?
Comedy has definitely gotten darker, but society is evolving. Taboo topics are being talked about and resolved, and nothing can bring a topic sooner or safer to the public eye than a joke. If you aren’t a borderline philosopher, audiences are not impressed. Some of the best pull that off without you noticing.
Comedy is the best way to get past a person’s preconditioned biases, their ignorance, and their apathy. It really is, I think, the way to a better world.
What other comics do you like performing with? Which of them have been helpful or taught you something?
Andrew Norelli and Dwayne Perkins taught me how to write, Ruben Paul and Al Del Bene how to work the crowd, Tig Notaro and Paul Ogata how to improvise; then there is Louis C.K. and Bill Burr, who are redefining the art. I think everyone should Google all these people and see them live every chance they get.
What was it like when you started your career? What are some of the most interesting parts of being on the road?
In the beginning, it’s bars with other comics, drunks, and homeless people. Oftentimes there are all three of those things; the L.A. comedy scene is like a postapocalyptic, malnourished pool of bitterness feeding on itself while constantly self-promoting. Many don’t survive.
If your self-esteem can handle the soul crushing and you start touring, you upgrade to more tangible dangers. I’ve slept in my car in both Cleveland and Detroit (ranked higher in crime than Compton at the time); I’ve been stranded in the Oregon wilderness. I have done sets to the background noise of ambulances and even gunfire (not the cowboy fun kind); I’ve had 17-hour-long drives straight pushing five Red Bulls. I’ve run through cornfields with death metal music bands playing at a barn. I’ve even had a world-renowned Bigfoot hunter try to pay me for a gig with weed one time.
But the scariest thing was staying at some guy’s house across from a cemetery with his three cats in Ohio. I guess I was funny enough to live.
What’s the history behind the Comedy Hideaway and what kind of work does it take to produce the show?
I’ve tried to use my experience to polish and figure out the best shows for Comedy Hideaway. New York City is where a lot of the best comics come out of, and they can get up 20 times a week and grow really fast. They have these tiny rooms with low ceilings that fit about 60-70 people, and they’re the best rooms because they’re really intimate. I wanted to re-create that in Santa Barbara.
We found a room with low ceilings and set up a backdrop and some candles and tried to re-create that atmosphere. We get comics who usually do shows for hundreds of people, who know me, and they know that it may be a smaller gig, but it’s a great room similar to the ones in New York. We’re really happy with how it’s been going. We’ve been there for a month and a half, and it’s been great. We haven’t really had a bad show. If you take the worst show and use it as an example of the Comedy Hideaway, I’d be happy with that.
How would you like to see Comedy Hideaway grow in the future?
We do two shows on Thursdays in Goleta. We convert a side room into a little comedy club. Since we started about a month ago, we’ve been pretty much filled to capacity for both shows every week.
Not to rush things, but we’ve been thinking of doing more nights a week and making it into a comedy fixture, and maybe do a month-to-month show at the Lobero or something and bring some of the big names up, all while keeping the Comedy Hideaway brand.
So why should people come out to see your show?
It’s a great show. I’ve done comedy for about six years and done thousands of shows, and I’ve never seen that exit appreciation. They walk out and shake your hand and thank you. I’ve had the greatest response at this show than any of the thousands of other shows I’ve done, and I’m kind of humbled. I think we’re onto something interesting, something good.
You recently had a daughter. How are you enjoying fatherhood?
Fatherhood has been amazing. Funny enough, the manager of Petrini’s, Joe Bohnett, where we have our new showroom, had a son just days before! We were talking about it — it’s like an energy drink with no crash. It has easily doubled the hustle in me. I walk around asking myself what kind of man I want my daughter to have as a dad, and it guides every choice I make.
Until now I journeyed through life with but a vague notion of what it was all for; it became overwhelmingly clear the day she was born. I created Comedy Hideaway for Santa Barbara, but really I created it for her.
The Comedy Hideaway gets funny every Thursday at 7:30 and 10 p.m. at Petrini’s Italian Restaurant at 5711 Calle Real in Goleta. See sbcomedy.com for tickets and this week’s lineup.