Fringe Review: “Happy-ish… Russian Immigrant’s Guide to Smiling”: Smiles All Around


Photo Credit: Alex Tran

Vadim Gran’s solo debut “Happy-ish…Russian Immigrants Guide to Smiling” is sincere, funny, charming, and a little awkward. Incidentally, the awkwardness adds to the fun and charm of Gran’s storytelling, making for a quick, satisfying Fringe show that left me thinking about how grateful I am for the Fringe to offer a stage to anyone, from any background. 

How often have you been able to peer into the life of someone colloquially and sincerely? Stripping away the veneer that self-deprecating comedians often come with, and not delving too much into heavy subject matter, the audience gets to know Gran, over 45 minutes, with honest and well flowing stories from birth to now. I feel like I can grab a beer with him though we’ve only exchanged a few words.

As far as solo shows go, this one is pretty barebones. The stage is set with a stool and a water bottle. Lighting changes are subtle, and Gran performs in jeans and a tee. This minimalism is a reflection on the “feel” of the show itself: nothing is too prettied up, nothing is too “put on”, it is just a person with a story. Something to point out, however, is the song choice. I really appreciated the decision to include the Canadian national anthem sung in Mohawk. I asked Gran after the show about that decision, and he stated simply: “it felt right”. Canada is a land of diverse peoples, and again, listening to Gran’s stories are evocative of that fact. 

Photo Credit: Alex Tran

The audience is reminded throughout the performance about Gran’s Russian heritage, about growing up in the Soviet Union, and just how different life there was compared to life here. As a kid, his history class comprised of disassembling and reassembling a kalashnikov (whereas mine unfortunately celebrated colonialist history). When he would reference sayings or jokes that didn’t totally connect in English, I could hear a couple of Russian folks in the audience laugh. 

We embark on a journey with Gran. Heartbreak, drinking tales, his journey through the arts, and getting accustomed to Canadian culture are just a few of the things on the menu. Occasionally, he stumbles his words, which had me thinking about the performers’ nerves. He addresses this through his stories in a very endearing way. Something to note is how well constructed his script is, with wordplay, recurring jokes and themes, and solid transitions. Kudos to Gran for writing an interesting, well constructed, funny and intimate piece. By the end, we sincerely care for the performer. At times, some of his deliveries fall flat, but this is totally forgivable for someone whose first language isn’t English. His eyes convey emotion, even when his mouth can’t keep up.  

This show will land differently with different people. Personally, my parents immigrated to Canada, so I could connect more intimately to some of his tales than others. In the end though, Vadim Gran’s guide to smiling had me smiling; there’s a lot of heart here. This is a testament to how incredible it is for anyone, from any culture, to be able to get up on a stage in Canada and tell us their story.

This is a show for anyone who is interested in comedy, solo shows, or storytelling.

ShimKo Entertainment presents “Happy-ish: Russian Immigrant’s Guide to Smiling
at the 29th St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival

Performances: June 6 – 15, 2019
Venue: 03 – Le P’tit Impro
3713 Saint-Laurent #202 Montréal, H2X 2V7
Admission: $8 – 10 | Ages 12+
Box Office:
514.849.FEST (3378)

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Check out all our other 70+ reviews 
from this year’s fest on our Fringe page!

Rahul Gandhi

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