The raucous and surprisingly poignant story of a young, Russia-obsessed American writer and comedian who embarked on a solo tour of the former Soviet Republics, never imagining that it would involve kidnappers, garbage bags of money, and encounters with the weird and wonderful from Mongolia to Tajikistan.
Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Siberia are not the typical tourist destinations of a twenty-something, nor the places one usually goes to eat, pray, and/or love. But the mix of imperial Russian opulence and Soviet decay, and the allure of emotionally unavailable Russian men proved strangely irresistible to comedian Audrey Murray.
At age twenty-eight, while her friends were settling into corporate jobs and serious relationships, Audrey was on a one-way flight to Kazakhstan, the first leg of a nine-month solo voyage through the former USSR. A blend of memoir and offbeat travel guide, this thoughtful, hilarious catalog of a young comedian’s adventures is also a diary of her emotional discoveries about home, love, patriotism, loneliness, and independence.
Sometimes surprising, often disconcerting, and always entertaining, Open Mic Night in Moscow will inspire you to take the leap and embark on your own journey into the unknown. And, if you want to visit Chernobyl by way of an insane-asylum-themed bar in Kiev, Audrey can assure you that there’s no other guidebook out there. (She’s looked.)
From the Author:
Ever since I became an adult capable of dreaming beyond the idea of making out with a member of a boyband, I dreamed of traveling through the former Soviet Union, learning Russian, and writing a book about it. But I dreamed about it in the way you dream of a far-off, unattainable goal, like becoming a world-class figure skater or sticking to a budget.
Over the years, I’ve tried to explain my fascination with the Russian language and culture using a variety of nuanced descriptions of the way in which the Cold War shaped my father’s childhood, or how the Soviet Union reminds me of America in that both had dominant monolingual cultures that saw themselves as the center of the world. Usually people look very confused until I get to the last part, where I admit that I’ve had a lot of Russian boyfriends. “Oh,” they say, as if everything suddenly clicked. “You should just say that next time.”
Actually, it’s only two Russian boyfriends, but they’ve been my favorite, longest, and most recurring relationships. Both relationships were, at times, sustained by the idea that one day the pair of us would travel to the former Soviet Union together, an idea that, in retrospect, I’m not entirely sure I ever communicated to them. After breaking up with the second, I began to wonder if I’d ever actually get there. Then it dawned on me that I just might be able to do the trip on my own.
This wasn’t my first rodeo. When I was 23, I quit my job and moved to China. Lest you mistake me for a sophisticated, worldly traveler, I should mention that my sole reason for moving there was that someone dared me to do it, and that when I arrived, I spoke no Chinese, knew nothing about China, and had never set foot in Asia before.
To be clear, I’m not advocating this as a career move. This was a terrible and poorly thought-out decision, but one that happened to work out for me. In Shanghai, I started doing improv comedy and then went on to co-found China’s first standup comedy club. I performed standup and improv all over China and Asia for 6 years. I also wrote plays for a local theater company and for some reason was allowed to report on business trends for magazines and newspapers.
For someone who has spent a lot of time traveling, I’ve always staunchly opposed the idea of travel as a virtuous or inherently enlightening experience. I believe travel is an expensive hobby, like skiing or shopping at Whole Foods. Another reason I never took this USSR dream particularly seriously is that I never felt morally compelled to follow it. But I was interested and curious, and then, through a stroke of luck (job-wise) a method of funding it basically fell into my lap.
Thus I embarked on a similarly impulsive trip, but this one through the homelands of my former lovers. I attended a stranger’s wedding, finagled a gajillion visas, visited the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, and crossed two continents on the Trans-Siberian Railway. This book is about everything that happened in between.