The comic and the kleptocrat: The rise of Volodymyr Zelensky

If you read only two articles about the current situation in Ukraine, choose the opinion piece by Thomas Friedman, “We Have Never Been Here Before,” and a brief profile of the Ukrainian president, by Franklin Foer, titled “A Prayer for Volodymyr Zelensky.” One is a look from 30,000 feet; the other is beer and pretzels with an impressive new friend at a local bar.

Proof of life. (source)

Turns out Zelensky is Ricky Gervais minus the tragicomic genius of After Life. Zelensky’s acting career started with slapstick, sometimes puerile sketch comedy and a troupe of business- and comedy-savvy friends who built a successful entertainment empire. His final (and the prayer is that it won’t be his last) role, which carried him into Ukrainian politics, was playing, well, the president of Ukraine. His character in the television series Servant of the People was a former high school teacher whose viral rant about corruption, recorded surreptitiously by one of his students, carried him into office.

And back and back and back — so far.

The night before Foer’s piece was published in The Atlantic, Foer wrote, Zelensky posted a video warning that he might not make it to the next day. He did. As of this writing, he continues to post these video updates from his location in Kyiv.

And the world will never be the same. My words. Friedman’s words, carefully chosen (as he explains in detail), were that we have never been here before.

Historic events have a way of resonating. And sometimes history seems to resonate within history — like ornate mirrors that are by themselves showy enough to be notable, reflecting back and back and back, ad infinitum.

Here we are, the United States of America, whose leading candidate for one of our two major political parties is a would-be autocrat, watching a former comedian demonstrate what courage and devotion to democracy look like. And the former comedian just so happens to be the center of that would-be autocrat’s first impeachment while serving as president of the United States. And said impeachment involved the funding of the military that at this hour is staving off the armed forces of another actual autocrat who held an unusual attraction for our would-be autocrat. And that attraction included the spectacle in Helsinki where our would-be autocrat favored the word of the other autocrat over the word of our intelligence community. And back and back and back.

Welcome to World War Wired, as Friedman wrote: “the first war in a totally interconnected world. This will be the Cossacks meet the World Wide Web…As this war unfolds on TikTok, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, Putin cannot closet his Russian population — let alone the rest of the world — from the horrific images that will come out of this war as it enters its urban phase.”

In the end Zelensky will be revered. I hope he keeps coming back and back, though he could be gone already today. He deserves that respect now, during life. But his actions so far guarantee that he’ll surely have it after life.

Originally published at on February 27, 2022.




Freelance journalist, writer, and editor. Author of the Fantasy Crow trilogy of sci-fi/fantasy short stories.

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Keith Croes

Keith Croes

Freelance journalist, writer, and editor. Author of the Fantasy Crow trilogy of sci-fi/fantasy short stories.

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