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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

weird moscow

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin stood outside the Mausoleum on Red Square, tapping his foot. He looked jaded. His beard was waxed to perfection, and a gold and red CCCP badge glittered on his lapel. Business today was slow.

Behind him the clock struck seven. "Roll up! Roll up!" shouted Lenin, waving his polaroid in the faces of four Japanese tourists. But they were in hot pursuit of their tour leader, who clearly had no time for the champion of the Great October Revolution. "Some days," Lenin sighed, "they just don't recognize me."

As impersonation goes, Varlam Galoyan has it down to a fine art. Born in Artik, Armenia, he realized his unusual talent when he was 12 years old. "They dressed me up as an old man, and made me say 'Comrade!' in a deep voice," Galoyan said.

Classmates and teachers were struck dumb at what they saw. "You are the spitting image of Vladimir Ilyich," his headmaster told him. He has been entertaining friends and audiences in his spare time with impressions of the Bolshevik leader ever since.

When he isn't loitering in Red Square or on the Old Arbat with Joseph Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev, both old friends from Armenia, Galoyan does advertisements for the international market.

"I had to stand on Red Square in my Lenin outfit, holding a giant cardboard pizza and say: 'Comrades, I have never tasted a pizza so good,'" he said. He also has a regular slot on Armenian television, promoting the national lottery.

These days, Galoyan is busy with his "Look-Alike Show" which includes numbers by prominent Soviet dignitaries, as well as Alla Pugachyova and Tina Turner. Was there a Leon Trotsky in the production, I asked him. "No, no Trotsky," he said. "But we do have a Lavrentia Beria. He does Gorbachev, too -- he just wipes the red ink off his head and slips on a pair of spectacles for Beria."

But what did he think of the real Lenin? Did he ever make the pilgrimage to the mausoleum before lunchtime to see the man who unwittingly provided Galoyan with his lucrative vocation?

"Actually, I have only ever seen him twice," he said. One of the other look-alikes (there are three currently operating in the capital) joined the line to see his luminary, but was hauled out by two policemen. "They said he was poking fun at the real Vladimir Ilyich," Galoyan said. "I wouldn't want the same to happen to me."

Although the two other doubles are friends of Galoyan, he prides himself on his high forehead, which he says is the best replica of Lenin's own. "Vladimir Ilyich's pate had 'intelligentsia' written all over it," he said. "That is why he always wore a cap. When he was mingling with the proletariat, he had to hide his cultured head, or he would scare them away." He cleared his throat. "I have the same problem," he said.