Humor from the Soviet Union and Russia is rarely appreciated in the West. There are many reasons for this. First, it is hard to imagine anything funny coming from the Soviet Union based on their grim history and constant tension with us Capitalist Imperialists. Secondly, we were largely cut off from this society for so long, that we were simply not exposed to it. Well, contrary to popular belief, Soviet citizens did quite well for themselves in this area and it has only continued unabated in modern Russia. I won’t go into a fully developed analysis of Soviet and Russian humor, but I will say that their view on the lighter side of life has been one of my favorites experiences in their culture. I’ve tried to capture some of my favorite jokes in this post to give you a glimpse of their wit. You can go to many websites to read scores of these jokes and you can even check out a rather robust look at Soviet and Russian humor on Wikipedia. I attempt to do something slightly different. I include jokes that I’ve found while reading books about the Soviet Union and Russia. Some of these jokes may be off the beaten path and thus more unique. However, they will certainly capture the sentiment of most jokes you’ll find in their history. Many of them focus on the haplessness of life under socialism. They shine a bright light on how the average citizen coped with life. Enjoy what I’ve included and do your own searches on the web for more.
Hammer vs. Sickle:
In 1962, Krushchev eliminated district party committees and divided governments into two independent parts, one for agriculture, and one for industry. Chaos ensued since no one part could govern the whole and each camp could only control their own specialty. And so the joke goes…
A party member complained to his “agricultural” department secretary that another comrade had hit him on the head with a hammer. “I’d do something about it, Ivan,” replied the agricultural secretary, “but it’s not my area of responsibility. Now if he had cut you with a sickle, then…”
Brezhnev, The Masks of Power, by John Dornberg, p. 169.
Soviet jokes likely reached its peak during the Brezhnev era due to the routine complaints of economic stagnation and vagueness of purpose in society. I consider these jokes to be part of the “golden era” of Communist humor.
Lenin demonstrated how to run the State.
Stalin demonstrated how not to run the State.
Krushchev tried to show that anyone can run the State.
Brezhnev is trying to demonstrate that the State does not have to be run at all.
Brezhnev, The Masks of Power, by John Dornberg, p. 281.
I know I said that I would not include the most commonly known jokes from Russia and the Soviet Union in my posts, but I did have to record one that was told to me the most often while living in Russia. As typical in most societies, jokes often focused on particular ethnic groups. Since Estonia was part of the Soviet Union, it was the target of many jokes. Somewhere, somehow, Estonians gained a reputation as being slow-minded. Some say it is the style of their native language or the way they speak Russian. It could also be fairly random as Polish jokes developed in the U.S. Nobody knows why they became so prolific, but there they were. Anyway, here is a classic example of an Estonian joke.
An Estonian stands by a railway track. Another Estonian passes by on a handcar, pushing the pump up and down. The first one asks: “Is it a long way to Tallinn?” — “No, not too long.” He gets on the car and joins pushing the pump up and down. After two hours of silent pumping the first Estonian asks again: “Is it a long way to Tallinn?” — “Now it is.”
An oligarch is lying on his deathbed and refuses to be buried in a Moscow mausoleum. Instead, he asks to be buried in Harrods so that he knows his wife will visit his grave at least once a week.
Reagan Loved Soviet Jokes, Too: