aka: Russian Humor
Russian humour comes mostly in the form of "anecdotes" (anekdoty) - joke stories with a punchline. Typical of Russian joke culture is a series of categories with fixed and highly familiar settings and characters. Surprising effects are achieved by an endless variety of plots and plays on words. The most common characters of Russian anecdotes are the following:
- Stirlitz. This is a character from the highly popular Soviet TV series Seventeen Moments Of Spring. The series is about a Soviet spy, Maxim Isayev, who infiltrates Nazi Germany under the guise of Standartenführer (see Common Ranks) Otto von Stirlitz and foils its plans to enter into separate peace treaty with the Western Allies. Stirlitz interacts with Nazi officials Walther Schellenberg, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Martin Bormann, Heinrich Müller. In the jokes he interacts with them as well as with fictional female radio operator Kat, pastor Schlagg, professor Pleischner and other characters in the series.
- Most Stirlitz jokes are based on puns and wordgames. The series itself is dark and moody, similar to American Film Noir, and has a solemn narrator's voice that narrates the inner dialogue of the characters. In the jokes, however, the stern voice tells hilarious puns instead of superlogical trains of thought. Here is a typical example
- Stirlitz had a thought. He liked it, so he had another one.
- Stirlitz heard someone knocking on his door. "Bormann", thought Stirlitz. "Me", thought Bormann.
- Stirlitz, walking down the corridor, subtly pushed the door of Bormann's office. The door didn't move. Stirlitz stopped, looked around and pushed harder. No effect. "Hmm... It must be closed", Stirlitz deducted.
- Another variant of this joke involves some Fourth Wall painting:
Stirlitz, walking down the corridor, subtly pushed the door of Bormann's office. The door didn't move. Stirlitz stopped, looked around and pushed harder. No effect.
- Seventeen Moments of Spring was recently re-released in color. This led to a few new Stirlitz jokes, centered on colors. Here's one.
- "Stirlitz was surprised to see so many colored people serving in the Gestapo".
- Stirlitz wakes up to find out he has been arrested. "Who got me? Which name should I use?" - he wonders. - "Let's see. If they wear black uniforms, I'll say I'm Standartenführer Stirlitz. If they wear green uniforms, I'm Colonel Isayev". The door opens and a policeman in a blue uniform comes in saying: "You really should ease up on the vodka, Comrade Tikhonov!"
- Vyacheslav Tikhonov is the name of the actor who played Stirlitz. The uniform colours correspond to SS, Soviet military, and Soviet police.
- Stirlitz opened a door. The lights went on. Stirlitz closed the door. The lights went out. Stirlitz opened the door again. The light went back on. Stirlitz closed the door. The light went out again. "It's a refrigerator," concluded Stirlitz.
- While Stirlitz was driving at 120 m/h, Muller was running nearby, pretending he is not in hurry.
- Stirlitz heard someone knocking the door. He opened. There was a little dog. "What are you doing here, silly thing?" - he asked kindly. "You fool! I'm from Centre." (This joke spoofs tendency of secret agents to wear disguises)
- This dog and Stirlitz's line were in the series. The dog didn't respond though.
- Vasily Ivanovich Chapayev. He was a Red Army hero of the Russian Civil War, in the rank of Division Commander (roughly equivalent of Major General), and was featured in a hugely popular 1934 biopic. Other characters from the biopic like his aide-de-camp Petka, Anka The Machine-Gunner, and political commissar Furmanov, all based on real people, are also featured in the jokes. Most common topics are about their fight with the White Army, Chapayev's futile attempts to enroll into the Frunze Military Academy, his folk-cunning and his incompetence in book military science, and the circumstances of his death; Officially and in the book, he was machine-gunned by the Whites while attempting to flee across the Ural River after a lost battle. It is said that Marshal Budyonny, upon hearing this jokes, said "I told him; unless you study, you'll be everyone's laughing stock".
- "I flunked again, Petka. The question was about Caesar, and I told them it's a stallion from the 7th cavalry squadron." / "Oh, sorry about that, Vasily Ivanovich, I had him moved to the 6th!"
- Vasiliy Ivanovich, enemy tanks are attacking!
- Take the grenades from the shelf, Petka.
Some time later.
- Whew! We've beaten them back!
- Good, Petka. Now, put the grenades back to the shelf.
- One of the core jokes related to Chapaev's death, as mentioned above:
A Soviet elementary school teacher, in preparation for the celebration of the anniversary of the Revolution, asks the children whether any of their relatives knew anyone of the old Bolshevik guard. Sashka [diminutive form of Alexander, something like "little Alex"] stands up and says that his grandfather knew Chapaev. The teacher is overjoyed and asks Sashka to ask his grandfather if he wants to come to the school and tell the children about Chapayev. The grandfather accepts and comes to the lesson on the next day.
-Comrade Petrov, your grandson says you knew our great hero Chapayev, who fought and died for the triumph of communism!
-Yes, comrade teacher, indeed I met Vasily Ivany'ch, the revolutionary hero, once.
-Oh, that's so exciting! Please, would you tell the children about him? When did you meet him, how do you remember him?
-Of course. Well, kids, I fought in the civil war. It was a fine morning in September, I remember it clearly - our platoon had had a long march and we were resting on the banks of a river. So I'm sitting there, eating an apple, a machine gun in my lap. Then suddenly, I see movement - there's some guy swimming across the river. His Excellency, next to me, jumps up and shouts: "That's him! Shoot, Ivan! Shoot!" Shoot I did...Well, kids, that was the last time I saw Chapayev.
- (For those who didn't get it from the ending...His Excellency is a form of address for generals in the Tsarist army, and the only generals in the civil war were on the side of the Whites. Reds had commanders, not officers.)
- Lieutenant Rzhevsky, a Hussar from the popular movie Hussar Ballad. He is renowned for being a womanizer, telling lewd jokes and dropping Cluster F Bombs in a Sophisticated as Hell manner. By some weird reason (maybe for sheer contrast), these jokes usually depict him interacting with characters from War and Peace such as Natasha Rostove or Pierre Bezukhov. The humor in these jokes comes from the futile attempts of this trash-talking, tit-grabbing Boisterous Bruiser to pass as an Officer and a Gentleman and fit into the polite, sophisticated noble society.
"Yesterday I saved a lady from a rape..."
"Oh, it's so interesting, Lieutenant, tell me how you did it!"
"Well, I just persuaded her."
- Rzhevsky and Natasha are at a ball. They walk onto a balcony.
Rzhevsky: Natalie, what a magnificent night this is, with its full moon and bright stars.
Echo [out of habit]: Fuck, fuck, fuck.
- Two variations on one where Rzhevsky attends a noble's ball and asks to dance with Natalya.
Natalya: But Lieutenant, your boots are dirty! Just look, they are caked in mud!
Rzhevsky: Don't you worry, m'lady, once it's dry, it'll fall off by itself. / Rzhevsky: It is not mud, m'lady, but shit.
- Rabinovich. A sterotypical Russian Jew: smart, crafty, and very mercantile. A quintessential Knight in Sour Armor. Most jokes revolve around Rabinovich finding improbable sources of income and, in older stories, vigorously hating the Soviet government. Nowadays, can become a slight faux pas (it should be noted, though, that most, if not all, of these jokes were created by Russian Jews themselves, and as such, even those seeming vaguely antisemitic are rather examples of the self-deprecation prominent in Ashkenazi humour). The most famous contemporary Rabinovich joke involves Pamyat, a Russian ultra-nationalist (and thus antisemitic) group:
Pamyat: Pamyat headquarters, what is the nature of your inquiry?
Rabinovich: Is it true that Jews sold Russia out?
Pamyat: Damn right!
Rabinovich: Great! Could you tell me where I might get my share?
- Sometimes Rabinovich is a otkaznik, or at least discusses emigrating to Israel:
Rabinovich's Friend: Rabinovich! I thought you would have emigrated to Israel by now!
Rabinovich: Why? I can feel miserable here just as well.
- Or another one, when Rabinovich is applying for permission to move to Israel:
Official: Your application says you have no relatives abroad, but elsewhere you mention you have a brother in Tel Aviv. How can this be true?
Rabinovich: Yes, but he is not abroad, I am abroad!
Rabinovich and his wife, Sarah, are lying in bed together. Rabinovich can't get to sleep, and is fidgeting nervously. Eventually, his wife can't take it any more:
Sarah: For pity's sake, love! What is the matter?
Rabinovich: You know Levi from the next tenement? I borrowed ten rubles from him the other day.
Sarah: But you don't have ten rubles!
Rabinovich: I know, and that's why I can't get to sleep!
Sarah: (*sighs, then opens the window and shouts out) LEVI! LEVI!
Levi: (*from his own window across the street) What?
Sarah: You know that ten rubles my husband borrowed from you? Well, he's not giving it back! (*slams window, turns back to Rabinovich) There. Now settle down, and let Levi stay awake!
- Or (while Rabinovich is at last at the airport to go to Israel):
Russian Customs Official: *points to a hefty miniature statute* What is that?
Rabinovich: What is that? WHAT is that? Do not say what is that, say who is that! That is Lenin, the genius who established this workers' paradise! I intend to keep him on the mantlepiece as a reminder.
Official: *laughing*, OK, move along.
Later, at Ben-Gurion Airport
Israeli Customs Official: *points at statue* What is that?
Rabinovich: What is that? WHAT is that? Do not say what is that, say who is that! That is Lenin, the asshole who created the hell-hole I'm so happy to be leaving! I intend to keep him over the toilet as a reminder.
Official: *laughing*, OK, move along.
Later, at his daughter's house
Rabinovich's Israeli grandson: *points at statute* Who is that?
Rabinovich: Do not say who is that, grandson, say what is that? That, my child, is five kilograms of solid gold!
- Vovochka (a diminuitive form of "Vova", itself, in turn, a diminutive form of "Vladimir"). A stereotypical Russian school student (depending on the story, his age may vary from kindergarten to high school): not too bright, not interested in studying, either, prone to underage drinking, smoking, and swearing. Think Bart Simpson, only sometimes worse. He's apparently a subversion of young Vladimir Lenin, who was a role model character in many didactic tales for children. His most common counterpart is Marivanna (shortened of "Maria Ivanovna"), a stereotypical Russian schoolmarm, whose portrayal varies from sympathetic to outright offensive. Ever since Vladimir Putin got elected President, the joke-tellers went meta and started considering Vovochka anecdotes political jokes.
- The teacher asks the class to produce a word that starts with the letter "A"; Vovochka happily raises his hand and says "Asshole!" The teacher, shocked, responds "For shame! There's no such word!" "That's strange," says Vovochka, "the asshole exists, but the word doesn't!"
- Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, mostly based upon their portrayal by Vasiliy Livanov and Vitaly Solomin in the 1980s Soviet film adaptation of Conan Doyle's works. The content is similar to Stirlitz jokes above, only less centered on puns and more on Holmes' improbable ingenuity in deduction, and Watson acting as Straight Man.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson were going camping. They pitched their tent under the stars and went to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night Holmes woke Watson up and said: "Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you see." Watson replied: "I see millions and millions of stars." Holmes said: "And what do you deduce from that?" Watson replied: "Well, if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like Earth out there. And if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life." And Holmes said: "Watson, you idiot, it means that somebody stole our tent."
Watson: Holmes, what is this terrible howling? Is this the Hound of Baskervilles?
Holmes: No, Watson... It's Sir Henry, they're trying to make him eat porridge again.
- "New Russians", the nouveau riche a la Russe. The stereotype of arrogant and poorly educated post-Perestroika businessmen and gangsters, who seized enormous wealth in The Nineties and were driving around in Mercedes cars and expensive suits, but have no idea what "style" is, only price. Typical plots involve them interacting among each other, bragging about their ill-gotten wealth, or with normal, poor but well-educated people. Or they are rammed by the Arch-Enemy of a Mercedes, an old ugly Zaporozhets.
A Mercedes Benz stops at a traffic light. Suddenly, a Zaporozhets comes from behind and collides with it. Five thugs get out of the Mercedes and drag the driver of the Zaporozhets out. 'Okay, dude, we see now that you don't have any money, so we'll just beat the crap out of you for trashing our car,' they say. The man looks at them and says: 'Wait, boys, isn't it unfair for five people to attack one?' The thugs get together and discuss this for a little, then return to him and say: 'You are right, it is unfair. Here, Kolya and Vova will fight on your side.'"
- A sheer chaos when anything could turn in any way was another source of jokes.
- A Mercedes stops, and an old Zaporozhets crashes into it. Two goons in suits get out, approach an old man in his old car and ask him: "Hi, now you owe us so-o much... you're going to pay or we'll talk ...differently?" Old dude replies "Ah, I haven't much money with me, perhaps you need to talk with my son." "And who's your son?" "Chief of the poultry farm." "Well, call him." Five minutes later an armored carrier stops nearby and several big, armed troopers jumps out. "Dad, how many times must I tell you? My job's not called Chief of the Poultry Farm, but Commander of the Falcon Special Detachment..."
- After an operation, the surgeon tells the patient: "We'll have to operate again, I forgot a glove inside of you". The patient, a New Russian, replies: "Here's a hundred bucks, go buy yourself a new one".
- One New Russian is boasting to another: "Look, this tie cost me 600 dollars!" The other replies: "You've been had, they sell the same ties round the corner for 1000 dollars!"
- A New Russian exits the Hermitage Museum (Russian Imperial Palace filled with precious works of art): "Meh, what a hovel." (People around look at him reproachfully). "But a tidy one!"
- A police investigator asks a New Russian: "Do you have an alibi?" - "Yes, I do. Can I pay in foreign currency?"
- A New Russian is in an auto accident. He stumbles out of his car, and his left arm has been torn off. He starts yelling "Oh God, my car! My car!" A bystander says, "Your car? Look at your arm!" He looks down and says, "Oh God, my Rolex!"
- The quintessential new Russian joke about a Zaphorozhets and a Benz is as follows:
A new Russian and an old man are lying next to each other in hospital.
New Russian: So what are you in for?
Old Man: Auto accident.
New Russian: Me too - what happened?
Old Man: I had an old Zaporozhets car, and I put my war-trophy Messerschmitt jet engine in it. While driving on a highway, I saw a Ferrari ahead and tried to overtake it. My speed was too high, I lost control and crashed into a tree. And how did you get here?
: I was driving my Ferrari when I saw a Zaporozhets overtaking me. I thought that my car might have broken down and was actually standing still. So I opened the door and walked out...
A New Russian meets his daughter's boyfriend for the first time. They are alone in a room and the New Russian starts asking a few questions:
New Russian: So, do you have your own apartment already?
Boyfriend: Uhm.. actually not... but I believe God will help me!
New Russian: Okay, do you have a job?
Boyfriend: No... but... I believe God will help me!
New Russian: Alright, how are you planning to feed my daughter and your children, if you have any?
: Er... I... don't really know yet.. but I'm sure God will help me with this one as well!
After a few more questions and answers like this the boyfriend leaves the room and goes home. The daughter comes to her dad and asks him
Daughter: So, Dad, how do you like him?
New Russian: Well he's kind of a loser, but he is honest and I really like what he calls me.
- Animals. These jokes are based around animal behavior stereotypes, which have their roots in Russian Mythology And Tales: the violent Wolf, the sneaky (female) Fox, the cocky coward Hare, the strong, simple-minded Bear, and the king of the animal kingdom, the Lion. The Hedgehog is a complex case, since he is basically the all-round Russian penguin.
- Also a cockerel or rooster, however jokes featuring a cockerel only really work if you know from the start of the joke he's supposed to be a closet homosexual: these jokes made more sense back when the Soviet Union criminalised homosexuality and have been dying out since the 90’s. This comes from petukh (cockerel) being a Fenya term for a passive homosexual. A typical story would be the Wolf, the hare and a cockerel in a holding cell awaiting trial and telling each other what they are in there for: the Wolf will go on a long story about he started a fight and beat someone up, but that they deserved it and he doesn’t deserve to be there, the hare will tell an equally long tale where he will come over as a cocky but cowardly thief, black-marketer or conman but that he doesn’t deserve to be there because he’s not really done anything that wrong, and the cockerel will listen to both of their long and complicated stories and then just say “Me, oh. I’m a political prisoner: I pecked [name of unpopular local bigwig/ “Young pioneer”/ “Soviet new man”] in the Arse.”
- The Golden Fish is the Russian equivalent of a Genie in a Bottle (with whom it is interchangeable), first appearing in a poem by Alexander Pushkin. The story usually revolves around a person finding/catching a Golden Fish and being granted three wishes, after which Hilarity Ensues. Sometimes, three people are granted one wish each.
- A man catches a goldfish and asks it to make him a Hero of Soviet Union. Next moment he finds him with two grenades against five german tanks.
- "Three men, stranded on an island, catch the Golden Fish and are granted one wish each. The first one says: 'I want to go home,' and disappears. The second one says: 'I want to go home, too,' and also disappears. The third one says: 'I'm alone. I want a bottle of vodka and those two to come back here.'"
- The joke is lost on non-Russians and even some modern Russians, but in the Soviet times three was considered the optimal number of people for collective drinking. The reason for that was that the price of a bottle of vodka was 2 roubles 87 kopecks, so if each person contributed a rouble they could buy a bottle and 13 kopecks' worth of snacks.
- A similar joke is common in the west, but usually has the three characters as a brunette, a redhead and a blonde. Guess which one wishes for the other two to return?
- And then there's the other variation with character traits and yet another one with nationalities. Now, guess who's the third nationality?
- Drunkards. These jokes usually revolve around a drunkard's ill-fated attempts to get another bottle of vodka, since sale of alcohol to drunk persons was outlawed in Soviet Union.
- Policemen (-Militsiya- Politsiya since march 2011). These revolve the stereotype of a dim-witted, corrupt law officer, which was formed during the worse times in the Soviet Union and Russia (read: 1990s).
Subversion: "A Toyota car is driving through downtown Moscow on a winter night and stops on a crossing where a policeman is keeping watch. A Japanese tourist gets out and asks the policeman: 'Oyasuminasai. Sumimasen, omawaru-san, doko de watashi wa kono yukitoshi ni Coca-Cola no kan'o koubaimasu ka?' The policeman hesitates a little, then replies: 'Excuse me, I didn't quite understand... You asked, where in this sad, snowy city you can buy a can of... what exactly?'"
Q: Why do policemen travel in threes?
A: One to read, one to write, and one to keep an eye on the two intellectuals.
- Another versions of the same joke:
Q: Why do policemen travel in threes?
A: One to read, one to write, and one to keep an eye on the two intellectuals.
Suddenly, three policemen come from behind.
Policeman A: What did you say? Produce ID! (examines the documents, turns to policeman B) Write down their names!
- Ethnic stereotypes. The Russians have a lot of ethnic stereotypes similar to Rabinovich above. A typical joke goes like "An Englishman, a French guy, and a Russian sit in a bar..." and is quite similar to analogous jokes in Anglophone humour. Favorite targets are:
- Chukchi, the native people of Chukotka related to Northwestern Native Americans, are the all-time favorites, often seen as generally primitive, uncivilized and simple-minded, but clever and philosophic in a naive kind of way.
Chukchee: Hey, I was in the city, purchased TV.
Geologist: Dude, you need an outlet to plug TV in!
Do you think I'm silly? I purchased an outlet too!
Another Chukcha was staying in a hotel and saw his first ever power outlet:
: Oh, poor piggy! Who put you in the wall? *
Tourist (got lost in Tundra and in panic): People! He-e-elp!
(sitting in his hillock, drinking tea): Ah. So here in Tundra it's "people!". And back in Moscow it's "hey you, plate with ears!", eh?
A Chukcha is spotted playing chess with a polar bear. People say, "Look, such a smart bear!" "Not so smart, - says the Chukcha, - I'm leading 3 to 2!"
- Sometimes, the character of the naive Chuckcha was used to vocalise things an average Soviet citizen would never say.
I've been to Moscow. Seen great placards: "Everything in the name of Man, everything for the good of Man!" Also seen that man.
(referring to the General Secretary of the Communist Party, who could be seen on national holidays receiving parades in Red Square.)
- In the post-Soviet era, a new stereotype of Chukchi has emerged, which is that they are alcoholics. Chukchi music ensemble Ergyron touch on this in their "anti-alcohol song."
- Ukrainians are depicted as rustic, greedy and fond of salo (pork fatback).
An Ukrainian is asked if he can eat 5 kilograms of apples.
"And 10 kilograms?"
"How about a wagon of apples?"
"I can't, but I will bite them all!"
- They also hate Russians, or "Moskali":
After Yuri Gagarin
's great flight, one Ukrainian shepherd shouts to another on the next hill:
Shepherd: Mykola! The Moskali have flown into space!
Mykola: All of them?
Shepherd: No, just the one.
Mykola: Why are you bothering me then?
- Georgians are perceived as Hot Blooded, Highlander types and usually very rich. Also, they have a ludicrous accent (also seen in Stalin jokes) and sometimes are Ambiguously Gay. For instance, it is said that in common showers or public bathhouses it's best not to bend down for soap when Georgians are around.
A group of Georgians is taking a shower. Suddenly one of them drops the only bar of soap. "Here goes the bathing", says someone.
Why do Georgian bars have downward-sloping floors? It makes it easier to clean up the blood.
- Also, widely perceived as buying their way through life (for a Soviet Republic, Georgia enjoyed a good amount of economic freedom and Georgians tended to be rich compared to the rest of the population). At the same time, their adherence to highlander honor was recognised.
A Georgian in a restaurant gazes fondly at his new Ph.D. degree. The waiter asks sarcastically: "Bought it?" "Why bought? - replies the Georgian indignantly, - It's a present from friends!"
- In the 90s, many Georgians took to selling their national fast foods (often with ingredients of poor quality and/or dubious origin) on the streets in large Russian cities.
"Hey mister, did this meat bark or meow?" "It asked stupid questions".
- Armenians. Same as Georgians. Minus the Hotblooded part. A meta joke has people telling Georgians jokes about Armenians and vice versa.
- The fictional Armenian Radio is used in jokes with questions and answers (usually revolving around sex and politics).
Q: Will the new world war happen?
No, but there'll be such a struggle for peace that not one stone will be left upon another.
- Another Radio Yerevan joke:
Q: Is it true that freedom of speech is the same in USSR as in USA?
: Yes. If you stand on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C and shout: "Down with Reagan
!" you will not be punished. If you stand in Red Square in Moscow and shout: "Down with Reagan!", you will also not be punished. *
Q: How do you make Turkish coffee?
Old Armenian on deathbed: My children, above all else, treasure the Jews.'
Children: Why the Jews, father.
Old Armenian: Because once they are dealt with, we will be next!
- Estonians and Finns are commonly seen as very slow-witted (partly due to their tendency to speak Russian very slowly compared to native speakers) and ironically referred to as "Hot Blooded Estonian/Finnish guys".
Announcer in the Estonian subway:
Theee neeeext staaation iiis... Heeere it iiis...
- Finns also have a memetic ability to withstand cold:
At -10 degrees Celsius, heating is switched on in British homes, while Finns change into a long-sleeved shirt. At -20, Austrians fly to Málaga, while Finns celebrate midsummer. At -200, hell freezes over and Finland wins the Eurovision Song Contest. At -273 absolute zero temperature is reached, all atom movement ceases. The Finns shrug and say: "Perkele, a bit chilly today, isn't it?".
- Jews. See Rabinovich above.
- Chinese. Most jokes revolve around their sheer numbers and sometimes backwardness mixed with ambition.
Chinese invented a new superweapon: a giant slingshot. Some 500 million Chinese hold the frame, while another 500 million pull the string.
As a measure to curb population growth, the Chinese Government decided to launch 100,000 astronauts on a one-way expedition to the Sun.
In other news, the Chinese space expedition exceeded expectations: 200,000 Chinese didn't let go of the slingshot in time, and were launched into space along with the spacecraft.
The Chinese Government asked for help in curbing population grown. Europeans, Americans and Japanese all offered latest developments in birth control, but they were all too slow and expensive. The Russians offered to do it for free and in an instant, and won the contract. So they lined up 100 million Chinese males, and commanded: "Ten-hut! Put down your pants! Turn to your right! Bend down and take your neighbour's balls in your mouth!" Then a soldier came to one end of the line, and kicked the first Chinese in the balls. The sound of "Chomp, chomp, chomp..." receded in the distance...
—> Two submarines, one U.S. and one Chinese, collided in the Yellow Sea yesterday. American casualties: 50 sailors. Chinese casualties: 3,000 oarsmen.
- Alternatively, the jokes are about Chinese language, whose words often sound inherently funny or obscene to a Russian ear.
- Africans. In jokes, they are usually exchange students suffering from cold weather and explicit (yet unintended) racist sayings by straightforward Russians.
An African exchange student writes a letter to his family:
"Dear Mom and Dad, my life here is unbearable. I could endure green winter, but when white winter came..."
- An African student met on his turf in an anecdote is likely to be a chief of a Cannibal Tribe.
Two African tribes established an alliance and conquered the third. One of victorious chiefs tells another while eating the defeated chief: "Not very tasty". "Yep. Though still better than what we had to eat at Lumumba University refectory". (Lumumba University is a university in Moscow that specializes on educating foreigners, mostly from Third World countries).
- Russians. Largely self-referential humor, which sets Russian ethnic jokes apart from most others. The Russians are depicted as simple-minded, negligently careless, fond of alcohol but physically robust. Sometimes fatalistic about the general state of affairs.
An American, a French guy and a Russian are on death row. They are put into empty detention cells, given two large steel spheres each and told to do something extraordinary with them, in which case they will be free. On the next morning, their captors check on them. The American managed to put one sphere on top of the other. "Nice", say the judges. The Frenchman learned to juggle them every way possible. "Impressive," is the reaction. The Russian sits, holding his head in despair. "What's the matter? Where the hell are your spheres?" judges say, astonished. He replies: "I broke one and lost the other".
An American, a Frenchman and a Russian are all captured by the Nazis and sentenced to death. Each is allowed to choose the method of execution. The Frenchman goes first, and chooses a guillotine. But the guillotine is not working, so they set him free. As he passes by the American, he whispers: "The guillotine is broken", so the American also chooses the guillotine, and is also set free. As the American passes by the Russian, he whispers: "The guillotine is broken". "Well, since the guillotine is broken, - says the Russian, - then give me the firing squad!"
A Russian spy is caught by Nazis during WWII. They torture him all night long, but he doesn't tell them anying. They put him back in the cell and observe secretly through the peep-hole. The Russian is hitting himself on the head and saying: "Here's one for the restaurants! Here's one for the girls! I knew I should have been learning codes and secret addresses!" Finally he manages to escape. To his comrades, he says: "Guys, learn all this stuff! Or they beat the crap out of you in there!"
An American, a French guy and a Russian are sitting next to bonfire. The American says: "You know, I'm very proud of my nation. For example, I can swim 5 kilometers, run 20 kilometers, and not even break a sweat after all of this!". The Frenchman says: "Meh, our nation is way better. For example, I can swim 10 kilometers, run 40 kilometers, and not even break a sweat after all of this!". The Russian remained silent, only stirring the bonfire with his dick.
- Military jokes. Much like policemen and Chapaev jokes, these revolve around interaction between dim-witted non-commissioned and warrant officers and intelligent privates, who are usually conscripted students.
Officer: Dig from here till dinner!
The sine of alpha during wartime may go up to ten. (The sine of, ergh, any real angle, is within [-1,1] interval. Sincerely, Captain Obvious
Officer: There are two opinions: mine and erroneous ones.
Student [at a military academy examination]: A shell launched from a cannon will fly in an arc towards Earth.
Examining officer [with a cunning grin]: And if a cannon lies on its side, will a shell from it fly around the corner?
Student: Yes sir, it would! But that's against the regulations!
- Warrant Officers in particular are often portrayed as ingenious improvisers who are great at fixing thing but have kleptomatic tendencies.
The Foreign and Defence Minister comes in too see Gorbachev. The Foreign Minister places an object on Gorbachev's desk.
Gorbachev: What is that?
Foreign Minister: It is a gift from the Americans, a model of a neutron bomb.
Gorbachev: What is a neutron bomb?
Defence Minister: It is a nuclear weapon that destroys living things, but leaves possessions and property intact.
Gorbachev: That is terrible! How should we respond?
Defence Minister: [after considering the question for a bit] We send a Warrant Officer! They destroy possessions and property, but leave living things intact.
- "Industrial" jokes. Russians mock their own often ineffective and military-centered industry, as well as questionable work discipline and widespread workplace theft. There is a recurring theme of the Cluster F-Bomb "language" that workers use — the extremely offensive but wonderfully versatile Russian Mat replacing all nouns, verbs, adjectives —, with the traditional joke being that when their new boss orders them to clean up their language, the whole factory grinds to a halt. At the same time, these often proliferate the (often founded) myth of Russians possessing a miraculous resourcefulness, enabling them to achieve stupefying results seemingly effortless, with zero resources and despite total disarray surrounding them (Russians have a special word for that bedlam-like irresponsible disarray, bardak (lit. whorehouse), which they like to use to describe the state of things in the Motherland).
The Japanese have bought a license for an advanced Russian jet. They assemble it exactly by the blueprints, and it turns out to be a steam locomotive. They check the blueprints, gather their best engineers and assemble it again. Still locomotive. They file a complain to the Russians, so the Russian team arrives, goes into the workshop and shortly produces a perfectly good jet. The Japanese are astonished: "We've tried it again and again and only got a steam train!" "Why, of course," - reply the Russians - "did you Read The Fine Print
? First you get a steam train. And then you work on it with a rasp."
- Black humor. A very popular subgenre which makes fun of (and exaggerates) the more morbid aspects of Russian life, leading to a sometimes tilted perception of it by foreigners. These jokes frequently revolve around medicine (ill people and doctors), Chernobyl victims, and various disabilities.
"Nurse, where're we going?"
"To the morgue."
"But I am not dead yet!"
"Well, we are not there yet, either." (variation: "Doctor said - morgue, so morgue it is!")
- Sometimes involves more-or-less religious material as well, since the Soviet regime tended to punish the free expression of both religion and black humor (and then people engaged in both anyway as soon as the humorless atheist officials' backs were turned).
A peasant dies and goes to Hell, but discovers when he gets there that there are actually two versions of Hell: Capitalist Hell and Communist Hell. Since he's never actually seen a capitalist system before, he decides to have a look at Capitalist Hell first. When he gets there, he finds a huge empty antechamber with a demon who looks a lot like Ronald Reagan standing at the gates.
Peasant: "So, what is Capitalist Hell like?"
Reagan: "Well, in Capitalist Hell, first we flay all the flesh off your bones with our whips, then we boil you in oil for a while, and finally we cut you to pieces with our knives and scatter you all over the room."
Peasant: "Augh! That's hideous! Forget you! I'm going to go try Communist Hell instead!"
So the peasant goes to Communist Hell. When he gets there, he finds an enormous line of people awaiting entry that's backed up all the way out of the antechamber. Being used to waiting in lines, of course, he stands in this one for as long as it takes, which is for more than a month. When he finally gets up near the gates, he sees a demon who looks a lot like Karl Marx standing at the gates and looking very exasperated at how slowly the line is moving.
Peasant: "So, what is Communist Hell like?"
Marx: "*Sigh* Do I have to explain this again? All right. In Communist Hell, first we flay all the flesh off your bones with our whips, then we boil you in oil for a while, and finally we cut you to pieces with our knives and scatter you all over the room."
Peasant: "Augh! That's just as hideous as Capitalist Hell! But... why is there this long line, comrade?"
: "*Sigh* Well, sometimes we run out of knives, sometimes there's an oil shortage, and other times we don't have enough leather for the whips, and sometimes all the demons are away on a Party meeting..."
Satan is giving a politician a tour of Hell. They come to a huge kettle at which a lot of demons are gathered and busy thrusting away at all the people being boiled in it with their tridents.
Satan: "This is where we keep the Jews. They're a troublesome lot, these Hebrews; every time one of them tries to escape, the others all follow his lead, so they keep our guards really busy."
Next they come to another huge kettle in which just a few demons are gathered around mostly leaning on their tridents and looking bored.
Satan: "This is where we keep the Poles. They're only a little trouble, since every time one of them tries to escape, the others just ignore him. We only have to keep a few guards around to make sure none of them ever gets out."
Finally, they come to another kettle just as big as the others, but there's no one guarding it.
: "This is where we keep the Russians. Whenever one of them tries to escape, the others all grab him by the heels and drag him back in!"
Karl Marx dies and stands trial before St. Peter.
St. Peter: "The ideas you preach have brought misery to billions. I send you to the deepest pits of Hell!"
After a few months Satan calls God:
Satan: "God, please remove Marx from my realm as soon as it is possible."
God: "Why would I do that? He is a sinner, his fate is to burn in Hell."
Satan: "He is creating great turmoil! First he made all the imps pioneers, then he started to unite the devils into labor unions, and now he's preparing a revolution!"
God agrees to take Marx in Heaven so that Hell does not break loose. After a few months Satan calls God again:
Satan: "Hey, God, how's it going?"
: "First of all, comrade Satan, you are to address me properly as "comrade God". Second, I do not have time since Marx has urgently called me on a party session, and third, there is no God."
Hitler and Stalin meet in hell, each standing in a pool of blood. Hitler's pool comes up to his neck, Stalin's only to his waist.
Hitler: How come? You killed many more people than I did, but there is less blood on you.
: Yes, but I am standing on Lenin's shoulders.
When Leonid Brezhnev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he went home to his village to tell his elderly mother.
Brezhnev: Mama, you would not believe how far I've come. I now have a personal motor car and chauffeur who drives me wherever I want to go. I have an apartment in the Kremlin, better than you can imagine. I shop at a store only for Party members where I buy things not available anywhere else. And now that I am General Secretary, you can have all this too.
: All this is very fine, Leonid, but what will you do if the Communists come to power and confiscate your wealth?
During the 1930s, a Party commissioner is inspecting a typical farming village. He goes to the headman and asks how the potato harvest has gone.
Headman: Comrade, the potatoes, when piled up, reach to the feet of God!
Commissioner: Excellent! But, I hope you're aware that God doesn't actually exist.
Headman:: Indeed. Nor do the potatoes!
- "Sadist couplets", forming a good chunk of children folklore but not limited to it. Involves heavy machinery, lost military hardware, Ax Crazy people, etc. Usually Crosses the Line Twice in the first two lines and then each next tries to top the previous one.
- The rhyme "I got bitten by a hippopotamus... So now i'm here and my leg's over there" is so mild a search shows it's recommended for a summer camps' game that involves tracking the narrator's appendages already removed by that hippo in the long version. And a reminder that you don't want to play a chew toy for an ill-tempered living truck, however superfluous it seems to be.
- Mothers in Law.
- Something like: My love to your mother is measured in kilometres (between us).
- Man, his wife and her lover - very popular story pattern. Almost always begins with "Man came home after business trip and his wife is with a lover". Hilarity Ensues. In this plot lover may try to hide in a wardrobe or under the bed, escape from the apartment or convince husband that he is not a lover.
- A man came home after a business trip. The same day in the middle of the night a naked man with a knife jumps out of the wardrobe and shouts: "I am fugitive criminal Ivanov!" and then run through the door. A few seconds after that another naked man jumps out of the wardrobe and shouts "I am police detective Petrov, have you seen where fugitive criminal Ivanov went?" The confused husband gestured to the door. "Thank you, citizen-SWAT team, follow me!"
- Political/historical "anecdotes", a venerable genre that descended from anecdotes in the classical sense and was already quite popular in the early 19th century (Pushkin was pretty fond of them). Those are mostly jokes about Russian (and later Soviet, and now Russian again) rulers, revolving around their most famous achievements and facts related to them mentioned in history textbooks, famous quotes (such as Lenin's "Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country!", often treated as a mathematical formula that can therefore also be written as "Soviet power is communism minus electricity" and so on), other phrases commonly associated with them (like Peter the Great's "cutting a window into Europe") and various "characteristic traits", like Stalin's arbitrary trigger-happiness, Lenin's and Stalin's funny accents, Brezhnev's senility and Yeltsin's alcoholism. Stalin jokes seem particularly popular no matter what, though, probably because he fits the archetype of the smug, whimsical, unrestrained tyrant so very well and also happens to overlap with ethnic jokes about Georgians:
NKVD major: "We arrested this man for treason!"
Stalin (with an untranslatable thick Georgian accent): "What did he do?"
NKVD major: "He was saying: "Damn that mustached bastard for ruining the country!""
Stalin: "Is that so? And who did you mean by that, comrade?"
Russian everyman: "Naturally I meant Hitler, comrade Stalin!"
Stalin (very smug, accent very thick):
"And who did you
mean, comrade major?" ("A vi
, tavarisch mayor?" in original "Russian"; the "vi" instead of "vy" is a particularly common Georgian accent trope. Emphasizing "you" when it could make someone sweat was his habit in Real Life
- Stalin is giving a speech in front of the Party, when in the middle of a pause someone sneezes. He asks who sneezed, but there is total silence. He continues to ask, finally threatening to have the front row shot if no one owns up. No one does, so the guards open fire on the first row. Still no one confesses, so they shoot the second row, the third row, etc. Finally the culprit can't take it anymore and yells out "I did it! I'm the one who sneezed!" Stalin responds "Bless you, comrade!"
- Stalin, Khruschev, and Brezhnev are traveling along the country when the train breaks down and stops moving. Stalin gets up, says to the other two, "I'll handle this," walks to the head of the train and shoots the conductor. He then returns and the three of the sit for awhile, the train still doesn't move. So Khruschev gets up, says "I will fix this," hires a new conductor, gives him higher wages, then goes back to his seat. The train still isn't moving. Finally, Brezhnev turns to his colleagues and says, "Comrades, I have the solution. Let us pull down the shades and pretend the train is moving."
- Supplemented recently with the jokes about the peculiar nature of Putin/Medvedev duo, namely the ambiguous distribution of power between them:
Medvedev makes last-minute preparations for a speech. His aid suddenly addresses him:
"Dmitry Anatolievych, you've got a string caught on your sleeve. Oh, and on the other one too!"
"Leave them be. These are much needed strings."
- Asylums. The stock joke is that the personnel is Not So Different from their patients. The stock insanity is Napoleon Delusion.
At the CYKA Asylum, a speaker comes in from the Party and gives a speech to the people there about how great Communism is. At the crescendo of his speech, he notices that there is one person who is not cheering excitedly. The speaker asks him "Why are you so discontent, Comrade?" The man replies "I'm not a psychopath; I work here."
- Well, this is not nessesary funny, because of political abuse of psychiatry in the USSR, where dissidents got "diagnosed" with such things as "sluggish paranoid schizophrenia." One term for it was Kарательная психиатрия (punitive psychiatry). Some asylums got funny names, based on word-plays and later influenced internet culture.
- "Not necessarily funny" (and actually kind of horrible) is what makes it a perfect example of Russian Humour.
Russian humor is extremely pervasive. Almost every print publication will have at least a few jokes in it, up to and including the TV guide. They say that while in most countries, The Internet Is for Porn
, in Russia, the Internet Is For Jokes.
Not to be confused with the Russian Reversal
: Хе Статлер, почему мы говорим в плох переведенном русском?*
: Я думаю, кто-то использовал Бабелфиш для бедного юмором!*
Waldorf: Так я угадываю мы не даже нужный в советском Россия.* .
Statler: Почему это?*
Waldorf: В советском Россия, тропэры делают дурачков себя!*