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Russian Reversal
aka: In Soviet Russia Trope Mocks You
Dummies for Russian Reversal!

"In America, you can always find a party.
"In Russia, the Party always finds YOU!!"
Yakov Smirnoff, Miller Lite Commercial, 1985

The Russian Reversal, more technically called the transpositional pun, is a type of joke popularized by Ukrainian comedian Yakov Smirnoff. It is based on taking a statement about capitalist United States and inverting it to describe the then-communist Russia as an Orwellian hellhole. Smirnoff later added the prefix "Soviet" to indicate the jokes were meant to target the past regime, as opposed to The New Russia. For instance:
"In America, you watch Television.
"In Soviet Russia, television watches YOU!!"

At its most basic, the Russian Reversal takes a situation where a noun normally does something to another noun, and flips it in dialogue to where the second noun acts on the first. For instance, a murder mystery that had a butler as the Body of the Week could be described in a Quip to Black as "It Did the Butler" or the equivalent instead of "The Butler Did It."

Can cause an Inverted Trope rather easily, if the trope can be described as "X does Y." If in this instance "Y does X," it is both this trope and an inversion of the other trope. It's also the source of many trope names, including Ass Kicks You, Dog Walks You, Bullet Dodges You, The Door Slams You, The Can Kicked Him, and The Game Plays You.

See also Glorious Mother Russia for the Hollywood Atlas version of Soviet Russia that inspired the jokes.

In-Universe Examples Only, please.

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • A while back there was an anti-smoking ad campaign proclaiming "Tobacco smokes you!"

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Fairy Tail, when Elfman grows tired of Natsu's ever-lasting motion sickness.
    Elfman: Vehicles shouldn't make a man sick. A man should make vehicles sick.
  • Jungle wa Itsumo Hare nochi Guu: According to Haré, some RPG are so linear that it feels as if not you're playing the character, but the character is playing you.

    Comedy 

    Comic Books 
  • From Watchmen, a Played for Drama example when Rorshach dumps a pot of bubbling-hot fry fat over a fellow inmate's head when the man tries to pick a fight with him in the chow line, mortally wounding his would-be attacker:
    Rorshach: "None of you understand. I'm not locked up in here with you." (dumps the fat on the inmate) "You're locked up in here with ME!"

    Fan Works 
  • The Stargate SG-1 fanfiction "Hero of the Soviet Union" spends several pages detailing the operation of a Soviet-run SGC, all to set up the punchline when a KGB major mocks a captured Goa'uld: "In Soviet Russia, Gods bow to you!"
  • From the Axis Powers Hetalia fic "It's a small world after all": the characters get kidnapped by fangirls. Russia responds "In Russia, fangirls don't kidnap chibis, chibis kidnap them, da?"
  • ''Ambition'', a short Harry Potter fic by Rorschach's Blot, references the Watchmen line above. The speaker, in this case, is Harry himself. A pack of Ravenclaws lived to regret it.
  • In Reality Is Fluid Benjamin Sisko mildly chides Eleya for her derisive attitude towards the Bajoran prophecies.
    Sisko: You may not put much stock in the prophecies but the prophecies put stock in you.
  • The Wrong Reflection has a chapter titled "Storm Before the Calm" rather than "Calm Before the Storm".

    Film 
  • One of the first examples, and a contemporary with Yakov Smirnoff's standup comedy, comes from the movie Spaceballs, when the henchman of galactic gangster "Pizza the Hut" warns Lone Starr about what will happen if he and Barf don't pay a million spacebucks:
    "...or else Pizza is gonna send out for you!"
  • Heist has this particular gem:
    Jimmy: So, is he going to be cool?
    Pinky: My motherfucker is so cool, when he goes to bed, sheep count him.
  • In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jay imagines a Planet of the Apes-style dystopian world where "we will not spank the monkey; the monkey will spank us!"
  • In Van Helsing, Igor says this, when the the hot female ally and the Q of the hero try to force Igor into giving them the Werewolf antidote:
    "You try to get Igor. Igor get you!"
  • The Big Lebowski: "Sometimes you eat the b'ar and sometimes the b'ar, well, he eats you."
  • The 4th theme of the Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol soundtrack is named "In Russia, phone dials you".
  • In Tropic Thunder:
    Kirk Lazarus : I don't read the script. The script reads me.
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park gives us this gem:
    Nick: Hammond's cheque cleared or I wouldn't be going on this wild goose chase.
    Ian: Ah, where you're going is the only place in the world where the geese chase you!
  • From Malcolm X:
    Malcolm:: We didn't land on Plymouth Rock! Plymouth Rock landed on us!'''
    • Which in turn got spoofed in Robin Hood: Men in Tights:
      "We didn't land in Sherwood Forest! Sherwood Forest landed on us!"
    • The line from Malcolm X was itself probably a reference to the song "Anything Goes" (see the Theatre section, below).
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has the following exchange after Quatermain and Sawyer capture Mr. Hyde:
    Skinner: Hullo, Dorian. The great white hunter's bagged his prize.
    (One of Captain Nemo's redshirts goes flying across the corridor in front of them.)
    Dorian: Or the prize bagged him.
  • Played with in the The Crow
    Cop: (pointing gun at title character) You move and you're dead!
    Crow: Yes, I'm dead, and I move!
  • This Bond One-Liner from Franz Sanchez in Licence to Kill (borrowed from the novel Live and Let Die), after feeding Felix Leiter to a shark:
    "He disagreed with something that ate him."
  • Arc Words from V for Vendetta: "People shouldn't be afraid of their government, governments should be afraid of their people."
  • Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy: "You want him, you have to go through us! Or more accurately, we go through you!"
  • Machete: "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us!"

    Literature 
  • Friedrich Nietzsche: "If you gaze for long enough into the abyss, the abyss gazes back [into you]."
  • From Ye Gods! by Tom Holt:
    When Jason opened his eyes, all he could see was a perfectly ordinary Underground carriage, and Virgil sitting on one of the seats, meditatively stirring a large pile of ash and charred bones. Jason winced.
    "Let me guess," he said, "this is a No Smoking carriage."
    "On the contrary," Virgil replied. "Only here, the train smokes the people."
  • MAD in an 1962 issue: "Russian politics can best be understood by comparing them with American politics. For instance, in America, politicians have to kiss babies, and if they don't, the mothers can take their offices away from them. In Russia, the system is somewhat different. To get food, mothers have to kiss politicians and if they don't, the politicians can take their babies away from them."
  • Subverted in the philosophy book Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar, when describing the difference between capitalism and communism.
    Under capitalism, man exploits his fellow man. Under communism, the opposite is true.
    • This is a pretty common joke in the old Eastern Bloc. It's also been used as an East German "Fritzchen" joke, although it's been told as a Russian/Soviet "Vovochka" joke, as well.
    • Mike Myers parodies this on a behind-the-scenes feature on the DVD for The Cat In The Hat, combining it with a running joke. "Under capitalism, man exploits his fellow man. Under communism, it's the complete opposite. *pause* Because of the sand which is there."
  • City of Thieves mentions this:
    "We couldn't feed our pets, so our pets fed us."
  • In Mid-Flinx, Teal warns Aimee about the flower in her hair: "You do not wear the cristif, the cristif wears you." Unfortunately for Aimee, Teal's not making a Yakov Smirnoff reference: The "flower" is an invasive parasite, which sends its tendrils fatally bursting from Aimee's flesh seconds later.
  • In nonfiction text The Steampunk Bible, a troper is quoted about whether the Steampunk movement has jumped the shark:
    Jess Gulbranson: In alternate timeline Czarist Russia, clockwork shark jumps you.
  • In Mark Coggins' novel Candy from Strangers, Private Detective August Riordan is talking to a disdainful police detective.
    Det. Calhoun: Do you have a problem with authority, Mr. Riordan?
    August: Not really. It may be that authority occasionally has a problem with me.
  • In How to Survive a Horror Movie, discussing the Haunted House trope: You don't gut the interior, the interior guts you.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The compare-one-country-to-another form is Older Than They Think, first appearing on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In where Arte Johnson's ambiguously Eastern European character Rosmenko simply refers to "Old Country."
    "Here in America, is very good, everyone watch television. In Old Country, television watches you!"
  • MST3K had a Yakov Smirnoff knockoff saying: "In your country, you watch movie The Rock. In my country, we break rock in Gulag!"
  • Used in Grimm. As the Blutbad (werewolf) Monroe explains to Nick, the Grimm, while human children are told stories of all the different monsters who make up the Wesen world who will come to get them if they are bad, Wesen children are told the same kind of stories about the Grimms.
  • The Tom Baker era Doctor Who arc "The Seeds of Doom" featured a plant-monster called a Krynoid. At one point the Doctor observes, "Well, on most planets, the animals eat the vegetation. On planets where the Krynoid gets established, the vegetation eats the animals."
  • Since it was the Cold War, no Soviet reference is made, but the original intro of I Dream of Jeannie ends with "...and there in this house, the girl in the bottle plays spin the astronaut."
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Gamekeeper," SG-1's Planet of the Week has a deserted but apparently well-tended garden, and an overgrown greenhouse in the center of it.
    Daniel: I love what they've done with the place.
    Jack: (seeing several people plugged into chairs in suspended animation) I love what the place has done with them.
  • In The Big Bang Theory, when Leonard and Sheldon argue in the episode "The Staircase Implementation":
    Leonard: Screw the roommate agreement!
    Sheldon: No, you don't screw the roommate agreement. The roommate agreement screws you!
  • In Deadwood, after someone says "Fuck the future," the county commissioner replies, "You can't fuck the future, sir, the future fucks you."

    Music 
  • Of Montreal has a song titled The Party's Crashing Us.
  • A line in the Muse song "Knights of Cydonia" goes, "Don't waste your time or time will waste you".
  • From Broken Social Scene's "7/4 (Shoreline)": "If you try to steal the beat, the beat will steal you."
  • Queens of the Stone Age's "Someone's In The Wolf" has the line "You don't find your way, the way finds you."

    Tabletop Games 
  • One collection of epic monsters for Dungeons & Dragons introduces the junkyard golem with the line, "On the world of the Sklavadok, the trash takes you out!"

    Theatre 
  • The title song of Anything Goes (1934), making this trope Older than Television:
    Times have changed
    And we've often rewound the clock
    Since the Puritans got a shock
    When they landed on Plymouth Rock.
    If today any shock they should try to stem
    'Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock
    Plymouth Rock would land on them.
  • In the musical Leave It to Me! (1938), set largely in Soviet Russia, journalist Buck Thomas is handed a telegram by a messenger. He reaches in his pocket for a tip, but the messenger tells him:
    Graustein: No tipping. In Soviet Russia, messenger tips you.
    Thomas: Propaganda.
    Graustein: Correct.
  • In "Monica" from I Love My Wife, the effects the eponymous girl has on people include "Men go ape/Apes go man."
  • The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples even applies to this one: in Richard II the title character, reflecting on his reign, laments that "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me."

    Video Games 

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of Family Guy involved a car with a GPS system, and one of its voice settings was "Yakov Smirnoff".
    GPS: Turn left at the fork in the road. In Soviet Russia, road forks you!
  • Futurama:
    • "That's Lobstertainment!": Zoidberg's brief career as a stand-up comedian consisted solely of this type of joke.
    Zoidberg: Earth! What a planet! On Earth, you enjoy eating a tasty clam. On my planet, clams enjoy eating a tasty you!
    (glass clinking)
    • Used and lampshaded in "Crimes Of The Hot":
    Fry: That ice dispenser is so big, the ice crushes you! *laughs to self* Yakov Smirnoff said that.
    Leela: No he didn't.
  • There was The Simpsons episode with a revue of stars of The Eighties in a song "Ode To Branson". There is the line "So sit back, relax, and watch our revue," and Yakov slides in and says with a homophone pun, "In Soviet Union, review watches you!" This probably had a hand in revitalizing the meme for the Internet crowd.
    • After Grandpa causes his mischief on stage, Smirnoff subverts this trope by commenting "In Russia, stage is for performers only."
  • The King of the Hill episode guest starring Smirnoff has him buying one of these jokes from Bobby, despite the comedian's protestations that he has abandoned this type of material in favor of relationship humor. But give Bobby credit, at least he plays with the trope. "In America, you put 'In God We Trust' on the money. In Russia, we have no money!" Yakov pays for the joke and says keep 'em coming.
  • Animaniacs had this line in the episode "The Girl with the Googily Goop":
    Dot: You don't need to go to the potty!
    Wakko: Oh, yes, I do!
    Dot: Nah! In these cartoons, the potty comes to you!

    Real Life 
  • H. G. Wells is quoted as saying, "If we don't end war, war will end us."
  • During the 1978 World Chess Championship match between the World Champion Anatoly Karpov of the Soviet Union and ex-Soviet Viktor Korchnoi of Switzerland, there were seemingly endless negotiations about playing conditions thanks to Korchnoi's defector status and the mutual hostility between the contestants. At one point during the negotiations, a Soviet chess official declared (paraphrased, but this is mostly verbatim): "Since we, the Soviet Union, are the strongest country in the world, we do not accept conditions - we impose them!"
  • During the investigation of the sinking of RMS Titanic, one of the few surviving officers was questioned about when he left the ship. His answer was: "I didn't. The ship left me", which meant that he stayed on the ship until the deck was swallowed by the sea, leaving him trailing water.

Reporting NamesCold WarThe Moscow Criterion
Russian HumourUsefulNotes/RussiaRussian Reading
Refuge in AudacityAdministrivia/In-Universe Examples OnlyShameless Self-Promoter
Quip to BlackPunStealth Pun
No Intelligent Life HereStock JokesThat's What She Said
Returning The HandkerchiefOlder Than SteamShoo Out the Clowns
Rushmore RefacementAdded Alliterative AppealRussian Roulette

alternative title(s): In Soviet Russia Trope Mocks You; Transpositional Pun
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