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Russian Sense of Humor

Russian Soviet humor. Russian jokes and anecdotes.

A laughing Russian

Russian humour is the integral part of Russian culture. Westerners sometimes allege that Russians have no sense of humour or admit it to be dry, sarcastic and quite often indecent. Better not try to get the essence of Russian humour. It is really very subtle based on the many intertextual ties with Russian literature, Russian cinema, politics and so on. Russian humour gains much of its wit from the great flexibility and richness of the Russian language, allowing for plays on words and unexpected associations.

In most cases a good joke translated into English will mean nothing to an American or a Brit. Yet some westerners admit Russians enjoy their ability to have a laugh at themselves. There are a lot of cool jokes and short funny stories called "anekdoty" everywhere in Russia. You will hear them whenever you go to a party or just are outside within the company of Russians.

There is a number of Russian joke subjects that are peculiar to Russian or Soviet culture and which make the endless plots to anecdotes.

One of the characters of Russian anecdotes is Standartenfuhrer Stirlitz, alias Colonel Isayev, a character from the Soviet TV series "Seventeen Moments of Spring" played by the popular actor Vyacheslav Tikhonov about a fictional Soviet intelligence officer who infiltrates Nazi Germany. The plot of the anecdotes makes Stirlitz interacting with Nazi officials Walther Schellenberg, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Martin Bormann, Heinrich Muller as well as with fictional female radio operator Kat, Pastor Schlagg, Professor Pleischner and other characters in the series. The plot is resolved in grotesque plays on words or in dumb parodies of overly-smart narrow escapes and superlogical trains of thought of the "original" Stirlitz.

Gestapo intercepted an encrypted message which read: "Justas, you asshole. Alex". Only Stirlitz could figure out that he had been conferred the rank of the Hero of the Soviet Union.

German generals are waiting in line to get their special ration in an underground shelter. Enter Stirlitz. He pushes everybody away and jumps the queue. The angry generals did not know that Heroes of the Soviet Union must be served out of turn.

Another popular character of the series of anecdotes is Poruchik (Lieutenant) Rzhevsky. Rzhevsky is a cavalry (hussar) officer, a straightforward, unsophisticated, and immensely rude military type whose rank and standing gain him entrance into disproportionately higher society. In the aristocratic setting of high-society balls and 19th century social sophistication, Rzhevsky, famous for brisk but not very smart remarks, keeps ridiculing the decorum with his vulgarities. Rzhevsky's (and supposedly all hussars') nonchalant attitude to love and sex, his straightforward and sometimes stupid approach to courting women is also a source of jokes. The name is borrowed from a character from a popular 1960s comedy, "Hussar Ballad", bearing little in common with the folklore hero

Poruchik (Lieutenant) Rzhevsky is dancng with Natasha Rostova and commments:
- You are like a radiator, my dear.
- So hot?
- No, so ribby

The character of the next series of jokes is Rabinovich, an sterotypical Russian Jew. He is a crafty, cynical, mercantile, hates the Soviet government, often too smart for his own good and is sometimes portrayed as an otkaznik (refusenik): someone who is refused permission to emigrate to Israel. However this These Jewish anecdotes are not the same as anti-Semitic jokes.

A phone rings at KGB headquarters.
- Hello?
- Hello, is this the KGB?
- Yes. What do you want?
- I'm calling to report my neighbor Yankel Rabinovich as an enemy of the State. He is hiding undeclared diamonds in his fire wood.
- This will be noted.
- The next day, the KGB goons visit Rabinovich's house. They search the shed where the fire wood is kept, break every piece of wood there, but find no diamonds. They swear at Yankel Rabinovich and leave.
The phone then rings at Rabinovich`s house.
- Hello, Yankel! Did the KGB come?
- Yes.
- Did they chop up your firewood?
- Yes, they did.
- Okay, now it's your turn to call. I need my vegetable patch plowed.

One of the popular hero of Russian anecdotes is Vovochka (a diminutive 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. 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 offending. Ever since Vladimir Putin got elected President, the joke-tellers started considering Vovochka anecdotes political jokes.

The teacher is angry with Vovochka using dirty words. She asks the girls of the class to get out of the classroom when he says something again. Vovochka rushes in the room and exclaims:
- Hey, chicks, great news: a whorehouse is being built nearby!
All girls are getting up and leaving the classroom.
- Don't rush so hard, it's not yet opened!

Vovochka knocks to the window. A woman opens:
- Whaddya want?
- I want your daughter Masha. I need her as a woman!!!
- Screw off, you little jerk!
- You have misunderstood me! I've accidently kicked my soccer ball into a women's restroom!

Anecdotes about Chapayev make a significant part of military humour.

Petka and Vasily Ivanovich are in a sauna. Petka is washing Chapay's back with a sponge. "Hey, Vasily Ivanovich, you've got that T-shirt on that you said went missing a few weeks ago!"

This is just one of a myriad of jokes about Vasily Chapaev and his comrade-in-arms Petka. A military genius, a mythical hero, a part of the Soviet propaganda spin - Chapaev's life and death remain surrounded by doubt and debate. A Red Army commander during the Russian Civil War, he was turned into a Soviet myth and lives on in the Russian popular culture as a butt of a zillion anecdotes.

Other military jokes (army humor) revolve around interaction between dim-witted non-commissioned and warrant officers and intelligent privates, who are usually conscripted students.

A commander announces: - "The platoon has been assigned to unload 'luminum, the lightest iron in the world". A trooper responds, "Permission to speak... It's 'aluminium', not 'luminum', and it's one of the lightest metals in the world, not the lightest 'iron' in the world.". The commander retorts: "The platoon is going to unload 'luminum... and the intelligentsia are going to unload 'castum ironum'!" (For Russian speakers: the words were lyuminiy and chuguniy).
Don't make clever faces at me - you're future officers, now act accordingly!"

A number of jokes involve characters from the famous novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about the private detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend Doctor Watson. The jokes appeared and became popular soon after the screen versions of several of those stories came out on Soviet TV in late 1970s - mid-1980s. In all those movies the characters were brilliantly played by the same actors - Vasiliy Livanov (as Sherlock Holmes) and Vitaly Solomin (as Dr. Watson). Quotes from these films are usually included in the jokes (- "Elementary, my dear Watson!").
The content of the jokes is improbable ingenuity in deduction of Dr. Watson, making fun of Victorian Britain stereotypes, especially porridge, which is believed to be the primary food of a Quintessential British Gentleman. Occasionally the jokes also include other characters - Mrs. Hudson, the landlady of Holmes's residence on Baker Street, or Sir Henry and his butler Barrymore from The Hound of the Baskervilles and detective's archnemesis Professor Moriarty.

- Holmes, what is this terrible howling? Is this the Hound of Baskervilles?
No, Watson... It's Sir Henry, they're trying to make him eat porridge again.

Holmes and Watson went camping. After they went to bed in a tent, in the middle of the night Holmes wakes his friend up and asks: "Tell me, Watson, what does this starry sky tell you?" - "Hmm, it tells me that the weather is going to be fine in the morning" - "And to me it tells that someone has stolen our tent!".

New Russians, i.e. the nouveau-riche, arrogant and poorly educated post-perestroika businessmen and gangsters, are also very popular category of characters in contemporary Russian jokes.

New Russians seized enormous wealth in The Nineties and were driving around in Mercedes cars and expensive suits, but has 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 Mercedes and drag the driver out. "Okay, dude, we see now that you don't have any money, so we'll just beat 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's unfair. Here, Kolya and Vova will fight at your side."

Three new tell, what pyrotechnics has presented its fume for New Year:
- I its has bought some more of five boxes fly swatter...
- But I five boxes of the petards..
. - But I its rocket has bought some more of, only, some spaceman in load of the distances...

Animals. These jokes are based around animal behaviour 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 animal kingdom Lion.

The Bear, the Wolf, the Hare and the Vixen are playing cards. The Bear warns, shuffling: "No cheating! If anyone is cheating, her smug red-furred face is gonna hurt!"

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 British 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.

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!"

Ukrainians are depicted as rustic, greedy and fond of salo (pork fatback).

An Ukrainian is asked if he can eat 5 kilograms of apples.
- I can.
- And 10 kilograms?
- I can.
- How about a wagon of apples?
- I can't, but I will bite them all!

Georgians are perceived as Hot Blooded and usually very rich. Also, they have a ludicrous accent (also seen in Stalin jokes) and sometimes are Ambiguously Gay.! 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!"

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...

Chinese. Most jokes revolve around their sheer numbers, names and pronunciation and sometimes backwardness mixed with ambition.

When a child is born in a Chinese family, there is an ancient tradition: a silver spoon is dropped on the jade floor. The sound the spoon makes will be the name of the newborn."

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..."

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 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!"

Russia has a rich tradition of political satire. Russia's history of despotic regimes means this type of humor has almost always been confined to the private realm. "Mocking authorities is an exclusively oral, folkloric tradition," says Shenderovich, a popular Russian satirist.

1000 years of Russian state, 73 years of Soviet Power and 6 years of Perestroika produced a number of enlightening, educational and inspirational anecdotes, short stories, aphorisms.

A judge walks out of his chambers laughing his head off. A colleague approaches him and asks why he is laughing. "I just heard the funniest joke in the world!" "Well, go ahead, tell me!" says the other judge. "I can't - I just gave a guy ten years for it!"

"Comrade Brezhnev, is it true that you collect political jokes?" - "Yes" - "And how many have you collected so far?" - "Three and a half labor camps."

Stalin reads his report to the Party Congress. Suddenly someone sneezes. "Who sneezed?" (Silence.) "First row! On your feet! Shoot them!" (Applause.) "Who sneezed?" (Silence.) "Second row! On your feet! Shoot them!" (Long, loud applause.) "Who sneezed?" (Silence.) ...A dejected voice in the back: "It was me" (Sobs.) Stalin leans forward: "Bless you, comrade!"

We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us! (A joke that frequently did the rounds at factories and other places of state-funded labour.)

- My wife has been going to cooking school for three years.
- She must really cook well by now!
- No, they've only reached the part about the Twentieth CPSU Congress so far.

What is "nanotechnology" in Russian politics? goes one joke. Answer: When each new leader is shorter than his predecessor.

For centuries, sharp-tongued "chastushki" - short, rhymed folk songs - were devised to ridicule the country's rulers.

We have a chicken farm,
With another one being built,
But the farm-worker sees his "eggs" (slang for testicles)
Only while bathing himself!

Vladimir Putin New Year's cartoon broadcasted on Russian TV in 2010. Animated figures of Russia's president and prime minister are shown dancing in Moscow's Red Square and singing a duet about 2009. They poke fun at the EU and US, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko and even make a reference to historic corruption within Russia's bureaucracy.

"Peter I is cutting beards at boyars" lubok painting

Russians also used "lubki," hand-colored folk prints, to poke fun at the elite. Peter the Great, whose drive to secularize and Europeanize the country earned him many foes, was a favorite target of lubok artists. Famous lubki portray him as a cat or a crocodile.

One of the first television programs axed after Putin became president in 2000 was a satirical puppet show "Kukly". "Kukly" showed Putin in a variety of guises, from an indecisive leader struggling to choose a new prime minister to an impotent young king on his wedding night.

There are many jokes about the deep Russian soul, alcoholism and laziness that are cultural essential in Russia, but all of these are for the most part kind and very funny. Wonderful example of ironical attitude to Russian addition to vodka is a Russian comedy "Bootleggers" movie director Leonid Gaidai.

Another great movie to learn about this side of Russian life is "The Peculiarities of the Russian National Pastime of Hunting" and "The Peculiarities of the Russian National Pastime of Fishing". These are 2 modern comedies that are a lot of fun and irony towards notorious Russian addiction to heavy drinking.

Some great examples of Russian humor come from late Soviet era films such as "Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession" - a comical fantasy about modern society, the theater and the times of Ivan the Terrible. While watching this masterpiece you will undoubtedly learn much about good Russian traditions and of course, food and drinks. The film is full of great jokes, which are beloved by the population to this day

Another great movie is a lyrical love story that takes place on New Year's Eve. It's called "The Irony of Fate" or "S lyokim parom!" telling about a doctor from Moscow that accidentally flies to St-Petersburg after a party in a Russian banya. After series of misunderstandings and funny incidents he happily finds the love of his life. This movie is shown on TV every year on the 31st of December and the whole country watches it for the nine hundredth time. The movie really demonstrates a particularly interesting side of Russian life and is full of Russian humor.

Russians love various live and TV comedy shows, most popular of which are KVN (an abbreviation of Klub Vesyólykh i Nakhódchivykh or Ka-Ve-En, "Club of the Funny and Inventive"); Comedy club, Anshlag, Gorodok, etc. Popular Russian comedians include Michael Jvanetsky, Mikhail Zadornov, Klara Novikova, Sergei Drobotenko and others.

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