Russian joke culture includes a series of categories with fixed and highly familiar settings and characters. Surprising effects are achieved by an endless variety of plots. Russian jokes are on topics found everywhere in the world, be it sex, politics, spouse relations, or mothers-in-law. This article discusses Russian joke subjects that are particular to Russian or Soviet culture.
Every category has a host of untranslatable jokes that rely on linguistic puns, wordplay, and Russian's vocabulary of foul language. Below, (L) marks jokes whose humor value critically depends on untranslatable features of the Russian language.
Müller was walking through the forest when he saw two eyes staring at him in the darkness. "Must be an owl," Müller thought. "Who's an owl? You're an owl yourself!" Stierlitz thought.
Stierlitz opened a door. The lights went on. Stierlitz closed the door. The lights went out. Stierlitz opened the door again. The light went back on. Stierlitz closed the door. The light went out again. "It's a refrigerator," concluded Stierlitz.
Stierlitz approaches Berlin. The city is veiled in smoke from the fires. "Must have forgotten to turn off my iron," Stierlitz thought with slight irritation.
Stierlitz wakes up in a cell. "Which identity should I use?" he wonders. "Let's see. If a person in a black uniform walks in, I must be in Germany so I'll say I'm Standartenführer Stierlitz. If they wear green uniform, I'm in the USSR so I'll admit I'm Colonel Isayev". The door opens and a person in grey uniform comes in saying, "You really should ease up on vodka, Comrade Tikhonov!"
Stierlitz walked in the forest and saw light blue spruce trees (note: in Russian, the word for "spruce trees" is homonymous with the word for "[they] were eating", and in turn, "light blue" is a pejorative term for gay people). Upon approaching, Stierlitz noticed that the gays were also drinking.
Poruchik (Lieutenant) 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 with widespread use of the French language, Rzhevsky, famous for brisk but usually unintelligent remarks, keeps ridiculing the decorum with his vulgarities. In the jokes, he is often seen interacting with characters from the novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. The name is borrowed from a character from a popular 1960s comedy, Hussar Ballad (Russian — «Гусарская баллада»), bearing little in common with the folklore hero. Some researchers point out that many jokes of this kind are versions of 19th-century Russian army jokes, and the film contributed to a new series of jokes about Rzhevsky.
There are a number of typical settings in this series.
Natasha Rostova asks in a romantic voice: "Poruchik, do you remember your first teacher?". Rzhevsky: "My first one was a nurse".
Rzhevsky's (and supposedly all hussars') nonchalant attitude to love and sex.
Poruchik Rzhevsky is putting his riding boots on and is about to take leave of a charming demoiselle he had met the previous evening. "Mon cher Poruchik," intones the siren, "aren't you forgetting about the money?" Rzhevsky turns to her and says proudly: "Hussars never take money!" — The latter expression (Gusary deneg ne berut!) has become a Russian catchphrase.
He also gives his best advice to other Russian gentlemen on love matters. The Poruchik believes that the most straightforward approach is the most effective one.
KniazAndrei Bolkonski asks Poruchik Rzhevsky: "Tell me, Poruchik, how did you come to be so good with the ladies? What is your secret?" - "It's quite simplement, mon Prince, quite simplement. I just come over and say: 'Madame, would you like to fuck?'" - "But Poruchik, you'll get slapped in the face for that!" - "Oui, some of them slap, but some of them fuck."
A series of jokes in which Rzhevsky wants to surprise the high society with a witticism, but messes up.
Poruchik Rzhevsky asks his aide: "Stepan, there is a grand ball tonight. Got any new puns for me to tell there?" — "Sure, sir, how about this rhyme: 'Adam had Eve... right on the eve... of their very last day in Eden...'" — "That's a good one!". Later, at the ball: "Monsieurs, monsieurs! My Stepan taught me a funny chanson ridicule: 'Adam boinked Eve at dawn...' Pardon, not like that... 'Adam and Eve fuck through the night ...' Er... Hell, basically they fuck, but it was absolutement splendid in verse!"
A series of jokes is based on a paradox of vulgarity within the "high society" setting.
Natasha Rostova has her first ball and dances with Pierre Bezukhov: "Pierre, isn't that grease on your collar?"/"Oh my, how could I miss such a terrible flaw in my costume, I'm totally destroyed" (walks away). Then she dances with Kniaz Bolkonsky: "Andrew, isn't there a dip of sauce on your tunic?"/ (Bolkonsky faints). Finally she's dancing with Rzhevsky: "Poruchik, your boots are all covered in mud!"/"It's not mud, it's shit. Don't worry, mademoiselle, it'll fall off once it dries up."
While successful narration of quite a few Russian jokes heavily depends on using sexual vulgarities ("Russian mat"), Rzhevsky, with all his vulgarity, does not use heavy mat. One of his favorite words is arse (which is considered rather mild among Russian vulgarities), and there is a series of jokes where Rzhevsky answers "arse" to some innocent question. (In fact it is typical of poruchik Rzhevsky to make anti-romantic comments in the most romantic situations.)
Poruchik Rzhevsky and Natasha Rostova are riding horses together on the countryside. "Poruchik, what a beautiful meadow! Guess what I see there?" — "Ass, mademoiselle?" — "Ouch, Poruchik! I see chamomiles!" (Chamomiles are Russian cliche folk flowers) — "How romantic, mademoiselle! An ass amid chamomiles!.."
The essence of Rzhevsky's peculiarity is captured in the following meta-joke.
Rzhevsky narrates his latest adventure to his Hussar comrades. "...So I am riding through this dark wood and suddenly see a wide, white..." — Hussars, all together: "...arse!" — "Of course not! A glade full of chamomiles! And right in the middle there is a beautiful white..." — Hussars encore: "...arse!" — "How vulgar of you! A mansion! So I open the door and guess what I see?" — Hussars, encore: "An arse!" — Poruchik, genuinely surprised: "How did you guess? Did I tell this story before?"
This topic culminates in the following joke, sometimes called "the ultimate Hussar joke".
Countess Maria Bolkonskaya celebrates her 50th anniversary, the whole local Hussar regiment is invited, and the Countess boasts about her presents. "CornetObolensky presented me a lovely set of 50 Chinese fragrant candles. I loved them so much that I immediately stuck them into the 7 seven-branch candlesticks you see on the table. Quite fortunate numbers! Unfortunately there is one candle left, and I don't know where to stick it..." — The whole Hussar regiment takes a deep breath... And the Hussar Colonel barks out: "Hussars, not a word about an arse!!!" (other variants use words for genitalia instead)
Rabinovich, is an archetypal Russian Jew. He is a crafty, cynical, sometimes bitter type, skeptical about 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.
Rabinovich fills out a job application form. The official is skeptical: "You stated that you don't have any relatives abroad, but you do have a brother in Israel." "Yes, but he isn't abroad, I am abroad!"
Rabinovich fills out an application form. One of the questions reads "Have you ever vacillated in implementing the party line?". Rabinovich answers "I vacillated with the party line".
An acquaintance of Rabinovich runs into him on a Moscow street. Surprised he asks, "Rabinovich, why haven't you emigrated to Israel?" "What for?" replies Rabinovich, "I can feel miserable here just as well!"
Seeing a pompous and lavish burial of a member of the Politburo, Rabinovich sadly shakes his head: "What a waste! With this kind of money, I could have buried the entire Politburo!"
Rabinovich calls Pamyat headquarters, speaking with a characteristic accent: "Tell me, is it true that Jews sold out Russia?" "Yes, of course it's true, Kike-schnabel!" "Oh good! Could you please tell me where I should go to get my share?"
This following example explains Vladimir Putin's remark about "comrade wolf" in relation to the politics of the United States that many non-Russians found cryptic:
Rabinovich is walking through the forest with a sheep, when both of them stumble into a pit. A few minutes later, a wolf also falls into the pit. The sheep gets nervous and starts bleating. "What's with all the baaahh, baaahh?" Rabinovich asks, "Comrade wolf knows whom to eat."
Vovochka is the Russian equivalent of Little Johnny. He interacts with his school teacher, Maria Ivanovna (shortened to Marivanna; a stereotypical teacher's name). "Vovochka" is a diminutive form of Vladimir, creating the "little boy" effect. His fellow students bear similarly diminutive names. This "little boy" name is used in contrast with Vovochka's wisecracking, adult, often obscene statements.
In biology class, the teacher draws a cucumber on the blackboard: "Children, could someone tell me what is this?" Vovochka raises his hand: "It's a dick, Marivanna!" The teacher bursts into tears and runs out. In a minute the principal rushes in: "All right, what did you do now? Which one of you brought Maria Ivanovna to tears? And who the hell drew that dick on the blackboard?"
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 thoughtfully, "the asshole exists, but the word doesn't!"
Chapayev is usually accompanied by his aide-de-camp Petka (Peter — Петька), as well as Anka the Machine-Gunner (Anna — Анка-Пулемётчица), and political commissarFurmanov, all based on real people.
Being well known in Russian popular culture, Chapayev, Petka and Anka were featured in a series of Russian adventure games released in the late 90s and early 00s.
"I flunked my history exam, Petka. They asked me who Caesar was, and I said it's a stallion from our 7th cavalry squadron." "It's all my fault, Vasily Ivanovich! While you were away, I reassigned him to the 6th!"
Chapayev, Petka and Anka, in hiding from the Whites, are crawling plastoon-style across a field: Anka first, then Petka and Chapayev is last. Petka says to Anka, "Anka, you lied about your proletarian descent! Your mother must have been a ballerina -- your legs are so fine!" Chapayev responds, "And your father, Petka, must have been a plowman, judging from the deep furrow you're leaving behind you!"
On the occasion of an anniversary of the October Revolution, Furmanov gives a political lecture to the rank and file: "...And now we are on our glorious way to the shining horizons of Communism!" "How did it go?", Chapayev asks Petka afterwards. "Exciting!... But unclear. What the hell is a horizon?" "See Petka, it is a line you may see far away in the steppe when the weather is good. And it's a tricky one -- no matter how long you ride towards it, you'll never reach it. You'll only wear down your horse." (Many other folk characters have starred in this joke as well, including Rabinovich.)
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson
Vasily Livanov as Sherlock Holmes
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 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson film series came out on Soviet TV in late 1970s - mid-1980s. In all those movies the characters were brilliantly played by the same actors - Vasily Livanov (as Sherlock Holmes) and Vitaly Solomin (as Dr. Watson). Quotes from these films are usually included in the jokes («Элементарно, Ватсон!» — "Elementary, my dear Watson!"). The narrator of such a joke usually tries to mimic the unique husky voice of Vasily Livanov. The standard plot of these jokes is a short dialog where Watson naïvely wonders about something and Holmes finds a "logical" explanation to the phenomenon in question. 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.
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."
Some older jokes involve Fantômas, a fictional criminal and master of disguise from a French detective series Fantômas, which were once widely popular in the USSR. His archenemy is Inspector Juve, charged with catching him. Fantômas' talent for disguise is usually the focus of the joke, allowing for jokes featuring all sorts of other characters:
(From the days of Golda Meir) Fantômas sneaks into Mao Zedong's private chamber as the latter is on his deathbed, and takes off his mask. "Well, Petka, fate sure does have a way of scattering friends all over the world, doesn't it?", says Mao. "Ah, if you only knew, Vasily Ivanovich," responds Fantômas, "what our Anka has been up to in Israel!"
New Russians, (Novyi Russkiy, Russian: новый русский) i.e. the nouveau-riche, arrogant, stupid and poorly educated post-perestroika businessmen and gangsters, were a very popular category of characters in Russian jokes in the 1990s. A common plot is the interaction of a New Russian in his archetypal black-colored Mercedes S600 with a regular Russian in his modest Soviet-era Zaporozhets after having had a car accident. The New Russian is often a violent criminal or at least speaks criminal argot, with a number of neologisms (or common words with skewed meaning) typical among New Russians. In a way, these anecdotes are a continuation of the Soviet-era series about Georgians, who were then depicted as extremely wealthy. The physical appearance of the New Russians is often that of overweight men with short haircuts, thick gold chains and crimson jackets, with their fingers in the horns gesture, riding the "600 Merc" and showing off their wealth.
A New-Russian's son complains to his father: "Daddy, all my schoolmates are riding the bus, and I look like a black sheep in this 600 Merc." — "No worries, son. I'll buy you a bus, and you'll ride like everyone else!"
"Look at my new tie," says a New Russian to his colleague. "I bought it for 500 dollars in the store over there." — "You got yourself conned," says the other. "You could have paid twice as much for the same one just across the street!"
A new Russian and an old man lie injured side-by-side in an emergency room:
— How did you get here, old fella?
— I had an old Zaporozhets car, and I put my war-trophy Messerschmittjet 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...
Jokes set in the animal kingdom also feature characters, which draw their roots in the old Slavic fairy tales, where animals are portrayed as sapient beings with a stereotypical behavior, such as the violent Wolf, the sneaky (female) Fox, the cocky coward Hare, the strong, simple-minded Bear, the multi-dimensional Hedgehog and the king of animal kingdom, Lion. In the Russian language all objects, animate and inanimate, have a (grammatical) gender - masculine, feminine, or neuter. The reader should assume that the Wolf, the Bear, the Hare, the Lion and the Hedgehog are males, whereas the Fox is a female.
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!"
"If something has spilled from somewhere, then that must mean that something has poured into somewhere else," the Drunken Hedgehog mused philosophically when the campers quarrelled over a broken bottle. ("Drunken hedgehog" is a kind of multipurpose Russian cliché.)
Animals in Russian jokes are and were very well aware of politics in the realm of humans.
A bunch of animals including a cock are in prison and brag to each other about what they are there for. The cock doesn't take part in this. Someone asks: "And what are you in for?" — "I am not talking to you, criminals. I am a political prisoner!" — "How come?" — "I pecked a Young Pioneer in the arse!"
Often animal jokes are in fact fables, i.e., their punchline is (or eventually becomes) a kind of a maxim.
The Hare runs like crazy through a forest and meets the Wolf. The Wolf asks: "What's the matter? Why such haste?" "The camels there are caught and shod!" The Wolf says: "But you're not a camel!" — "Hey, after you are caught and shod, just you try to prove to them that you are not a camel!" (This joke is the origin of the popular Russian saying "try to prove you are not a camel" in the sense "try to prove something to someone who doesn't want to listen", used in relation to violations of the presumption of innocence by Russian law enforcement agencies or when someone has to fight the bureaucracy to get official papers proving that one has lost a leg or is even alive.)
The Golden Fish
Aside from mammals, a rather common non-human is the "Golden Fish", who asks the catcher to release her in exchange for three wishes. The first Russian instance of this appeared in Alexander Pushkin's The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish. In jokes, the Fisherman may be replaced by a representative of a nationality or ethnicity and the third wish usually makes the punch line of the joke.
An American, a Frenchman and a Russian are alone on an uninhabited island. They catch fish for food and suddenly catch a Golden Fish, who promises to fulfill two wishes for each for her own freedom: The American: "A million dollars and to go back home!" The Frenchman: "Three beautiful women and to go back home!" The Russian: "Tsk, and we were getting along so well. Three crates of vodka and the two fellas back!"
Side Note: This joke is a play on the fact that in Russia it is believed that three is the optimal number of people for drinking. This in turn goes back to when in the Soviet Union a bottle of vodka cost 2.87 Soviet rubles, 3 rubles being a convenient price for three men to buy a bottle and have 13 kopecks left for a snack. The classic for the latter was a rectangular pack of soft processed cheese "Druzhba" (Friendship), with that exact price. Therefore, a natural company is 3, each contributing 1 ruble. This procedure was dubbed "to have arranged for three (persons)" (Russian: сообразить на троих; soobrazit' na troikh, literal translation: "to have figured out for three"). Much of Soviet folklore is based on this interpretation of the "magic of the number 3".
A similar type of joke involves a wish-granting Genie, the main difference being that in the case of the Golden Fish the Fisherman suffers from his own stupidity or greed, while Genie is known for ingeniously twisting an interpretation of the wish to fool the grantee.
A guy finds an old bottle, picks it up and opens it. Genie comes out of the bottle and says: "Thanks so much for letting me out! I feel I should do something for you, too. Would you like to become a Hero of the Soviet Union?" (Hero of the Soviet Union was the highest Soviet award). The guy says: "Yes, sure!" Next thing he knows, he finds himself on a battlefield, alone against eight enemy tanks, and in his hands he has eight grenades. (sometimes there are five German panzers and only three grenades).
A starving thirsty guy crawls in a desert and finds a bottle with genie, who says: "I can make your dream come true! What do you want?" - "I wanna get home!" - "So, let's go" - "No, I wanna get home quickly!" - "So, let's run!"
A drunkard takes a leak by a lamp pole in the street. A policeman tries to reason with him: "Can't you see the latrine is just 25 feet away?" The drunkard replies: "Do you think I got me a damn fire hose in my pants here?"
Drunk #1 is slowly walking, bracing himself against a fence and stumbling. He comes across Drunk #2, who is lying next to the fence. "What a disgrace! Lying around like a pig! I'm ashamed for you." "You just keep on walking, demagogue! We'll see what you're gonna do when you run out of fence!"
A drunkard is searching for something under a streetlamp. A passerby asks: "What are you searching for?" The drunkard responds: "My housekeys." They start searching together. Ten minutes later the passerby asks: "Are you sure you lost them here?" The drunkard says: "I lost them over there, but there's more light here."
These often revolve around the supposition that the vast majority of Russian and Soviet militsioners (now called 'politzia') (policemen) accept bribes. Also, they are not considered to be very bright.
Three prizes were awarded for the successes in Socialist competition of traffic inspection dept. #18. The third prize is the Complete Works of Vladimir Lenin. The second prize is 100 roubles and a ticket to Sochi... The first prize is a portable stop sign. (There are several versions with this punch line about the stop sign. This one depicts a Soviet peculiarity. A portable stop sign allows the militsioner to put it in an unexpected or hard to see place on a road, fine everyone passing it and appropriate most of the fines for himself.)
A person on a bus tells a joke: "Do you know why policemen always go in pairs?" / "No, why?" / "It's specialization: one knows how to read, the other — how to write." / A hand promptly grabs him by the shoulder — a policeman is standing right behind him! "Your papers!" he barks. The hapless person surrenders his papers. The policeman opens them, reads, and nods to his partner: "Write him up a citation for slandering the Soviet Militsiya, Vasya." (A version of this joke involves the third policeman whose sole job is to watch over these two dangerous intellectuals.)
Imperial Russia had been multiethnic for many centuries and this fact continued through the Soviet period, and continues still. Throughout their history several ethnic stereotypes have developed, often shared with those produced by other ethnicities (usually with the understandable exception of the ethnicity in question, but not always).
Chukchi, the native people of Chukotka, the most remote northeast corner of Russia, are the most common minority targeted for generic ethnic jokes in Russia — many other nations have a particular one they make fun of (cf. Irish jokes in Britain, Newfie jokes in Canada or Belgian jokes in France and the Netherlands). In jokes, they are depicted as generally primitive, uncivilized and simple-minded, but clever in a naive kind of way. A propensity for constantly saying "odnako" — equivalent to "however" depending on context — is a staple of Chukcha jokes. Often a partner of Chukcha in the jokes is a Russian geologist.
"Chukcha, why did you buy a fridge if it's so cold in tundra?" / "Why, is minus fifty Celsius outside yaranga, is minus ten inside, is minus five in the fridge — a warm place, however!"
A Chukcha comes into a shop and asks: "Do you have color TVs?" "Yes, we do." "Give me a green one."
A Chukcha applies for membership in the Union of Soviet Writers. He is asked what literature he is familiar with. "Have you read Pushkin?" "No." "Have you read Dostoevsky?" "No." "Can you read at all?" The Chukcha, offended, replies, "Chukcha not reader, Chukcha writer!" (The latter phrase has become a popular cliché in Russian culture hinting at happy or militant ignorance.)
Chukchi do not miss their chance to retaliate.
A Chukcha and a Russian geologist go hunting polar bears. They track one down at last. Seeing the bear, the Chukcha shouts "Run!" and starts running away. The Russian shrugs, raises his gun and shoots the bear. "Russian hunter bad hunter!" the Chukcha exclaims. "Ten miles to the yaranga you haul this bear yourself!"
A Chukcha and a Russian geologist meet the bear. Russian misses with his last bullet, and they are starting to escape. Chukcha puts on his skis. "This is useless, even with ski you can't run faster than the bear!" - says Russian. "I don't need to run faster than bear, I just need to run faster than you!"
Chukchi in jokes, due to their innocence, often see the inner truth of situations.
A Chukcha returns home from Moscow to great excitement and interest. "What is socialism like?" asks someone. "Oh," begins the Chukcha in awe, "There, everything is for the betterment of man. I even saw that man himself!", hinting at the widespread slogan "Everything for the betterment of man."
Ukrainians are depicted as rustic, stingy, and fond of salted salo (pork back fat), and their accent, which is imitated in jokes, is perceived as funny.
A Ukrainian and a black person sit in a couchette car. Ukrainian takes out a piece of salo and starts eating it. The black person looks at him. Ukrainian asks: "What, do you want salo?". The black nods his head in agreement. "Ah, that's regular salo, write to your parents so they send you some too."
A Ukrainian tourist is questioned at international customs:
A Ukrainian is asked: "Can you eat an entire pound of apples?" — "Yes, I can." — "Can you eat two pounds of apples?" — "I can." — "And five pounds?" — "I can." — "Can you eat 100 pounds?!" — "What I cannot eat, I will nibble!"
Ukrainians are perceived to bear a grudge against Russians (derided as Moskali by Ukrainians)
The Soviet Union has launched the first man into space. A Ukrainian shepherd, standing on top of a hill, shouts over to another Ukrainian on another hill to tell the news. "Mykola!" / "Yes!" / "The moskali have flown to space!" / "All of them?" / "No, just one." / "So why are you bothering me then?"
Armenian Suren Spandarjan (left) and Georgian Joseph Stalin in 1915
Georgians are almost always depicted as stupid, greedy, hot-blooded or sexually addicted, and in some cases, all four at the same time. A very loud and theatrical Georgian accent, including the grammatical errors typical of Georgians, and occasional Georgian words are considered funny to imitate in Russian and often becomes a joke in itself.
In some jokes, they are portrayed as rich, because in Soviet times, Georgians were also perceived as running black market businesses. There is a funny expression, that usually in police reports they are termed as "persons of Caucasian nationality" (Russian: лицо кавказской национальности). Since the Russian word for "person" in the formal sense, (Russian: лицо), is the same as the word for "face", this allows a play on words about "faces of Caucasian nationality". In Russia itself, most people see "persons of Caucasian nationality" mostly at marketplaces selling fruits and flowers. Many jokes about Georgians are being recently retold in terms of "New Russians".
A plane takes off from the Tbilisi airport in Georgia. A passenger storms the pilot's cabin, waving an AK-47 rifle and demanding that the flight be diverted to Israel. The pilot shrugs OK, but suddenly the hijacker's head falls off his shoulders, and a Georgian pops from behind with a blood-drenched dagger, and a huge suitcase: "Lisssn here genatsvale: no any Israel-Misrael; fly Moscow nonstop – my roses are fading!"
In the zoo, two girls are discussing a gorilla with a huge penis: "THAT's what a real man must have!" A Georgian passer-by sarcastically remarks: "You are badly mistaken, its not a man, it is a male. THIS is what a real man must have!", and produces a thick wallet.
Armenians are often used interchangeably with Georgians, sharing some of the stereotypes. However their unique context is the fictitious Radio Yerevan, usually telling political jokes. Many jokes are based on word play, often combined with the usage of Southern accent and consequent misunderstanding between the characters.
An old Armenian is on his deathbed: "My children, treasure the Jews." "Why Jews?" "Because once they are dealt with, we will be next."
Estonians and Finns
Estonians and Finns are depicted as having no sense of humour and being stubborn, taciturn and especially slow. The Estonian accent, especially its sing-song tune and the lack of genders in grammar, forms part of the humour. Their common usage of long vowels and consonants both in speech and orthography (e.g. words such as Tallinn, Saaremaa) also led to the stereotype of being slow in speech, thinking and action. In the everyday life a person may be derisively named a "hot Estonian fellow" (or, in similar spirit, a "hot-tempered Finnish bloke", a phrase popularized by the 1995 Russian comedy Peculiarities of the National Hunt) to emphasize tardiness or lack of temperament. Indeed, Estonians play a similar role in Soviet humor to that of Finns in Scandinavian jokes.
Finnish political scientist Ilmari Susiluoto, also an author of three books on Russian humor, writes that Finns and Russians understand each other's humor. "Being included in a Russian anecdote is a privilege that Danes or Dutchmen have not attained. These nations are too boring and unvaried to rise into the consciousness of a large country. But the funny and slightly silly, stubborn Finns, the Chukhnas do."
An Estonian stands by a railway track. Another Estonian passes by on a handcar, pushing the pump up and down. The first one asks: "Iis iitt a llonngg wwayy ttoo Ttallinn?" — "Nnoot ttoo llonngg." He gets on the car and joins pushing the pump up and down. After two hours of silent pumping the first Estonian asks again: "Iis iitt a llonngg wwayy ttoo Ttallinn?" — "Nnooow iiitt iiiis llonngg wwayy."
A special offer from Estonian mobile phone providers: the first two hours of a call are free.
"I told some Estonian blokes that they're slow." / "What did they reply?" / "Nothing, but they beat me up the following day. "
A Finnish family - parents and two brothers - goes to the countryside in their car. Suddenly some animal crosses the road in front of the car and runs away into the forest. After an hour one brother says: "It is a fox!". After another hour the second brother says: "No, it is a wolf!". After two hours the father replies: "Well, you still have to fight, hot Finnish guys!".
Finns share with Chukchi their 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?". (This joke predates the event, deemed impossible, of Finland actually winning the contest, in 2006.)
Jewish humour is a highly developed subset of Russian humor, largely based on the Jews' self-image. These Jewish anecdotes are not the same as anti-Semitic jokes. As some Jews say themselves, Jewish jokes are being made by either anti-Semites or the Jews themselves. Instead, whether told by Jews or non-Jewish Russians, these jokes show cynicism, self-irony and wit that is characteristic of Jewish humour both in Russia and elsewhere in the world (see Jewish humor). The jokes are usually told with a characteristic Jewish accent (stretching out syllables, parodying the uvular trill of "R", etc.) and some peculiarities of sentence structure calqued into Russian from Yiddish. Many of these jokes are set in Odessa, and to some extent the phrase "Odessa humor" is synonymous with "Jewish jokes," even if the characters don't have Jewish names and even their religion/ethnicity is never mentioned. To Russians, it's sufficient to begin a joke with "So, an Odessan woman gets on the bus...", and her Jewishness is understood by the listener.
Abram cannot sleep, tossing and turning from side to side... Finally his wife Sarah protests: "Abram, what's bothering you?" / "I owe Moishe 20 roubles, but I have no money. What shall I do?" / Sarah bangs on the wall and shouts to the neighbors: "Moishe! My Abram still owes you 20 roubles? Well he isn't giving them back!" Turning to her husband she says: "Now go to sleep and let Moishe stay awake!"
An Odessa Jew meets another one. "Have you heard, Einstein has won the Nobel Prize?" / "Oh, what for?" / "He developed this Relativity theory." / "Yeah, what's that?" / "Well, you know, five hairs on your head is relatively few. Five hairs in your soup is relatively many." / "And for that he gets the Nobel Prize?!"
The Red Army knocks at Abram's door. He answers through the door, "yes?" "Abram, we've come for everything precious." Abram thinks for a few seconds, and calls "Rosa, my precious, someone's here for you!"
Common jokes center on the size of the Chinese population, the Chinese language, and the perceptions of the Chinese as cunning, industrious, and hard-working. Other popular jokes revolve around the belief that the Chinese are capable of amazing feats by primitive means, such as the Great Leap Forward.
"During the Damansky Island incident the Chinese military developed three main strategies: The Great Offensive, The Small Retreat, and Infiltration by Small Groups of One to Two Million Across the Border."
"Chinese hackers cracked Pentagon's server. Each of them tried to login with the password "Mao Tse-Tung". On the 2,934,568th attempt the server agreed."
"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." (see Chinese names)
A good deal of the jokes are puns based on the fact that a widespread Chinese syllable (spelled "hui" in pinyin) looks very similar to the obscene Russian word for penis. For this reason since about 1956 the Russian-Chinese dictionaries render the Russian transcription of this syllable as "хуэй" (huey) (which actually is closer to the correct Chinese pronunciation). The most embarrassing case probably is the word "socialism" (社会主义; pinyin: shè huì zhǔ yì), rendered previously as шэ-хуй-чжу-и.
A new Chinese ambassador is to meet Gromyko. When the latter enters, the Chinese presents himself: "Zhui Hui!" Gromyko, unperturbed, retorts "Zhui sam!" The surprised Chinese asks: "And where is Gromyko?" (The pun is that "zhui hui!" (a mock Chinese name) means "chew a dick!" in Russian and "zhui sam" means "chew [it] yourself").
Сунь Хуй в Чай Вынь Пей Сам, Sun' Huy v Chay Vyn' Pey Sam, (literally meaning "Dip [your] penis into tea, withdraw [and] drink [it], yourself") is a made-up "Chinese name" that is analogous of the English Who Flung Dung. Most suitable English imitation sounds like "Dip Dick Tea, Back, You Drink". There is another variation of this joke about two Chinese persons: Сунь Хуй в Чай ("Sun' Huy v Chay") and Вынь Су Хим ("Vyn' Su Him"), which can be translated as "Dip [your] penis into tea" and "Take [it] out dry", where a word "сухим" ("suhim" - meaning "dry") is divided into two syllables "су" ("su") and "хим" "him")
Russians are a stereotype in Russian jokes themselves when set next to other stereotyped ethnicities. Thus, the Russian appearing in a triple joke with two Westerners, German, French, American or Englishman, will provide for a self-ironic punchline depicting him as simple-minded and negligently careless but physically robust, which often ensures he retains the upper hand over his less naive Western counterparts. Another common plot is a Russian holding a contest with technologically superior opponents (usually, an American and a Japanese) and winning with sheer brute force or a clever trick.
A Frenchman, a German, and a Russian go on a safari and are captured by cannibals. They are brought to the chief, who says, "We are going to eat you right now. But I am a civilized man, I studied human rights at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, so I'll grant each of you a last request." The German asks for a mug of beer and a bratwurst. He gets it and the cannibals eat him. The Frenchman asks for three girls. He has crazy sex with them, and then follows the German. The Russian asks: "Hit me hard, right on my nose." The chief is surprised, but hits him. The Russian pulls out a Kalashnikov and shoots all the cannibals. The mortally wounded chief asks him: "Why didn't you do this before we ate the German?", the Russian proudly replies: "Russians are not aggressors!" (This joke has also been used as a Jewish joke; more specifically, as an Israeli joke, alluding to Israel's being constantly afraid of being seen as the 'aggressor'.)
A Chukcha sits on the shore of the Bering Strait. An American submarine surfaces. The American captain opens the hatch and asks: "Which way is Alaska?" The Chukcha points his finger: "That way!" "Thanks!" says the American, shouts "South-South-East, bearing 159.5 degrees!" down the hatch and the submarine submerges. Ten minutes later a Soviet submarine emerges. The Russian captain opens the hatch and asks the Chukcha: "Where did the American submarine go?" The Chukcha replies: "South-South-East bearing 159.5 degrees!" "Don't be a smart-ass," says the captain, "just point your finger!"
A Frenchman, a Japanese and a Russian were trapped by a Klingon. He locked them in a cell and asked to surprise him using three steel balls – the winner will be released, the others will be executed. In a week the Frenchman demonstrates a juggle with the balls. The Japanese has created a rock garden. However the Russian was declared winner: he broke one ball and lost another one.
Like everywhere else, a good deal of jokes in Russia are based on puns.
(L) The genitiveplural of a noun (used with a numeral to indicate five or more of something, as opposed to the dual, used for two, three, or four, see Russian nouns) is a rather unpredictable form of the Russian noun, and there are a handful of words which even native speakers have trouble producing this form of (either due to rarity or an actual lexical gap). A common example of this is kocherga (fireplace poker). The joke is set in a Soviet factory. Five pokers are to be requisitioned. The correct forms are acquired, but as they are being filled out, a debate arises: what is the genitive plural of kocherga? Is it Kocherg?Kocherieg?Kochergov?... One thing is clear: a form with the wrong genitive plural of kocherga will bring disaster from the typically pedantic bureaucrats. Finally, an old janitor overhears the commotion, and tells them to send in two separate requisitions: one for two kochergi and another for three kochergi. In some versions, they send in a request for 4 kochergi and one extra to find out the correct word, only to receive back "here are your 4 kochergi and one extra." (In reality, a bureaucrat would likely resort to a trick like "Kocherga: 5 items"; a similar story by Mikhail Zoshchenko involves yet another answer.)
A Russian slang for 'testicle' is 'egg' (yaitso). A large variety of jokes capitalizes on this, ranging from predictably silly to surprisingly elegant.
A guy jumped onto a bus. There he fell onto other man, who was holding a large sack. "Watch the eggs!" - cried that man. "Are you stupid? Who would carry eggs in a sack?" - "Watch YOUR eggs. The sack's full of nails."
A train compartment. A family: a small daughter, her mother and grandma. The fourth passenger is a Georgian. The mother starts feeding a soft-boiled egg to the daughter with a silver spoon. Grandma: "Don't you know that eggs can spoil silver?" — "Who would have known!", thinks the Georgian and replaces his silver cigarette case from the front pants pocket to the back one.
Some religious jokes make fun of the clergy. They tend to be told in quasi-Church Slavonic, with its archaisms and the stereotypical okanye - a clear pronunciation of the unstressed /o/ as /o/. (Modern Russian or "Muscovite" speech reduces unstressed /o/ to /a/.) Clergymen in these jokes always bear obsolete names of distinctively Greek origin and speak in basso profundo.
(L) At the lesson of the Holy Word: "Disciple Dormidontiy, pray tell me, is the soul separable from the body or not." / "Separable, Father." / "Verily speakest thou. Substantiate thy reckoning." / "Yesterday morning, Father, I was passing by your cell and overheard your voice chanting: (imitates bass) '...And now, my soul, arise and get thee dressed.' " / "Substantiatest... But in vulgar!" (The Russian phrase that translates literally as "my soul" is a term of endearment, often toward romantic partners, comparable to English "my darling")
A lass in a miniskirt jumps onto a bus. The bus starts abruptly, and she falls onto the lap of a seated priest. Surprised, she looks down and says, "Wow!" "It's not a 'wow!', my daughter," says the priest, "it is the key to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour!" (Priest, later, coming to the cathedral) "Holy shit! I've left the keys at home!"
A man died and was sent to the paradise. After a while, he became bored with the paradise, with the eternal quiet, abundance of flowers, absence of worries. So he requested to let him visit the hell as a tourist. God consented. In the hell, he saw people playing cards, drinking wine, and making love. He liked it very much and upon return to the paradise applied for a transfer to hell for good. God consented. As soon a he appeared at the hell's gate, demons grabbed him and pushed him into a barrel with hot tar. "Stop it! I was here with a visit and saw the people drinking vodka, playing cards, making love." "Don't confuse the area designated for tourists and sustained by the Propaganda Department, with this area which is for residents."
Other jokes touching on religion involve Heaven or Hell.
A Communist died and since he was an honest man albeit atheist, he was sentenced to rotate spending one year in Hell and one year in Heaven. One year passed and Satan said to God : "Take this man as fast as possible, because he turned all my young demons into Young Pioneers, I have to restore some order." Another year passed, Satan meets God again and tells him : "Lord God, it's my turn now." God replied : "First of all, don't call me Lord God, but instead Comrade God; second, there is no God; and one more thing - don't distract me or I'll be late to the Party meeting."
A Russian and an American are sentenced to Hell. The Devil summons them and says: "Guys, you have 2 options: an American or Russian hell. In the American one you can do what you want, but you'll have to eat a bucket of shit every morning. The Russian one is the same, but it's 2 buckets." The Yankee quickly makes up his mind and goes to American Hell, while the Russian eventually chooses the Russian one. In a week or so they meet. The Russian asks: "So, what's it like out there?"/ "Exactly what the devil said, the Hell itself is OK, but eating a bucket of shit is killing me. And you?" / "Ah, it feels just like home - either the shit doesn't get delivered or there aren't enough buckets for everyone!"
An American, a Hindu and a Russian land in Purgatory. A grey-winged angel with a huge whip hanging from his belt meets them and says: "Alright, here's the rules. Anyone who takes three strikes from my whip without screaming, can go straight to Heaven. You can shield yourselves with whatever you like. We've got everything here. Who's first?" The American steps forward. "Alright, you've got three hours to prepare yourself." The American puts on a full-body Kevlar outfit, gets into a tank, drives it into a concrete bunker, the bunker is covered with 15 feet of dirt and inch-thick titanium sheets. The angel unravels his whip. SNAP! The titanium and the dirt are gone. SNAP! The bunker and tank are gone. SNAP! The American howls in pain, the ground opens up under his feet and he drops straight to Hell. "Next", says the angel. The Hindu steps forward. "You've got three hours to prepare yourself." / "I need only five minutes. I have studied Yoga all my life and can make myself immune to all pain." The Hindu gets into a lotus position, hums mantras for a few minutes and rises a couple of inches off the ground. The angel unravels his whip. SNAP! SNAP! SNAP! The Hindu is completely unfazed. "Hmm, impressive. Alright, you're free to go." / "Thank you, but only after I see how this one makes it out of this.", says the Hindu, looking at the Russian. / "Your call." The angel turns to the Russian: "What are you going to shield yourself with?" / "With the Hindu, of course."
Russian military jokes
Probably any nation big enough to have an army has a good deal of its own barracks jokes. Other than for plays on words, these jokes are usually international. In the Soviet Union, however, military service was universal (for males), so most people could relate to them. In these jokes a praporschik (warrant officer) is an archetypal bully of limited wit.
A. Dmitriev illustrates his sociological essay "Army Humor" with a large number of military jokes, mostly of Russian origin.
There is an enormous number of one-liners, supposedly quoting a praporschik:
Private Ivanov, dig a trench from me to the next scarecrow!"
Private Ivanov, dig a trench from the fence to lunchtime!"
Don't make clever faces at me — you're future officers, now act accordingly!"
The punchline "from the fence to lunchtime" has become a well-known Russian cliché for an assignment with no defined ending (or for doing something forever).
Some of them are philosophical and apply not just to warrant officers.
Scene One: A tree. An apple. An ape comes and starts to shake the tree. A voice from above: "Think, think!" The ape thinks, grabs a stick, and hits the apple off. / Scene Two: A tree. An apple. A praporschik comes and starts to shake the tree. A voice from above: "Think, think!" / "There is nothing to think about, gotta shake!".
Commander and intellectual trooper:
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'!" (The Russian words are lyuminiy and chuguniy).
(A persistent theme in Russian military/police/law-enforcement-related jokes is the ongoing conflict between the representatives of the armed forces/law enforcement, and the "intelligentsia", i.e. well-educated members of society. Therefore, this theme is a satire of the image of military/law-enforcement officers and superiors as dumb and distrustful of "those educated smart-alecks".)
"Soviet nuclear bombs are 25% more efficient than the Atomic Bombs of the probable adversary. American bombs have 4 zones of effect: A, B, C, D, while ours have five: А, Б, В, Г, Д!" (the first five letters of the Russian alphabet, they are transliterated into Latin as A, B, V, G, D).
"Suppose we have a unit of M tanks... no, M is not enough. Suppose we have a unit of N tanks!"
A threat to an idle student: "I ought to take you out into the open field, put you face first against a wall, and shoot you between the eyes with a shotgun, so that you'd remember it for the rest of your life!
"Cadets, write down: the temperature of boiling water is 90°." One of the privates replies, "Comrade praporshchik, you're mistaken — it's 100°!" The officer checks in the book, and then replies, "Right, 100°. It is the right angle that boils at 90°."
- Cadets, now write down: "This device works at the temperature between -400 and 400 degrees."
- Comrade praporshchik, there is no temperature like -400 degrees!.
- What would you know, it's a brand new, secret device.
Sometimes, these silly statements can cross over, intentionally or unintentionally, into the realm of actual wit:
"Cadet, explain why you have come to class wearing the uniform of our probable military opponent!" (most probably, the instructor means jeans made in the USA) The right answer, as mentioned sometimes, is: "Because they are a probable war trophy!"
It also can be jokes about Russian nuclear-missile forces and worldwide disasters because of lack of basic army discipline.
A missile silo officer falls asleep during his watch, with his face on the control board and hits the "red button"/ As the colonel comes in, the officer snaps up and proudly reports: "Nothing to report during my watch, comrade Colonel"/ "Nothing to report, you say? Nothing to report?! Then where the hell is Belgium?!!"
Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, two submarines, Soviet and American, come to the surface. The Soviet one is old and rusty; the American one is new and shiny. On the Soviet one, the crew lounges about without any order, and a drunken captain yells at them: "Who threw a valenok (traditional Russian winter footwear made of felt) on the control board? I'm asking you, who threw a valenok on the control board?!". From the American submarine, a shaved, sober and well-dressed captain, notes sarcastically: "You know, folks, in America...". The Russian captain interrupts him, screaming: "America? America??! There is none of your fucking America anymore!" (Turns back to the crew) "Who threw a valenok onto the control board?!"
There is also an eternal dispute between servicemen and civilians:
Civilian: "You servicemen are dumb. We civilians are smart!" / Serviceman: "If you are so smart, then why don’t you march in single file?"
An old woman stands in the market with a "Chernobyl mushrooms for sale" sign. A man goes up to her and asks, "Hey, what are you doing? Who's going to buy Chernobyl mushrooms?" And she tells him, "Why, lots of people. Some for their boss, others for their mother-in-law..."
A grandson asks his grandfather: "Grandpa, is it true that in 1986 there was an accident at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant?" "Yes, there was." — answered the Grandpa and patted the grandson's head. "Grandpa, is it true that it had absolutely no consequences?" "Yes, absolutely" — answered the Grandpa and patted the grandson's second head. (Often added "And they strolled off together, wagging their tails").
A Soviet newspaper reports: "Last night the Chernobyl Nuclear Powerstation fulfilled the Five Year Plan of heat energy generation in 4 microseconds."
"Is it true, that you may eat meat from Chernobyl?" - "Yes, you may. But your feces would need to be buried in concrete 5 ft deep in the earth."
Medical jokes are widespread. Usually, they consist of a short dialogue of doctor or nurse and patient.
"Nurse, where're we going?" / "To the morgue."/ "But I haven't died yet!"/ "Well, we haven't arrived yet."
"Nurse, where're we going?" / "To the morgue."/ "But I haven't died yet!"/ "The doc said 'to the morgue' — to the morgue it is!" / "But what is wrong with me?!" / "The autopsy will show!"
The phrase "The doc said 'to the morgue', to the morgue it is!" (Доктор сказал «в морг» — значит в морг!) became a well-known Russian cliché meaning that something unpleasant must be done.
"Doctor, can I have sex..." - "Which fucking sex??!!" - "Not just now! In future..." - "In which fucking future??!!"
The life of most Russian university students is often associated with many people coming from small towns and living in dormitories. State universities (the only type of universities in existence in Soviet times) are notable for carelessness about the students' comfort and the quality of food. Most jokes make fun of these "interesting" conditions, inventive evasion by students of their academic duties or lecture attendance, constant shortage of money and sometimes about alcoholic tendencies of engineering students.
A memo in a student dining hall: "Students, do not drop your food on the floor, two cats have already been poisoned!".
A crocodile's stomach can digest concrete. A student's stomach can digest that of a crocodile.
A student in the canteen: "Can I have 2 wieners... <whispers around: "Look at the rich guy!">.... and 17 forks, please?"
Two flies meet - one is fat, and the other is skinny. Skinny fly: How come your're so fat? Where do you get your food?\Fat fly: The cafeteria, of course! I fly straight into a bowl of borsch, they pull me out, I fly away and lick the remains off myself. One week later, they meet again. The skinny fly is skinnier still. Fat fly: Didn't you listen to my advice?\Skinny fly: I did. I flew into the bowl of borsch, but they pulled me out, sucked the remains off me and threw me away!\Fat fly: Which cafeteria did you go to?\Skinny fly: The Young Pioneer Camp cafeteria.
A very rumpled student peeks into an exam room and slurs at the examiner: "Pp-proffessosssor, wou'd you al-low a drunk student tt-o tt-ake the exam?.." The professor sighs and says, "Sure, why not." The rumpled student turns around and slurs into the hallway: "G-guys, c-carry 'im in."
Also, there are a number of funny student obsessions such as zachetka (a transcript of grades, carried by every student), halyava (a chance of getting good or acceptable grades without any effort) and getting a scholarship for good grades.
A large number of jokes are about an exam; these are usually a dialogue between the professor and the student, based on a set of questions written on a bilet (a small sheet of paper, literally: ticket), which the student draws at random in the exam room and is given some time to prepare answers for. Even more jokes use the fact that many (or even most) students really study only when the exam is in the near future (in one or two days), saving time for more interesting activities such as parties, videogames and so on.
Cowboy jokes is a popular series about a Wild West full of trigger-happy simple-minded cowboys, and of course the perception is that everything is big in Texas. It is often difficult to guess whether these are imported or genuinely Russian inventions. Other times, it's pretty clear. Most of them depict American national traits that Russians adore and respect.
In a saloon.
— The guy over there really pisses me off!
— There are four of them; which one?
(The joke narrator imitates the sounds of three shots)
— The one still standing!
Another Version - The guy over there have saved my life yesterday, I am really grateful to him <...> - The one that has fallen!
A joke related to English-to-Russian Western film dubbing, which in the 1990s was often unprofessional, and its tendency to self-censor obscenities from the original dialogue:
Two cowboys are standing at crossroads in a prairie.
— Fuck, Bob! (Voice-over: Where does this road lead to, Bob?)
— Shit, John! (Voice-over: It leads to Texas, John)
— Fuck, Bob! (Voice-over: Hell, we don't need to go to Texas, Bob!)
— Shit, John! (Voice-over: Don't swear, John)
Two cowboys, a newcomer and an old-timer, are drinking beer in front of a saloon. Suddenly, there is a clatter of hooves, a great cloud of dust, and something moving extremely fast from one end of town to the other. The newcomer looks at the old-timer, but seeing no reaction, decides to let the matter drop. However, several minutes later, the same cloud of dust, accompanied by the clatter of hooves, rapidly proceeds in the other direction. Not being able to see what's behind the dust, and unable to contain his curiosity any longer, the newcomer asks:
— OK, what the hell was that, Bill?
— Oh, that's Elusive Joe. Nobody has ever managed to catch him, Harry.
— Why? Is he so fast, Bill?
— Nope, it's just because nobody needs him, Harry. (variant: nobody cares about him)
The "Elusive Joe" (Russian: Неуловимый Джо) has become an ironic nickname in Russia for various difficult-to-find persons (not necessarily unimportant ones). It is suggested that the nickname and the joke originated from a 1923 satirical novel An Elusive Enemy. American Novel by Mikhail Kozyrev (ru:Козырев, Михаил Яковлевич) which contained a funny song about a Joe who was elusive because no one needed him.
Jokes about disabilities
Jokes set in mental hospitals are just as common in Russian humor as in the humor of other cultures. However, "punitive psychiatry" was part of Soviet political repressions, and this method purportedly continues in today's Russia (see article "Psikhushka"). Therefore, in Russian humor jokes about the mentally ill often have a political subtext.
A lecturer visits the mental hospital and gives a lecture about how great communism is. Everybody claps loudly except for one person who keeps quiet. The lecturer asks: "Why aren't you clapping?" and the person replies "I'm not a psycho, I just work here."
A large number of jokes, arguably unparalleled among other nations, are about people with acute dystrophy. The main topics are extreme weakness, slowness, leanness, and weightlessness of a dystrophic patient.
Some of them originated in the infamous Gulag camps. Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his Gulag Archipelago (as well as other writers about Gulag) wrote that dystrophy was a typical phase in the life of a gulag inmate. He quotes the following Gulag joke.
In order to deny international rumors, Stalin allowed a foreign delegation to inspect some Gulag camps. As a result, a foreign reporter wrote "a zek is lazy, gluttonous, and deceiving". By a misfortune the same reporter landed in a gulag as an inmate himself. When released, he wrote "a zek is lean, ringing, and transparent" (Russian: tonkiy, zvonkiy and prozrachny).
Other ones depict scorn of working-class people to intelligentsia, who were most often physically underdeveloped.
Muscular dystrophy patients are playing hide and seek in the hospital. "Vovka, where are you?" "I'm here, behind this broomstick!" "Hey, didn't we have an arrangement not to hide behind thick objects?"
A jolly doctor comes into a dystrophy ward: "Greetings, eagles!" (a Russian cliché in addressing e.g. brave soldiers) In reply: "No, we are not. We're only flying because the nurse turned the fan on!"
A muscular dystrophy patient is lying in bed and shouting: "Nurse! Nurse!" "What is it now?" "Kill the fly! It's trampling my chest."
The very use of obscene Russian vocabulary, called mat, can enhance the humorous effect of a joke by its emotional impact. Due to the somewhat different cultural attitude to obscene slang, such an effect is difficult to render in English. The taboo status often makes mat itself the subject of a joke. One typical plot goes as follows.
A construction site expects an inspection from the higher-ups, so a foreman warns the boys to watch their tongues. During the inspection, a hammer is accidentally dropped from the fourth floor right on a worker's head... The punch line is an exceedingly polite, classy rebuke from the mouth of the injured, rather than a typically expected "#@&%$!". For example the injured worker might say: "Dear co-workers, could you please watch your tools a little more carefully, so as to prevent such cases and avoid work-place injuries?" In another variant of the joke the punch line is "Vasya, please desist in pouring molten tin over my head."
(L) Another series of jokes exploits the richness of the mat vocabulary, which can give a substitute to a great many words of everyday conversation. Other languages often use profanity in a similar way (like the English fuck, for example), but the highly syntheticgrammar of Russian provides for the unambiguity and the outstandingly great number of various derivations from a single matroot. Emil Draitser points out that linguists explain that the linguistic properties of the Russian language rich in affixes allows for expression of a wide variety of feelings and notions using only a few core mat words:
An agenda item on working conditions at a trade union meeting of a Soviet plant. Locksmith Ivanov takes the floor: "Mother fuckers!... Go fuck yourself!... Fuck you and you too again!..." A voice from the audience: "Right to the point, Vasya! we won't work without work robes!"
As an ultimate joke in this series, the goal is to apply such substitution to as many words of a sentence as possible while keeping it meaningful. The following dialog at a construction site between a foreman and a worker retains a clear meaning even with all of its 14 words being derived from the single obscene word khuy. Russian language proficiency is needed to understand this. Word-by-word:
— Huli?! (What's the problem?) Nihuya! (No way!) Nehuy (No need) rashuyarivat (to unload)! Nahuyacheno ([It] got loaded) nehuyovo! (quite well)! Pohuyarili! (Let's go)
Possible, but incomplete translation:
— Fuckheads, why the fuck did you load so much of this shit? Unload it the fuck away from here!
— What's the fucking problem?! Fuck no! No need to unload! It got loaded alright! Let's fucking go!
After this example one may readily believe the following semi-apocryphal story. An inspection was expected at a Soviet plant to award it the Quality Mark, so the administration prohibited the usage of mat. On the next day the productivity dropped abruptly. People's Control figured out the reason: miscommunication. It turned out that workers knew all the tools and parts only by their mat-based names: huyovina, pizdyulina, huynyushka, huyatina, etc. (all of these are loosely translated as "thing"); the same went for technological processes: othuyachit (to detach, cut, disconnect), zayebenit (to push through, force into), prihuyachit (to attach, connect, bond, nail), huynut (to move slightly, throw, pour), zahuyarit (to throw far away, to put in deeply) etc.
Another story, possibly apocryphal, relates that during the time of the Space Race the CIA placed a bug in a Soviet rocket factory to gain intelligence about the manufacturing process. After 6 months of listening-in the Americans had learned that Soviet rockets seemed to consist of only two parts, called chuy and pizda, and that one goes into the other.
^Beumers, Birgit (2005). Pop culture Russia!: media, arts, and lifestyle. ABC-CLIO. p. 181. ISBN978-1-85109-459-2.
"Eros and Pornography in Russian Culture." Edited by Marcus C. Levitt and Andrei L. Toporkov. In the Series “Russkaia potaennaia literatura.” Ladomir Publishers, Moscow, 1999. 700 p (review) Section "Pornography in Russia today" contains a chapter on contemporary Russian humor
Draitser, Emil, "The Rise and Fall of the New Russians," in Uncensored? Reinventing Humor and Satire in Post-Soviet Russia by Seth Graham and Olga Mezropova, eds. Slavica Publishers, 2008, 79-98.
Työ tyhmästä pitää, venäläisen huumorin aakkoset ("Only a Fool Likes to Work: The ABCs of Russian humour"), Ajatuskustannus, 2000 (Finnish)
Takaisin Neuvostoliittoon (2006) ("Back to the USSR") — A review, Helsingin Sanomat, 9/5/2006 : "Soviet nostalgia lives on in Russian anecdotes: Finnish political scientist examines post-Soviet humour in new book" (review in English)