Those wacky Russians

Maybe “wacky” isn’t the right word — if you read through this collection of Russian jokes translated by Mark Perakh, you might find some are fairly funny, others are completely opaque and strange, and others drop with a leaden thump. One common seems to be finding a kind of morose humor in misery.

Having a strange sense of humor is the only way I can explain this: Pravda, the Weekly World News of Russia, has an article explaining Intelligent Design creationism, which fits right in with their usual fare of UFOs, girls in swimsuits, devils, and muscular bronze stallions with weird human genitalia, but just to add some real spice to the joke, it was written by babblin’ Babu Ranganathan.

I don’t know who the joke is on, Babu, ID, or people gullible enough to buy Pravda, but I know it’s not me, so I’m laughing.


  1. MS says

    When I lived in Mexico I had a bunch of friends from Poland (long story). We communicated in Spanish, generally. They would often translate Polish jokes into Spanish for me. Sometimes they were fine, but anything depending on wordplay just didn’t work, of course, and I often didn’t have the cultural background to get them. Dirty jokes usually translated well, though.

    I noticed that the butt of the joke was usually a Russian or a cop, which I thought very interesting, if not terribly surprising.

  2. Mystic Olly says

    The sweetest things about America and Americans (as far as my ignorant jumping-to-conclusions can assess) is that they have yet to experience the joyful, tearful ecstasy of rejoicing in how miserable their country has become. Though some contributors to this site may despair of their country at times, it remains for the large portion of the world the “place where good people go when they die” (5 points for recognising the popular author (especially among Pharyngulites) who wrote that.

    Aaah sweet misery.

  3. Deepsix says

    Strange. I was just about to click over to a Russian language website to practice my Russian. I refreshed the main Pharyngula page and this story pops up. Kinda freaky. Definitely the doings of a higher power.
    I just can’t wait to get over there for my banya and floral spanking.

  4. Deepsix says

    Just read Mark’s personal info page. Wow. Must have some amazing stories of life in the USSR. Mark, let’s meet for tea and scrumpets.

  5. Luna_the_cat says

    I got my first insight into Russian psychology when I was in Moscow and turned the tv on to find their version of the “Rescue 911” series. But you know the one they show in the US/Uk, they only show the ones where the victim of whatever unfortunate circumstance it is, is rescued and lives to give interviews? In the Russian version, they only show the ones where the people die…

    On the other hand, in the Moscow Zoo, the only thing between the public and the lions, or the public and the cheetahs, or the public and the leopards, is a standard chain-link fence. That’s it; you can stick your hand through and try to pet the kitties if you really, really want to. They do seem to be serious about letting some of the stupidity work its way out of the gene pool.

  6. Arnaud says

    That one was rather good:

    When Brezhnev visited the USA, the American president asked him, “Mister Brezhnev, what is your hobby?”

    “I collect anecdotes the people tell about me.”

    “And how big is your collection?”

    “As of yesterday, the tenth camp was almost full.”

  7. says

    The print edition of Pravda is very difficult to find in Russia now. People read Izvestiia, Komsomolskaia Pravda, Trud’, and some of the other old names. But regular old Pravda doesn’t turn up much, at least in the parts of Russia I’ve lived in. And when I have seen it, it’s mostly mundane Communist Party news, not the wild stuff that you find on the website. This is because they’re not the same- is a sensationalist website, while Gazeta Pravda is the Communist newspaper. You can read the text of the latter here:
    See? Not so much fun.

    As a side note, I have a colleague who is writing a thesis on those Brezhnev jokes.

  8. Rub R. D'Key says

    I enjoyed the muscular bronze stallion. Being an old cowboy I recognized the breed immediately as Equus anthropomorphica which was bred exclusively in Russia. I think there was an old story where Catherine the Great attempted sex with one. Legend has it she died with a smile on her face.

  9. David Marjanović, OM says

    Komsomolskaia Pravda

    (Because, you know, these people still have their own Truth.)

  10. David Marjanović, OM says

    Komsomolskaia Pravda

    (Because, you know, these people still have their own Truth.)

  11. William Hyde says

    There is a section of stories about soviet life, not intended to be funny. It claims:

    “These are short stories describing real events and real people…”

    In it I came across an entry on Budyko, a pioneer of climate modeling (section 9.7). The story claims his career was ruined in 1954, but I know he was still publishing in 1968 (I have referenced that paper many times) and I have his book “Climate Change” (Russian edition 1974).

    Far from having his career derailed in 1954, he was actually promoted to head the geophysical observatory that year, a post he held until 1972.

    For that matter he was given the Lenin prize in 1958.

    In other words, read the jokes, but the purportedly factual parts of the site can’t be trusted.

    William Hyde

  12. CortxVortx says

    I checked each of the links, as I usually do. While chuckling over the man-horse, I noticed a link at the top for “All the Races Come From Adam and Eve?” And who should the author be? Your old friend Babu.



  13. Greek Joke says

    I found the Russian jokes very entertaining, so I thought I should share a greek joke with you. A lot of our jokes are also based on the irrationality of our state and of course of our army (we have compulsory military service here). Also many many jokes are set on the “Aesop” type of animal community in the forest…

    so, the forest is in unrest because a war has been declared and there is a general draft for all the animals. Every one has to appear immediately in the military comittee to be sent to the front. A lot of animals have left but none come back. Our hero (the bear) is very uneasy about losing his life and he is wondering what to do. Walking around the forest he meets the hare. The hare has no ears.
    – what happened mr hare?
    – I cut my ears to avoid the army. When I went to the comittee they said “a hare with no ears is not a proper hare ” so they let me go.

    The bear was unhappy because he has no big ears to cut.

    Then he meets the fox and the fox has no tail…
    – what happened mr. fox?
    – I cut my tail so I am not fit for the army and they let me go

    But the bear has not a big tail to cut… So he went to the wise owl to ask for consul.

    – I have a big problem. They will send me to my death and I have no ears to cut, or a tail.
    – so the only chance you have is if you cut off your balls. says the owl

    desperate the bear does this, and then goes to the commitee. From twenty meters away the lion, that is head of the comittee shouts:

    “bear go away you are not fit for the army. You have flat feet!”

  14. says

    Some of them aren’t as funny as they might be because he’s messed them up. The one about people telling Brezhnev “Merry Christmas” to which he responds “I’ve already been told” is actually supposed to be about the Easter greeting – “Christ is risen” “Yes, I’ve been informed of that.”

    But most of them are deeply rooted in the culture of them time – it’s why they’re ‘oral’ jokes, after all – so it’s hard for non-Soviet-era Russians or non-specialists to appreciate most of them.

  15. Crudely Wrott says

    The Peasant and the Potato. Now that’s funny!
    An honest man among thieves who is himself a thief but who cannot be stealing when following the way of the Uber-Brudder. To not do so would be dishonest and against one’s oath.

    But the baggy-eyed drollity of these jokes makes me glad to be part of this mongrel race. I may not understand all of the jokes, but I understand a little about my fellow man, and I’m pretty good at guessing some of the rest. Think I’ll go back and enjoy some more.

  16. Crudely Wrott says

    Just remembered a social studies teacher from the early 60s, 7th grade. He had a gift for ripping off a good line that carried a lot of meaning. Cliches on demand, sort of. He was contrasting our republic and communism. I can still hear him.

    The state: “And soon will be for everybody strawberries and cream!”
    A proletariat: “But, I don’t like strawberries and cream.”
    The state: “Comes the revolution you will eat strawberries and cream.”

    Cemented some of my political ideas right there, he did.

  17. QrazyQat says

    In 1989 I was at a conference in Monaco and during the week they had a showing of a movie — “an extremely funny Soviet comedy”. It was not funny. It was spectacularly unfunny. It was as unfunny as Mother Russia is big.

    (And she certainly is a cold mother!
    Col. Parminter)

  18. Grimgrin says

    “A mummy was found in Egypt. The archeologists could not determine its origin. Then a Soviet advisor offered his help. The mummy was delivered to the Soviet embassy. In two hours the Soviet advisor appeared and said, “His name was Amenkhotep 23 rd.”

    “How did you find out?”

    “He confessed,” the advisor said.”

  19. Hrafn says

    I think it is worth pointing out that the current incarnation of ‘Pravda’ is a purely online rag (so nobody “buys” it) and no relation of its Cold War namesake. Amusingly enough it has Babu’s article framed between a picture of cheerleaders and another of a Spice Girl (with links to articles on each). Should give you some idea as to its intellectual level.

  20. Baratos says

    An old joke from the Great Terror:

    A husband and wife are awake in the middle of the night, and hear a knock at the door. Frightened, they answer it, and the husband asks “What do you want?”
    “Get out!” yells the visitor, “the building’s on fire!”
    “Oh, thank god! We thought you were going to arrest us!”

  21. says

    I love jokes and what you can learn about a social body from the jokes they tell. One thing I like to compare is the sort of curses that arise (scatalogical, sexual, disease, etc.). I haven’t looked at any of that in depth, so I’m not always sure what they tell us, but the comparisons are fun, and it’s yet another area I’d like to look at some day (again the problem of being someone who wants to be a generalist rather than a specialist….bad for academic careers, generally)

  22. Hrafn says

    Yes Kseniya, and Elvis is alive and well and living in Ohio … for a given value of “Elvis” (and possibly of “Ohio”). :P

  23. tihson says

    Hey MS,

    I moved from Poland to Mexico in ’81. Veracruz specifically. Many of our friends had remained in Mexico throughout the fall of the Iron Curtain. Many were classical musicians. I wonder if we know some of the same people.

    I remember Russian and German jokes way back in Poland. There was the primary protagonist, the American, who naturally got the spoils, the secondary protagonist, the Pole, who tended to break even, and the Russian and German who got the shaft.

    Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Americans made fun of “Polacks.” Having moved to the U.S. after a year in Mexico was like taking a long, cold shower. Got rid of my accent pretty quickly though.

  24. maxi says

    noncarborundum @18

    I shall assume the mantle of horse-expert here and say that I have never heard of anyone circumcising a horse. Castrate, yes. Circumcise, no.

    Unless it was some sort of joke. In which case it obviously wasn’t very funny…

  25. maxi says

    Ahem… Erm have looked more closely at the horse statue and now get the joke. Serves me right for trying to be a know-all without my morning’s hot cocoa.

    Apologies noncarborundum.

  26. Alex Besogonov says

    Being Russian I enjoyed reading familiar jokes in English.

    A lot of them are don’t sound as funny if you have not grown up in USSR. But a lot of others are very good!

  27. MS says

    To tihson, I wouldn’t be surprised if we knew a few people in common. I was in Guadalajara 78-80 and Mexico City 80-82 playing in symphony orchestras. I’ve really only kept in touch with one Polish friend from that period, and he’s in Spain now.

    One of the worst mistakes of my life was trying to keep up with the toasts at the christening party for one of my friend’s first son. They appeared to be working their way alphabetically through the Warsaw phone book, toasting everyone in it with three fingers of straight, ice-cold vodka. I think the next morning was the only time in my life I have, literally, just wanted to die and get it over with.

    I grew up in Texas with Aggie jokes. When I went to Michigan for college I was surprised to learn that many of the same jokes were told about Poles. Everyone finds someone to tell jokes about, I guess.