The holiday season is fast approaching and people will be looking for presents to fill Christmas stockings, to hand out after the Chanukah candles are lit and for any other festival that serves as an excuse to hand out gifts. I will take the liberty to make a suggestion: Ben Lewis’s 2008 book published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, Hammer & Tickle. The book contains a number of jokes from Russia and Eastern European countries from the Communist period. The author has managed to track down numerous jokes and also provide some background context. Hammer & Tickle makes entertaining light reading and, in my opinion, contains funnier jokes than tend to be found in Christmas crackers. I copy below a selection of the jokes to provide a flavour:
Liski station calls Moscow: ‘Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Committee Trotsky calling.’
‘This is Chairman of the Soviet People’s Committee Lenin.’
‘Comrade Lenin, immediately dispatch two tankers of grain alcohol to Liski station.’
‘What for, Comrade Trotsky?’
‘The peasants have sobered up,’ Trotsky replies. ‘They want to know why the tsar was deposed.’
A new lodger moves into his room. The walls are bare but there is one nail and the ubiquitous pictures of Lenin and Trotsky. ‘I don’t know which one of them to hang and which to put with his face against the wall.’
A teacher asks his class: ‘Who is your mother and who is your father?’
A pupil replies: ‘My mother is Russia and my father is Stalin.’
‘Very good,’ says the teacher. ‘And what would you like to be when you grow up?’
The peasant back from Moscow, entranced with what he has seen, enlarges on the wonderful progress of the capital. ‘Why,’ he says, ‘there are great buildings there which were built in two or three months. Formerly they would have taken two or three years!’
‘That’s nothing,’ retorts a neighbour; ‘look at our cemetery. Once we would have needed fifty years to fill it. Now it will be full in two years.’
A Czech tells his friend: ‘You know what happened to me last night? I came home and found my wife in bed with a Russian officer.’
‘What did you do?’ asks the friend.
‘Tiptoed out, of course. I was lucky: he didn’t see me.’
Somewhere in Siberia three prisoners are sitting together and they finally get to talking about why they were deported. ‘I’m here because I always arrived at the factory five minutes late – so they charged me with sabotage,’ says the first one.
‘That’s strange,’ says the second. ‘I’m here because I always arrived at work five minutes early, so they convicted me of spying.’
‘No,’ says the third in surprise. ‘I’m here because I kept arriving at the factory on time, every day, and then they found out that I owned a Western watch.’
How will the problem of queues in shops be solved when we reach full Communism?
There will be nothing left to queue up for.
An old woman has formed the daily habit of hurrying to the newsstand early in the morning to get the first copy of Scinteia [Romanian newspaper]. She buys it, takes a glimpse at the front-page headlines, crumples it up in disgust and tramples on it. She does this every day.
Finally the newsvendor can no longer restrain his curiosity. ‘If you don’t want to read the paper, why do you rush down to buy it every morning? Newspapers are expensive.’
‘I’m looking for a death notice,’ explains the old woman.
‘No wonder you never find it, silly old woman,’ says the vendor. ‘Don’t you know death notices are always printed on the back page?’
‘Not the one I am looking for,’ says the woman. ‘It would be on the front page!’