Sounds unbelievable, right 🙂 Typically, in the Western imagination, Russians are sombre people, who live in cold places, dress in grey or brown, drink vodka in shots and rarely smile, much less laugh. I’ve found that much of this image is easy to dispel as an outdated Cold War stereotype. The image problem is exacerbated by the Russian habit of maintaining a poker face in public and a tendency towards, let’s say, a brusque manner. The irony is that Russians actually have a great sense of humour.
Whether you believe it or not, I am going to prove that it is so sharing my own experiences and observations.
HUMOUR AS NEWS
Being myself Russian, I start my day with pretty unusual portion of news. This is anekdot.ru – a brilliant site where Russian speaking people post their newly invented jokes and real-life funny stories. The charm of it is that reading these jokes, freshly created on the same day or the next day when something happened (in Russia or around the world) one can get the best update on the situation in a witty perspective. I wonder if there is such a site anywhere in the world? And if it is being used as a kind of a news portal?
An average Russians tells from 1 to 5 (some to 10) jokes A DAY! In my whole 12 years of living in Austria I have heard may be 1 or 2 jokes from people here (1 or 2 in 12 years!). I thinks, it’s pretty much same in many places. But Russia is different 🙂
There is a supposition that humor is being used as an “antidepressant” because, as commonly believed, “Russian life is hard.” Indeed, Russian humour is, most often, a self-deprecating and effective weapon against iniquity, injustice and pain, of which Russians have had extra helpings – especially in the last century or so.
A man is walking down the street with a spear through his chest. His friend runs up and says, “Wow! Does it hurt?”
“Only when I laugh,” comes the reply.
WHAT IS A RUSSIAN JOKE?
The most popular form of Russian humour consists of jokes (анекдоты — anekdoty), which are short stories with a punch line. Typical of Russian joke culture is a series of categories with fixed and highly familiar settings and characters. Surprising effects are achieved by an endless variety of plots and plays on words.
There are many jokes about the deep Russian soul, alcoholism and laziness, but all of these are for the most part kind and very funny.
Sometimes the jokes are not specifically Russian jokes per se but Western jokes that use reversal of phrase to pun soviet phenomena, e.g., “In America, you can always find a party; in soviet Russia, the party can always find you.” The word “party” has a double meaning, when used in conjunction with America it refers to a social gathering, when used in conjunction with soviet Russia it refers to Russia’s communist party.
Interestingly, with the end of authoritarian regimes in Russia in the 1990s, the decline of political humour has been lamented as being a symptom of Westernisation. New features of post-communist Russian society, such as semi-criminal businessmen, instead led to the emergence of other stereotypes for satirical jokes.
although a huge number of jokes related to drinking or sex, in generall Russian humour seem to be far more “intelligent” that Western (no idea about Eastern though!). Russians were always taking pride in the profound and daring social content of their humour. In order to understand Russian jokes, one has to be generally well educated because the jokes often relate to a vide range of knowledge on politics, sociology, science, history, etc. A notable feature of Russian humor is the virtual lack of jokes about religion. This is not because Russians are particularly pious; religion simply had little relevance to the everyday life under Soviet rule.
One of the most polular jokes charachter:
Standartenführer Stirlitz, alias Colonel Isayev is a character from the Soviet TV series “Seventeen Moments of Spring” (“Семнадцать мгновений весны”) about a fictional Soviet intelligence officer who infiltrates Nazi Germany. Stirlitz interacts with Nazi officials and other characters in the series. Usually two-liners spoofing the solemn style of the original voice-overs, 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.
Now you can ask me why noone in the rest of the world is aware about that awesome “humoroousness” of Russians? Well obviously there are some cultural and historical reasons as those:
1.Russia is a very “closed” country and the humor is a “insider” humour, mostly will be not understandable to any outsider.
For instance, one of the most popular joke figures are… British. These are 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. The attraction of these figures is in the exceptional analytical abilities of Sherlok Holmes, which obviously fascinate Russians. Example: “Holmes and Watson went camping. After they went to bed, in the middle of the night Holmes wakes his friend up and asks: “Tell me, Watson, what does this starry sky tell you?” — “It tells me that the weather is going to be nice in the morning” — “And to me it tells that someone has stolen our bloody tent!”.
2. 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. I personaly hate these expressions and avoid not only using but also listetning to then, even in jokes. But infortunately their role in Russian language and humour is really big.
All in all, Russia is a pretty funny place and the people here have a good sense of humor. And the main thing is that Russians are really open while expressing themselves. Russian humor is quite good, open and intelligent and most importantly, Russians are ready to laugh at themselves.