05/25/11 Russian Anecdotes


Hey, I’m all blogged out today. I think my blog a couple blogs ago all out-blogged all my bloginess.

So, yeah. Hope you enjoy today’s strip. Anya, I used one of the anecdotes you told me, hope you like.

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Oh, yeah, one thing. Rebecca Clements is selling only 100 copies/booklets of her cute recent comic “For you.” (I’ve already bought one, so you’re allowed to buy the rest).


Just a few thoughts I had this morning which I wanted to share, and preferred to write it in the (sparse) blog than the comments.

I love humor. I LOVE it. The construct of it, the patterns, the genres. And one facet which has always intrigued me is humor of different cultures. We like to think that humor is funny or not, but a lot of it is truly just our “sense” of humor, and so much of that is cultural.

Did you know that our modern US humor is largely British based? No real surprise. And you can research it all, “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog),” or “The Goon Show.” Or you can try to read the non-Brit Sigmund Freud’s “Wit and the Unconscious” and find how unconscious you’d rather be than sit through Freud telling jokes.

So, in my mid-20s I dated a woman who grew up in Belarus, a part of the Soviet Union. And over the years I’ve heard LOADS of Russian anecdotes. And they absolutely fascinated me — because they didn’t click with my sense of humor but I could tell they were funny. I could break them down and tell you WHAT was funny about them, but it took time and development and exposures to the culture before I really got the sense of it.

There are certain parts of this strip I may have played wrong or unfair. To be true to Dimitri’s Russian background, perhaps he should not have smiled as much, but it was the only visual way I could work out that he had just delivered the “punchline” and was awaiting a response.

Anyhow. Fascinating.

Oh, and happy Douglas Adams “Towel Day.”


  1. Thomas S

    Them soviet jokes, always with the clear-felling of lumber punchline … :/
    Or ‘my mother the tractor’ stoicism … it’s clearly a cultural thing – or your not drunk enough …

  2. JKCarroll

    How about these…

    The head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was debating the Patriarch of All Russia over which was more powerful: God or the Party.

    “Scripture tells us that in the beginning, all was chaos…” began the Patriarch.

    “Ah-Ha!” cried the party head. “But who created the chaos!?”

    or this one:

    Four mice were in a bar drinking. “Dear me!” said the British mouse, finishing his brandy. “It’s time for me to go home.”

    “Ach du lieber!” said the German mouse, finishing his beer. “I must be with my mousefrau.”

    “Ahhh,” said the French mouse, sipping his wine. “It is time for me to return to my moustress.”

    But the Russian mouse said, “I’ll have one more vodka, and another, and another, and then, BRING ON THE CAT!”

    I’ll save the one about the two party members and the black cat for later.

  3. Christopher

    I just added an addendum to my blog, discussing Russian Anecdotes and my history with ’em. Thought I’d put it there rather than here.
    @JKCarroll, love em! (Although, i’d have the Brit mouse say something like “time for me to go home, the moussus will be waiting for me” to keep up the consistency.) ๐Ÿ™‚

    @Frank, In an earlier version of today’s script, Dimitri was actually slated to say, “Gotta know your audience” immediately after Gurf’s laughter. I finally took it out because I was confident that the audience KNEW that this was exactly what he was doing/thinking. And by the fact that you said the line for him, I’d say that you confirmed exactly that! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Robin Bobcat

    Yeah, my father’s fluent in Russian, and he’s told a few Russian jokes before. A lot really is lost in the translation. They are fond of puns, though they’ll be pretty obscure ones, relying on russian idiom more than wordplay. In other words, they’re dry and boring and make Russians chortle a bit. Tha tmay be due to the vodka, though.

  5. JKCarroll

    @Christopher, THANK YOU! I spent 10 minutes trying to remember what it was the British mouse was supposed to say!

    Just for that:

    Andrei Andreivich ran into Ivan Ivanovich on the street. “Comrade Ivanovich!”, exclaimed Andrei Andreivich. “Why did I not see you at the Party meeting the other night?”

    “Comrade Andreivich,” Ivan Ivanovich replied, “I was on my way to the meeting when a black cat crossed my path, so I turned around and went home.”

    “Bozhe moy!” replied Andrei. “What kind of superstitious thinking is that! Here we are, trying to create the New Soviet Man, and you are mired in the thinking of your grandparents!”

    “You’re right, comrade,” said Ivan. “But tell me, what would you have done?”

    “Simple. I would have crossed myself three times and continued on my way!”

    (For those who don’t speak Russian, “Bozhe moy!” means “My God!”)

  6. There’s a gay version of that rose/gynecologist joke, that I have always loved, despite the fact that I feel that I shouldn’t. (Right? It should offend me because I’m gay? Maybe it’s OK because it’s not offensive, merely gross?) It’s proctologist/gay guy; the setup is similar (though longer), and the punch line goes “My god! There’s a dozen roses in here!” / “Read the card! Read the card!”

    On the subject of humor, I used to teach English as a foreign language to students from all over the world. Everyone loves jokes, but so many jokes are puns (“I’m a frayed knot”), which are very difficult to get if you are not an advanced speaker of a language. So I had a stable of absurdist jokes that I’d tell, because students loved them, and could retell them to their friends. (Good basic English joke: a man walks into a bar with a duck on his head. The bartender says, “I’m sorry, we don’t serve pigs here.” The man says, “It’s not a pig, it’s a duck.” The bartenders says, “I was talking to the duck.”)

    Anyway, one series I told was the elephant series (example: why do elephants where yellow sneakers? So they can hide upside-down in custard). Everyone loved these jokes. Everyoneโ€ฆ except the Japanese students. It was fascinating! They’d say things like “well I think maybe we don’t have the right vocabulary”, and I’d say “you know sneakers, you know custard, you know elephant, that’s all you need to know!” So I emailed a former student from Japan, who I knew had a very high level on English, and I said “Ichiko, do you get these jokes?” And she wrote back, “I understand them, but the aren’t funny. Actually, in Japan we say, American humor is not funny.”

    Anyway, in conclusion: humor is a lot more culturally dependent than we think.

    I still told the jokes, though.

  7. Did you know that was why they took all the jokes out of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? Because the movie was slated to premiere in Japan and the Japanese would not find them funny?

  8. Thomas S

    Curse you Isaac – I lost months of my life reading that section on Russian humour. I kept on waiting for the blasted punchline … then I read the joke on the punch line not being a line that punches – from that point all was then clear.

    @scienceguy8 – I was my towels today. Is that good enough?

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