Definitions

black humour

black humour

Humour marked by the use of morbid, ironic, or grotesquely comic episodes that ridicule human folly. The term came into common use in the 1960s to describe the work of novelists such as Joseph Heller, whose Catch-22 (1961) is an outstanding example; Kurt Vonnegut, particularly in Slaughterhouse Five (1969); and Thomas Pynchon, in V (1963) and Gravity's Rainbow (1973). A film exemplar is Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1963). The term black comedy has been applied to some playwrights in the Theatre of the Absurd, especially Eugène Ionesco.

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Russian humour gains much of its wit from the great flexibility and richness of the Russian language, allowing for plays on words and unexpected associations. As with any other culture's humour, its vast scope ranges from lewd jokes and silly wordplay to political satire.

Political satire

For most of Russian history, humour remained an expression of the human spirit. Political satire was considered potentially dangerous under autocratic monarchies. Though independent political satire could be extremely dangerous during most of the Soviet period, the official satirical magazine Krokodil was given considerable license to satirise political events and figures of the day.

In spite of, or perhaps even because of its oppression, Russian humour flourished as a liberating culture and a means to counter and ridicule the elite. During the Brezhnev stagnation period of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and early 1980s for instance, due to a relatively peaceful and politically stable environment, sharp political wit addressed social shortcomings. 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.

Jokes

The most popular form of Russian humour consists of jokes (анекдо́ты — 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.

Toasts

Drinking toasts can take the form of anecdotes or not-so-short stories, concluded with "So here's to..." with a witty punchline referring to the initial story.

Chastushka

A specific form of humour is chastushkas, songs composed of four-line rhymes, usually of lewd, humoristic, or satiric content.

"In Soviet Russia" aka "Russian reversal" jokes

These are not 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. These jokes were first made famous by the émigré comedian Yakov Smirnoff.

Black humour

Apart from jokes, Russian humour is expressed in word play and short poems including nonsense and black humour verses, similar to some of the macabre "nursery rhymes" of Edward Lear.

Often they have recurring characters such as "little boy", "Vova", "a girl", "Masha". Most rhymes involve death or a painful experience either for the protagonists or other people. This type of joke is especially popular with children.

A little boy found a machine gun
Now his village's population is none.
Маленький мальчик нашёл пулемёт —
Больше в деревне никто не живёт.

A boy played in the sandbox with no one to mind him,
When quietly a mixing truck pulled up behind him.
He peeped not a peep, cried out nary a cry —
Just his sandals stuck out when the concrete was dry.
Маленький мальчик в песочке играл,
Тихо подъехал к нему самосвал.
Не было слышно ни крика, ни стона —
Только сандали торчат из бетона.

See also

External links

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