Jokes from the Soviet Union, from University of Louisville historian Bruce Adams’ 2005 collection Tiny Revolutions in Russia:
A man is walking along the road wearing only one boot. ‘Did you lose a boot?’ a passerby asks sympathetically. ‘No, I found one,’ the man answers happily.
What is it that doesn’t knock, growl or scratch the floor?
A machine made in the USSR for knocking, growling, and scratching the floor.
It is the middle of the night. There is a knock at the door. Everyone leaps out of bed. Papa goes shakily to the door. ‘It’s all right,’ he says, coming back. ‘The building’s on fire.’
A shopper asks a food store clerk, ‘Are you all out of meat again?’ ‘No, they’re out of meat in the store across the way. Here we’re out of fish.’
Why doesn’t the Soviet Union send people to the Moon?
They are afraid they won’t come back.
A man fell asleep on a bus. When someone stepped on his foot, he woke with a start and applauded. ‘What are you doing, citizen?’ ‘I was dreaming I was at a meeting.’
‘What is the difference between Pravda [Truth] and Izvestia [The News]?’
‘There is no truth in The News, and no news in the Truth.’
“In the Soviet Army,” said Stalin, “it takes more courage to retreat than advance.”
When Franklin was negotiating in Paris, he sometimes went into a café to play at chess. A crowd usually assembled, of course to see the man rather than the play. Upon one occasion, Franklin lost in the middle of the game, when composedly taking the king from the board, he put him into his pocket, and continued to move. The antagonist looked up. The face of Franklin was so grave, and his gesture so much in earnest, that he began with an expostulatory, ‘Sir.’ ‘Yes, Sir, continue,’ said Franklin, ‘and we shall soon see that the party without a king will win the game.’
– From a letter by Frances Wright to Jeremy Bentham, relaying an anecdote from Lafayette, Sept. 12, 1821
The 1957 edition of Exotica: Pictorial Cyclopedia of Indoor Plants included a species called Rumandia cocacoliensis of the family Alcoholiaceae.
The description read “Cuba-libre tall, stemless, succulent, with brown-frosty bloom often with lemon flavor; good in summer, keep cool.”
It was indexed without a page number, and disappeared from subsequent editions.
An Irishman, unknown to me, presented a check of one of our customers, payable to the order of Pat O’Flaherty. I told him it would be necessary for him to bring some one to identify him. ‘Identify! and what in God’s name is that?’ he answered. I endeavored to explain to him that he must go and bring in some of his friends whom we knew to satisfy us that he was Pat O’Flaherty. ‘All right,’ he said, and started off; but had scarcely gone fifty yards when he returned, and with a knowing twinkle in his eye, called out to me, ‘See here, if I’m not Pat O’Flaherty, who the divil am I?’ This was unanswerable.
– Henry C. Percy, Our Cashier’s Scrap-Book, 1879
Full text of “The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of ‘Writer’s Block’,” by Dennis Upper, from the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Fall 1974:
In late May 1927, when the world had been rejoicing for a week over Charles Lindbergh’s nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic, Robert Benchley sent a telegram to Charles Brackett in Paris:
ANY TIDINGS OF LINDBERGH? LEFT HERE WEEK AGO AM WORRIED.
Brackett wrote back:
DO YOU MEAN GEORGE LINDBERGH?
Robert Benchley once endorsed a check:
“Dear Bankers Trust Company: Well, here we are in picturesque old Munich! Love to Aunt Julia, and how about Happy Hetzler, the old Hetzler? Yours in Zeta Psi, Don Stewart and I love you, Bob Benchley.”
Mr. Hetzler, who supervised his account, had the check framed and displayed in his office.
On Napoleon’s victory journey, every town he visited rang bells in his honor. One day he visited a town in which no bell sounded. When the mayor came to greet him, Napoleon asked, “Why were no bells rung in my honor?”
The mayor said, “Emperor, there are seven reasons why the bells have not rung. First, we have no bells.”
Napoleon stopped him and said, “That’s enough.”
(From Sion Rubi, Intelligent Jokes, 2004.)
In 1866 Mark Twain embarked on a lecture tour in California. He wrote the handbills himself:
In Nevada City, he proposed to perform the following “wonderful feats of sleight of hand” after the lecture:
At a given signal, he will go out with any gentleman and take a drink. If desired, he will repeat this unique and interesting feat — repeat it until the audience are satisfied that there is no more deception about it.
At a moment’s warning, he will depart out of town and leave his hotel bill unsettled. He has performed this ludicrous feat many hundreds of times, in San Francisco, and elsewhere, and it has always elicited the most enthusiastic comments.
“The lecturer declines to specify any more of his miraculous feats at present,” he wrote, “for fear of getting the police too much interested in his circus.”
A man meets a friend whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years. “You look fantastic!” he says. “How do you stay so fit?”
The friend says, “I have one rule. I don’t argue with people.”
The man says, “Come on! How could that account for it?”
The friend says, “You’re right, that couldn’t possibly account for it.”
From Henry Sampson’s History of Advertising From the Earliest Times (1875):
In 1821 Lord Camden decided to postpone the start of the fall hunting season. He directed a servant to notify the people, and the servant posted this handbill all over Kent:
Notice is hereby given that the Marquis of Camden (on account of the backwardness of the harvest) will not shoot himself, nor any of his tenants, till the 14th of September.
The Earl of Jersey had similar troubles — his servants once posted this notice at Osterly Park:
Ten shillings reward. Any person found trespassing on these lands or damaging these fences on conviction will receive the above reward.
“Somebody once said that nobody expects to find education or ability in a lord,” wrote Sampson, “but that is because his household are expected to fulfill his duties properly.”
What Alphonse Allais (1854-1905) lacked in compositional talent he made up in imagination and a wry sense of humor. His Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man (1897), for example, is entirely blank.
Allais’ entries in Jules Lévy’s expositions of “Incoherent Art” — dedicated to the works of “people who do not know how to draw” — included a white rectangle titled First Communion of Anemic Young Girls in a Snowstorm. He followed this with a red rectangle titled Tomato Harvest on the Shore of the Red Sea, by Apoplectic Cardinals.
“There was also ‘sculpture’ with the punning title ‘Terre cuite (Pomme de),” writes Steven Moore Whiting in Satie the Bohemian. “Terre cuite by itself means terracotta; with the parenthetical qualifier, the title becomes ‘Baked Potato.’”
An ignorant Yorkshireman having occasion to go to France, was surprised on his arrival to hear the men speaking French, the women speaking French, and the children jabbering away in the same tongue. In the height of the perplexity which this occasioned, he retired to his hotel, and awakened in the morning by the cock crowing, whereupon he burst into a wild exclamation of astonishment and delight, crying, ‘Thank goodness! there’s English at last!’
– Tit-Bits From All the Most Interesting Books, Periodicals and Newspapers in the World, Dec. 10, 1881
A man and a boy go into a barbershop.
After getting his haircut, the man says, “Now cut the boy’s hair too. I’ll be back soon.”
When he’s finished cutting the boy’s hair, the barber says, “When is your father coming back to pay?”
The boy says, “He’s not my father. He met me in the street and asked if I wanted a free haircut.”
(From Sion Rubi, Intelligent Jokes, 2004.)
On a bright day in Hollywood, a friend discovered Robert Benchley sitting in his room under a sunlamp.
When the friend asked why he didn’t go outside to get his sun, Benchley said, “And get hit by a meteor?”
Proper technique for examining an undergraduate, from a letter from Lewis Carroll to Henrietta and Edwin Dodgson, Jan. 31, 1855:
It is the most important point, you know, that the tutor should be dignified and at a distance from the pupil, and that the pupil should be as much as possible degraded.
Otherwise, you know, they are not humble enough.
So I sit at the further end of the room; outside the door (which is shut) sits the scout; outside the outer door (also shut) sits the sub-scout: half-way downstairs sits the sub-sub-scout; and down in the yard sits the pupil.
The questions are shouted from one to the other, and the answers come back in the same way — it is rather confusing till you are well used to it. The lecture goes on something like this:–
Tutor. What is twice three?
Scout. What’s a rice tree?
Sub-Scout. When is ice free?
Sub-sub-Scout. What’s a nice fee?
Pupil (timidly). Half a guinea!
Sub-sub-Scout. Can’t forge any!
Sub-Scout. Ho for Jinny!
Scout. Don’t be a ninny!
Tutor (looks offended, but tries another question). Divide a hundred by twelve!
Scout. Provide wonderful bells!
Sub-Scout. Go ride under it yourself!
Sub-sub-Scout. Deride the dunder-headed elf!
Pupil (surprised). Who do you mean?
Sub-sub-Scout. Doings between!
Sub-Scout. Blue is the screen!
“And so the lecture proceeds. Such is Life.”
A jester being on his death-bed, one of his companions begged when he got to the other world, he would put in a good word for him. ‘I may perhaps forget,’ said he; ‘tie a string about my finger.’
– The Laughing Philosopher, 1825
L is for lovable Lena,
Who met a ferocious hyena;
I never have heard;
But anyhow, L is for Lena.
– Anonymous, from Carolyn Wells’ Book of American Limericks, 1925
Cartoonist Mark Heath has agreed to let me republish some of his wonderful work here. Let me know what you think.
A globe-trotting man from St. Paul
Made a trip to Japan in the faul.
One thing he found out,
As he rambled about,
Was that Japanese ladies St. Taul.
A censor, whose name was Magee,
Suppressed the whole dictionaree;
When the public said, “No!”
He replied, “It must go!
It has alcohol in it, you see!”
There was a young man from the city,
Who met what he thought was a kitty;
He gave it a pat
And said, “Nice little cat!”
And they buried his clothes out of pity.
– Carolyn Wells’ Book of American Limericks, 1925
‘Well, do you know the one,’ I began, ‘in which two geologists converse in a cafe? One of them says: ‘Yes, unfortunately fifteen billion years from now the Sun will cool, and then all life on Earth will perish.’ A card-player nearby has been half listening to the joke, and turns in terror to the geologist: ‘What did you say? In how many years will the Sun cool?’ ‘Fifteen billion years,’ the scientist replies. The card-player lets out a sigh of relief: ‘Oh, I was afraid you said fifteen million!’
– László Feleki in Impact of Science on Society, 1969