The Soupster hears some old Soviet jokes.
“Congratulate me, Comrade!” boomed Yuri, as the Russian plopped his bulk into the chair across from a startled Soupster. The coffee shop was empty, fortuitous since Yuri was a roomful himself.
The big man wriggled his shoulders and slipped his coat onto his seat back. “Twenty-five years ago the Iron Curtain came down and I moved to Our Town. Siberia was too big for me, so I moved to Alaska.“
When the Soupster didn’t laugh, Yuri explained,“I moved to Alaska because Siberia was too big. Alaska is big, too, but small compared to Siberia. Why is this not a funny joke?”
“I don’t know,” said the Soupster. “Things are either funny or they aren’t. Comedy and math are the two things where there is always a clear right answer.”
Yuri chuckled. “Comedy and mathematics, that is a good joke, no?”
“A lot of humor is cultural,” said the Soupster. “And most Americans have heard people say that they liked math in school because it had definite right and wrong answers. And with a joke, you either laugh or you don’t.”
“When the Iron Curtain was the Iron Curtain, jokes were very important,” said Yuri. “They gave us a way to say things we were not allowed to say. I will give you an example:
“Everyone was supposed to be equal, but that, of course, was not true. In this joke, the mother of the Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev visited him at his big and fancy apartment in Moscow. He spared no effort to impress her as he showed her around the many well-appointed rooms and they ate a wonderful dinner. But the mother seemed very quiet. So, then, Brezhnev took her to his enormous dacha in the countryside. When she still looked unhappy, Brezhnev could hold back no longer.”
““Mama,’ said the Premier, ‘are you not impressed with my apartment and my cars and this beautiful dacha? Are you not happy for my success?’ ‘Leonid, I am happy, but I am worried, too,” Mama said. ‘What if the Reds come back?’”
“Very funny,” the Soupster said. “I get that.”
“Behind the Curtain, you had to wait in a lot of long lines,” said Yuri, embarking on another joke:
“Two friends, Boris and Andrei, heard that some Czech-made toasters might be available, so they waited in a line of hundreds of people hoping to obtain one toaster. The longer the line, the more desirable the product. This was a long line, very desirable. They waited in the cold for several hours, but the line did not move one millimeter.
“’This is ridiculous,’ said Boris. ‘I can’t stand all this waiting! I am going to kill the Commissar!’ He stormed off.
Several hours passed and Boris came back. Andrei was still waiting in the toaster line. ‘Well, did you kill the Commissar?’ Andrei asked. ‘No,’ said Boris, ‘the line was too long.’”
The Soupster laughed. “Funny, Yuri! What kind of jokes do they tell there now?”
“I don’t know anymore,” said Yuri, a little sadly. “For this half of my life I only now know the jokes they tell in Our Town.”