Report Humour in Europe (9/10)

Kremlin remains well-spring for gags

In spite of censorship, making light of the whims of successive regimes has always been the favoured pastime of a people eager to seize on the ridiculous side of of their political leaders. The penultimate article in the Le Monde series on humour takes us to Moscow where the flame of insolence continues to burn bright.

Published on 30 August 2012 at 11:11

Russian humour appeared to be dying out, swallowed up by the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

The targets of all the great Soviet era jokes — Brezhnev and his sports cars, Gorbachev and his prohibition campaign, and the improbability of the “radiant future” promised by the Communist Party — had been forgotten.

All of the inconveniences of the good old days — the queues, the shortages, the incompetence of politicians, the ambient schizophrenia — had been grist to the mill of a light-hearted derision, that enabled Russia to break free of censorship and political waffle.

Russians could only regret the demise of the jokes that circulated about the Politburo. One outstanding example of this genre was the story about the single party leadership’s plan to outdo the Americans and their lunar landings by sending a crew of cosmonauts “to walk on the sun”. Naturally, the scientists were sceptical: the sun was too far away, and too a little too hot. But the apparatchiks were there to reassure them: “Don’t worry, Comrades. The party thinks of everything: the landing will take place at night.”

Overnight, this rich vein of comedy had vanished. It was as though the abolition of censorship, 10 years earlier, had taken away their charm. The new Russians appeared to have lost their appetite for political satire.

Banning satire

From the outset, the Putin era was to be no laughing matter. Shortly after his arrival in the Kremlin in March 2000, the new president banned “Koukly” the most caustic of the satirical programmes broadcast by NTV.

The show, hosted by comedian Viktor Chenderovitch, had attracted special attention for portraying the great leader as an elf with extra-large pointy ears. Once the programme was off the air, the Kremlin set about dismantling the NTV channel itself.

Since then, Russians have been advised to keep their taste for humour in check, although an exception is made for the former KGB colonel’s barracks wit. “It is time to wrap this up, because I suppose, just like me, none of you are wearing nappies,” he quipped in 2007, in the wake of his one of his televised one-man shows in which he encounters the press and “the people” of the Russian Federation.

Recently, Russians have begun to reassert their right to poke fun at their leaders. Spurred on by the election fraud orchestrated by the Kremlin, the desire to mock the “little father” has led to a resurgence of political satire.

One example of this is the weekly radio and YouTube show Citizen Poet, which takes an acerbic look at the leader and his entourage.

Jungle Book japes

Among other japes, Putin, dubbed “the big Pu” was portrayed as The Jungle Book snake Kaa, and later shown playing badminton on a tractor with his alter ego Dmitry Medvedev.

The broadcast version of the show is no longer available, but it continues to live on in the blogosphere.

The country’s young “Internet hamsters” delight in poking fun at official communications from the Kremlin, and Medvedev, Putin’s most loyal ally, is one of the bloggers favourite targets. In the course of his stint as president (2008-2012), the current prime minister who is nicknamed “Iphone Ipadovich” in reference to his passion for electronic gadgets, was lampooned by a bogus Twitter account.

The account which used the official sounding address KremlinRussia-RussianPresident and an official photo, presented a mocking echo of Medvedev’s real Twitter messages. When Medvedev wrote, “Meeting for the implementation of presidential directives”, his factitious twin would reply: “Only the presidential Ipad executes the president’s orders.”

Read the other parts of the series:

Belgian punchlines – split personality

Lampoon culture thrives in Iceland

Deadpan comedy – a UK staple

Romanian jokes that got around the censor

Spain’s bawdy smash hit

The series that sends up the middle class

In Italy, the joke is on them

Tickling Germany’s funnybone


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