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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Golden Age Dawns For the Darkest Jokes

All too often you hear people complaining that Russian culture is dying, that there is no one to inherit the mantel of Pushkin. And then you come across a concise little work of art like this: Devochka v more katalas' na lodke. Vmeste s prilivom vernulis' kolgotki (A girl was riding in a boat on the sea. And her stockings came in with the tide).

Or this: Malen'kii mal'chik sidit u dorogi. Tankom yemu pereyekhalo nogi (A little boy was sitting by the road. And they ran over his legs with a tank).

The tradition of chyornyi yumor (black humor) in Russia is at least as rich as its other literary traditions and, among Russians, at least as well known. In Soviet days, thousands of ditties were composed reflecting the mores of the times. Here's one more example in verse: Deti v podvale igrali v sadistov. Zverski zamuchiv pyat'sot kommunistov (Children in a basement were playing "Sadists." Inhumanly torturing 500 communists).

And one not in verse: Chto iz sebya predstavlyali pokhorony Andropova? General'nuyu repetistiyu pokhoron Chernenko. (What do you make of Andropov's funeral? A dress rehearsal for Chernenko's.)

Chyornyi yumor, of course, did not die with the end of the Soviet empire. On the contrary, hard times and social upheaval have created a fertile atmosphere for Russia's sickest poets and most warped minds. The 1990s may well go down as the zolotoi vek chyornogo yumora (golden age of black humor). Only time will tell.

Although a truly clever black-humorist can make a sick joke about anything, certain themes have dominated in the Russian tradition. Take health issues, for example: U posteli bol'nogo sobralsya konsilium: "Nu chto, lechit' budem ili pust' zhivyot?" (A consultation of doctors taking place by the patient's bed: "Well, should we treat him, or let him live?").

Or family relations: A pochemu vasha tyoshcha umerla? Da vot gribochkov poyela. A pochemu u neyo zuby vybity? Da ona ikh yest' ne khotela. (What did your mother-in-law die of? She ate some bad mushrooms. Why were her teeth all bashed in? Well, she didn't want to eat them.)

And finally here's a combination of health issues and family relations: Vstrechayutsya dvoye na tom svete: "Ty otchego umer?" "Zamyorz. A ty?" "Ot udivleniya. Zasyok, chto k zhene prishyol lyubovnik. Vorvalsya v kvartiru, vsyo obyskal -- nikogo ne nashyol. I umer ot udivleniya." "Durak ty. Nado bylo v kholodil'nik zaglyanut'. Oba byli by zhivy." (Two men meet in the hereafter. "What did you die of?" "I froze to death. And you?" "I died of shock. I saw a lover going in to see my wife. So I stormed into the apartment, searched everywhere, but didn't find anyone. So I died of shock." "You idiot. If you'd looked in the refrigerator, we'd both still be alive.")