Russians have a fantastically dark and sarcastic sense of humour, with an almost fatalist spice that allows them to make fun of themselves, their country and the rest of the world. Russian humour is closer in kin to British and Commonwealth humour than to slapstick American comedy, and Russians love a good joke.
My classes are filled with laughter, whether from myself or my students, and the Russian adults whom I'm teaching this summer can fire off witty comments and jokes at the drop of a hat, especially if it concerns making fun of Moscow traffic, corrupt Russian officials and mean babushki.
Most Russians consider American humour to be dumbed-down for the lowest common denominator to understand (yet The Simpsons, Dumb & Dumber and American Pie still rank as their favourite comedies), but they love British humour and their own brand of self-effacing comedy.
Here are some of the best Russian jokes I've heard during my year in Moscow.
A Russian bus driver and a Russian priest both die at the same time. The bus driver goes to Heaven but the priest ends up in Hell. Confused, the priest asks God "Why am I in Hell? I've devoted my life to your service and have never sinned. I don't understand." God replies "When people came to your church they fell asleep, but when people rode the bus they prayed for their lives!"
Little Sergey is sitting in class and his teacher is trying to explain geometry. She draws a shape on the board and Little Sergey starts laughing. "Sergey!" The teacher screams. "Why are you misbehaving again?!" Sergey answers "You drew a big cock on the board!" The teacher, flustered and at her wits' end with Sergey, runs out of the classroom crying. A minute later the principle enters the class. "Sergey!" He shouts. "What did you do this time? And why did you draw a big cock on the board?!"
The Central Committee of the Communist Party decides to open a strip club in Moscow to draw more tourists to the city. Licenses are granted, facilities are appropriated and billboards are put up but, on the opening day, nobody turns out. "What happened?" The Central Committe asks the managers of the strip club. "We don't know." The managers reply. "It was superbly organized and all the strippers had a solid party record; they've been Bolsheviks since 1905 and knew Lenin personally!"
A beautiful, classy, charming young Russian woman marries an American man and moves to San Francisco with him, but a year later she returns to her family in Russia in tears. "What's wrong?" They ask her. "You had everything! Why have you returned?" The crying girls answers "I returned because I realized that my husband doesn't love me." "What?" the family asks in surprise. "How do you know? Did he have an affair?"
"No." The girl replies. "He wouldn't beat me."
A Russian fisherman is sleeping on the shores of the Gulf of Finland with his hat over his face when an American walks up to him. "Why are you sleeping?" The American asks. "You'd be better off catching fish!"
"Why?" Asks the Russian.
"If you catch some fish you can sell them, and buy yourself a boat. Then you could catch more fish and sell them and buy yourself a trawler. Then you could catch more fish and buy yourself a fish processing plant. Then you would be rich and could spend your day sleeping by the water."
The fisherman closes his eyes and says "But that's what I'm doing now!"
Three tourists are sitting in a restaurant in Moscow. The waiter approaches the table and asks for their orders. "I'll have a steak, medium-rare, with a peppercorn sauce and a side of baked potatoes." The first man says. The second man orders "I'll have a breaded veal cutlet with mixed vegetables." The third man says "I'll have roast beef with beef gravy and mashed potatoes." The waiter writes down the order. "Vanya!" he shouts to the kitchen. "Three meats!"
A man comes to visit his friend, a government minister, and asks him for help finding a job. "Of course." replies his friend. "I could make you my deputy. It pays 30,000 roubles a month."
"Oh no" the man says. "I was hoping for something less grand."
"Alright. I could make you the manager of a factory. 5,000 roubles a month."
"No." The man replies. "I was thinking about 100 roubles a month. Maybe as an engineer?"
"I'm sorry." Says the minister. "You need qualifications for that..."
An Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian were debating about Adam & Eve's nationality. "They must have been English." declares the Englishman. "Only an English gentleman would share his last apple with his lady."
"Oh no!" says the Frenchman. "They were definitely French! Who else could seduce a woman so easily?"
The Russian laughs and says "They were obviously Russian. Who else could walk around naked, eat only one apple between the two of them and think they were in paradise?"
A man visits the doctor and complains that he can't sleep, his hands are shaking all the time and he's depressed. The doctor writes out a prescription. "This medecine is for insomnia, this medicine is to calm your nerves, and this one is to help with your depression." The man looks at the prescription and says "Thank you doctor, but do you have any other medecine besides vodka?"
Teacher: "Where are the best boys?"
Students: "In Russia!"
Teacher: "And where are the friendliest people?"
Students: "In Russia!"
Teacher: "And where are the tastiest candies?"
Students: "In Russia!"
Teacher: "And where are the nicest cities?"
Students: "In Russia"
Suddenly little Nadezhda starts to cry.
Teacher: "Nadya, why are you crying?"
Nadezhda: "Because I want to live in Russia!"
A man and his neighbour are drinking vodka in the kitchen. "I can see your naked wife when she's in the shower from from my kitchen window." The man tells his neighbour. "You should do something about it!"
"Where?" The neighbour replies. "I don't see anything."
"Just climb up on the counter and you will see..."
A Russian walks into a Duty Free store in an American airport. "Do you speak Russian?" He asks the shop assistant. "Yes." The girl replies. "A little"
"Phew!" says the Russian. "Marlboro."
A Russian returns from a resort in Egypt and tells his friends "I was the star of the resort. Every girl there couldn't take her eyes off me, what with my pink ADIDAS track suit and my fur hat...."