Hammer and Tickle

I’ve just finished reading Ben Lewis’ book Hammer and Tickle: The History of Communism Told Through Communist Jokes. It’s an engaging read and, as you would hope, contains lots of jokes, some of them funny and most of them sad.

Late in the book Lewis meets three characters who interested me for different reasons. The first is Jerzy Urban, a Polish satirist who got hired by the Polish State as one of its spokespeople and used humour to defend the state. His blog/website makes me wish I could read Polish.

The second interesting character is the Romanian civil servant, Calin Bogdan Stefanescu, who kept a log of all the Communist jokes he heard between August 1979 and December 1989. His log included the joke, where and when he heard it as well as his estimation of the age and social background of the tell her. The results qualify him as a ‘statistician of jokes’. If you can read Romanian then the he has written a book on the results of his research. His project reminds me of the less politically perilous Sneeze Count.

Finally, my favourite character from the book, the East German prankster/activits Major Waldemar Fydrych who avoided National Service by turning up to the interview dressed as an army major and talked so enthusiastically about joining the army that the army deemed him mentally unfit to join. As Lewis describes it “this strategy, of taking the logic of the state line to its extreme, would underpin his later activities.” which included painting graffiti of orange dwarf figures on the white paint that the state had used to paint over pro-Solidarity graffiti. The orange dwarf became his symbol and became The Orange Alternative.

Don’t worry, there’s no show about communism on the Stan’s Cafe production line, sometimes I do read just for pleasure.


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