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The existence of the threat, the possibility that the teller could pay dearly for telling a political joke with interrogation and imprisonment   created a separate genre of jokes:

Conversation in a prison:
"What are you in for?"
"For laziness. I was at a party and someone told a joke. I went home and thought: Should I inform now, or wait till the morning? In the end, I said to myself, I'll go tomorrow. That night they took me away."

A judge walks out of his chambers laughing his head off. A colleague approaches him and asks why he is laughing.
"I just heard the funniest joke in the world!"
"Well, go ahead, tell me!" says the other judge.
"I can't - I just gave a guy ten years for it!"

The danger added subversive spice to the social act of telling a joke and, together with reading samizdat books (books that had been banned by the censor and published underground), created a broad community of people with shared cultural interests. There are those who will argue that the Russian intelligentsia drew quite a bit of its power and solidarity from the quiet resistance that was expressed in forbidden humor.

The jokes evolved into a secret language between citizens the signs of membership of a club to which the government was not invited. They were a way of dealing with the hardships of life, an essential social safety valve that let out frustrations and debunked propaganda. At the same time, by exposing the lunacy of Soviet bureaucracy, the jokes gradually shook the foundations of communism and ultimately convinced people that communism was an unworkable system.

Exactly how communist jokes functioned politically, socially or psychologically is a question as complex as the meaning of works of art. They were a way to criticise and outmanoeuvre the system, but they were also something more than this. A joke could be an act of rebellion or a safety valve, an expression of revulsion against the system... but also of familiarity, even warmth toward it:

  What do you feel towards the Soviet power?
Pretty much the same feelings I have for my wife: a little love, a little fear, a little sex, a little cheating, sometimes desiring something new, but generally it's a habit.
The jokes both subverted and supported; they undermined and they prolonged. This contradiction is something else to consider in examining the mysterious Russian soul, which simultaneously, with the very presence of jokes, protests against the regime and apologizes for its chief.

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