The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 8, No 3 (2020)

Soviet meta-jokes: tradition and continuity

Anastasiya Astapova


This article provides the first published collection and analysis of Soviet meta-jokes, accompanied by a review of meta-joke research, and a discussion of the ways that scholars have understood the term. As far as possible, the Soviet meta-jokes published here appear in chronological order with the goal of showing how, with the help of certain intertextual links, these jokes reflected political and historical changes in joke-telling culture. Soviet meta-jokes captured how joking traditions developed, which joke cycles were especially productive and popular, and how people in the Soviet Union reacted to various jokes. I also show in this article how the characteristics of meta-jokes that have been identified in previous research are applicable to Soviet meta-jokes, and how their political content makes them distinctive from, for instance, mainstream Anglophone meta-jokes. Given the lack of meta-data on the Soviet joking tradition (due to the authoritarian regime), meta-jokes serve as a valuable social commentary on the tradition of Soviet joke-telling. The article concludes with several examples of meta-jokes from post-Soviet countries, demonstrating that such texts remain chiefly political; at the same time, I show how much more complex and sophisticated meta-jokes have become in the course of their development, both in terms of structure and content. The fieldwork-drawn materials from contemporary Belarus allow me to observe meta-jokes as they are told in a variety of forms and contexts—something impossible for the Soviet jokes (mostly archived without any context). The article documents, among others, multi-level meta-jokes from contemporary Belarus, showing how they keep seemingly old or extinct Soviet jokes topical.



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