Meteor brings out dark side of Russian humor
February 20, 2013By Peter Crimmins
The meteor that exploded over the Russian town of Chelyabinsk last Friday was supposed to arrive on December 21, 2012, when it would end the world. However, the Russian postal service was late to deliver.
Ha ha ha.
Or, too soon?
Russians tend to be quick with a punchline when it comes to natural or man-made disasters. The New York Times reported that it only took a heartbeat (timing is everything) before meteor investigators standing around a 20-foot hole in lake ice wondered out loud when little green men would come crawling out.
"That is the typical national reaction," said Mikhail Sergeev, a Russian-born professor of religion at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and author of the anthology of religious humor, "Smile from Heaven." Sergeev said "there was an uproar of jokes about this, just as there was when Putin was elected president — also a kind of national disaster for some."
Sergeev, who has relatives in Chelyabinsk, keeps tabs on new jokes through friends, family, and Anekdot.ru, a Russian-language humor site. The jokes he finds tend to be specific to language puns and regional politics: think globally, laugh locally.
"Many Russian jokes are not actually about the meteor, but they play on the meteor in order to emphasize corruption in Russia," said Sergeev. "Jokes about how people can embezzle more money because so much was destroyed by the meteor."
Sergeev says Russian jokes tend to be dark; so dark that many Americans have a hard time finding the humor in them.
Here's another one: February 15th is now National Window Day. After the meteor damaged an estimated 3,000 buildings, glassmakers are laughing all the way to the bank.