Tickle, hammer and caligraphy brush

UPDATE:  Thanks to Mr. Kuslan for the additions in the comment section!

ORIGINAL POST: Humor was an important coping mechanism for people living in communist societies. Sadly, the expression of some humor could be interpreted as subversive behavior and land the joke-teller in serious trouble. 

This reality still exists for people in a number of current and former socialist republics, so they adopt practices that mitigate the risk of telling jokes.  For instance, in Turkmenistan people tell jokes about “Stalin” but implicitly understand they are (were) about Turkmenbashi.  

Last year, I received a copy of the documentary Tickle and Hammer, which is a collection of Soviet-era jokes. What a treasure. ( You can buy the book version hereHere is an interview with the project director. )  After seeing this film, I wondered how many of these jokes were popular in the DPRK. Well, this week Radio Free Asia reports on some North Korean jokes collected from defectors now living in the South:

Happy days
An Englishman, a Frenchman, and a North Korean are having a chat. The Englishman says: “I feel happiest when I’m at home, my wool pants on, sitting in front of the fireplace.”

The Frenchman, a ladies’ man, says: “You English people are so conventional. I feel happiest when I go to a Mediterranean beach with a beautiful blond-haired woman, and we do what we’ve got to do on the way back.”

The North Korean man says: “In the middle of the night, the secret police knock on the door, shouting: Kang Sung-Mee, you’re under arrest! And I say, Kang Sung-Mee doesn’t live here, but right next door! That’s when we’re happiest!”

Long Live Kim Jong Il!
Chang Man Yong works on a collective farm in North Korea. He goes fishing, gets lucky, and brings a fish home. Happy about his catch, he tells his wife: “Look what I’ve got. Shall we eat fried fish today?”
The wife says: “We’ve got no cooking oil!”
“Shall we stew it, then?”
“We’ve got no pot!”
“Shall we grill it?”
“We’ve got no firewood!”
Chang Man Yong gets angry, goes back to the river, and throws the fish back into the water. The fish, happy to have had such a narrow escape, sticks its head out of the water and cheerfully yells: “Long live General Kim Jong Il!”

Move over, comrade!
Two men are talking on a Pyongyang subway train:
“How are you, comrade?”
“Fine, how are you doing?”
“Comrade, by any chance, do you work for the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Have you worked for the Central Committee before?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Then, are any of your family members working for the Central Committee?”
“Then, get away from me! You’re standing on my foot!”

Bear hug
Kim Jong Il and Vladimir Putin are having a summit meeting in Moscow. During a break, they’re bored, and they decide to take a bet to see whose bodyguards are more loyal.

Putin is on the 20th floor and calls on his bodyguard Ivan, opens the window, and says: “Ivan, jump!”

Sobbing, Ivan says: “Mr. President, how can you ask me to do that? I have a wife and child waiting for me at home…”

Putin sheds a tear himself, apologizes to Ivan, and sends him away.

Next, it’s Kim Jong Il’s turn. He calls his bodyguard Lee Myung Man and yells: “Lee Myung Man, jump!” Not hesitating for a split second, Lee Myung Man is just about to jump out the window. Putin hugs Lee Myung Man to prevent him from jumping and says: “Are you out of your mind? If you jump out this window, you’ll die! This is the 20th floor!” Nevertheless, Lee Myung Man is still struggling, trying to escape Putin’s embrace and jump out the window: “President Putin, please let me go! I have a wife and child at home!”

Out of the mouths…
At High School No. 1 in Pyongyang, a girl brags to her teacher about the cat she’s got at home: “Our cat has just given birth to seven kittens. All of them just stick close to their mother, they feel really comfortable, and sleep all the time. They’re all true communists.”

A few days later, the teacher asks the girl: “Are the communist kittens at home growing up nicely?”

The girl says: “Comrade teacher, big trouble! They’ve all opened their eyes, and they’ve all renounced communism!”

Looking at the sun and saying it is the moon
Child: “Mom, I’m hungry. I want rice.”
Mother: “I’m sorry, child. There’s no rice left.”
Child: “No rice! Why is there no rice? Our kindergarten teacher told us that if General Kim Jong Il points his finger to sand, it turns into rice. So, why is there no rice in our house?”
Mother: “Well, that’s a lie. No, what I actually meant to say was that’s a matter of deeply rooted belief.”
Child: “Mom, what’s deeply rooted belief?”
Mother: “Well, it’s a lie you’re supposed to believe.”

Another country
A woman living in North Hamgyong province comes back home after a hard day at the open market. While she was working hard, the husband spent the whole day at home, daydreaming. As soon as she returns home, they start talking, and the husband says: “Sweetheart, I’d love to go to some place I’ve never seen before, and do something I’ve never done before…”

The wife retorts: “That’s a great idea. Go to the kitchen and wash the dishes!”

Black cats, white cats, large mice
Chinese, Russian, Japanese, American, and North Korean police officers gather and decide to assess their investigative capacity. Under the watchful eye of their supervisors, each team gets a mouse, then lets it loose, and the mouse runs up a big mountain. The winning team is the one that manages to catch and bring back the mouse in the shortest time.

The Chinese police employ human wave tactics, combing every square inch on the mountain in their thousands.

They capture and return the mouse after only one day’s search.

The Japanese policemen use a smell detector, and after only half a day, they detect the mouse hole, search it, catch the mouse and bring it back.

The Russian cops send a robot equipped with a heat-seeking device up the mountain. The robot locates all the mammals on the mountain and after only three hours the Russians capture and bring back the mouse.

The only ones left now are the American and North Korean police officers. The Americans use a satellite signal device to locate the mouse, and then send in a mechanical gadget that looks like a snake gliding up the mountain.

The gadget gets into the mouse hole, catches the mouse and brings it back after only one hour.

The North Koreans are last. Although the supervisors are watching, none of them makes a move, there is no brainstorming, and no one comes up with a plan of action, nothing at all. After only about 10 minutes, a few North Korean police officers show up dragging a dog before the supervisors, saying they’ve found the mouse.

All the supervisors are puzzled: “What are you doing? It is not a dog you were supposed to catch! Weren’t you supposed to catch a mouse?” Instead of answering, the North Korean cops drag the dog through the dirt and repeatedly kick it in the ribs. The sobbing dog suddenly starts to talk: “Stop, stop, please stop! Yes, I confess, I’m a mouse! I’m a mouse, please concede that I’m a mouse, or else they’re going to kill me!”

Food for thought
Professor: “Comrade students, how many economic-political systems are there in the world?”

Student: “There are three such systems: The capitalist economic-political system, the North Korean socialist economic system, and the Chinese eclectic system.”

Professor: “Then, among these three systems, which one is the greatest?”

Student: “Well, it might be rather difficult to answer that question.”

Professor: “What kind of an answer is that? There is only one clear answer! Our style of socialist economic-political system is the greatest, as this is the system that’s destined to conquer the entire world and spur eternal economic development!”

Student: “Professor, that is great, indeed… But if our system takes over the world and all of the other countries and economic-political systems, then whom are we going to ask for food aid?”

Black and white
A member of the Chinese Communist Party goes to study in North Korea, where he gets to learn about juche, the official state ideology of North Korea and the political system based on it.

The Chinese Communist Party member wishes to let his friends back home know what life in North Korea is like.

However, he knows for sure that all the letters he sends are opened by the North Korean authorities, so he thinks of a way to bypass censorship.

The Chinese decides to write words meaning precisely what they say in blue ink, words conveying neutral meaning in black ink, and words intended to convey the very opposite meaning in green ink.

After a while, his friends back home in China receive a letter from North Korea. The letter was written entirely in black ink, meant for words carrying neutral meaning.

The conclusion they draw is that North Korea is not as good as the North Korean authorities’ propaganda says it is, and it is not as bad as the critics of the North Korean regime say it is. However, at the bottom of the letter, they come across a note from their friend: “My friends, I apologize. Green ink is unavailable here….”

The Workers’ Paradise
At an art museum in Europe, an Englishman, a Frenchman, and a North Korean stand before a painting of Adam and Eve holding an apple in the Garden of Eden.

The Englishman says: “The man has something tasty to eat and is eager to share it with the woman. Based on that, I would conclude that they’re rather obviously English…”

The Frenchman says: “I disagree. They’re walking around entirely naked, so they must be French…”

The North Korean says: “There is no doubt in my mind that they’re North Korean. They have no clothes to wear, barely anything to eat, and they still think they’re in heaven!” (Radio Free Asia)

If any readers from former/current socialist countries know any jokes they can contribute (especially jokes from the DPRK), please add them in the comments section. 


7 Responses to “Tickle, hammer and caligraphy brush”

  1. Comrade 1: We must execute the designers of the new stamp!

    Comrade 2: With glorious leader Stalin’s profile on it, how could it possibly be a failure?

    Comrade: 1: It falls off the envelope.

    Comrade: 2: Not enough glue?

    Comrade 1: No, the People spit on the wrong side.

  2. Just one more:

    Czech leader Dubcek finds an urn in the forest and proceeds to polish it. POOF – out comes a genie.

    Genie: I grant you three wishes.

    Dubcek thinks briefly.

    Dubcek: For my first wish, I’d like the Chinese Communists to invade Prague and retreat.


    Genie: I shall grant it, Master.

    Dubcek: For my second wish, I’d like the Chinese Communists to invade Prague and retreat.

    Genie: The same as the first wish?

    Dubcek: Yes.

    Genie: Again, Master, I shall grant it.

    Dubcek: For my third wish, I’d like the Chinese Communists to invade Prague and retreat.

    Genie: Master, forgive my insolence, but why all are your wishes exactly alike? And why do you wish for a Chinese military invasion of your own nation?

    Dubcek: Because then they’d have to slog across the Soviet Union six times!

  3. Neil says:

    Haha, how can we be sure of their authenticity? Are these jokes actually spoken in everyday NK?

  4. Gag Halfrunt says:

    I was thinking that too. Certainly I’ve read a version of the dog-confessing-to-being-a-mouse joke where the New York police are doing the torturing.

  5. Gag Halfrunt says:

    P.S. The ‘deeply rooted belief’ joke and the food aid joke are the only ones that really seem specific to the DPRK. The others could be Soviet or Chinese jokes with the names changed.

    P.P.S. I’ve found a Soviet versionl of the green ink joke:

    Two brothers, John, and Bob, who lived in America and were members of the communist party, decided to emigrate to the USSR. Even though they didn’t believe the American media’s negative reports on the conditions in the USSR, they decided to exercise caution. First, only John would go to Russia to test the waters. If, contrary to the media reports, the living conditions would be found good, and the reports about persecutions by the KGB false, than John would write a letter to Bob using black ink whose color would signify that the letter is to be taken at face value. If, though, the situation in the USSR happened to be bad, and John would be afraid of writing the truth, he would use red ink thus indicating that whatever he says in the letter must not be believed.

    In three months John sent his first report. It was in black ink and read, “Dear brother Bob! I’m so happy here! It’s a beautiful country, I enjoy complete freedom, and high standard of living. All the capitalist press wrote was lies. Everything is readily available! There is only one small thing of which there’s shortage, namely red ink.”

  6. teresa rayburn says:

    how do you know when a grocer is trying to get you on a diet?

    they are selling your food you like to get and eat at a smaller size!