Americans love political humor almost as much as “banana peel” pratfalls, cat antics and Russia’s drunk driver crash videos. We can make political jokes, and no matter how insulting they are, we don’t have to worry about going to jail. Just don’t wear a MAGA cap….unless you’re linebacker size, or armed in an open carry state. Not so in many other places and times. Arguably, the worst two places to make jokes denigrating political leaders or doctrine, during the post WWII era were East Germany and Russia, though China would be in the worst group in almost any modern era.
This joke about two East German communist leaders, Wilhelm Reinhold Pieck and Otto Grotewohl, for example, landed a man before a judge in 1956. Pieck and Grotewohl are visiting Stalin in Moscow. Stalin gives them a car. But when they want to leave, they realize the car doesn’t have a motor. Stalin says: “You don’t need a motor if you’re already going downhill.” Ha ha, I guess you had to be there. It must have seemed funnier while evading the Stasi. Here are 10 more jokes that were popular in East Germany, but were almost certainly too hot (or just too honest) for the Stasi, including several about the Trabant, the worst car in history (the Yugo and the Smart-for-two included).
- “Why do Stasi officers make such good taxi drivers? — You get in the car and they already know your name and where you live.” I am not sure that would get many laughs anywhere—it didn’t move my laugh meter.
- “What’s the best feature of a Trabant? — There’s a heater at the back to keep your hands warm when you’re pushing it.” Now that I find funny—involuntary laughs category.
- “Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man. Under socialism, it is exactly the other way around.” Clever, I think.
- “What would happen if the desert became a socialist country? — Nothing for a while… then the sand becomes scarce.” Funny, isn’t it you millennials?
- “Why do the Stasi work together in groups of three? — You need one who can read, one who can write, and a third to keep an eye on the two intellectuals.” Another one good for involuntary laughs.
- “The Stasi held a competition for the best political joke. First prize? Fifteen to twenty years.” They’re really cranking it up.
- “How can you use a banana as a compass? — Place a banana on the Berlin Wall. The bitten end would point east. (Bananas were scarce and deeply desired in East Germany, in contrast to West Germany, where they were ubiquitous.)” Picture it.
- A man-on-the-street poll was taken in three countries: “What is your opinion of the recently announced shortage of meat?” In the US, they asked, “What shortage?” In Poland, they asked, “What is meat?” And in East Germany, they asked, “What is an opinion?” Definitely an A.L. (involuntary laugher)
- “How do you catch a Trabi? — Just stick chewing gum on the highway. (An allusion to the Trabant’s weak motor.)”
- “Why did Erich Honecker get a divorce? — Because Brezhnev kisses better than his wife.” (Comrades always kiss each other on the cheek). If you don’t know who Brezhnev and Honecker were, you were either asleep in history class, or a generation or more after Baby Boomers.
- “Why do left-handed comrades always start the ‘comrade hug’ with their right hand? The left needs to be free to hold the knife.” Probably not very funny. I just made it up on the spot. If you aren’t laughing, then try this.