Communist Leader Tries Hand at Cracking Jokes
Published: April 3, 2007 (Issue # 1259)
MOSCOW — Gennady Zyuganov rattled out joke after joke at a news conference Thursday, but was only met with the occasional polite chuckle from attending journalists.
The Communist Party leader’s jokes went along these lines: “There are two main problems in Russia: roads and fools. In the Duma, one is trying to fix the other.”
Zyuganov, better known for his firebrand speeches than for his sense of humor, was speaking during the release of a book of jokes to tie in with April Fool’s Day on Sunday.
With State Duma elections just nine months away, Zyuganov used the book to poke fun at his biggest political adversary, United Russia.
The pocket-sized book, “100 Jokes From Zyuganov,” has dozens of jokes about the pro-Kremlin party and President Vladimir Putin and is accompanied by cartoons of a bear — the symbol of United Russia — looking intermittently aggressive, dopey and sulky.
But the most personal joke in the book is the one about an aide who rings up President Boris Yeltsin the day after the presidential election and asks what he wants to hear: the good or the bad news.
Yeltsin takes a tranquilizer, has a glass of vodka and begins to sweat. Let’s have the bad news, he says.
“Zyuganov got 62 percent.”
As his shaky hand moves for the pistol, Yeltsin asks, “What is the good news?”
“You won. You got 75 percent.”
Zyuganov, after leading Yeltsin by a clear margin, lost the 1996 presidential election in a race that the Communists say was fixed.
The book was put together by Zyuganov’s press secretary, Alexander Yushchenko, who writes in the foreword that Zyuganov would always cheer up his party activists on long train trips by telling jokes. A total of 20,000 copies of the book have been printed.
Zyuganov’s performance Thursday wasn’t exactly stand-up comedy. For a start, he sat down. While he told jokes, a short man stood in a bear’s costume to his right carrying a poster advertising Zyuganov’s book and wearing a bandage over his jaws, as if to keep him from talking or biting.
The Communist leader tried to please the journalists — each was given a free box of honey, too — but a tough crowd is a tough crowd, especially when they are hearing jokes that probably only sound funny on the second day of a train journey.
One joke may have tinges of anti-Semitism, not uncommon among Communist Party officials when talking about former oligarchs such as Boris Berezovsky: It is an oligarch’s funeral, and other oligarchs are attending. Vladimir Gusinsky walks past and drops $200 into the open casket; Vladimir Potanin walks past and adds his $200. Then Berezovsky walks past, takes out the $400 and leaves a check for $600.
On the other hand, the Communists, who attempt to grab the nationalist vote as much as any party, could be said to be showing a macabre sympathy toward the plight of the migrant in the capital with one joke: In a graveyard late at night, a skeleton gets out of his grave and knocks on the next grave.
“Gogi,” he says in a comic Georgian accent, “Let’s go into Moscow and have a stroll, eat some shashlik and drink some wine.”
Gogi pops out of his grave and they head off, but Gogi suddenly turns back, grabs his gravestone and puts it on his back.
“Why are you bringing that with you?” asks his friend. “Hey, you know you can’t walk round Moscow without any documents,” Gogi replies.
The plan was for Zyuganov, a captain of a KVN comedy club at his university, to tell jokes for an hour, but perhaps because of the reporters’ response he stopped early.
“I think that’s enough, let’s finish,” Zyuganov said.
Zyuganov had been at ease when telling his jokes but was more a politician when he replied shortly and coldly to journalists’ questions.
The show would only go so far.