Monday, May 13, 2024

Once Popular Radio Armenia Jokes have All But Disappeared

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 13 – Before the collapse of the USSR, jokes that took the form of “Armenian Radio is asked” and then provided an answer were among the most popular forms of humor among Soviet citizens; but now, they have all but disappeared even among Armenians who have moved abroad and have tried to keep that tradition alive.

            One of the reasons that this form of joke was so popular is the range of topics it involved. Some Radio Armenia jokes were critical of the Soviet experience – according to one, Radio Armenia was asked whether mankind could build communism to which it replied that it could but that it would be better to try it with test rats first.

            But others were not or at least ambiguous, with one particularly well known joke specifying that Radio Armenia was asked where the borders of the Soviet Union are to which it replied that they were anywhere Moscow wanted them to be. Perhaps for that reason, they were less often the target of persecution and were rumored to be favorites of Leonid Brezhnev.

            In a new article about this phenomenon, Armenian journalist Mamikon Babayan discusses the rise and fall of such jokes and why they are unlikely to make a comeback under the conditions of post-Soviet realities (

            According to Babayan, Radio Armenia jokes didn’t have their origin in Armenia, although he acknowledges that some claimed they had grown out of a mistake by a real Yerevan radio broadcaster who once observed that “in the capitalist world, man exploits man, while in the socialist one, things are just the reverse.”

            But other researchers say that such jokes emerged and were called Radio Armenia jokes because the residents of that South Caucasus republic listened more often to Western music than did the residents of other republics and supposedly were subjected to less censorship by the authorities.

            At the time of glasnost, Radio Armenia jokes became more. One of the last Radio Armenia jokes that spread across the USSR went as follows: “Radio Armenia is asked: ‘Is it possible to make love on the street?’ Radio Armenia answers: ‘yes, its possible but difficult because passers-by will interfere with advice.”

            But as Babayan observes, the popularity of such jokes faded not only because television became freer and then the Internet spread but also because such “jokes were relevant only in the context of the Soviet cultural paradigm.” As a result, even efforts by Armenian comics to keep them alive have largely failed.  

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