Hammer & Tickle

It was in Romania, while making a film about Ceausescu, that I first stumbled across the historical legacy of the communist joke. There I learned that a clerk from the Bucharest transport system, Calin Bogdan Stefanescu, had spent the last ten years of Ceausescu’s regime collecting political jokes. He noted down which joke he heard and when, and analysed his total of over 900 jokes statistically. He measured the time gap between a political event and a joke about that event, and then drew up a graph measuring the varying velocity of Romanian communist jokes. He was also able to assert–somewhat tenuously–that there was a link between jokes and the fall of Ceausescu, since jokes about the leader doubled in the last three years of the regime. The story of Stefanescu, the statistician of jokes, was, ironically, much funnier than the jokes themselves. It seemed to capture the prosaic reality of the little man struggling against the communist universe. —Ben LewisHammer & Tickle (Prospect)