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After ten years of blood, sweat and tears, Jon’s book has finally emerged into the world! It hit the Amazon Bestseller lists on launch day and has been receiving excellent reviews. This week, we put Jon in the hot seat to talk about it.
In the shadow of the Gulag, Soviet citizens were still cracking jokes. They had to.
Drawing on diaries, interviews, memoirs and hundreds of previously secret documents, the book, It’s Only a Joke, Comrade!, uncovers how they joked, coped, and struggled to adapt in Stalin’s brave new world. It asks what it really means to live under a dictatorship: How do people make sense of their lives? How do they talk about it? And whom can they trust to do so?
Humour is a universal part of the human condition. It helps us define who we are, who they are, what’s important to us, and what we won’t stand for. We use it to mock a rival, charm a stranger and to solidify friendships… but we also use it to deal with the things which oppress and frighten us.
It’s easy to forget, but ‘funny’ and ‘serious’ are not opposites. People were still cracking jokes in Auschwitz because, even in the darkest times, humour comes to our aid. But how does that work psychologically? Is it some kind of resistance to external power, or is it more like Stoicism – changing how we feel without truly changing objective circumstances?
So does the Soviet story have lessons to teach us about political humour today? Does it have any power to hurt the likes of Trump and Putin, or are we just making ourselves feel better about doing nothing to effect real change?
Plus there’s a chance to win yourself a copy of the book!
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