Hammer & Tickle Film

by Ben Lewis

15 July, 2011

in Hammer & Tickle


by Ben Lewis

15 July, 2011

in Hammer & Tickle


… The story of a political system that was laughed out of existence


What would happen if they introduced Communism to Saudi Arabia? Nothing at first but soon there would be a shortage of sand.

This is the first ever film about Communist jokes, the most extraordinary cultural legacies of eighty years of socio-political experimentation in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Under the oppressive Communist regimes of the Soviet Union and its satellites, ordinary people told thousands of jokes about the society they lived in and the political system they suffered under. Denied free speech, and confronted daily with the gap between political propaganda and everyday reality, jokes became the language of truth in the world of Communism. They were a way for ordinary people to resist the regime – but the Communist regimes also used to jokes, to diffuse opposition. Jokes were thus the real battleground between state and people under Communism.

Using this unique folkloric archive, this funny and insightful feature-length documentary tells the real history of Communism through the jokes. On the way it tells the stories of what happened to the joke-tellers, some of whom ended up in the Gulags, while others became stars of the stage and screen. This Monty-Python-esque history of Communism recreates the jokes using sketches, tricked archive and special animations. There are interviews with the legends of Communism and legendary Communist joke-tellers including Solidarity Leader and former Polish president Lech Walesa, the hardline Polish leader General Jaruselski, German actor Peter Sodann, German satirist and author Ernst Roehl, East German newspaper editor and Politburo member Guenter Schabowski, and Britain’s own Professor of jokes, Christie Davies.

The film unearthes never-seen-before archive – of the jokes that President Reagan told at Press Conferences, of the only anti-Communist comedy show ever broadcast on a Communist state television channel, and of the jokes and cartoons that the Czechs graffiti-ed on their town square when the Russians invaded in 1968.

Uncovering extraordinary stories never before told on television, director Ben Lewis met the man who collected jokes for Ronald Reagan, the Polish prankster who gave away toilet paper to deprived fellow citizens, and the Romanian amateur statistician who collected and analysed Communist jokes scientifically to reveal the part they played in the downfall of the system.


Introduction to Hammer and Tickle

Adam and Eve joke cartoon

Sketch about Leonid Brezhnev

The devils arrive as refugee in heaven cartoon

Have a laugh at the cheese chop joke!

Ronald Reagan’s tells Communist jokes

Prisoners’ sketch

Everything was Bourgeois & sheep joke

Stamp cartoon, spy sketch

Communist Economics Cartoon

Landing at Moscow Airport, 1970s …

Queue Jokes and the Statistical Analysis of Romanian Communist Jokes

Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev are on a train, and the train suddenly stops …


Uncle Sam, Boris Yefimov Cartoon, 1940

Filming a Spy Sketch

“Humor unter dem Eisernen Vorhang”, Miska Kukin – one of the First Collection of Communist Jokes published in Western Europe.
The author was the famous ‘Nazi’ hunter Simon Wiesenthal, writing under a pseudonym

Boris Yefimov, famous cartoonist, with a cartoon of Brezhnev

Major Fydrych of Alternative Orange

Shooting the Film, Telling Jokes in the 50s, Budapest