Obsolete Joke: Soviet Shortages

  • Posted on: 9 March 2016
  • By: Noah Brand

Some jokes are perennial, lasting for decades or centuries with minimal revision. Others have specific expiration dates. In this series, I revisit jokes that can no longer be told.


One day in the Soviet Union, an old Jewish man is down at the collective market, looking at the signs about all the stuff they ain’t got.

“These shortages are awful,” he says. “Look at this: they’re out of bread, they’re out of tea, they’re out of meat, they’re out of eggs… how is a person supposed to live?”

A passing soldier hears him and snaps “Stop spouting that anti-Soviet propaganda, you old Jew, or I’ll bash your head in with my rifle butt!”

“All right, sorry, forget I said anything,” says the old man, and goes home.

At home, his wife asks him “Did you go to the store? What’s the word on the shortages?”

“Well,” he says, “I think they’re out of bullets.”


Expiration date: The Soviet Union was officially dissolved on December 26, 1991

There is a centuries-old genre of Jewish humor that consists of joking about how oppressed and generally screwed-over Jewish people are in whatever society the joke is being told. Many people don't realize that Groucho Marx's famous line "I wouldn't belong to any club that would accept me for a member" is part of this genre--at the height of his fame, Groucho still couldn't join most of the good country clubs around Los Angeles, and it wasn't because of his mustache, if you follow me. This particular joke stands a good chance of being recycled; all it requires, structurally, are shortages of goods and violent government repression. Unfortunately, there are a lot of places in the world where this joke could be recycled right now.