Mäetagused vol. 52


Stand-up in Estonia: From Soviet estrada to Comedy Estonia

Liisi Laineste

Key words: estrada, stand-up comedy, audience, “negative exemplar“, history of stand-up

The article describes stand-up comedy in Estonia in relation to the local history of the genre. The aim is to cast light upon how the cultural context, but also the performer and audience interaction, works in achieving popularity of comic performance. The figure of a comedian as a “negative exemplar” as described by Lawrence Mintz in 1985, provides an excellent entrance point into discussing the different degrees of status of the genre in both the Soviet period and recent years.

Two periods in Estonian history – totalitarian Soviet time and democratic present time – are under surveillance. During the Soviet period, public shows and recordings of estrada performances were highly valued among the audiences, providing commentary on the shortcomings of the regime and daily life in a seemingly innocent manner. The topics and popularity of the most iconic of these performances are analysed side by side with the repertoire of comedians from Comedy Estonia. The latter, a recent importer of Anglo-American tradition of stand-up in Estonia, also has a devoted audience and established topics, but these differ significantly from the Soviet predecessor, that of estrada. Through a historically situated analysis, it is possible to describe the adoption of traditions (and texts within it) in a meaningful way, so that foreign becomes native and starts functioning as an aspect of collective identity, be it on the level of the entire nation or just a group of fans.

The empirical part of the study presents material from both periods, referring comparatively to some legendary comic texts from the Soviet period and routines of Comedy Estonia comedians. The main focus of the analysis is on the topics and targets that are prevalent in these very distinctive periods and, consequently, on the popularity of the different “stages” of local Estonian stand-up.

The uneven struggle of stand-up in Poland with the cabaret tradition

Władysław Chłopicki

Key words: cabaret, monologue, Polish humour, stand-up

The article first describes the old cabaret tradition of Polish comedy, and then looks at various forms of stand-up that have been spreading in Poland over the last 20 years, mainly on TV, but some originating in newly established comedy clubs. Within the last twenty years, the new form of stand-up in its American variety has been slowly moving in. The characteristics of this new genre included precisely the topics which were excluded from the old form (such as explicit sex references and scatology) as well as the focus on the vernacular. The common features of stand-up included immediacy, playing cultural and linguistic kinship with the audience, impersonations, “shifting consensus”, seeming spontaneity, and occasional self-deprecation. Young performers found a venue in the well known HBO show called “Na stojaka” (an attempt to translate stand-up into Polish, a show which ran for ten years), as well as other venues such as the stand-up competition called “Zabij mnie śmiechem” (“Kill me with laughter”) broadcast by the Polsat commercial channel since 2010, in which the winner is rewarded with a trip to an American stand-up school.

This kind of stand-up does not meet with universal appeal, as one comment found on the internet clearly shows: “Stand-up Tragedy”. The Polish audiences largely believe that the performance must be first of all funny, and only then “authentic”, while some young performers seem to play mainly on obscenity and scatology and forget the need to amuse. Therefore, even though the new form has been slowly gaining ground, the cabaret prevails both in some of the forms which it shares with stand-up (e.g. non-interactive monologues, which are no longer literary but colloquial, or impersonations) and also with regard to popular performers, who largely originate in cabaret or are well-known actors.

Representation of woman in contemporary Estonian jokes: critical survey

Indrek Ojam

Key words: feminism, gender, humor-research, internet-humor

This article discusses the representation of woman in Estonian punch-lined jokes. After brief introduction to the problems and approaches of this field the author presents the results of the extensive research, which consisted of the survey of 1869 jokes. Jokes representing female characters had to contain one of the four most neutral keywords: woman, mother, wife and maiden (young woman in Estonian). These jokes were collected from the Internet and stem from the years 1960–2010 and are categorised using the program QDA-miner, which enables both quantitative and qualitative methods. However, the main emphasis in the approach is on the critical interpretation of the results.

The jokes were divided into 4 major subcategories: 1) location of the joke; 2) the interaction partners of woman; 3) sexual content; 4) the role of the woman (active, submissive, neutral). The most frequent location for the joke was homely environment. Woman interacted in the jokes mostly with her husband, children and other family members. Surprisingly, only 27% of the material contained any kind of sex-related circumstances. The fourth and most ambiguous (open to interpretation) category was the role of the woman. It was also the focal point of my critical approach. The results show generally, that the picture of woman in Estonian jokes is rather passive and one-sided. In literally half of the jokes, woman had merely episodical role. Woman was clearly the target of the joke in 32% of the jokes and active protagonist in the rest 18%. Although it seems, that the female character had often something meaningful to say in jokes, closer look reveals that it was not the case. Even in the jokes where the woman was active, her role was still very stereotypical and reflected rather the point of view of men telling the jokes or the construction of male identity in general.

These tendencies show, that the representation of woman in estonian joke material is quite static throughout the period of 1960s until the first decade of the 21st century. I maintain, that this phenomenon cannot be explained with the simple persistence of sexism and misogyny in society. One other way of explaining it, is that the inherent stability of the genre of punch-lined joke does not let new discourses appear in it. Researchers should look for other new humorous genres for more critical and complex representation of gender and femininity.

Family in Polish jokes

Dorota Brzozowska

Key words: Polish family jokes, nuclear family, stereotypes about women, post-socialist jokelore

The main aim of the research was to describe the image of family life presented in post-socialist jokelore. Contemporary material (from the late 1990s till the present day) consisting of jokes published in books, booklets, newspapers and on the Internet was collected and analysed for this study, altogether 600 jokes. As there is no special cycle of jokes connected with family life, texts of different series were taken into account in which the words “woman”, “man”, “child” or their synonyms were present. The results showed that there exist a number of stable targets, e.g. aggressive mothers-in-law or adulterous wives. New targets are reluctant to arise: there are no jokes about the paternal leave which was recently introduced and widely discussed in the media, and there are also no jokes about women drinking alcohol, although this problem exists in the society that gives more and more permission to women drinking in public places. We can conclude on the basis of this research that family jokes do not deal with current and topical issues; instead, they have remained mostly traditional with certain recurring cycles being at the core of the Polish cultural heritage.

The characters of Estonian three nation jokes (1964–2012)

Arvo Krikmann

Key words: three nation jokes, Soviet period, post-socialist period, ethnic characters, punch line

The present article gives a statistical overview of the characters of Estonian three nation jokes throughout three periods: the Soviet period, the 1990s, and the 21st century. The following subtopics are discussed:

  1. The Zipfian distribution of parameters of our joke corpus that complicates text- and type-based statistical analyses (so-called “Zipf’s curse”);
  2. The general temporal dynamics of the material and changing of the frequencies of ethnic characters through the three periods of observation;
  3. The correlation between the “sequential number” (position) of the character in the text and its function: changes in frequencies of different ethnic characters as “initialisers”, “follow-uppers”, and “punch line-makers” throughout the three periods; the salience of the Estonian as an ethnic figure in the 21st century; exceptional texts with more or fewer than three characters and, related to it, problems of the joke structure (syntagmatic triad versus paradigmatic-parallelistic chain, etc.)

Three characters in Polish jokes

Dorota Brzozowska

Key words: three characters in jokes, Polish humour, targets, ethnic stereotypes, demotivators

The aim of this paper is to show how tripartite jokes have developed from ethnic jokes into jokes about professions. The attempt to answer the question about the universal and culture-specific character of those jokes is crucial. The introduction presents the relationships of the current topic with the number three as a folkloric universal. Stereotypical situations prompting the representatives of different nations to behave in a manner characteristic of them are then described, followed by the analysis of the entwining of ethnic, political, sexual, “logical” and other dimensions of humour in tripartite jokes.

The historical contexts and the role that the closest and most relevant neighbours, i.e., the Russians and the Germans, play in Polish culture is presented and compared with the stereotypes and attitudes of other national characters present in jokes (e.g. the Czechs, the Americans). With this, we aim to answer the question if and when ethnic stereotypes are still present in contemporary jokes.

Visual humour on the Internet

Anneli Baran

Key words: Internet, demotivators, figurative expressions, humour, visualisation

This article focuses on the role of visual imagery in language understanding. It is commonly held that the use of phraseologisms is most characteristic to spoken language. However, today we are faced with a situation where the usage of written and oral language has blended (in e-mails, on-line communication, social network) on the Internet. Creative use of expressions, even if manifested in an exaggerated or inappropriate manner, may lead to interesting figures of speech. I am going to concentrate on a subgenre of so-called Internet memes – demotivational posters or manipulated photos which contain figurative expressions. Clearly, it is the creative context of the Internet that has given new life to figurative expressions. People are interpreting phraseologisms differently from a traditional vis-à-vis conversation when being engaged in spontaneous virtual communication. In addition, the iconic nature of the motivation involved in understanding figurative expressions makes it possible to use the phrases as a means of visualisation. That is why it is possible to confirm that phraseological units are remarkably more complex phenomena than simple reproducible linguistic units that do not contain metaphors.

Pictorial representation of idioms in Internet humour

Tomasz Piekot

Key words: idiom, Internet culture, humour, demotivators, visualisation

The analysis of new media, i.e. Internet, is a serious problem for logocentric communication studies. Usually, only the verbal aspect of genres is described, while other qualities are seen as marginal phenomena. In this paper I want to discuss the practice of visualising idioms in Internet humour. Even a cursory glance at the new media shows two prominent trends: 1) idioms appear in various types of new media texts but tend to dominate in those with a creative function, 2) idioms are spontaneously visualised, i.e. communication partners translate them into visual language. The paper presents results of empirical studies performed on a corpus of demotivators containing idioms. It shows that creative texts, especially humorous ones, subject idioms to different visual transformations. Visual translation may involve the structure of an idiom (individual words) making the visualisation literal, or its metaphoric meaning, in which case the visualisation is figurative (in its two variants – exemplifying or reinterpreting). From the cultural perspective, is it notable that idioms are not very frequent in Internet humour. Demotivators cited idioms in only 1.5% of all demotivating messages in Polish-language Internet. It seems that Internet users have probably found other visual carriers of figurative meaning. Discovering their social status might be the key to understanding the new culture – the culture of the web.

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Estonia

Ringo Ringvee

Key words: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, religion, new religions

The article explores the history of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in Estonia. The first Bible students emerged in Estonia in the 1920s, and the Society started its work in the country in 1926 when the local office was opened. In 1935 the Watchtower Society was closed down according to the Emergency Act. The Society was accused of activities that caused social unrest and damaged the interests of Estonian foreign policy. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, although banned as an organization, continued their work in spreading the Biblical message around the country. In 1940 Estonia was incorporated into the Soviet Union. The foreign staff of the Watchtower Society left the country and from there on the Estonian Jehovah’s Witnesses organized their work on their own, and their contacts with the headquarters abroad were lost. Although from 1941 to 1944 Estonia was occupied by German military forces, little action was taken against the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Soviet authorities’ repressions against them started in 1948 when the leading Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested and sent to prison camps. In 1951 during the operation Sever (North) carried out by the Soviet authorities, which targeted the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the new territories of the Soviet Union, almost all Witnesses were deported from Estonia to Tomsk region in Siberia. All of the Estonian Jehovah’s Witnesses were gradually released by the mid-1960s. However, the Soviet anti-religious campaign targeted the Jehovah’s Witnesses, stigmatizing them in the media and at their workplaces. By the late 1960s the Witnesses in Estonia had established their contacts with their headquarters in the West and started organizing the Watchtower Society’s work in the Baltic countries as well as in the western part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, including Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Although the direct repressions against Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Soviet period in Estonia were rare compared to other Soviet republics, the authorities monitored them, and conscientious objectors were imprisoned. When the Soviet regime ended in Estonia in 1991, the Jehovah’s Witnesses registered their religious organization and started their missionary activities. In the 1990s there were several conflicts between the mainstream society and the Witnesses. The conflicts included conscientious objectors, blood-free medicine, the use of rented facilities for their religious services, and sensational but unsubstantiated news by the tabloid media. However, by the 2000s the problems were solved, and in a short time the Jehovah’s Witnesses had become the fourth or fifth largest denomination in Estonia.

We would be worse off without shamans

Ringo Ringvee

Nikolay Kuznetsov conducted an interview with Hungarian folklorist and ethnologist Mihály Hoppál on the threshold of his 70th jubilee.

News, overviews   

Birthday Greetings!
Olli Kõiva (80), Tiiu Salasoo (80), Mall Hiiemäe (75), Luule Krikmann (75), Kristi Salve (70), Mihály Hoppál (70), Igor Tõnurist (65), Rein Saukas (65), Janīna Kursīte (60), Tamara Luuk (60), Ülo Valk (50).

Estonians and Setus in the villages of Krasnoyarsk Krai

Anu Korb gives an overview of an expedition to the Setus living in Siberia from April 19 to May 18.

Humour on socio-political field

Maarja Lõhmus recalls the 24th Conference of the International Society of Humour Studies held in Kraków, Poland, on June 25–29, 2012.

Doctoral thesis on Lithuanian proverbs

Anneli Baran introduces Dalia Zaikauskienė’s doctoral thesis on Lithuanian proverbs, which was defended at Vilnius University on June 28, 2012.

12th International Summer School and Symposium on humour and laughter

Liisi Laineste writes about the summer school held in Savonlinna, Finland, on July 2–7, 2012.

Conference on figurative language studies in Stockholm

Anneli Baran writes about the Stockholm Metaphor Festival that took place on September 6–8, 2012.

Communities in archives and archives in communities

Katre Kikas gives an overview of the conference dedicated to the 85th anniversary of the Estonian Folklore Archives on September 24–25.

Folklorists record school tradition on Hiiumaa Island

Piret Voolaid gives an overview of the expedition of folklorists from the Estonian Literary Museum to the schools of Hiiumaa in the first week of October.


A brief summary of the events and activities of Estonian folklorists from August to December 2012.

Long history of a book

Ingrid Rüütel. Eesti uuema rahvalaulu kujunemine. (Evolution of Estonian Newer Folksongs.) EKM Teaduskirjastus 2012. 648 pp.

Editor Kanni Labi writes about the book and the forty years it took to be completed.