Synopsis by Mark Deming
Most people don't think of the Cold War as being a lot of laughs, but folks who lived on the darker side of the Iron Curtain look back at the funny side of life under Communism in this documentary. A number of Russian and East German writers, political figures, and ordinary folks are interviewed about the state of humor during the era of Communism, with most sharing the view that the widespread corruption, clumsy bureaucracy, and frequent incompetence of the U.S.S.R. made for great comedy (if less than ideal leadership). Director Ben Lewis and cartoonist John "Moose" Pagan intersperse the interviews with animated interpretations of common gags of the era, while some authorities discuss how humor was sometimes used for political ends in the Eastern Block (one Polish bureaucrat reveals one of his duties was to come up with jokes making fun of the then-rising Solidarity movement). Hammer and Tickle -- The Communist Joke Book was screened as part of the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.