They say that if you have to explain a joke, it isn’t funny. But what if the joke does the explaining? What if jokes in all their intricacies contain valuable information and nuances about the culture that spawned them? Then they might be worth telling for what they can teach us. If we’re lucky, clichés notwithstanding, laughter can follow understanding. As a teacher of Russian history and culture, I have been telling Soviet anecdotes to my students for many years in the hope that they would not only leaven a grim history with humor but also teach some of that history.