February 20, 2015

1955. Italian Political Humor

Jokes from Rome
Source: Italian Prime Minister Mario Scelba (right) with American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in 1955
March 9, 1955

Mr. Eugene Lyons
Senior Editor, Reader's Digest
Pleasantville, NY

Dear Mr. Lyons,

Mr. Wallace sent out a letter requesting examples of foreign humor circulating overseas, which has been in my current file as a reminder when something happens along in which you might be interested. Never a man to pass up a buck, I have three short ones which may or may not be new to you. At any rate, they are rare for this part of the world because they are clean.

Premier Scelba of Italy is facing another crisis in his government, which recalls a story attributed to him when he took office last year. At that time, Scelba was asked what major changes he intended to make in his staff. "The first man I will fire is the cloak room attendant." Surprised, his friends asked why. "Because," he replied, "every time he takes my hat and coat he asks: 'Do you intend to stay long, your Excellency?'"

Another story printed in an Italian humor magazine concerns the very popular Queen Frederica of Greece. While visiting a maritime hospital in Athens to cheer Greek Navy sailors injured in that recent sea collision, Her Majesty was surprised to note that all of the navy men had their arms heavily bandaged. "It must have been a strange accident for all of the men to have suffered broken arms," she commented at the end of the tour. The embarrassed hospital director blushed. "Not all were broken arms, Your Majesty," he admitted. "You see, most of the boys have tattoos and most of them insisted the subjects were not for your eyes -- thus the plethora of bandages."

And finally, I like this one, but I understand it has been around for some time. An elderly Italian, who for years as a good Catholic had generated a personal hate for Red Boss Palmiro Togliatti, was on his deathbed. His son asked if there was any last request -- anything that he wanted before he passed on. "Yes," the father said, "call up Comrade Togliatti and tell him to get over here. I want to join the Communist Party." The son was astounded, reminded of the good fight he had fought against the Reds all his life. "Father," the son asked, "I just don't understand why you would want to do this horrible thing?" "Don't you see, my son," the father smiled. "It is better for one of them to die than for one of us."

That winds up the local crop. As you probably know, Italian humor is satirical, cynical, and highly idiomatic. It is also mostly very unclean, particularly the political humor. But I'll continue to collect and pass stuff along from time to time.

Incidentally, we have never met but I feel we have a certain acquaintance, if only through the fact that both of us have served time as correspondents in Moscow.


Bill Downs
CBS News
Rome Bureau