|Ky Henderson, right, with Chris Connolly at the Star Trek Casino in Las Vegas after a few Borg bowls.|
Latvian jokes began as an instant messenger conversation between me and Ky Henderson. I was writing a book about the three years I spent living in Latvia and Ky was an editor at a magazine. I was working on a chapter about the Latvians' trademark 'black humor' and I wrote a quick joke and messaged it to Ky.
Latvian: Is so cold.
All: How cold is?
Latvian: Very. Also dark.
He immediately picked up the idea and soon sent back this:
I hope my son does not die during night.
What is "hope"?
Yes. I know what you say.
No. I am serious. What is hope?
In truth, I do not know.
We wrote about eight more jokes in the next 15 minutes and I was laughing my ass off. I saved that dialogue and would pull it up and re-read it now and again and I always thought it was funny. I sent some of the jokes to my brother Andrew and he got in on the act as well.
Although Andrew did visit me in Latvia, I was the only author of the original jokes with deep firsthand knowledge of Latvia. This is why the vein eventually came to encompass Cossacks and rape and a whole bunch of other things that aren't really Latvia-specific. As we worked out the original list of jokes, "Latvia" came to be a stand-in term for Obscure Former Soviet Nation Western People Don't Know Shit About. The reason Latvia inherited the spot was simply that I was writing about my experiences there when I wrote the first joke.
After the jokes sat on my hard drive for a year or so, I started thinking I should send them out into the world. The freelance market for something like that was pretty dim, so I sent them to our buddies at holytaco.com and requested that they put them on the site. I enjoyed a few days of increased hits on my site, then I considered the matter closed.
About a month after that I was working on my book when my phone went kind of crazy. Someone linked to the jokes somewhere on Reddit.com, and I went from maybe 30 hits a day to about 15,000. This was fun and exciting, and it still happens every once in a while and I get all juiced up about it.
To date, the jokes in their quiet repository on my page have been viewed around half a million times. I switched hit counters at one point, so I can't say accurately what the stats are. What I do know is that Latvian jokes have now become a "thing."People write their own jokes based on the theme. People have illustrated the jokes. There's a tiny twitter account, and this guy and this guy even acted the jokes out.
I have never debated with anyone about the appropriateness of the jokes because engaging angry people on the Internet about something as subjective about a joke is a shortcut to madness. Basically, if you find it funny, it's funny. If you don't, it's not. If you get offended, it's offensive. If you don't, it isn't. That's about the only statement I can make about that.
I think it's cool that the jokes have taken on a life of their own, and I hope people keep making them up forever. I still laugh when I read them and some of the new contributions to the genre are genius.
Uz redzēšanos. Lai jums veicas.