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This often enjoyable but flat-footed compilation and study of jokes from the Soviet bloc has a hard time justifying its existence. Journalist and documentarian Lewis (who made a film of the same title for the BBC) started by imagining Communist jokes as a subversive critique that undermined the totalitarian state, but concludes that they were a politically irrelevant distraction. He looks to them as a window into Communist society, but discovers that most probably they originated long before Lenin appeared. If truth be told, Communist jokes are often pretty lame. For every clever one-liner-capitalism is the exploitation of man by man, while communism is the exact opposite-Lewis unearths 10 clunkers like, "Why are the East Berliners dumber than the East Friesians? They built a wall and placed themselves on the wrong side." Lewis's explications of jokes are more interesting than the jokes, as are his fencing sessions with unapologetic ex-Communist apparatchiks and with his artist girlfriend, a humorless nostalgist for East Germany. The rueful punch line Lewis leaves us with, almost despite himself, is that Communism was no laughing matter. Photos. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.