I Know Why Russians Drink So Much

I just finished reading two plays by the Russian writer Anton Chekhov.

In the first one, the main character shoots himself in the head in the last line of the play.

In the second one, the main character shoots himself in the head in the last line of the play.

I thought maybe I’d read the same play twice.

But I hadn’t.  I checked the titles.  They were different.

I can’t help thinking of the conversations Anton Chekhov used to have with his editor.

“I have a new play,” Chekhov says.

“What about?”  asks his editor.

“A wealthy landowner.”

“What happens?”

“He shoots himself in the head.”

“I see.  Got anything else?”

“I’ve got one about a nobleman.”

“Tell me about it.”

“He shoots himself in the head.”

“Do you have anything else?”

“Yah.  I have one about a rich widow.”

“What happens?”

“She lives happily ever after.”


“Really.  Then she shoots herself in the head.”

Despite all this, Anton Chekhov is now known as the greatest Russian playwright who ever lived.

Which is too bad.

Because I have to imagine he influenced every Russian playwright to follow, some of whom may not have wanted to shoot their main character in the head, but felt compelled.

If I ever meet a Russian, I’m going to let him know that not all entertainment needs to end that way.

And I’m giving away my book of Anton Chekhov plays despite the fact that I have not read the last play in the book.

Because there is need.

It’s called, “Uncle Vanya.”  And I have a strong feeling he’s now deceased.  And that the word “Boom” is somewhere in there.

All this made me look up Anton Chekhov to see how he, the playwright whose every character dramatically shot themselves in the head, ended his own life. Care to guess?



114 thoughts on “I Know Why Russians Drink So Much

  1. Sell the book on ebay. You can use your new found wealth of the sale to gamble at Rats’ Casino.

  2. During college, I went to a performance of some of Chekhov’s “unfinished” plays. I believe they were considered “unfinished” because the main characters never got around to shooting themselves in the head.

    So your summary should be “if Chekhov finishes the play, the main character shoots themselves in the head; if he didn’t finish it, they don’t.”

  3. oh lord.. Uncle Vanya… had to read that one in university. Actually.. never read the damned thing. I couldn’t even get through the cliff notes even those were so boring!

  4. Are we supposed to grovel and say “please please give me your Chekhov book(s) I really want it/them etc.”? If such is the case, then please please give me your Chekhov book(s) I really want it/them etc.

  5. I’ll take it!

    Chekov and other depressing Russian Literature is great. Sort of has the same dark, sadistic quality of modern stuff I’ve read… like Pearls!

    If Russian Roulette is a game, what do you think the Russians do when they’re really depressed?

  6. Thank you Stephen. I can now impress my students with spoilers for not one but two books I would never in a million years read. If I want to really have fun, I can suggest they read them. Heh.

  7. Dude, you’re missing out on some great stuff. If Chekov’s plays are too much, try some of his short stories. They’re all deliciously dark.

    Or try this movie, “Vanya on 42nd Street”, which is kinda an intro to his work combined with a short version of ‘Uncle Vanya.’ Julianne Moore, Wally Shawn, and Louis Malle directing. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111590/

  8. No, the reason Russians drink so much is a) because their food sucks, and b) because they could never figure out Crime and Punishment. I would know — I still haven’t figured it out either.

  9. I’m pretty sure Checkov’s wife walked in that room where her husband lay, all deceased and boring, and shot him in the head. It was the least she could do.

  10. Whoa! Don’t even touch our food! 😉
    BTW, Why don’t americans drink so much as we do? Has someone read Great Gatsby? =)

  11. I think you should go with Jean-Paul Sartre next if you haven’t already. I recommend “No Exit”.

    And I agree – Chekhov should’ve done the right thing and shot himself. While playing Russian and drinking Vodka to complete the trifecta.

  12. Oh, you better read some books of classic american writers. Jerome D. Salinger, for example, or something from John E. Steinbeck, like “Of Mice and Men” or “The Grapes of Wrath” or “The Winter of Our Discontent”. They full of joy, everybody happy and nobody shot himself and others. Or I am wrong?

    I recommend you to read Chekvof’s shot stories. Nobody shot himself and some of them even funny.

  13. So if the Russians are bent on shooting themselves in the head, why were they such a threat during the cold war?

  14. If you’re giving away your Checkov book, I’ll take it.

    Also, I find his tendency to end the lives of characters surprisingly similar to your tendency for characters to have fatal mishaps. Perhaps you aren’t so different from the great Russian playwright after all…

  15. Here’s what you should do: reread (or skim) the plays, but this time add Rat’s commentary as you go along. Then you can give away the book as a prize to someone in the comments! 😀

  16. A book of Chekhov short stories is excellent for curing depression. You read the first few, nodding in sympathy, “life is like that, there’s nothing to be done.” Then after a few more you fling the book across the room and yell, “People! Get on with it! It’s not that bad!” And then you go out and prove it. Or you shoot yourself in the head. But I’m Canadian.

  17. Actually, Uncle Vanya didn’t shoot himself, but he did try to shoot someone else and missed, as I remember it.

  18. What is the difference between a Russian Comedy and a Russian Tragedy?

    They all still die in the end, but in a Russian Comedy they die happy!

  19. Honest-to-God. I used to have “the actor’s dream,” which is a dream in which it is opening night, but you have never been to rehearsal. (It is similar to the student dream, in which you have to take a final for a course you haven’t been attending.)

    This horrible dream went as usual, with me showing up and everyone being pissed off that I hadn’t been to rehearsal and didn’t know the play. Everyone is in costume, the audience is waiting, I have no idea what play we’re even doing.

    So I asked someone. (Up until now, it is the usual “actor’s dream”) He gives me some title I’ve never heard, and I say, “What’s it about?”

    Swear to God. He looks at me with contempt and says, “It’s a Chekhov.”

    I woke up laughing and never had the dream again. Hell, any idiot could perform that play without having been to rehearsal.

  20. The improv company I was in used to do an improvised Chekhov show. Someone died in each one.

  21. I liked this post better before you edited it. The timing after Chekhov and his editor sipped their vodkas was perfect.

  22. If you want depressing (not that you would), try the poetry of Taras Shevchenko (Ukrainian), Some of his stuff is so depressing you’ll want to find him and shoot him in the head.

  23. На районе слух прошел, что твою маму выебали в жопу даги

  24. dear stefan, it`s a huge mistake – trying to read chechov`s books. please, don`t ever do that again! never, do you hear me? ne-ver! it`s dangerous for your non-russian mind. please, continue to read something more safe, – toaster instructions and shampoo labels. russian novels can make your brain start thinking (OMG!!!), and what shall we do when you never will be able to draw your dali-like masterpieces? please, never read touch chechov`s book again. never even look at them, ok?

  25. Yes, Russian drink and we in Ukraine drink, but we still adore your international humor!
    C’mon, Stef, it’s 19 century’s life! It was simply REAL like that, and still is)))

  26. I don’t want even think about British people, for example. They read Shakespeare’s plays — oooh, they must drink sooooo much!

  27. Oh, I did not think that you can be so dummy…
    >I Know Why Russians Drink So Much
    All Americans are fat…
    haha =\

  28. No butthurt, but…

    You just showed how ‘educated’ and ‘clever’ you are. You just REALLY don’t have any right to speak of any kind of literature that way, especially about russian literature.

    I see no guilt in you, Stephan, being so-o-o short-minded and uneducated in an ugly way, but hundreds of your readers might get WRONG opinion because of your post.

    I suggest that you edit it, because I’m worried about you – you are making a negative image of yourself. Show some respect to your readers, please, Stephan.

    P.S. Btw, found out that a lot of your readers are stoopid, too. So many dull comics revealing the real price of your education… Uh oh. Remember this thing? http://img1.liveinternet.ru/images/foto/b/3/83/1025083/f_17108001.jpg

  29. Pingback: Стефан Пастис наехал на Антона Чехова - Приколы

  30. I never liked Chekhov works myself [except for the one called “Black Monk”]. So I can understand your frustration and I can see he is not for you. His ideals, his point of view and his playwrighting were quite peculiar. Chekhov actually tried to depict emptiness of the soul among other things… And one can say that people drink to fill that emptiness.

    >> If I ever meet a Russian, I’m going to let him know that not all entertainment needs to end that way.

    Good luck with finding person who shares Chekhov’s ideas on streets of Russian cities. I think it will even take some time to find someone who actually read several Chekhov plays and remembers plot.

    Try reading Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita”.

  31. Actually, Chekhov’s ironic stories are great. But i think they might be too alien for non-Russians to feel the thing.

    Did you really carry absolutely nothing out of the two plays you’re read? I mean, other than suicide?

    I can’t believe you’re so infantile. I hated literature in school. I hated 99% of books that i was taught simply because i was forced to read them. But even though, i still gave credit for the great depth of meaning.

    Andrey Mikhaylov, Moscow, Russia

  32. Chekhov – part of world culture. Moreover, it is – part of our, russian culture. Please do not insult our culture. I am Russian and I do not drink vodka. And not going to shoot himself in the head. I do not really like Chekhov, but I do not like also, when it exposes an idiot man who draws comics about animals. Sorry, Pastis, but you’re wrong.

  33. Planing to be in SF on the Labor day with several (also Russian) friends – you can meet us there 🙂

  34. Wow. Mr. Pastis, you should NEVER read Shakespeare tragedies. Because you know what? They ALL die there.

  35. I love when foreigners think they make fun of Russia, but in fact they make fun on their own stereotypes about Russia. Actually, they all like to make fun of Chekhov, but it was them, the foreigners, who called him “the greatest Russian playwright who ever lived”. They consider Chekhov the greatest Russian playwright exactly because his plays correspond with their stereotypes about Russian literature.

    In Russia, Ostrovsky is much more popular as a dramatist. Of course, Chekhov’s name is ‘bigger’ (generally thanks to his prose), but you will hardly find anyone outside the humanities universities who’s ever held a Chekhov’s play in his hands 🙂

  36. I would never have thought that a writer could make a remark like that :). Oh, well. America – different world :).

    Maybe it all was lost in translation? 😉

  37. So, you wanted Russians? Cheers, here we go again.

    Seriously, man, like Chekov is the greatest thing to happen to literature, like, since alphabet, maaaan.

  38. Interesting to note that Russia has the highest suicides per 1000 people ratio, its about 30 nowadays.

  39. Well one thing we’ve been reminded of in all this is that Russians still have no sense of humor, eh?

  40. It’s not a question of having a sense of humour or not, man; it’s a question of understanding or not a meaning of plays.

    Stephan has made an excellent trolling, I admit.

    P.S. Try not to read Shakespeare’s plays, Stephan 😉

  41. Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)

    New York actors rehearse Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” in a rundown theater. The setting is their run down theater with an unusable stage and crumbling ceiling. The play is shown act by act with the briefest of breaks to move props or for refreshments. The lack of costumes, real props and scenery is soon forgotten. imdb

  42. 2 Real Dan, Ha-ha, and everyone’s wearing caps with ear flaps, drinking vodka, using balalaika at home, matreshka, bears on the streets … beware of Russians !! 🙂 (sorry maybe i forgot to mention some stereotype)

  43. >>Interesting to note that Russia has the highest suicides per 1000 people ratio, its about 30 nowadays.

    Actually less than in Japan :), do you think they also reading Chekhov, Dostoevsky and other great writers ?

  44. any way, Chekhov’s plays are more positive, than Lovecraft art

    try to twittifie it, dude

  45. Chehov’s “gun” quote:
    “If a gun is on the wall in the first act, it must go off in the third act” 😦

    And one of his magnificent short stories is “A Boring Story” (sic!) 🙂

  46. Hahahahaha. Rather than comment in a way that not-so-subtly shows everyone how well read I am I will merely say this:

    Stephan Pastis, if only we could be best friends and then you could be my cartoon mentor.

  47. Stefan, I hope you’re trolling.

    You really found nothing interesting in “The Seagull”? Nor the sad humor of parallel love stories, nor the idea of repeating most situations twice, like a reflection in the mirror?
    (I think that the idea of reflection is used even in the landscape – many scenes happen near a lake).

    If you want a Chekhov’s play without suicide, I could advise you “Cherry Garden”, but I’m afraid it will be even further from your reality (though I daresay its idea has something in common with “Gone with the Wind” – one epoque dies, the other is coming, and a different style of life begins to rule).

    BTW, I’m not a Chekhov’s fan myself. I like Ostrovsky much more, his characters seem closer to me, more understandable than Chekhov’s.

  48. lol, dude, and then read Dostoevsky – you’ll know why Russians are so crazy psychos. Then read Tolstoy – your open Russians are long and boring. Then read Lenin – and be afraid of Russians, crazypsychoboringcommies! KGB watch you, lol!
    Disregard this, man. Come to Russia, meet us, drink some vodka and never read russian literature. All of that is self-experimenting, nothing more. It’s our personal, not for export. Have a nice day!

  49. all those people just were not able to handle being russian. As we ukrainians usually say “Thanks God I’m not russian”

  50. Stephan, that is soooooo wrong, if you’re serious, than you know nothing about drama. You should read some essays, even English and American authors say that Chekhov was “one of the major influences in the emergence of a wholly new approach to the subject matter, structure, and technique of dramatic writing at the end of the 19-th century” (Martin Esslin “Chekhov and the modern drama”). Also you should read his correspondence, because he never talked the way you showed, his sense of humor was much better.
    Hope you’re just trolling. From Russia with love.

  51. Funny supposition, Stephan=) Of course Chekhov had to work hard, communication with publishing houses wasn’t “a-la Steven King”, death is only “literature trick” that means absolute end, etc . But russians are…depressive savages, yee? =))) Cоuse we like to look deeper than “two deathes”? (deeeep fans, he-he..=)))) not to be confused with Depp, he’s cutie=)) )

    P.S. i’ve read one interestig comment folio verso one pocket book:
    Humorous magazines, where 20 years old “Antosha Chekhonte” began his writing, placed two requirements: not too long and not too clever. One of the heroes of his early stories tried to invent a way “to grind the whole world into a powder, but remain unharmed”. This method, in fact, was founded by small magazines of that time, ie by amusing and entertaining authorities, whom the most talented their writer described as “mosquitoes and flies”. This magazine’s mind-crasher ruined lots of writers. But Chekhov survived. And even learned something from Antosha Chekhonte’s experience. |Krzhizhanovsky S.D. “Chekhonte & Chekhov: birth and death of humoresque”|

  52. No russian shoots himself after reading Chehovs plays, they might after reading your comics.

  53. Excellent trolling. Thx, Stephan, it was fun.
    Actually, Chekhov most of all mocks at the person who shoots himself in head.
    I’m Russian, and I find Chekhov’s plays pretty boring. Perfect, but boring. His short stories are excellent, though.

  54. Some writers are just not made to live forever, and Chekhov along with Tolstoy are simply out of the time. I don’t think any of them are really considered greatest ones today.
    We drink so much for the same reasons germans and finnish do – because we can.

  55. You’ve made my day.

    Please don’t read russian classic literature – it’s too depressive. (I am russian and I don’t like to read since school;-)

  56. >all those people just were not able to handle being russian. As we ukrainians usually say “Thanks God I’m not russian”

    Ukrainian = Russian – humor 😉

  57. I think you really got it. I wish the rest of the world could acknowledge what you just did.
    Is there anything on Dostoyevsky and/or Tolstoy coming any time soon? I’d subscribe.

  58. it’s very sad to read most of the comments left here… aren’t people able to estimate the play apart from it’s dramatic ending?

    i am russian and i really love our classic literature. there are a lot of great writers and not all of their characters were killing themselves.

    Chekov was a doctor and he was treating sick people without any defence for himself. because there was no defence known at that time. that’s why he got sick and died. shame on those who make jokes about that. i just feel sorry for them.

  59. Chekhov is a great playwright. I’m Russian, and I love Chekhov’s plays. They don’t all end in a headshot. And the dialogs are most perfect and vivid. Maybe what he writes about is actual for Russia only. But it’s still actual though it was written a hundred years ago. Also, maybe translation kills all the perfection of the dialogs.

  60. :/ I would expect this kind of critique from a bored teenager who hates reading. I thought you were better than that.

    You can’t lump all of Chekov’s works like that. He was an amazing writer. Try his short stories?

  61. well, in the dostoevsky novels someone at the end always gets the “brain fever.” but that apparently can go away, unlike a gunshot wound to the head,

  62. @ Dan from Russia – I would be depressed if I ever went to Russia and discovered that it WASN’T a nation of citizens wearing caps with ear flaps! I mean, what’s a Russia without ear flaps???

  63. I’ve remembered one more quote.
    Chekhov speaking to Maxim Gorky about critics: “I’ve been reading my critics for 25 years, and I can’t remember any valuable direction or a good advice. Only once Skabichevsky impressed me: he wrote, that I would die disguised with liquor in the gutter”.

  64. Нихуя тебе не понять загадочной русской души Стефан! мы просто очень эмоциональные и делаем лучшее стрелковое оружие в мире! Грех не пользоваться своими сильными сторонами!

  65. Shit. I was going to blow my brains out. =\ Seems like I’m not that original after all.
    Damn Russian traditions…

  66. Wow, how many commentators without sence of humour.
    Stephan, my congratulations, a good one trolling session )

    BTW, Chekhov’s plays are boring and depressive, as the most part of Russian “classical” literature. And yap, I’m Russian.

  67. I think everyone is missing the point….
    Stephan read A PLAY (who does that these days)and not just one… he read two.

  68. Well, Chekhov actually wrote LOTs of novels and plays.
    As for me, I’m not a kind of his fans, but I promise you that not all of his stories ends so boooooooring. You can try “Three sisters” or “The Cherry Yard”, and he also wrote lots of small funny stories (in the first period of his career) about which he used to say: “A story should be as funny as a devil!”

    So… In fact… don’t be so supersticious ;).

  69. Well, you see, to live next to Europe and US is not such a big joy at all. Any Russian knows that if he will not shot himself some German will come, or British, or American and kill him. This is called european humanism. We call this permanent Mongol invasion.

  70. BTW, Stephan, you know, I am afraid you will have no possibility to shoot youself ina head or somewhere else. Did you ever see any modern American movie with Russians? Remember these guys? Ok, you’ve just pissed off a lot of them.

  71. Woooow… So THAT’S why they call it “Chekov’s Gun” (a literary device seen in act one and used in act three)! Very funny stuff. Love your work, love the edge, always stay the same, man!

  72. This is what we train! And now we, Russian, come, and kill you all! ХАХАХА /Дьявольский смех/

  73. Yeah, I guess Faulkner and Steinbeck give us an idea why Americans are so fat.
    I’d say something nasty about Greek literature too, but since there hasn’t been any for the last 2000 years, I’ll let that slide.

    (As an aside, Three Sisters > anything by Shakespeare).

  74. I’m not sure how the great Stephan Pastis, who wants nothing more than to kill all his characters in gruesome ways (e.g. eating a fire ant mound) can find it in himself to criticize someone who wants nothing more than to kill all his characters in gruesome ways (e.g. shooting oneself in the head). I thought you’d consider him the greatest playwright in history.

  75. Try to read his short stories. I recommend “Chameleon”. You’ll see that you have very similar sense of humor. And it is very short. 🙂

  76. Sometimes the characters in Russian plays/novels live on in a terrible miasma of suffering, misery drudgery, and constantly suffering regrets of an eternally tortured soul. (they probably wish they could shoot themselves in the head).

    I wish I could remember the name of the Soviet film I saw – at the end the entire family is hung (including a kid), and the dog gets shot in the head. You’d probably enjoy that one.

  77. I quoted Chekhov in a law school admissions essay. I am now a lawyer. I am not sure whether to thank or kick Chekhov.

    It is ironic that the “dark comic” does not like Chekhov or Russian literature. Perhaps it exposes his own soul …. My very negative and short-sighted (ex) husband read “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” shortly before we were married. He complained bitterly (and for a very long time) about this story and especially about the part where a character talked about “flies on a wedding cake.” He couldn’t believe the negativity and short-sightedness of the character. I think Russian literature hits too close to home for some.

  78. Stephen, I do think you were fully aware of how many Russian fans you have when you wrote that?)) (If not, I can hint that there are thousands, judging by the livejournal communities).
    Am surprised at how people in my own country lack sense of humor. You write about everything in the same, um, pleasant manner, and, of course, it’s only offensive to them when it comes to Chekhov.
    On the other hand, I’m also surprised at how many Russians are ready to defend their culture, in spite of the terrible way we are taught literature at school. Yay, I guess.

  79. My university major was Russian.I also read all the literature I could,saw movies, etc., etc…I have to say: You hit the nail on the head, that pretty much sums it all up! LOL…For THIS my parents paid BIG MONEY??? I could have been a cartoonist instead of getting a BA in Russian! Thanks Stephan!! 🙂

  80. My understanding is that Chekov was writing comedies. We just don’t get them because we are not Russian.

  81. Chekhov’s main point in his writing was to show people how miserable their lives could be. He felt that if people realized how terrible things were for them, they would make an effort to change things. I have not read many of Chekhov’s works, but have recently read “The Bear: A Joke in One Act” which, in fact, made me literally laugh out loud. And no, I’m not Russian. It is actually funny, in a boisterous, loud and abrupt sort of way. I’m fairly certain you would enjoy it as well. 🙂

  82. take it as if you met Russian already – and some of them are also fans of your comic books.
    try his short stories/novels – those are funny. and (almost) nobody shoots himself in a head there.

  83. It’s so funny how people whose reading experience is limited to comics and harry potter seriously discuss Chekhov, of whom they know a single random (and uncharacteristic) fact from a blog.

    And even more funny it is to see such a post on PBS author’s blog.

  84. Oh, the Russian drink a lot because the country is terrible. I myself live in Russia and see for yourself.
    (Sorry, I do not know much English)

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