Bill BaileyOkay, Joke #1...
: There's a certain efficiency about it. [German accent] "He does something and falls over! It is very amusing! Before he was valking in the straight line, zen he walked into ze door! Zis is genius!"
Contrary to some opinion
, Germans have a sense of humour
. Well, considering that a person who lived in Chemnitz from 1900 to 2000 would have to go through the Kaiserreich
, two World Wars, Nazi Germany
, East Germany
(during which time his city would have to endure being called "Karl-Marx-Stadt" even though poor old Karl was born and raised in Trier—about as far from Chemnitz as you can get in Germany) and The Berlin Republic
, possession of one would become pretty much mandatory.
There also are strong cultural differences. Bavarian (and Austrian, if they can be counted here) humor is more down-to-earth and gritty, while the Western Germans seem to carry their Karneval/Fasching/Fastnacht (Mardi Gras/Carnival) lightheartedness in all their comedy. Since the major low-brow TV stations are based in that area, this translates into an almost unwatchable fare nationwide. Between these, the national character of German Humor
is darker than what many Americans are comfortable with
. However, it is seldom as dark as Russian Humor
, which can veer straight into Black Comedy
Britons may even be surprised to hear that German (especially Northern German) humour is actually very similar to their own - a bizarre combination of dry wit and slapstick. The "No Sense Of Humour
" stereotype appears to originate in a combination of the
Prussian reputation for efficiency
and a perceived lack of the (uniquely British) habit of using humour as a "default mode" for dealing with the world in general.
Part of the reason for the image of Germans as humourless is that there are comparatively few comedies in German dramatic writing, however this impression is in no small part due to the fact that German critics and literary scholars tend to put a bigger premium on "serious" writing, and thus only very few stage comedies are described as "classic". However, there are quite a few comedies written in dialect
, comic operas and operettas. Also, as Robert Gernhardt, a great writer of comic poems, has pointed out, Germany has a great tradition in the short form, with an unbroken line of highly original comic poets spanning back at least to the beginning of the 18th century, something no other national literature other than the British can boast of.
Germany has a strong tradition of satirical cabaret shows dating back to the 19th century, with some cabaretists becoming nationally famous. This satirical fixation somewhat mirrors a perceived whinyness in the German nature generally. However, the nature of the medium means it doesn't travel well.
Some examples of German humour:
- While the Trabant joke wave was still rolling in The Eighties and into the early Nineties, a humorous semi-a cappella song single-handedly spawned its successor, a long series of jokes about the Opel Manta, making it awkward practically over night to drive a Manta. The jokes aren't so much about the car itself as it's a decent sports coupé with no serious shortcomings. They rather focus on the clichés it is surrounded with; many of these are true, but here they are cranked Up to Eleven. The Mantas themselves are lowered and fit with supersized bodykits, rear wings, wide tires, a Kenwood sticker on the rear window, and the inevitable "fox tail" on the radio antenna (among many other modifications). The drivers are utterly dumb proletarians wearing tracksuit pants, cowboy boots, and mullets, who always have Dumb Blonde hairdressers as girlfriends. Almost all Manta drivers are from certain places in North Rhine-Westphalia, some are from the Ruhr area, but most are from Bergheim (Cologne is a city near Bergheim - yep, not the other way round). Last but not least, a Manta is always driven with one elbow out of the window.
- Those non-German tropers who are by any chance familiar with the New Kids franchise (either the series or the movies) will know exactly what the stereotype is. True, in the case of New Kids, the protagonists are Dutch, but it applies in almost the same fashion to the German Manta drivers in German jokes.
- Basically the same stereotype that attached to Chevy Camaros in America and Ford Capris in Britain at about the same time.
- The shortest Manta joke of all: A Manta is parked in front of a university (shortest in german: "Steht 'n Manta vor 'ner Uni").
- Why do so many Mantas have triangular gas pedals? Because cowboy boots aren't rectangular.
- What remains when a Manta burns down? A golden necklace and a crying hairdresser.
- Why are Manta drivers buried on Mondays only? Because that's the hairdressers' day off.
- Where do Mantas rust first? On the top edge of the driver's door due to armpit moisture.
- Why do some Mantas have eight additional headlights? That way they can be driven at night with sunglasses on.
- What's a Manta without a rear wing? Broken.
- How does a Manta driver make a family portrait? He puts everyone in the Manta and races through a speed trap.
- What does a Manta driver do at a gas station for four hours? He tries to quit smoking.
- What's the last thing that goes through a Manta drivers head, when crashing into a wall? The rear wing.
- What's a Manta Light? An Ascona B.
- How do you recognize the garage of a Manta driver? By the blood trails in elbow height.
- Why did Opel want to build a 40-cm-wide Manta? So the driver could stick out both elbows.
- Why didn't they build it? Because the Kenwood sticker didn't fit onto the rear window anymore.
- Saxon / Bavarian / Austrian / East Frisian / whatever stereotypes.
- Puns, including humorous 'kennings' (e.g. 'Groschengrab', 'dime grave' for parking meters).
- Various sentence structures kick verbs to the end of a clause or sentence. Thus, it is said that you need only listen for the last five minutes of a politician's speech, since that's when they'll tell you what they'll actually do.
- Schadenfreude, which is taking pleasure from another's misfortune.
- ...which goes so far that Germans have A-class jokes since it failed the moose test.
- One good example: On a small Allgäu farm, a kid runs home during a terrible rainstorm. His mother opens the door and then asks him where his dad has gone to. The son, who is totally soaked and cold, tries to explain:
"D-D-Daddy... h-he... oh g-g-god... o-o-on t-the field... r-rain..."
"For god's sake, spit it out, son! If you can't say it, then sing it!"
"(to the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb)'' ♪ Daddy got struck by a bolt, a lighting bolt, a lightning bolt... ♫"
- Black Comedy such as Nichtlustig ("not funny"). The english version can be found here.
- Jokes like this. It should be understandable even though it is not translated.
- There is nothing to translate. "Splortsch" is not even a real German word. It's something like onomatopoeia.
- Forklift Driver Klaus - The First Day on the Job, which is Bloody Hilarious.
- The German dub of Hogan's Heroes.
- Raumschiff GameStar.
- Phenomenons like Sinnlos Im Weltraum, Lord Of The Weed or Coldmirror's Harry Potter-Gag Dub.
- There were several extremely dark jokes during the Nazi era, which had about the same function as Soviet political anecdotes and were about as dangerous to tell. The jokes usually focused on the Gestapo, the SS or the "Führer" himself, and were definitely intended to be derisive (hence the covert nature). Later, during the war itself, the jokes got progressively darker and darker and were more related to the war itself, outright transforming into Gallows Humor at the very end.
A joke dating on 1944: How do you tell an Optimist German from a Pessimist German? The Optimist studies English, while the Pessimist studies Russian.
Did you hear? Berlin is now the city of warehouses! There were houses over there and there were houses over there!
- (This works much better in German, as "Warenhaus", the German word for warehouse, is a homophone to "war 'n Haus", the contraction of "War ein Haus", which means "[there] was a house". That's why, as seen above, in English the plural is a better/more homophonic translation.)
- It's even better translated as: "The land of Warehouses. As in, Where is my house? Where is my house?!"
Famous humorist writers from Germany:
- Another joke from that era: "Have you heard? The Reichstag is on fire!" "Psst. Not until tomorrow!" It was well known in Germany at the time that the Nazis started the fire themselves.
Famous German comedians:
The all-important smallish Austrian subsection
- Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, dramatist, critic and writer of humorist verse. When e. g. the German Literature department of Cambridge University talks of there being only three German classical comedies, Lessing's play Minna von Barnhelm is named first (the other two are Heinrich von Kleist's Der zerbrochne Krug and Gerhart Hauptmann's Der Bieberpelz).
- Johann Nepomuk Nestroy and Ferdinand Raimund, the two giants of Viennese stage comedy in the early 19th century (at the time Vienna belonged to the German Federation). One of Nestroy's plays, Einen Jux will er sich machen was adapted into English by Thornton Wilder as The Merchant of Yonkers and The Matchmaker (later turned into the musical Hello, Dolly!) and by Tom Stoppard as On the Razzle.
- Heinrich Heine, of Loreley fame (yes, he wasn't exclusively humorist / satirist)
- Wilhelm Busch (creator of Max and Moritz) and many other famous characters)
- Christian Morgenstern
- Joachim Ringelnatz
- Kurt Tucholsky (also a great satirist and novelist)
- Curt Goetz, known mainly for his light comedies, many of which were also turned into movies.
- Erich Kästner
- Ernst Jandl
- F. W. Bernstein
- Robert Gernhardt
- Walter Moers
(they love being counted as Germans every bit as much as Canadians enjoy being lumped in with Americans
- Christoph Grisseman and Dirk Sterman, hosts of the Austrian late-night show 'Willkommen Österreich' (Welcome Austria). As mentioned above, the show's humour is typically Austrian, which is quite dark, often dealing with deportation of immigrants or the antics of the far-right parties in Austria.
- Also: Alfred Dorfer, host of 'Dorfers Donnerstalk'. Quite similiar to the above mentioned show, though the humour is more of the random and satirical variety. A popular segment on the show are the comedy group maschek (másik in Hungarian, meaning 'from the other side') who dub television reports or similiar passages, giving them entirely new meanings. They also made three puppet theater shows, each making fun of the current Austrian chancellor or president.
- Not to mention that he created MA 2412, a hilarious show about Austrian bureaucracy.
- Josef Hader is commonly regarded as the most successful stand up comedian, having now a thriving career as an actor in Austrian movies (Indien, Komm, Süsser Tod, Der Aufschneider).
- EAV (Erste Allgemeine Verunsicherung - First Public/General Uncertainty/Un-Insurance) is a band with many satirical and humourous lyrics and themes.
- Michael Niavarani, who was voted "funniest Austrian of all times". Uses his partly Iranian ancestry and rich body hair, among other things.
- He does a couple of shows with Viktor Gernot, another famous comedian and a good friend of his.
- Vienna in general has a pretty active standup comedian ("Kabarettisten") scene, many of which have performed in movies or made movies of their own (Muttertag, Indien, Hinterholz 8, Komm, Süsser Tod)
- The Viennese' love for self-deprecation is also exemplified in the infamous and very typical TV series Mundl - Ein echter Wiener geht nicht unter und Kaisermühlen Blues.