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!"Okay, Joke #1... Contrary to some opinions, Germans have a sense of humor. 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 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) humor 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 habit (more or less unique to Britain, although the Irish, Australians, and New Zealanders have picked it up in whole or in part) of using humour as a "default mode" for dealing with the world in general. Part of the reason for the image of Germans as humorless 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 humor:
- East Germany jokes, for example (From The Other Wiki):
Q: Why do they make the toilet paper so hard in the GDR?A: Because the Party wants to make every asshole Red.
- How can you use a banana as a compass? Place a banana on The Berlin Wall. East is where a bite has been taken out of it.
- Yeah, bananas were scarce. Another one: A young West German boy taunts an East German boy by shouting over the wall: "Hey! We have bananas!" East German boy: "So? We have socialism." West German boy: "So? We'll have that too, soon." East German boy, triumphant: "See, then you won't have any bananas anymore either!"
- (To fully understand what's the deal about the Trabant, see The Alleged Car.)
- How do you double the value of a Trabant? Fill up the tank! And how do you triple it? Buy a fuel cap! (The Czechoslovak Skoda cars were subject to similar jokes, but unlike Trabant, Skoda didn't fold and now makes decent cars—as a subsidiary of the formerly West German Volkswagen)
- And how do you quintuple its value? Place a banana on the back seat.
- What did East Germany do with all its surplus Trabants after the Wall fell? They became East German toilet paper! (Trabants had a lot of cheap material in their bodies, including, sometimes, a material known as duroplast made up of papers and plastics, usually incorrectly reported as cardboard.)
- There was also an untranslatable one based on the German word for "dual-circuit brakes" containing the word for "county" (Kreis, literally "circle", also meaning "circuit"); "Have you heard that the new Trabants have dual-circuit brakes (Zweikreisbremse)?" "That's a big improvement! The old ones took three or four counties (Kreise) to stop!"
- "Trabant 601? What does 601 stand for?" "600 people ordered, one has gotten delivery". (Or for the 1990 model, "600 cars on the lot and one customer").
- How many workers does it take to assemble a Trabant? Two. One folds, one glues.
- Why is the Trabant the quietest car in the world? Because it's so small you have to squeeze your knees on your ears while driving.
- An Arab Oil Sheikh hears that there's a German car you have to wait twelve years for. (Yes, it's the very Trabant, and yes, people really had to wait years to get one.) He thinks that it must be a very great car and orders one. The East Germans think that it can't hurt to be friendly to a rich sheikh and send him one Trabant immediately. Soon after, the sheikh tells a friend: "These Germans were very nice - they sent me a cardboard model of the car, and guess what? You can even drive it!"
- Why were there no bank robberies in East Germany? Because the robbers would have had to wait for a getaway car for twelve years.
- What's the difference between a Trabant and a coffin? You order the coffin after the death of a person and the Trabant after their birth.
- In The Berlin Republic. A professor from western Germany is teaching at a university in eastern Germany. Outside, it starts raining, and some students want to go out. Professor: "You don't have to be afraid for your cars, they won't swim away - cardboard doesn't float!" (This actually happened.)
- Also a Real Life example: The Trabi for once had the last laugh, when a couple of German motoring journalists took it through the notorious 'moose test' - where a car is swerved very sharply to avoid an obstacle - and passed with flying colours. Even funnier still? The 1997 Mercedes A-Class, with among the world's best engineering - didn't.
- Policeman: "Aren't you the guy who stole a Trabbi this morning?" Guy: "Of course not! If you don't believe me, frisk me!"
- A man goes to his local Trabant dealer to order the car he's been saving up for for years. When informed that there's a 12-year waiting period, he asks "Exactly 12 years?" "Sure," says the dealer. "So I'll get the car exactly on the 12th April 1997?" "I guess." "In the morning or in the afternoon?" The dealer finally looks up and asks "Why would that matter?" "Well, the plumber is coming at 10..."
- On the subject of paper products an Incredibly Lame Pun that even works in English:
- The teacher asks: "Fritzchen, why are you always speaking of our Soviet brothers? It's 'Soviet friends'." Fritz responds: "Well, you can pick your friends."
- After the Berlin Wall fell, many ex-Stasi agents became taxi drivers. Hence, "Just tell the cab driver your name, he already knows your address".
- How do you know the Stasi has bugged your apartment? You have a new closet.
- "Before the Berlin Wall, we were on the edge of disasterlit. . Today, we have taken a huge step forward."
- How can you use a banana as a compass? Place a banana on The Berlin Wall. East is where a bite has been taken out of it.
- While the Trabant joke wave was still rolling in The '80s 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? So 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? Elbow-height bloodstain-lines.
- 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. ("Splortsch" is just 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 from 1944: How do you tell an Optimist German from a Pessimist German? The Optimist studies English, while the Pessimist studies Russian (this joke was originally from WWI).* Did you hear? Berlin is now the city of warehouses! "Where is my house? Where is my house?!" noteThe Führer is on vacation in the countryside, and as they pass a farm his driver manages to run over a chicken. Hitler himself enters the farmhouse to apologise, and leaves with a black eye, understandably furious. The next time they pass by a farm, they run over a pig, and Hitler tells his driver to go in his stead. He returns, carrying a large basket full of bread, meat and other produce, and no sign of lacerations. The Führer asks him, "How did you do that? What did you tell that farmer?" His driver responds, "Well, I knocked at the door, went inside, took off my cap and said, 'Heil Hitler! The pig is dead!'""Have you heard? The Reichstag is on fire!" "Shhh! Not 'til tomorrow!" It was widely believed in Germany at the time that the Nazis started the fire themselves. noteHitler and Goering are standing on a high balcony. Below them is a great crowd. Goering whines, "They're so dour. Can't we cheer them up a bit?" The Führer looks him up and down. "Well," he says, "you could jump.""When the war's over, I think I'll take a walking tour around the borders of the Greater German Empire." "Oh, that's nice. And what will you do in the afternoon?"
- A Frenchman, German man and Dutchman are sitting in a train with an English woman. The train goes into a tunnel and the carriage goes dark there is the sound of a loud slap. When the train emerges from the tunnel the Dutchman is holding his hand to his reddened face. The Dutchman thinks "the Frenchman must have touched the woman, she thought it was me and slapped me." The Frenchman thinks "the Dutchman must have tried to touch that woman and got slapped for it." The German thinks "I can't wait for another tunnel so I can slap that Dutchman again."
Famous humorist writers from Germany
- 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
Famous German comedians
- Frank Wedekind, a member of the pre-World War One cabaret troupe Die elf Scharfrichter ("the eleven executioners"), but better remembered for his serious work, Lulu and Spring's Awakening, as usual.
- Karl Valentin
- Heinz Erhardt - also famous for the word-play of his poems
- Otto (Waalkes), from East Frisia
- Helge Schneider - also a rather talented jazzman
- Willy Millowitsch (he appeared in National Lampoon's European Vacation, as the German relative) from Cologne (many German comedians speak some dialect and make very localized jokes - similar as in Britain).
- Dieter Hildebrandt, one of founders of the Munich cabaret Münchener Lach- und Schießgesellschaft in 1956, later the host of several hard-hitting satirical shows on television.
- Wolfgang Neuss, the enfant terrible of post-war German cabaret.
- Hanns Dieter Hüsch.
- Badesalz, a comedy duo from Hesse
- While not (yet) as legendary as the above mentioned, Mario Barth is the current (as of 04/2009) holder of the world record of the largest Live Comedy Show, filling the Olympia Stadium in Berlin with 70,000 people.
- Michael Mittermeier. Uses more sophisticated humour than the aforementioned Mario Barth who mainly aims for stereotypes.
- Michael 'Bully' Herbig. Comedian and director, probably the most successful German director of recent times - Der Schuh des Manitu (parody of the Karl May movies such as Winnetou which were extremely popular in the 60s and 70s) and Traumschiff Surprise (a very gay Star Trek parody) are his fault.
- Thomas Hermanns. Founder of the first German stand up comedy club. Has clubs in Hamburg and Berlin. Gets televised on TV too.
- Volker Pispers, incredibly funny with serious themes, like this, with subtitles. If you don't mind he gets very political, and by that, I mean "left".
- While he is more on the left side of the political spectrum, he certainly pokes fun at them too.
- Dieter "Didi" Hallervorden. Everyone knows some of his sketches and can cite lines, like "I want a big bottle of French fries!" Has a sketch show called Didis Comedy Show. Also did political cabaret and more serious stuff, but less people know this.
- Although hosts of their respective late night talk shows, rather than "pure" comedians, Harald Schmidt and Stefan Raab are also worth mentioning.
- When Letterman mentions "That guy from Germany, who does my show", he's referring to Schmidt, who created such an exact duplicate that not only the sets, but even the hosts look the same.
- Dieter Nuhr, who is said to prove that humor and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. His cabaret centers around human intelligence and brain (provided it exists and there is one to speak of), technical advancements, gender conflicts and perception of the world, religion, etc.
- Henning Wehn, a German comedian based in the UK (self-styled as the "German Comedy Ambassador in London"), most known for his appearances on shows such as The News Quiz, The Now Show and The Unbelievable Truth. His act is typically based upon English stereotypes of the Germans. Henning also has been known to turn the tables on England though, including referencing England's performance in the 2010 Soccer World Cup "Nobody mention the World Cup! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it!"
Henning Wehn: "As we say in Germany - Always end with a 'Heil!'"
- Henning also has made jokes about his own career. In a recount about his show "My Struggle", he delighted that the reaction of the English to it could keep him employed as a comedian for many years; Australian audiences didn't have the same reaction - socially, he thought that that was wonderful, but professionally he wished Australians could be a bit more bigoted.
- Hagen Rether, who accompanies his drily delivered, vicious satire on a grand piano.
- Marc-Uwe Kling, who tells stories about his room mate, a communist kangaroo (better than it sounds)
- The Turkish-descended German comedian Kaya Yanar focuses on multicultural humour.
- Another Turkish-descendant Serdar Somuncu, who pokes fun at the integration of migrants. He is so integrated that he has the "golden Edmund Stoiber with ribbon", is a self-proclaimed "Hate preacher" and runs out to the Autobahn at night with a ruler to find out if the stripes are all the same distance apart. His main acts include poking fun at Naziism, Nationalism, Germans, Migrants, and he famously read out of Mein Kampf and commented on what he read... humorously.
- A third well-known comedian of Turkish descent is Bülent Ceylan.
- Jan Böhmermann is a comedian and hosts the late night program Neo Magazin, which has both absurdist humor and at times hard hitting political satire. Some of his biggest coups include insinuating that he had faked a picture of Greek finance minister Varoufakis flipping the bird and presenting a short "poem" about Turkish leader Erdogan that created a diplomatic incident between Germany and Turkey.
- It's safe to say that about 80% of the celebrities in Germany are comedians.
Mit Verlaub, Herr Präsident, Sie sind ein Arschloch. ("With respect, Mr. President, you are an asshole.")
- The majority of the rest are Politicians, which are considered Acceptable Targets of satire. This is demonstrated to great effect in the annual Bavarian ritual of the "Nockherberg" - essentially a political satire featuring a monk, or recently Mother Bavaria, preaching at the occasion of opening the first barrel of strong beer in lent. It can get quite ugly, but being reprimanded or spoofed in the following "singspiel" (comedic musical) is considered an honor. Politicians are expected to be good sports, and quite a few genuinely are, thus inviting being mocked even more the following year.
- In the same vein, some politicians are considered to be comedians, at least in the eyes of the opposition.
- Chancellor Helmut Schmidt certainly was renowned for his acerbic wit, which gained him the nickname Schmidt Schnauze (Schmidt the Lip).
- Former Foreign Minister and leader of the Green Party Joschka Fischer was also a noted wit, particularly famous for two sayings at the beginning and end of his career:
- Near the beginning, he said this on the floor of the Bundestag:
- Near the end, when the 2005 election resulted in the possibility of a "Jamaica coalition" of the CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens, Fischer famously shot down the proposal by saying, ""Can you really see Angela Merkel and Edmund Stoiber sitting round the table in dreadlocks? This is more our style. It's impossible."
- Till Eulenspiegel was a legendary prankster from medieval Germany.
The all-important smallish Austrian subsection
(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. One of them is actually German, though most Germans don't know that.
- 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.
Germans Love David Hasselhoff or: foreign comics that are more well known in Germany
- While he is quite famous in his native England as well, Mr. Bean is still shown on German TV every once in a while. Yeah, we don't get it either
- Ephraim Kishon (born in Hungary, lived most of his live in Israel) was perhaps more successful in Germany than Israel
- Dinner for One, a sketch by Freddie Frinton performed in English is still an essential part of German New Year's celebrations (Sylvester). Nobody really knows why and few Brits have ever heard of either, though in recent years more and more British Newspapers have run stories on "that obscure German tradition" making it primarily known for its obscurity.