watzmann logo

Previous Contents Next

26. Humor

It is a little known fact that humor doesn't translate into German. No I am not talking about translating your favorite Monty Python skit into German. I am talking about the word itself. Yep, German has no word for humor. Which makes life for German would-be humorists quite arduous.

Lately, they have banded together and launched a website to celebrate their favorite food: das Butterbrot. Stefan Raab, perennially trying to be funny, sung a song about a chain-link fence (Maschendrahtzaun) and its travails with its owner, Regina Zindler, and her neighbor. The whole affair has been amusing Germans ever since the fall of '99. Now it even has its own website. Not really funny ...

Jokes aside, there is some humor to be found in Germany, some of it is seriously funny. Watch me as I give a taxonomy of German funny men in the following sections.

26.1 Funny men of literature

The godfather of German literature himself, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, was known to crack jokes every so often. Anybody who has read Faust can attest to that. In a weak hour, he wrote a little known play called Hanswurst's Hochzeit which, with such illustrious characters as Ursel mit dem kalten Loch (Ursula with the cold hole), has all the thigh-slapping jokes one could ever wish for.

Germany has also produced quite a few satirists, the most famous of them is certainly Heinrich Heine. Others are Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, famous for his acerbic aphorisms, and Jean Paul.

There are also quite a few satiric journalists, amongst them Kurt Tucholsky (have a look at An das Baby) and Karl Kraus.

Wilhelm Busch is famous for his funny and satirical poems, which he also illustrated himself. Max und Moritz is by now a classic children's book. Christian Morgenstern wrote poems ( Fisches Nachtgesang) that are funny and bizarre at the same time, predating Dada by several decades.

26.2 Plain old funny guys

The classical pranksters from the twenties are Karl Valentin and Liesl Karlstadt. Among Valentin's antics was a pun to protest the hyperinflation of the twenties: he wallpapered a parkbench with million and billion Mark notes and called it the Reichsbank. (I guess that one doesn't translate very well).

Heinz Erhard was everybody's favorite in the sixties and seventies, when he displayed his very fifties sense of jovial, grandfatherly humor in film after film. One of the gems from these films is this poem, which he recites to a completely (and understandably) flabbergasted policemen:

Die alten Zähne waren schlect,
man begann sie 'rauszureißen.
Die neuen kamen grade recht,
um damit ins Gras zu beißen.

Another classic is Loriot who is a bit of a German version of Peter Sellers in his life skits. Apart from those, he has also worked as a cartoonist, written poems and directed some comedy movies (Oedipussy).

Traditionally, most German humorists were Kabarettisten or political satirists. If you live in the US, watch Mark Russell on PBS to get an idea. Some famous ones are Dieter Hildebrandt, Gerhard Polt and Hanns Dieter Hüsch

26.3 Younger guns

In the eighties, the man was Otto Waalkes. Ask anybody who grew up in Germany in the eighties.

In the nineties, people like Hape Kerkeling, Jürgen von der Lippe or Tom Gerhard tried (and often succeeded) to be funny with plain stupid antics. A classic is Hape Kerkeling's dressing up, quite badly, in drag as Queen Beatrix of Holland on the occasion of her state visit and trying to get into the official state dinner as the queen herself.

The TV station RTL started a German copy of Saturday Night Live in the early nineties which launched the career of quite a few younger German comedians like Wigald Boning or Mirko Nontscheff.

Slowly, Germany's changing demographics are having an effect on the comedy scene and there are several emerging comedians of Turkish origin, one of them is Django Asül, who quite convincingly talks about growing up as a foreigner in small town Bavaria and the battles with small minds that entails.

Previous Contents Next

o Last modified: 2001-09-03 Page created: 1999-02-06 Send comments about this page to