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||This article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards. The specific problem is: This articles is more of an opinion stew than an encyclopedic entry and lacks history, current situation, foreign influences on German humour, better examples, expansion of some parts, shortening of other parts, more references and the removal of POV sections.. (October 2012)|
German humour refers collectively to the conventions of comedy and its cultural meaning within the country of Germany. Although comedy is a staple of German culture, with many Germans making light of situations in social conversation, and with a large amount of time allotted to comedy in German television broadcasting, it is a widespread stereotype outside the country that Germans have little understanding (or a distorted understanding) of humorous situations.
German distinguish between "Comedy" (using the English word) and "Komödie" (the German word of the same origin). "Comedy" refers to post-90s TV-comedy, which is characterized by comedic entertainment in the form of stand-up comedy, stage shows, modern satire, cabaret and adaptations of foreign comedy concepts, including airing of foreign shows. "Komödie" refers to films and plays.
German humour often follows many conventions which, due to similarities in cultural perception of events and day-to-day life (and other such universal themes which may be discussed through comedy), may be readily interpreted by natives of other countries.
Some German humorists such as Loriot use seriousness as means of humour. Another notable example of mock-serious humour with satirical content is Jakob Maria Mierscheid MdB, a virtual politician, and his eponymous Mierscheid Law. Begun as a hoax to falsify restaurant bills, Mierscheid has gathered sufficiently enduring pop culture recognition since the '70s to gain his own (tongue-in-cheek) entry on the official Bundestag Website. Similarly, the Stone louse (Petrophaga lorioti), a fictitious animal which was a part of a comic mocumentary video sketch, gained acknowledgement as a fictitious entry in the medical encyclopedic dictionary Pschyrembel Klinisches Wörterbuch.
However, current events situations, traditions, and cultural factors which are unique to the country may provide a barrier to the understanding of the meaning behind a joke or comedic reference to someone who is not aware of the events being referred to. This applies especially to the abundant use of local dialects and customs in Germany. In other cases the humour derives from mixing different styles of speech or opposing them to each other. For instance, the comedian Helge Schneider (DOB: Aug 30, 1955) is renowned for his absurdist and anarchical humour, yet due to the deep roots of his humour in the German language and its several stylistic levels, extensive parts of his material are lost when translated into English.
German-language humour is, for linguistic reasons, constructed differently from English-language humour (e.g., British humour and American humour). The construction of a sentence in German (due to the regular use of compound word constructions) means that German humour relies more on humorous ideas than on wordplay. German grammar is often (but not always) flexible in the sense that one can reorder a sentence without changing its meaning.
Nevertheless, in German there are a series of jokes based on a variety of meanings, while English uses several words.
- Example from East German political humour: "The train announcer at the main station was imprisoned!" – "Why?" – "He announced 'Please step back/abdicate!' as Erich Honecker's train was arriving!"; in German zurücktreten, bitte! can mean both please, step back! as well as please, abdicate!.
However, German wordplay can also be based on compound word constructions. German phonology has a high count of vowels and consonants which often offers the potential for puns due to subtle differences in pronunciation (for example; Leitkultur is mispronounced Leidkultur (sorrow culture) ). Not only does the German language allow one to easily create compound nouns and verbs, it also permits one to split them to reorder a sentence. Compounds often have another sense than singular words. This grammatical area of German wordplay does not have a direct English-language equivalent.
Hansgeorg Stengel, a German Kabarettist and writer, said: Germans are unable to speak the German language. Commonly or apparently incorrect usage of German grammar is another form of humour ironically called Stilblüten (bloomer). Edmund Stoiber once said Wir müssen den Kindern richtiges Deutsch lernen (literally We must learn the children correct German) leading to unintended humour because while he applied himself to correctness, he didn't speak the statement in the correct way (using "learn" instead of "teach"). Using "Lernen" with dative and accusative to mean teach is however a typical example of something Germans do say in day-to-day life. Stoiber said this publicly on the Bavarian cultural event Politscher Aschermittwoch, the "Political Ash Wednesday", where a more popular language is used, the Duden classifies this as "colloquial usage", but German teachers will normally count it as a mistake.
Types of Comedy 
Literature and television 
The oldest popular forms of German comedy were the Posse and the Schwank which could take the forms of stories, plays or improvisations. The German comedic play (Lustspiel) was refined and updated by playwright and critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing who, in Briefe, die neueste Literatur betreffend (1759) described the early 18th century comedies as relying heavily on dressed-up characters, magic tricks and fights. His comedy Minna von Barnhelm (1767) and Heinrich von Kleist's The Broken Jug (1811) joined especially various translations and adaptations of plays by early Greeks, Racine, Shakespeare, Molière, Calderon and others to form the basis of later developments.
The German Classical and Romantic periods saw a lot of humorous polemical, parodistic and satirical exchange between writers such as Goethe, Schiller, Ludwig Tieck, the Schlegel brothers, as well as many critics and philosophers both in the literary journals and in their own publications. Probably the most renowned ironic texts and poems in that era were written by Heinrich Heine, who developed a very distinct tongue-in-cheek style of writing, embracing Romantic ideals while mocking at the same time, often even within one poem. Up until today Heine remains to be titled one of the most insightful and witty among German writers.
One of the most important figures in the beginning of filmed comedy in Germany was stage comedian Karl Valentin who produced short films from 1912 to 1941. The works of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, among others, were shown in Germany and Austria until the Nazis prohibited the exhibition of American films in 1938. Most popular post-war comedians were/are also linked to movies and television, for example Heinz Erhardt, Loriot, Otto Waalkes, Karl Dall, Helge Schneider, Dieter Hallervorden, Gerhard Polt, Hape Kerkeling, Anke Engelke, Bastian Pastewka, Oliver Kalkofe and Michael Herbig, as well as Kabarettists like Dieter Hildebrandt and Mathias Richling. Modern comedy was and is influenced by films and TV shows from Great Britain and the United States, France and Italy.
Traditional joke themes and forms 
- Fritzchen (Little Fritz): A boy of 8–10, who traps adults (usually teachers, parents or policemen) in witty plays of question and answer, exposing their silly or bashful adult ways.
- Example: Fritzchen and his grandma walk along the pavement. Fritzchen finds a 10 Pfennig coin, but his grandma intervenes: "No, don't pick up anything lying on the ground!" Soon afterwards Fritzchen finds a 10 Mark note, but again his grandma says "No, don't pick up anything lying on the ground!" Soon there is a banana lying on the pavement, grandma steps on it and slips over. "Help me, Fritzchen!", she cries, but Fritzchen says: "No, don't pick up anything lying on the ground!"
- Jokes about other nationalities: Germans have their own set of stereotypes about other nations, that sometimes appear in jokes. For example, Scotsmen are portrayed as miserly, Swiss as physically slow, French as sophisticated lovers, Poles as notorious thieves, Dutch as either marijuana smokers or slow drivers on motorways (typically with a caravan attached to their car), Chinese employ caricatures of Confucian wisdom. An Austrian is usually merely an antagonist of a German character, and may be presented as superior, inferior, or an unacknowledged equal.
- Example: The United Nations initiated a poll with the request, "Please tell us your honest opinion about the lack of food in the rest of the world." The poll was a total failure. The Russians did not understand "Please". The Italians did not know the word "honest". The Chinese did not know what an "opinion" was. The Europeans did not know "lack", while the Africans did not know "food". Finally, the Americans didn't know anything about the "rest of the world".
- In some respect, the jokes try to be just as in Which nationality did Ötzi the Iceman have? It wasn't Italian, as he carried tools, it wasn't an Austrian, since he had brains, it might have been a Swiss, since he was overtaken by a glacier, but most probably a Northern German, since nobody else walks with sandals in the mountains
- East Frisians (Ostfriesen) (East Frisians are a people living in East Frisia, the north-western corner of Germany): This national minority is portrayed as absurdly stupid or naive. Jokes are often in the form of question and answer, both given by the joke-teller.
- Example: How many Frisians does it take to screw in a light bulb? Five! One to hold the bulb and four to turn the table he's standing on.
- Example: What would you do in case of the Great Flood? Go to East Frisia, because there everything happens fifty years later.
- Beamte: German state officials (Beamte). Within jokes, they are considered slow and lazy, doing a nearly useless job in the bureaucracy.
- Example: Three in a room and one is working, what's that? – Two officials and a fan.
- Example: Three boys argue whose father is the fastest. The first one says: "My father is a race driver, he is the fastest." The second one contradicts: "No, my father is a Luftwaffe pilot, surely the fastest one." "That's nothing.", says the third one. "My father is a Beamter, he is so fast that when work ends at 5 PM, he's already home at 1 PM."
- Mantawitz (Manta joke): The male counterpart to the blonde is the Mantafahrer, the male driver of an Opel Manta, who is dull, lower class, macho, infatuated with his car and his blonde hairdresser girl friend, and often exceedingly proud and possessive about things that most people would consider embarrassing. Popular in the 1990s, also the popularity of such jokes spawned two successful movies (Manta – Der Film and Manta, Manta, the latter starring Til Schweiger as the Mantafahrer).
- Example: What does a Manta driver say to a tree after a crash? – "Why didn't you get out of my way, I used the horn!"
- Antiwitz (anti-joke): A short, often absurd scene, which has the recognizable structure of a joke, but is illogical or lacking a punch-line.
- Example: Two thick feet are crossing the street. Says one thick foot to the other thick foot: "Hello!"
- Other examples: "Nachts ist es kälter als draußen" (At night it's colder than outside) or "Zu Fuß ist es kürzer als über'n Berg" ("Walking is faster than over the mountain").
- Kalauer: Short, often deliberately clumsy puns and plays on words.
- Examples: See "Kalauer" in the German-language Wikipedia
- Bauernregel (Farmers' rule): Told in the traditional rhyme scheme of weather lore. There are two variants: one is really about weather, but the rule is absurd or tautologous; the other can be about any other topic, makes some sense, often with sexual connotations, and may feature word play or some real, hidden or twisted wisdom.
- Examples of the first variant: Wenn der Hahn kräht auf dem Mist, dann ändert sich das Wetter, oder es bleibt wie es ist. (When the rooster crows on the dungheap, then the weather will change, or stay as it is)
- Wenn noch im November steht das Korn, dann isses wohl vergesse worn (If in November there is still much crop in the field, then the farmer must have forgotten about it).
- Ists an Silvester hell und klar, dann ist am nächsten Tag Neujahr (If Saint Sylvester's light and clear, the next day'll surely be New Year).
- Liegt der Bauer tot im Zimmer, lebt er nimmer (If a farmer lies dead in a room, he doesn't live no more).
Political satire in magazines 
Germany has a longstanding satirical tradition. From 1896 to 1944, the weekly magazine 'Simplicissimus' made fun of politics and society (however, during the Gleichschaltung in Nazi Germany it was turned into a propaganda paper). Starting in the 1960s, the magazine 'Pardon' continued the satirical tradition in West Germany. Later on, the magazine 'Titanic' followed. In Socialist East Germany the satirical magazine 'Eulenspiegel' was founded which in strict limits was allowed to make fun of grievances within the GDR. 'Eulenspiegel' and 'Titanic' still exist in today's Federal Republic of Germany. Titanic's satire without boundaries (which is often directed against politicians and public figures) has been the subject of numerous legal cases within Germany. However, German law is very liberal when it comes to satirical freedom. Titanic's practical jokes have also drawn some international attention: In 2000, a Titanic prank led to the award of the FIFA World Cup 2006 to Germany. In 2007, a spoof ad in the Titanic, making fun of the media phenomenon around the missing girl Madeleine McCann, was condemned as tasteless and caused outrage in the UK. Political Satire is also a popular theme for TV shows, 'Scheibenwischer' (now called 'Satiregipfel') being one example.
Political Kabarett 
Another tradition in Germany is political Kabarett, which is often seen as a special form of cabarett[clarification needed]. Kabarett is dedicated almost completely to serious topics. Social critical Kabarett is often in an ambivalence between dolorousness and happiness while humour is some kind of key for controversial and critical messages. Its focus spreads from general political to very personal questions highlighting the individual being in social context and responsibility. Themes of modern Kabarett is social progress in the Berlin Republic as there are migration, education, reforms of the social systems, mission of the Bundeswehr, development of the economy, ethics in politics and society and German reflexivity.
Especially in former East Germany (where Kabarett stages were allowed in the larger cities) political Kabarett had some importance in opinion formation although it had to be very careful and had to create some kind of ambiguous and ironic humour with hidden messages due to censorship. East German Kabarett was tolerated to have a controlled valve for political topics. Kabarett in West Germany worked with taboos on political themes and broke with common opinions. An episode of Scheibenwischer was censored in bavarian television in 1986 while being broadcasted in ARD.
Famous Kabarett stages in Germany include:
- Die Distel (literally: The Thistle) in Berlin
- Münchner Lach- und Schießgesellschaft (literally: Munich Laugh and Shoot company referring to Wach- und Schließgesellschaft, a security company)
- Leipziger Pfeffermühle (literally: Leipzig pepper mill)
- Herkuleskeule (literally: Herkules' bat) in Dresden
- Kom(m)ödchen in Düsseldorf
Some Kabarett artists in Germany:
Third Reich and Neo Nazi References 
The Third Reich, the Nazis, Adolf Hitler and the Neo Nazi scene are often parodied in German humour. Examples are Obersalzberg, a television sketch show, which parodies The Office and Adolf Hitler, portraying Hitler and the Nazis as incompetent, lazy and confused bureaucrats. Front Deutscher Äpfel is a satirical movement to criticise the Neo Nazi scene in Germany. Harald Schmidt, referring to and criticizing the importance of political correctness in Germany, suggested a Nazometer, a mock measurement device (and causing a minor scandal). The device allegedly will give alarms even for minor Nazi-specific formulations and politically incorrect wording.
The German traditional carnival includes many humorous and traditional elements. The two major carnival events in Germany are the Mainzer Fastnacht and the Kölner Karneval, although both cities are in the Rhineland region, the tradition is practiced all over Germany. It varies with local traditions, but has two main elements:
Büttenrede: Gatherings of (often times) thousands of people inside of halls, involving humouros readings, music, dancing and drinking. A common theme are puns, satire and roastings of celebrities. These events from the Mainzer Fastnacht and Kölner Karneval are televised across Germany on a major, public television network.
Umzüge: Parades in which clubs (musical, sports, etc.), political parties and organizations are walking through a given route. The groups dress in traditional clothings or uniforms and/or ride carnival floats, often featuring political or humorous messages.
Especially the televised comedic speeches, are cricised by some, especially the younger generation, for being outdated and dull. This cultural gap between generations can be partly explained by the "tradition of tradition", referencing and mocking parts of the tradition itself to create humour. Thus the humour is difficult to understand for outstanders, who grew up with foreign culture and humour, which is the bigger part of comedy and sitcoms, which are broadcasted in Germany.
Humorous dubbing 
One distinct phenomenon of German humour since the emergence of television and the internet is that of dubbing or redubbing foreign language television series and movies and bringing them into a completely new humorous context or one more humorous than the original. This originates in the tradition of Schnodderdeutsch or Schnoddersynchron, a form of dubbing that was invented in the 1960s by voice actor Rainer Brandt. Since American TV series and movies are highly popular in Germany and almost always receive a dubbing into German, voice actors sooner or later encounter jokes, wordplays and irony getting lost in translation. Brandt, though, began to not literally translate slang phrases in American movies into German but rather came up with phrases that were funny only in a German language context, thereby altering what was actually being said in the English version to a great extent. Thus, when the German language did not offer a way to translate literal meaning and the humour hidden in it at the same time, choices were made to invent new jokes and contexts to maintain the humour rather than the context. As time went on, this style became more and more independent and daring, culminating in the German version of the TV series The Persuaders! being a success in Germany while the English language version was a flop in the United States. This was due to the vast changes that the program underwent during the German dubbing process, that under Brandt's supervision transformed the show into a much more comedy-oriented spy persiflage contrasting the more subdued, mild humour of the English language original. A quite astounding, exemplar Schnoddersynchron has been performed with Monty Python's Die Ritter der Kokosnuss (that is, Monty Python and the Holy Grail) where the initial dialogue contains phrases such as: "Heda! Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind" (Hey yo! who rides there so late through the night dark and dreary?, a parody of a poem by Goethe with music by Schubert, the Erlkönig) or "Ich habe den Sachsen das Angeln beigebracht, seitdem heißen sie Angelsachsen" (I taught the Saxons how to fish/angle, and they're called Anglo-Saxons ever since) etc. which have no basis whatsoever in the original.
Yet, Schnoddersynchron has become rare nowadays with primarily comedic programs employing it for practical reasons, like the German dub of Mystery Science Theater 3000's feature film, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. Because the German dubbing of This Island Earth, the movie spoofed by this film, already varied greatly from the English original, a huge portion of the original jokes commenting on the film became obsolete. To deal with this matter, a group of German comedians (Oliver Kalkofe, Oliver Welke, among others) were assigned to create a dub that better addressed the German version of the spoofed film. This version, therefore, was actually meant to differ in parts from the original text and in consequence was also given the freedom of making heavy use of references to German culture, like Servo finding an issue of German children's magazine Yps in his room and the group alluding to the music of German organist Franz Lambert during the opening credits. On other occasions, though, puns addressing the films visuals or meant for moments in which the English and German text of the original movie actually coincide were translated literally most of the time, as far as the humour could be transported.
Apart from comedic films and programs, German internet culture has developed the tradition further into so-called Fandubs. A more recent popular example of these fan-made dubs is the viral internet video Lord of the Weed, a redub of the first hour of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, interpreting the pipe smoking Hobbits as drug addicts who go on a journey to find a ring that can produce endless amounts of cannabis. Before Lord of the Weed, Sinnlos im Weltraum mocked Star Trek - The Next Generation in a similar way. The use of local dialects and customs can also be observed here. Occasionally even original German programs are being redubbed and brought into humorous context, like a TV commercial accompanying the advertising campaign Du bist Deutschland. A later foray of German television into humorous dubbing was the Harald Schmidt Show mocking scenes from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves that made Robin Hood seem rather ignoble, him suggesting in front of his bewildered fellows to stop robbing and raping strong people and rather stick to the weak, sick and disabled, who are easier to assault as they can hardly defend themselves.
Foreign perception 
Barrier of Language 
In a popular, but criticized article from 2006, English comedian Stewart Lee uttered the theory that misconceptions about German humour among English speakers might derive from the different working principles that English and German, two otherwise closely related languages, have. In German new entities are named by creating compounds, sometimes resulting in long, quite specific words. Some English-language jokes, according to Lee, do not translate well because German grammar is different from English and there are not always direct translations for a delayed punchline, one of the most common joke formats for English speakers and such language based humour. Though it is oftentimes possible to translate directly, it is often perceived as unusual or rather artificial and many puns are lost in translation.
Yet, there has been harsh criticism on Lee's views on the issue, especially from the academic side. Linguist Mark Liberman states that in trying to eliminate stereotypes about German humour, Lee himself falls victim to "ethnic prejudice and [...] incoherent linguistic analyses" by basing his "opinions on unsupported and unexamined national stereotypes". In addition to that, Liberman finds many possibilities for a "pull back and reveal" joke structure in German language.
Barrier of Culture 
In some cases a localization of humour must involve the culture itself. Many localizations involve a change to German traditions, phrases, political parties or celebrities. As an example "root beer" (as a product), which is often featured in Monkey Island is not well known in Germany and had to be translated as "Malzbier" (malt beer) to carry the pun. Illuminati: New World Order, a card game which features many American celebrities, was changed heavily, due to the difference of widely known celebrities in Germany.
British Stereotyping 
The Germans have a reputation in Britain for having no sense of humour at all (although it is not the only country where this stereotype is prevalent). In May 2007, for example, Spiegel magazine commented that the British now had an image of the typical German as "der gnadenlos effiziente, aber humorlose Ingenieur" ("the mercilessly efficient but humourless engineer").
See also 
- German culture
- East German jokes
- German television comedy
- Cologne Comedy Festival
- List of German language comedians
- British humour
- American humor
- Comedy Central – Home
- Sat.1 Comedy & Show
- ProSieben.de Show & Comedy – Alles zu TV total, Stromberg, Kalkofe, Elton, Sonya Kraus und mehr!
- BBC SPORT | World Cup 2006 Blog | German comedy ha ha?
- 15. November 2007, STREIT UM SCHMIDT & POCHER Rettet das Nazometer! Henryk M. Broder, in Der Spiegel ("Conflict about Schmidt & Pocher: Save the Nazometer").
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aedC35whFCY Fandub mocking the advertising campaign Du bist Deutschland
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IDwRAscGvI&feature=related German redub by the Harald Schmidt Show making fun of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- Lee, Stewart, Lost in translation", World news, The Guardian
- Liberman, Mark, Thriving on confusion in the Guardian
- "Germany officially the world's least funny country". Telegraph. 7 June 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
- Allo Allo dubbed into German 1 (April 2008)
- Allo Allo dubbed into German 2 (April 2008)
- Stewart Lee, The Guardian, 23 May 2006, "Lost in translation" and a comment on this article in the Language Log
- Chicago based researcher Josh Schonwald on German Humour
- "It's almost Comedy Central: German humor has ties to the past..." By Paulette Tobin, published in the Grand Forks Herald, August 22, 1999, page E1