Not a laughing matter?

Written by Philipp Schiwek and last edited by Garry on


Many foreigners wonder if Germans have any sense of humour. Especially since the country of poets and thinkers (Dichter und Denker) as they are known, with a mix of Bavarian down-to-earthiness and Prussian obedience, heaps of regulations, interdictions and pessimism never became famous for their wit. But despite all, sensitive humour with deeper meaning has a long tradition in Germany.

Caricaturists like Wilhelm Busch or Erich Ohser created immortal cartoons for children of all ages. Some older generations are often pleased by jokes about the German petty bourgeoisie with the comedian Loriot a classic is this genre. Meanwhile, modern day commercial comedy entertainment on television is primarily based on cheap jokes, just like in almost all countries.

German humour can be particularly described as reserved and doffing. German sentence construction, and its fewer double-meanings mean that German humour has to rely more on humorous ideas than playing on words. Furthermore, language rejuvenation, modernisation and easy adaption is not so widespread as in English.

Famous topics have been blondes, lavatories, East Frisians and the GDR, West Germany’s neighbour in former times. In the past fifty years dozens of German comedians have appeared and disappeared on German TV, but some achieved the dubious honour of remaining firmly in the collective memory. For example Heinz Erhardt was a post-war comedian who became very popular with his audience because of his shy behaviour and cheeky statements. His success lasted several decades. Another famous representative of German humour is Otto Waalkes who was born in East Frisia and used the image of the goofy local idiot to make silly doffing popular. The Otto movies from the 1980s are unforgotten.

Modern comedy shows are based on a mixture of parodies as well as new and revived jokes. They are often not so hard to understand for foreigners with fair German skills. But acquiring access to another country’s humour not only depends upon language skills but also a cultural understanding that includes the aspect of self-comprehension.

German humour is strong, unique and mostly of the thigh-slapping kind. And yes, Germans love to laugh.