It’s the way you tell them / Die Guardian zu deutschem Humor

‘Comedian Stewart Lee’ writes in the Guardian on German humour. This analysis arises from a trip to Germany with Richard Thomas, who wrote Jerry Springer the Opera, who was commissioned to write a musical of that type set in a British stand-up comedy club which then had to be translated into German. (Why am I laughing already?)

Lee says that Germans do have humour, but it is hard for us to recognize, and vice versa. He claims that English humour is facilitated by the English language. Putting verbs at the end of the sentence and using a lot of compound words kill humour, he says (apparently seriously). He now concentrates on the humour of ideas:

On my first night in Hannover I had gone out drinking with some young German actors. “You will notice there are no old buildings in Hannover,” one of them said. “That is because you bombed them all.” At the time I found this shocking and embarrassing. Now it seems like the funniest thing you could possibly say to a nervous English visitor.

At all events, Germans are invited to submit their own jokes in English, to show there is German humour. The four quoted have failed to do this. (Thanks to Trevor for the link).

18 thoughts on “It’s the way you tell them / Die Guardian zu deutschem Humor

  1. I did laugh at the last one (when does life begin). I think it’s not a German/English thing, but rather something you can find funny if (and perhaps only if) you have children and a wayward dog.

  2. I think the drunk animals in the forest joke would have ended better if said with fewer words. “What has this to do with fish?” Same with the minister, priest and rabbi joke (which is a genre very popular here in the states). Here the joke ends, “life begins when the kids are gone and the dog is dead.” That sounds to me like a difference between German and English humor. For English (American and Brit) the ending is most effective when it is blunt. Not sure about that though.

  3. That is very historical of you, Aidan, to go to Grimms. I think you’re right about Kasel, although I must admit I’ve never heard the term used – what I’ve heard is Messgewand – but chasuble isn’t too common either (there is a character in Oscar Wilde, probably in The Importance of Being Earnest, with that name).
    Not sure if the fashion catalogue’s ideas about pronunciation are to be believed, but it’s definitely used in French too.

  4. I see this was taken up by Mark Liberman at Language Log, mainly on the subject of the remarks about language.

    I agree these jokes could work in English, depending on how they were told.

    Jim: I think that’s right, but I know some English speakers who tell jokes in a far too long-winded way.

    There are just too many variables to pass judgment on or even describe German or British or American humour, I think.

  5. I hadn’t seen it before either, but I thought I’d better leave it in. There’s a fuller version going around (‘Das Original von “Deutschland sucht den Superstar”‘) – also not quite true, as the U.S. version was the original, but maybe the sub-editor cut the text. And maybe ‘eine sichere Bank’ was in the original too.

  6. I see the original was ‘”Friends” is a safe bet’. So it doesn’t look as if ‘sichere Bank’ is a good translation – more as if an interpreter with no time to think had translated it on the fly. You’d have to put it in context: ‘Bei “Friends” kann man sich ziemlich darauf verlassen, dass wir schauen’ or something like that.

  7. I think that’s localisation gone a bit too far. What would be wrong with “Britain’s young Princes William and Harry are fans of popular reality TV shows and argue with their father Prince Charles over the TV remote control, they have revealed in an interview”? CNN’s version is not correct, is fact-distorting and might lead them into legal arguments. I think it’s just an example of translators trying to impress and getting it wrong.


  8. Wow … I’ll have to drive there in a nacht-und-nebel-aktion and get that sign! I don’t think it has anything to do with me…could it be the > film producer from California? (tried to enter >>p – o – r – n

  9. Expurgated, non-questionable-content version ….

    Wow … I’ll have to drive there in a nacht-und-nebel-aktion and get that sign! I don’t think it has anything to do with me…could it be the > film producer from California? (tried to enter p – o – r – n but my “submission failed”)


  10. I have wanted to move my weblog to another system for a long time. On this system, the easiest way for me to block spam is to block specific addresses and words. So even I can’t write some of those words now. I am afraid you will have to do it with hyphens like that.
    Unfortunately I did not have time to get a photograph of the sign. Possibly the street sign has more information. There is also at least one book on D

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