You must have heard the joke about the thinnest book published in the last 50 years? It’s title-German Humour Since the Middle Ages.
The Germans would be the first to acknowledge the superiority of English humour. They celebrate it every New Year’s eve by broadcasting on German television what they regard as the pinnacle of British comedy: a 20-minute sketch from a 1962 Blackpool variety show called Dinner for One. Freddy Frinton, who plays the loyal butler, not only serves the dinner at the 90th birthday party of his mistress; he also stands in for all of her guests (who have not shown up, because they are dead). Circling the dinner table, Frinton repeatedly trips over the head of a tigerskin rug, spilling the wine he is serving-but not enough to avoid becoming increasingly drunk with every toast he proposes in the variety of roles he assumes. This sketch has achieved cult status in Germany (where it has been broadcast since 1974), despite the fact that Frinton hated the Germans and refused to utter one German word (this incidentally explains why his Admiral von Schneider character says “skol” instead of “prost” when he clicks his heels). In Britain, actor and sketch have long since been forgotten. Things, and comedy, have moved on.
The Goethe-Institut in London wants to prove that things have moved on in Germany as well. Under the catchphrase “ve haff vays of meking you laff,” it is showing a series of new German comedy films (13th May-10th June). Many of these films have been hugely successful in Germany-triggering a national debate about the renaissance of a German sense of humour.
It all started with M??nner (Men) 1985, a depiction of men as overgrown children wearing gorilla suits: Doris D?rrie tells the story of a bourgeois husband who wins back his wife by turning her lover, a hippy artist, into a copy of himself. “A piece of fluff” said the New Yorker. But D?rrie started a mini-boom culminating in S?nke Wortmann’s Der bewegte Mann, in which a philanderer, thrown out by his girl, moves in with a homosexual. “Funny-for a German movie” was the verdict, when the film opened in London as The Most Desired Man.
In Germany, Der bewegte Mann was a hit: 7m people went to see it-the most popular German film in 1994. Filmmaker Hark Bohm attributes this to a generation change: “My generation,…