The new wave of German comic filmsby Barbara Haus / June 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in June 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
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.