It is often assumed that Germans lack humor. This is simply not true. In reality, Germans are just as funny than anyone else in the world. There are many reasons why non-Germans perceive Germans as humorless, with the main reason being that people are simply ignorant of German behaviors, culture and tradition. In this research paper, I will be discussing German stereotypes and some of the most common types of comedy that exists today in Germany. By delving a bit deeper into and explaining the German people and their culture, I am hoping that peoples perception that Germans are humorless will be put to rest.
Contrary to popular belief, many Germans do have a funny side. German culture is more private and withdrawn than many other cultures. Generally, Germans avoid any public displays of emotion, except in the right circumstances like Carneval, Oktoberfest, soccer games, etc. or when they are familiar with and comfortable with the people around them.
The more comfortable they are, the more their humor comes out. When Germans smile or laugh, it is genuine. Unfortunately, because of their proclivity to not show any emotion, and Germanys long and turbulent history, Germans are perceived as cold, impolite and humorless. Quite the opposite is true, however. In a private setting with family and friends, Germans laugh and joke just as much as any other culture.
There are some additional stereotypes about Germans that are pretty accurate, and may give someone more insight as to a German persons perspective. These stereotypes may also help a non-German understand German humor just a little better.
The first stereotype is that Germans are direct. Germans are known to be straight shooters. Unfortunately, this can sometimes come off as rude or impolite. Germans like to get right to the point. They do not beat around the bush. Even though some people find this behavior to be rude, the benefit is that there isnt much room for misinterpretation. You always know where you/things stand with a German.
Second, Germans absolutely love rules. Germany has an abundance of laws regulating every aspect of life, and Germans like to obey them, which lends to the belief that Germans are inflexible. For example, Germany has the German Beer Purity Law, which has been around since 1516 and regulates beer production in Germany. They take their beer very seriously. Another example is when it comes to the red streetlight figure (Ampelmann) telling you when to cross the street. You wait until you have a green light to cross the street. Jaywalking is not tolerated and considered bad behavior, especially in front of children. Children might copy your bad behavior and then society will go to hell. Rules are very important.
Third, Germans are always punctual. Punctuality is highly regarded in Germany. Being late for a meeting or appointment without calling beforehand is seen as a sign of disrespect. Being fashionably late simply doesnt exist in Germany. Germans believe that it is better to be early than to be late for anything and everything. Even the German Rail Service (die Deutsche Bahn) is always punctual (down to the minute), unlike the BART system in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Fourth, Germans love to drink beer. Germany has literally thousands of breweries and different types of beer. As stated above, Germany even has a law regulating the production of beer that dates back to 1516. Its more or less the national drink of Germany. Oktoberfest is the most famous beer festival in the world, and has been celebrated in the same location in Munich, Germany since the 1880s. Remember, German love rules, so of course there are rules about beer. The most important rule to remember when drinking beer with friends is that when you are saying Cheers! or Prost! while clinking glasses together, you must maintain eye contact and toast each person in your group. If you don’t, you will not only be considered rude, youll also be cursed with seven years of bad sex. Germans are also superstitious.
Fifth, Germans are crazy for soccer (Fussball). Soccer is the number one most attended and practiced sport in Germany. Every child plays soccer starting at an early age. It is Germanys national sport, like baseball is for America. The members of the National German Team are basically considered gods in Germany, especially after their huge 2014 FIFA World Cup win against Brazil.
As a novice to German culture, it can be difficult to determine what is true and what is false about German behaviors, customs and traditions. As with any other culture, it is important to be careful with stereotypes and to be informed before making any statements or comments, let alone jokes.
Types of Humor
Humans need to rest occasionally from serious activity, and humor and other forms of play provide that rest (No Laughing Matter, Morreall, p. 23). Laughter relieves stress and anxiety, which is especially important in todays world, given the state of our complex political and social issues. And German humor doesnt disappoint. There are many different types of humor in Germany with the three most popular (currently) being Kabarett, Carneval and Kalauer.
Kabarett humor is concentrated on political events and satire. Kabarett is the German word for Cabaret focuses on political satire instead of the singing and dancing type of cabaret. German comedians that exclusively focus and criticize on political and social topics using cynicism, sarcasm and irony are considered Kabarett artists or Kabarettisten. The satirist Jan B?hmermann is very popular and successful with his own show Neo Magain Royale. He is the equivalent of the German Seth Meyers. During one of his shows, he criticized Turkish President Erdogan. Erdogan and the Turkish government were enraged and complained to the German government that B?hmermann violated an antiquated German law that prohibits German nationals from insulting of organs and representatives of foreign states. Unfortunately, the video clip from that show has since been removed from the internet.
Another good example of humor in Germany are the Carneval (the German Mardi Gras) speeches called B?ttenrede, which are given at the Carneval in Cologne, Aachen and Mainz during Carneval season. Speakers stand inside a barrel-shaped lecturn called the B?tt and present ironic Carneval addresses, what we know as roasts here in the United States. These roasts are usually in rhyming or limerick form about current events happening in politics and society. Limericks are
Germans also seem to absolutely enjoy slapstick comedy. Slapstick humor involves exaggerated violence, often in the context of crashes and collisions that occur outside the boundaries of common sense (Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why, Scott Weems 2014, p. 16). The humor comes from the cartoonish style of violence that is predominantly harmless and goofy in tone. German comedian Loriot is a perfect example. Loriot had the skill to perfectly capture typical German characteristics and stereotypes, such as Germans fondness for order and rules. He had the ability to teach Germans how to laugh at themselves.
Generally speaking German humor is not easily accessible to other countries, because a lot of it heavily depends on knowledge of the German language, history, politics and pop-culture – just like in every other language. It is impossible to generalize all Germans. Cultural differences always require special care in characterization. As with any other culture, German humor is often very subjective.