Germans are used to being teased for their supposed lack of humor. But now, there's more proof than ever they really do like to laugh. They're taking a cue from the stand-up comedy traditions of the U.S. and Britain.
Shaking things up: comedy pioneer Klaus-Jürgen Deuser
Ask Olli Dittrich, one of Germany's most successful comedians, who his comic idols are and you'll get a long list of recognizable names, -- Dave Allen, Marty Feldman, David Letterman, "Saturday Night Live" -- all of them English or American. It's hardly surprising that young German comedians still find more inspiration abroad than at home. Stand-up comedy is something of a novelty in Germany.
But that's starting to change. One of the pioneers of the stand-up comedy scene in Germany is Klaus-Jürgen Deuser, MC and producer of the comedy show "Nightwash." Deuser set up the "first public comedy training camp in Germany " three years ago. It's in a laundromat in Cologne.
"I believe in funny people in Germany, but we don't have the tradition," Deuser told Deutsche Welle. "I just wanted to create a forum for upcoming comedians where the artists could try out their new numbers and the audience would have fun," Deuser explained. With a laundromat as the venue for testing comedy, Deuser had a captive audience. "People have to be there because they are washing their clothes," he said.
Expounding from a windowsill
No longer hunting for lost socks
When "Nightwash" started, most of the people watching the comedians expounding from atop a windowsill were laundromat customers. Then, passers-by began filtering in, and word spread. Now "Nightwash" has a cult following. The laundromat is packed for shows and no one bring dirty clothes anymore. And across the country, late night TV viewers loyally tune in to watch the ever-changing line-up of comedians do their thing.
Deuser took a slow approach with "Nightwash," building up a regular live audience, before turning to television. He gradually developed the show, gathering new talents, who had the chance to hone their skills on an appreciative and growing audience. "What we created there was a good atmosphere and a good audience, and we had the time to practice, and now we have some really good talents."
His plan paid off. "Nightwash" has been picked up by all of Germany's public broadcasters, and that exposure has given the careers of many comedians a push in the right direction. For "Nightwash" regular John Doyle, that meant securing a coveted spot to compete in the comedy category on the first German "Star Search" series.
An American in Cologne
American comedian John Doyle
Doyle hails from New Jersey, but he calls Cologne home. His stand up routines -- though done in German -- are the stuff of U.S. comedy clubs. A little raw, often sexual and always personal. Not at all the sort of comedy Germans are used to. And yet, Doyle made it to the finals of "Star Search," getting rave reviews from the jury.
"That's the best that I've seen in a long time," said Hugo Egon Balder, one of Germany's leading comedy promoters and a "Star Search" jury member.
Doyle said his style of comedy is filling a gap -- providing laughs for everyday people, not just the niche audiences typically attracted to formats like cabaret. "Whether it's great or not political cabaret attracts a small percentage of society," he told Deutsche Welle. "Most people aren't extremely political. Most people are trying to get by with their daily lives and pay their rent and make sure their kids get a half decent education, and when their teeth fall out get new teeth or a bridge or something."
Doyle has proven that American humor does translate into German. But there are plenty of German comedians eager to put their own spin on U.S. style stand-up. In the past, German comedy didn't challenge audiences to laugh at themselves. But Klaus-Jürgen Deuser said that with the current comedy boom, Germans are learning to loosen up.
"Sometimes they are really serious. What we need is to laugh at ourselves. Sometimes a good joke is like a vent to release pressure," Deuser said. "I think we need humor, but when the Germans are not used to something they do not like it. So, I think it will take time to establish a comic tradition here in Germany, ten or twenty years. But we are on the way."
If his prediction proves true, the rest of the world might just have to reconsider the old stereotype about humorless Germans.