The Brits think the Germans have no sense of humor, so how did a German comedian make it big on the UK comedy circuit? Henning Wehn reveals all to DW.
DW: How have you managed to conquer the market as "the funny German" in Britain?
Henning Wehn: With great dedication and efficiency! No, there was no master plan at all. I just stumbled into a new act night years and years ago without any idea what to expect. There was a sign up outside saying "tonight stand-up comedy." I was just intrigued, went in, had a look, really enjoyed what I saw and then treated the headliner on the night to a beer and in return he wrote me down a few phone numbers for open-mike comedy gigs. And next morning I picked up the phone and arranged my first few gigs.
Ten years on, do you feel like you're still resorting to the old stereotypes of the Germans: the Nazis, the Holocaust, the football, all the things that are familiar to the Brits?
Well, obviously you have to pick the audience up where they are. And you have to acknowledge the reference points the audience has. And obviously those stereotypes are all quite prevalent still in everyday life in Britain. But I would say I use those stereotypes, if at all, as a springboard to get onto something that's more interesting or more meaty.
At heart do you think the British and German sense of humor is actually very similar? You must have a good sense of what works and what doesn't.
The humor isn't actually that different. What is different is the social importance of humor. In the UK there are comedy clubs everywhere, every job description includes "good sense of humor required" - you wouldn't find the equivalent of that in Germany. Then there's the whole concept of self-deprecation, that it's ok to laugh off failure, that's socially accepted. It doesn't matter how badly you mess up in your line of work, as long as you can tell the tale of your underachievement in an entertaining fashion you'll be alright. And that just wouldn't work in Germany at all, it would make matters twice as bad.
Do you think you're more funny in German or in English?
That's a very good question. As a stage act I'm funnier in English because I do that every night of the week. If it comes to improvisation then I think I'm funnier in German because it comes to me more naturally. Sometimes if you want to try to improvise in English there is then a word that comes a thousandth of a second too late. I'm slower in English, and speed really is of the essence: You have to be really quick if you want to be funny off the cuff. And that I find a lot easier in German still.
Henning Wehn is a German comedian who regularly performs on the comedy circuit in the UK, as well as making appearances on British radio and on television. He moved to the UK for work purposes ten years ago and got involved in the comedy scene almost by chance. In 2005 he decided to go full-time and now describes himself as Germany's comedy ambassador to the UK.