German Comedians Play Up to Stereotypes in UK Show | From the Fringe | DW | 25.08.2008
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From the Fringe

German Comedians Play Up to Stereotypes in UK Show

After enduring ridicule for many decades with typical stoicism and quiet disgust, a couple of Germans have tapped into the British view of their countrymen and have turned the comedic tables on the well-worn stereotypes.

A participant of the traditional costume procession of the Oktoberfest beer festival

The Brits find their stereotypes of the Germans much funnier than the real thing

The Fawlty Towers episode "The Germans" is, rightly or wrongly, held up as the epitome of the British attitude towards, well, the Germans. It is well known for the politically incorrect goose-stepping of maniac hotel owner Basil Fawlty and his proclamation that his erratic behavior is all the fault of his Teutonic guests: "They started it ... They invaded Poland!"

Fawlty's crazed reaction to visitors from Britain's war-time adversary sums up the inability of a generation (or two) to move on from events which happened, at the time the show was first aired, some 30 years previously. Sadly, more than 60 years after the end of World War II, similar attitudes still remain in less progressive pockets of resistance on the island.

However, what is less quoted is the uptight, humorless portrayal of the German guests in the classic sitcom. While actor John Cleese nails the stereotypical British reaction, the dour quartet that is forced to endure Fawlty's insults encapsulates the view the Brits have of the citizens of Deutschland.

Now a couple of comics have harnessed the power of these stereotypes to create a hugely successful show based on the image of boring, efficiency obsessed Germans.

Wurst, Hitler and penalty kicks

Comedians Otto Kuhnle and Henning Wehn have been going down a storm on the island with their stage show "1000 Years of German Humor." The hour-long show is full of jokes about sausages, references to soccer rivalry, wars and "Mein Kampf."

There are also many reminders that life is far more efficient in "the fatherland" than in the United Kingdom, emphasized by the opening routine where Kuhnle shakes his head at late entrants to the show and mutters to the crowd that this would not happen in Germany.

The duo don't only make light of their own nation. A section of the show is conducted between the two stars entirely in German -- a sly dig at the Brits for their habit of talking in their own language wherever they are in the world, only louder than usual.

"But we do it without shouting," Wehn says, emphasizing the point. "You should try that."

"When I came over here six years ago, I couldn't believe the stereotypes which were held against Germans," said Wehn in an interview with the BBC. "People would say, 'Oh, you're from Germany -- you must love David Hasselhoff then?' At first you think they must be someone who is a bit crazy. But when the twentieth person comes up to you and says it, you realize there's a pattern."

No shortage of new material

Just because the duo are now a successful comedy team making light of the stereotypes held by both nationalities, it doesn't mean that the jibes have stopped. When handing out flyers for their recent run of shows in Edinburgh, the duo were exposed to some of their own material but delivered in all seriousness by passers-by.

"They said we had no sense of humor," said Wehn. "They asked if the show starts on time. Oh, and they said, 'You bombed my chip shop.'"

But despite that, the duo have found that their act is very popular north of the border -- more so than in London.

"The Scots and the Germans have a lot in common," Kuhnle explained.

"Yes, we all hate the English," When replied quick as a flash.

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