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What do Germans laugh about?

Can Germans be humorous? Seriously? A quick look at the evidence.

“The shortest book in the world? The book of German jokes!” A young woman told this corny joke in a street survey. It was about German humour which a lot of people reckon is an unconfirmed rumour. Mark Twain supposedly once said: “A German joke is no laughing matter.” And ever since then, criticism of German humour has never ceased. In 2016, for instance, the British magazine The Economist received much approval for a lengthy article that played on Twain’s one-time observation: “Being German is no laughing matter”.

Video: German Humor – Easy German

One of the key messages in Mark Twain’s article is that Germans do not understand irony. That is not true of course. For instance, a German Institute for Humour was founded in 2005, and it assures us that we definitely know how to use irony. No, seriously, we really are able to laugh at a lot of things.


There is a huge wealth of jokes. The German love of order has ensured that jokes have been neatly categorized for decades. Drivers of the Manta car, which is now no longer produced, were the object of many a joke, as were the people of East Friesland. And some really classic jokes target German civil servants who supposedly belong to a very lethargic professional body. How about an example? Civil service Mikado: anyone who moves has lost.

“A German joke is no laughing matter.”

Mark Twain


Corny jokes are on the way out in Germany. Comedy is in. Comedians, such as Mario Barth with his Berlin dialect, or German-Turkish Bülent Ceylan from Mannheim, fill whole arenas. And there are some very funny women too: Carolin Kebekus, who likes to provoke with cheeky, incredibly dry humour; Monika Gruber from Bavaria with her cuttingly smart commentaries and Tina Hill, who is an excellent slapstick artist and enjoys parodying Angela Merkel. And there are many more. Many successful comedians in Germany come from families who came from overseas. For instance, Abdelkarim, who rose to fame with his TV programme StandUpMigranten and likes to introduce himself as “your favourite Moroccan”, or the RebellComedy team whose members have roots in Iran, Egypt and Switzerland.

Video: Abdelkarim – A #Nafri about Germany (in German only)


The German satirist Kurt Tucholsky (1890–1935) is regularly quoted with his famous saying: Satire is allowed to do anything. Television shows such as “extra 3” or the “heute-show” are successful news-format productions that lampoon German and international politics. No statesman is spared from this sarcasm. The background is often serious and spotlights explosive topics in German society. In his show Neo Magazin Royale, the satirist Jan Böhmermann likes to push the boundaries of artistic freedom and bad taste. His success even earned him a guest appearance in the show by his American colleague Seth Meyers. One of Böhmermann’s best quips: “In Germany we’re allowed to say anything at all – as long as we don’t use irony or humour.”

Video: Jan Böhmermann Is the Seth Meyers of Late Night German TV

Author: Johannes Göbel

The article was originally published here and was republished with permission from Deutschland.de.

August 2017


28 February 2018

I will never agree that Germans are unfriendly. But yes, they are more reserved and less humourous compared to people from the Scandinavian countries. Many also are too serious or busy to invest in long term friendship. In my house in Germany, I shared jokes with Germans, and they sometimes contribute ribs-cracking. I also enjoy watching German clowns at city centers

12 August 2017

German humor - and it is massive - is "located" largely in the private sphere---that is, in the family and among friends. It moves into the public realm far less frequently (except on comedy hour shows) than in the USA, where it occurs, for example, at bus stops, in the supermarket, at the gym, in the classroom, etc. Casual encounters in the US are often humorous, whereas in Germany they are almost always serious (even without a smile). Germans ARE unfriendly, but they are not without humor---it just isn't experienced often by the visitor to Germany. Also, Germans do not understand self-deprecatory humor (which is widespread in the US and England).

10 August 2017

The kind of German joke is very sub tile. And the real thing is that they put you laugh.
I love the German joke. And they really have fun and joke. But you have to understand what kind of situation, time to joke. That is what I really enjoy!

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