Danish Jokes

Eric Koch is spending two weeks in Europe. A number of his regular readers have generously volunteered to compose guest-postings – this is one of two from Richard Nielsen.

Lars Von Trier, Danish film director, stands condemned by the world for his favourable remarks about Adolf Hitler delivered at the Cannes Festival where his most recent film was in competition.

Von Trier was asked by a member of the assembled media how his discovery that he was half-German, rather than half-Jewish, as he had supposed, had affected him. Von Trier replied that he had always liked being half-Jewish, but now, being German, he could understand Hitler.

Actually, he was making a joke – a Danish joke – ridiculing the question. Danes are particularly if not uniquely, attracted to jokes that push logic to an illogical extreme.

For instance,

A Swede in a foreign country, perhaps Canada, is introduced to a man named Hansen.

“You’re Scandinavian?” The Swede asks, and receiving a nod in reply, continues: “Swedish perhaps?”

“No, Danish.” Hansen replies. Prompting this from the Swede:

“You know what we Swedes say of the Danes – we say they are not to be trusted.”

To which Hansen replies: “But my parents said they were Danish. Perhaps I shouldn’t have believed them.”

Soren Kierkegaard, the only significant Danish philosopher, provides another example. He wrote that there was nothing funnier than the spectacle of three men beating up two whom they had caught beating up a third. No telling where that kind of moral indignation could lead.

And then there was the encounter on The Tonight Show between Victor Borge, the Danish comedian, and feminist Germaine Grier. As Grier made the case for liberation, Borge kept repeating just off-camera: “But what about the children?” Finally, she turned on him, annoyed, and said: “If I had to choose between liberating women and coddling children, I’d help women.” To which Borge replied: “You’re right, to hell with the children.” He got a laugh.

So why is it that the world was not outraged with Kierkegaard or Victor Borge since their opinions were as outlandish at Von Trier’s? Because Kierkegaard’s remarks were written. What he said was therefore between him and a single reader. In Borge’s case, it was on television and unmediated. Those watching knew he was trying to make us laugh. After all, he was a comedian.

It was Von Trier’s misfortune to be dealing with the world’s entertainment media – so attracted to scandal that they will routinely attempt to destroy the people who create the events they get paid to cover.

Lars Von Trier will never live this down. Two weeks after the event, he was described by the Toronto Star as having “sympathized with Adolf Hitler.”

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7 responses to “Danish Jokes

  1. David Schatzky

    Please protect us from people with no sense of irony, who take offense when someone says something which on the surface seems politically incorrect.
    The ironic view helps keep us sane and balanced.
    To be chastised for ironic expression is like being punished for admiring a sunset.
    Is it time for an international organization to protect, preserve and encourage ironic expression? We’ll need a great Dane as C.E.O.

  2. Carol Kushner

    Perhaps only Mel Brooks gets to make jokes about Hitler (The ProducersI, but Lars Trier aside, I think Danes, in general, are hilarious. On our first and only trip to Denmark and other Scandanavian countires, on board a coastal steamer from Bergen Norway, I asked a fellow passenger who was carrying a stein of beer back to his cabin where he had found it.. He looked at me with raised eyebrows and solemnly said, “But I didn’t find it, I bought it.” Earlier we had enjoyed various entertainments at the famous Tivoli Gardens including one where a tuxedo-clad comedian introduced his sad-eyed, purpotedly very clever, dog, Cleo, He proceeded to issue command after command to the dog, all of which the she assiduously ignored. At each disregarded order, our laughter grew and grew as the “master” kept insisting that Cleo was the most accomplished and talented animal, and she looked away, or yawned or at the end slumped to the floor apparently exhausted from the effort of non-compliance.Talk about passive resistence! There is something very dry and very sweet about Danish humour which manages to hit the right notes of subtlety, irony and gentle mockery all at the same time. As for Victor Borge — did you know that when he came to North America he didn’t speak English at first and had to learn all of his comedy routines phonetically?

  3. Michael Gundy

    Lets face it: most people have no understanding of irony, or even humour. Concrete thinkers just cannot hold two or more ideas in their heads at one time. I find this particularly true south of the border.

  4. Kierkegaard wasn’t making a joke regarding the avengers beating up the bullies, he was making a valid social point: “The avengers had applied precisely the same rules as the offenders. I went up to one of the avengers and tried by argument to explain to him how illogical his behavior was; but it seemed quite impossible for him to discuss the question: he could only repeat that such a rascal richly deserved to have three people against him”

  5. Michael Gundy

    I am surprised that no one has mentioned the Jyllands-Posten Muslim cartoon unpleasantness. Clearly a serious clash of comedy cultures. (or lack thereof)

  6. Elisabeth Ecker

    I am from Austria and I constantly get in trouble with my ironic sense of humour. Some people just don’t understand it..

  7. Thanks for the context (not much demonstrated in even the Canadian press before): Mr Trier’s response is actually quite funny, and to the point.