It’s Tough to Be Funny in German

Jan BöhmermannPresident Erdoğan of Turkey tried to silence one of his German critics but failed when, on Tuesday, a court denied his request to block an open letter by the head of one of Germany’s most powerful media companies expressing support for a comedian who lampooned the Turkish leader. The comedian is Jan Böhmermann, pictured here.

The comedian recently said in an interview quoted in The New York Times, “Censored in Germany,” on May 4:

“We proved that we are a completely humorless nation…. I think it’s because of our language…. In English you can make a joke and you don’t – you don’t ah, give away the punchline during the setup. But our language is so complicated that you always give away the punchline during the setup, because we like, put the verbs – it’s so, it’s strange, it really is strange. Yeah. It is, it really is.”

Question: The location of the verb is a problem?

“Yeah, the location of the verb. Put it at the end. You don’t know what a German wants to say to you until you get to the end. Very rude, or very nice, but you have – it’s always nerve-wracking to – you know, it’s tough, it really is tough to – it’s actually no joke. It’s tough to be funny in German.”

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7 responses to “It’s Tough to Be Funny in German

  1. On the subject of “It’s Tough to be Funny in German”, I wonder if Eric or any of his readers has seen a recent German movie called “Er ist Wieder Da”. It’s a black comedy about Hitler waking up in modern Germany. I doubt such a comedy could have been made in the past. The subject seemed too horrible. What does it say about Germany today that it’s now possible both to laugh at Hitler and to use him to criticize the modern scene? (If anyone is interested, the movie can be seen on Netflix.)

    • I look forward to seeing the movie. Böhmermann said something else of interest: “Unlike President Obama, who is ‘the greatest comedian in the world,’ he said, “I’ve never heard Angela Merkel telling a joke and I can’t even imagine her being funny in a natural way.”

  2. Horace Krever

    Latin places the verb at the end of the sentence. Yet Cambridge Professor Mary Beard wrote a delightful book, “Laughter in Ancient Rome; on Joking, Tickling and Cracking up”. Apparently, no incompatibility.

  3. So was I, but not succeeding.

  4. On the subject of “It’s Tough to be Funny in German”– that’s why Yiddish was concocted (cooked up out of German and Russian and Russian and g*d knows what else). It’s hard not to be funny in Yiddish.

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