German Humor

Germans love making jokes about their language

There was a recent poll taken with some very interesting results.  Germany is now officially the least funny country.


Why is that?  What is it about Germans or German culture that makes the rest of the world regard them as unfunny?


I have found some German comedians on YouTube and elsewhere that I think are extremely funny – Mario Barth, Loriot, Didi Hallervorden, Otto, and many others, including my favorite comic strip, Nicht Lustig.  I love the site MySpass, which is a YouTube-like collection of German comedy videos.  Germans are funny, if you understand German, which I think is the crux of the problem here. As the article points out, ” defenders of German comedy insist the stereotype is unfair and the structure of the language means many jokes from the English language do not translate easily.”

German humor is different from English humor or American humor.  A lot of jokes in English rely on puns or word-play; words that have multiple meanings, or different words that have similar pronunciation that causes hilarity when the words are confused or misunderstood.  The German language does not lend itself well to puns. That is not to say that puns don’t exist, but there are fewer of them, because German is not as vague as other languages.

German is a very precise language.  It uses prefixes and suffixes to clarify and specify so that words have very specific meanings.  It also uses compound words in ways that English cannot in order to be more precise.  In English we can combine two words together to make a compound word: play and ground become playground, foot and ball become football.  It is extremely rare for a compound word in English to have more than two words, but in German you can add as many words together as you want to express the idea that you want.

The classic example is Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän, or Donau-steam-ship-company-captain, but there are so many better examples, like Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, which is beef-labeling-regulation-and-delegation-of-supervision-law.  With words like this it is very hard to create puns, but Germans do understand the complexity of their language, and the humor that is linguistically inherent.

One of my favorite comedians that I recently discovered is Bastian Sick, who wrote a series of books and had a comedy tour based on it, called Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod, which deals with the humor of the German language from the formal prescriptive rules to the errors in usage that commonly occur in everyday speech and dialects.  Germans realize that their language is complex and hard to learn and very linguistically complicated, and they find humor in that fact.

So, don’t tell me that Germany is the least funny country, their humor is just specific to Germany and is difficult to understand for those not familiar with all of the complexities of the German language.  Even I, who have studied German for most of my life now, do not always understand all of the German jokes I hear or read, because I am still unfamiliar with all of the intricacies of the complex grammar.  But what I do understand is very funny indeed!  It just takes a little bit more effort to understand, and nobody likes it when you have to explain a joke.

One thought on “German Humor

  1. I could go both ways. France’s humour is based off of the language far more than English as well.

    In defense of the report, part of humour is the receiving end. Therefore, if it’s so difficult to understand from a global perspective, it can accurately be said that few find German humour humorous, and thus it is the least funny country.

    That being said…every time I’ve been to Germany, I’ve found the people to be…funny… ;^)

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