They have ways of not making you laugh: Quatsch in Store German comedians at the Comedy Store

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Quatsch in Store

German comedians at the Comedy Store

WHEN I told people I was going to the Comedy Store to watch an evening of German comedy, they said: "There's German comedy?" The alacrity of the response told me this was more than incredulity; this was outrage, of the "We make the jokes round here thank you" kind.

We do not believe Germans have a sense of humour, and if they do, it shouldn't be allowed. It doesn't fit their stereotype, and it offends ours. It's our job to find the world funny, larky and ironical. It's their job to do things thoroughly. We make fun: they make Audis. It's somewhere in the United Nations Charter small print. The very pairing of the words "German" and "humour" seems so outrageous that you wonder if it isn't all an elaborate joke.

Well, sad to say, there is such a thing as German comedy, though only Germans understand it. Whether it is funny or not is still open to debate, as Thomas Hermanns, Lutz von Rosenberg Lipinsky, Detlef Winterberg and Django Asul, the four male comedians brought over here by Quatsch (Germany's first and only comedy club, on Hamburg's Reeperbahn), took the precaution of performing their material in a language not widely understood. I didn't think this would matter, as much British stand-up can be understood simply by knowing the words for certain bodily parts. Also, my German vocabulary includes the phrases vorsprung durch technik, Englander, for you ze var is over DAKA-DAKA-DAKA!!! and kinder, kirche und kuche, so I thought I would be able to appreciate the essence of German comedy. I was over-optimistic. I was unable to grasp an entire punch-line.

I can though, without prejudice, make one or two empirical observations. The first is that there was a stretch Mercedes parked outside, an accessory most British comedians south of Bernard Manning would find quite alien, if not funny.

The second is that the evening was civilised to the point of seriousness. Unlike English comedians, these looked as though they had washed properly and their clothes were sound. Also they didn't swear. Either that or they swore all the time: it was impossible to tell. The mostly German audience behaved itself and laughed respectfully in all the right places. There was none of the sturm und drang typical of British stand-up events; no bastard at the back shouting "Die, fuckwit!".

I had just started to wonder what the performers would do if they were faced with a heckler, when the English sound man started talking loudly to his mate in the sound box. The performer did nothing, but the audience turned as one and frowned. This is how Germans deal with hecklers.

German humour may appear harmless, but it could set a worrying precedent.In time Belgians, Danes and Luxembourgians may think they're funny too. And the next thing you know we'll have an EU joke mountain, an international embarrassment which no number of goodwill convoys to the unhappy people of Ethiopia will be able to reduce.