Yes, the Germans laugh, even at themselves. Funny about the English though

Related Topics
Several years ago I became involved in a series of programmes for Radio 4 called It's a Funny Old World in which the producer Anne-Marie Cole and I looked at the national sense of humour of different countries. We thought that Germany would be one of the hardest subjects to tackle, as we suffered from the usual British conviction that the Germans have no sense of humour, but this turned out predictably not to be the case - among other things, the Germans have a strong sense of Schadenfreude in their jokes, a strong tradition of jokes about the people of Ostfriesland very reminiscent of our Irish jokes, and even an equivalent of our Essex jokes in the form of jokes about people who drive Manta cars.

But the most unexpected thing we discovered was that the Germans watch the same funny film every year on New Year's Eve. It lasts about 20 minutes, it is called Dinner for One, James, and it is British. I have never seen it on British television, but every year on German TV it is shown to an audience that knows every joke in it by heart and looks forward to seeing or hearing each gag again. There are only two characters in it, an aged lady and her butler, played by the half-forgotten English comedian Freddy Frinton, who gets gradually drunker and drunker during the dinner, as he drinks all the drinks poured out for the absent guests ...

Now, this is obviously something we can all curl our lip at. The very idea of any nation being content to watch the same little film at the same time every year - how desperately predictable and unimaginative! The only snag in all this is that on at least two occasions I have encountered people who possessed videos of Dinner For One, James, and I have watched it, and I think it is one of the funniest films I have ever seen, and that if I had the chance to watch Freddy Frinton's inspired performance as the gradually intoxicated butler every year, I would leap at it. And that the Germans are to be envied for their good taste in humour.

One of the items that Anne-Marie Cole dug up for our Radio 4 programme on Germany was a recording of a German comedian called, I think, Loriot, who had done some routines in English for Channel 4. One of them started more or less as follows:

"Hello. My name is Loriot. I suffer from what you would call a disability. You see, I am German. Well, someone has to be ..."

This is startlingly similar to the famous Bill Bryson opening, "I come from Des Moines, Iowa. Well, someone had to ..." but I think that the Loriot line is better, because it applies self-deprecatingly to a whole nation, and also because Germany plays a larger part in our national awareness than Des Moines does.

In fact, I remember that the Loriot routine went on to apologise for the unpopularity of the Germans in a sophisticated and rueful way that few British or American comedians could manage. Everyone resents the Americans abroad, in the same way that the British used to be resented, though now that our power has faded we are just seen as quaintly irrelevant. But when did you ever hear an American comedian make fun of the image of the American abroad, the insensitive, ignorant, linguistically challenged loud American abroad? When did you last hear a British comedian knock the British abroad? We British make jokes about the Germans abroad getting up at dawn and reserving pool-side places with their towels, but when did you ever hear a British comedian make fun of the atrocious image presented by the British abroad? Including our obsequious habit of respecting towels laid down at dawn by imperialistic German families...?

I gather there is a new smash hit film in Germany which does indeed look at the drunken and bad behaviour of the Boche abroad. I can't remember the name of the film but it seems to be very much like Men Behaving Badly in Mallorca. If so, it sounds suspiciously as if the Germans are capable of laughing at themselves after all. This should worry us. The British have always prided themselves on being able to make fun of themselves, though the evidence for this has always been hard to find. It might be worrying if the Germans turn out to be better at it.

Meanwhile, couldn't we be shown Dinner For One, James on British TV, if only once? I don't like to think of the Germans being offered funnier programmes than us every year on New Year's Eve.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform