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In Comedy, German Stereotypes Are No Laughing Matter - Or Are They?

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British-based German comedian Paco Erhard, is taking his 5-Step Guide to Being German show to the Adelaide Fringe and Melbourne International Comedy Festival after a one-off at London's Leicester Square Theatre on 13 February. This is an updated version of the show I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe last August and wrote about in my own So It Goes blog and in Mensa Magazine (Paco is a member).

On his website, he quotes a line of mine:

Paco Erhard is a German comic, not a comic German

"Quoting me smacks of desperation," I suggested to him. "And, after all, you have five star reviews you can quote from reputable publications. Festivals Review said you were one of the ten best shows at the Fringe!"

"Well," he replied, "your quote expresses too nicely how I want to be seen to not use it."

So what will Australians make of Paco's German show?

"I try to refute German stereotypes," he tells me, "but, ironically, I actually have quite a bit of difficulty making people believe I'm really German. I don't look or sound stereotypically German enough, especially outside my solo show - ie in normal comedy gigs.

"Some people watch my act for 20 minutes, hear me talk about being German and they'll still think Why is this Irish guy pretending to be German? It's a weird, paradoxical situation. Should I put on a German accent and dye my hair blond, in order to convince people that Germans are not like they think?  It's ridiculous that I should have to desperately convince people I am German, thereby conjuring up all the stereotypes that they allegedly hold about Germans, just in order to then blame them for thinking what I have just brought up and then telling them what we're really like. Okay, this is an extreme description, but there is a bit of that involved in some comedy club gigs that I do.

"That's why I like festivals more at present, because there the people come to see my show because they are interested in the topic and it is established well before the show that I am really German. That way I can just be myself more or less. However, I do have some sort of accent, so if I don't say anything about where I'm from, they'll sit there more focussed on trying to find out where my accent is from than on my comedy. Maybe I should just use my real name, Erhard Hübener. But I wanna see the MC who can pronounce that or the punter who will remember it after the gig, no matter how much he liked me. I could be on TV every day and, in the credits, I'd probably still be called The German guy. Oh well.

"I don't think my show is a show about stereotypes. I try to go beyond that. But I do address the stereotypes at the beginning of the show. It's important to me to do that in a clever, deconstructive, ridiculing way (although I still have one or two in there that are a bit naff... but hey, they get a laugh and I'm a whore...)... it would be a lie to say I don't do stereotypes at all. However, I think you have to address them to get them out of the way. It would be silly to pretend they aren't there. And, especially when talking to people who still cherish some of those stereotypes somewhere deep in their hearts, you have to pick them up where they are... they won't follow you on the journey of your show if you depart from a point of knowledge or an attitude that they don't have yet.

"I am off to Adelaide and Melbourne on 21 February and I think doing the Australian festivals will make me a much better comedian. In my comedy here in Britain I still lean on the (alleged) British-German conflict too much, which is one thing I really want to get away from. I was strongly influenced by my five or six years of being a compere to those Sun-reading package-holiday imbeciles in Majorca, most of whom I actually liked, but a considerable amount of whom gave me a lot of (stupid) shit about being German.

"Some Brits seem to think that they have a sense of humour or know how to be funny (there's a difference between these two) when in reality they are just stupid, unoriginal and offensive. (But it's okay, you know, because everybody knows that, just like fish, Germans don't have feelings.) So I came to Britain thinking I would be up against a lot of hostility just because of my nationality and that I'd better talk about being German a lot and also giving them a bit of a hard time for being British. While I realised quickly that British people in Britain were very, very different from the ones I had encountered on Spain's beaches, that old feeling of hurt and defensiveness paired with a certain aggressiveness remained with me for quite a bit of time and I think hasn't completely gone away yet. It was a real epiphany a few months ago when I realised that most Brits actually quite like the Germans.

"Anyway, this whole issue won't be, well, 'an issue' in Australia. Which will be a relief, a challenge and an adventure all rolled in one. I'm free of all that old We don't like each other bullshit, that subconscious unrealistic feeling that somehow there is a rift between me and the audience (that I then involuntarily fortify by addressing it implicitly). I can't use that as a crutch anymore. All of that material I had best forget about doing in Australia. They won't care. So I will have to dig deep within myself for the things I really want to say. Which I already did to a large degree at the Edinburgh Fringe last August. But I know my show can definitely be further purged of all that. And I have a lot of stuff I've been wanting to say for a long time... and I will say it now in Australia. Also, I will improve the show's structure a lot for Australia. And then I'll bring all that back to Britain. (And also I will have free rein to say some rough things about Britain without hurting anybody's feelings or getting bottles thrown at me :-D)

"I will need quite a bit of new material for Australia, but I see that more as an opportunity to finally use some great material I've been writing for years and that I never got to do.

"I have some concerns, but they are less to do with the art, than the marketing. I've been bitching about having gotten a lot of grief from Brits about being German, but being 'a German comedian' simply is a fantastic selling point in Britain. I do think I had a good or maybe even very good show in Edinburgh, so yes, I delivered, but I think lots of people came because GERMAN COMEDIAN stands out of the crowd more than "British white middle-class comedian, number 2417". It's a selling point and it helps me. Not when I'm on stage - then I better be funny - but to get people into my shows. And I don't know if this selling point is quite so strong in Australia. They live on the other side of the world, so their attitude to Germany is bound to be very different from Britain's, which has had a direct relationship with Germany - in good times and in bad ones - for centuries. They might not go for it as much. Who knows? I hope they do."