Thousand Years of German Humour
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2008
Award-winning German Comedy Ambassador Henning Wehn is joined by Otto Kuhnle, the Fatherland's foremost Yodelmeister. Teutonic jolliness at its best.
This disappointing return to the Fringe for the Teutonic duo of stand-up Henning Wehn and variety act Otto Kuhnle, sticks to an unwieldy format that inhibits their respective talents, leaving both British and German elements in the audience noticeably restless on the evening I saw them.
After an initial flurry of accordion from Kuhnle, and a few characteristic jibes at the English and Scottish football teams from Wehn, lamenting Germany’s several ‘months of hurt’ in international competition, the pair introduce their premise of a millennium of German comedy, with the disclaimer that this won’t be occurring in real time.
Their history lesson begins promisingly enough, with the contentious claim that Germans invented slapstick 40,000 years ago, before leaping forward to 1812 and the publication of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, with Wehn slipping on a dress and pigtails to play Snow White, Kuhnle doing much the same as his wicked stepmother.
In his club sets, Wehn often uses national stereotypes as a means to establish a non-PC perspective, one that he invariably extends to ironic sexism. Here, his Schneewittchen becomes the dwarves’ domestic drudge, before the sketch peters out hopelessly, to the extent that you truly question all the effort.
A little more stand-up from him, mocking women’s right to vote and the compilation of the sex offenders register is both intermittently funny and undeniably awkward, before he fails to nail the promising setup of his performing a corporate gig to the BNP in Coventry.
By this point, it’s necessary for Kuhnle to lighten proceedings somewhat and the ‘funniest man in Düsseldorf’ achieves this admirably by performing Bach’s Badinerie on the flute with his trousers descending slowly to his ankles. It’s a wonderfully silly moment but one sadly not to be matched during his evocation of the car in Knight Rider, full-throated yodeling or a handbell performance of The Scorpions’ Berlin Wall anthem Wind Of Change using a puppet of Knut, the adorable polar bear cub – rather funnier in the conception than the execution.
Between these set-pieces, Wehn backs Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan William’s appeal for introducing sharia law into the UK, indulges in a little anti-Spanish sentiment and liberally sprinkles his set with some deftly amusing lashes at Max Moseley.
Sadly, while the contrast between Kuhnle’s lighthearted box of tricks and Wehn’s bravely contentious, stilted routines has served the pair so well in the past, here it’s often counter-productive, the switches between the two too frequent and much of the material simply too patchy to be effective.
When they exploit their lack of professionalism to satirise the if.comedy award it’s amusing, but celebrate your amateurism and dying sketches too often and an audience might simply begin to appropriate the message that you’re crap.
Glimpses remain of why the pair have attracted a cult following and their onstage chemistry is as fond as ever. But crucially, 1000 Years torpedoes the idea of a German comedy canon and certainly; won’t be passing into those slim annals as anything more than an obscure footnote.
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson