Beginners Guide To German Humour

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

What better way to mark St George’s Day than in the company of a pair German comedians crowing at Britain’s failings while singing the praises of the glorious fatherland?

Well, if you’re German, that’s probably a perfect way to celebrate – and indeed plenty of the audience at Ealing’s Questors Theatre were compatriots of Henning Wehn and Otto Kuhnle. That turned out not to be particularly helpful, especially given Wehn’s shtick of deliberately antagonising the audience with fervent nationalistic jibes about everything from great English football defeats to our pitiful public transport systems. He thrives on upsetting people – ironically, of course – but tonight he’s getting no one’s goat.

Perhaps it’s just the quiet tolerance of theatregoers compared to the rough-and-tumble of a club crowd, perhaps it’s the soullessness of this brutally functional black-box studio space. Whatever it is, this pair struggles to get any sort of atmosphere going.

Wehn is not the most fluid of comedians, a fact easily attributed to his performing in a second language, but is finding it especially difficult to make any connection tonight. There are some wonderful lines in his cruel stand-up, recklessly offensive but deftly written, drawing on decades of stereotyping of Germans as efficient, humourless drones with a taste for world domination. But when it comes to conversing with the audience, the result is stilted to say the least.

Some routines here go careering down blind alleys, such as his disappointment in buying sausages at a farmers’ market, which fails to bring out the humour in his pettiness. But mainly the problem is that after every set piece the show comes grinding to an awkward halt, with aimless banter between the two dissipating any comic momentum. It seems that Wehn and Kuhnle are never quite at ease, so neither is the audience.

Kuhnle’s visual shenanigans offer the best hope of injecting some of the sarcastically-promised jollity into proceedings. The ‘funniest man in Dusseldorf’ is the polar opposite to Wehn’s arid arrogance; capturing the sillier, more rambunctious elements of German folk culture that brought us Oktoberfest and oompah bands. He yodels, plays the accordion and home-made Alpine horn, and encourages a cult of the gnomes, conducting a daft circus of the ridiculous garden ornaments.

He’s performed all these variety turns at previous Edinburgh and London shows with Wehn – but they are remain stupidly funny, especially if you’ve never seen them before. His ‘disappearing ping-pong ball’ trick, that distorts his face into an hilarious cartoony visage rarely seen without the aid of PhotoShop, will never get dull.

But while both comedians have a lot to offer, this has not proved to be the best showcase for their talents, mainly due to the lack of energy. When it comes to conquering comedy, their war is not yet over…

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 25 Apr 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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